Madam Speaker : I do not confirm one way or the other whether I have received an application for a private notice question. The hon. Gentleman might care to rephrase his point of order ; I shall do my best to be helpful.
Mr. Dunn : Can you confirm, Madam Speaker, that you are in a position to receive an application for a private notice question on the rail dispute ? Today, the work and lives of many thousands of my constituents have been disrupted by the actions of a trade union, which all the contenders for the Labour party leadership have signally failed to condemn. [Interruption.]
Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Would it be helpful for me to instruct the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) on procedure, as he clearly does not understand it ? It is well in order for the Government to make a statement on any issue
Madam Speaker : Order. I want no instruction on how I should behave in the Chair. I have just informed the House that private notice questions are looked at by me at 12 o'clock, and decisions are then made.
Mr. Coombs rose
Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman will resume his seat immediately, or I shall name him. I am tired of listening to points of order that are not points of order, and of the way in which points of order are abused in the House.
Mr. Coombs rose
Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman will resume his seat. If he has a point of order for me to deal with which does not refer to the behaviour of other hon. Members, I will listen to it, but I will listen to it only if it concerns me as Speaker. The hon. Gentleman must now determine how he will behave following that warning.
Mr. Coombs : My point of order does relate to your duties as Speaker, Madam Speaker. I was going to ask whether the attitude of Opposition Members to the rail unions--which is not unrelated to the fact that many of them are sponsored by trade unions, and in particular by the rail unions--ought not, in the circumstances, be referred-- [Interruption.]
Members successful in the ballot were :
Mr. Andrew Mackinlay
Mr. Peter Thurnham
Mr. Quentin Davies
Mr. Gyles Brandreth, supported by Mrs. Angela Browning, Mr. Ian McCartney, Mr. Harry Cohen, Mr. Robert Jackson, Mrs. Angela Knight, Ms Liz Lynne, Mr. Rod Richards, Mr. Raymond S. Robertson and Mr. Keith Vaz, presented a Bill to amend the Marriage Act 1949 so as to enable civil marriages to be solemnised on premises approved for the purpose by local authorities and so as to provide for further cases in which marriages may be solemnised in registration districts in which neither party to the marriage resides ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon 24 June, and to be printed. [Bill 126.]
Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No.96(Scottish Estimates).
That the Estimates set out hereunder be referred to the Scottish Grand Committee :
Class XIV Vote 17 Education, Arts and Libraries, Scotland. Class XIV Vote 18 Student Awards, Scotland.
[ Mr. Robert G. Hughes.]
Question agreed to .
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to abolish the right of hereditary peers and peeresses to sit in the House of Lords ; to establish their right to vote in general elections and to stand for election to the House of Commons ; and for connected purposes. In spending so much time, as the House does, on detailed, complex and intricate legislation, we sometimes miss the glaringly obvious. My Bill deals with the glaringly obvious-- that in a democracy it is absurd that people should inherit the right to legislate.
My Bill does not attempt to deal with the overall question of the reform of the House of Lords or whether we need a second Chamber. It deals simply with hereditary members of the peerage.
The House of Lords has the most bizarre and indefensible composition of any parliamentary chamber in the world. At the last count, there were 1,203 Members of the Lords, 759 of whom inherited their title. Those 759 peers are there because they were born in the right bed at the right time.
I need hardly remind the House of the bizarre ways in which those 759 people came to obtain their titles-- they are varied and colourful. The dukes are a prime example. Four of the dukes-- of Buccleuch and Queensberry, of Grafton, of Richmond Lennox and Gordon and of Saint Albans- - are descendants of the various mistresses of Charles II. One is by Lucy Walter, one by Barbara Villiers, one by Louise de Ke rouaille and the other by Nell Gwynne.
I have nothing against Charles II's mistresses or their descendants, but I cannot for the life of me see why they should inherit the right to legislate.
