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Earl Ferrers: I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Randall, speak to his amendment because he tabled it as an alternative way of trying to think through this matter. I was interested in what he said almost sotto voce. I do not know whether his Front Bench heard him say that some noble Lords on his side of the House were disillusioned with the reform process--
Earl Ferrers: Yes, on both sides. I was anxious to ensure that the noble Lord's Front Bench heard that. I was seeking to remind the noble Lord's noble friends of what he had said. Some noble Lords are, indeed, disillusioned.
I should be interested to hear again how the noble Lord proposes that his system should work. However, he is a mathematician and finds all these things dead easy. I had the privilege outside the Chamber of the noble Lord explaining to me how his system would work. It was so unbelievably complicated that I could not understand it at all. I am quite prepared to accept that my IQ is very much lower than that of most people, but once one starts in the Division Lobby clocking in 1.5 votes for one Peer and 2.3 votes for another, that seems to make an absolute mockery of the whole thing. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, asked what happens when a Peer votes in the wrong Lobby, as happens periodically on both sides of the Chamber. Would such a Peer carry with him a 1.5 weighting or a 2.3 weighting? It really is too complicated.
We have had many electoral changes in the country from a first-past-the-post system to proportional representation and even to the curious system in Scotland where the two systems are used at once. We
Lord Crickhowell: I am sorry to have to disagree with the proposition put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Randall, because I greatly respect the stand that he has bravely taken on this Bill. In addition, I share many of his reservations and concerns, particularly in the light of the notable contribution last night from the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, who made it absolutely and unmistakably clear that there can be no certainty of a second stage and who said that there are huge problems in getting to that stage. Indeed, last night we had an acknowledgement from the Government Front Bench--from the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn--that the Government were coming forward only with proposals and not with a guarantee that they would be carried through. We are dealing with a proposal for an interim House that may last a long time.
My objections to the proposal are not simply those of complication, as voiced by my noble friend Lord Ferrers, but also of principle. First, one of the great strengths of our parliamentary democracy is that individual votes and the decisions of individuals actually count. I see my noble friend Lord Jopling on the Benches behind me. As a former Chief Whip of my party, he will recall some crucial votes when we were deciding questions relating to Europe. He will remember, as I do, the agonising decisions that had to be taken by individual Members in deciding whether to break with their own party on a great decision of principle which was of immense importance for the country. Their votes were important because they were taken individually. However, they were also important because the vote of any one Member was equal to the vote of any other, whatever their position in government. That must be right. It is an extraordinary concept that, for example, apparently because one is a member of the governing party, one's votes might weigh more heavily irrespective of whether one is in the "Content" or "Not-content" Lobby, or for or against the Government. That is implicit in the wording of the amendment.
That brings me to my second objection to the amendment. It seems extraordinary that if it is proposed that there should be a commission on the voting system in the House of Lords, so many of the apparent decisions of the commission should have been pre-empted in the wording of the amendment. I see no purpose in, for example, the provision relating to the Standing Orders--partly because they clearly pre-empt the decision of the commission, but also because, as we have heard on previous occasions, there is no need to include in the Bill provisions relating to the Standing Orders of the House.
Although no doubt moved for all sorts of good intentions, this new clause must be objected to. I hope that we shall not, in last night's memorable phrase from the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, turn this House into a "genetically modified House of Commons". The noble Lord suggested that that might
There is a great danger in the noble Lord's amendment in that we would, indeed, be turning this House into a genetically modified House of Commons because we would be making it a House in which membership of a political party weighed more heavily than the judgment of an individual. That is a wholly unacceptable proposition and I hope that the Committee will have nothing at all to do with it.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I think that my noble friends Lord Crickhowell and Lord Ferrers are being a little hard on the amendment, which I find refreshing, if only because it liberates us from the almost blind commitment which many Members feel that they have to the Weatherill amendment. It was certainly supported by a very large majority, but a number of us felt that it was only one solution and perhaps only one step on the way to a final solution. As I understand Amendment No. 135E, the commission would report to the House and the House would be required to agree Standing Orders. That might easily overcome many of the difficulties raised by my noble friends.
Another attractive feature of the amendment is that its intention is to ensure that the government of the day--or the governing parties of the day in the other place--can outvote the party of the Official Opposition. I am now seeking clarification from the noble Lord, Lord Randall. Under the present circumstances that would mean that the Labour votes would be weighted in such a way as to outweigh the Conservative votes on this side of the House. The Government of the day could easily lose an amendment to votes cast by the Liberal Democrats and, most important of all, by the Cross Benches. I certainly would not want to be as negative at this stage as regards this amendment as my noble friends. I would like to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Randall, has to say. I repeat that the great attraction of the amendment is that it liberates us from the Weatherill amendment which has many defects, as we witnessed yesterday.
