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The Earl of Buchan: My Lords, I shall come to the plumbers later. There is always something old and stale out of Glasgow, I am afraid. Pliny the Younger said, "Semper ex Glasgow aliquid 'old and stale'". As a noble Earl quoted Livy, I see no reason why I should not quote Pliny on that.
I was incensed by the remark about plumbers. For many years we dealt with an excellent firm of plumbers, comprising a grandfather, a son and--wait for it--a daughter. All were excellent plumbers and they described themselves as "family plumbers". The word "family" is, of course, a euphemism for "hereditary"--and hereditary plumbers they were, and proud of it.
I turn now to the comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, about cattle. I fail to see the difference between whipping cattle through a gate and Whipping Members of another place through a Lobby. There are many similarities in the way in which cattle and human beings are treated, so I think that that is a false differentiation. I regret that the noble Lord is not in his place--
Searching through political biographies and political writings for somebody who might describe more concisely than I ever could what the Government are trying to do, I was absolutely delighted to see that our old friend Marx stated the case perfectly. He said democratic parties are,
Perhaps I may finish this small speech on a jarring note. I do not consider that as an hereditary Peer I am any less worthy to legislate on behalf of the country than some of the people who have appeared in this House recently. I am thinking particularly of Lord Luvvie of Hampstead or Baroness Cashpile of Islington. In my opinion I have as good a right to legislate as they have.
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I welcome the opportunity that the Government have given us to debate this issue. I would like to pick up three points which the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, made in her speech. First, she said that the Government will legislate to remove the profoundly undemocratic hereditary Peers. What, may I ask, is more democratic about an appointed Peer, particularly a working Peer such as herself? Secondly, she said that the Government do not seek to rewrite history by denigrating individuals. How does she square that with reports that officials in the Labour Party have, since the last election, been circulating briefs specifically denigrating individual hereditary Peers? Thirdly, she appears unhappy that 42 per cent. of us, apparently, have had careers in the Armed Forces. What is wrong with that?
The Government are in danger of appearing to have one overriding priority--the pursuit of a second term in office. If the Prime Minister really does intend to use his huge Commons' majority to help entrench himself in Downing Street, that would be a serious abuse of prime ministerial power. Post-war Prime Ministers have been acutely conscious of the fragility of the unwritten conventions of our constitution and have been scrupulous about not attempting anything for party advantage. I point this out to emphasise how vital it is that any reform of your Lordships' House is sensibly crafted and carefully scrutinised rather than a partisan rigging of the system to provide what is best for the Labour Party.
Almost all the mature parliamentary democracies have an upper chamber with an advisory and a revising role. It is not the role of the upper chamber to change the settled will of the primary, elected chamber and nor would we wish it to be, but it is its role to encourage careful scrutiny and reconsideration of legislation. This is a fundamental check on the power of the Executive and a role that this House has fulfilled well with governments of all political persuasions over the years.
As far as we are able to tell, the Government are content with this role but object to the composition of your Lordships' House. Behind the politically correct language lurks that old Labour dream, so honestly declared by Michael Foot in 1963--that is to say,
The Government have a duty, on matters of such constitutional importance, to place an entire proposal before Parliament and the British people and not to proceed in isolation. To do the latter would be no more than to place evermore unchallenged power in their hands.
Our present system has served the British people well. But if the Government bring forward a coherent package I am sure that your Lordships will consider it in a characteristically fair-minded manner. If, however, the Government merely propose to alter the composition of this House and so strengthen their own legislative power, then your Lordships must fulfil your historic role and urge the Government to think again.
Lord St. John of Fawsley: My Lords, if your Lordships think of me at all, I do not imagine that you regard me as a naturally diffident person. Yet I approach this debate with a certain hesitation because I have had hung around my neck by the media the phrase "a constitutional expert". Nobody likes being called an expert and no sensible person would want to be a constitutional expert. In any case, what on earth is it? If there is an unwritten constitution and nobody knows quite what it is, it is rather difficult to be an expert on it. It is a contradiction in terms, rather like "Conservative intellectual" or, if my noble friend Lord Astor of Hever, is not roused into shooting me, "military intelligence". It is a label more easily acquired than lost. However, by speaking in this debate, perhaps that will be achieved.
Lord St. John of Fawsley: It has nothing to do with it. It is stated quite clearly in the Labour Party manifesto. It will not aid the argument about this House and it will certainly not aid the monarchy if the two issues are confused.
"to change is human and to be perfect is to have changed often".
