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I can only speak for myself, but one of the paradoxes is that Viscount Cranborne and one or two other hereditaries are the most radical
advocates of reform. The history shows that he had to persuade and show leadership to some very conservative people who did not want change, for a whole range of selfish reasons.
Mr. Hogg: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and I agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve). The hon. Gentleman is not bound by anything, but members of his Front-Bench team are. A solemn undertaking to the House should not be abrogated. He should not support an abrogation, even though he himself is not personally committed to that undertaking.
Andrew Mackinlay: I know what the noble viscount says, but I do not agree with him. I certainly want to see this Parliament be much more effective. I am one of those who believes that, despite the perverse constitution of the other place, its role and function are extremely important.
As I look around this Chamber today, I see an overwhelming majority of colleagues who believe that we should not go to one Chamber of Parliament but that we should instead enhance and buttress an arrangement that will be an impediment and a frustration to arbitrary government. That is what is most needed: we must diminish the opportunities that arise, under the House of Commons' majority system, for parliamentary dictatorship, with things being ill thought out and railroaded through.
By-elections are the core of this clause, and reference has been made to the practice of the Scots and Irish peers, but I do not think that one can use the Scottish peerage to buttress the change proposed by the Government today. Up to the 1950s, the Scottish representative peers were elected for each parliamentary Session. They met in the Parliament House in Edinburgh, and had an election to determine who should come to this place.
The Irish peerage is much more interesting. Under the Act of Union 1800, the Irish peers would elect their representative peers for life. When the Government of Ireland Act 1920 came into force, the existing peerage was allowed to wither on the vine. The last Irish representative peer was the fourth Earl of Kilmorey, who I think expired in 1957 or thereabouts. Colleagues in this House will recall Richard Needham, who became the fifth Earl of Kilmorey and did distinguished service here as a Northern Ireland Minister.
Members of the Irish peerage could have argued that the change amounted to a reneging on the Act of Union and that the existing arrangement should have been in place in perpetuity. However, that arrangement was broken by the 1920 Act, when common sense prevailed and the existing Irish peers were allowed to wither on the vine.
Alternatively, a person with a hereditary peerage who loses his right to sit in the other place can be nominated for a life peerage by his political party. That has happened, and I think that it is implicit in what the Justice Secretary is proposing. A great example is the late Earl of Longford. He did not sit in the House of Lords under that title, although we always knew him as the Earl of Longford by virtue of his Irish peerage. He was there as Baron Pakenham, a title that was personal to him.
Andrew Mackinlay: Yes, I acknowledge that, but he could not have gone into the House of Lords as the Earl of Longford. That is the point. To complete the picture, he was one of the most distinguished, because he was Baron Pakenham for life and the Earl of Longford, and I think he was given a further life peerage when an adjustment was made in the House of Lords a few years ago.
Indeed, an awful lot of funny things have gone on. There was a Viscount Hailsham who managed to renounce his peerage and return to this House of Commons. Later, along with the 14th Earl of Home, he went back to the House of Lords as a mere baron-the ignominy!
The Conservative party is embarrassed as there are an awful lot of Conservative backwoodsmen up in the Lords who are desperately anxious about the loss of privilege and they are struggling to square this reform, but it is modest and surely most sensible people should accept it in the hope that whoever forms the next Government immediately makes proposals to create a democratic, elected House. The principal Opposition spokesperson, the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield, was so embarrassed and so incapable on this reform because it is clearly the intention of any Conservative Government, should there be one, to make any change in the second or even in the third term. That is the flaw in his argument.
I urge the House to take this step forward, signalling to Governments that we want, first, to protect the bicameral system, but, secondly, that we want, as swiftly as possible, the other House to be based on legitimacy provided by some form of democratic election, not on accident of birth.
Mr. Hogg: I begin by saying what a pleasure it is to follow the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay). May I also say-I know I speak on behalf of a lot of Members in this place-how sorry I am that he has decided to stand down? He will be a true loss to the House, and I say that in true friendship.
I shall support the position adopted by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) on clause 29. Like the hon. Member for Thurrock-indeed, like the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth)-I believe strongly in the second Chamber. My remarks on this aspect will be brief, Sir Alan, because I know that you do not want us to go wide of the debate. Those of us who have attended a lot of debates in the House are conscious of how much legislation is not discussed here, and the idea that we should not have a second Chamber
that can address that lacuna is deeply troubling. Therefore, and to that extent, I wholly disagree with the observations made by the Scots nats. They are just plain wrong on that.