If my Bill were passed, it would not make much difference to the lives of those people. When the figures were last checked, one of those dukes was on permanent leave of absence and the other three attended on just 32 occasions out of a possible 736 attendances. Of the 759 hereditary peers, no fewer than 70 per cent. attended fewer than 5 per cent. of sittings and 44 per cent.-- 333 peers-- did not attend the Lords at all.
We are frequently told by traditionalists that the hereditary peerage is just a quaint British custom and that it does no harm or damage, so why bother with it ? Sadly, that is not true.
Neither can it be said that there is any received wisdom among those hereditary peers. One of the most important votes in the Lords in recent years was the poll tax vote on 23 May 1988. The Lords had a chance to stop a Bill that everyone, apart from the then Conservative party, knew was ludicrous and that now everyone, including the Conservative party, knows was ludicrous. Their lordships were solidly in favour of the poll tax-- 317 were in favour and 183 were against. That made a total of 500, so 702 either abstained, could not make it to the Chamber or did not understand the question.
The attendance of 500 was one of the biggest this century. Hon. Members may have read that one of their lordships said in the debate that one of the nice things about the debate was that one met so many old friends that one had not seen for many years.
It is not always realised that the hereditary peers passed the poll tax legislation. The life peers voted marginally
Column 632against-- 125 to 97-- but the hereditary peers tipped the balance, with 54 against and 220 in favour. So much for the common sense of the aristocracy.
That vote should come as no surprise to us, because their lordships vote, as we do most of the time, according to party affiliation. Of the 759 hereditary peers, only 364 are listed as supporting a political party. Of those, 12 are Labour, 24 are Liberal Democrats and 328 are Conservatives. If I were to include the other 395 who have not answered the question, I have no doubt that the Conservative majority would be even larger.
I read a recent debate held in another place on its own future. It was incredibly smug and self-satisfied and, in the light of the figures that I have just cited, I find it staggering that one peer could say, "Your Lordships' House stands as an independent bulwark"
I do not want to make this a party political issue so I shall now quote Winston Churchill who, when talking about the hereditary peerage in the early part of the century, described the House of Lords as
"one-sided, hereditary, unpurged, unrepresentative, irresponsible, absentee . . . filled with old doddering peers, cute financial magnates, clever wire pullers and big brewers with bulbous noses." I do not agree about the bulbous noses, but I think that we can all understand his drift. He was speaking at the beginning of the century, but the social composition of the House of Lords has not changed that much.
According to the latest figures that I have seen, 60 per cent. of hereditary peers were described as farmers and landowners, 15 per cent. as industrialists and 12 per cent. as being involved in banking, finance and insurance. Even so--I again paraphrase a debate held the other day in the House of Lords--one peer in effect said without any hint of vanity or complacency that it was right to acknowledge that diversity was their greatest strength.
My simple proposition is that in a democracy it is ludicrous for people to inherit the right to legislate, and I am sure that the Bill will have all- party support. In fact, one of the inspirations for my presenting the Bill was the Prime Minister's rallying call for a classless society. I have not been able to check whether he will support the Bill, but, in the light of his known position on a classless society, I think that he should be behind me on this matter.
Should there still be any waverers among the Tories, let me put to them a simple proposition. If, in the Russia of today, for example, there were a Baron Trotsky, a Viscount Stalin or a Lord Lenin, the Tories would rightly be saying that in a democracy it was ludicrous that people should inherit titles, and we would say the same if there were descendants of Bismarck in the German Parliament or descendants of Napoleon in the French Parliament. However, there is a more urgent reason for dealing with the problem, and quickly.
There is a growing trend, which I welcome, for Members of Parliament to act as observers of elections abroad to ascertain whether voting systems are democratic. Of course, we can send people from the House of Lords.
Column 633Have people queuing outside polling stations in hot African countries ever been questioned by a duke, marquess, earl or viscount about how well their system was operating ? If I were in such a queue, my response would be, "Physician, heal thyself."
