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Lord Beloff: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene. I do not expect him to have attended every minute of this debate, but if he reads Hansard he will find that I made quite a long speech defending the hereditary principle as such.
Lord Davies of Oldham: Indeed, my Lords, in preparation for this speech I read carefully the position adopted by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. He was true to form and it was a very articulate defence of that position. I was merely reflecting on the fact that the noble Lord's contribution and perhaps the one that we have just heard are almost the only ones which contained an articulation of the defence of the hereditary principle on the grounds that it made a contribution to this Chamber as part of our democracy today.
Certainly the Opposition Front Bench has been very wary of committing itself to a defence of the hereditary position. Why is that? The reason is that in a modern democracy it cannot be right that people exercise power. It is not the same as saying that people develop the same kind of skills as plumbers may do in a family business. After all, plumbers deliver a service to the community for which they are remunerated if they are good and they do not get the remuneration if they are not good. But the hereditary principle with regard to the nobility in this country, to people with the right to sit here, is an hereditary concept of being active in power over our people, playing a part in the development of our laws. That is why the issue is so different from any other form of inheritance. It is why, on the basis of fairness, we
Is it the case that this House demonstrates a glorious independence in its stance? Let me point out the obvious. Already, in the first 18 months of a Labour administration, the Government have sustained twice as many defeats as were sustained during any year of Conservative power. It might be argued that that is because the Labour Government are exceptionally radical. That is not a view which is often expressed in many quarters with regard to the Prime Minister at present.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, will the noble Lord consider that the reason the Government have lost so many Divisions over the past 18 months is the failure of the Labour working Peers to come here and work?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I note what the Opposition Chief Whip says with regard to the position, but perhaps he should recognise that a significant number of working Peers on behalf of Labour in this House have to earn their living somewhere else as well. There is a real difficulty therefore about mobilising numbers. That may not be so for the noble Lord, given that he has three times as many troops, many of whom are not as dependent on earning their daily crust in quite the same way as Members on this side of the House.
In any case, the point I seek to make is as follows. Can it conceivably be suggested that the Labour Government at present are causing more offence to the general moderate opinion of this country than the previous Conservative administration? Is it the case that Labour is subject to greater defeats because in the judgment of dispassionate Members of this House the Government are prone to rush too hard into radical stances to which people have great difficulty adjusting? What about the poll tax?
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I am very much obliged to the noble Lord for giving way. Is the noble Lord aware that according to a MORI poll in the 18 months that have elapsed since the wretched manifesto was published--it is well past its sell-by date--only 11 per cent. of the electorate support the package?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, by any criteria to gauge support for the Labour administration, its popularity or record of voter support, the noble Lord will recognise that the Government are entirely justified in pursuing what everyone recognises is the cornerstone of democratic politics; namely, that at election time a manifesto is put before the nation and the Government have the right to act upon it. Here we are not talking about a tired manifesto, although the noble Lord may infer otherwise. The Government have not been in power for 18 years; nor are they four years away from the previous election. The Government are in their first
It is not as if this administration is outstandingly radical. There is no doubt that the administration led by the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, created a great deal of radical expression in the country and her perspective changed many attitudes. Much has been made about the changes effected to my own party during the 18 years that it was out of power. One may also look at the almost total disintegration of her own party as a result of her radical challenge over the period. Clearly, that did not manage to sustain support in her own ranks throughout the whole period.
Lord Winston: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. Does my noble friend agree that what the Government propose does not affect just this Parliament but Parliament for all time and that is why the issue is so important? The change will be permanent.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for emphasising that point. I recognise that we are concerned with constitutional change. However, a great part of this debate from the point of view of the Opposition Benches has depended upon coupling the concept of the rights of hereditary Peers in this place with future reform of the House. Reform of the House requires full consultation and investigation by the Royal Commission. We should look for a consensus as regards the constitution. However, the Government have every right--nothing in this debate has detracted from it--to separate out the exercise of the illegitimate power of hereditary privilege in this House that has not been for the good of the nation.
This debate does not simply ask questions of the Government, which of course must be responded to later this evening; it also asks questions of the Opposition. Will the Opposition conduct themselves during the passage of this legislation in a totally obstructive way on the entirely spurious ground that they favour a more radical change? If they say that they want a total package before they can agree to this much desired change, why was nothing done for 18 years when they were in power? Why are these gestures towards constitutional change only now coming forward when a Labour Government seek to carry out the first reform with regard to hereditary privilege?
The principle of inherited privilege is not acceptable in any other area of national life. Why should it be accepted in Parliament? Anyone with a shred of respect for democracy is aware that at the present time the composition of the Lords is elitist, overwhelmingly male, devoid of legitimacy and largely supportive of the Conservative interest. The withdrawal of the rights of hereditary Peers to vote and sit will bring greater equality and democratic legitimacy to this House--not a majority for Labour. The withdrawal of the rights of hereditary Peers will merely result in a situation in which Labour will just about have parity with the Conservative Party, but either party will have less than
Lord Dean of Harptree: My Lords, I welcome the prospect of the White Paper and the Royal Commission, but what a pity that the Government did not get on with it earlier. Had they done so we could have had at least an interim report by now. As it is, we are working in the dark. Surely, we should decide what we want to build before we demolish.
The Parliament Act 1911 envisaged reforming the composition of the House. Nothing happened. Over 40 years elapsed before significant reform was introduced when life Peers were introduced and Peeresses were admitted. We do not want to have 1911 all over again. We would be left with an aged and toothless quango dependent on the patronage of the Prime Minister. An unreformed House shorn of hereditary Peers would lack the authority to check the Government or to carry out its important revising role. The checks and balances in our parliamentary system would be undermined and we would be taking a further giant step on the road to elective dictatorship by a government with a majority in another place. I do not believe that any good parliamentarian wants that.
I believe that the Government would be wise to pause and reflect. After all, their main constitutional proposals for Scotland, Wales and London will be on the statute book by the end of the Session. We also have in prospect the Northern Ireland assembly. The Government cannot be accused by any quarter of this House of dragging their feet in carrying out their manifesto commitments. Other constitutional reforms have taken place. We have seen a bewildering variety of changes in the methods of election which are either on the statute book or very soon will be. With all this rush of constitutional reform there are too many loose ends and unanswered questions. The reforms will not work unless these unanswered questions are resolved. I believe it to be in the Government's own interest to pause and reflect and to present the whole picture before proceeding further.
These problems concern both Houses. Another place will not be the same when domestic issues are devolved to Scotland and Wales. Its functions and character will change. In particular I refer to two very important unanswered questions. The first is the number of MPs. At present, Scotland and Wales are over-represented in comparison with England. This is generally accepted under present circumstances, but it will not be when Scotland and Wales have another tier of representation while England does not. That situation is asking for resentment to build up which could be very dangerous.
Secondly, and more important, of course, is the English question. We must have a procedure to enable English MPs to decide English domestic issues without intervention from Scottish and Welsh MPs. Unless an answer is found to this question, we shall be sowing the seeds of trouble which could result in an English backlash. At all costs we must avoid that situation developing.
With regard to your Lordships' House, a lot of work is needed on reform proposals. The first matter to decide is what the functions of the House will be. What should the House do? The second matter to decide is what powers it will need to carry out those functions. Only when those two questions have been answered will it be possible to decide on the composition; in other words, who will be best qualified to carry out the functions.
I suggest to the Government, with great respect, that they are doing things the wrong way round. I suggest that the path of wisdom on the part of the Government would be to pause and reflect. Their approach at present to these major constitutional reforms is piecemeal and unco-ordinated. There are far too many important questions left hanging in the air. If this situation is not resolved it will be bound to lead to trouble and instability and it could threaten the unity of the United Kingdom.
Lord Armstrong of Ilminster: My Lords, I do not intend this evening to outline a blueprint for House of Lords reform. We have plenty of items on the menu and a rich selection. The Royal Commission will have plenty of material to winnow. There are only a few points on which I should like to touch briefly.
