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I too believe that the whole concept--and I am sorry to say it but I believe it to be true--arises from prejudice stoked up by good, or rather, bad old-fashioned socialism. None of us can easily justify history. The history and evolution of this House are of the past and of the present. It has given us a House which does its job fairly well. No one has fundamentally argued otherwise. The combination of hereditary and life Peers seems to have been an extraordinary success.
Other than for reasons of dogma, there can be no enthusiasm to embark upon such a perilously complex change, more especially when it is back to front and supported by an exceedingly thin White Paper suggesting models for its replacement which the Royal Commission must take as the basis for its work.
I have become rather sick of saying half-heartedly that I cannot defend why I am here; that change is inevitable; and that my own party has somehow shrunk from tackling this issue in the past, as though I am embarrassed to be here. I know I am lucky to be here and I am certainly proud to have played a part over the years. Governments of all hues may feel uncomfortable with a second Chamber which exerts its views from time to time. That cannot be construed as an unelected Chamber riding roughshod over another place. This House may well discuss abstract matters. It certainly debates all manner of issues. But fundamentally, it examines legislation in detail--legislation often stemming from the loose words of party manifestos but legislation which must stand the full scrutiny and application of law and the test of time. Even then its purpose is to examine detail, not to throw out principle.
This House is broadly representative and is made so not just by life Peers, Law Lords and Bishops but by what amounts to the random selection, which was referred to earlier, from every walk of life represented by hereditary Peers. Hereditary Peers have no political ambition and no serious axe to grind. They bring their various experiences to bear freely and willingly. And their determination to uphold what is right and best for the country as a whole is enormously more important to them than blind loyalty to party politics.
I believe that the Bill to eject hereditary Peers is bad enough but to do so in the light of this woolly White Paper and without stating clearly what is to replace them is nothing short of preposterous. It emasculates part of Parliament; it ignores the balance which exists between both Houses; and it offers absolutely no solution as to how it can be recreated. It invites the country to take a very dangerous step into the unknown. Most important, to suggest that this House should have less power when it is already able to exercise very little is positively horrifying. Therefore, I most strongly support my noble friend's amendment.
But I go one step further in my criticism. As the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, seemed to suggest in his speech, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Government respect no view other than their own. They want to have their way at any cost whatever the damage to the constitution--and all in the name of so-called "modernisation".
This House currently has one absolute power; that is, enforcing the quinquennial Act. The White Paper pays but lip service to that; it gives no explanation as to how the absolute independence of this House might be maintained or recreated so as to ensure that the governing party goes to the country every five years. What a positively alarming prospect and what a daunting task for my noble friend Lord Wakeham and his commission to sort out.
The whole concept of restructuring this House as the White Paper foreshadows is based on dogma. It has no foundation on practical grounds or properly considered constitutional theory. It rides roughshod over historical evolution and precedent. By throwing out hereditary Peers the Government are at a stroke cutting away one
Lord Forbes: My Lords, I am delighted to follow my noble friend Lord Glenarthur, who speaks with such great authority. Let me say straight away that I am amazed that this White Paper suggests that the powers of this House might be significantly reduced. To do that would be a disaster. This House has got to hold the Executive to account and it cannot do that without independence and authority. That point has been made already by many other Peers, so I shall now pass to more positive matters.
Having been a Member of your Lordships' House for a considerable number of years, I venture to suggest that this House works well. It is respected by the people of this country, among other things for keeping the balance of power but also for the way in which it scrutinises much hasty legislation as well as, from time to time, asking another place to think again. I believe that the great majority of your Lordships would agree with me that this House is effective and does an excellent job in the interests of our country.
However, it must be acknowledged that the Government have made it abundantly clear that they object to the present large and disproportionate number of Conservative hereditary Peers who can pass through the Division Lobbies. The Government have a case. In view of that I want to suggest what I hope will be taken as a constructive solution to this problem. It has already been touched on by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, towards the end of her excellent speech.
Like the noble Earl, Lord Perth, who is not present today, I am one of the few who did not come to your Lordships' House as of right, or by birth, or by appointment; I was elected. I was elected as a Scottish representative Peer by my fellow Scottish Peers to become a Member of your Lordships' House in 1955. After that, I came up for election and was re-elected each time there was a new Parliament. That went on until 1963, when all Scottish Peers were given the same rights as United Kingdom Peers.
I suggest that if there is a desire to cut down the number of Conservative hereditary Peers who can vote, then a certain number should be elected by their fellow Conservative Peers--something similar to the way in which Scottish representative Peers were elected. It should not be outwith the wit of the various Leaders in this House to agree on what that number should be. The Conservative hereditary Peers elected would sit and vote in your Lordships' House until such time as there was a new Parliament, and then another election would be held. Those Conservative hereditary Peers who were not elected and were thus denied the vote, could still sit and speak. That is crucial; that would be important as, with the election of Conservative hereditary Peers each new Parliament, it would give the electors a chance to judge the merit of those standing for election.
