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The noble Baroness made several remarks of which I thoroughly approve. She stated that a new committee would supervise the appointment of Peers. It was no longer simply to be the political prerogative of the Prime Minister. Sometimes a Prime Minister makes a good choice. In 1974 Harold Wilson made me a working Peer and I have been very glad of that. But in the future the committee which will be set up must be respected. It must appoint people on the strength of the parties, but on an impartial basis.
The question of the Bishops has also to be decided. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford did not mention whether he approved of the principle of 26 Bishops in the House. However, perhaps we need the Moderator of the Church of Scotland and one or two others present. I believe that the committee can handle such issues and do a tremendous amount of good.
The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, made a good point when he said that the House of Commons is now very professional. People go into the House at a young age and remain in politics. While not wholly committed to a party, they are professional politicians. One needs people in government who have extensive and influential experience of other areas of life rather than only of government circles.
I believe that stage one is good. I would not go much beyond the second stage. I do not believe that an elected chamber, or an elected section, would do anything other than make this place a rival of the House of Commons. Those who cite the example of the United States do not do so favourably because it is almost impossible to get legislation through in the United States. An elected House of Lords would be a rival to the House of Commons and would make things extremely difficult.
On the question of age, perhaps I may say that I am in my 80th year; and I think that I should be a turkey talking about Christmas. There should be an age limit of 75. One would then have people at the height of their
Every organisation needs reform. That is well understood. This House has undergone a great deal of reform already. It is a very different place now from 40 years ago. I do not say that we do not need more reform. I merely say that this is not the first time the House has been reformed.
If we take away the right of all hereditary Peers to sit and vote, I believe that we endanger the monarchy. After all, the monarchy is dependent on heredity. It will be rather difficult if our Sovereign is the only person in the country who sits on the throne because of heredity.
What is wrong with hereditary Peers? What is wrong with the hereditary principle? The noble Lord, Lord Beloff--he is no longer present--made the point beautifully. Members of this House originally were all hereditary Peers. Hereditary Peers ran the country. They were the property owners. It is no good noble Lords laughing at that; they did so. Everything has now changed. I believe that some hereditary Peers should still have representation in this House. It would be better if the composition of the House were dealt with by the commission along with all the other matters.
Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, I strongly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Charteris, about age, but I disagree with him about hereditary Peers. We should bear in mind what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, about the word "hereditary" being more appropriate to cattle than to legislators.
Surely, all of us are united in the desire to make the second Chamber effective and to enable it to make the maximum contribution to the good government of the United Kingdom. That being so, we should ask ourselves what detracts from the House of Lords. I believe that the Leader of the Opposition identified it straightaway. There is a serious lack of legitimacy in the legislative actions taken by a Chamber which is believed to be overwhelmingly manned by people who are there through inheritance. There is no legitimacy in its decisions so far as the rest of the population are concerned.
Frankly, because the Chamber lacks legitimacy, it lacks the power and authority which I believe is necessary in the two-Chamber system in which I strongly believe. Surely, everyone believes that a two-Chamber government is right and that we genuinely need a revising Chamber. Therefore, we want to be able, not frivolously, to stop the House of Commons when it makes erroneous judgments and puts forward bad legislation.
We ought to be able to table amendments, but they should not be knocked back at us by the House of Commons within 48 hours, as though it were a game of table tennis. We ought to be able to convince the House of Commons that what we have decided is much more serious. I have looked carefully at the kind of issues on which we have disagreed with the House of Commons. On a number of occasions, they were genuine party matters and I had no difficulty in voting against that opposition in this Chamber. But I recall a particular occasion relating to the extraordinary decision governing the fourth year of students at Scottish universities. In all conscience, it was a nonsense and the House of Commons should never have sent the proposal back to us.
In my view, when such situations arise, we should have the confidence to say "no" and to mean it. We should mean it beyond and up to the limit of the powers which we properly have; the inferior powers as compared with those of the House of Commons, but, nevertheless, legitimate powers which enable us to say not merely, "Please look at that again", but, "If you will not look at it again you shall not have it for at least a year". That is a powerful antidote or corrective for any dangers of arrogance which might appear in the House of Commons.
If the House of Lords is to make its best contribution to good government in this country it must be able not to take on a lot of new powers but to use its existing powers effectively. So long as the critics of the House of Lords can say, "Ah, well, if it were not for all those hereditary Peers that legislation would not have been passed", it will never seriously be able to outgun or match in argument the House of Commons. The moment its Members can say, "Look, our Chamber is a more legitimate Chamber", the game changes and changes for the better.