I should like to agree with those noble Lords who believe that, before one can make sensible decisions about the composition of the House or about how its Members should be selected, it is necessary to reach conclusions about what the House should do in future; what should be its powers and functions. In particular, before deciding whether membership should be wholly or partly by election, it would be sensible to decide whether or not we want a second Chamber which has a substantially greater degree of democratic legitimacy than your Lordships' House, as at present constituted, can claim.
There would, as I see it, be little point in having Members of this House elected at the same time as, for the same constituencies as and by the same system as Members of the other place. That would make this House little more than a pale shadow of the House of Commons. On the other hand, a House of Lords elected at a different time, for different constituencies and by a different system could create greater risk of more frequent and fundamental conflict between the two Houses. Is that something we want to do?
I also wonder whether we want to institute yet another electoral process, on top of elections to the House of Commons, to the Scottish parliament and the Welsh and Northern Irish assemblies, for the mayor of London, to the Greater London Authority and to the European Parliament, let alone all the referenda we seem to have these days. I ask myself, when will voter fatigue set in?
If the House were to be chosen entirely by appointment, it would reduce the risk of it becoming merely a prime minister appointed quango, if some--perhaps most--of the appointments were made on the recommendation of some other body than the Prime Minister of the day, even though formally I believe the recommendations to Her Majesty would still have to be channelled through the Prime Minister, just as we were reminded that appointments to the Bench of Bishops are channelled. I suspect that the Prime Minister might well wish to retain some power of initiating recommendations himself or herself.
I note that we are encouraged now to talk in terms of a step-by-step approach rather than a two-stage approach. It still seems to me regrettable that we should be asked to take the first step without knowing what the second step is to be. The problem is that you get onto a first step and find you are on an escalator and you do not know what is at the bottom.
If the other elements of the House of Lords reform, apart from the disqualification of Peers by succession, is to be considered by a Royal Commission--a proposal which, in itself, I welcome--we have to look forward to a considerable interval of delay after the first step before we know what the second step will be. And there is the fear, voiced by some noble Lords in this debate, that the first step having been taken, the second will never follow because of the impossibility of achieving a consensus on what should be done or because of pressures on the legislative timetable. For those reasons, without seeking to defend the hereditary principle as it applies in this House, I share the view of those noble Lords who find the two-step approach less than satisfactory.
I recognise that the Government are committed, as a matter of principle, to the disqualification of Peers by succession. But it seems to me that it would be statesmanlike on the Government's part to accept that the implementation of this principle could reasonably wait until it can be dealt with in the context of the whole reform package. After all, it has already waited for several centuries. A pause of a year or two, or even three, would be but as a morning gone.
If the Government fear that the passage of their legislation is threatened by the number of Peers by succession and by the belief--if not the fact--that a very considerable number, if not an absolute majority of them, are supporters of the Opposition, then the House has it within its own power effectively to eliminate that threat,
When that Motion went down on the Order Paper some months ago, I received letters from some 200 of your Lordships, mainly from Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Cross-Bench Peers, but some from Labour Peers, and some 90 per cent. of them favoured the further consideration of this proposal.
The other advantage of this proposal is that it would facilitate the orderly conduct of business in your Lordships' House. Your Lordships will understand that a retired bureaucrat is apt to favour the orderly conduct of business. I do not expect the Government to abandon their commitment to disqualifying Peers by succession, but I fear that if they insist on proceeding with it as a first step, without putting it in the context of comprehensive reform, and indeed before there is any clear picture of what that reform will be, there may be some risk that not only the Bill for disqualifying Peers by succession but also other government legislation will be subjected to the delaying procedures allowed by the Parliament Act.
I suggest that the Government need to consider the potential effects of this upon the orderly carrying out of their legislative programme. I suggest that we all need to consider its effects on the standing and reputation of the House in the country at large. I suggest that, if your Lordships could be persuaded to approve the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper, the total disqualification of Peers by succession could, without any significant damage, await the full reform package, and these regrettable consequences could be avoided.
Lord Mottistone: My Lords, yesterday my noble friend Lord Onslow quoted from Livy. Today the noble Earl, Lord Buchan, quoted from Pliny. I shall quote from Mr. Gibbon's book, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. I quote from Chapter 3 which states:
Reference has been made to the importance of bicameral legislation, citing the United States, Australia and Canada as following us with their practice. But no one has made the point that none of those has a chamber with an hereditary element. There has been no comment on the United States and Australia having robust elected second chambers but on Canada having an ineffective wholly nominated one.
Having prepared this speech yesterday, I saw a splendid letter from Mr. Campbell Gordon in today's Daily Telegraph pointing out how inadequate the senate of Canada is in the public domain. I had personal experience of that as the naval adviser to the High Commissioner in Canada in the 1960s. During the year that I was attending diplomatic and local receptions, at no time was a senator ever introduced to me; nor did I hear a senator being introduced to anyone else. At no time was a senator quoted in the daily newspapers or mentioned on the radio or television. I cannot think that this House as presently constituted is viewed in that way by the diplomatic personnel in London or as regards the publicity it receives even when no issue such as this is being debated. Thus on the whole Gibbon's comments on a wholly nominated senate apply equally today.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Cranborne that the only important issue about the intended rigid implementation of a particular and not well supported subject in the Labour manifesto--until recently there has been little public interest shown in the proposals to do away with the rights of the hereditary Peers to vote and to sit in the House--is that it should be effected after, and not before, the whole matter of how this House should be reformed has been properly considered. Many noble Lords have said that. That is vital because, as others have said, it must be incredibly tempting to any Prime Minister--the point would apply just as much to a Conservative Prime Minister--having got rid of the hereditary Peers to say, "We do not have time for anything more"; or, "Yes, we'll set up a Royal Commission and expect it to report in 15 years time", by which time it will be out of date and everyone will have become used to the kind of senate the Romans had 1900 years ago.
I was pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, welcomed the Constitutional Commission being formed by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern and the noble Lord, Lord Hurd. I suggest to the noble Baroness that that would be much better than a Royal Commission. I suggest that Royal Commissions have not been a great success. They take a long time. They go into detail which perhaps could be dealt with more succinctly. In many cases the results are not good. While I know that my party is responsible for it in the first place, I suggest to noble Lords that the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the present structure of local government have resulted in local government not being as good as 30 years ago.
Hereditary Peers are not in practice the Conservative poodles portrayed by the Government. Nor are we illegitimate as compared with the life Peers. There is no difference between our legitimacy. We are legitimate because we have formed a part of this Chamber for many hundreds of years and it has been accepted that we are part of the governmental system of the country. Therefore the word is not "illegitimate". The word may be "undemocratic", but we are no less undemocratic than the life Peers. And do not get me wrong: I think the life Peers are splendid, but not on their own.
I wrote a staff appreciation for the review committee of Lord Hume of the Hirsel. Like my appreciation, the committee recommended an agreed balance of nominated and elected Peers such as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, referred to yesterday. At this stage, I believe that that is a good solution in due course.
From 1977 to 1997 I examined at intervals how noble Lords present and voting balanced out on an average day in this House. Every three years or so I checked my figures. Very roughly, the Conservative voters were almost always more or less equal to Labour plus Liberal, with the balance of power being held by the Cross-Benches. If the Cross-Benches did not like a Motion, it did not succeed. I am sure that other noble Lords who have done such sums will agree. There is therefore no need for the Prime Minister to be fearful of losing votes here any more than were his Conservative predecessors. It is bogus to put forward the idea that because 400 Peers in this Chamber take the Conservative Whip officially they are dominating and frightening the Government of the day. I believe that the Government have won just the right number of votes in the last 18 months to fit the pattern that I have described. They have lost a few votes, as did the Tory Government.
At present, it is a reasonably balanced House in practical terms. It is interesting that people keep that balance in an unorganised way of their own volition. We are the best example in the world of a random selection for legislation.
