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Lord Weatherill: My Lords, when I succeeded to the speakership from the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, the very first thing I did was to send for the biographies of all my predecessors in the expectation that what had happened to them might well happen to me. One of them was Mr. Speaker Brand. His portrait is in the Dining Room and some of your Lordships may have seen it. In the coercion Bill in the 1880s, when the House was in absolute uproar--and I should say to your Lordships that the behaviour in those days was infinitely worse than it is today--he just had time to lean forward and whisper to his learned Clerk: "What do I do next?" The learned Clerk gave him some very wise advice, which was: "Sir, I should be very cautious". It is in that spirit that I approach this debate.
In my 28 years in the other place, I was for 12 years in the Whips Office--for six of them, the Deputy Chief Whip. I had a great deal to do with the usual channels. They are one of the most precious of our parliamentary traditions, because without them the place would grind to a halt. I believe in consensus. For four years I was Chairman of Ways and Means and had a great deal to do with Private Bills; and for 10 years I was the Speaker. In all those years I saw a great many "reforms". Every one of them cured one problem and created others, frequently worse. I came to call that the law of unintended consequences.
In view of the constraints on time, I shall not go into too many examples. I shall mention just two: first, the so-called "St. John-Stevas reforms"--the setting up of the departmental committees. In themselves they were undoubtedly good. I was interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, had to say yesterday about the importance of the Chairmen of the Select Committees. The role of chairman should be an important one.
What was the unintended consequence of those reforms? They absolutely emptied the Chamber. Members would come to me in the Chair inquiring when I was going to call them. What it came down to was: do they give precedence to their Select Committee or a debate in the Chamber? The average Member of Parliament will be called four times a year to speak in a major debate. They have no choice. Of course they should go to their Select Committees, put questions to the witnesses and be televised doing so. So there is no wonder that the Chamber these days is empty. It is an embarrassment when we turn on the television to find so few Members there.
Then there are the so-called "Jopling reforms". They have undoubtedly made life much more tolerable for Members of the other place, but the unintended consequence of that has been to add to our workload in this House through the number of Bills with which we have to deal and the increasingly late hours that we have to sit. We sit frequently up to midnight, and regularly now on Fridays.
During my time in Parliament there has been a steady--I would even say dangerous--concentration of power in Whitehall. The powers of local government have been virtually neutered. How can local government really be called "local" when about 82 per cent. of its finance is controlled by Whitehall? The payroll vote in the other place has become, in my judgment, almost a scandal. When I first entered the other place--the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and I were talking about this earlier today--only very senior Ministers had PPSs; today very, very junior Ministers have PPSs. The payroll is used to secure a majority in the Division Lobbies.
So there is no wonder that with the neutering of local government, Members of Parliament have virtually become welfare officers. They all have surgeries. I had a surgery. I began increasingly to wonder whether it was the job of a Member of Parliament to deal with those matters. I well remember when I sought to explain to one of my constituents who wanted a council house that I was not a councillor, he said that he knew that I was not. I said, "If it were called parliamentary housing, I would be able to help you. But actually it is called council housing, and in the next room there is a councillor and if you go to see her, I am sure that she
There is no country in the world where people are more personally represented than by the dedicated Members of Parliament in the other place. They sit in their offices dealing with all these problems which are not really their responsibility. I checked again with the Postmaster about the post coming in here. When I arrived in 1964, there were about 7,000 letters in and out a week. Today he confirmed that 40,000 letters come every day into the parliamentary building, and 20,000 letters go out. Is it small wonder now that with the feed from the Chamber into offices that Members of Parliament will sit there getting on with their constituency workload?
So the first reform that I should like to see is the repatriation of powers back to local authorities. That would, to a large extent, free Members of Parliament to get on with their proper job, which is to hold the Government to account. It was, I think, Mr. Gladstone who said to his own supporters:
In carrying out those responsibilities, I should like to see much more detailed scrutiny of legislation. We have already had mentioned the pre-legislation committees--the use of the Special Standing Committee procedure (half Select Committee and half Standing Committee)--and they would achieve better legislation.