The United States is continually in this dilemma with its expertly written constitution. Italy is in yet another and even deeper political crisis because of faulty relationships between the two houses of parliament. Let us be grateful for what we have and realise that we have a unique natural advantage in a House that works and which is widely respected throughout the country.
I do not want to go into the argument which has dominated so much of this debate as regards whether we should go step by step or whether it should all be done at once. The tumbrels are on the way; the wheels have been heard. The life Peers may be on the tumbrels next. We have no satisfaction in seeing others going to the guillotine when we may follow in their place. However, unless there is a Pauline conversion on the Government Front Bench, which seems unlikely when looking at them--in any case, the capacity for conversion has been entirely monopolised by the Prime Minister--we shall see the Bill pressed forward.
The noble Baroness the Leader of the House, who is normally a reasonable, rational and persuasive being, has rather been lumbered, I think, with the Bill. She made one mistake; she wrote an article which appeared in the Daily Telegraph. That was an extremely dangerous thing to do. For her pains, she was given a sub-editor's heading which read, "Hereditary Peers are Illegitimate". Perhaps I can add that to my list of contradictions. Nevertheless, the noble Baroness did tell your Lordships that she would listen. That is an invitation to which we should all respond.
I make the following general point to the noble Baroness. If you have an important constitutional change, every effort should be made to bring that forward on an all-party basis and not on a one-party basis. If it is done on a one-party basis, it will not be right and it will not last. By all means, let us look at the Labour manifesto, but the doctrine of the mandate has been absurdly exaggerated. Do noble Lords really think that one of the biggest upturns in history in the political world was brought about by the threat to take away the rights of hereditary Peers? It would be flattering to think so; but, alas, it is not so. The manifesto is not Holy Writ. It should not be subject to that kind of exegesis. Indeed, the argument has already moved on. We have seen the proposal for a joint Select Committee abandoned and replaced by a Royal Commission. That is the proposal. It is a change and one of a very fundamental nature, but it is not the law of the Medes and the Persians.
I ask the noble Baroness to consider in particular the position of hereditary Peers. First, could not something be done to moderate that commitment? I would strongly favour a representative election from the hereditary
Secondly, why should hereditary Peers not have a right of audience in this House, even if they cannot vote? After all, we are governed by discussion. Carlyle described our constitution, and Parliament in particular as, "the national palaver". However, it is much more than that. If the hereditary Peers were able to speak, they would bring their own expertise to our debates.
My third point was brought to mind by the remarks of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will make clear that hereditary Peers are to be allowed to continue to use these premises as they have in the past. I hope that they will be able to enjoy the superb cooking and use the guest rooms. I hope that they will not be denied the modest delights of the Bishops' Bar.
What we need for a constitutional change to succeed is goodwill. The measures I have outlined would turn what is revolutionary into an evolutionary process, creating an atmosphere of goodwill and magnanimity which is what this House is noted for. It would benefit not only this House but also the cause of constitutional reform.
I have been in your Lordships' House long enough to be well aware of the outstanding contributions made to the work of the House by hereditary Peers in all parties and on the Cross-Benches. But that cannot justify hereditary membership of one of the two Houses of Parliament, as is indeed recognised by all but a
I have heard a number of arguments why this should not happen. Some, such as the threat to the monarchy, do not seem worthy of serious consideration, with all respect to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester and the other noble Lords who have put forward that argument. On that aspect I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Fawsley. But there is one argument--it is a formidable one--which has been raised by speaker after speaker in the debate; namely, that once the hereditary Peers have gone, the Government may find their powers of patronage altogether too comfortable and will not move on to establish the popular basis for a second Chamber promised in 1911.
I make one comment on that argument. If it should happen to be the Conservatives who win the next election and hereditary Members were then still Members of your Lordships' House, I wonder whether the Conservatives might find it all too tempting to defer reform of this House yet again. A Conservative victory at the next election is, of course, not a likely outcome, but unfancied teams sometimes win. Some of your Lordships may remember that a few years ago Wimbledon won the FA cup, as indeed, for the historical record, did the Old Etonians back in 1879 and 1882.