Perhaps I may follow on from what was said by my noble friend Lord Richard, our former Leader, and look at what will be left of the House of Lords after the sad departure of the hereditary Peers. There are 750 of them and I am sure that a minority will properly be given life peerages because they genuinely contribute to the affairs of our Chamber. The rest will not be here, so what will be left? Are we horrified by the 550 life Peers who will remain. Has anyone thought about them and looked seriously at who they are? From some of the comments that we have heard one would think that they were all Prime Minister Blair's cronies, here as a result of his appalling use of patronage since 1st May 1997. I will tell your Lordships who they are. They are the nominees for life peerages of eight Prime Ministers beginning with that great radical innovator, Harold Macmillan, continuing through a range of Conservative Prime
Perhaps I may add a word of encouragement. Who are the life Peers? Did all eight Prime Ministers immediately appoint clones? They appointed some of their party supporters, of course, but, just looking at the distinguished Cross-Benches, I see a number of excellent appointments which have added to the authority of this House. I see former Permanent Secretaries, Cabinet Secretaries and so forth, to take only one category. We are well blessed with judges. Of course, 25 of them are elected and are part of the appointed side of the House. In addition, we have industrialists and people of distinction in all walks of life.
Anyone who knows about government will know that most life Peers come up through the Civil Service and have nothing to do with the patronage and preference of Cabinet Ministers. Rather, they come here having passed through many committees of civil servants and others, concluding with the Permanent Secretary, saying, "We believe that these people deserve to be enobled or to receive an honour". We know that. They have not been appointed simply because they are straw men and women who will do what the Prime Minister wants.
A further word of encouragement. Of that residual House of Lords after the hereditary Peers have left, approximately 200 Members will be former Cabinet Ministers, Privy Counsellors and former senior Members of Parliament. At least they know something about government, about holding Ministers to account and about legislation.
I am happy with the procedures outlined by my noble friend the Leader of the House. It is an excellent two-stage approach. The second stage is bound to be difficult and complex. There is a whole range of possibilities. We need a Royal Commission and we need to think very hard about the matter.
But in the first stage, I am prepared willingly to vote for farewell to the hereditary Peers provided that, along with that decision, there is a satisfactory arrangement, whether it is an agreement between the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister or even better, part of an Act of Parliament, which denies the Prime Minister of the day the right to create Peers ad lib. He must be limited in that power so that he cannot arbitrarily destroy the balance which exists already between the parties, so that no one party dominates and has a majority and so that we have a substantial party of Cross-Benchers. There must be a self-denying ordinance so that no one party has a majority. That must be built into the structure of the new House.
Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, when it comes to constitutional change, I am a minimalist. I would do as little as possible for as long as possible. If Members opposite believe that to be an incurable Conservative attitude, I should tell them that my tutor was a Labour Prime Minister, Clement Attlee. He came one night in 1957 to the Oxford Union, having been Deputy Prime Minister and Prime Minister. He defended the House of Lords. He stood at the dispatch box in the Oxford Union in that very diffident way he had--a diffidence that concealed pure steel--and said, "You cannot defend the composition of the House of Lords. It is absolutely absurd. It is aristocratic, indefensible, quaint and historic. But I have been in politics for 50 years and it works rather well. Leave it alone".
The next position I take up is the gradualist position. I was a member of the committee set up by my noble friend Lady Thatcher, under the chairmanship of Lord Home, which reported in the 1970s. We put forward a proposal, which I thought very sensible, for a membership, 50 per cent. elected, a quarter comprising the great and the good and a quarter hereditary Peers elected from among themselves. Alec was particularly keen on the last proposal because he had attended the ceremony in Scotland--I believe it took place in the House of Assembly--where the Scottish Peers were elected from among themselves. He said that what happened was that the senior Peer--I think on that occasion it was Lord Stair--had a list of all the Peers and would call them out alphabetically. The Peers would then shout yes or no. Occasionally, Lord Stair would look at a name and say, "We cannot have him; he could not spell at Eton", and struck his name out.
Of course, that is an absurd way in which to elect people to this House. But we cannot say whether such a system would produce a better result because we do not know what the Government are going to say. I listened carefully to the Leader of the House because I thought she might open her mind to us. I am sure she has personal views but she is shaking her head. At the conclusion of her speech we had no idea what was in her mind and I daresay that the opacity will not be lifted tomorrow evening by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn. However, I believe that the Government owe it to the country to explain what are their views. You cannot live in an intellectual and political vacuum for ever. The Government are starting an avalanche of constitutional change--and an avalanche is not too strong a word to describe it. They have thrown down the boulder of a Scottish parliament along with a Welsh assembly, the Northern Ireland Assembly, a London mayor and a London assembly. They are using three different types of PR. For good measure, they are now proposing reform of the House of Lords. Where in all of that is the grand vision? Where is the strategy? Where is the overarching plan for constitutional change?
I am a gradualist because in our country constitutional change has taken place slowly over a period, apart from 1688 and 1832, which were climactic revolutionary years. The extension of the franchise in the 19th century took nearly 100 years. As a result, the people who were dispossessed and threatened by the changes in the franchise made the necessary adjustments. As a result, we avoided riots and revolution.
