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The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, before the noble Lady sits down, does she accept, yes or no, that a democratically elected government are entitled to carry into legislation their manifesto commitments?
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, when my friends ask me what it is like in your Lordships' House, I confess that I say that it is really like being in the best daycare centre in London. I have to say that it is rather less attractive as a place for full-time residential care such as it has become during the course of this debate and will no doubt become again at later stages of the progress of the Bill as a number of your Lordships have made it clear that we will be spending a great deal of time on the Bill's Committee and Report stages.
I do not begrudge the length of the debate. It is an historic occasion, and I mean that not just because it seems like getting on for a century since we started today. Natural justice requires that all those who are threatened with the loss of their parliamentary rights should be heard by your Lordships' House if they wish to speak. It is right and proper that many have done so today and that more will do so tomorrow. I say that even though the standard Conservative speech becomes just a little boring after one has heard it for the forty-fifth time. It is, of course, from time to time pleasantly varied by the Mark II Conservative speech, which raises the interesting though not entirely convincing argument based on the legal effect of Letters Patent and, in the case of the noble Lords, Lord Chesham and Lord Norrie,
I am sorry that so much of this debate has to take place in the middle of the night. But at the personal level, I cannot avoid sympathy with those hereditary Peers who have served here for years, and in some cases for decades--in the case of the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, as they have told us, for more than five decades.
The hereditary Peers have attended your Lordships' House; they have spoken here; they have voted here; they have taken part in the work of Select Committees; they have sat on the Woolsack. They have performed their duties honourably and in many cases assiduously. But none of that in itself justifies the presence of hereditary Peers in Parliament simply by the right of descent.
The House of Lords goes back to the days when the great nobles of this country exercised economic, political, and even, in the early days, military power. The composition of this House reflected that power. But that power has gone with the snows of yesteryear. Economic power has gone to the City, to the industrial boardrooms, to the insurance companies and to the pension funds. Political power went with universal suffrage, the secret ballot and the end of the rotten boroughs. In this more democratic age the hereditary Peers cannot justify their claims to remain here.
By way of example, perhaps I may talk about the particular hereditary peerage with which I am personally most closely connected. My wife's grandfather was Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons and, on his retirement in 1943, was created a baron and became the first Lord Hemingford. That barony was created for distinguished public service. That is the typical background for hereditary peerages. It is far more typical than the absurd description of Peers as descendants of royal liaisons. But there is no possible reason why the first Lord Hemingford's services to the state should have entitled his son or grandson to sit for life as Members of this House. It is a view that is entirely shared by my brother-in-law, the present Lord Hemingford, as he made clear in the debate that was held in this House a few weeks ago. At the end of the 20th century the parliamentary rights of the hereditary peerage are a complete anomaly and have gone on for far too long.
Perhaps I may point out one curious historical fact. It is now 88 years since the Parliament Act restricted the powers of this House and promised that the House should be reconstituted on a popular, not a hereditary basis. That is nearly a decade longer than the period that separated the Parliament Act from the Great Reform Bill of 1832. While the whole process of democratic reform of our political system which started with the Great Reform Bill was in all other respects completed with the full enfranchisement of women in 1928, only this last
It is clear that, whatever form a new second Chamber takes, it should not, and will not, include a hereditary element. The suggestion put forward first in this debate by the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, followed by others, that hereditary Peers might have a right to sit and speak but not to vote is simply unrealistic, if only because, I suspect, those Peers to take advantage of such rights would be those whom your Lordships' House would least wish to hear.
It is difficult to see in principle why the rights of the hereditary Peers should not be removed now, while stage two remains undecided. The only rational argument for retention, made many times, is that it presents a compromise that makes it more likely that an acceptable long-term solution will be achieved. If I believed that argument, I should argue against the Bill; but I do not believe it.