Nevertheless, I recognise the strength of the argument for delay. If the Government are to persuade me and my party to reject that argument, they must do three things. First, they must set a firm timetable for the Royal Commission and the Joint Committee of the two Houses which were promised by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House in her speech yesterday. That process must be concluded in time for the Government to formulate proposals for stage two of the reform of this House before the next election, let us say by early 2001. That gives some two-and-a-half years for the process to be completed. Secondly, the Government must commit themselves to including definite proposals for stage two in their manifesto for the next election and, if re-elected, they must commit themselves to implementing those proposals early in the next Parliament. Thirdly, the Government must lay down clear and fair rules about the method of appointment of new Members of the House during the interim period which must, as between the parties, move towards a membership that is broadly
The Earl of Lindsey and Abingdon: My Lords, being this far down the list of speakers it is difficult not to repeat what has already been said, but on this occasion that may not be a bad thing. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, that this Conservative Peer will take a different line. I am among about a dozen or so of your Lordships speaking in this debate who spoke in the three-day debate on House of Lords' reform almost 30 years ago. At that time, together with many other hereditary Peers, I supported the government Motion. However, on that occasion we had a White Paper to which we could refer.
I wish I could give the Government my support today but I have to say that I am deeply disappointed in what is now being proposed. I am beginning to think that stage two of the reform might not take place for many years, if at all. It is hard to believe after this length of time that more precise details of the future composition of your Lordships' House have not emerged from the party opposite.
I have rather lost the desire to see an elected upper House because I think that idea could well be sunk by the other place. For what it is worth I should like a reformed House to consist of no more than 300 to 400 Members made up of life Peers and possibly a small element of hereditary Peers, if they so wished to be considered by an independent selection committee. They would sit for a period of four or five years, after which they would be subject to re-selection--if they so wished--or to be replaced by other noble Lords. They should be paid a proper salary and expenses, with adequate secretarial back-up. I rather hope that any hereditary Peer who might be offered a life peerage would have the self-respect to decline one.
Finally, I welcome the appointment of a Royal Commission, but until such time as I know who and what will replace me, and so long as I remain a Member of your Lordships' House, I intend to be obstructive towards the Government on this matter.
Lord Fitt: My Lords, it will not surprise your Lordships to know that in Ireland there is much interest in the debate which is now taking place in this House. One has only to read the Irish newspapers to realise that. I often think I can detect great underground rumblings from the various cemeteries in Ireland occasioned by the ecstatic turning over in the grave of many Irish MPs of the previous century, particularly those of the closing years of the previous century. Those Irish MPs carried through the House of Commons Gladstone's Home Rule Bill. We can see depicted in a painting in the Corridor in this House that it was totally undemocratically
I think my next point was first brought to our attention by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow. A committee of Peers--I assume they were hereditary Peers--invited Prince William of Orange to take up the kingship of the United Kingdom as William Prince of Orange. We all know what effect he had on Ireland. The Battle of the Boyne took place and all the happenings which led for many years afterwards to the troubled times that we have had in Ireland. So there will be no overwhelming joy in Ireland in regard to the projected abolition of the rights of hereditary Peers.
I am not as enthusiastic as some. I have experience of both the House of Commons and this House. I am more concerned about the second stage of this legislation. I wish to put down a few markers for the Leader of the House. In Northern Ireland, particularly over the past 30 years which have been so troubled and tragic, Members of Parliament rising to make a speech or put forward a suggestion have always been conscious of the votes to be cast in their constituency at the next election.
Northern Ireland politics are tribal; therefore, a tribal approach has to be taken to whatever the issues may be. During my time in the Commons no Northern Ireland MP spoke exclusively of his own constituency. Because of the overall tragedy afflicting Northern Ireland any remarks were taken account of throughout all the constituencies in the Province. Many times elected representatives had to take a tribal stance to deal with problems that arose.
I have found a totally different attitude in this House. We do not have to face an electorate. We do not always have to look over our shoulder to see what response may be forthcoming. In the debates that have taken place, some hereditary Peers have been very constructive. I should certainly not argue with them--unlike what happened in 1893 in relation to the Irish Home Rule Bill.
I have heard the phrase, "some form of election", which equates with, "something must be done". If the Royal Commission proposes some form of election to this House, I urge this House to be very careful as to how the proposal is implemented. If Members of this place are to be elected, by whom will they be elected? Will it be by people in the Northern Ireland constituencies, as with MPs? If that is the case, they will have to look over their shoulder, as Northern Ireland MPs do now. One has only to look at the debates that took place before the Recess on the implementation of the Northern Ireland Bill in support of the Good Friday agreement to see the tribal responses that still occur. If we are to have an elected House of Lords, the attitude will be the same. Those elected have to have some respect for the people who elected them.
