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Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I thank my noble friend. She is quite right in saying that we should look into the longer-term implications. I think the longer term is the main question hanging over British agriculture at this moment. Although we are all obsessed with the problems of the short term, we cannot have a longer term that comprises a series of short-term crises. I think we have come to the end of that particular programme and so I agree with my noble friend on the long term. As to her particular concern about intensification, that is absolutely right. Ultra-intensification has led us into some of the problems that we have with food health, and of course in Agenda 2000 we are looking to see whether there are ways of becoming more efficient while not being over-intensive. That is a rather difficult balance, and almost a dichotomy. It is an important point to raise.
On supporting the Scandinavians, when I attended the Agricultural Council I would say that we frequently took the position of supporting the Scandinavians, and they supported us. As regards environmental conditions, cross-compliance and so, that is quite a complicated matter, in which historically our position has been to try to go for absolutely clear and clean environmental conditions. The cross-compliance ones involve an element of compromise over direct subsidies of which we are a little wary. On the whole, I think my noble
Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, returning to the debate on the gracious Speech and the British constitution, I should like to point out that the British constitution has undergone massive changes over the past 200 years--changes inconceivable in the 17th century. The Monarchy has lost most of its former powers; the franchise has been extended beyond anything our ancestors might have imagined; and the ancient common law has undergone extensive reforms. However, this massive revolution has been achieved without any violent reaction: changes enormous, yet no violent reaction.
Our last revolution was in 1688, and that was a pretty mild affair. The upheavals of 1789 in France, of 1848 in almost every part of Europe, of 1871 in France again and of 1917 in Russia were not paralleled in any manner in Great Britain. I should like to suggest that this peaceful, vast and dramatic change was accomplished for at least two reasons: first, reform in Great Britain was gradual, responding gently and perceptively to popular demand. It was not imposed from above. Secondly, and possibly more importantly, in Great Britain we kept the outward forms and trappings of history while transferring and transforming powers. The Monarchy looked the same and the rituals of the past remained. The Monarch still wore the Crown and opened Parliament in traditional ways; but behind the facade all the powers had gone to the Prime Minister and to Parliament.
The structure of Parliament changed. Its membership altered, and altered drastically, but again its outward forms remained. It kept its links with its past. The common law was transformed, but the judges kept their wigs and administered justice in a manner inconceivable to their 18th century predecessors. Let me point out a comparison. Our neighbour, France, has also witnessed massive changes over the past 200 years--changes in many ways similar to those in Great Britain--yet the manner was different. The great revolution of 1879 to 1894 destroyed almost all the past. It was a clean sweep, modernising, transforming and changing everything. Very little remained the same, but the result was not two centuries of gradual and peaceful development. I think it would be well to consider what followed the dramatic changes of the great revolution.
Further revolutions occurred in 1830, 1848 and 1871. Between 1789 and 1794 there were five republican constitutions, two royalist and two imperial. What I am suggesting is that security and harmony--the psychic security that society needs--was lost. I would further suggest that France has only experienced that security
We used to boast, when long ago I was a young student at school, about our success in achieving change while preserving our historical past. We felt--and it was constantly proclaimed--that this gave our society a security and an avoidance of the distress that had been produced by revolutionary change. Let us remember that of those continental countries which experienced a French revolution and the aftermath in the Napoleonic conquest seven were ruled by dictators on the eve of the Second World War.
My main reason for making a contribution tonight is not to give your Lordships a history lesson: I was paid for that for 40 years and I do not need to earn money doing it now. I say this because it seems that we are in danger of abandoning the proven patterns of the past in our approach to constitutional change. We seem, under the present Government, to have rejected that ancient idea that change should only be a response to great popular demand. As far as I can see, popular demand in the present climate of change seems only to have existed in Scotland, where I acknowledge that there was a great demand for devolution. However, in the public bars and the clubs that I frequent I do not find individuals coming up to me, even in the Garrick, and saying, "My God, that House of Lords, those hereditary Peers!" It does not seem to touch hearts.