I am a gradualist. I agree with King Magnus and the applecart. I prefer the evolutionary appetite to the day's gluttony. Therefore, I believe that the Government should set out very clearly what is the alternative. If we agree to stage one, I do not believe that there will be a stage two. I say that because I was once a Member of the House of Commons. Once stage one has taken place, the Government will have drawn the tooth in relation to the House of Commons and the country as regards the unrespectability of this House. We shall have done away with the aspect which no one can defend--the hereditary Peers. We shall then have an interim House of 600 Members. It will work rather well for about five or six years. It will carry out revisions and amendments of Bills. There will be one or two rather good debates of a general nature drawing in people from outside.
In 2003 or 2004, the House of Commons will ask why it should bother to change the House of Lords and why it should go to stage two. It will ask why it should give to those people sitting in this red-seated Chamber at the other end of the Houses of Parliament power, which my noble friend Lord Hurd has suggested in the constitutional commission, to vet public appointments. Why should MPs give us that? Why should they give us powers to amend European legislation? Why should MPs give us powers to redress the imbalance in our constitution of a Scottish parliament, virtually a Welsh parliament and a Northern Ireland assembly? English MPs will not give us in this House powers to redress that on a regional basis. They will say, "We want to redress that imbalance ourselves in our House. We will do that either by way of a Grand Committee or an English parliament". We shall not have a look in.
We are in the business of power-broking between two Houses of Parliament. We are in a long negotiating process. There is a danger in undertaking stage one while not knowing what stage two is to be; that is, that we shall not be listened to in relation to stage two. That is the position. When you are going into negotiations, you do not give away anything until you know what you are going to get. I want an effective second Chamber and I favour a composition of mixed and elected members. But I am not so sure that that will result from how we are now setting about it.
This Government cannot bind their successors. It does not matter what the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, says tomorrow night or what the noble Baroness says. They may say that they will pledge to bring in stage two but they cannot bind the next government and they cannot bind the House of Commons. In this matter the House of Commons will have a view of its own. It will probably operate unwhipped. If this House is to receive a greater
I say to your Lordships that we must be very realistic about this matter. We must realise that that is what the issue is. We need to have a copper-bottomed guarantee. I shall explain what I mean by that. The Government should publish a Bill or, after a Royal Commission, the following government should publish a Bill setting out clearly what stage two is to do. When that Bill is published, the hereditary Peers should fall away at that stage. We should then know what stage two is to be. No one in this House can possibly know that at present. Everybody has different views. But when it comes to a struggle between the House of Commons and the House of Lords, it is the House of Commons which will decide unless we negotiate strongly as a separate, independent Chamber. This is an extremely important constitutional change we are embarking upon. We should take it very slowly, gradually and carefully.
The Earl of Erroll: My Lords, I have just had most of my thunder stolen. A comment of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House made me think suddenly about the Oxbridge issue. When I went to Cambridge, it was pointed out that there was positive discrimination against people with titles. I had to achieve a higher standard than the normal entry for an undergraduate in order to get to Cambridge. That was the policy. Given that 33 per cent. of hereditary Peers have apparently been to Oxbridge, that makes one think, does it not?
The real issue in relation to this House concerns proper reform; it is not about the removal of hereditary Peers, which it tends to be hijacked into. That was a point being made by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and I want to reinforce it. It is obvious that there are basically two diametrically opposed but deeply and emotionally held views on this matter. The first is that hereditary Peers are an anomaly which must be got rid of, regardless of the consequences. The opposite view is that hereditary Peers are the only incentive that will ensure that proper reform is carried through and must therefore be kept on until then--the "copper-bottomed guarantee".
I do not trust any party on either side of the House--I am a Cross-Bencher--to carry out the second stage unless it has an incentive to do so. I am certain therefore that the second stage will take place once the hereditary element has been disenfranchised. The so-called interim House will become permanent and that is even less defensible because its members will owe their advancement to favours--to quote the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, "make myself popular". It will therefore be either less effective and not do its job or, alternatively, it may flex its muscles, of which I would approve.
One could compare the stage one reform to taking an angle grinder and chopping away half the engine of one's car saying that it will halve the pollution it produces. Of course it will help on pollution, but one then does not have a car which will do its job; that is, transporting one around. That is the trouble with just chopping things away.
This Government were elected because of issues that directly impinged on the man in the street; they were not elected because of some obscure bit buried in the manifesto which most people had not thought about and which had not been properly debated. On top of that, only around one-third of the electorate voted for New Labour and I do not call that an overwhelming mandate. When it came to major constitutional change, Scotland and Wales got referendums. If we are to go down that route then the Government should propose that this is a major constitutional reform and the UK therefore deserves no less.
I shall not give up until there is an effective body with an entrenched sense of duty which will act as a check on the combined legislature and Executive that exists in the other place. It is imperative that power over both Houses is not concentrated in the hands of one party. