|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Desai: I rise to speak briefly to the amendment. The amendment moved, or not moved, by my noble friend will do nothing that the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, wants to do. It will not keep the executive in check because the problem is that this second Chamber has never been taken seriously because of the presence of the hereditary peerage. Therefore, we have a de facto unicameral legislature.
The reform is in two stages. The first is to remove that element which subjects us to attack from down the corridor whenever we do anything constructive which the government of any colour do not like. They say, "You unelected hereditary Peers, go away!" As the noble Lord probably knows, I do not want to be here either, but this is not the occasion to discuss the abolition of life Peers, too. However, the point is that so long as hereditary Peers are retained, in whatever guise--they are the nicest of people and I like them very much and shall love them ever after--they are detracting from the legitimacy of this House. If your Lordships wish to challenge the executive, do not vote for this amendment. No weighting system is good enough. What is needed is the removal of the hereditary peerage and then we can discuss numbers.
Lord Desai: The House of Commons and the country. I can give many examples of when this House has taken a sensible position on a Bill and tried to amend it and that has been rejected. That is the argument put forward by Labour and Conservative governments. I recall Michael Howard as Home Secretary wanting to set up borstals for 13 year-old
Lord Marlesford: Again, before the noble Lord sits down, I know exactly what he wants but that is another matter. Of course there are occasions when the other place is greatly irritated by amendments made in this House, but over recent years thousands of amendments have been accepted by it. They would not have been made to improve the legislation without this House. Therefore, how can the noble Lord say that this House is not taken seriously? Surely, legislation is a serious matter.
Lord Goodhart: Why are we debating this at all? We are debating an amendment which has not been moved, when Amendment No. 15 in a later group, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, raises exactly the same sort of--
Lord Goodhart: My understanding is that the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St Budeaux, said that he was not moving it. It was moved not by the person in whose name it stood, but by members of the Conservative Party.
Lord Trefgarne: I too have been listening to the noble Lord, Lord Desai, and would like to pick up the point made by my noble friend Lord Marlesford. I do not think that the House of Lords is held in the disrepute
Lord Desai: Partly to get rid of the noble Lord, but partly for the following reason. Many people have accepted that the executive in this country is very powerful, and any party with a majority in another place can get through any legislation it wants. In the past 50 years only twice has the Parliament Act had to be invoked. So, by and large, the House of Commons can do what it likes, regardless of what we do. I rest my case.
I am not saying that we are disreputable. We are liked, but we are ineffective. I want us to be effective. I want us to defy the executive, and we shall not do so while the hereditary peerage is in the House of Lords.
Lord Trefgarne: The noble Lord is condemned by his own words. The Parliament Act has been used twice, as he said, or perhaps three times since the war, and that is because it has not been thought necessary, because the will of the House of Lords has generally prevailed. Therefore, the noble Lord is not correct. I am still wondering why he bothered to come here.
Viscount Cross: If I am in order, I should like to speak to Amendment No. 29 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall. It is very good amendment. It has great merit, and if at a later stage the noble Lord should seek the opinion of the Committee I shall certainly support him.
In this country great institutions have evolved over the centuries by degrees, and this is a very good way to proceed. At the end of it, we should have a much smaller House of Lords. The heirs of hereditary Peers could become life Peers should they become distinguished and if they would like to accept such a peerage. This simple and practical solution would get over the difficulty as to who should remain as hereditary Peers and who should leave. I support the amendment.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful for the opportunity to say a few words about the amendment because when I spoke at the end of the last day in Committee to a very large group I spoke only to the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Selsdon as I had hoped that we might carry on the debate until today on the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St Budeaux. I shall not say a great deal about it, but I could perhaps describe it as the rather more gentle approach to the question of reforming the House of Lords and more consistent with the way in which the British constitution tends to evolve rather than through revolutionary phases.
The noble Lord's proposals are certainly worthy of consideration. Both the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, think there may be some merit in part of the amendment. It is a view fairly widely shared that there may be a better way of dealing with the Government's problem--or problems, because they have two problems. The one they trumpet is that of the hereditary peerage, but the true problem is the numbers one, because if the Labour Party had managed to hold on to many of the people who were made hereditary Peers over the last 50 years from the Labour Benches, or their successors, and it had a majority in the House of Lords, I am not sure that we would be having this discussion. Every time I hear a speech or read a book, heavy into the book is the numbers game. The Government are quite distressed about the numbers game.
The noble Lord, Lord Randall, has made an interesting suggestion. I was amazed that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, dismissed so readily what he described as the block vote. I thought that that was loved dearly by the Labour Party. The noble and learned Lord told me that it has gone to one-man, one-vote. That certainly was not the position in Wales in the attempt to make sure that Mr. Alun Michael was elected. One-man, one-vote was set aside for the purposes of that election. The block vote is known to the Labour Party and it understands it quite well. I am not greatly in favour of the block vote in any shape or form and I am not greatly in favour of that part of the noble Lord's amendment.
However, my noble friend Lord Caithness made a valid point when he suggested that it would be better if the noble Lord's amendment provided that those hereditary Peers who never or hardly ever attend should lose the right to do so and that those hereditary Peers who attend reasonably frequently or very frequently and take part in our proceedings should be phased out by the proposed method. If he did that, the noble Lord would go some way to answer some of the criticisms made.
The problem with weighting the voting system is that if the weighting represents the other place, that will mean inevitably that the Government have an overall majority, which will include the Cross-Benchers. In that case, the House will become a mere reflection of the majority in the House of Commons.
The suggestion is that there is to be a revising Chamber with its powers constrained by the Parliament Act. I have no problem with that, but I believe that that will change once the hereditary Peers leave. In that event, it is fairly pointless merely to have a little echo of the House of Commons where the Whips can whip in a majority. I believe that there is general agreement on all sides of the Committee about that. One of the merits here is that people can act rather more independently of the Whips. I certainly bear the scars--although they are diminishing with the passage of time--on my back from occasions when I was beaten. I should point out to the noble Lord, Lord Desai, that the government then backed down in relation to the matter on which they were defeated. Therefore, the question of the Parliament Act did not arise.
I am sure all noble Lords were greatly disappointed to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Desai, would be happy to leave the House. We should be most unhappy if that were to happen.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page