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The French Senate is jobs for the boys. Every three years one-third of its Members are elected by an electoral college for nine years. Thus it is filled with ex-MPs. The American Senate is now more powerful than the House of Representatives and the same is true in Australia, where both Houses are elected and both are vying for power. Are those better than the upper House that we have today? An upper House should exist to stop the extremities of politics. It should give sober and considered responses to revising and perfecting legislation. It should act as a brake on knee-jerk reactions to temporary outbreaks of passion or stupidity in the community.
This House does that. Yes, it can be argued that it is undemocratic but the fact is, whether this Government like it or not, whether the country likes it or not, it works and it works well for this country. The key to the balance of our constitution is your Lordships' House as presently constituted, because it has a separate method of appointment; it rewards public figures of our day; it has a detached approach to its functions; it has no pretensions and, most importantly, it does not seek to overrule the lower House. Why? Because of the hereditary principle.
I should like to pick up one strand that has emerged in this debate, which concentrates not so much on the merits of reforms to this House or indeed on the question of whether it ought to be reformed at all, but on the procedure which the Government have set in train. The Lord Privy Seal said that to remove hereditary Peers from this House is a manifesto commitment, as
The logic behind this distinction between changing the constitution and changing a government is very clear and easily understood. A constitution sets the rules of the game within which governments and political parties operate. Winning an election gives a government a mandate to change policies but not to change the rules of the game. Winning a football game does not give the winning side the right to change the rules of the next game. That is very well understood and is the practice in most civilised societies.
Herbert Morrison once said that socialism is whatever a Labour government does. We are now being told that the constitution is whatever a Labour government does. I do not think that we can or should accept that doctrine.
The noble Baroness may say that we do not have a written constitution and therefore the rules governing constitutional changes in other countries do not apply here. The fact that we do not have a written constitution does not mean that we do not have a constitution. We have an evolved constitution. Its authority lies in a long history of battles and compromises going back to the Magna Carta, as my noble friend Lord Beloff pointed out.
The noble Baroness talked about the lack of legitimacy of our House. That is not the issue. The issue is the legitimacy and the authority of the constitution as a whole that is at stake, not one element in it, as my noble friend Lord Cranborne has repeatedly pointed out. The Government has set out in one fell swoop to demolish what it has taken hundreds of years to build up.
The Government may say that removing 750 Peers from this House is a matter of detail which is of no constitutional significance at all. It is myopic to believe that reform will end there, and no one does. It is bound to trigger off profound changes in the balance between the two Houses and have knock-on effects not only on our voting system but on many other things.
The noble Baroness has announced a Royal Commission for what is known as stage 2. That is welcome. But the options for stage 2 will be largely pre-empted by stage 1, and the Government know that. They apparently seek to force through stage 1 without the agreement of our party and without any further appeal to the voters of this country. The Government are saying: "First we cut off your legs, then we shall consult you on the colour and shape of the artificial limbs with which we propose to replace them." In short, we are invited not to debate a serious proposal for constitutional reform but to chop off part of the constitution on the strength of a frivolous
As my noble friend Lord Hurd of Westwell pointed out earlier, we are asked to get on a train with no idea of where it is going. Surely we are entitled to ask for a map, a timetable and a destination before we embark on this particular journey. Then we can make up our minds whether we want to go on the trip at all.
So what should the Government do? They should come before us with a serious proposition for reform which we can discuss, debate and on which we can try to reach a conclusion. Alternatively, if they do not wish to do that, they should give the people of this country the right to decide on a larger package of constitutional measures. We have already had one referendum on the Scottish parliament and Welsh assembly and we are promised another on the voting system. Why is stage 1 alone to be exempt from this wider process of consultation? There is still time for the Government to change their mind, and I urge them to do so.
Lord Chalfont: My Lords, we are engaged today in a debate about the proposal to make a fundamental change to the composition of this House, an institution which, it can be legitimately claimed, has a history of 1,000 years. Even historians who dispute that claim will agree that the House of Lords first sat as a separate Chamber five centuries ago. So what the Government are now proposing is no trivial matter.