Lord Jopling: I was half-tempted to make a contribution to this debate before my noble friend Lord Crickhowell referred to my previous incarnation as a Chief Whip in another place. I dislike this amendment for two reasons. One has already been explained by my noble friends Lord Crickhowell and Lord Ferrers. It is much too complicated. I do not believe that it is within the traditions of our parliamentary democracy. All kinds of strange anomalies could arise.
My noble Friend Lord Ferrers referred to the possibility of someone voting in another Lobby. I vividly remember an occasion in the other place when one of my honourable friends, who had done himself rather well during the evening, voted in the Opposition Lobby by mistake in a very difficult vote for the Government. He went to cancel his vote in the Government Lobby, which one is entitled to do. He came to apologise to me. I was extremely angry and used words which I shall not repeat to the Committee
I dislike the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Randall, for a rather different reason which I tried to explain when we debated the White Paper some weeks ago. I took a view with which I believe many Members of the Committee will agree; namely, that after this Bill eventually passes into law this House will become infinitely more political and far more like the other place. I speak from memory as a former Chief Whip with a duty to get government business through. I am very dubious about whether it is fair to successive governments in this House to have an arrangement whereby the votes of the government party are equal only to those of the main opposition party. It was in the White Paper. I criticised that. It is in this amendment, and I criticise it for the second time. I do not believe that that would be fair on successive government parties having to get business through the House.
Whether we begin by having parity between the Government and the main opposition party, I believe that that will have to change eventually because the Government need to have parity with all the opposition parties. Even if one does that one is still putting the Government at risk of being overturned by the votes of the Cross Benches. It would be the wild card in this House as regards voting. I strongly object to the proposal that the Government have made and which this amendment repeats; namely, to have parity only between the Government and the main opposition party. It should include all the opposition parties.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I do not normally find myself in much agreement with my noble friend Lord Pearson, but I agree with some of what he says. The noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux, has tried to tackle the problem of the interim House by a slightly different route from the Weatherill amendment which the Committee has accepted. He looks not to the whole future, but to that of the interim House. We are continually told by the Government that that will not last very long. We should find a way to deal with the issue without the sudden death of the abolition of all but 92 of the hereditary Peers. The Government object to the hereditary principle. But, as I teased them recently, if more of the hereditary Peers were Labour Peers rather than Conservative Peers I am not quite so sure that their objection would be so deep-rooted. Their objection has a great deal to do with numbers. As my noble friend Lord Strathclyde said earlier, we understand that.
I make no complaint about the number of Labour life Peers who have come to this House since the election. I understand why that has been done. As my noble friend Lord Jopling said, I understand that the Government must get their business. By and large your Lordships' House accepts that proposition. Therefore we are sparing with our use of the sort of Gatling gun that
The noble Lord, Lord Randall, has brought forward this proposal which addresses immediately the problem of the number imbalance in an interim House where the hereditary Peers remain without the Prime Minister having to create any more Peers. For the balance game he may wish to create more Peers for other reasons. But he does not have to do so just for the sake of balance. The noble Lord's amendment is ingenious and addresses at least some of the problems of the Government associated with the composition of the House. His suggestion of a commission is a way of avoiding the need to find solutions simply by sending the matter to some of the great and the good, preferably being mathematically literate.
I reminded the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, earlier that the block vote was not entirely unknown in his party. It is not much of a block vote having 1.5 votes instead of only one. The Government may not like ingenious ideas. I find that strange coming from a Government who have just inflicted on Scotland and Wales and are about to inflict on the European elections the complicated calculations of the Belgian mathematician, M. d'Hondt. I was going to say the famous Belgian mathematician, but in all truth he is only famous for that formula. He is only now famous because we in this country have adopted it. Unfortunately, I do not believe that he is still alive; otherwise I would nominate him immediately for the commission of the noble Lord, Lord Randall. I cannot do that. I humbly suggest that I might be a suitable replacement to M. d'Hondt as I have had to study this issue in three different Bills. I do not believe that there is a problem here as regards some form of weighted voting.
The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, seems very concerned about rebels. I risk incurring the ire of my noble friend Lord Henley and also my noble friend Lord Jopling whom I still remember for the nice, cheery way he kept us in order in the 1979 Parliament. I suggest that any Member who wishes to vote against his party should receive double points for courage. I have been the recipient of some serious rebellions. Members of this House should be just a little freer than those in the other place as regards voting.
The noble Lord's proposal deserves serious consideration. It deals with the problem of the balance of numbers immediately the Bill is passed. That should be attractive to the Government. Other issues will have to be addressed. When looking at the balance in the House there need to be some Peers representing the Scottish National Party. I am not particularly keen on the idea but, if one is having fairness, it is fair to say that that party received a few more votes in Scotland than the Conservatives. For the record, we gained a few more votes than the Liberal Democrats. The SNP got many more votes than the Liberal Democrats. It is a little unfair that the SNP is not represented at all. Perhaps I may suggest to the noble Baroness the Leader
The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux, invites serious discussion. It is a serious effort to address the problems which I know the Government see in the current composition of the House.
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