To begin with only Conservative hereditary Peers would have to stand for election. But if other parties increased their numbers of hereditary Peers, they too would have to hold elections to decide who should have voting rights. By that method a certain number of hereditary Peers would be elected and given voting rights, making the House more democratic while at the same time involving the minimum constitutional upheaval. That aspect is of considerable importance.
The working of this House has evolved over a great many years. It is respected for doing an excellent job. It would be an act of extreme folly to reform this House under the guise of modernisation and run the risk of ending up with a House that does not work so well. I trust that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, when he comes to speak for Her Majesty's Government, will look on my suggestion as being constructive and thereby accord it due consideration.
We are told that the new Chamber will be more democratic and effective when reformed. Yet that surely implies that it will be more powerful. That is something that will certainly be unacceptable to another place. As my noble and learned friend Lord Howe said, at the moment our lack of power is our strength. Having almost no power we can speak and vote as we deem right regardless of our party. The Government will be well aware of the number of times that the Tory dominated House voted against the last government.
If the House were to be more powerful, paradoxically it would make it a weaker Chamber for then there would be a duty on every Peer to toe the line of the Whip rather than speak his mind and vote accordingly. It is precisely because we cannot claim democratic and selective legitimacy that we are free to vote as our consciences dictate. There are many occasions when Members of the other place vote against their personal inclinations in order to obey the Whip. But in this House that does not happen if people feel strongly about a matter.
Once the hereditaries have gone, the country will be scoured for people to fill the Benches. Many will be appointed as an honour for the success of their career or public work. But for many others it will simply be a matter of filling the Benches and the highest honour of the country--elevation to the peerage--may be earned by no more than standing unopposed in an election. That surely debases the honour of the peerage for those who achieved it through a lifetime of service. Without the hereditary Peers it would be wrong to call the new Chamber the "House of Lords"; it would create confusion. Lords without seats would continue to be briefed by petitioners, for how would the public know who had and who had not got a seat?
Therefore, the new House should be called the Senate and new Members called senators. Life Peers would be automatic Members and maintain their titles as well as being senators. But senators would only be elevated to become Peers, as opposed to senators, if they deserved the honour. The new Chamber should also lose all the trappings of the Lords. It is sad to lose 1,000 years' history of tradition, but, as we saw at the opening of Parliament, tradition seems a dirty word.
There is no proposal by the Government on what is to replace the Lords. It has to be a Chamber based either on selection or election. The Royal Commission is meant to report by December. It is unlikely to do so, if it ever does produce an agreed report. The problem with any form of election is that politics would immediately rear its head and very soon the House would become a sort of political bear garden, which characterises the other place and many local authority chambers. The traditional calm, objective debate of the Lords will have been lost. Mature statesmen would be increasingly disenchanted to attend the shouting match.
Once the new House has a legitimacy by election or appointment, the Commons know jolly well that their own supremacy will be challenged. That was ably set out by the noble Lord, Lord Harris. That will make stage two impossible. That is why stage one has to come before stage two; namely, stage two will never happen. Just as past efforts have failed, so will this one. On the one hand the Government want a more effective Chamber; on the other hand, they want one with no more power. Those are two conflicting requirements.
If there was an adequate solution, the Government would have had no fear in having the two stages together. As much as the other place wants to get rid of the hereditaries, there is almost no alternative that they would accept. If there was, they would have suggested it already.
There is only one way round this. That is to have the "sunset clause". If stage two is not agreed by a certain date, the hereditaries should resume their seats. That is the only threat that would galvanise the other place to agree a stage two. Such a clause would help the Government achieve their aim.
There is then the question of whether Members should be full-time or part-time. One of the accepted great strengths of the present House is the number of experts on almost any subject who come when they can give invaluable and first-hand advice to the House. To have a fund of experts on whom to call yet who cannot interfere on political balance is an almost ideal system and should be preserved, as recommended in countless letters to The Times, including one from the noble Earl, Lord Longford. It would be much better if they were allowed to speak, if not to vote. The country will be a loser without them. Full-time Members would be far more inclined gradually to demand power from the other place. It would be a great disservice to the country to make it a full-time job.