I again did a check today. Since 1979 we have had 21 local government Acts, 16 education Acts, and one recent example from your Lordships' House: during Committee stage of the Reserve Forces Bill, the Government withdrew six clauses, replaced them with three more, and then added three further clauses. Such a row then ensued that the Bill was recommitted in its entirety. That is a terrible, terrible waste of time.
What I am trying to say in respect of reform of this place is that I think that the reform of the whole parliamentary system needs to be looked at, not least the European directives. I lost count of the number of times that Members would come to me when I was in the Chair saying, "What is the point of discussing this at this time of night? It has already been decided in Brussels. We cannot influence it in any way". I am afraid that that is the truth. In a world in which we are part of Europe, we must take account of that.
I should like to see the Chamber once again become, as it traditionally was, the forum of the nation. I should like to see the tradition that ministerial Statements are made to Members of Parliament and not to that nice Mr. Naughtie on his "Today" programme. I do not think that the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, will ever forgive me for insisting that she come to the Chamber one day and repeat a Statement that I had heard on the "News" earlier in the day. The proper place to make Statements is to Parliament and not to the unelected press.
I have not had time to mention the reform of your Lordships' House. I shall leave that to others who know very much more about it than I do. But I confess that I am a convert to this place, and converts are always stronger in their faith.
I believe that the hereditary principle is difficult to defend. Nevertheless, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, reminded us, it works very well and very cheaply too. For the benefit of those who may read the debate in Hansard, it is worth repeating the figures. They were elucidated from the Government by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon. Every MEP costs this country £919,000 per member; every Member of the other place, £261,000; and every active Peer in the House of Lords, £38,000. That is very cheap. Under the reforms about which we are hearing, will it be more expensive and will it be better done?
A fortnight ago the Cross-Bench Peers invited Mr. Robert Hazell and Miss Nicole Smith of the Constitution Unit to speak to us about the reform of your Lordships' House. I will not go into that in detail, other than to say that I wholly agree with their analysis that before dealing with the composition of this House it will be necessary to decide whether its membership should constitute a job or an honour. Unless that issue is addressed, the law of unintended consequences will come into operation in a major way in terms of powers, costs and accommodation.
I am in favour of parliamentary reform and I am in favour of changes in this House too. Above all, I am in favour of freeing Members of the other place to carry out their proper responsibility, their historic role, in holding the Government to account. I believe that membership of your Lordships' should be an honour and not a job. My perception is that because we are able to go into the real world we are rather more in touch than would be the case with so-called full-time politicians.
I hope that in approaching these matters we shall be able to do so by consensus. I agree with the noble Viscount the Lord Privy Seal on the question of a Select Committee. I know no one who did not disagree that the old rating system had virtually had it. Instead of imposing the poll tax, which cost thousands of millions of pounds in the end, how sensible it would have been to have sent the problem to a Select Committee. We had all the information and it could have designed a fair local taxation system and put it to Parliament. I believe that that would have been the right way to proceed and I believe that it is the right way to proceed in dealing with the reform of the House of Lords. I very much hope that it will be done in the true spirit of the usual channels by consensus and not imposed upon us.
One of the principal obligations for an Opposition in this House is to enable the Government to get their programme through. That in my time has always been adhered to, even on the occasion when five major Bills were brought up from another place after the Spring Bank Holiday Recess. That, incidentally, resulted in a Select Committee of the House imposing minimum intervals between stages of Bills so that your Lordships should never be put under such pressure again. I must tell the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that a Conservative Government Chief Whip in this House must also rely on the good will of his opposite number to get his business through.
