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Lord Winston: My Lords, sadly, there are few female hereditary Peers and I wish that there were more. That is one of the aspects of the problems which the Government must consider in the context of reform.
Life Peers experience another tension which must be considered seriously if we are to have appointed Peers. Our main use to Government is the fact that we are working outside the Chamber. What little use I am to Parliament is based on my ability to run a medical unit and to look at science in the best possible way. Probably the most useful thing I do is to sit on the Select Committee for Science and Technology. That requires long absences from work which, when one is not retired, creates a major problem. It is always extremely difficult to attend your Lordships' House, which also creates tension. Therefore, before imposing a swingeing age limit on future Peers we must examine the issue carefully. We must recognise that as society becomes healthier and older we must not be ageist in the composition of this Chamber. There is a carefully considered argument and the imposition of an arbitrary limit may not be the best possible reform. I believe that that must be considered by the Royal Commission.
I am equally concerned about the possibility of an elected Chamber. I remember the debate on the Scott Report which took place when the Conservatives were in power, but it could have been a Labour government. I was dodging between the Peers' Gallery in the other place and coming into this House. There is no question as to where the arguments were best placed and where the careful examination of government took place. It was in this House. It was in this House that arguments were put forward so sensibly. I am afraid to say that in the other place I heard ill-considered and largely political arguments. Fortunately, that is something in which we do not indulge too much in this House. We are at our weakest when we indulge in politics in this House.
One of the problems about the electoral college, which has also been suggested, is that it is a flawed possibility although it may be a major solution to part of the constitutional problem of your Lordships' Chamber. There are obvious advantages. It will be possible to have representations from different echelons of society. But the problem about an electoral college is that people who seek office will tend to be promoted rather than those people who may be most useful. Certainly the maverick element, which is so valuable in your Lordships' House, and which is so feared by government, will be missing from an electoral college because such people do not tend to float to the front of such a system.
Finally, one of the crucial problems that we face, whatever we do with the House of Lords, the second Chamber, is that there is an extraordinarily poor public understanding of what this Chamber is about. There is a very poor understanding in the other place. Some time ago, I was having tea with a Member of Parliament. He was not one of the recent Blair intake. He has been sitting in the House of Commons for a long time. He was obviously thinking about the time of his retirement when he might go up to the Upper Chamber. He said to me in all seriousness, "Tell me, when you speak in debates in
Although there is a manifesto commitment, I am concerned as to whether or not that manifesto commitment is really understood by the electorate. When you talk to people in the street, they think we are discussing not reform but abolition of the second Chamber. I have not heard that to be part of this Government's commitment, nor do I believe that it is an appropriate matter to be discussing at this time. We need a second Chamber. It is a very positive part of our life. The Government's recommendation of a Royal Commission is an excellent way forward. I hope that we may reach some sensible but very difficult decisions about the composition of the second Chamber in the future.
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, one of the main tasks of a political journalist is to try to understand why politicians take their decisions. Before coming here in 1991, I spent some 15 years at the other end of the building as a lobby correspondent for the Economist. What a different style the two Houses have. In the House of Commons, it is jungle warfare. Coming here is like being parachuted into the desert. It can still be warfare but it is at arm's length. It is altogether more considered, restrained and courteous. I believe that that atmosphere contributes hugely to the value of the House of Lords as a source of quiet, informed and objective consideration of both legislation and political problems, whether national or international.
In my seven years here, I have been really struck by the tremendous contribution made by my hereditary colleagues. Therefore, I ask why this Government, who are doing so well in many ways, are risking fouling up their political programme with highly provocative legislation which by any standards cannot justify a high national priority.
The answer is that when, quite unexpectedly, Mr. Tony Blair became Leader of the Labour Party he felt that, given that he wanted to retain the main economic changes introduced under my noble friend Lady Thatcher, he needed to sound radical. The expulsion of hereditary Peers from the House of Lords was an easy tabloid headline.
As an observer of politics, I have studied Mr. Blair carefully. I have discussed him with a number of my friends in the Parliamentary Labour Party. Many of them are not really of his persuasion. However, I like and admire what I have observed. I see Mr. Blair as something of a Kipling figure--a benevolent empire builder in the 19th century tradition of muscular Christianity. A century ago, he and my noble friend Lord Cranborne might have worked very well in harness together. To continue the Kipling simile, my noble friend might have been the Viceroy of India and Mr. Blair, the Governor of Bengal.