My position has always been to support an elected or wholly elected second Chamber. My basis for that is that I want the powers of the other place to be very substantially increased so that they are more in line with those of a Senate, but I recognise that the only basis for increasing those powers is a proper franchise for constituting the second Chamber.
However, one problem-I made this point to the hon. Member for Cambridge-is that it is difficult for us to agree the franchise and the nature of the constituencies that would give rise to such an election. That has been one of the important sticking points. I for one would be very sorry indeed to see parties having great control over the selection of candidates for the other place. Moreover, I would want there to be relatively small constituencies. If I could not get that, I would rather stick with what I already have.
May I briefly acknowledge the role of the hereditaries in the other place? Often, they bring a degree of independence of mind-sometimes eccentric independence-that this place often lacks. It would be very sad if we did not see that continue in the other place.
I accept that the by-elections are difficult to justify in principle. I agree that I would have difficulty standing on a public platform and defending the exact mode of both by-elections, or any by-election of that kind. That does not, however, cause me to accept the Justice Secretary's proposal, because I have two profound difficulties with it.
The first-it is a view that I adopt entirely as expressed by my hon. and learned Friend-is the objection to piecemeal legislation. It is very important that we address properly the reform of the second Chamber, and I am against piecemeal legislation because in the end we would remove the incentives for a substantial reform of that other place. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) does not agree with me on this, but I wish to see a substantial change in the nature of composing that other place.
The second point-I am sorry that I do not agree with the hon. Member for Thurrock on this, or with the hon. Member for Cambridge-is that I believe in the binding character of undertakings given by Ministers to Parliament. Perhaps that is because I am a lawyer. The Justice Secretary is a lawyer too. I believe that words once given are binding, unless there is an overwhelming reason why they have to be departed from. There is no doubt at all that a deal was made between Lord Irvine of Lairg and the Marquess of Salisbury-Lord Cranborne, as he then was. That was an agreement. As a result of that agreement, legislation was passed which would not otherwise have been passed. This part of it, the by-elections, in the end formed part of the deal.
When Ministers come to either House, they are committing their party to what they say. My hon. and learned Friend is entitled to say that he will not assist the Government to depart from their word. It is on that principle more than on any other that I stand today. For that reason I shall, with enthusiasm, support the position he has taken.
Hugh Bayley: I feel like an innocent abroad, straying into a debate on constitutional reform, but I have done so because there are some interesting questions up for discussion this afternoon. I was truly surprised as the Conservative argument unfolded. If I were trying to be generous, I would say that they were making the case that the best should be the enemy of the good-that because there was not wholesale reform, they would stand in the way of a small but important step in the right direction.
I have had conversations with constituents at public meetings who have berated me for the Labour party's not seeing through the process of Lords reform. There is surprise among a number of members of the public in a well educated constituency such as mine-I see the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) nodding-that there are still people in our legislature who draw the basis for their representation from the hereditary principle.
However, Conservative Front Benchers are not arguing for the ideal. It is clear from the range of contributions made by Conservative Members that they do not think that wholesale reform is ideal. They are extremely divided on the matter. There is opposition from Conservative Members, in this House and the other place, to serious democratic reform, which a majority of Members of this House wish to see. The largest majority of Members wish to see a wholly elected second Chamber, and there is a majority-albeit not quite so large-for a largely elected Chamber, so the view of this House is very clear, as is the public's. When people look at this debate and see which way the Conservative party voted, bang in a puff of smoke will go the pretence that it is a modernising democratic party. They will see the Conservative party supporting hereditary privilege, because that is what it is doing today.
Mr. Grieve: The hon. Gentleman was present for the indicative votes in this House, so he can see for himself how the House voted. Indeed, there were cross-party positions throughout the House, with people doing slightly different things. However, if he will notice that the overwhelming majority of Opposition Members voted for a largely elected second Chamber. That is my recollection.
The puzzle, then, is why the hon. and learned Gentleman has made his argument to our House today. If his party, root and branch, were wholly committed to radical reform and to creating a wholly or largely
elected second Chamber, he would have said so-to ringing applause from his Back Benchers. But he did not, because his party is divided, and he therefore has to manufacture an argument to explain why his party believes that the clause should not stand part of the Bill.
Mr. Grieve: From reading the Government's proposals, which we are debating in Committee of the whole House, not on a substantive motion about the future of the House of Lords, I fail to see that radical reform programme. All I can see is the Government's going back on a solemn undertaking that Ministers, including the Minister present, gave some time ago as part of a reform package. Given those circumstances, that is what we have to consider.