Lord Birkett: My Lords, it is always significant that the Benches from which I speak are such a tiny island in a great sea of Government and Opposition Benches. Party politics is at the bottom of so much of life today. It is plain that at general elections the electorate votes for parties in some cases having never even seen the candidate for which it is voting. The political parties seem to be reasonably content with that situation.
I find it lamentable that when it is announced that there will be a mayor for London it is a signal for immensely complicated manoeuvres to ensure that that election will be conducted along party lines--and the only reason there has to be a new government for London is because the last one was abolished due to the outrage of one particular party at the behaviour of another. So it is with this House. The measure being debated tonight is due, at least to some extent, to the outrage of the Government at the number of your Lordships who take the Conservative Whip.
I am surprised that so many of hereditary Peers take a Whip at all. To take a Whip means a commitment to party loyalty. There are only two ways in which party loyalty can be tested, and both are unfortunate. The first is when a Peer agrees to turn up and vote knowing little or nothing of the details of the causes being debated. The second, which is worse, is when he knows perfectly well in his heart of hearts that his party is wrong but he is content to come along and vote as bidden just the same.
If a country has a parliament of two houses it is axiomatic that one house must be different from the other. As so much policy and so many of the great issues of the day are debated in another place, it is plain that the second Chamber--if it is not to be the much-maligned rubber stamp--must have a great degree of independence. It must be enabled to be critical in the proper sense of the term. To do that it will require not only independence but a considerable stock of wisdom from its members. If this House is not as independent of political parties as I would wish it to be, it is at least a repository of a great deal of experience, wisdom, goodwill and know-how.
I acknowledge that to belong to a political party does not make one foolish, just as to be independent does not make one wise. But to belong to a political party does automatically reduce one's independence. If this process of reform increases the hold of party politics over the life of the nation, then in some small way it will erode our freedoms, simply because the life blood of freedom is independence.
I am deeply unimpressed by the arguments that the abolition of hereditary voting rights in this House--mine included, of course--is somehow a necessary and timely first step on the way to reform, particularly when that reform has all the definition at the moment of the Wizard of Oz. If you do not know where you are going, taking a first step can hardly be the opportunity for loud applause.
This measure will do one thing only for certain; it will appease a small, ideological hunger. If the price of that appeasement is throwing into the wastepaper basket the accumulated wisdom and experience of all my hereditary colleagues in this House, then it is in danger of being a disaster for the nation.
Lord Naseby: My Lords, what a wonderful distracting element the future Bill for the removal of hereditary Peers will be in 1999, when unemployment increases, when there will be extensive factory closures, farmers going bankrupt, savage public expenditure cuts disguised as reworked figures, and a great deal more--all because of the global crisis and the fact that nobody would listen to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Against all this--and what I expect will be much more suffering in the country in 1999--the cry will go up from the Government Back-Benches "Rid us of the hereditary Peers" and, rather more sotto voce by some of the far left of the Government, "Rid us of the House of Lords altogether". Perhaps that is why the Labour Party dare not put on paper what a future House of Lords might look like.
History should teach us something. I have made no bones in my speeches in this House that I am an admirer of Cromwell. I also firmly believe in Parliament. The folklore among some of your Lordships is that Cromwell was very anti the House of Lords from the start. It is true that he played a leading role in the Regicide, but research clearly indicates that he had no particular quarrel with the House of Lords. Indeed, he was personally quite close to many of its Members. If we look at some of the records of that time, it is recorded that he did speak out against the abolition on the grounds that it was,
Years later he criticised the Rump for assuming to itself the authority of the Three Estates that were there before. Does not that too have a ring of truth as we witness the present Government modernising the Monarchy, reforming the Lords by appointing already over 100 new life Peers and stifling debates in another place?
Later, in 1657, when there was talk of Cromwell being offered the Crown, he decided that he should not attempt to influence the debate on the work of Parliament--partly, it is true, because they were doing what he believed in. There was an interesting case of one James Naylor, a Quaker, who had ridden into Bristol on a donkey, thereby committing a horrid blasphemy. Parliament attacked and severely punished the said James Naylor, which angered Cromwell, who saw it as the thin edge of the wedge for individual liberty. Cromwell felt that that case highlighted the weakness of a single-chambered Parliament.
So, there you have it. That was the views of Cromwell the republican, the firm believer in the human rights of the individual. Interestingly enough, the Mackay Commission seemingly supported that viewpoint, believing in a nominated Chamber which, at that time, was composed of a nominated number of hereditary Peers.
Let us move on two and a half centuries. Little had changed by 1910 and 1911. We have not yet reached the era of the life Peers, that enlightened development of the one-nation Tory premier, Harold Macmillan, the late Lord Stockton. I am sure we all agree that has done much to ensure the success of this House as we know it today. It put the spotlight on the "Ditchers", led by Lord Willoughby De Broke, at the time of the Liberal Government and the House of Lords crisis of 1910. Why do I pick on him and his followers? Surely they were just diehard right-wing conservatives who did not understand how politics worked? On the contrary, they understood only too well how politics worked. They
Willoughby de Broke and his colleagues argued two points. First, that a dramatic stand against the Bill would alert the country to the changes taking place. I suggest that that is part of the role of this debate, as it is televised across the nation. Secondly, to quote Lord Selborne, the greatest evil which can befall a nation is to have its constitutional stability destroyed by a revolution and not know it. That is equally applicable today.
The ditchers knew that they could lose the immediate Parliament Bill struggle in one of two ways. Either they could be in the majority in the Division Lobby, in which case the King might create enough Peers--a figure of 500 was rumoured at the time--to give the Liberals an overall majority. Would Labour do that? I am not sure. More than 100 are here already. Alternatively, the Unionist Peers, fearing dilution and wishing to have some fashionable democratic element, might in the end vote for the Bill, or perhaps more subtly abstain.
I mention that movement because, although it was unsuccessful, there was a clarity of thinking that we who oppose the Bill would do well to emulate. Finally, as an aside, I mentioned that the final Division took place on 10th August 1911--so I suggest that your Lordships book a late holiday in 1999!
In conclusion, perhaps I may assess the charge by some in my own party that a nominated second Chamber would become the Prime Minister's poodle. I had the enormous privilege of being nominated and voted in as Chairman of Ways and Means for five years in another place. Three of my predecessors are in your Lordships' House. Each of us has chaired controversial Bills on the Floor of the other place. Some of us have chaired controversial constitutional Bills; Bills so controversial that the government of the day had no majority.
With the help of my then colleagues, the noble Lord, Lord Lofthouse, and my noble friend Lady Fookes, I chaired the Maastricht Bill. We sat for 25 days and some nights and there were nearly 600 amendments; yet the Bill was only three clauses long. It should be remembered that we had the benefit of closures and the Chairman of Ways and Means could control relevant content to the debate. It makes one shudder when one realises what could be done by a determined Opposition in this Chamber if it were so minded.
I remember all too clearly the Government Chief Whip hammering on my door at 3.30 a.m. saying that I was a disgrace in allowing debate to continue, so ably handled at that hour by the noble Lord, Lord Lofthouse, and his straight bat. My response was that I was asleep and that he should go away. I remember, too, the Opposition at that time believing that they had devised a wonderful amendment which they thought would blow the Government apart. The only trouble was that the amendment was not in order. I had
I reject totally the idea that the Prime Minister's quango means parliamentarians rolling over and doing his or her bidding. I believe that too often it is forgotten that those men and women who serve in your Lordships' Chamber come here to serve their country and their nation first, not their party. I say that with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Birkett. Few of us have ambitions to rise in our parties and few of us have any wish to rise personally in the esteem of the nation. We have a confidence which comes from having succeeded in our chosen discipline. What guides the vast majority of us is Burke's dictum:
Lord Carew: My Lords, much of what I had proposed to say has been said many times over. However, there are some points with which I completely concur and which I wish to re-emphasise, with particular reference to stage one of the hereditary Peers issue. I took my seat on these Cross-Benches three years ago. Since then I have witnessed numerous high quality debates. This two-day debate is no exception. Furthermore, in the words of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, "always with good manners". We on these Cross-Benches take great pride in our independent role and therefore speak and vote according to our judgment and conscience. At times, I have witnessed such independence on other Benches in your Lordships' House, which is most commendable.