The democratic rights of the House of Commons have been fought for and they are precious. Your symbolic struggle, Madam Speaker, to be the Speaker of the House is symptomatic of the struggle of democratic power against hereditary power and you, perhaps more than anyone else, are the symbol of that. There are more hereditary peers in Parliament than democratically elected Members of this House. Their right to vote and to legislate for the people whom we represent would be laughable were it not so serious. It is indefensible in a democracy. It requires a simple Act of Parliament to put it right, a step that no one who cares about democracy could oppose. I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Bruce Grocott, Mr. Don Dixon, Mr. Peter Kilfoyle, Mr. George Foulkes, Ms Kate Hoey, Mr. George Howarth, Mr. John Hutton, Mr. Chris Mullin, Mr. Ken Purchase, Mr. Jeff Rooker and Mr. Ernie Ross.
-- Mr. Bruce Grocott accordingly presented a Bill to abolish the right of hereditary peers and peeresses to sit in the House of Lords ; to establish their right to vote in general elections and to stand for election to the House of Commons ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 15 July, and to be printed. [Bill 127.]
As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered .
That the Local Government (Wales) Bill [ Lords ], as amended, be considered in the following order, namely, New Clause 2, New Clause 11, New Clause 1, government New Clauses, remaining New Clauses, amendments to Clauses and amendments to Schedules.--[ Mr. Redwood. ]
Where a community meeting under the 1972 Act resolves that that community should be transferred from the local government area in which it is situated by virtue of this Act to another such area, being an area contiguous with the community, then, provided that no fewer than one half of the local government electors in the community have voted for that resolution, the Secretary of State shall by order amend Schedule 1 to this Act to give effect to that resolution.'.-- [Dr. Marek.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Madam Speaker : With this, it will be convenient to discuss also the following : New clause 11-- Referendum on boundaries (No. 2) (1) If, by resolution, the council of any district existing at the time this Act receives Royal Assent so requests, the Secretary of State shall, before appointing a day for the coming into force of Section 1 of and Schedule 1 to this Act, prepare a scheme for the conduct of a referendum to be held within the area of any such district council.
(2) A referendum under subsection (1) above shall be for the purpose of determining whether the local government electors of the district are satisfied with the provisions of Schedule 1 to this Act so far as they affect the boundaries of any local government area for which they are electors.
(3) Where it appears to the Secretary of State from the result of any referendum held under subsection (1) above that a majority of the electors of any district do not approve of any change in boundaries affecting that district which would result from the provisions of Schedule 1 to this Act, he may by order made by statutory instrument make any modification to that Schedule which he considers will reflect the result of the referendum ; and any such order shall be laid before both Houses of Parliament and be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House.'.
Amendment No. 14, in clause 65, page 51, line 2, leave out 1,'. Amendment No. 15, in page 51, line 3, leave out 1,'.
Amendment No. 117, in schedule 1, page 52, line 17, column 2, leave out from Cardiff' to end of line 19.
Amendment No. 28, in page 53, line 27, column 2,, leave out from Ogwr' to end of line 29.
Amendment No. 35, in page 53, line 34, column 1, leave out and Port Talbot'.
Amendment No. 36, in page 53, line 34, column 2, leave out and Port Talbot'.
Amendment No. 37, in page 53, line 35, leave out a Phort Talbot'. Amendment No. 116, in page 54, line 1, at end insert :
Column 635Port Talbot
The district of Port Talbot
Amendment No. 100, in page 54, line 2, leave out Rhondda,' in both places where it occurs.
Amendment No. 38, in page 54, line 2, leave out Taff'. Amendment No. 101, in page 54, line 3, leave out Rhondda,'. Amendment No. 39, in page 54, line 3, leave out from Cynon' to end of line 5.
Amendment No. 40, in page 54, line 5, at end insert
The district of Taff Ely.
Amendment No. 102, in page 54, line 6, at end insert
Rhondda The district of Rhondda
Amendment No. 29, in page 54, line 9, column 2,, leave out lines 9 to 11.