We also seem to have abandoned the idea of maintaining the trappings--the historical links with the past--which masked the radical nature of the change that we have accomplished. For example, we talk now of changing the Monarchy--not so much its powers, which have all gone, but the trappings are suddenly seen to be in need of change. The traditional patterns of Parliament, which were borne by radicals throughout this century, and were even valued by the former Prime Minister, Mr. Attlee, are now under question. There appears to be a feeling that we lost by not having those great modernising and revolutionary changes which France and other large parts of Europe experienced between 1789 and 1815. Then the past was erased and a new world was created.
I hope that that is not the feeling of the present Government. I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will reassure me about that fact. If it is, I believe that they are wrong, and dangerously wrong. I hope that in all constitutional changes that they are inaugurating they may give thought to the manner of constitutional growth in the past and the way in which the disturbing effects of change were masked by preserving the appearance of continuity. Without that we may find that that security, which has been characteristic of British history over the past 200 years and which enabled us to be at ease with our past while adapting to change, will be lost and lost for ever. As all history shows us, societies are fragile entities and care must be taken in dealing with their structure and forms.
Lord Monkswell: My Lords, by intervening in this debate I should like first to pay tribute to the Leader of the House, my noble friend Lady Jay, for the very effective way in which she introduced the debate this afternoon. I also pay tribute to the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, for his contribution--not, unfortunately that which he made today, which did not come up to his usual high standard--to politics that he has made over the past 18 months.
In the short period of time in which I shall address the House I wish to touch on two matters. The first is to refer to some statistical facts. Secondly, I shall talk about timing. The main subject I shall be addressing is the reform of your Lordships' House. I pay tribute to the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, for his political acumen over the past 18 months. We need to recognise that it is almost solely due to him that we are looking at accelerated progression to what one might describe as stage two in the reform of your Lordships' House. Unfortunately, one of the difficulties is that he has also put on the agenda the suggestion that life Peers are somehow second-class Members of your Lordships' House. As a Labour hereditary Peer I refute that entirely. In my experience during 13 years in your Lordships' House I hope that I have come to respect every Member of it. I do not necessarily agree with their political stance, but I respect them for the contributions that they make to the way in which the House works.
One matter which has not been touched on greatly this afternoon, and in previous debates on the reform of your Lordships' House, concerns the numbers involved. Currently there are 1,166 Members of your Lordships' House of whom 41 per cent. are Conservative; 15 per cent. are Labour; 6 per cent. are Liberal Democrats; and 38 per cent. claim no political allegiance and are generally referred to as Cross-Benchers. It is interesting to reflect that out of 750 hereditary Peers, only 18, which is 2.4 per cent., take the Labour Whip. I have argued before that that demonstrates that the hereditary peerage in general is totally out of touch with the modern political realities of the United Kingdom.
If we were to look at the situation after we hereditary Peers have left the Chamber, membership of the House of Lords will amount to about 540 Members. As my noble friend Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede said in an excellent speech this afternoon, it will still be the largest second Chamber in a parliamentary system in the world. If one considers the make up of the life Peer Members of this House as it will be constituted later on--I hope, in this parliamentary Session--the figures are as follows: Conservative 177, which equates to 33 per cent.; Labour, 159, which is 29 per cent.; Liberal Democrats, 45, equating to 8 per cent. and Cross-Benchers 159, equating to 29 per cent. The reason I have quoted those figures is that there is a considerable amount of misconception that a reformed House of
The second matter is timing. My family has been involved in British politics since 1832. One of my ancestors was elected as the first Member of Parliament for the City of Plymouth. I suggest to the House that the development of modern democracy that we have seen evolving in this country stems from that landmark, the Reform Act 1832. It began the progress of parliamentary elected democracy in a real sense in this country. Over the period from 1832 we have seen, first, an extension of the franchise to women and, in Harold Wilson's government, an extension of the vote to 18 year-olds. There has been a continuing march of democratic modernisation. In that process the powers and responsibilities of the peerage have declined. I believe that we all recognise that it is totally right that that should be so.