It may be that the Weatherill amendment makes it more likely that the Government will proceed to stage two. But that is not the problem. Unlike my noble friend Lord Thurso, I have no doubt that the Government will go ahead with stage two. What I am increasingly worried about, particularly since the publication of the White Paper, is that they will go ahead with the wrong stage two. The Government appear to be steering the Royal Commission towards a second Chamber which will look too much like the transitional House, with at best only a minority of elected Members. That, I believe, is profoundly wrong. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, made a powerful and convincing speech in favour of a second Chamber which will be predominantly elected. I agree with him, and I hope that the Government are listening.
There has been a certain unreality about this debate. Most speakers from the Conservative Benches and the Cross-Benches have in effect argued that the Bill should never have been introduced. That is indeed an arguable question, but it is irrelevant because the Bill is here and clearly the Government will not withdraw it. There are therefore only two alternatives to passing the Bill as it stands. One is to pass it with the Weatherill amendment; the other is to defeat it, either by a direct vote or by a wrecking amendment.
As I have indicated, it is doubtful whether the passing of the Weatherill amendment will make a better outcome at stage two more likely. We shall reserve our position on that until we see exactly what is proposed. But it is, in my belief, certain that the defeat of the Bill will make a better outcome less likely. What will happen? The Government will push the Bill through under the Parliament Act next year. They will then proceed to stage two on whatever basis they think fit.
Lord Mackay of Drumadoon: My Lords, over the past 11 hours or more of this Second Reading debate your Lordships have listened with great interest and attention to speeches that have ranged widely over a large number of issues which are thrown up by the Bill before us. Issues will also be raised tomorrow during the continuation of the debate on Second Reading. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, suggested that some of the speeches from these Benches were of a somewhat repetitive nature. Perhaps I may respond to that mild criticism by saying that it is for me a matter of great regret that we have not heard more speeches from the Liberal Democrat Benches on this occasion. If I may say so, all four that we heard were of outstanding quality. It is surprising, to put it no higher, that we have not heard the usual divergence of opinion from the Liberal Democrat Benches.
I am tempted to observe that, after so many hours of debate and so many fine speeches, it is doubtful whether the combined ingenuity and efforts of those members of the Mackay clan who are Members of your Lordships' House could come up with anything more to say. I am conscious, however, that I speak tonight after approximately 70 speeches and that tomorrow my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish will be required to speak after some 170. Accordingly, daunting though my task may be, I accept that it is nothing to that which faces my noble friend and other Front Bench speakers who will conclude this historic debate some time during the course of tomorrow night.
In seeking to comment on some of the themes that have arisen and recurred during the first day's debate perhaps one starting point is to acknowledge that on this side of the House many recognise that the Government feel confident about their electoral mandate to bring forward this Bill, however misconceived many Members of this House may consider it to be. For my part, I fully understand the Government's position on this matter as explained by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House. That point was reinforced more
I hope, however, that for their part the Government will recognise that many noble Lords consider it to be not only their right but their duty to express their concerns about the limited scope and timing of this particular piece of legislation. Equally, they consider it to be their duty to do everything possible to ensure that the changes in the composition of this House, which the Government seek to implement by means of this Bill, should do nothing, whether by design or inadvertence, to weaken the scope or practical potential of the important constitutional role that this House is currently able to perform. Whether that approach is taken by hereditary Peers or life Peers who may have concerns about the Bill, I hope that those concerns will be listened to and that those who advance them will not be accused of lacking dignity or common sense.
I am very heartened by the tone and tenor of the debate that we have enjoyed over the past 11 hours. By and large, it has been conducted in a constructive manner. That was well illustrated by the approach of my noble friend Lord Saatchi who referred to the need for us all to show mutual respect for one another's position. I very much hope that the conciliatory approach that he advocated will permeate not only tomorrow's debate but the rest of our deliberations on this important Bill. Equally, this may be the appropriate time for me to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, whose speech was a typically independent and courageous contribution to your Lordships's deliberations. The speech confirmed what many of us have recognised for some time; namely, that the noble Lord was lucky to stand for elected office before the days of closed lists.