Also in opposition we gave considerable thought as to just how many government defeats in this House the market could properly bear, in view of the relative compositions of the two Houses. In fact, while a Conservative Government usually suffer between 15 and 25 defeats a year, a Labour Government might have two or three times that number. But a significantly higher proportion of those are reversed in another place and the net result on the Act as it appears in the statute book is about the same. And, in any case, it is not amendments won by a vote in the Division Lobby that are important; it is the many times that number that are won by argument on the Floor of the House. And the two are linked. Ministers and civil servants alike have lived with their Bill for years before it gets here and are reluctant to see a single word of it altered. Without the threat of a Division in the background, far fewer amendments would be accepted from the Dispatch Box and the Government's legislation would undoubtedly be the poorer for it.
There is one other factor that noble Lords opposite have not perhaps taken into account and that is the role of the Cross-Benchers. It is my experience that when they are undecided over any particular issue they are inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to the government of the day and that not even a Conservative Opposition can rely on their support to defeat them.
While I would defend the existing House and the way in which it carries out the role that has evolved for it to the utmost, I would not stand blindly against any reform. If, for example--and here I differ slightly with my noble friend the Leader of the House--another place were prepared to accept an all-elected second Chamber, I would not feel able to oppose it, and it is my belief that, provided it were given adequate functions and powers to carry them out, your Lordships would pass it, perhaps without a Division.
But what I cannot accept is the proposal for a two-phase reform. To pass the first phase, eliminating the hereditary element from your Lordships' House, and only then to set up some form of inquiry as to what the second phase should be, would be to deprive that inquiry of one of the options available; that of retaining the status quo. I am not naive enough to think that a Royal
Two questions need to be answered about the two-phase plan. The first is, if we pass the first phase, will we ever get the substantive reform that is promised for the second? It is not the abolition of hereditary Peers that has been holding up the reform of the House for 85 years. That was implicit in the 1911 Parliament Act, as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said. It is what to put in their place. Why then should the absence of hereditary Peers bring us any nearer to solving the main problem now?
The second is rather more important. Just how effective will the interim caretaker House be in the meantime, for however long that may, in the event, turn out to be? Since 1958 Life Peers have been selected for three reasons: for their general quality; for a particular expertise that fills a gap in the corporate knowledge of the House as a whole or of the party they belong to; and not least because their circumstances are such as to enable them to attend a part-time, unpaid House. How then can they be expected to become the sole ingredient of the full-time professional House that the semi-reformed Chamber will inevitably be?
What about the relative numbers between the various parties and the Cross-Benchers in the interim House? Will they be frozen for all time at whatever figures happen to exist at the moment the hereditary element is removed; or will they be added to in some way? If so, who is to decide the appropriate balance between the various sections of the House? The Prime Minister of the day? What if he gets it wrong and finds himself being defeated even more often than he would have been in the existing House? Would he feel free to adjust those numbers with yet more creations; or, if it goes the other way and he gets no defeats at all, would he adjust the numbers then?
The relative numbers do not matter so much in the existing House because they are so far apart anyway that the House has adapted to them with irregular attendance and cross-party voting. It always amazed me since I first became a Whip that, although the total attendance, as well as the personnel involved, vary according to the day of the week and the importance of the business, the mix between each of the political parties and those of no party remains broadly the same. But the closer the numbers between the Government and their Opposition are, the more party political the House will become and, for it to be effective as a revising Chamber, the more scrupulously fair will the balance have to be.
And what about those life Peers who for reasons of age or infirmity, or because their outside duties--which will often have been the reason for their selection in the first place--keep them elsewhere, are able to attend only at rare intervals? How will they fit into the equation? There are always plenty of them and they will still be Members of the House. Will they count towards their
Whenever there is a landslide victory of one party or the other in another place, your Lordships' House provides the only effective opposition. I am not suggesting that the next Labour victory, whenever that may be, is likely to be of such proportions, but when the electorate want a change they sometimes do not do things by halves. Just how effective as a sole opposition to what my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham referred to as an "elective dictatorship" is this interim House likely to be? Even if all those questions can be satisfactorily answered, by replacing heredity with yet more patronage, will we not just be changing from one form of unacceptability to another?