My noble kinsman, the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, and my noble friend Lord Moran mentioned the unacceptable practice of backwoodsmen being brought into your Lordships' Chamber in order to win a Division. Such practice causes the loss of respectability of this House and I hope that we shall not witness it again in order to sway a vote.
Hereditary Peers from all sides of your Lordships' House have always been among the most active and effective Members and, as most noble Lords concur, have made a massive contribution over many years. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, in her superb speech, and the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, said that a manifesto is not set in stone. My noble friend Lord Chalfont, in his brilliant and objective speech, said that it was not necessary for every point in a manifesto to be discharged. The result of the general election would not have been different if the proposed reform of the House of Lords had not been in the Labour Party manifesto.
Those are just two examples of the voice of the public, but it helps to confirm to me that it is illogical to get rid of one system unless a better one can be put in its place. I am sure that Members on all sides of your Lordships' House do not oppose genuine reform and are happy to consider the merits of change alongside the merits of the existing system. For Her Majesty's Government to abolish the sitting and voting rights of hereditary Peers before there has been all-round consultation and legislation on the shape of a new Chamber is destructive and damaging to Parliament. It would simply erode the independence of your Lordships' House.
I completely concur with my noble friend Lord Chalfont when he said that it was wrong radically to change our constitution just at a political stroke. He said further that stage one should be delayed until a Royal Commission has reported. If and when hereditary Peers are eventually to be removed, it should be done in a civilised and orderly way so that they can depart with grace and dignity.
Even the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said that the choice was whether hereditary Peers should go at the beginning, stage one, or at the end, stage two. The proposals in the very interesting speech of my noble friend Lord Armstrong of Ilminster are worthy of consideration, at least as an interim measure, prior to the Royal Commission's report.
My noble friend Lord Charteris of Amisfield advised also that everything should be dealt with in one go by the Royal Commission and that the departure of hereditary Peers should be at the end. My noble friend the Convenor of the Cross Benches, Lord Weatherill, said that the abolition of voting rights of hereditary Peers should be phased in gradually. There should be evolutionary change rather than sudden death.
Her Majesty's Government have two options: option one is to press ahead with stage one, with the sudden death of hereditary Peers; option two is to shelve stage one and appoint a Royal Commission to look into all aspects of a reformed House of Lords. That option is surely the logical, fair and democratic one so that in the days and months ahead it will lead to there being an objective and co-operative House of Lords.
In conclusion, I concur with the words of our Cross-Bench Convenor, my noble friend Lord Weatherill, in hoping that this Government will consider the views expressed throughout this debate about the future membership and role of your Lordships' House,
Lord Sudeley: My Lords, my fear is that once heredity is removed from the House of Lords we shall be left indefinitely with a quango of the Prime Minister's nominees. I very much doubt whether the Government will ever get round to stage two. I am not alone in that view. It is to be found among Members on the government side in the other place.
Nothing has happened here for over 100 years because it is an insoluble problem. Nobody wants a nominated Chamber or quango of the Prime Minister's nominees to increase the power of the already over-mighty Executive and proposals to give the House an electoral basis, independent of heredity, are equally flawed because that would give the House more legitimacy. It would be in conflict with the other place and would introduce gridlock.
We need to ask why we should remove hereditary service from the House. We are often told that it is because we are a democracy. But we are not a pure democracy. With a monarchy and heredity in the House of Lords, we still have a mixed constitution. Arguments to keep it that way can be drawn from the best political theory: from Aristotle's theory of a mixed constitution, which found so much favour in the 18th century, and from Burke's theory that our constitution has a prescriptive, or what is sometimes called an incremental, and pragmatic basis. England has always thought from the particular to the general. It is only on the Continent that the less practical route has been sought of arguing from the general to the particular.
Most of the Executive might find some arguments drawn from political theory to be somewhat rarefied. Nor do I believe that most of the electorate understands the forceful argument which has been put forward in this debate that we need to review the functions of the House of Lords before settling down to its composition. Most of the thinking since 1911 has been inverted in making proposals about the composition before attempting any foundation about function. However, most of the electorate will understand that in producing the familiar arguments about what is seen to be the unacceptability of the hereditary principle, which gives this House a valuable element of its independence, the Government--that is, the Executive--are playing on us the oldest trick in the book. Once the mask is removed, we see that the real aim of the Government is to increase the power of the Executive, which already has too much, when it has always been the function of Parliament to curb the power of the Executive, reaching far back into the Middle Ages, with the struggle which took place then between the Crown and the baronage. Now the Executive has shifted from the Crown to what my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham calls the elective dictatorship.
Therefore, the removal of heredity from the House of Lords, which gives it such an essential element of its independence, must be perceived not so much as a move towards greater democracy, to which the Government lay claim, but rather towards dictatorship. With its present element of independence, perhaps I may cite three areas where the House has functioned so well: first, opposing the Government on single issues to which so many of the electorate are opposed--in particular, the licensing of homosexuality at a younger age; secondly, the protection of minority interests, especially field sports. Minority interests were better understood in the Middle Ages, when the separate powers and interests in the land, or liberties as they used to be called, were more evident. Where they happened to conflict, it was the function of the Crown to arbitrate. It is difficult to see how minority interests will be better protected if any future electoral composition of the House is to reflect the vote cast at the last election. Thirdly, there is the detailed scrutiny of European Union legislation where this House is way ahead of the other place. Being unelected, Peers are prepared to settle down to that rather dull work in a way never to be anticipated from an elected politician absorbed by the glamour of re-enacting the debate as to whether we should be in the European Union.
It may be that we suffer from not having a written constitution so that an unscrupulous government may play havoc with it. When the Minister replies--I have given notice to the Government of my question--perhaps he will tell the House what is the Government's perception of the question posed on page 203 on the recent book on House of Lords reform, Peers and Parliament Reformed, by William Wyndham, a parliamentary draftsman, where he writes:
I conclude by dealing with the proposal to remove heredity from the House of Lords and the reduction of our ceremonial. There has been a feeling in some quarters abroad that it is ultimately the wish of the Government to remove the monarchy, which still plays an active role in the constitution. There can be no doubt--and the noble Lord, Lord Charteris, earlier in the debate expressed this fear--that if heredity is removed from the House, the monarchy itself becomes exposed. Therefore, I am glad to record the success through advertising of the Constitutional Monarchy Association, founded to uphold the House of Windsor with its obvious current difficulties and constant assault from the media to which it cannot reply and so on. Now the membership of the Constitutional Monarchy Association has nearly reached 3,000 and is potentially much greater.
Lord Forbes: My Lords, I believe that this debate has shown the House at its best. It has demonstrated that most noble Lords are independently minded and speak following their own conscience, something that is extremely important. The debate has covered fully all aspects concerning reform of the House. All I wish to do is to endorse and emphasise what I feel are the crucial aspects in that regard.
The Government stated that they wish to reform the House. I have no quarrel with that. However, like many other noble Lords, I find the manner in which the Government propose to tackle that problem totally unacceptable. If the Government were to wait and then produce one Bill covering the comprehensive reform of this House after considering a Royal Commission report, then the Bill would receive a fair wind in this Chamber. That would be the correct way to tackle the matter. However, if the Government stick to their idea of a two-stage reform--first dealing with voting rights and leaving further reform until a later stage to be considered at some time in the future--they will find themselves floundering in tempestuous water and wondering why they ever embarked on the Bill.
To carry out reform of this House in two stages, without having decided on the final outcome, would be an act of folly. It would be rather like an army commander in wartime deciding not to use tanks before making up his mind on his plan of attack. If the Government are so unwise as to carry out reform in two stages, leaving a transitional Chamber before reaching stage two, it may lead people to conclude that the Government are more concerned--anyway, in the short term--with control of your Lordships' House rather than with its reform. I do not believe that either this Chamber or the country will go along with that because, thank goodness, manipulation of power is still completely alien and frowned upon in this country.
Let us not forget that this House is probably the most efficient second Chamber in the world. If it must be reformed then the Government will have to convince not only the people of this country but also the Members of this Chamber that the reformed House will operate better than the present House operates today. There is
Lord Alexander of Weedon: My Lords, the more I have listened to this debate, the more I have felt the irony that it is a remarkable advertisement for the strength of this House. We still largely comprise hereditary Peers and yet I sense a general recognition by so many Members that accident of birth can no longer be treated as the basis for membership of our second Chamber. It has also been widely acknowledged--the tone was set at the outset by my noble friend Lord Cranborne--that the authority of this House will be enhanced by sensible reform. But the main recurring divide--it is a very real one--is whether we should have two bites at the cherry or seek to achieve a single package of reforms. To draw on a cricketing analogy, the Government would wish the series to consist of two matches. Those who doubt the wisdom of that course do so largely because they feel that the second match may well be "rained off".
The history of the House of Lords shows that that is a real fear. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, says that this is the best opportunity we have had since 1910 for producing a sensible constitutional settlement. So, he says, "seize the moment". But 1910 is a salutary warning that the second stage of reform may never take place. We all remember the preamble to that Bill which shows that it was intended to substitute an elected for a hereditary Chamber,
Why cannot we proceed fully to sensible reform at one go? After all, the Government have been working through these issues--so they tell us--in detail in Cabinet sub-committee. A White Paper is promised and we may hear later--I hope we will--as to when we will have the opportunity of seeing it. A Royal Commission need not be a recipe for delay and foot dragging. The Jenkins Independent Committee on Voting Reform, of which I am a member, has taken a great deal of evidence, has held many meetings, and will deliver its report in under a year from being set up. It would be perfectly feasible for a Royal Commission to report in 18 months and, if so, there would still be scope for legislation in this Parliament. I detect no upsurge of popular discontent which makes emergency legislation to remove the hereditary Peers necessary. There is no one manning the barricades and crying, "To the tumbrels with the aristocrats." To proceed in an ordered way over two or three years to determine the future of our second Chamber would seem a valuable and measured approach to constitutional reform.
I do not want to add to what has been said about the virtues and achievements of the House as currently constituted. They are well known. But I want to say a word about the quality of independence. When I had the great privilege of joining this House 10 years ago the then Leader--my noble friend Lord Belstead--explained to me that, should I sit on the Conservative Benches, I would not forfeit independence of judgment in areas where I disagreed with party policy. He encouraged me to speak and, if I felt like it, to vote against the government. He added that that would give more credibility to such support as I could give the government on other occasions. I have taken regular--arguably too much--advantage of his encouragement. But I have never met with other than understanding and, indeed, generosity from him and successive Leaders and Chief Whips of my party. I see this capacity for a level of independence as a critical feature of any worthwhile second Chamber. Is that not the more so when one considers the lack of independence of the House of Commons? The Government in our country are currently regularly elected by a minority of voters but with a large parliamentary majority with individual MPs serving, for the most part, as the foot soldiers, the British tommies of democracy drilled to be always with their pager and always on message.
There must clearly be party loyalties and the ability to muster support on important issues. But surely a stout degree of independence, even among those with strong party loyalties, is a valuable attribute of the House. I suspect that that quality owes a great deal to the instinctive attitudes of hereditary Peers. If we are to lose them, we should not lose the contribution they instilled into our basic values.
I understand the importance which the Government attach to their manifesto commitment to the reform of the House of Lords. But I do not see why they should treat as sacrosanct the statement that it will be done in two stages. It is surely fanciful to think that there is some member of the public who, devouring avidly the manifesto line by line, decided to vote Labour because reform was to be carried out in two stages rather than one. In constitutional issues in particular what matters is surely that the Government achieve their broad objectives of completing reforms rather than proceed by the salami-slicing approach proposed. I welcome the fact that the manifesto stated unequivocally that the Government were committed to maintaining an independent Cross-Bench presence of life Peers. I welcome also the statement that no one political party should seek a majority in the House of Lords. If we are to have an interim second Chamber--I would very much prefer that we do not--I hope that that will be an in-built feature of the transition stage.
Tonight is not the time to make suggestions about precisely what the role of an effective second Chamber should be. But I regard its present functions as being at the very least its minimum powers. I also share the view expressed by so many that at the moment we pull our punches because of doubts about our legitimacy. Nor is it the time to talk about the composition of the Chamber. It does seem, though, that devolution and the welcome policy of restoring more power to local government
I wish to make one other short point. In my experience of organisations, restructuring can create uncertainties throughout the staff. One of the reasons why this House works so well is because we are served so splendidly across the board by our staff. We have marvellous--indeed, I would say matchless--officials who serve us with great efficiency and dedication. As chairman of one Select Committee, my contacts with a succession of Clerks and a legal adviser have left me in awe at their skill, service and dedication. In changing this House, we must be mindful of the need to structure it in such a way that it retains these strengths and, indeed, enhances the opportunities for them to be given expression in public service.
I have been in favour of reform of this House since well before the last election. The Government's actions have undoubtedly concentrated the minds of all in the House wonderfully and there is a clear willingness on all sides to seek a package of reform which will strengthen our work and our authority. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, has listened carefully to almost all of this debate with admirable stamina. With his incisiveness and sensitivity, I am sure that he will realise where the anxiety of the House lies. We have been given no indication of the Government's thoughts on the final shape of a revised Chamber. We have been given no firm timetable either for the work of a Royal Commission or for the implementation of reform. What reassurance can the noble Lord give us tonight? There are many who fear, both in the light of history and the realities of politics, that otherwise the promise of second-stage reform may disappear, floating away in the wind, as did the confident protestations of lasting reform made in the preamble of the Parliament Act 1911.
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I am one of 18 hereditary Peers who take the Labour Whip. Perhaps I could call myself a member of a happily endangered species. I am here because my ancestors, over 400 or 500 years ago, looked after the monarch's interests in the best meaning of that word. I should say "most monarchs" because one monarch, Edward II, came to an unfortunate end in my ancestor's castle, so there are exceptions to every rule.
I hold one of a small number of peerages which can pass through the female line. I inherited this peerage from my aunt, who was one of the first women to take her seat when that was allowed about 40 years ago. Perhaps she made some small contribution to balancing the male domination in this House to which my noble friend Lord Ponsonby referred.
During the past 40 years, with women admitted and life Peers finally allowed in, there have been some changes. Before that, it could be said that the Conservative hereditary Peers ran the country, even if
It has been said that if the Prime Minister is responsible for the appointment of all life Peers, that will perpetuate what is now called in the media "cronyism". Let us not forget that over the past 18 years of Conservative government at least twice as many Conservative life Peers were appointed compared to Labour. When we say, as have many noble Lords, that somehow hereditary Peers are of a different type and quality from life Peers, we are on dangerous territory. Of course, all Peers have contributed greatly, as my noble friend the Leader of the House said yesterday. It is invidious to say that things will change just because some Members of this House may or may not be here in the future.
That change was mentioned in the Labour Party manifesto. I strongly support it as a first stage in what I hope will be a long-term reform of this House. I was grateful for what my noble friend the Leader of the House said yesterday about the contribution that hereditary Peers have made. I hope that I have played my small part. I have welcomed the opportunity to do so and I hope that my experience has benefited the House.
Perhaps I may say a few words about the next stage, about what I call the "interim stage" of a long-term reform. It is important that we get this right. We look forward to an interim stage that will work well on its own account and that will lead us smoothly into the next stage when that occurs.
The House must continue to be a revising Chamber. As many other noble Lords have said, scrutiny of our legislation and of European legislation is becoming more and more important. From my participation in Sub-Committee B of the Select Committee on the European Communities, I know that that entails a lot of work. All the sub-committees and the main Select Committees put a great deal of time into their work. I believe that that is one of the most important roles of this House.