I turn to the proposal for an age limit. One of the greatest strengths of the House is that so many Members have lost the political fire of their youth and have settled down to more mature and pragmatic political views;
It would also be wrong to have Members for set terms of years as they would always be looking over their shoulders to ensure reappointment or re-election. At present we can say what we believe to be right, regardless of how popular that may be. We may be ignored or have to answer an interjection from another Peer or to our national or local press. We would look pretty silly if we got it wrong. We try to take care not to, but we can fight for our views to the death without fear of being ousted from the House. People who work hard until retirement can only then spare the time to attend. But then they have a huge resource of knowledge to give to the country well beyond their 75th birthday.
Regional representation is another matter raised in the White Paper. The appointment of a regional representative would bring in a lot of Bugginses from the councils. These political animals are not the people to fill the second Chamber. Far better are those who can speak with little political axe to grind and with a lifetime of experience of the subject on which they are speaking. Selection, however, must take account of the need for Members from across the country.
Few people outside the House criticise or give a fig either way for the hereditaries. The postbags of Members of Parliament show little public interest in reform. However, 68 per cent. of people polled want to leave things as they are until details of a new House are known. Many commentators say that it is the Commons that should be reformed, at least as well as the Lords.
It is essential that any reform should be for the better. It seems that change is being made for change's sake. What comes out, in poll after poll, is that the electorate want to know what they are getting before they see the present system dissolved. It is quite extraordinary and thoroughly irresponsible that a constitution should be destroyed before a replacement is planned.
The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, at the age of 87, I may have been caught napping if I have only heard four or five of my noble friends make points which I want to stress. I refer to the speeches of my noble friends Lord Waddington, Lord Lamont, Lord Moran, Lord Naseby and Lord Glenarthur.
I make no apology for referring to the point to which they alluded. It is that your Lordships enjoy one particular power--and only one--in this House. That is to decide whether or not to veto--I stress the word "veto"--any proposal from the other place to delay the forthcoming general election; in other words, to suspend the quinquennial Act which can only be amended for a year at a time.
Although we meet tonight under the chairmanship of an unelected Peer on the Woolsack, we are discussing a White Paper which, at heart, is about the processes and procedures of democracy. The Salisbury convention is strictly irrelevant, if only because the Labour manifesto promised that the legislative power of the House of Lords would remain unaltered. That is, directly and by implication, just what the White Paper proposes. We are told in it that it might be reasonable to reduce the theoretically available powers of this House rather than leave them as they stand. Although under the quinquennial Act delays could only be for a year at a time, the fact is that your Lordships can block any endeavour to amend that Act and have an absolute veto. In other words, this House is the sole and absolute guarantee of general elections being held every five years. So far, the question has only arisen twice--in wartime--and on both those occasions your Lordships concurred with the other place.
This White Paper is a loose and disparate collection of rather undergraduate essays strung together without much of a coherent theme. It even goes so far as to contradict itself. In the middle of page 36 we read that,
The point to which the amendment specifically refers is the power of this House. We are told that "independence" is the character most eagerly sought among the Peers of tomorrow who are to be chosen by an appointments commission, itself "independent". But by whom would they be named? Who else but by the Prime Minister? The same applies to the commission's nominees.
Total disregard for the constitution, as we know it, is clear. I cite two points. First, the Commons, according to paragraph 5 on page 24, is to have the "final say" on any Bill. The phrasing omits any qualifying exclusion about amendments of the quinquennial Act. Secondly, we are told that hereditary Peers are invariably Conservative. That is sheer nonsense. For example, three out of every four Cross-Bench Peers are hereditary Peers but they sit as independents, free from any party ties. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, said at col. 1804 on 19th May 1993 that the Lords is,
Most damning are the Wakeham commission's terms of reference: to consider both the role and the function of the second Chamber. In other words, the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, may well review one guarantee. I refer to the fact that there will be an election every five years. So, we are offered a second Chamber, gathered by an appointments commission, itself chosen by the Prime Minister, yet still labelled as "politically independent".
The noble Baroness, Lady Jay, told the Dimbleby programme on 24th January that a referendum had not been ruled out, nor, in view of the Welsh referendum turnout, were we told what majority would be needed if there were a referendum. The noble Baroness also left two points unanswered the other day. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, had asked about the "pivotal" question of relations between the two Houses. The noble Baroness ducked that issue when, on 24th January, she told the Dimbleby programme that the,
Your Lordships have a duty to scrutinise the Government on every detail of this matter and must expose any evasion of the charge that they, as a government, seek and mean to keep the power that they already enjoy.
Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I welcome the opportunity, as a new life Peer, to contribute to the debate on the future of this House. In the short time that I have been a Member of this House, it has become clear to me that, as presently constituted, an extraordinary breadth of talent, skills and experience resonates in this House; a powerful resource which I defy any Chamber in any legislature anywhere to match. Indeed, I have noticed that your Lordships make little distinction between those who have been here 10 minutes and those who have been here 200 years--
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