Hugh Bayley: The hon. and learned Gentleman is a talented wordsmith, but he is diverting the argument at this point from the fundamental question: does this Committee of the whole House vote in favour of removing the hereditary principle from membership of the House of Lords? There will be a clear vote on that this evening, and people will see that my party and the Liberal Democrat party want reform to remove the hereditary principle from the legitimacy-the appointment-of Members of this Parliament, and that the Conservative party wants to retain it. That is the long and the short of the issue before Parliament.
Mr. Heath: Throughout this debate we have been considering the solemn undertaking, to which we were not party, as Members have already said, and it is important to remember the context in which, and the implied condition on which, it was given. The context and condition were a sense of urgency about the total reform, which we were expecting. That sense of urgency has been extremely difficult to divine, as the hon. Gentleman has acknowledged, in the current Government; and it is impossible to divine, from what the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) has said, in the Conservative party. There simply is no urgency for reform, and that is why the undertaking has so little value, unfortunately.
Hugh Bayley: The hon. Gentleman puts the point succinctly. In one quotation that was read out to the Committee this afternoon, the expectation in Lord Irvine's mind when the undertaking was given was that the whole process would be finished within two or three years. This is not two or three years later, however; this is two or three Parliaments later.
Mr. Shepherd: I respect the hon. Gentleman's urgent wish for radical reform, and I am on board with that, but no one can call a system that could endure for up to 50 years an "urgent response" to something that many of us in this House seek-an elected and accountable House of Lords.
I am not arguing that clause 29 is the radical, second-stage reform of the House of Lords-nor, I think, are those on the Government Front Bench. It is a good step forward, because it will remove the possibility of any further Members coming to speak and vote in our legislature on the basis of an hereditary principle. That is a modest but important step forward, whereas
the radical reform would be wholesale reform along the lines of one or other of the two options that gained support from this House when we voted on the matter. Let us not confuse the two things. This is not the radical reform, but it is an important democratising step forward; and, sadly, the public will see that the Conservative party is opposed to it.
Mr. Leigh: During this debate people have been quite disrespectful about Lord Irvine. However, who knows what went on inside that great mind? At one level, what he did was extremely shrewd. He created a system in which a risible way-to use the Lord Chancellor's words-of having by-elections would ensure reform. There has been a lot of debate about this, so I do not need to go over it again. I just want to say-because nobody else has-that, as so often happens with the law of unintended consequences in our historical development, we have ended up with a pretty good system. Everyone who has spoken so far has played the democratic hand and said, "What I really want is a democratically elected upper Chamber." Some have argued that we must move along the lines suggested by the Lord Chancellor, and others have expressed another point of view, but nobody has said that what we have ended up with is a great British compromise.
I say to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) that there is nothing wrong with piecemeal reform, and I say to the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) that there is nothing wrong with shoddy backroom deals. This is how the British constitution-God bless it-has always developed.
Mr. Hogg: If one is content with the powers that currently rest in the second Chamber, there is a lot to be said in favour of my hon. Friend's argument. The problem is, however, that if we want to extend the powers of the second Chamber, the current settlement is wholly unacceptable.
Mr. Leigh: Accepted-but I am entirely content with the powers that the second Chamber has at present. We all know that there are perfectly sound and good arguments for not increasing the powers of the second Chamber. The second Chamber is a good revising Chamber, it does hard work, and nobody is complaining about the quality of its debates or anything else, so let us leave that on one side. We all know that if we have an elected Chamber, it will be stuffed with inferior Members looking for ministerial office. Most of this place is stuffed with people looking for ministerial office-why should an elected second Chamber be any different? Why get rid of something that is doing an excellent job?
However, Mrs. Heal, I do not want to be held to account by you for getting into that wider debate-I want to concentrate on why the compromise brokered by Lord Irvine was a very good one. The Lord Chancellor was extremely rude about the candidates who have been elected under that system. He said that an ancestor of one gentleman had taken part in the massacre of Glencoe-
What is wrong with that gentleman, just because his ancestor took part in the massacre of Glencoe? It is the old argument that Harold Wilson used against the 14th Lord Home. There was a 14th Mr. Wilson, and there is a 14th Mr. Straw. Perhaps, way back, a Mr. Straw took part in a massacre, but the Secretary of State is a worthwhile candidate.
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