In a similar debate to this one back in 1968, I told a probably apocryphal story about Sir Isaac Newton's mathematical bridge at Cambridge. At the risk of wearying your Lordships by repetition, I am going to tell it now. Newton, so the fable goes, designed his wooden bridge with such ingenuity and mathematical precision that its component parts held together without the aid of nails, bolts or any other form of fastening. This confounded all the greatest intellects in the Cambridge of the day. They could think of no reason why it should work. Constructed as it was, they could think of any number of reasons why it should not work. But the one thing that was clear for everyone to see was that it did work--and admirably carried out the functions for which it was intended.
Such was Newton's prestige that, while he lived, no one dared tamper with his bridge. But as soon as the old man died, their curiosity got the better of them and they took it to pieces to find out how it worked. From this piece of vandalism they learnt only two things. The first was that they were no further forward in finding out how the bridge had worked. The second was--they could not put it together again!
The major problem with reforming your Lordships' House is not this House but the other place. That has become quite clear right from the start with the speech of the noble Viscount the Lord Privy Seal and the much quoted remarks from the noble and learned Lord,
Given that premise, I should like to spend a little time challenging a major proposition. That major proposition is that another place, by virtue of its election, must be sovereign in all matters. It is not so much the fact that it is an elected Chamber and that it is representative and democratic, but that the peculiar constitution and the sovereignty of the Crown in Parliament have meant, as has been pointed out, that we have lost the separation of powers.
The Executive, which commands a majority in the House of Commons, has powers which exceed those of any comparable executive in any other constitution. To the extent that the majority party in the other place commands that majority, it can put through its legislation and, given the 1911 and 1949 Acts, there is nothing that we can do which would ever be effective no matter what our composition should be. If noble Lords consider, as I do, that that is a more major problem with our constitution than the composition of this Chamber, they must ask the question: how do we correct it? If one wants to correct that situation, the only way to do so is to have a second Chamber which has power; in other words, we would have to change the composition in such a way that it would have legitimate power.
That point leads me not to the abolition of the House of Lords and leaving just one Chamber--indeed, that would only compound the difficulty; I am not a unicameralist in that respect--but to the fact that we must have a Chamber which would have legitimacy from another source. There is not just one way of having democratic electability as per the territorial principle. There are other ways of being representative. I would say that one only needs to study previous reform proposals on how to give legitimacy to a second Chamber.
However, as that is not going to happen--as an academic I may as well put it forward as my prime proposal--I believe that we should have a second Chamber which is indirectly elected by having one person from each local authority. Indeed, the poll tax would never have been introduced if that system had been in place. I have in mind a ready system of elected people who could then indirectly elect one of their members to this Chamber. Those people would be temporary and representative, but in a different way. The party composition would be different in the two Chambers.
We must come to terms with the fact that in the nation opinion differs and does not reflect the opinion of the party which happens to have the majority, not just in one election but in successive elections. It is the diversity of opinion that we have not been able to capture. That is why I believe that the reputation of Parliament has gone down. Although elections are won, they do not always reflect that diversity.
I have put that forward as my first proposition because I believe that it would be most difficult to accomplish; and, indeed, it would not happen so easily. However, if we were to reform the constitution and not just the House of Lords, that would be a better way to go forward. Then, whether or not we add to that an appointed element is a matter of secondary importance. In that case, I believe that we could have a second elected Chamber.
However, as that is not going to happen, I shall move on to slightly more feasible issues. One very interesting fact which has emerged in our debate is the dominance of one party in this House. That is something which has been accepted for a long time by previous Conservative party leaders; and, indeed, it is a matter of fact. As my noble friend Lord Shepherd pointed out, it is interesting to note that in the past 17 years it has become worse, not better. That could easily be corrected without any reform. Those numbers can be corrected, but they are not corrected because it is a matter of convention. The question is: how much accommodation should be given to other parties?