We are faced with the situation where either just before or after the millennium the hereditary Peers will no longer have the right to sit and vote in this House. I hope that it can be agreed across the Chamber that the manner of the going of hereditary Peers will reflect well on the contribution that we and our ancestors have made over the past 200 years of British political development. It would be pleasant to believe that at the beginning of the new millennium the hereditary peerage will no longer have a place in the House of Lords. I am worried about the possibility that we could go into the next century having to be dragged kicking and screaming from this Chamber. That would be a stain on the new century and on our characters. It would be remembered throughout the new century. I make a plea that we go with dignity. By going with dignity, we can gain the respect for the contribution that we and our forefathers have made to public life. We should go with respect.
Lord Harmsworth: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, deplores the small number of hereditary Peers sitting on his Benches. That could be explained by the policies of his party during the 1960s and 1970s.
I feel I should ask the indulgence of the House for speaking on reform of your Lordships' House for the first time today. We were flying back from Penang on 14th October, the first day of the excellent debate on the subject. We arrived early in the morning of the 15th by which time it was too late for me to make a contribution.
One thing I would not like to see is a change in the balance of powers between your Lordships' House and the other place. For me, the most important consideration in any reform would be success in retaining the essentially revising nature of your
In a way, I am surprised that the Government, with their passion for control, would wish to strengthen the status of this Chamber. Removal of hereditary Peers will, in one fell swoop, place control of legislation further from the grasp of government--government of any hue. Like it or not, hereditary Peers must provide what is, as near as can be, an automatic and copper-bottomed guarantee of the status of this House as a revising Chamber. Remove the hereditary Peers and the immediate result will be a change of authenticity, resulting in a competitive Chamber with the Commons, with the possibility of loss of legislation on a scale hitherto unseen.
Many years ago I read Lord Shackleton's brilliant report, which was to become a Command Paper, on the Falkland Islands. Shortly afterwards I was talking to a very senior diplomat. He told me that there was a value in the Falklands to the Argentines. It was this: when domestic politics reached very heated and difficult stages, the head of state would rattle his sabre and cry, "Let us go and get the Falklands." Everybody would forget what they were arguing about and the matter would then be quietly dropped, the ruse having done its job. In this context, the mistake that Galtieri made was that he actually invaded. The tool was valuable only as a tool. Members of another place and your Lordships may wish to consider whether there is some parallel here with the presence of hereditary Peers in this Chamber.
Apart from wishing to perpetuate constitutional change in the English way, from the bottom up and not from the top down as is done on the Continent--and how much better have we been than our continental friends over the centuries at constitutional change--for my money, I would much like to see the present balance of power little changed, and the role of this House likewise, other than possibly in ways suggested by my noble friend Lord Hurd. Even then, reform should start at the bottom end of the legislative production line and not at the top. Stabbing at reforms before watching how imbalances lower down the line shape out is no way to manage anything.
My impression is that your Lordships' House in the past year or so has been beginning to behave more like it will inevitably do with the hereditaries gone. If it is not too late, and until we have sight of the Government's detailed plans, let us keep our imperfect but largely efficacious automatic balancing mechanisms.
Certainly, the reform of the membership of this House was well heralded. Had it not been in the gracious Speech yesterday, it would have proved to have been one of the greatest wind-ups of all time. More of a pity was the mention of, rather than proposals for, the reform of the work of this House. Clearly, there is a need for real proposals, as the antics of last week may have confirmed. One hopes that the Royal Commission will come back speedily with practical proposals within the timeframe mentioned. I hope that the peerage Bill--or whatever it is called--and the preceding White Paper will be published soon.