The first and perhaps the most important point that I should like to make has to do with the unwritten constitution, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. The powers and authority of this House have simply evolved over the long period of its existence. They have done so by a process which the great parliamentarian, Edmund Burke, referred to as "prescription"; that is to say, that in the passage of time your Lordships' House has gradually acquired and accumulated the powers and authority which it now enjoys. And, my Lords, the powers and authority have emerged largely from its composition; and it is because of that composition that those powers have some strictly defined limits. It can therefore be argued that it is not possible to make radical changes affecting the composition of this House without, as other noble Lords have said, also changing the functions and powers which it has acquired over the years.
What we are being asked to take note of today is a proposal so radical as to bring about an irreversible and fundamental change in our constitution. It is as important as that. I submit that the removal at a stroke of the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in this House has constitutional implications which, in my view, have not yet been fully considered.
Of course, it is difficult to argue against this modern demand for change. It has been said that if we were starting to establish a second legislative Chamber, it is extremely unlikely that we would emerge with the kind of institution we have today. We are not starting today.
My own view, for what it is worth, is that your Lordships' House works very well as it is. Many hereditary Peers make an indispensable contribution to its deliberations. It was an hereditary Peer--it was the ancestor of a Peer who sits in this House today--who said, "When it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change". But, of course, that was in the 17th century, and I suppose it would be difficult to advance in the social and cultural context of the end of the 20th century any really convincing arguments for the survival, strictly in the legislative sense, of the hereditary principle.
On the other hand, it seems to me wrong to begin what is evidently regarded as a necessary process of change by the Government by simply and crudely abolishing the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in this House. In the first place, it would surely be more civilised and more orderly to follow the path which has already been suggested of allowing existing hereditary Peers to continue to sit and vote but to remove the right of their future generations to do so. But, much more important than that, is a matter of the greatest moment: that we should know, at least in outline--other noble Lords have said this, but I think it is worth saying again--the plans for the composition of the second Chamber which is to take the place of the one in which we all sit today.
It seems to me equally important that, before we can decide upon that composition, we need to consider carefully and at length what the powers and functions of the second Chamber are to be in the 21st century; and in order to arrive at any conclusions about that we shall have to take a great number of factors into account--most of them have already been mentioned today. I refer to the relationship of Parliament with the assemblies of Wales and Scotland and Northern Ireland and the accelerating political integration of the European Union. If the new Chamber is to be, to any substantial extent, an elected Chamber--which has been suggested--how will this affect the relative powers of the House of Commons, and so on?
It seems to me therefore that, while taking note of the Government's undoubted right to introduce legislation which was foreshadowed in their manifesto, we should consider much more carefully than has been the case how best that can be implemented. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House has said that it is intended to set up a Royal Commission to consider and make recommendations on the future composition and functions of the second Chamber. This is, of course, in some ways a welcome development. But I think it can be argued--and I would certainly argue this--that it would be wiser to await the outcome of the commission's deliberations before implementing the first stage of the Government's reforms as set out in the manifesto.
I suggest that this proposed constitutional change is so radical and fundamental that its significance far outweighs the apparent need to rush ahead with this legislation. Ideally, in my view, the whole question of the powers, functions and composition of the second Chamber should be dealt with together and brought before Parliament in a single comprehensive piece of legislation. However, if the Government are resolutely set against that course of action, it is at least arguable--I think many noble Lords have already argued it today--that the implementation of stage one, as it is called (that is to say the entry into force of the legislation to abolish the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote) should be delayed until the Royal Commission has made some recommendations and those recommendations have been considered by both Houses of Parliament. I hope that the Government will take these considerations into account when framing the necessary legislation. If they do not, I believe there is a strong possibility that there will be moves to amend that legislation when it comes before your Lordships' House.
In deference to my noble friend the Convener I must say that as a Cross-Bencher I speak entirely for myself in these matters. Indeed as a Cross-Bencher I have no right or remit to speak for anyone else. But I think I can say quite safely and legitimately that I know a substantial number of my Cross Bench colleagues are in sympathy with the feeling that stage one should not be implemented until we at least have some idea about the long-term nature, functions, powers and composition of the second Chamber. Of course my colleagues must speak for themselves, and some of them already have. Speaking for myself, I have no wish simply to stand in the way of change and reform if it is necessary. If it is necessary, I ask only that it should be done in an orderly and properly considered way and not in the precipitate way in which it is being done at this moment.
