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"The transitional House will be of short duration, but let us proceed on the hypothetical assumptions that it might last for more than two or three years"-[ Official Report, House of Lords, 26 October 1999; Vol. 606, c. 169.]
Mr. Straw: I have already given way to the hon. and learned Gentleman and he can make his own points in his own way in a moment. I hope that I have spelled out just how ridiculous the current arrangement is.
My last point is whether any part of the measure is aimed surreptitiously at shifting the party balance against the Conservative party by the back door-it is a matter of record that there are very many more Conservative hereditary peers than Liberal Democrat or Labour hereditaries. The answer to that question is no. We have long been committed to the principle that no single party should have an overall majority in the Lords and that there should be broad parity between the two main parties, which there is. We are not going to undermine that principle.
The death of an hereditary peer can, like the death of a life peer, be taken into account in nominations of new peers, in exactly the same way as if the reduction of a party's representation in the House had been caused by the death of a life peer. I am afraid that I have not met the Earl of Stair, but if he is a man of great merit and a Conservative- [ Interruption. ] He is a Cross Bencher, so let us take the Earl of Cathcart, whose title is of even greater original antiquity. If he is of great merit and commends himself to the leader of the Conservative party, there is no reason why he should not be at the top of the list for nomination by the party as life peer, subject to consideration by the House of Lords Appointments Commission. That is a sensible way to approach this issue. In that case, the leader of a political party-or HOLAC in the case of Cross Benchers-is measuring the relative merits of the candidates against others who have not been lucky enough to be born the son of a hereditary peer.
When the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) leaves this place, he will no doubt add himself to the electorate of the Conservative peers, and he may seek election if there is a by-election and if this provision is not accepted. On the other hand-I do not wish to damage his chances-he is of sufficient skill, experience and perspicacity to recommend himself to the leader of the Conservative party for nomination as a life peer, which would be far better. [ Interruption. ] It is not patronage. That would be better in terms of his legitimacy, as well as in terms of the legitimacy of an appointed House.
Pete Wishart: I cannot believe what I am hearing. The logic of what the Secretary of State says is that we should replace hereditary peers with appointed peers. Some of us think that we should get rid of the whole shooting match, because a revising Chamber is unnecessary. Surely the appointment process is just as besmirched as the idea of hereditary peers. Can he tell us how many Labour peers have been appointed because they gave considerable amounts of money to the Labour party?
Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman knows that we want to move to a wholly or mainly elected Chamber, and that will be for a future House of Commons to decide. I agree with his basic point that an appointed Chamber is not as good as an elected Chamber, but a Chamber appointed on the merits of the people who sit there-whether he happens to agree with them or not-is far better than a Chamber constituted on the merits of its members' long-dead ancestors, the basis that the Conservatives are now trying to defend.
This is a modest reform. My answer to those who have suggested that we should wait for holus-bolus reform is that this is a running sore and we should do
something about it. Because we cannot do everything now does not mean that we should not do anything. I am strongly persuaded by the case that Lord Steele originally made: this is a matter that we can deal with, and we should do so now.
Mr. Grieve: There is one thing on which I have no difficulty agreeing with the Secretary of State, and that is that the arrangements for the election of hereditary peers are a peculiar anomaly. I do not suppose that in 1997, when new Labour was elected to power, anyone could have dreamt that we would end up with such a peculiar arrangement. Whether it is, as the Secretary of State says, a risible arrangement is more questionable. In fact, as he acknowledged, on the face of it these elected peers, from all parties and as Cross Benchers, do remarkably good work in the House of Lords. They do such good work that the principle that they should stay there has been accepted, even if new ones should not be added. I would not, therefore, describe it as risible, although it is certainly peculiar and-I might say-does not sound very new Labour.
"As an initial, self-contained reform, not dependent on further reform in the future, the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords will be ended by statute. This will be the first stage in a process of reform to make the House of Lords more democratic and representative."
The fact is that, as was rightly pointed out by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), when the matter came to be debated in this House and the other place, the Government decided that they could not get their business through and did not wish to push it through under the Parliament Act. They therefore negotiated, in the other place, and came to a deal. I must say that the deal is very un-new Labour and is redolent with terminology that takes one straight back to the 19th century. All the tribute for that goes of course to Lord Irvine, who is a slightly 19th century figure.
Mr. Grieve: My right hon. and learned Friend is correct, because the derivation of the idea is almost certainly the fact that-this has not been raised-at one time not all Scottish peers had the right to sit in this place, and instead elected a group of their number to do so.