What should be the composition of the House in the interim? I believe that a selection and appointment system, completely independent of the Prime Minister and government of the day, is essential--and I am not just referring to our present one. It is not just a question of a commitment not to have an absolute majority; it is important to have a balance that can be maintained even when Peers are away or ill--and when, as happens occasionally, they cross the Floor of the House. That must be taken into account.
Many noble Lords have mentioned the quality of debate. It reflects the expertise and the experts that this House has at its disposal and their willingness to put in time in unpaid service. There is a wide range of expertise in this House, although some professions are more numerously represented than others. I should like to see more engineers declaring an interest, along with more architects, planners, environmentalists, nurses and many others who are not so well represented as are our
Getting rid of hereditary Peers is a necessary but not a sufficient step for the interim stage. In my simple definition, there appear to be two types of life Peer. We have working Peers and those who are awarded peerages as an honour, almost as one step above receiving a knighthood. Many of the latter, and some of the working Peers, are not seen in your Lordships' House very often. Perhaps that does not matter. A challenge for the future is to ensure that Peers who are appointed to work, if that is a definition--that is, to work through the details of legislation and to serve on committees--do sometimes show up. As unpaid Peers, many have to have other jobs to survive. I am not suggesting that they should be required to attend full-time. Many have to, and do, manage to juggle successfully jobs and families with their regular attendance here. In the future the independent organisation which will select and nominate life Peers will, one hopes, seek some kind of assurance of reasonable, regular attendance from potential appointees.
Lastly, the proposed change is not the perfect solution and I do not believe that anyone pretends that it is. Perhaps the Royal Commission will produce one. But to argue that we have to know the final end result proposed, whether it is elected, appointed, abolished or a combination of those three, before we allow the process of change to start is the classic argument for the status quo, to do nothing for ever. I could not understand the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Harptree, about leading to an elective dictatorship and an aged quango. If appointments to life peerages were made from people who are reasonably young, the average age of life Peers would tend to be younger than the average age of hereditary Peers. Perhaps the noble Lord can explain that point to me later.
The proposed change is a necessary first step. It may be a long or short interim stage. But while I am still here I shall certainly seek to contribute in any way I can to ensure that we have an informed, lively, independent and hard-working second Chamber appropriate to the needs of the next century.
Lord Elton: My Lords, this is not the time for a history lesson, but it is the time to take note of the lessons of history. One of them is hanging in the "Content" Lobby outside your Lordships' Chamber in the form of a copy of Magna Carta. That is the first fully articulated statement of a system limiting the power of the Executive which runs this country. It hangs very appropriately in that Lobby in full view of the Government Whip, telling Members voting in favour of amendments to his party's programme. I sometimes wonder whether the present noble Lord who is Chief Whip for the Government party, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, has ever been struck by the irony of the fact that the barony which by that document opened the country to the parliamentary process and which was admitted
That brings me to a serious matter. I believe that many of your Lordships, with respect, have been addressing the wrong issue. We are not here principally to debate the future of a privileged few members of our national society, nor indeed are we here to debate the proper relationship between two Houses of Parliament, acutely interesting though the first is to some of us and the latter to all of us. What we are here to consider is the proper manner of controlling the freedom of the Executive power in this country to govern it. That has been going on since the 13th century.
At first the Crown was the Executive and its power eventually slipped into Parliament, not because of a civil war but because of the accident of succession of the Hanoverian family, the first member of whom to occupy the Throne could not speak English and had to have a Minister to conduct all his business for him in Parliament. The slide of Executive power into the other place and into parts of this place has continued thereafter. But the Government, who are now the Executive in place of the Crown, must still be distinct, in our consideration, from the Parliament in which they have their being; otherwise they will not be properly controlled. Whenever the Executive of this country has escaped from proper control the nation has had to take desperate remedies to put it back in its bottle, such as the execution of one king and the dethronement of another.
If we do not look at our history, let us look at the history of other countries. It is always essential that a nation shall eventually control its Executive even between the times it goes to the country. That has to be done by Parliament as distinct from the Executive. What we are talking about now is the control of the Executive in part by this House, which is resented by the other place because it increasingly sees itself as one half of a parliamentary balance. It is not. It is the Back-Benchers of all parties in the other place who are part of that balance with us and the Government are on the other side. Hence the publicly expressed concern of Madam Speaker in the other place about the compliance of many new Back-Benchers to the most extreme demands of their Executive. They are there to control the executive. It is our job to help them. If we do not, we fail in the business that we started in the 13th century with Magna Carta, followed by the first and successive parliaments.
It is under those circumstances that noble Lords are here by heredity. I am a Baron and part of the order which brought in Magna Carta. I am a Member of the House of Lords, which is the only House, as the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, pointed out in a rather different tone of voice, which brought in the House of Orange to try to get the genie back into the bottle. We have to complete that business before we go. I ask your Lordships to read or recall the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, as to why that has to be done now before we go. Once we go, the tooth, as he put it, will be drawn and there will be absolutely no reason why a government of any description or colour should proceed further down the road of reform. Once we have gone the excuse has gone
I resent the tones in which various noble Lords have said that the Conservative Party has such a majority here that it can push through anything it likes. That is a slur on my parliamentary commitment and my own rebellions against my party when I thought it was wrong. I did it before I was in government, but that did not stop me getting into it. I did it after I got into government, and it did not reduce my friendship with my noble friends--at least they are not shaking their heads--on the Front Bench afterwards. It is part of the job.
We may call ourselves Conservatives and it may be that we are too complacent about our party's programmes. I take that as justified criticism. But we are here to control the Executive, and let us make no mistake about it: that job will not be done if it is not done in one piece. It will be delayed or abandoned, as my noble friend just said in a remarkable speech, as it was abandoned last time it was tried. It has been going on too long.
I am in favour in reform. I am not standing out for my privileges or my son's privileges. He is quite complacent about being relieved of them. I am dedicated to only one thing and that is the protection of the interests of the electorate between and at elections. That can only be done by a House that is properly organised and manned. I agree that this House is not properly organised and manned for that job at present. It does not put the brakes on as often or as hard as it should. Let us have reform, and when we have it we shall have done our job. The hereditary Peers can then leave with satisfaction and honour and get on with sometimes more interesting things they have to do. I want to paint more pictures and other people want to make more money. We can go on confident in the knowledge that we have left the protection of the interests of the electorate in safe hands. While we are doing that, if it goes on too long and the Government are completely incapable of living with the apparent massive Conservative majority, let them adopt what has already been suggested and have an electoral college. Let us have a proportion of the hereditary Peers here while the process is being completed. But, until the process or the Government's commitment to it is in statute, I for one will feel that I cannot leave with honour and that I must resist what is proposed. I believe a great many of us would co-operate with the Government if they could actually see what it is that we want and help us to get it.
The Earl of Northesk: My Lords, fortuitously I find myself pursuing the theme of my noble friend Lord Elton. Peter Hennessy, Professor of Contemporary History at Queen Mary and Westfield College, asserts that:
By definition--and, it has to be said, at the Government's own choosing--their proposals lack consensus. By contrast, our debate has a glass-like transparency. Once the Government have enacted their plans, our constitution will be exclusively a construct of the executive, delivering the executive's aspirations, and specifically drafted to work to the benefit of the executive. As pointed out by my noble friend Lord Cranborne, the stage one Bill, when enacted, will represent nothing less than the final triumph of the executive over the legislative process. Indeed, scribbled in with the gratuitous graffiti of the Government's constitutional agenda, and the spectre of proportional representation, it may even come to represent the final triumph of the executive, this executive, over the electorate--tyranny by any other name.
What makes this all the more galling, even tragic, is the plain fact that meaningful and effective reform of your Lordships' House, including revision of our composition, would assist immeasurably in redressing the constitutional balance to the benefit of the nation. That gift is still within the Government's grasp if they have both the courage and the wisdom to take it. What thinking person does not welcome the Government's announcement of a Royal Commission? But are the "when" question and the "why now" question answered by this exercise in smoke and mirrors? The constitutional imbalance of the executive's foul victory will have been created in advance of any such body beginning its deliberations.