I end on a personal note. When I came into your Lordships' House over 30 years ago one of the things which impressed me most--I might almost say overawed me--was a sense of history, a sense of being part of a great seamless fabric of constitutional and legislative tradition stretching back through the centuries. In those 30-odd years I have never lost that sense of history. I shall be very sorry if those links are now to be severed. We may have to change, but we do not have to change 1,000 years of history in the course of a single parliamentary Session.
Lord Belhaven and Stenton: My Lords, as an hereditary Peer I suppose after what has passed in the last couple of years I ought to declare an interest. It is difficult to be wholly objective when one is under threat
We are under fire not for what we have done but for who we are. That is because the composition of this House has been decided over many centuries. Some of us are here because we hold titles that go back to the time when heredity constituted the main form of legitimacy. Whether we now like it or not, that was the case for many centuries. Now, popular election by one means or another--and we are still arguing about it--constitutes legitimacy in respect of those who govern us.
The last attempt at radical reform of this House was made by the then Labour Government in 1968. I spoke in the debate then, and my views have not changed greatly over the past 30 years. There are ways in which this House could be reformed which have not been considered by Her Majesty's Government. I shall not go into them now because of the lateness of the hour, and also because the proposal we have from the Government is not a reform, as my noble friend Lord Beloff said. Reform should leave the main structure of the body to be reformed in place, and this approach does not do that. It is half-baked in the truest sense of the word.
I do not like the distinction between life and hereditary Peers. We are all equally Members of this House, obliged by its traditions to speak only for ourselves and upon our honour, no matter which party Whip we take, or indeed if we take no Whip. None of us meets the modern criterion that Parliament should be popularly elected. Life or hereditary, we are not democratic, from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to the newest young hereditary Peer.
I read in the Daily Telegraph that the Labour Party considers that the House which the Government will produce will be more professional. How could it be more professional? All the professions are represented here. I cannot see how this place could be more professional than it already is. An elected House would be by its nature not more professional. But it is the only alternative that we have, and we have heard many objections to it.
As presently constituted the House derives legitimacy from age and tradition. There is no substitute for that. If it is to be changed--I say changed not reformed--the British people are entitled to know why and to be given a chance to vote for and select the Members of a new upper House which will have to be given powers that this House no longer possesses. That will not please the Commons, but they will just have to put up with it.
That said, I question the need to get rid of this House. It works well and has done for many centuries. Let us face it: we have put Lenin firmly in the dustbin of history. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, said that the Government's proposals were unfinished business from 1911. I could point out to him, were he in his place, and to the Labour Party that socialism is finished business and has been since 1989.
We have a constitution which has weathered the centuries. That legitimate claim cannot be made by any of our European partners. I do not see that there is a case to go to the length that Her Majesty's Government propose to go to destroy something which has so evidently stood the test of time.
I ask those who wish to go ahead with the Government's proposal: whom will it benefit? The Government may be able to get their measures through more easily. But that will not benefit anyone except them. Will one single pensioner, nurse, member of the Armed Forces or anyone else be one penny better off? The answer must be no. But the converse is not the case because a newly constituted House is certain to cost more and add to the tax burden, however much it may be.
We have a range of talent in this House unequalled in any other parliamentary assembly in the world. That is not only provided by life Peers. Are we about to throw all this away for the sake of dogma, while not one single person in the country will be better off because of the change? I do not believe that whatever succeeds this House as an upper Chamber will attain the standard of debate we have had here today. That also will not benefit the people of this country.
We are now embarked upon a course of what my noble friend Lord Beloff described as constitutional vandalism. European federalism, devolution, destruction of your Lordships' House are all part of the same pattern. I can only fear for what will emerge for this country and for the world. For Britain's traditions are still greatly admired and respected by foreigners--often more so than by our own people.