It is worth considering for one moment what Lord Irvine said at the end of that process. I only quoted a small bit of it to the Lord Chancellor, but I think that these words should be engraved above the chair in the office where he sits, and probably over his bed:
"The amendment reflects a compromise negotiated between Privy Councillors on Privy Council terms and binding in honour on all those who have come to give it their assent. Like all compromises it does not give complete satisfaction to anyone.
That is the nature of compromise... a compromise in these terms would guarantee that stage two would take place, because the Government with their great popular majority and their manifesto pledge would not tolerate 10 per cent. of the hereditary peerage remaining for long. But the 10 per cent. will go only when stage two has taken place. So it is a guarantee that it will take place."-[ Official Report, House of Lords, 30 March 1999; Vol. 599, c. 207.]
The Secretary of State tells us that times have moved on. He also pointed out-I do not disagree with this-that this Parliament is sovereign and that if it decides to change its mind, it can. I am not actually very concerned about what this Parliament does; I am concerned about what he does. He was one of the Privy Councillors who negotiated the deal on Privy Council terms, and so was the Prime Minister, because they were all members of the Cabinet that ratified Lord Irvine's solemn and binding pledge. So why should we today release him from that obligation, particularly given that he has not made any credible case for getting rid of these elected hereditaries, who seem on the evidence to be carrying out a perfectly reasonable job in frankly no more anomalous a way than all the appointees who are also present in the upper House?
In truth, there is no justification for such action, apart, I suppose, from a rather new Labour desire to renege on a past promise. If that is the philosophical basis on which the Secretary of State wishes to argue this case, it would be sensible if he were to stand up and acknowledge it now, and at least then we would know where we all stand. As it happens, I think that he is bound by that promise in honour, and I do not see why I should facilitate him dishonouring his own promise, particularly given that there is no rational reason for doing so.
In addition to that, we have to face up to some realities. I listened carefully to the Secretary of State, and in particular to his acknowledgment that there needed to be Conservative peers in the other place and that there was a Government commitment to having a balance of appointed peers between the parties, until that day when we reach a final resolution on a second stage of reform. However, as he knows, the reality is that the composition of the upper House has increasing elements of imbalance, some of which are dictated by age and the fact that peers of certain parties are much older than those of other parties, and by the fact that the total number of Labour peers appointed by Mr. Blair during his period in office as Prime minister was 163. In contrast, 45 Conservatives were appointed in that period. Although there were certainly imbalances at the beginning of that period, they were largely removed when most of the hereditaries went.
Since the present Prime Minister came to office, we have had four Conservative peers appointed in the other place, nine Labour peers, two Liberal peers and 11 Cross Benchers. The truth-I think that the Secretary of State will acknowledge this-is that while we wait for the final stage of reform to take place, it is becoming increasingly difficult to provide the necessary scrutiny of Government legislation in the other place. From our point of view, the continuing election of the hereditaries remains a key way of ensuring that working peers can
get in and be maintained, despite the fact that the Prime Minister has shown such a curmudgeonly approach to facilitating proper scrutiny.
Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): The hon. and learned Gentleman is arguing that clause 29 should not stand part of the Bill because the second-stage reform has not taken place. That would be a more credible argument if I felt that his party were champing at the bit to bring forward a second-stage reform, so let me simply ask him this. What commitment will the Conservative manifesto in this year's general election make to bringing through a wholly or largely elected second Chamber?
Mr. Grieve: My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has said repeatedly that the Conservative party's position is that it wishes to have a largely elected second Chamber. As the hon. Gentleman will know, there were votes on that in the House, when there appeared to be a majority in favour of a largely elected second Chamber. That is where we stand.
However, the Government have at no stage said that they are about to implement a final stage of reform. If they felt that having a largely elected second Chamber was impossible, they could decide that, as a final stage of reform, they would have a largely appointed second Chamber, but we simply do not have anything.
Mr. Straw: I forgive him, but the hon. and learned Gentleman was evidently not listening to what I was saying. We are indeed about to move to that final stage, and we are about to publish the draft clauses for that. We have had three and a half years of intensive cross-party discussions, and we have taken them to the next stage.
Mr. Straw: The hon. Lady knows very well that for six and a half of those 11 years, there was no agreement either within the parties or between them, and things have to be done on a cross-party basis. There is now that agreement. To pick up the question that my hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) asked, I want to know whether, subject to going through the small print of those clauses, the Conservative party will say that, whatever position the Conservatives are in after the election, they will give those proposals the same enthusiastic welcome that this side will give and which I suspect-although they know how to speak for themselves-the Liberal Democrats will give as well.