I acknowledge the distaste that very many have for the hereditary principle within Parliament and its sincerity. I can even empathise with it. Like my noble friend Lord Cranborne, I would be content "to go quietly" if .... But we are all--that is, hereditary and life, Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Cross-Bench--guardians of the constitution. However desirable stage one may be democratically and however much the noble Baroness the Leader of the House protests, there is a huge and lingering scepticism expressed here, and in the outside world, about this Government's horizons. To take these promises at face value would be, for me, to warp my idea of my duty to this House and to this nation.
Of course, irrespective of the eventual outcome of their plans for your Lordships' House, the vessel of state will plough inexorably on. I simply wonder--and worry--what sort of leaky Millbank-registered rust-bucket our constitution will have become as this Government steer us into the 21st century.
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, I have now been in active politics for an era commencing with the chancellorship of Mr. Philip Snowden, accompanied by Mr. Montague Norman, extending to the chancellorship of my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Gordon Brown, accompanied by Mr. George. This is not the occasion to enter into any comparison between the philosophies, shared, or not shared, by both of these Chancellors and their respective governors of the Bank of England, but it does perhaps establish the fact that I have been alive during that period and active politically. Indeed, I see many things occurring now which I have seen happen before, though within a different context.
It is only fair to say that this entire time was not solely occupied with political matters. There were six years with the Army during the war. There was a period in the House of Commons which lasted five years with Mr. Aneurin Bevan, followed by a somewhat arid period of being a prospective parliamentary candidate, though unsuccessfully, in a number of constituencies, which culminated in my being appointed here by Mr. Wilson, as he then was, and a period of some four years in the European Parliament. The rest of the time has been spent mainly at the disposal of your Lordships and sometimes, during that 10 years, on the Opposition Front Bench. I just mention those factors to establish that I am a proper practitioner in politics and have, at any rate, a little experience of it. I am quite sure that Members of the European Parliament would testify to my professional activities as a chartered accountant in securing satisfactory settlements with Her Majesty's Inland Revenue.
As I see it--and I do not talk with a forked tongue; indeed, I talk exactly as I believe--parliamentary government is very important. I believe that the House of Commons should be supreme and unchallenged in this field, based upon the votes of the electorate. As I conceive it, on the basis of my experience, it is the function of your Lordships' House to assist in every way the House of Commons to establish its will in the way
We have known for years that this House cannot possibly stand up to the test of democratic composition. We have known that for over a hundred years. Your Lordships may ask how it is that the House of Lords as at present undemocratically composed has lasted so long? I am sure that noble Lords who have any experience of the House of Commons will be aware that it could not possibly have sustained any continued or persistent attack from the House of Commons which challenged the Lords' existence, or for that matter, its composition. I talk now in another professional field, that of a management consultant, when I say that the House of Lords could not have survived unless it had satisfactorily fulfilled that purpose vis-a-vis the House of Commons.
The other place is well aware of its own limitations, or rather those who have been there some time-- I emphasise the words "some time"--are aware of their own limitations. We know perfectly well that large amounts of legislation are subject to the guillotine in the other place--and are therefore not discussed publicly--on the basis that the Commons knows very well that they will be discussed here. It assents to that proposition. The other place knows quite well that vast amounts of legislation are more or less in draft form when they reach this House. They do not even pretend to be Acts in their final form. The other place knows that it saves its own time by sending legislation to the Lords in an incomplete and often draft form. This function, which I have mentioned, is performed not only by our civil servants here but also by ordinary Members of your Lordships' House, whether they be hereditary or appointed Members. By and large this House performs that task well, and the Commons knows that.
In fact, on a little reflection, is it not quite clear that were it not for the extra work that is done within this place, the output of legislation from the other place would be halved? Some of us are skilled and some of us, like me, are unskilled and merely verbose, but the rest of your Lordships are fine administrators. We know that we serve that function and that we do it well. Subject to certain reservations that I may mention later if time permits, I must add that we also carry out work in committees too.
My next point is perhaps a little trivial. I do not like to stoop to this, but I must say that the House of Commons preferred to experiment with televising this House before adopting such a procedure in its own House. Therefore, as I said, we have a function to perform. During the quarter of a century that I have had the honour to be in your Lordships' House I cannot recall a circumstance where any government of any complexion have been seriously hampered in their work of getting their legislation ultimately through Parliament. In one or two cases there has been a delay which has been speedily dealt with by the Parliament Act, but on other accounts the legislation has gone through smoothly.
However, in saying that, we have to bear in mind that there are other centres of power of a more undemocratic nature that may impinge on the rights and liberties of the people of our country. We have innumerable quangos all over the place. Where are they elected? How was their composition determined? Were they nominated, elected, suggested or propelled? Did they pay money? We do not question that. However, they have considerable and unaccountable powers--accountable to no one--over ever increasing sections of our affairs. But worse than that, of course, we have the quango that no one really likes to mention and which they sweep under the carpet if they can when they hear it mentioned. I regret to say that I have inflicted this matter upon your Lordships for longer than most of you can possibly remember. The area of legislation and the area of activity properly belonging to the Parliament of the United Kingdom is progressively narrowing and being taken away by the European Commission. Every day that passes sees new statutes on our own statute book that have not been scrutinised by either House but come under the scrutiny of the higher Civil Service--who I am bound to say are the best in the world--together with, of course, their Brussels' colleagues with whom they have a strong affinity in that the Brussels' institutions have now become part of the Civil Service career structure in the United Kingdom, both in terms of much higher salaries and greatly increased pensions for people who are seconded to Brussels.
I ask your Lordships to pause for the following reason. The other place, as at present elected, has been in existence for just a little over a year. I know from my own personal experience as a new MP in 1945 and later as an official in the Ministry of Health that it takes a long time to know exactly how the system works and to know exactly its limitations. Therefore, if there is to be a Bill--I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Pender, did not receive the same treatment--and if there are to be changes either in composition or functions, the Members of the other place, including many Ministers who have not previously held ministerial office, ought to be given time to become really familiar with the administrative apparatus in which they are enmeshed. I refer to the process of legislation, the processes of examination, and above all, the relationship with the European Community, about which few of them know anything in detail. I hope that whatever happens as regards our sustaining the powers of the other place we shall be mindful that we have a higher responsibility which is to our nation as a whole. Provided that we do that, we may continue with our function however we are composed, whatever differences there are in methods of appointment. In my own way, as my time draws to a close, I am confident that ultimately we shall do it.
I feel that in the second day we are already well on the way to stage two. It seems an aeon since the introductory remarks of the Lord Privy Seal, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay. When she returns, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Williams, might draw attention to the fetching outfit in scarlet that she wore yesterday. I see that today she has changed. Is that a good omen for Saturday afternoon? Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will be able to explain to me when he comes to wind up the debate.
I was thrilled by the noble Baroness's quotation of statistics. She mentioned a figure of 1.4 per cent. of noble Lords being "workers". I look forward to all the new arrivals in this House not being classified as "workers" or "drone" Peers. I certainly agree on the figure of 1.4 per cent. I suspect that that is about the percentage of the general population who make a differentiation between life Peers and hereditary Peers.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Carew, from time to time when leaving this House I try to collect a taxi. I find it quicker to go across the road. When a taxi driver stops to pick me up he does not necessarily know that I have been--I shall not say "working" but occupying myself in your Lordships' House. The driver often says: "What's a geezer like you doing in there?", and, "Isn't Tony Blair going to abolish the whole House of Lords?" I hope the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will be able to convey those sentiments of about 98.6 per cent. of the population to the noble Baroness when she returns. There is wide misunderstanding throughout the nation as to what is to happen to this House.
I was thrilled to hear throughout the debate, and above all in the opening speeches, of the lovely inbuilt Conservative majority. It was referred to earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich. I was pleased that my noble friend Lord Elton took courage and wondered whether the noble Lord was absolutely right. My noble friend referred to a great event that took place in 1981. I cannot remember whether my noble friend Lord Elton was still in the Whips' Office; I certainly was. There was a massive revolt against the Conservative Government, headed by my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk. There was a notable speech from the Treasury Bench by Lord Butler. It was the first enormous government defeat of the Thatcher government.
