|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
If we are to have a fully appointed House of Lords, which is where I fear this clause will eventually lead, I would prefer to see it abolished in its entirety. I hope that common sense will prevail and clause 29 will be vanquished. Whoever forms the next Government, I hope that they will rapidly return to this issue-although I fear that that will not be the case-and ensure that we
have a proper, democratic, fully elected House of Lords, whereupon these temporary arrangements for hereditary peers would fall by the wayside.
Mr. Shepherd: It is extraordinary that English gentlemen in revolt against the Crown two centuries ago could form a constitution with a second Chamber. They did so for good reason. We are taking for ever, under the Lord High Panjandrum's ministrations, to gain an inch, and then we are retreating. The proposal before the Committee is that the only elected part of the upper Chamber should be abolished and all the appointees should remain in place. What is the difference? I start from a proposition that has always informed democratic debate: those who make the laws should be accountable to those who bear the laws. Yet we have this extraordinary anomaly that the second Chamber, which this Chamber voted to democratise, remains an appointed House. How can that be, and how can it be that I want an elected House down the passageway there-past the tumbleweed?
An important point needs to be made. Nearly 35 years ago, the father of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) gave an important Dimbleby lecture in which he looked at the conventions and party arrangements in this Chamber that made tolerable a concept called the sovereignty of Parliament-all the little checks and balances within our procedures and arrangements. We are driven by the desire to legitimise the House of Lords, so that it can be a proper check and balance. I have been a Member for nearly 31 years, as has my right hon. and learned Friend. During my membership of this House, it has increasingly become a tyranny. Largely, there are no checks and balances within this Chamber-it is the rule of majoritarianism. So it was to the House of Lords that my party turned when, looking forward to an age more democratic than was ever envisaged by the present Government, it voted to accept the concept of an 80 to 100 per cent. elected second Chamber.
In answer to the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), I give praise in the extraordinary situation where those Lords act gently as a small check and balance. The cry goes up from whomever is on the Government Benches, "This is ridiculous. What legitimacy do they have? This is about the legitimacy of the arrangements in the Lords." Over the years, I have been frustrated by the grip that Governments have had on this House-it has strangled our very legitimacy. We need to have a debate about that. We need checks and balances. That is what all our revolutions were about-to check and balance the power of the Crown. It has taken us a long time to get where we are.
One hundred years later, we are still trying to grapple with the proposition put forward by the Liberal Government early in the previous century of an elected House of Lords. I do not think that that was cynical. I enjoyed the cheerful cynicism of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh)-but that is all it is, in the end. This is a serious proposition regarding the ship of state and the nature of the construction that enables the people of this country to hold to account their Governments. Do we honestly think that we do that?
So I look beyond this place-I think that many other Members do so, too-for a remedy in the other place. For some years, the few checks on this long cavort have
been in the hands of the Secretary of State, sitting on the Bench there. The matter has been danced around, but there is no consensus, and I am as frustrated as anyone about this reform stuck in the Bill. What is it? To get rid of the one elected element of the House of Lords? Are we not to question why 40 per cent. of the Members of the House of Lords come from the south-east of England? Of whom are they representative? They are professional people representing special interest groups. Yet they stand as our last defence in the sorts of causes mentioned by the hon. Member for Walsall, North-our freedoms, 42-day detention, and our historic rights and liberties. That was our function, but it has gone. So I support my Front-Bench colleagues on this matter. I do not want to trade off, for a gesture by the Labour Government-sinking fast as they are-the little block and niggle that might one day drive us to find a solution for a properly elected, accountable House of Lords.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham made a point about franchise. We do not want to replicate this Chamber. We want to give the Lords the democratic legitimacy to say, "We think you are wrong. We do not agree." The oldest democratic constitution of which I know is the American constitution. It has survived for more than 220 years, and we are still fiddling with the abolition of the elected Lords, who constitute a small proportion of that House-I say "we", but I am not! What do the Government do? Who appoints these Lords? Look at it. I presume that a swathe of retired Conservative Members will be pushed into the Lords, although, of course, that will be to give some balance, and undoubtedly they will be the most competent Members. But why?
I do not share the cheerful cynicism of the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright). It startled me in a sense, because it was so weary a speech. Where are the fire and belief that we can accomplish something? "Oh, experience of this tired old House has taught me", he told us, "that we muddle along, and what difference does it make? Somehow we'll get through it all." That is true, but there is no sense of an ideal there. This place was built in the democratic age on the ideals and aspirations of the party that he represents and on behalf of which the Lord High Panjandrum, the Secretary of State, is now promoting his ambitions. That party was an agent for change. It was not the only one by any means. My own party has had a role in this, as too did the Liberal party and the trade unions. That was the voice of the people. This House used to march to that tune.