No doubt the time may come when hereditary Peers are required to leave this House. I believe that when that time comes they will do so with dignity. But in the interim there is no need for them to maintain a dignified silence. I, for my part, hope that they will not do so. That point was made very elegantly by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, in his highly persuasive speech and by my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth in her quietly delivered but very telling contribution. The value of such contributions has been well illustrated by the speeches of my noble friend Lord Ferrers, the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, and the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. I know not whether any of those speakers
One problem we all face in considering this Bill is that it has been put forward by the Government on the basis that it is a self-contained reform, designed to do no more than take away the rights of hereditary Peers to speak and to vote in your Lordships' House. The fundamental flaw in that description was ably exposed and dissected by my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, who drew attention to the unavoidable consequences that will follow when the Bill becomes law. That is one of a number of reasons why we object to the terms in which the Bill is currently framed.
While the British constitution over the centuries may have prided itself in its flexibility, in its ability to move on, as opposed to the more rigid terms of written constitutions of other modern democracies, I doubt whether Parliament has ever been asked to enact major constitutional legislation of this nature on the explicit representation of the Government of the day that the legislation in question, while it will bring about some permanent and fundamental change, will also bring into effect what at best could be described as a temporary constitutional settlement. The Government may be over-optimistic as to how soon they are able to bring forward the second stage of their reform. Certainly it might take much longer than is currently planned because, as the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, indicated, no one can be sure for how long the proposed transitional House will last.
The noble Lord, Lord Richard, referred to it as being a paving Bill. It has been disputed as to whether he was correct to do so, and it will be interesting to hear tomorrow whether the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor accepts such a description. I think I understand what the noble Lord had in mind in giving the Bill such a description, and he may well have been correct to do so. Where the noble Lord was clearly correct was in his assertion that the debates on this Bill require to be forward-thinking and should have the objective of starting to build, albeit rather late in the day, a cross-party consensus as to the future composition and role of your Lordships' House. In another place a very strict view was taken as to the range of amendments that it was competent to debate and, when the final stage of the Bill came to be heard, the Government imposed a guillotine Motion.
I hope that a more liberal and constructive view will be taken of the issues which it is appropriate to discuss. In that regard I suspect that the estimate of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, as to the probable length of the Committee and Report stages was put forward more in hope than in earnest. Indeed, I have the distinct impression that that part of the noble Lord's speech had been drafted for him by the noble Lord, Lord Carter.
This debate has demonstrated that one major issue which has arisen is the problems faced by the House in the Government's attitude to the mooted Weatherill amendment. The very possibility of such amendment being brought forward and being agreed to by the
The problems associated with the Weatherill amendment were well illustrated by the penetrating questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, to which we look forward to hearing the answers tomorrow. No doubt, as my noble friend Lord Strathclyde said, such an amendment could improve the Bill in a number of material respects. When we come to prepare for the Committee stage of the Bill, however, we are undoubtedly hampered by the fact that we have not yet seen the terms of the amendment. I very much hope, therefore, that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will find it possible to respond positively to the suggestion made by my noble friend that a draft of such an amendment might be made available as soon as possible, presumably by depositing it as an informal paper in the Printed Paper Office.
It would also be helpful if the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor would indicate whether the Government have it in mind to accept the amendment at Committee stage; or whether they intend to reserve their position on that issue until Report stage or even Third Reading. Unless the amendment is tabled for Committee stage, and accepted at that stage, I believe that this House will be deprived of adequate opportunity to give proper scrutiny to the detail of the amendment.
I pose one further question. It was foreshadowed in the excellent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. If the amendment were accepted by the Government in this House, whether at Committee stage or later, do they guarantee that the amendment will remain part of the Bill; or is it suggested that it might be removed when the Bill returns to another place forcing this House to remain on some form of parliamentary probation until Royal Assent has been given?