I recall going down the corridor to try to explain to our honourable and right honourable colleagues what had happened. They were simply unable to understand--as in the enjoyable thoughts of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, who during my career used to make powerful speeches from the position where the noble Lord, Lord Williams, is presently sitting. I have had a long career, 10 years, as a Whip, longer than most of your Lordships save for four or five notable
That bears greatly upon the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Jay. The noble Baroness said that she wanted a new and improved House of Lords after the hereditary Peers had gone. I am not too sure whether the noble Baroness served in the Whips Office. I do not believe that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, did. But I have news for them. No doubt my thoughts may be echoed by those in the Whips Office. There are three words that Whips in this House have to learn. They are all fairly polite. They are: "please" and "thank you".
As noble Lords will appreciate, although I do not know that it is necessarily appreciated down the corridor let alone outside this place, all Members of this House, save on the Government Front Bench and two or three other distinguished colleagues, are amateurs. When I am asked to try to explain how the House of Lords works with the House of Commons, even abroad in well-established countries such as Switzerland, which has a democracy dating back 700 years, people seem to take my simple example of one of the world's greatest events straddling the months of June and July--Wimbledon tennis.
In 1968 the Wimbledon authorities--I believe it is called the All-England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club--took the decision that both amateurs and professionals would come to compete at Wimbledon. That puts in a nutshell the workings of our current system of Parliament. We in this House are the amateurs; those in the other place are the professionals. But it does not prevent your Lordships from acting in a thoroughly professional way. The greatest example is that of my immediate predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Bruce. It is a point that is perhaps not appreciated. When we the hereditary Peers go, I shall certainly not behave like a football hooligan. I am a Scot. I leave that to the English and other people--though perhaps the language that I use would not be entirely understood or suitable in many football grounds. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, who spoke earlier, was fairly discreet in not saying that he and I were exact contemporaries at Eton. It seems that the noble Lord did science. I was told that I was too dim to take that subject, so I learnt languages. Now, when I go to those great sporting events, I can invite the referee to get new glasses, or white stick or, even better, a guide dog, in eight languages! I find that that does much. However, I try to restrain my comments.
If we have an entirely elected Chamber, that will be fine. But we may have--and here I may be politically incorrect--a proportion of Members elected and some nominated. Can noble Lords, apart from extreme zealots, of whom there are not too many present this evening, imagine tramping around looking to see whether they can get themselves elected to this House; coming here; not being paid; and when they move around on the blue carpet to my right it being suggested by their party Whip that they do not go home? I simply do not believe that.
Having been a Whip for 10 years, I have one or two hints. There are other people, men in boiled white shirts, at least three of whom would be able to drill me round. They are ex-warrant officers in the Brigade of Guards who have had a long career in psychology and coping with difficult people. There are plenty here and it might be a hint for a reformed House of Lords. A Whip sitting outside would not be needed. However, it is beyond the realms of reality to have a new and reformed House of Lords, with amateurs who are not paid running for election, coming here to do the kind of job we do day in, day out in your Lordships' House. I may be visually challenged, but I see that I have gone well over my time. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Williams, to take that into account when he comes to reply.
Lord Cockfield: My Lords, I join my noble friend Lord Lyell in paying tribute to the powerful delivery of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington. Some years ago my noble friend Lord Long moved the famous Motion, That the noble Lord be no longer heard. As the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, can be heard as far away as Trafalgar Square without the aid of a microphone, it seems to me that that Motion was misconceived.
I hold no brief for the hereditary principle in general, either in this House or elsewhere. Nevertheless, I object strongly to what the Government propose in this instance. The reason is simply this. We face a major problem which has been identified inter alia, or among others, by my noble friend Lord Elton. I shall come back to that in a moment.
The simple truth is that the Government have not got a clue what to do. That is obvious if we look at their record in a number of fields. They have bright ideas, but when it comes to doing anything about them, what happens? They have consultation. Consultation is admirable if you know what you are consulting about, but if you are consulting in order to trawl up ideas from other people, it only illustrates how little you are prepared. If you do not have consultation, you proceed to a committee or a commission in the hope that at least
In industry, administration and government the right way of proceeding is to draw up a proper detailed plan and, if necessary, a costed plan. That can be put out for public consideration and discussion; it can be torn to pieces, amended and improved. But at least by starting that way you know what you are talking about. You focus your mind and end up, oddly enough, with getting something done. That might appeal even to the present Government.
I come back to the major issue raised by my noble friend Lord Elton. That is the overweening power of government. I am not talking about this government but about government in general. It was put succinctly and accurately in the Motion adopted by the House of Commons in 1780:
But the issue is this: we have no constitution in this country. To say that we have an unwritten constitution is playing with words. That is borne out by the simple fact that it is within the power of Parliament to repeal the most fundamental statutes, to repeal the Bill of Rights, to repeal the European Communities Act 1972. That would appeal very much to the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, not to mention the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, if he were here. That is proof of the fact that we do not have a constitution.
Look what the Government themselves have done. When they want to protect the citizen against the power of government, what do they do? They do not know what to do themselves; they ask us to pass into law the European Convention on Human Rights. That is not the European Commission to which the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, objects so strongly. No doubt he approves of what the Government did. But what are they doing? They cannot even think of how to protect their own citizens. They have to go outside and find someone else to do their thinking for them. How, therefore, can one expect them to solve the major problem of the overweening power of government versus the citizen? That problem must be addressed. Trying to focus a debate on hereditary Peers is a mere diversion from the problem that really matters.
We see the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, here. I pay tribute to his ability, charm of manner and courtesy. He believed that he was entitled to ask the Opposition at Question Time to do his thinking for him. Of course, we are capable of doing our own thinking, but when it comes to policy we believe that we are entitled to ask the Government to do a bit of thinking of their own and tell us what they want to do. We will tell them soon enough why they have got it wrong, but that is the privilege of every Opposition.
It is not that I want to support the principle of having hereditary Peers or the principle of how you elect them. I want to know what the Government propose to do. Until we know that, we should ask the Government seriously to think again whether they are progressing the matter in a way that is really in the public interest.
Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne: My Lords, I am a relative newcomer to your Lordships' House. Unlike some, I spent only a decade in the other place but I claim many past and present noble kinsmen here, as well as many honourable Members of my family in the other place.
All my forebears and present noble kinsmen here come from the hereditary principle. I wish to pay a familial tribute to their prolonged and--dare I say it?--distinguished public service over the centuries in the parliaments of Scotland, England and the United Kingdom.
However, I cannot argue for the retention of seats held here in perpetuity solely by virtue of being the male first born. The lottery of conception produces good, bad and indifferent over the generations in most families. The argument of suitability to govern created only by chance of birth and single gender is scientifically and logically unsustainable in a society without enforced human genetic breeding programmes. The prevailing argument that the hereditary lottery is just as good as any other lottery to produce suitable Peers detracts from the dedication of your Lordships' House to excellence--excellence in legislative decision making. But that is our job.
I want the best for the government of my country, and so do we all. Yet the received wisdom of yesterday in many speeches was that reform of the House of Lords was somehow of lesser import than the other reforming thrusts of the incoming reforming government; that the reform of the House of Lords was somehow secondary or even tertiary and that excellent reforms had already started in relation to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the European Parliament.
Surely, the House of Lords is a vital part of the full constitutional review and cannot be taken in isolation as if it is of lesser value to the Government's programme and is somehow an add-on to our democracy. I do not think so. The House of Lords should be the jewel in the crown of our renewed constitution. Does that mean that we should move immediately to stage two? I think not, because the position of hereditary Peers in our ranks clouds the issue. We must close the gaping fissure in our democracy before we move on to stage two. I do not believe that we can discuss a fully democratic House of Lords while we have the undemocratic weight of the hereditary principle in our midst.
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