We have not done justice to the Opposition parties as regards the creation of Peers. Therefore the Conservatives' strength has become greater but the strength of Labour and the Liberals has become less. Even if all the hereditary Peers were to be abolished, the Conservative Peers would still have a majority over the combined numbers of Labour and Liberal Peers. That is the situation. The mere abolition of hereditary Peers will not give the Labour Party a majority in this Chamber. It will have to resort to the creation of additional Peers.
One of the matters that we should agree while we are looking for an appropriate scheme for reform--which will no doubt take a long time, as all these things do--is a measure which will correct that anomaly. We do not even need to wait for a general election to do that; it simply requires all-party agreement as regards the creation of additional Peers to correct the imbalance. That would be a good step towards correcting one of the major anomalies of the constitution. I urge that step upon the usual channels.
Given that we are in this situation, I believe that the proposals put forward by my party need careful consideration. I say to my leader that if we are to have reform in two stages, we ought to make the second stage clear when the first stage is proposed, perhaps through a White Paper. I speak only for myself but I would not regard a solely appointed Chamber as any more democratic than the present Chamber. It would certainly be less independent, if anything. Unless one is sure that either the appointed element will be removed in the second stage or will be overwhelmed by an elective element, it would be difficult for me to support a reform of this House. I have always believed that this House should be replaced by a Chamber which is substantially elective. Despite coming to this House, I have not been converted, as the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, has been.
We need to make clear the outlines of the full proposals. If this is to be solely an appointed Chamber--I agree in this respect with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, said--it will be a quango. I do not think it does any good to say that appointments will be made by a neutral, all-party, official or non-official body. The principle in the constitution is that the Prime Minister has to recommend to the Monarch who comes to this place. There is no other way to create Peers under this constitution. Therefore, no matter how many appointed, neutral bodies one has, the Prime Minister will be the filter. No one's neutrality can be guaranteed if the Prime Minister proposes that those on the lavender list be appointed. I do not think that any neutral body could disagree with that; and why should it? The Prime Minister represents the legitimate fount of power in our constitution.
There are many obstacles to be overcome. However, if previous experience is anything to go by, the reform of the House of Lords may yet be blocked in another place. This House has never been an obstacle to its own reform. I turn therefore to the reform of parliamentary procedure. The noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, referred to that. I have always thought that if our votes on matters are not to count because they can be reversed in another place--much heartache is caused as a result of the disproportionality of party representation--it is not so important that we divide on issues.
However, our most valuable procedure is the consideration of the Committee stage of Bills. I suggest that we should become, as it were, the Committee of both Houses of Parliament. I suggest that all Bills should only be considered in Committee in this House. Those in another place have no time to consider Bills in detail, whereas we have. Our votes do not count, but theirs do. Therefore, let us have a division of labour. We should only debate amendments and recommend them to another place. We should tell them that X is good and Y is bad. They will not take any account of our votes, but they may take account of our advice. If we followed that procedure, it would save time in both Houses and improve efficiency. If we are to retain the Chamber as it is at present, we should at least reform procedure.
The Earl of Carnarvon: My Lords, I welcome this debate and in particular the fact that the question of parliamentary reform--and therefore reform of the House of Lords--is being seen as part of the wider picture, as it has to be. I am aware that the structure of our debate means that this day of our two-day debate concerns parliamentary matters. However, because of that wider picture, I hope that noble Lords will forgive one or two references to other topics.
When, over 18 months ago, I convened an informal group to look at the future of the Lords, it was not with any intention of finding the perfect solution. It would have been good if we had, but I think all your Lordships will agree that it is not as easy as that. The intention of my colleagues was to inform and stimulate debate. I like to think that we succeeded in a small way. Since then
I think that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, in pointing a finger at me, was indicating that that was an arrogant statement. I think it is a humble one. I am aware that this statement--with which some of your Lordships may disagree--begs more questions than it answers. Nevertheless, I venture to say that it identifies the right questions. First, it is the hereditary Peers who are the single big issue. Secondly, the House as a whole, and the hereditary Peers in particular, wish to find a solution based on public acceptance and political effectiveness. Here I think the Cross-Benchers have a significant contribution to make to the debate.