Lord Ashburton: My Lords, to find oneself scheduled to speak as late as this does not make the heart leap for joy. However, I resisted the instinct to go home after dinner because I particularly want, nevertheless, to speak as a Cross-Bench hereditary Peer. I hope to be brief. I have torn up almost everything I was going to say because it was designed against the eventuality that I might come on rather earlier. All I wanted to say has been said at least once, if not half a dozen times.
A major constitutional change such as this deserves a full airing and it is certainly getting it here. I would welcome far wider discussion publicly, as has been advocated by more than one of your Lordships earlier. I feel that the topic is not getting the exposure that it deserves nor the explanation that I believe the electorate deserve.
It was observed earlier by more than one noble Lord that turkeys do not vote for Christmas. I am one of those turkeys who accepts that in any comprehensive reform of the House the role of the hereditary Peers will
But I cannot say that I am totally convinced--despite the confidence of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, in the quality of life Peers which he so cogently proclaimed earlier--that your Lordships' House will on balance be much, if at all, improved in its functioning. This seems to me to be at least as important as the point of principle which, as I said, I accept.
My second point, and I am sorry if I sound cynical, is that I have no confidence at all that stage two will come about, other than in a miserably compromised and watered down form. Most people outside this House--and I am afraid to say some within it--seem not to have much, if any, knowledge of or to have studied what has happened in the past when reform proposals reach the Commons. Given my acceptance, and I believe that of a majority of other hereditary Peers, of the idea of our removal given proper reform, I cannot believe that it would not be reasonable that we should have the opportunity of further assurance that a proper reform will really occur and that it will do so quickly.
A proper reform will tend to spill over into a much wider consideration of the constitutional position not only of this House but the other place. That will be awkward and will have consequences that are not easily foreseeable. But, ideally, we should have the opportunity to consider a proper programme that we and the electorate can evaluate soberly, according to a reasonable timetable, rather than being railroaded on the basis of a manifesto commitment that cannot have been fundamental to the outcome of the election. If that were done in good faith I would be content to quit your Lordships' House.
The Earl of Haddington: My Lords, I join the voices who have congratulated my noble friend Lord Cranborne on his excellent speech. I agreed with every word he uttered. I have always regarded this House, which I have had the privilege to attend for about 12 years, as having a modifying influence over Bills that come from the House of Commons. On the whole, those Bills have been sent back with amendments to which the other place has paid attention.
If the executive in the other place had a monopoly over who to send here it would be a form of patronage that I do not believe the majority of the electorate would find acceptable. The idea that hereditary Peers should first be dismissed from his House and then an alternative discussed by a Royal Commission is not a fudge. However, that dismissal should be part of the task undertaken by the Royal Commission. The two must not be dealt with separately but taken together.
The noble Baroness Lady Kennedy said that she would not employ an hereditary plumber. In my part of the world it is probable that every baker, butcher and candlestickmaker has taken on the job from his father. That is a fact of life. The hereditary principle runs through trades and the workplace generally.
Some of my noble friends have spoken about the imposition of an age limit on Members of this House. Some of the most eloquent speeches I have heard have been made by the more elderly Members. It would be a great shame if octogenarians and nonagenarians were banned from speaking in this Chamber. Some of the noble voices on the other side of the House seem to regard the hereditary peerage as a bunch of daisies, coming down here and walking through the Lobbies. Our "feets too big", as the song goes.
We live out in the sticks and we have agricultural pursuits. We also look after this nation's heritage. Many of us have stately homes and our lives are devoted to looking after them. Whether they belong to us or to trusts, we have a part to play in their existence and we try to keep them going as best we can.
There seems to be a general disdain for agriculture, which I find most unwelcome. Agriculture is in a bit of a pickle at the moment. People are shooting sheep in Shetland because they cannot get them to market; there is no money for them. The noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, spoke of seeing the promised land ahead as he sailed his ship. When you actually see land from a ship, that is the time to look out for rocks.
An interesting incident occurred today as we came into the Chamber. There was a fire alarm. A voice from without said, "Warning, there is fire in your area." There was then a gap and the Mace was carried in. The voice then said, "The fire alarm has been attended to. No further action is necessary." I think those were the wisest words of the day.