I want checks and balances, so I will not support the clause. By removing elections, the Lord High Panjandrum will feel that he has accomplished something, but he will not have. This has been at root a failure. I cannot discern any successes in any of the policies that he has promoted to the House over 11 years. I will give a prize to whomever can name one. Here we are, dug in, making no progress whatever. We have to reach out and stand for something. Those who make the laws shall be accountable, and furthermore there must be more of the checks and balances that make for proper exchange and debate across this Floor. I shall, therefore, support my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) in the Lobbies.
Mr. Tyrie: First, I think that it is extremely unlikely that this Bill, and certainly this clause, will end up on the statute book, and I suspect that the Government know that. Nothing controversial will get through in the wash-up, so we are having an academic debate.
My second point is in reference to my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), who unfortunately is no longer here. He talked about the tyranny of the logical and praised reaction. It might surprise him, if he reads Hansard, to discover that I think there is something to what he says. Burke said that politics ought to be adjusted, not to human reason, but to human nature. There is a lot in that. Institutions, above all, should be organic, and traditions and customs play an important role in that. However, it is also important constantly to be reconciling that organic development with an undercurrent of logic and reason. That is why we cannot carry on with the House of Lords as it is. It is not enough to say that it is refreshing that we have by-elections of hereditary peers and that they add a bit of colour-that was another phrase used-to the other place. That will not do at all. I do not see how I can oppose a clause that will remove the hereditaries, so I shall support clause 29 in the Lobby.
There are two issues to consider-one of principle and one of political tactics. The issue of principle was not much discussed in the first half dozen exchanges, but it has started to be discussed near the end of the debate. The point of principle is very straightforward-it is the one that we have just heard and which we also heard from the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick).
In the 21st century, there should be no place in our Parliament for people who have inherited the right to make our laws. It is very straightforward. Some people may disagree with that, but there are not many of them and they are completely out of step with the electorate and the spirit of the age. Allowing hereditaries to continue to sit in the second Chamber can only erode the credibility of our Parliament and only weaken the second Chamber, making it more difficult for it to perform a meaningful constitutional role. Clause 29 will do no more than end the absurd by-elections-"risible" and "absurd" were the words used by the Secretary of State-that would otherwise keep the hereditaries going in perpetuity under the current legislation. We have had numerous quotations from Lord Steel about Old Sarum, and the absurdity of those by-elections tells its own story. They do no credit to our parliamentary system.
Mr. Mark Field: Does my hon. Friend not recognise that the credibility to which he refers applies equally to all the life peers in the House of Lords? However undesirable and risible the electoral system might be, at least in the election for the Labour vacancy to which we have referred the peer concerned won two votes, which is two more than any life peers have ever won.
Mr. Tyrie: That is a little tough on the life peerage. I do not carry any cards for the life peers, but one can make a case for saying that quite a few of them have done something in life that at some point has led people to think that they will be able to make a contribution. Furthermore, some of them-perhaps some of the unlikely ones who have been put there-turn out to make very good contributions.
Mr. Tyrie: I will give way to my hon. Friend, but I do not want to give way too much, because this debate has gone on for rather a long time and I can sense that that is the mood of the Committee Chairman.
Mr. Hayes: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way on that basis. He always dances elegantly between reason and common sense-indeed, he gave a nod in the direction of conservatism, for which I suppose we must be grateful-but I wonder where, in his attack on hereditary power, he sees the monarchy. I did not know that he was a republican and I am rather surprised to hear that he is. If he is indeed a republican, I would like him to describe his views in slightly more detail.
Mr. Tyrie: I had the impression from that intervention that my hon. Friend thinks, if one is exercising reason, one could not possibly be a member of the Conservative party, but I will have to look at Hansard to check. As for the monarchy, I cannot see any connection and I am not going to persist.
Mr. Tyrie: I am not at all keen to pursue that argument, but if I may be permitted a one-sentence reply, I do not see any necessary connection between retaining the hereditary principle for a constitutional monarchy and having a bicameral elected Parliament.
This Labour Government should be ashamed of themselves. They should be ashamed of the fact that the clause is necessary in the first place. Labour will probably leave office in a few months, having reneged on its crucial pledge to replace the hereditary peerage with a fully democratic House of Lords, and that after 13 years and two Parliaments of gigantic majorities-indeed, they have been unprecedentedly large in modern times. We need to remind ourselves that we are debating clause 29 because Tony Blair-not anybody else-stitched together a cynical deal with Lord Cranborne to retain the hereditary peerage. However, even after the passage of clause 29, it will take another generation for the remaining hereditaries to go. As it happens-and this point has been made by one or two people-many of the remaining hereditaries have been diligent and have tried hard to make the work of the House of Lords more meaningful. I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) on that point. However, the fact is that there cannot be a place for hereditary legislators in a 21st-century Parliament. That is simply an unanswerable point of principle.