Many of those involved in the debate outside this place have said that they value the independent Peers. The Leader of the Opposition in another place said as much himself when addressing us. Yet, in a reconstituted House, how is that contribution to be maintained? Any form of election would involve party political considerations. That is my principal misgiving about a wholly elected chamber. It is also, I believe, a compelling reason why the idea of a system of representative hereditary Peers simply will not work. If hereditary Peers of other parties were to vote for an independent, how, after a few years, would an independent hereditary Peer show his worthiness to be elected? He or she would have no forum in which to do so.
Here a parallel with local government occurs to me. I have, as an Independent, had the honour to be the chairman of Hampshire County Council and of its Policy and Resources Committee from 1974 to 1977. When I first joined Hampshire in 1954 many people stood as Independents. Many noble Lords may agree that one of the effects of the 1972 Act, although unintended I am sure, was to make local government a matter of party politics to a far greater extent. I do not think that that improved it. I believe that that will happen with any reform of the House of Lords, be it elected or appointed.
I hope that noble Lords will allow me to make another point about local government. Something else has occurred in recent years. As we have heard, local government is now 82 per cent. funded by central government. Again, that has led to a deterioration in public confidence and local government's independence. I believe that people must take responsibility for raising the money they spend. More than anything else, I want to see the business rate returned to local government.
In this House we do not raise money, but we have responsibility for our actions, however we come to sit here. I know that many noble Lords who sit as members of a political party do not always conceive of themselves primarily as party politicians. We Peers, and not only the Cross-Benchers, feel free to vote according to our consciences and sometimes even listen to debates. I recall a distinguished former Leader of the House agreeing with a distinguished former Chief Whip that one of the biggest problems they faced as business managers was when members of their parties listened to a debate before voting. It is that independence that I would wish to preserve.
We all know that the question will be decided ultimately in another place. However, I hope that before political parties become too entrenched in their positions, we can go on debating and enlightening the general public as to what we do and do not do. We do not thwart the House of Commons. We act as a check on government, not by exercising naked power but by wielding influence which is beyond the grip of party managers. As a Cross-Bencher, and having seen what has happened in local government, I believe that that is almost beyond price. I do not, therefore, have any answer as to how the House might be improved or how the "problem" of the hereditary Peers is to be "solved". Clearly, if there is to be reform, the debate must result in proposals from the Government in a Parliament Bill. Working back from that, we need some consultative process which will involve all sides, including the Cross-Benches. Might a party leaders' conference fit this bill?
I have a great belief in the value to the nation of what we now have. If that is to be changed, then we must all work together until we find a solution for a second Chamber which is better than the present one.
Lord Renton: My Lords, I welcome the proposal of the noble Earl that there should be full consultation before any change is made in the composition of your Lordships' House. I hope that my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal--whose speech we all so much admired and enjoyed this afternoon--will feel that that would not be inconsistent with the views that he put forward about possible future changes.
The noble Earl referred to the need for political effectiveness. Therefore, I wonder whether I may stress the quality and achievements of your Lordships' House, and then consider whether any changes in its composition should be made in the light of them. Before I go any further, I should say that I have been a life Peer for 17 years, and before that was MP for Huntingdonshire. Then we got a much better Member, who became Prime Minister within 12 years, and that is a record in this century.
Your Lordships' qualifications are very considerable and could never be found in any kind of elected Chamber. Besides the Lord Bishops, the Law Lords, Cabinet Ministers and two former Speakers of the House of Commons, we have Peers who have risen to the top of almost every profession, of the Armed Forces, the
Having helped to pilot the Life Peerages Act 1958, when I was just Under-Secretary at the Home Office, with my late friend Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, I am glad to say that since that Act was passed 701 life peerages have been created, of whom 378 life Peers and Peeresses are still with us. Of those, 66 are Peeresses and they play a great part. Only about half of the life Peers attend fairly regularly. Clearly we could not now do without them.