Viscount Simon: My Lords, I can be exceptionally brief, having had second thoughts about my contribution following mention by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, and the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, of the word "duty". All I will address is my duty and obligation to support the plans for the reform of your Lordship's House.
Why? Following the elections of 1910, my grandfather, then Sir John Simon, was appointed Solicitor-General and, in that office, played a not insignificant part in the Liberal plans for the reform of your Lordships' House and in the legislation of that period, with which we are all familiar.
Somewhat later, in this House, towards the end of 1952 he introduced a Private Member's Bill to create life peerages for men and women. It was hoped that agreement could be reached with all parties on the whole question of reform of the House, but this was not achieved and the Bill was not proceeded with in 1953--some five years before the Conservative Government succeeded in getting the Life Peerages Act on to the statute book. We have now gone almost full circle.
It has been mentioned that some hereditary Peers, following their self-immolation, may rise phoenix-like from the fire in a reconstituted House. That may or may not happen. But what will happen is that the automatic right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote will be withdrawn. It is the conclusion of old business, which I cannot oppose. I could almost call it old family business because my father also disapproved of the hereditary principle.
Viscount Thurso: My Lords, we have had a debate of considerable length, and the quantity of speakers has been surpassed only by the quality of the contributions. However, it leaves me with a couple of problems. I believe that every metaphor on the subject has been used and not a cliche has been left unturned. I have said everything that I ever wanted to say on the subject in the three debates which, in the short time I have been in your Lordships' House, we have already had on constitutional reform in general and your Lordships' House in particular. The Whips Office rang me this morning to say that I was to be almost at the end of the list of speakers in a semi-winding up position. I am well aware that the official winding up will take place tomorrow. I regard myself as a comma in the debate rather than a full stop. I can therefore wander gently through the themes that have been expressed.
I wish to restate briefly my position. I go back to the debate on cross-party co-operation introduced on 19th November 1997 by my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead. It is not a bad thing to remember cross-party co-operation when we speak about reform. At col. 617 of the Official Report, I stated why I feel that there is such a strong case for reform. That theme has perhaps not come through in the debate today. I reminded your Lordships that when I was campaigning before the last election it surprised me greatly how many people on the doorstep were completely apathetic and distrustful of the political process and politicians. I referred to an article that day in The Times in Riddell on Politics, on British social attitudes. It stated:
In today's debate certain themes have come through clearly. One--I am happy to say that it has come down on one side--is what I might describe as the abolitionists versus the reformers. The abolitionists are those who would like to see the hereditary element of your Lordships' House abolished. They see that as an end in its own right. A noble Lord referred to it as the last act of the class war. I was grateful that in the opening speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, she clearly made the point that that is not the way the Government view it. They are in what I describe as the reformers' camp. I view myself as being in the reformers' camp. The reformers are those who see this as the first step, the way forward to a greater reform which will impact not only on your Lordships' House but also on another place and perhaps other parts of the constitution.
On that theme, I was delighted that there is a broad consensus in your Lordships' House that we are more reformers than abolitionists. The second theme I detected was the principle versus the practical. With one or two notable exceptions, no defence was made of the hereditary principle. If my noble friend Lord Mackie of Benshie had not already done so, I would have made a remark about it being fine for cows and so forth, but no way to run a parliament.
I do not believe that any Member of your Lordships' House really believes that as we go into the twenty-first century one can defend heredity. However, a number of your Lordships seek to defend it on grounds of practical application. It is the argument which goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". That is the most terrible argument to use about your Lordships' House. If one sets out to define what one wants a properly constituted second Chamber to do, one cannot genuinely claim that this House works.
We are, as one of my noble friends described to me privately, essentially a House of gestures. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, made a telling point when he said that we are virtually unicameral. We make our gesture, our point, it goes back to another place, they say, "Don't insist", and we say, "All right", and go home. I do not believe that that is the proper way for a second Chamber to be run. The reason is that we lack legitimacy; and we lack legitimacy because I am here as a result of the hereditary principle.
