|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
The Earl of Longford: I rise to offer strong support for the amendment. No one could be more suited to move it than the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, as a distinguished former Speaker of the House of Commons. I am glad to think that on this occasion I am a loyal and even docile supporter of the Government. That is not always the case but today I grovel before them, up to a point!
I ask myself three questions as we listen to these fruitful discussions. Does the House of Lords, not only in the past but today, render an invaluable service to the country? Are we therefore in a place to be proud of or a place to be ashamed of, from which we wish to escape? But, funnily enough, many people have come here despite being critical of it. I have only heard of two people, possibly three, who have not accepted peerages. Therefore it is not such a contemptible place as might be supposed from some of the discussions.
First, is this a place which renders invaluable service to the country? Secondly, do the hereditary Peers play a large part in rendering that invaluable service? I refer in particular to the Christian influence exerted here which I hope will be sustained--there are dangers here--in the new Chamber. Thirdly, can anything be done if, as we know, this reform has to come about? Of 750 hereditary Peers, I believe that two-thirds come here seldom. That is an unjustifiable situation and something drastic has to be done. Therefore I loyally support the Government on this measure.
With the help of the much revered Chief Whip and the wonderful staff here, I stayed up until three o'clock in the morning to vote for the Second Reading. Therefore I agree with the principle of reforming the Chamber. But that being said, can anything be done to carry on the hereditary influence? There are hereditary Peers--if I may put this crudely--who are at least the equals of any life Peers whom I have ever met. I happen to be both, but that is another matter. In my eyes there is no difference between a hereditary Peer and a life Peer. Those who come here mean well, whether they are hereditary Peers or life Peers. If they do not do any good, they do not come here as they are frozen out. The people here all mean well, whether they are hereditary or so-called life Peers. Therefore we need not bother with that distinction.
I refer to the tradition which has undoubtedly helped to make this Chamber great. Why do people like to come to the House of Lords? Why do they like to be addressed as "Lord"? Why do they want their daughters to marry Lords? Why is that, unless there is something in this hereditary idea? There must be something behind it. Some of the political youngsters may pick up on that idea and after a few years they will be proud to be Members of this Chamber. Long after I have gone, in years to come I want them still to be proud of the new Chamber. I also hope that what is most valuable in the present Chamber will be maintained.
As I say, there is to be drastic reform. As Members of the Committee may know--if they have been here 30 years, they will know this--when I was Leader of the House 30 years ago there was a proposal which was accepted by the leaders of all the parties that hereditary Peers in their first generation should attend this Chamber and speak here but not vote. That concept has been supported recently by such eminent Conservatives as the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young. However, it has been rejected by the Chamber and I have to accept that it is unlikely to be adopted and to pass into law. That being so, the next best thing is the Weatherill proposal which I strongly support.
Lord Cobbold: When I first learnt of the arrangement struck by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and others, which is now embodied in the amendment of my noble friend Lord Weatherill, I must say I was highly sceptical. It seemed to me like a smokescreen to persuade those who were against the Bill in principle that it was not really so bad as it seemed. It also looked like an effort to preserve the jobs of those currently running the business of your Lordships' House with a feel of, perhaps, apres nous le deluge.
However, the issue today is not whether the Bill itself is, or is not, a bad Bill, or is, or is not, acceptable in principle to your Lordships' House. My views on that question are well known to the Committee. The question today is: will this Bill become law, and if it becomes law, is it improved by this amendment? My answer to that question is emphatically yes. I think that it is an improvement for three reasons.
First, it preserves continuity and some representation of the hereditary peerage in the transitional Chamber. Secondly, because we may have difficulty in reaching agreement on the stage-two provisions for a reformed Chamber, the transitional Chamber may survive for a considerable time. Thirdly, in those stage-two negotiations, and debates on the Royal Commission's recommendations, the hereditary voice will be heard. Indeed I hope it will also be heard within the proposed Joint Committee of both Houses. I am one of those who think that this amendment will make a bad Bill better. I have no hesitation in strongly supporting the amendment.
I happen not to be greatly enamoured of the Weatherill amendment simply because I am not enamoured of the Bill. I believe it is a perfectly horrible Bill. Its whole purpose is to do one simple thing; namely, to get rid of all hereditary Peers. In another context one might call that hereditary cleansing; in other words, get rid of everyone irrespective of what they are. I do not take to that too much. In so far as that is what the Bill states, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, is agreeable because at least it goes some way to stop that happening.
When we debated House of Lords reform last October, and when we debated the White Paper and the House of Lords Bill, a tremendous amount was said about the manifesto. The manifesto has been mentioned a number of times. It was mentioned twice by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, twice by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, twice by the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms, nine times by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor--it felt like 19 times, although it was only nine--and 43 times by the noble Baroness, Lady Jay. That was quite a few times. They must set great store by what is in the manifesto. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that,
"that is the approach on which we have a mandate from the country". I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, is not present at the moment although he was earlier. I do not like quoting his remarks in his absence. However, he said,
"That is what the manifesto said and that is what we are delivering. It is in the manifesto and it is transposed almost literally into the Bill". The noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, had the kindness to remind us on 27th April of exactly what the manifesto stated. She said, quoting from the manifesto,
"As an initial, self-contained reform, not dependent on further reform in the future, the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote...will be ended by statute".--[Official Report, 27/4/99; col. 201.] That was the manifesto and that is what is being transposed almost literally into the Bill.
We were all told earlier that this was a Bill to get rid of hereditary Peers. Now the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor comes with gracious words, saying "Do vote for this amendment, because I really think that it is the best amendment to go for. We will retain a hundred hereditary Peers." If ever there was an example of a government going completely about on their own words, we have had it in this Bill.
The trouble is that the Government do not know what they want, and the trouble with that is that we do not know what the Government want and nobody else knows what they want. I can only assume that they are playing for time and that that is why we should vote for the amendment. That is what the Government want us to do, and that is what I am happy to do.
But it would be terribly helpful if we could know what the Government are really trying to do, because they are playing ducks and drakes with the constitution, removing all of the hereditary Peers. They say, "No, we are going to keep some of them. Never worry. We will remove the whole lot later." We do not know what is wanted. It is not the right way to go about altering the constitution. If the amendment will help put the brakes on just a little bit, it will be worth while.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page