The hereditary Peers too make a valuable contribution to our work. Many of them have to exercise responsibility in the world outside. They cannot always be here. But they have responsibility and experience, not only in the management of estates but in many other ways. Some of them inherited their peerages at an early age; and so we also have the advantage of youth among us, as was mentioned yesterday by a noble Lord. I venture to suggest that there is such a thing as inherited ability. Indeed, we see that every day in their work among us.
So much for your Lordships' qualities, my Lords. What about your achievements? Our necessary work as a revising Chamber has been mentioned. We make a vast number of amendments to government Bills which come to us from the Commons, often in a somewhat undigested state, as we all know. But it might interest your Lordships to know that in the last Session we made 1,291 amendments to government Bills alone. To those and other Bills we made altogether about 1,500 amendments. A much stronger effort is made in your Lordships' House to improve drafting than there is these days in another place. That is partly because in another place--I have some responsibility because I was acting chairman of the Select Committee which suggested it to the then Mr. St. John Stevas and others--Members' time is very much taken up in departmentally related Select Committees, as the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, mentioned; and because the Members have such a vast amount of correspondence. My successor, the Prime Minister, receives 200 letters a week from his constituents, in addition to a far greater number which he receives as Prime Minister. I used to receive about 50 constituency letters a week and felt myself hard done by. Things have changed and perhaps that is why Members of the other place are not able to give the attention to legislation that they should and why it is a necessary task for your Lordships.
I was glad that my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal referred to the Prime Minister's efforts to get drafting improved. I hope I may be allowed to mention that 23 years ago I was appointed chairman of the first committee for 100 years for examining our methods of legislation. Our report has been quoted more often than any other official report in both Houses in the past 21 years. But alas, although our report has been mentioned so often, in Whitehall our recommendations have not been as well accepted as is usual with official reports. They have been accepted in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and other parts of the Commonwealth, and in parts of the European Community. The report was translated into Italian. I wish that it could have been implemented more in Whitehall and perhaps now, with the Prime Minister's help, it will be.
I turn to another great achievement of your Lordships' House. That is our European Communities Committee and its specialist sub-committees. They do extremely valuable work in examining the whole range of activities of the European Union. The committee is unique in that there is no other parliament chamber in the whole of Europe which does work like that of your Lordships' committee. Our Science and Technology Committee has been mentioned. It does valuable work, as do many other worthwhile committees, including the consolidation Committee.
So much for some of your Lordships' achievements. What about our composition? If no changes at all were made, we would simply continue to do well the vital work that we carry out, whatever party is in power. It has been said that perhaps there are more hereditary Peers than are needed. It is a fair comment on their part when noble Lords opposite say that, although on paper the Government do not have an overall majority, from their point of view there are too many Conservatives among us in this Chamber. We are the largest party, but we have no overall majority. However, of course, in this House we do not play the party game to the same extent as it is played elsewhere. I speak from experience. It is interesting to note that since the 1979 election our Conservative Governments have been defeated only 228 times. That is over a period of 17 years, but it shows a degree of independence by your Lordships. I sometimes think that public opinion is sometimes rather more on our side than it is with the other place. It was certainly the case over the War Crimes Act when the other place had to use the Parliament Act. It was entitled to do so. But there have been other occasions when we have been more on the side of public opinion, paradoxical though that may seem in our democracy. It can happen, particularly in local government matters to which the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, referred.
I believe that having so large a number of Conservative Peers makes little difference. However, perhaps I should borrow the analogy of the old tag used in the courts: it is important not only that justice should be done but that it should manifestly be seen to be done. Therefore, this House should not only work but should appear to be composed in the right way, without great advantage to any party.
If we are to consider what might be done, there is an argument for having an electoral college to choose, say, 150 or 200 hereditary Peers from all parties and from the Cross Benches. Those noble Lords who have considered the possibility of an electoral college must have realised that it is full of snags, whichever solution is put forward. It would not be easy to make it work and it might be better to leave well alone.