A clear consensus has emerged for a desire that this Chamber be effective. The difference lies in the definition of "effective". The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, was clear that he does not want election under any circumstances. He wants to allow the Commons to get on with it, taking away our delaying powers almost completely and leaving us as a large debating shop. I sit on the opposite side of the fence in a fairly major way.
At the other end, there are people such as me who believe that for this House to be truly effective it must be democratically composed, if not in whole, in majority. I believe that there is a consensus for the proposals put forward by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House to limit the power of the Prime Minister. That is an important point and I thank the Government for having made it.
I wish to refer to a couple of small points that were made. There is the Longford question; that is, what do you do with someone of distinguished and great age whom you would like to keep in the House while cutting off the general right of Peers to sit after a certain age? I suggest that it is not appropriate to have a mandatory retirement age. However, I also suggest that it would be appropriate to allow Peers to resign their peerage so that they can go voluntarily. I believe that many Members of your Lordships' House would avail themselves of that possibility. The suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that honours should be separated from the right to sit in your Lordships' House is extremely sensible.
Perhaps in winding up the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, will clarify that those Peers who remain will be Peers of first creation. The point is that a number of hereditary Peers sit in your Lordships' House as a result of being created Peers. One of those is the noble Earl, Lord Longford, because he sits in his own right as Lord Packenham. That might take care of the age issue, too. We might also like to think about Writs of Acceleration. It would be very nice to see the noble Viscount here for the foreseeable future.
Will the noble Lord, Lord Williams, also please confirm--it has not been stated but it has been referred to--that all of us who are going will have a right to vote and to be elected to the House of Commons?
In conclusion, I refer again to the outstanding contribution that was made by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, the former Leader of the House. We on these Benches have always been in favour of reform of this House. We certainly wish to support the Government fairly wholeheartedly in what they propose. We accept that stage one comes first and that every journey begins with the first step. For those who have used the journey metaphor, I know fine where we are going; I know exactly what the destination is. It is a democratic second Chamber. But I do not know how long it will take to get there. For that reason, we on these Benches would
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I shall differ from the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, in two ways. First, I shall not avoid being the person who winds up this day of the debate. I may even be something of a "winder-upper", as well as somebody who winds up. The second difference is that I do not intend to quote any of my previous speeches. That is perhaps just as well because I have made rather a lot of them.
We have had a long day and some very interesting speeches. First, perhaps I may say how much we appreciated the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury. Any man who appears in the "Jimmy Young Show", (as I have done twice), cannot be all bad. Certainly, the House of Lords cannot hold too many terrors after that. His speech was most interesting. I was not entirely sure where he was driving when he talked about the lack of public acceptance of Maastricht and the EU. I wondered whether he was a little "off message" from the usual line that the Liberal Democrat party puts out. He did not tell us that he was the lawyer on the "Jimmy Young Show", and I hope he will not mind me saying that it occurred to me that one of the things the Government might do, when they think about the second stage, is to put a cap on the number of lawyers in your Lordships' House. I speak with some feeling as the other two Mackays are lawyers and I am constantly confused for them but never sent their cheques.
The noble Baroness the Leader of the House started us off this afternoon. It is quite interesting that the noble Baroness and my noble friend Lord Cranborne have one thing in common: they and their fathers both sit here. I am not entirely sure whether that does not make the noble Baroness at least an honorary member of the hereditary peerage, as my noble friend Lady Strange suggested.
The noble Baroness said that she looked forward to listening to the debate. I noticed that she did not say that she looked forward to learning from the debate, but I hope that there is a listening and a learning.
We are to have a White Paper, and that is also welcome. I wonder whether the White Paper will come before the Bill, as the Bill reaches the House of Commons, or whether it will be like some other pieces of legislation and come just as the Bill is about to leave the Houses of Parliament. It would be nice to know the timetable, both for the setting up of the Royal Commission and for the White Paper.
Why do we say from these Benches that we do not wish to see stage one without seeing stage two? It was my noble friend Lord Baker who made perfectly clear what the answer to that is--an answer known to every one of your Lordships who, like myself, are former Members of the other place. The answer lies down the corridor. There will not be a stage two. If there is, it will be, as the noble Lord, Lord Ashburton, said, a pretty small mouse of a stage two. It was the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, who said that composition will affect the powers. The other place is not, has not been, and will not be, interested in the composition of this House; above all it will be interested in the powers of this House. It will do nothing with the composition that will affect the powers of the House.