Mr. Grieve: If I may say so, I am not quite sure what proposals I am supposed to give an enthusiastic welcome to. Let me remind the Secretary of State that last year the Government published another document-previously we had "Britain deserves better", whereas this one, published on 29 June 2009, was called "Building Britain's Future". Let us remind ourselves of what it says:
"We have already pursued a radical programme of reform in the House of Lords, including reducing the number of hereditary peers who sit in the House from about 750 to 92 today."
"But fairness and the democratic principle require that the people's representatives are chosen by the people. The Government plans to legislate in the 2009-10 session for the next steps on House of Lords Reform by completing the process of removing the hereditary principle from the second chamber. And, building on the Government's White Paper published last July, which committed us to an 80 per cent or 100 per cent elected House of Lords-reflecting the will of the Commons expressed in a free vote in 2007-we will pursue the final phase of Lords reform by bringing forward a draft Bill for a smaller and democratically constituted second chamber."
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. Michael Wills): The hon. and learned Gentleman's position on these matters is usually so clear, but I would be grateful if he could bring a little more clarity to his own position on reform of the House of Lords. He has told us which proposals he would not give an enthusiastic welcome to. In an attempt to get an answer to the question put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley), I should like to ask him to which proposals on House of Lords reform he would give such a welcome.
Mr. Leigh: I put it to the Lord Chancellor that the whole purpose of this risible arrangement was to force reform. Does my hon. and learned Friend recognise that there are many Conservative Members who believe that what we have is a perfectly satisfactory arrangement, and that we do not want an elected second Chamber full of pitiful clones? Will he confirm that, when, as we all hope, we get into power, there will be a free vote on this matter?
Mr. Grieve: I am afraid that I cannot confirm anything of the kind to my hon. Friend. I acknowledge that there is a wide spread of views on this matter, and it is certainly clear from the votes that took place in the upper House that many people there want a largely or entirely appointed second Chamber. If the Government put in place an entirely appointed second Chamber, with a structure in place for its long-term management, they could claim that as a proper second stage. The point at issue this afternoon is that we do not have a second stage at all. We are being asked to vote on a series of piecemeal measures that amount to little more than gimmickry, because they will have absolutely no impact on the way in which the upper House operates.
Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase) (Lab): I do not feel that we have quite got to the bottom of the Opposition's position. When the Leader of the Opposition went to talk to the Conservative peers some time ago, he was widely reported-including by those who were there-as having said that this was a third-term issue for the Conservative party. Will the hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that that is indeed the Leader of the Opposition's position?
I think that I have made the position extremely plain. The plain words of the Leader of the Opposition are that he believes that there has to be reform of the upper House, and that it should be a largely elected second Chamber. I should like gently to
point out, however, that we are debating the Government's proposals, not our proposals. If we could have an election tomorrow, we could then go off and discuss all these matters. At the moment-prior to the election-the Government are asking us to agree to further piecemeal reform which amounts to little more than a piece of gimmickry and, furthermore-I hope that I use these words advisedly-in the light of Lord Irvine's comments, dishonours them. It is a flagrant breach of trust in regard to what they have collectively said.
Mr. Redwood: Did my hon. and learned Friend know that, when I asked the Lord Chancellor to give us a timetable for honouring his promise, there was no such timetable and, clearly, no Government intention to bring forward reform because they know that it would be logjammed in the Lords?
Mr. Grieve: Yes, I did know that. For those reasons, the Government appear to be trying to find a gimmick with which to divert attention from their failure to implement their own policy pledges or to come up with any alternative if their policy pledges are incapable of being implemented.
Hugh Bayley: In answer to the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), the hon. and learned Gentleman said that he would not guarantee a free vote for Conservative Members on a second stage of reform to create a wholly or largely elected second Chamber. Can he give me an assurance that there would be a whipped vote on that issue in both Houses of Parliament in the first term in which a Conservative Government were in office?
Mr. Grieve: The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is no; I shall do no such thing. I have told him and the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) exactly what the Leader of the Opposition has said and what constitutes party policy. That is where we stand. Today, we must decide whether the clause under consideration has merit and deserves the support of the House.
Mr. Grieve: I was not present at the meeting. [Interruption.] I might add that I would be very surprised if the hon. Member for Cannock Chase had been present, unless he entered as a poltergeist. We should focus on what the Leader of the Opposition says in public, and on how we have voted in public. The Secretary of State's tactic seems to be diversionary-more displacement activity, in which, as I have said to him previously, he appears to have specialised in recent months. I suppose that that is the hallmark of the successful politician.
Mr. Hogg: My hon. and learned Friend talked about gimmickry. Does he agree that the chances of the Bill becoming law are now negligible? It will probably have a sixth day of consideration, which will be about the time of the February recess. The Bill will then go to the other place, which will not pass it by the time of Dissolution. The Bill is a gimmick that has no prospect of becoming law.
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