My noble friend Lord Hurd pointed out that there is no great public pressure for the removal of hereditary Peers. As Bernard Ingham used to tell the lobby, "It is not what they are talking about in the Three Ferrets at Hebden Bridge". The prejudice against any hereditary basis can be
I am reminded also that when Alec Douglas-Home became Prime Minister in 1963, he was sneered at by Harold Wilson as being the 14th Earl of Home. That was repeated endlessly by the media until at length, Sir Alec, with characteristic mildness, commented, "Come to think of it, I suppose that Harold Wilson is the 14th Mr. Wilson". That was the end of that particular jibe.
Yes, there is a problem but it is a problem of perception, primarily because of tabloid misrepresentation. I feel that it has been fed disgracefully in recent days by smear tactics from the Labour Party. If I were Mr. Blair, I should be ashamed that my party was trying in this way to undermine the public reputation of Parliament. I hope that my old sparring partner, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, will dissociate himself and the Government from that.
However, there is a public perception that Lords Bristol, Brocket and Blandford are in some way ruling in Parliament and they should not be. Perception is reality in politics so it must be addressed. This does mean some reform is necessary. By making a virtue out of necessity, we should first decide on the size of a second chamber. That itself needs proper discussion. One possible starting point is that it might be the same size as the Commons; that is, 650 members. That would mean halving the present size of the House of Lords. The best way to make the necessary reduction in membership would be, as has been suggested by others in the debate, to reduce the number of hereditary Peers to perhaps about 150, or one in five. We have been told that the Scottish self-selection system works quite well. In addition, I suggest that those hereditary Peers who have become Privy Counsellors should be allowed to stay here by right.
I am most strongly opposed to the creation of an elected second Chamber. There is probably no time when the House of Commons has been held in lower public regard. That is partly because of the sleaze publicity, much of it generated by the tabloids for their own circulation advantages. Partly it is because in the 25 years that I have been watching the House of Commons there has been a deterioration in the quality of Members in terms of their breadth or depth of outside experience or interest.
If your Lordships want evidence of that, it can be seen by comparing the Register of Members' Interests in the House of Commons with that of the House of Lords. It is not enough for a young person to leave university, become a research assistant to an MP and then move straight into the House of Commons. There is now a
Nor would I wish to see a hybrid House of Lords with an elected element. Reference has already been made to the easy equality between all Members here. That would not survive. Inevitably, elected members would feel that they had greater democratic legitimacy than the rest of us; and rightly so. After all, it is what the House of Commons already feels. It is in fact the most effective way of drawing sensible lines between the roles of the two Houses.
I have one other suggestion, one that I first made 25 years ago when I was in Whitehall. It is that Commonwealth Prime Ministers should be entitled to attend and speak, but not vote, in the House of Lords. I believe that they could make an excellent contribution to many of our debates. It could help strengthen the Commonwealth; it could help counter the move of power and influence from Westminster to Brussels. At the time I was told that this was unthinkable. Is that still the case?
Finally, I ask the Government to think again about their present proposals. If the public were to realise what they are getting from the House of Lords for under £40 million a year, compared to the £240 million a year they pay for the House of Commons, I believe that they would regard the Government as quite mad to upset this particular apple cart. I shall do my best in the coming months to see that the British people realise this.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, this speech is not concerned with the merits of any of the respective options for reform. The practical issue of contention is as to when the proposals for stage two substantive reform should be introduced. Is it to be before or after the enactment of a stage one Bill to dismember the extant hereditary entitlement, abolish the House of Lords and set up a second Chamber?
That question raises an issue of immense and crucial constitutional consequence. It could afford a ground on which an amendment could be tabled to delay the Bill, which would reflect in substance the amendment to this Motion withdrawn on 8th October. It would be an amendment on which confrontation could arise, but should be avoided if at all possible--but never at all costs--by your Lordships' House; assuredly not on such an occasion. It is a matter which affects the fundamentals of the constitution on which, as yet, the opinion of the nation is much divided and has not been adequately expressed. It is a matter on which it is the obligation of your Lordships' House,
The ground is now well trodden; the essence of the argument has been deployed. Repetition is idle and otiose, but certain principles and aspects of such principles have emerged which could warrant further consideration. It is contended that the overriding principle is that constitutional reform affecting the workings of Parliament should not be enacted without the authority of broad electoral consent at the time of enactment to which authority--the pretended authority--to govern by manifesto shall ever remain subservient.