My noble friend Lord Baker, like every other former Member of the House of Commons, knows that the House of Commons prefers the inhibitions placed on this Chamber, both by the fact that we have hereditaries and by the fact that everybody other than hereditaries is appointed. The moment one elected person walks through the doors of this Chamber, the balance of power between this place and the other place changes irrevocably against the House of Commons.
The trade union of former Members of the House of Commons is pretty strong, I suspect, and deep down most of us who form that trade union do not really approve of that, even though we are no longer there. My noble friend Lord Ferrers, in his usual light-hearted yet penetrating way, made the same points; that is, that the second stage will not come to pass; that the House of Commons likes the inhibition of the hereditary peerage. If it removes that inhibition as the Government propose to do, then it will be even keener to keep the inhibition that every one of your Lordships is appointed.
That point was underlined perfectly from the Government Benches by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, who underlined this composition to power relationship. He showed us, and my noble friend Lord Blackwell agreed, as I suspect do all the other former Members of the House of Commons and a lot more of your Lordships besides, that an elected Chamber on these red Benches is the last thing that the people on the green Benches at the other end want to happen.
That is why we think, very firmly, that we should know what the Government propose finally. We should know what the end point is of the street. We should know at least whether the Government think the Chamber should be elected or non-elected. We might leave the detail until later discussion. Election could be done in different ways and non-election could be done in different ways. But at least we should know which of those two objectives is the Government's final goal. I believe that the non-elected is their private aim; if it is not, it will be once the House of Commons gets at it.
The noble Earl, Lord Longford, with his 53 years' experience, reminded us that his plans many years ago were sabotaged by the other place--a point also made by my noble friend Lady Young, the first lady Leader of this House as she reminded us. The reforms of 1968 were scuppered by an unlikely combination of Foot and Powell in the other place. Indeed, the last big reform of your Lordships' House was brought forward by the Conservative Party in the introduction of life Peers. The point I am making, and I make again, is that the real underlying issue here is not the composition of this House; it is the relative powers that this House will have in relation to the House of Commons. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, said that we have only "nuisance value", and he wants stronger powers. I suspect I may know another of the reasons why the noble Lord no longer sits on the Front Bench opposite. I do not believe that Governments really want stronger powers here. I say that with some feeling.
My noble friend Lady Flather, in an interesting and noteworthy speech, talked about the in-built Conservative majority. Occasionally when I was a government Minister I did not think there was anything like an in-built Conservative majority. My noble friends Lord Henley and Lady Blatch participated with me in the competition for the maximum number of defeats inflicted by your Lordships' House on the last government. I make no great complaint, although I made it then, I must say. Your Lordships had every right to do it. Although I never used the argument that the other
That was all underlined by my noble friend Lord Hurd. He asked the Government to do their job properly, to give us a full and properly-considered plan for a second chamber. He also reminded us that constitutional change needs to be durable.
I think it was the noble Baroness the Leader of the House who accused us of "picking and mixing". But that is what the Government are doing with constitutional changes: Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the voting systems, referendums. In all of those proposals there is no logic, no symmetry and no coherence. Their policy for the reform of this House falls into exactly the same category: composition and powers, powers and composition. They go together, they must be answered together and addressed together.
The hereditary Peers in your Lordships' House are not a great threat to the Government. I do not believe that government Ministers wake up screaming in the middle of the night worried about what hereditary Peers will do. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House seems to think that she does. My goodness, she does not have much else to dream about, if I may say so!
I am sure that the Government could easily live with the hereditary Peers until they had a fully thought out reform, properly worked out and presented to us. They have already wasted 18 months. I do not think they need to be in quite such a rush. They should start now with the Royal Commission and proceed from there.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, reminded us about Richard Crossman, with whom he worked. At the end of one of the particular little battles about the House of Lords reform in which the then Labour Government had to face defeat, Richard Crossman said, of House of Lords reform, "A simple aim, an impossible end". I think that sums it up.
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