Dr. Marek : We spent many hours in Committee on the Bill where it was accepted that the issues that caused probably most division, not necessarily across parties, but from one hon. Member to another, were over what to do with communities on the boundaries of the new unitary authorities and whether any particular community or area should be in one of the new unitary authorities or in another. In particular, I remember many hours talking about Llanelly Hill. I am not exactly sure where it is, but it is somewhere on the border of the present borough of Torfaen, the district of Monmouth and the district of Brecon.
Dr. Marek : My hon. Friend corrects me. There was a case for including Llanelly Hill in any of those three new districts. Unfortunately, the Government decided that Llanelly Hill was to be in one of the those districts and, in spite of pleas by Labour and Conservative Members, there did not appear to be any movement in the position of the Minister or the Government in considering that, perhaps, Llanelly Hill could be part of another district or another unitary authority than the one to which the Government had allocated it.
Equally, one of the amendments that I tabled in Committee concerned the community of Llangollen. Certainly, a clear majority of people in Llangollen wished to be associated with, and be part of, Wrexham unitary authority. However, the Government decided that Llangollen was to be put in the Denbighshire authority and, in spite of cogent arguments, nothing seems to have changed the Government's mind.
Mr. Llew Smith : May I clarify one point ? The Minister said that the Government would go away and think about the Llanelly community and consider the possibility of its being put into Monmouth or, indeed, into Blaenau Gwent. We proved that it was nonsense to keep it in Powys because we worked out that to attend two council meetings, it would take councillors approximately six days because it would require an overnight stay. The Ministers said that they would report back on that issue.
Dr. Marek : We shall have to wait and see exactly what the Ministers say, but I have not noticed that any appropriate amendment has been tabled to accede to the wishes of the Committee. It is true that the Minister said that representations could be made to a local government
Column 636boundary commission about Llangollen in due course, but I should have thought that it is incumbent on us to get it right now. Other communities are affected. Llansantffraid-ym-Mochnant, for example, which is currently part of Clwyd, could be regarded as part of a future Powys, but it is not entirely clear. My point is a precise one. The elected representatives of the community council or the district cannot necessarily speak unequivocally for their electors and for their citizens without taking the voices of those citizens and those electors into account.
I will not dwell on new clause 11 which is grouped with new clause 2. However, new clause 11, which I will support in due course, allows for a referendum to be held in a council area. New clause 2 allows for a community council meeting to be held. If more than half the people covered by the community council agree that that community should not be part of the proposals as set out by the Government and that it should perhaps join a coterminous authority, the Secretary of State should take notice of that and introduce an appropriate statutory instrument. In that respect, new clause 2 would be very useful.
Why have the Government been so intransigent about some of the authorities ? There have been arguments about whether Meirionnydd should be separate from Caernarfon, but all the arguments met intransigence from the Government. Even though the Government were outvoted on the question of the break up of Powys, I have heard nothing from the Government Front Bench about letting the people decide on the issue.
It is symptomatic of this Government that we have government by diktat. Huge majorities for 12 or 13 years lead to that. The situation has now changed and the Government have time to make amends. I have received much correspondence about Llangollen, which is not in my constituency, but in the constituency of my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones), who hopes to catch your eye later today or tomorrow, Madam Speaker. However, as I stated in Committee, I have full permission and authorisation to make these comments on behalf of the people of Llangollen.
The important point is that people should be allowed to choose. Llangollen is a long way away and removed from the rest of Denbighshire. It is over two mountain passes and the road is often closed in winter. It is very likely that the headquarters of the Denbighshire authority will be at Rhyl which may be 40 or 50 miles away, while Wrexham is only nine miles away.
When I made those points in Committee, the Minister of State said :
"It will not have escaped the attention of the Committee that occasionally we come across a town that has some real attachments but is anxious to extend its boundaries further. This is especially so in the case of Wrexham."--[ Official Report, Standing Committee A, 21 April 1994 ; c. 155.]
I do not think that it is. The case stands or falls because of the wishes of the people of Llangollen, not because of the wishes of the people of Wrexham. Equally, the case in Llanelly Hill stands or falls because of the wishes of the people in Llanelly Hill, not because of the wishes of anyone else anywhere, even of people here. We should listen to what the people have to say.