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Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Randall, put forward the amendment in the expectation, or at any rate the hope, that it would achieve consensus. Well, hope springs eternal in the breasts of Back-Benchers and Cross-Benchers, but whether it has survived the speeches from his side of the House I very much doubt. If it has, it is a very stout breast indeed, as we are prepared to concede.
One of the values of the amendment is that the contention between the noble Lord and those who have intervened from his side have concentrated on the manifesto. That is valuable because that difference of opinion throws light both on this Bill and on the ultimate stage. A few years ago in the 1970s, there was much
Recently one has heard instead of a manifesto commitment. That phrase is often used to describe what is really meant; a manifesto mandate. Indeed, so experienced a constitutional lawyer as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, when he first intervened on the Bill, used the expression "manifesto commitment", but then slipped easily into a "manifest mandate". We have heard that over and over again. We heard it in the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton.
The manifesto commitment does not bind Parliament. So long as there is parliamentary government, Parliament must counterbalance the executive. The executive may be bound by its commitment, but Parliament is not and cannot be if it is to do its job. But it will be said, and rightly, that Members of another place are bound by a manifesto commitment because in standing for election on a manifesto they have undertaken a personal commitment. That means that the Government will always get their way in the another place, provided that they can find authority in the manifesto. However, that merely accentuates the importance of your Lordships' House not being bound, as we are not bound, by any manifesto commitment. We are not bound ourselves, nor bound to concede it. Therefore, it seems to me that the argument of the manifesto commitment urges strongly the independence of your Lordships' House, even if it means that there should be a Conservative majority in your Lordships' House to counterbalance the Labour majority in the other place.
I desire to make only one other comment. The only common ground that I could discern between the noble Lord and his critics on his side is that all seem to be committed to the idea that the hereditary system of legislation cannot be justified. With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, for what he said earlier, I cannot accept that. It seems to me to be thoroughly sensible to pick from a genetic pool people who are not only born into that pool but who are brought up in an ambience of political culture. So, it is small wonder that over the years and, indeed, up to today, your Lordships' House has shown political wisdom and understanding.
The drawback, of course, is that that is not understood. There is an almost universal contempt just now for the hereditary principle; it is said that in a legislature it cannot be accepted. That means that your Lordships cannot exercise full power and conviction.
Nevertheless, I for one cannot accept a doctrine that is vindicated by the modern science of genetics and has a most distinguished philosophical background. If in no other respect your Lordships are platonic in that way. We should not be ashamed to stand for the hereditary principle and consider that it is valuable to counterbalance the democratic principle in the other place. All that one needs to say is that ultimately we are all democrats simply because those who are entrusted with power cannot be trusted not to abuse it. Therefore,
Lord Coleraine: My Lords, I am tempted to speak in support of the remarks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, particularly about the mandate; but I wish to offer my general support to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux. It is in our knowledge that comparatively few hereditary Peers sit on the Labour Benches. The result is that a Labour government can get their business through this House only by political conventions which have arisen over the years to the extent that Labour only governs by leave of these Benches.
This arrangement works well enough, and has worked well enough in the past. Nothing in the debates on the Bill to date leads me to think that the interim House will work more fairly, efficiently or with greater legitimacy than the present House. Nevertheless, the weighted voting provision proposed by the noble Lord is intended to redress the balance and to give to a Labour government the same power in this House as a Conservative government have here when there is a Conservative government in the other place.
Unlike my noble friend Lord Onslow, whose long record as a Jacobin is well recorded, I am not, and do not profess to be, a reformer. Nevertheless, I accept the force of the argument that something must be done about the in-built political imbalance here. Because the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Randall, achieve this, I am prepared to accept them. I would vote "Content" if he sought to divide the House on the matter.
However, the noble Lord should be aware, as I am sure he is, that these Benches are deeply divided on the basic principles behind his amendments. To realise this your Lordships have only to consider the comments of my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish (who is not in his place today) on the fourth day of Committee after the division on the Weatherill amendment. He spoke in answer to an amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Rowallan which would have excepted from Clause 1 those hereditary Peers who are regular attenders. I would remind the House that the words of my noble friend were:
"I think that your Lordships' House has, so to speak, 'done its business' [his very words] by the hereditaries in passing the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill".--[Official Report, 11/5/99; col. 1142.] It may be said that the cuckoo hatched in 1958 has well and truly landed in your Lordships' nest, at least in the form of my noble friend's remarks on that occasion.
The first is to ask the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux, whether, when he was thinking up his ingenious idea for weighted voting, he was inspired by the famous slogan from Animal Farm that all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others. The other sentence is to endorse, as strongly as I can, the plea from the noble Baroness that the noble Lord, Lord Randall, should tonight either move his amendment or withdraw it permanently so that we do not have to go through this argument again at Third Reading.
Lord Kingsland: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux, has returned to the question of his plan to introduce a system of voting which would allow hereditary Peers to stay in the House. He has done so with great courage and his amendment has much charm.