I touch on one further issue in a little detail before I close. It is the fact that in the event that the Bill becomes law, the number of Peers who will remain Members of the House, and remain available to be active in the House, will be reduced in number. All the work of the House is carried out by Members of the House who, with very few exceptions, receive no remuneration and comparatively modest expenses. While travelling expenses are met in full, only a minimum of other expenses is available and then only to Members who physically attend in the Chamber. It is essential that in the transitional House there be sufficient number of Peers available and prepared to carry out the work of the House efficiently and to good effect.
It is my submission that as a matter of urgency, in proposing a Bill which will bring about a transitional House, the Government must bring forward some proposals for making more funds available for those who will remain actively involved in the work of the House. It is not a new issue or a new concern. When yesterday's papers carried articles about possible increases in the remuneration of Lords Ministers, tonight seems as good a time as any to raise the subject once more. Before I go further, I should make it clear to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, who will reply, and his ministerial colleagues, that I wish them every success in the discussions in which they may be involved. For my part, I consider it essential that Lords Ministers should be properly remunerated for the work that they have to undertake.
However, I raise the equally important consideration that Peers actively involved in the work should have sufficient funds made available to enable them to undertake that work without unacceptable financial sacrifice. What I suggest requires to be looked at is, first, that arrangements are put in place which provide adequate funding for support and research for Front Bench spokesmen; secondly that Short money (as such funding is currently called) should be made available to Cross-Bencher and Back-Bencher Members throughout the House who wish to take a detailed involvement in a particular Bill; and, thirdly, and importantly for those Peers who live some distance from London, arrangements should make it possible for such Peers to be compensated when they are working on behalf of the House at some distance from the House and therefore deprived of qualifying for any expenses.
There was unfortunately some dispute as to whether or not this debate should take place this week. One advantage of it having done so is that it will leave much more time to draft amendments over the Easter Recess than might otherwise have been available. I assure all my noble friends who have spoken that every effort will be made to table amendments which focus the concerns raised: concerns about arrangements for the transitional House; the writ of summons; Letters Patent; the sunset clause; the position of Scottish Peers under the Act of Union; and many others.
The need for such detailed amendments was well illustrated by the question asked of me by the noble Lord, Lord Acton. For those of your Lordships who were not present at the time, the question I was asked was whether the Conservative Party is committed to the principle of no political party having a majority in the transitional House. I have no hesitation in giving that question an unequivocal answer, and that answer is yes. But the very fact that the noble Lord thought it appropriate to ask that question illustrates the practical problems associated with legislating for the transitional House.
If one looks at the table on page 18 of the White Paper, it is quite clear that, contrary to popular myth, the Conservative Party does not currently enjoy a majority in your Lordships' House. Furthermore, what is meant by the question? Is it membership of a particular political party? Is it the taking of the Whip of a particular party? How often and how finely does the
Tonight's debate has got the Bill's passage off to a good start. I look forward to tomorrow's debate with eager anticipation--not least because I shall not be required to speak at the end of many hours of listening. In the meantime, I can confirm that, like my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, I shall support the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, if he presses his amendment to a vote.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I believe this has been a very stimulating debate. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, said, over 70 Peers have spoken today, and their speeches have been in many respects exhilarating.
A number of complaints have been made, inter alia, by the noble Lords, Lord Chesham, Lord Monro and Lord Trefgarne, that not enough time has been set aside for the debate. We have had almost 11 marvellous hours of debate and we may have 11 hours tomorrow. Before this debate, in this Session we had spent 40 hours or more on this topic. We had two days of debate in October, a two-day debate on the White Paper, and a one-day debate on the subject following the Queen's speech. I believe that a very considerable amount of time has been set aside, more than adequate time in relation to the stages so far concerning this great issue.