In the meantime, I hope that we can see an end to the blanket criticism of the hereditary peerage. There has been far too much of it in recent months. The individual's right to reputation extends to all citizens, even to hereditary Peers.
I conclude this section of my remarks with three reminders. First, hereditary Peers are not a corporate group. Secondly, Peers in receipt of writs of summons are legitimate Members of the House, with a duty to attend, participate and vote. Thirdly--this is my most substantive point--the peerage of Scotland have always attended by statute, as do Peeresses in their own right and life Peers. Of course, statutes can be repealed, and I claim no protection from those provisions.
This brings me to more positive thoughts about the reform of this House, allied to reforms of the constitution of the United Kingdom and Scotland's future participation in it. Stage one, the reform of this House, will bring about a need for new provisions for a statutorily guaranteed number of working Peers domiciled in Scotland. Despite devolution, there will still be Scottish clauses of UK legislation and Scots law provisions being scrutinised in this House. This is best done, with the greatest commitment, by citizens who will be subject to those new Scottish provisions.
To back up that claim, there is an important constitutional principle which the Government would be foolish to ignore at a time when scepticism about the United Kingdom connection is rife in Scotland. The peerage of Scotland have attended this House by statute since 1707, as have at least 45 MPs. Their attendance is a condition of the Treaty. Articles 22 and 23 and the two supporting Acts confirm all this. For the past 291 years Scottish representation in this House has been guaranteed by statute. In 1963, Section 4 of the Peerage Act repealed the mechanism for, and the need for, the election of 16 Peers representative of the peerage of Scotland. Since then the whole peerage of Scotland, which is about 130 in number, has been eligible to attend this House.
To be competent, any reform of this House will need to deal with the appropriate repeals and, more importantly, to ensure a continuing guarantee of Scottish representation. Any government who tinker with the foundation statutes of the United Kingdom, or any other Union state, do so at their peril.
At this time the issue of Scottish membership of the United Kingdom is really only one of principle, despite the scare stories, many of which come over in the category of either pathetic or out of date. Membership of the United Kingdom needs to be presented at all times in Scotland as a positive. Hence my continuing enthusiasm for the radical reform of the United Kingdom, one in which the people of Scotland can find their true and unstifled destiny and pursue their rightful task of autonomous government. Anything less and the new Union project will fail.
Perhaps I may move on to a completely different subject which interests me. On an environmental tack, I am surprised by the omission of any proposals for public access to the hill country in England and Wales. This is a serious issue which needs to be dealt with by government with real vision--a vision of how to marry up the recreational and health needs of the urban population with the working needs of the rural population. At present I feel that the various sides are just shouting at each other. The preparation of a balanced and heavy duty new countryside code will help, backed up by a means of sharing the load of liability, and wear and tear from increased use of footpaths and other recreational facilities. I am pleased to read in The Scotsman newspaper that the Scottish Office is well ahead in this respect, with the aim of presentation of a Scottish public access Bill in the first session of the Scottish Parliament.
Given the substantially different legislative and philosophical background to public access in the Scottish jurisdiction from that of England and Wales, I suspect that the process south of the Border will be very different and there may not be too much to learn from the Scots law process. It is an issue that needs to be brought down off the hills and into the low country. The demand for recreational walking is predominantly in the low country adjacent to urban areas. This is a health issue as well as being one of sustainability. I believe that there is a means of resolving the conflicting demands of public access and cultivation or stock rearing. I look forward to initiatives by the Government along these lines.
In conclusion, I look forward to participating in the scrutiny of the new criminal justice measures, the constitutional Bills and the Scottish clauses of UK legislation. My immediate view is that I am a working Peer from Scotland until I am sent home.
Lord Vivian: My Lords, I very much regret that I was unable to speak in the recent two-day debate in your Lordships' House on the reform of this Chamber. I now have an opportunity to do so with the advantage of having read your Lordships' contributions in that debate, for which I am indebted and which have made me better informed. In my contribution I shall try to summarise the position we have reached on the reform of your Lordships' House, looking at the background and effects that the current government position will have on this Chamber.