I wonder whether thought has been given to what type of election might take place. In the Northern Ireland parliament there was a senate, termed the upper House. Those senators were equivalent to Members of this place. They were elected by MPs. It worked out
I listened to the remarks made yesterday by the noble Earl, Lord Longford. Indeed, I read his book in advance of this debate. It was very helpful in learning about the background of this place. Incidentally, pointing out the attributes of this House yesterday, the noble Earl said that we were all very well-mannered--and as soon as he sat down and another speaker rose, about 60 Members walked out. Whether that is good manners I do not know.
I had not intended to take part in this debate. I do so merely to draw to the attention of the House the dangers of having elected Members. Next week we shall debate the Northern Ireland Bill. The Bill has already passed through the Commons and it is highly unlikely that anything that we say now can dramatically change its content. I hope that we are able to make recommendations, to see what has happened over the Recess and since the institution of the new Northern Ireland Assembly.
A few days ago I and colleagues of all parties in this House discussed how we envisaged this House after reform has taken place, and how we should be addressed not as noble Lords but as "MLs". My mind immediately flew back 35 or 40 years, when I left the Merchant Navy after the war and attempted to enter politics in Northern Ireland, with the idea that I would change the whole world and do away with all the bigotry in Northern Ireland. I looked at the electoral register in the constituency I proposed to fight as a councillor and at the list of Protestant streets and Catholic streets. At that time I was regarded as a Catholic and could hardly expect any Protestant votes. I did a head count, and there was no way that I could be elected on the basis of the register.
At that time the Unionist government had a very restricted local government franchise. You could get the parliamentary vote, but the local government vote was severely restricted. The Unionist government took the view that if you did not make a contribution to the rates in Northern Ireland you were not entitled to vote. That was one of the great wrongs which gave rise to the civil rights movement. The cry was for "one man, one vote". Not only were ordinary working-class people denied the vote, but there were industrial establishments all around the dockside in the constituency that I proposed to fight. They received six votes each; they were company directors' votes. It caused me great alarm when I saw the number of votes that were liable to be cast against me. I then looked down the electoral roll and saw a very obscure subsection in a subsection stating that if a person made any contribution to the rates he or she was entitled to vote for the local authority.
I remember one particular bar where I asked the publican to fill in the forms and he put himself and his wife down as directors. He said: "Who shall I put down as the other directors in the company?". There were six or seven drunks sitting in the bar and I said: "Him, him and him". They all became company directors. Having done all that, I acquired 600 or 700 votes and I fought the next local government election. I won by 27 votes. That was the beginning of my road to your Lordships' House.
My name on that electoral register was preceded by two letters: "ML". It meant "married lodger". That was the condition on which those young people got a vote. I have already been an ML and it will not unduly annoy me if we lose "your Lordships" and become "MLs". But I can visualise the situation where perhaps my noble friends are right. There are some noble Lords in this House who might feel annoyed if they were to be demoted and become "Mr Such-and-such, ML". So I hope that whatever change is to be made in the designation of Members of your Lordships' House, it will not be "ML".
Lord Pender: My Lords, the debate goes on. The carousel goes round and round, disgorging scripts of sagacity from experienced hands placed at the disposal of the Government. That is healthy and befits the purpose of your Lordships' House. Let us hope that the views expressed during this two-day debate are considered with due prudence.
I wish to refer to one aspect of the reform of your Lordships' House--unsurprisingly, the future position of hereditary Peers. Before doing so, as a generalisation I can do no better than to quote a paragraph from a leader in the Daily Telegraph of this summer:
Since the Life Peerages Act 1958, the diminution of the hereditary element of the roll of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal has accelerated, because there have been no hereditary reinforcements. There are some 750 hereditary Peers. Of that total probably no more than half have a political interest and of the remaining
My recommendation is: "let the vote die with the living Peer"--minors excluded. Quite simply, let us wither on the vine. After all, the average age of your Lordships is 67 years and death comes to us all--or would "demographic turnover" be more politically correct for this Government?
In this way, your desired results would evolve rather than be violently and unpopularly imposed. Let not history judge this Government as "demolishers" of a well tried, well tested, well respected constitution, but rather as "evolutionists". A little less of the "We are the masters now" attitude would be a good thing.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, at last in the speech that has just been delivered by the noble Lord we had some articulation of a defence of the hereditary principle. The interesting point about this debate--and I have sat through most of it--is how little defence of the hereditary principle has been evinced on any side of the House. Who can really defend it, not in terms of honour, as I believe the noble Lord, Lord Pender, indicated, but in terms of functional action in our democracy and a role in our Parliament? That is the issue at stake.
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