The noble Lord, Lord Eden of Winton, said that we should not be talking about this at all but should be discussing important issues like Kosovo and the European Council. There should be all the time that is appropriate for a debate on this issue, but your Lordships will become more aware than anyone, I suspect, when people outside this House think that too much time is being spent discussing our own future and too little time discussing issues that the great majority of the people out in the country are more concerned about.
I echo the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, who said that one of the most impressive aspects of this House is the mutual respect in which we hold each other? I very much hope that the debate conducted today will be reflected in the debates that go on about this issue: namely, that whatever issues may divide us that mutual respect will continue to be shown.
There are a number of things that this debate is not about. It is not about depriving hereditary Peers of the opportunity to serve. True, they will not have the opportunity to be legislators by birthright. But they will not lose the opportunity that they and the generations who have gone before them have had to serve the community, just as so many other people have served the community in functions and places other than in the legislature. Nor is it about the politics of envy, vindictiveness, bitterness or class warfare, as has been suggested by a number of your Lordships. This Bill is about one simple proposition. The time has come--and it is long overdue--to abolish the right of people to legislate as a result of who their kinsmen are. We
Those on the Front Bench opposite did not indicate whether they support the hereditary principle. Neither the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, nor the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, indicated what was their view one way or the other in relation to it. They made speeches of commanding brilliance but with, to a large extent, intense vacuity when it came to the detail of their party's position.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, speaking, whether significantly or not, from the Back Benches, indicated that she was defending the hereditary principle. As I have no idea what goes on in relation to the councils of the Conservative Party, I have no idea whether it was significant that she was speaking from the Back Benches or whether it was merely because there was not room on the Front Bench. Do I take it that the Front Bench view is that the hereditary principle should be defended or not? Therefore, we have no idea where the Conservative Party in this House stands on that issue.
The first is that the hereditary Peers constitute a group of very able people and it would be wrong to get rid of them. The second and most sustained argument in that respect was expressed very ably and forcibly by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth. That was that the House has worked well with hereditary Peers; those who propose that it should be changed should make a case for changing it. It was asked how the House will be able to conduct its business if the membership is reduced, depending on whether or not the Weatherill amendment is passed, by approximately 659 or 750. I deal head on with both of those arguments of principle.
The first is that the hereditary Peers represent an able group of people. So indeed they do, but that is not the issue. There are great groups of able people out in the community who do not have the right to legislate because they are the children of people who had hereditary peerages. The fact that they are individually able does not of itself even begin to justify why they should have that right by birth.
I turn then to the propositions of the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth. He said that the House has worked well. Indeed, it has done in a large number of respects; but at no stage did he address the argument as to whether it is right that people should be entitled to legislate by birth. He never addressed that. Secondly, he failed to point out to your Lordships' House that even with the removal of hereditary Peers, this Chamber, as a second Chamber, would be the largest second Chamber in the world. Please do not suggest to this House that with 500 life Peers it is not able to conduct its business as well as other second Chambers.
There was nothing in the arguments put by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, even though they were put forcibly and well. As a House, I believe that we shall cope extremely well under the new conditions.
The next main argument advanced was as to how the Government could move to abolish the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in the House without knowing where they are going: that is the issue of whether or not we are right to adopt a step-by-step approach. I have no doubt that that is the right course to adopt. I have absolutely no doubt that that is the right way to do it. History throughout this century tells us, as every noble Lord knows, that on each occasion that attempts have been made to reform the House of Lords by both abolishing the right of the hereditary Peers to vote and putting together an alternative against that, everybody seeks to resist the abolition of the hereditary Peers and resist the particular proposal that is put. As a result, nothing is done to move the agenda forward.
I believe, without doubt, that this is the right way to do it, as a matter of history and as a matter of pragmatic common sense. There is a consensus behind that view and so there is a majority in both Houses for the removal of the hereditary Peers. Having done that, a consensus is sought about what should happen next, first, through the medium of the Royal Commission, and, secondly, through the Joint Committee of both Houses. That is a typically British way of going about things.
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