It is contended that the powers of the new second Chamber, all those subject to elements of revision in context with secondary legislation, should in substance remain as now exercised by your Lordships' House; that the broad concept of the order of reform should envisage a new constitutional settlement to improve the workings of both Houses, in particular in context with the control of the Executive; to afford stable, effective bicameral government under the Queen in Parliament, acceptable to the people, to be built by consensus not by attrition.
It is contended that the stand-alone stage one concept as advanced by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House is fundamentally misconceived and is not acceptable to the majority of noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. But, as reflecting the manifesto, it should be no cause for surprise for, as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, stated, it had been Labour policy since 1910--the policy of old Labour--to set up a unicameral government. That last manifested itself during the administration of the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, albeit in a form with which the noble Lord ought not to be associated.
It is contended that on stage one, without stage two--which might never be implemented--a wholly nominated Chamber could well afford what in effect would be a form of unicameral government with an overwhelming majority having all but absolute power in another place. The broad sense of the House was that, as the intention of government as to reform was not known and the gap between the White Paper and stage two substantive reform was far too wide, there should be no stage one abolition Bill before stage two. I say with respect to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House and the Government Chief Whip who afforded this opportunity for a re-statement of policy, that they should take stock and listen. They can rest assured that it is not the purpose of this speech to entrench the hereditary entitlement or to delay abolition in its extant form beyond the enactment of substantive reform or, indeed, to rattle the sabre of confrontation; the purpose of this speech is to seek to persuade your Lordships and the Government that the stage one abolition Bill should be withdrawn or delayed until the substance of proposed reform is known and can be considered in Parliament.
The sense of your Lordships' House in this epic debate shall reach out into the public domain. The argument as to the untoward consequences of the abolition Bill shall be known to the people. Public opinion could well favour delaying the Bill. Indeed, when this package with a wholly nominated second Chamber was included on the mid-July MORI poll, it
Perhaps your Lordships will give me a moment because there is one aspect upon which I should like to comment. I shall then conclude, although there were various points that I wanted to make, but I shall not mention them due to the timescale. I refer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Charteris of Amisfield, that what might be done could endanger the monarchy. The suggestion was made that there could well be perhaps some form of representative element which would in fact suffice. That was mentioned, I think, by the noble Lord, Lord Winston, by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester, and by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy. The hope is that some consideration may be given to that anxiety. The hope is that the Government may, as has been said to be the purpose of this debate, listen to what has been said.
The Earl of Buchan: My Lords, I rise to address your Lordships, briefly I hope, as a Scottish hereditary Cross-Bench Peer who has from time to time played a small part in the running of this noble and irreplaceable House.
I start by paying a compliment and offering thanks to the Whips' Office for so helpfully arranging the list of speakers at very short notice. I am grateful to the Whips for their politeness and helpfulness--although in the Scottish devolution debate they managed to slip me in at number four without telling me. There is nothing like that to concentrate the mind!
I am following, for the second time in my life in this House, that most distinguished speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. When I spoke in the Roskill Fraud Trial Report debate, a terrifying experience, he preceded me. Let us hope that as far as speaking is concerned it is not a question of first time and last time.
Good; excellent; but manifesto, shamifesto! But what does a manifesto mean to the general public? Very little, I expect. Events--deaths, wars or other unforeseen incidents--make nonsense of all parties' manifestos. Perhaps this particular commitment, with which many rational noble Lords disagree, should be looked at again. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, really said it all in his speech, stealing a lot of people's thunder, talking about ships and the relative positions of the new Chamber and the old Chamber. I strongly support what he said, which was, in effect, "Leave well alone".
As far as the fanciful threat of this in-built Conservative backwoods Peers' majority is concerned, I believe that that is waved unnecessarily like a red flag. The growing strength, confidence, knowledge and experience of the Cross-Bench Peers has changed the make-up of this House over the years, so that argument should no longer be produced.
I am in some difficulty over the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, as she is not in her place. As she dwelt on the hereditary principle, I think that she should be taken to task for what she said--
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