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The Earl of Longford: I rise to express my support for the proposal put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. Of course, I do so as a good Labour man of 63 years' standing. I joined the party, having started in the wrong direction, many years before the present Prime Minister was born. So I come forward as a good Labour man. In 1968 when I was the Leader of the House I brought the measure forward and it was supported by the Labour government, the Conservative leaders and everyone else, including the Liberals who were then mostly Labour if I remember rightly. But at any rate that was good Labour doctrine. So do not let us have any idea that it was some kind of strange perverted heresy.
The noble Earl was humorous about this matter. I speak with just as strong a feeling. Now having reached advanced years my sight is not so good and I cannot tell the difference between a life Peer and a hereditary when
I shall go to my grave saying that this House is a valuable House. I believe in this House; I believe in it as it is now. That does not mean that it is perfect; it needs reform, but reforms usually involve some damage somewhere. I want to minimise the damage. There will be grave damage if some of our best Members are kicked out, sacked and excluded. As I say, that will damage the House. The House will be a worse place without them. I am afraid therefore that I strongly support this amendment.
Lord Goodhart: We have had an interesting discussion on various versions of voting rights this evening. We started with the noble Lord, Lord Randall, who proposed that certain Members of your Lordships' House should have weighted votes. We then had the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, who proposed that certain Members of your Lordships' House should have weightless votes. Now we have heard the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, propose that certain Members of your Lordships' House should have no votes at all.
I had intended to make a speech to explain why we oppose the amendment of the noble Earl, but I have decided not to do so, not only because of the hour but also because I have decided that I could not possibly have put the case against first and second-class Members of your Lordships' House more clearly than the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, during the debate on Amendment No. 14A. I am happy, therefore, to rest my case by endorsing everything that he said on that subject.
Lord Eden of Winton: As I understand it, this amendment goes right back to the very root of the Labour Party's manifesto commitment. I think I am right in saying that the Labour Party's manifesto commitment was presented as a reform of the House of Lords and a reform of Parliament. There seem to me to be two main reasons why the Labour Party put that forward and why it thought that it would achieve a great deal of support.
The second reason was resentment against the built-in, weighted majority of the Conservative Party in this House, which the Labour Party understandably sought to rectify so that matters came into balance. That was the way it was presented. The two points were made strongly by government spokesmen at Second Reading, and not just in this House; they were made forcefully in another place. The resentment against the inherited rights was made perfectly clear on the grounds that they had been acquired by birth and that they contributed to the incorrect, unworthy or unjustified balance in this House. That is the position.
If I have not expressed those points in the way that Members on the Benches opposite would express them, I apologise. Nevertheless, I believe that those are the two basic sentiments which inspired the inclusion of this reference in the Labour Party manifesto. There is no reform there--there is change, yes. If it had been about reform, we should not be going through all the paraphernalia of a Royal Commission, a Joint Committee of both Houses and consideration of all these factors. Had it been about reform, the Labour Party would have had its proposals ready and waiting. It was not about reform; it was about two elements that were a feature of the representation in this House against which the Labour Party had strong feelings of resentment.
The amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Ferrers meets that very point. It removes the right to vote in this place by virtue of being an hereditary Peer. Is not that what the Labour Party manifesto said? It also removes the undue, over-weighted balance of votes on the part of the Conservative Party in this House. Is not that what the manifesto was all about? So I cannot understand why the Government should not accept my noble friend's amendment. It seems an eminently sensible, modest, moderate proposal, supported by the noble Earl opposite, who has long experience, and it fully meets the commitment in the manifesto. I very much hope that the Minister will accept it.
Lord Peston: Perhaps we on this side may be allowed to join in. It seems to me that some of the arguments proposed are simply wrong. I have tried desperately to understand the position of the Opposition on these matters and to look for rational argument.
The fundamental position with which I am concerned and, listening to the views from the Front Bench, my party is concerned, is that the hereditary principle is simply wrong. That is the beginning and end of the matter. It has nothing to do with the quality of the hereditary Peers.
Lord Eden of Winton: I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord. He said that the hereditary principle is wrong. As I understand it, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, was at pains to make clear that what he was concerned to change was the right by
Lord Peston: The noble Lord does not understand what I am saying, although he produced exactly the right words. It is not acceptable in any legislature of any parliament that people should sit, legislate, speak and vote as a result of a hereditary position. That is the beginning, the end and the whole of it. It has nothing to do with the quality of hereditary Peers. I stand second to none in my admiration of many of them. I would never argue that they are somehow inferior to me or make a poorer contribution.
Perhaps I may say directly to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, in terms of his quality, that he will not lose the right to be a nominated Peer. Some of us would very much welcome him, and others, here in that form. But it is intolerable that anybody at all--including noble Lords on this side of the House--should sit here simply because their fathers were here before them. That is the only principle involved. It has nothing to do with personal denigration; it has nothing to do with lack of appreciation. It certainly has nothing to do with agriculture. The notion that somehow or other that is the key element in the future of our great country is about as preposterous an argument as I have heard in many a long time--and, as the noble Earl knows, I have sat through many preposterous arguments. I have even put forward one or two myself.
That is why some of us are bewildered beyond belief as to what the Opposition are up to. The issue starts with the hereditary principle and ends with the hereditary principle. We are opposed to it. I am looking around and I can see several noble Lords whom I still regard as my friends. I would like to see them remain here. Under most of the likely reforms, the leaders of their parties will be in a position to nominate them, but they would then be here in their own right having been so nominated, as I am. They would be no worse than me. That would be their position.
Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: Can the noble Lord explain why nominated Peers have this great democratic principle at heart? Why should anyone who is nominated be any more democratic than someone who happens to be here by virtue of winning the genetic lottery?
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