However, that still leaves the point made from the Front Benches, which deserves a great deal of care and attention, about the question not of principle, but of political tactics. The argument that was used at the time to justify the deal-it was also the one that led my party to vote for it in 1999-was that the hereditaries would be kept as hostages until a more radical and democratic reform proposal came forward. I wish it were like that, but the truth is much more tawdry. It suited both parties to do that deal. It suited Labour to keep a weak House of Lords without a democratic mandate in place for as long as possible, because it knew that it would be in for trouble if it did anything else. As for the Conservatives, the party was in a considerable state of disarray at that time. The Lords were close to open rebellion and Lord
Cranborne had to be sacked from the Front Bench-in fact, he was sacked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) shortly prior to that vote. The only semblance of an opportunity to act as a check on the Government, faced with such an unprecedentedly large majority, was the House of Lords, and frankly it was risky to offend it further.
The truth is that what emerged was a shabby deal that confers little honour on anyone involved. I am not sure whether dishonourable deals confer further dishonour on those parties that break them afterwards, but that is what we need to think about before deciding whether there is any point of honour that should be fulfilled by either side. The idea that we created hostages for change was, in any case, dealt a hammer blow during the passage of the relevant clause in the other place. The amendment was moved by Lord Weatherill from the Cross Benches, who made no secret of his preferences. He let the cat out of the bag when he described the possibility that his amendment might put off further change indefinitely as
"a consummation devoutly to be wished."
Already more than a decade has passed. Those of us who want a fully functioning democratic second Chamber need to make a judgment: will the retention of the hereditaries be a brake on further reform or a spur to more change? That is a difficult and balanced judgment, but I have come to the conclusion that the hereditaries are not hostages for change or democracy; rather, they are hostages for inactivity and delay. I recognise that hon. Members in all parts of the Committee might disagree with that judgment, but it is the one that I have come to this evening.
Given that, as I said at the start of my speech, it is unlikely that much or any the proposed legislation will end up on the statute book, the point of principle seems to me to be crucial and, as a matter of a principle, I cannot support in the Division Lobby the retention of hereditary legislators.
Mr. Straw: With the permission of the Committee, I would like briefly to respond to part of this debate. I commend all who have spoken for the high quality of the debate-it was witty, too-and for the seriousness of the discussion that has been provoked by the important issue sparked off by this relatively modest clause.
Let me deal first with the suggestion, made not least by the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field), that the clause is some partisan device. I say to him and those on his Front Bench: it is not. The only way in which it could conceivably be made a partisan device would be if the Conservative party thought in error that there was some reason, to do with Conservative party philosophy and ideology, that required it to vote against the clause. However, I would suggest that there is no such reason. I do not presume to be as expert on Conservative ideology and philosophy as Conservative Members are; however, I would suggest that the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) does have some claim to that. I therefore hope that his right hon. and hon. Friends will take note of the fact that he has just said that he intends to vote, on a point of principle, with the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party for the clause.
The clause is not remotely partisan; nor is it, just to repeat the point, in any sense designed to harm the Conservatives' representation in the other place. Let us
be clear about that. I am glad that the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster is nodding to suggest that he understands that.
The clause will not affect any of the existing hereditaries. If the clause becomes law, as I believe it will, it will be open and normal for the leader of the relevant political party to make a nomination in the case of a vacancy following the death of an hereditary peer-as it is in the case of a life peer. Even if those who had been elected as hereditaries had sufficient merit in the eyes of the Conservative party leader, for example, there is every reason for them not to be nominated, for them not to sit in the other place as life peers-measured against the claims of anyone else to sit there in an appointed Chamber-and for them not to be drawn from the completely ludicrous constituencies that have been mentioned. Not a single person who has spoken today has defended that system of election. Indeed, the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) said that he was not going to take to the stump to defend such a system, and he is quite right; the truth is that it is indefensible.
Yes, there was a deal, and that is why the 90 ended up in the House of Lords. If the hon. Member for Chichester were to ask whether I would personally have done that deal, the answer would be that I do not think so. I am always careful to say, "I do not think so", because it is one thing to score goals from the sidelines, but quite another to be in the shoes of the person taking part in the negotiations. Something that was not shoddy but honourable, however, was the desire of Lord Irvine and the Labour party of the time to try to reach an agreement, and not to use our huge majority to drive through these measures under the Parliament Acts. I have had to use the Parliament Acts on two occasions, and it is not a particularly happy experience.
It has been suggested that we should not do anything until we did everything, or-in the words of my hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley)-that we should make the best the enemy of the good. All the arguments against doing that remind me of the wonderful skit on academic politics written in 1908 by the Cambridge philosopher, F. M. Cornford. In it, he said:
"There is only one argument for doing something; the rest are arguments for doing nothing."
"It follows that nothing should ever be done for the first time."
Frankly, the arguments that have been advanced by the Conservatives today come down to the idea that the time is not ripe, given that no one has been prepared to defend the principle of elections of hereditary peers.
The deal was made 11 years ago, and no one anticipated that we would be here debating this now. We were asked whether we were at the next stage. Yes, we are proceeding to that, and it will happen next month with the publication of the major part of a draft Bill.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|