Before I do that I should like to stress to your Lordships that I have not met anyone on these Benches who does not wish to see reform take place provided that those reforms improve the purpose, functions, powers and composition in your Lordships' House and make it a better place. I should like to remind your Lordships that this House voted substantially for reform in 1968, but that was axed by a Labour Prime Minister in 1969.
I should also like to comment on the Labour Party manifesto statement. First, why is there such a rush to abolish hereditary Peers, and why does it have to be done as a first stage and not as part of overall reform of this Chamber? Many of your Lordships and a large section of the general public fear that once they have been thrown out no reform of this House will ever take place. Perhaps the Government feel that their task will be very much easier if there are no hereditary Peers within the consultation process. There was no mention in the Labour Party manifesto that this had to be addressed with such speed, and in any event surely it would have been courteous to have entered into cross-party consultation. I understand that there has been no cross-party consultation, no proposals made to any of the parties and no logical reasons given as to why hereditary Peers should be abolished. My Lords, surely this is a most arrogant way to address this subject and not becoming to the manner in which matters are conducted in your Lordships' House.
The second question I should like to raise about the manifesto statement is why the abolition of hereditary Peers as a first stage will make this House any more democratic and representative. The appointment of life Peers with party ties through prime ministerial patronage could be considered to be less democratic than those who sit by the rights of their ancestors. While nobody would deny that an accident of birth should not automatically qualify a person for high office, it is equally undemocratic to disqualify someone arbitrarily for this same accident. The Government have yet to explain what is intrinsically more democratic about a nominated House than the present one, especially one where nominations are made by, or on the advice of, an unelected committee. The hereditary Peers provide much of the independence which is so essential to a second chamber, and many of them encompass broad horizons as they do not necessarily focus on a single career.
It is not true to say that the Government lose Divisions only because of the votes of undemocratic hereditary Peers. Discounting the votes of hereditary Peers, a number of government defeats would have taken place on the votes of life Peers alone; for example, by 71 votes to 66 on 5th March on the protection of pharmacies in the Competition Bill; by 99 votes to 80 on the principle of equal treatment for Scottish students on 23rd June; by 152 votes to 91 on the same issue on 7th July; by 77 votes to 70 on 2nd July on the School Standards and Framework Bill and by 93 votes to 89 on 13th July on the same Bill; and by 128 votes to 93 on the age of consent on the Crime and Disorder Bill. So, my Lords, perhaps the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will explain why there is such a hurry to
The Government's position is having the effect of splitting your Lordships' House into two camps. The happy atmosphere that existed, the courtesy extended to one another and the kindly and helpful attitude shown to each other are fast disappearing. This is not helpful at a time when the House is to be reformed and in fact is damaging the good relations that have always existed in your Lordships' House. In addition, it is clear that without detailed agreement on the shape of a new House, stage one--the abolition of hereditary Peers--would bring about a second chamber nominated entirely by the Prime Minister or agents appointed with his approval to undertake this task. This is a power that no politician has sought since Oliver Cromwell in the 1650s.
The abolition of hereditary Peers would increase hugely the Prime Minister's patronage. It would throw two-thirds of the independent Cross-Benchers out of the Lords at a stroke; erode the independence of the Lords and allow the political party in power to turn the Lords into a rubber stamping organisation, not a true revising chamber.
There is also a disturbing pattern of political authoritarianism in the Government's proposals. I should like to draw to your Lordships' attention the fact that the Labour Party has already subjected the right of local parties to choose councillors and Members of Parliament to the diktat of party headquarters. Noble Lords will be well aware that last week the same would have happened to MEPs if your Lordships had not decided to vote against the closed list. It would be a potentially highly dangerous matter if Members of this House were nominated only by the Prime Minister or by a committee approved by him. The reality is--
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