As I understand it, his collection of amendments sets out to achieve three things. Amendment No. 9 would keep in your Lordships' House, for life, all those hereditary Peers who were Members on the day that the Bill becomes law. Amendment No. 58 would bring in a weighted voting system; the weight of votes eligible to be cast for parties supporting the Government will be more than the votes eligible to be cast for the Official Opposition. Amendment No. 62 would establish a commission to report on how such a voting system might work.
To me, this seems a logical and coherent package; so logical that I suspect it has absolutely no chance whatever of being accepted by the Government. The noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux, is being loyal to your Lordships' House and to its traditions by introducing this amendment. The Bill does so much damage to your Lordships' House. For that he should be praised, not criticised.
In Committee, in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Randall, the noble and learned Lord Falconer said, on 20th April 1999 at cols. 1149 and 1150 of Hansard, that no one could understand a weighted voting system such as he proposed. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, is unfamiliar with the range of voting systems his party has introduced over the past 18 months.
Is it not odd for a government who have brought in so many new, experimental and differing voting systems, such as those in the European elections, the elections for Wales and Scotland, and indeed in the elections for London, to stop at a weighted voting system in your Lordships' House?
As I understand it, the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux, is not insisting on a specific proposal such as the one deplored by the noble and learned lord, Lord Falconer. Although he has put his ideas in the Library to show that his proposal would not be particularly complex, he has also asked for the creation of a commission to advise your Lordships' House on how his system might work.
The approach of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux-- that the hereditary peerage be phased out, not forced out, while the sting of numbers is drawn by a revised voting system-- goes with the grain of natural justice and, dare I say it, unfashionable though it now is in many quarters, fair play.
I do see that there are some practical difficulties with the proposal. These are not insurmountable; and his plans would prevent the upheaval and disruption to the work of your Lordships' House that the Bill will undoubtedly provoke. It may be that a specific voting system cannot be linked to the Bill at this stage; but, as your Lordships are fully aware, we are already, at the Government's insistence, putting great weight on standing orders. We have a paper on the Weatherill proposal for the Procedure Committee. Could we not invite the Clerks to look at the potential for progress on the idea of the noble Lord, Lord Randall?
Alternatively, the noble Lord's proposal of a commission would give us time to reach a consensus on the voting system. Is it too much to ask noble and noble and learned Lords on the Government Benches to engage in talks, in which we would be very happy to join, on the ideas of Lord Randall? We could give evidence constructively to a commission such as that suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Randall. Would the Government agree to do the same?
At the same time, in its present form we could not support the amendment at this stage if moved before further talks, and we would not favour exchanging the certain provision in the Weatherill amendment for this, as yet unagreed, proposal. But, no doubt, if the Government were ever to withdraw the Weatherill amendment for one reason or another, this is one of the many routes which your Lordships' House might feel could be more fully explored.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, during this evening I have to reply to a number of differently grouped sets of amendments. It may be helpful if I indicate to your Lordships the way I am intending to proceed, which is to be guided firmly by what is set out in the Companion, namely, that arguments fully deployed in Committee should not be repeated at length on report. That is a matter which I thought it might be helpful to indicate.
Certainly there have been some remarkable contributions to this debate. Your Lordships have claimed knowledge of what people think in the public houses throughout the land. Evidently your Lordships go to different public houses than I do. Perhaps it is the difference between the saloon bar and the public bar.
Some of the phrases used tonight demonstrate how absolutely right we all were to get started urgently on reform of your Lordships' House. I quote two phrases almost at random: one is, "our Party's"--that is, the Conservative Party's--"natural majority". Another is, "The Government only govern by leave of these Benches". The temptation to sit down now is almost overwhelming. I have to tell your Lordships, because it was not entirely plain to me until the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, came to his last sentence, "but we shall feel unable to support it", that it seemed to me that he was in fact about to invite his colleagues on his Benches to come to a conclusion which I have to say is absolutely smack counter to the Weatherill proposals.
Your Lordships, as always, must come to your independent conclusions. But, in honour to the House, we have no doubt at all that if these amendments were passed they would be wholly opposite to the Weatherill compromise.
They split conveniently into two categories, as has rightly been indicated by the noble Lord who moved them. First, the continuation of the hereditary principle until the last hereditary Peer is dead. On our actuarial calculations, which in the nature of things must be speculative, and indeed may be unduly pessimistic, the last hereditary Peer is probably likely to die in 2068-- I am not feeling too well myself. Contrary to the recent historical tour of the Labour Party by the noble Lord, Lord Randall, and why it is against the hereditary principle, I do not read the Labour Party's objection to the hereditary principle as having been entirely temporarily coincident with the row about the poll tax. It would mean that about 200 years after serious disquiet had been raised about the continuation of the hereditary principle we should all be there--I beg your Lordships' pardon: one of us would be there on his deathbed in about 2068.
The weighting arrangements, and I am bound to say as so often in these matters that I find myself in complete agreement with the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, are opaque to the point of not being understandable. They are a device to bring about another objective which is fundamentally not what the Government are minded to do. That does not dispose of the argument. It simply restates our absolute determination that the compromise is to have a life of a relatively short period in the context of the 200 years that I earlier mentioned; that is what we are adamant about.
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