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The Earl of Onslow: I am afraid that I do not agree with my noble friend Lord Trefgarne. This must be only the second time in 30 years that that has happened. I believe it is an excellent idea that the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, is a Member of this House, and that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, is a Member, because they bring extra experience of the Assemblies in which they sit.
I hope that this House never becomes too professional. The point is that we turn up when we wish; we contribute when we wish. We either make a good contribution or we do not, but we normally notice whether or not people are listening. The whole point is that this House has been an assembly of the powerful and the influential; it has been an assembly of people from all over the place. It has got out of kilter now, which is why it has to be reformed. To say that one attends rather like rota duty in a tea-shop in Scunthorpe strikes me as really rather odd. One of the strengths of this House is that it is not like that. Its strength is that it is varied; there are interests from all over the place. People appear when they have something valid to say,
The Earl of Northesk: Perhaps I may make a small contribution and in so doing clarify one point. I am slightly confused. Many of us have in our hands copies of the Labour Party's submission to the Royal Commission. I ask the Government Front Bench to what extent that submission illuminates government thinking. I quote paragraph 6.4 of the submission:
Viscount Trenchard: I apologise to the Committee for intervening at this stage in the debate not having spoken at Second Reading, when, unfortunately, I was unable to be present. I rather like my noble friend's amendment. It reduces the discrepancy in treatment between hereditary Peers and life Peers. However, I believe that the hurdles which life Peers must surmount are rather easier than those for hereditary Peers. Does my noble friend believe that all 338 holders of life peerages will comply with the requirement of subsection (5) that they sit on more than 50 per cent of sitting days? Can my noble friend say why he did not adopt the Weatherill proposal and vote for life Peers in party blocks? However, basically I am very positive about the amendment.
Lord Coleraine: Perhaps the time is right for me to speak to Amendment No. 93D in my name, which is grouped with my noble friend's amendment. The amendment was tabled after lunch on Tuesday when I had had a chance to look at the Labour Party's
The paradox that I offer to the Committee is that House of Lords reform should not be difficult to achieve, but may prove impossible. It may prove impossible if too much is attempted at the second stage, or if what is attempted is too complicated.
In one important respect, the Labour proposals are simple and realistic. It seems to me self-evident that the Labour Party, having been forced by this House to set out on a path leading to stage-two reform, has realised, perhaps only subconsciously, that there will have to be a stage three eventually to deal with Parliament itself. That is why I welcome the fact that the proposals are essentially conservative and start with the preservation, in its entirety, of the existing corpus of life Peers. That is exactly the starting point that I would have chosen for stage two and which my amendment would begin to implement in the transitional House.
I am in favour of an appointed Chamber, rather than being a follower of the noble Lord, Lord Richard or, indeed, of many colleagues in another place and others who are true democrats in, as I see it, the worst sense of the word. Yes, I am for an appointed Chamber, but as may be pointed out, the devil is in the detail. Earlier debates on the appointments commission today have made that clear. Therefore, I have in a constructive and positive way left some of the detail of my amendment to be worked out later.
After reading and re-reading the Labour proposals, I must confess that I had to ask myself: how can I be sure that the proposals are indeed meant to nudge the Royal Commission towards an appointed House? The proposals are vacuous; mostly directives telling the Royal Commission the aims of the Labour Party and asking for ways of achieving those aims.
I have a note of 170 Conservative life Peers, 157 Labour, plus 15 more to give present broad parity, plus 42 to give post-Weatherill parity; 44 Liberal Democrats, 122 Cross-Bench, 27 Law Lords (because they also may organise their affairs on the basis that they may be here, if not for ever, for a long time) and that makes 527. To those 527, I add the five "other party" life Peers, and eight first creation hereditaries on the recent House of Lords briefing, which makes 540. To that, I add the 42 which my Benches will need to maintain parity when the unthinkable happens at the start of stage two and the hereditaries leave. That, I think, makes 582. The exact figure does not matter. I suspect that my noble friend Lord Strathclyde--I see that he is not on the Front Bench--and I share the knowledge that simple arithmetic and property valuation are not exact sciences.
I thought that I had reached a realistic figure of about 600 life Peers when I realised what I had forgotten. Paragraph 8.3 of the proposals tells the Royal Commission that the House of Lords should endeavour to accommodate representation from or by the Scottish Parliament. Whatever that means, that must surely lead to further life Peers. There are, of course, the usual other groups mentioned in the proposals which one would expect to find needing accommodation in this Chamber.
One way or another, a body of more than 500 thoroughly legitimate but inevitably ageing life Peers, will have tenure for life, in addition to an expanding body of other created Peers. I would not be so indelicate as to call it a problem, if the Labour Party did not hint that it had detected something a little amiss here. The proposals tell us, in paragraph 6.10, that,
Subsection (3) of my proposed new clause, imposing a retirement age but one which applies only at the end of the Session in which the Peer reaches the age of 75, is what oils the wheels of the whole operation. I await with interest the views of the Committee and the Minister.
The Earl of Dundee : I support my noble friend's amendment. As he said, it envisages an appointed second Chamber which is wholly appointed, with life Peers, and seeks to accommodate certain inconsistencies arising.
Two differing cases may be inferred, if not stated by my noble friend, each representing irregular attenders. The first case is that of elderly life Peers who are extremely effective when they attend but who may not always be able to do so. The second case is that of a great many other life Peers who are also good contributors but for reasons other than age or infirmity equally do not attend all the time. The question is whether such patterns of irregular attendance undermine the desired balance and function of a reformed second Chamber.
One aim of reform is to achieve approximate voting parity between the main parties. Clearly, at the same time reform of the second Chamber must preserve its present quality of deliberation. Yet the party political voting functions may require Members to be here practically all the time. The deliberative function does not. It includes questions and debates, the highly regarded Lords' European Select Committee reports and the work of Lords' delegations overseas, including the Council of Europe, on which I had the honour to serve
The amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Coleraine accommodates those considerations. It does so by enabling some life Peers to sit and vote and other life Peers to sit and speak only. Thus, first, it resolves the anomaly whereby otherwise life Peers attending irregularly are inconsistent with life Peers who come here much more. Secondly, there is the allegation, perhaps against my noble friend's suggestion, that the contributions of non-voting life Peers would be ineffective simply because they could not vote. My noble friend's amendment, by implication, refutes that. That is because Members of this place have never made much impression anyway in the Lobbies with their feet. Our votes are easily overturned. What has always been much more difficult for the other place is to resist our reasoned arguments.
That connects with the third main consideration with which my noble friend's amendment is consistent. That is, if a reformed second Chamber is to be appointed with life Peers, it need not conform to party politics anyway, and certainly to no greater extent than it does now. Therefore, it is up to the appointments commission to ensure this and also to lay stress on the deliberative function. Meanwhile, if we have a new voting parity between parties and a new House of life Peers, all with voting rights, regarding part-time attendance then two things follow. First, part-time attendance becomes inconsistent with a new voting function expected of its Members. Secondly, part-time attendance would hardly be recognised as the backbone, which it is, of the deliberative function. Instead, it would be seen to breach the terms and trust of the appointment as a life Peer in the first place.
In my view, my noble friend's amendment provides a useful solution through the two categories of life Peer. Not least does it echo the cross-party agreement of the Labour government's 1968 Lords' reform proposal, whose architects included the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, the noble Earl, Lord Longford, my noble friend Lord Carrington and the late Lord Home of the Hirsel.
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