I conclude by repeating the suggestion of the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, that early in the next Parliament there should be consultation between the three parties and the Cross Benches. But let us not throw away the well-established advantages which this House provides for our constitution.
Lord Rochester: My Lords, I wish to advocate reform of the present structure of your Lordships' House in an evolutionary way. I hope your Lordships will understand if, as a hereditary Peer, I deal with the matter subjectively to start with. I speak only for myself and not for my party, but it seems to me that that must apply to many contributions in this afternoon's debate.
When, on 1st January 1931, my father told me that he had been created a Peer in the New Year Honours List, my first reaction was to burst into tears as I realised that one day I might have to succeed to the title. That is what happened when he died in 1955 since it was not then possible for me to renounce the peerage, had I wished.
The change in status was a pretty traumatic experience for me, though it had its lighter side. I went home to comfort my mother and to start winding up my father's affairs. At the time I was personnel manager in a large factory in one of ICI's major divisions. I wrote to my boss to say that it would help me if he would arrange for a note to be circulated to works managers and heads of departments stating: "On the death of his father, Mr. Foster Lamb will in future be known as Lord Rochester". Unfortunately, the message did not in every case reach the shopfloor. I had determined that from the start I would make use of my new name. Among other things, I was responsible to my works manager for the arrangements in connection with consulting employees. The first person to telephone me was an employee representative on the works council. We knew each other very well. I picked up the phone and said: "Rochester here"; he said: "Who?" I replied: "Lord Rochester". There was a pause and then he said: "If you are Lord Rochester, I am Lord Nelson".
The opportunity to renounce my peerage arose in 1963. I thought hard as to whether I should take it, but I had already changed my name once and was reluctant to do so again. In the end, I concluded that there were already more than enough Conservative hereditary Peers and it would do no harm if there continued to be a Liberal one. Besides, by then I had acquired considerable experience of manufacturing industry, particularly in the field of industrial relations. I thought that when the time came for me to retire I might be able to contribute more frequently to parliamentary debate on such matters. For the past 23 years I have had the great privilege of doing so in this House.
Many people think that reform of the composition of the House of Lords should take place only as part of a wider parliamentary settlement. That view was expressed today. I do not agree. I see no chance of such an accommodation being reached with a sufficient measure of agreement in the near future. However, I do think that speedy reform of the composition of the House is a realistic proposition.
As a Liberal MP, my father voted for the Parliament Act of 1911. The provisions were obviously meant only as a temporary expedient and, as already stated, the preamble to that Act made clear the intention that a thorough reform of the second Chamber should take place before long. I see no reason why I should be here simply because I was born the son of my father. Eighty-five years since 1911 seems quite long enough to wait for the more comprehensive reform of the House that was then envisaged. I do not wish to be party to its postponement into the next century.
I therefore find myself in agreement in principle with the intention of the Labour Party, if it is in a position to command an overall majority in another place after the forthcoming general election, to eliminate the right of hereditary Peers to vote and sit in this House.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, I should very much like to see that done so far as possible on the basis of consent. I hope I am right in thinking that Members on the Labour Front Bench feel the same. If that is so, I trust that in winding up, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, will make that plain.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, I have been a Member of this place long enough to recall the acute disappointment I felt when the proposals of the Labour Government in 1968 to reform the House were endorsed by the Front Benches of all three parties in both Houses but frustrated by a combination of extreme Right and Left led by Enoch Powell and Michael Foot in another place. As my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead reminded us yesterday, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, were then respectively Leader and Deputy Leader of the Conservative Opposition. What was good enough for them, and indeed for my own leader then, the late Lord Byers, is good enough for me now. In my view, the Government formed after the next general election, whatever their political complexion, should immediately try to take forward what was so nearly achieved in 1968 by convening a conference of representatives of the three main parties with the aim of seeking a solution to the problem of the composition of the House on the lines proposed in 1968.
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