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Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I believe that my noble friend Lord Cranborne made that position quite clear in his opening speech. I shall not quote him accurately because I do not need to; indeed, I can paraphrase what he said and what he has said many times. If it is time for the hereditary peerage to go, then it must go. We have no quarrel about that. This debate has been characterised not by the fact that it has been about the hereditary peerage, but by the failure of the Government to propose anything adequate to put in its place. I give way to the noble Lord.
Lord Richard: My Lords, I am much obliged. I do not want to make this into a dialogue, but is the noble Lord saying that the Tory Party agrees that, in a reformed House of Lords, the hereditary peerage should go? It is a simple question. The answer is either yes or no. Which is it?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the answer to that is, yes, if we can replace the hereditary Peers with something which is at least as independent as the current system. My noble friend said "if"; but, as I understand it--and I may have misunderstood--there is also an "if" at the heart of government policy because they want a stage two as well. Indeed, there are very few hereditary Peers who have said over the course of the past few days, "We wish to stay; we must stay. We won't go. You will remove us over our dead bodies."
However, I turn back to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, who is still cleverer than me. I know that he will have done a lot of thinking. He will probably have many of the solutions to some of the problems that have been raised over the course of the past few days. It is late. The House is quiet. Why does the noble Lord not take us into his confidence when he comes to conclude the debate? We have had enough of manifestos and mandates: why does the noble Lord not tell us what the long-term plans are? Otherwise, we may have to conclude that both he and the Government have not got a clue in that respect.
If the Government continue with their vague, half-baked and unconvincing plans for reform based on a first single stage, I can only predict that they will find that this House may become increasingly troublesome in the months ahead.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, they will get their Bill eventually, because that is what governments do and the law requires that to happen. But what a waste of time to take two bites of the cherry when one would do. I can assure noble Lords that it will take a lot of time to deal with the Government's stage one Bill. I do not say this
At the start of my speech I said that this is a pre-legislative debate which I welcome. On the whole it has been a good debate, but I could not help sympathising with the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, who said that aspects of it were unsatisfactory. It has attracted more than 100 speakers and has received unprecedented publicity in the electronic and written media, not all of which, I should point out, is favourable to the Government. But I am sure that they will have realised that for themselves. Indeed, I think that they will admit it.
Speaking as an hereditary Peer myself, but not for the hereditary Peers, I say that if it is time for me to go I shall go. I certainly do not want to stay in this House if I am not wanted. I share that view with the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, and many others who spoke from that side of the House. But I feel a sense of responsibility. I may be wrong. It is rather old-fashioned to feel a sense of duty. That is not new or modern and it is certainly not "cool". However, I feel a sense of responsibility to those who put me here to make sure that what is put in my place will serve the interests of the nation and of parliamentary democracy.
I suspect that in the months ahead we shall return to this subject many times. I look forward to that. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House said that she will listen. I am sure that she and her colleagues in government will do so. This House works and it works well. That may not in itself be a justification for its continuation as it is, but we have already waited so long for the right reform that waiting a little longer to get it right will do no harm whatsoever. I urge the Government to think again.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is such a kind-hearted person he not only offered to write my speech for me but he also claims to have read it out. Unfortunately, what I am about to say is not quite what he had in mind. Inscribe this upon your tablets, bearing in mind what the noble Lord, Lord Steel, said a moment or two ago about 1910 and 1911. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said that the time may have come when reform is possible. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, in his masterly demolition yesterday of the Opposition case, said that it surprised him to discover during his conversations with the noble Viscount and the noble Lord the Chief Whip that they had over all these years been closet reformers. Well, they have not really outed themselves tonight, have they?
Another scheme--I must not call it a ploy, because that would be very wrong of me--that the noble Lord suggested was that if there were too many hereditary Peers they might be given leave of absence, a sort of compulsory set-aside, I imagine, at £80 an acre. There is no speck of malice or envy which informs my thoughts or words concerning the hereditary peerage. Let us not forget that the hereditary peerage will continue to exist. Your Lordships all know how soft-hearted I am. I have to say that some of my very best friends are hereditary Peers. I have spent years urging the protection of endangered species, but only in their natural habitat.
This proposal, the first stage--of which nothing could be clearer--should be a golden opportunity. The hereditaries should look on these proposals as a career opportunity. They will be able to offer themselves to a grateful nation in open elections to the House of Commons. Bearing in mind how many of your Lordships who have spoken have said they have been importuned by taxi drivers who have said what an excellent job all hereditary Peers do, I am sure that none of you will have any difficulty in being elected to the House of Commons.
A number of disagreeable aspects have intruded. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, mentioned the large number of Old Etonians who are present in this House. I believe he accused the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, of hiding the fact that he had been there. I have no animus at all against Old Etonians. They have already suffered enough. We are in fact a very generous Government. We are able to take away from the hereditary Peers the burden of public duty which they have all so admirably described.
At the outset yesterday we heard a notable maiden speech from the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury. A long time ago, we both read jurisprudence together at the same university. It was downhill all the way after that. The noble Lord became a solicitor, I became a barrister, and we both ended up in this House.
An aspect of his speech which interested me was that it was not the speech of a party hack. It is not right to say that independence resides only with the hereditary Peers. One or two names float into my mind at random--to the horror, I dare say, of the Whips: Stoddart of Swindon, Pearson of Rannoch, Bruce of Donington, Peyton of Yeovil. Party appointees and party hacks? They wish!
Let us remember the words of the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. It is simply not true to say that the hereditary component in your Lordships' House has not generally been used for party-political advantage, and for a single party's political advantage; namely, the Conservative Party. It is not nonsense. The figures have been given by the noble Lord, Lord Graham. They are known perfectly well and they have been challenged by no one.
Five: the vast Conservative majority here--and it is no good saying that this is nonsense or misrepresentation; these are the facts that cannot be denied and shall not be forgotten--was increased by a double ratio of 2:1 Conservatives to Labour in the 1980s and 1990s. I should not myself, nor would my colleagues behind me, be inclined to take lessons about a fair distribution of appointed Peers or a fair representation in this House.
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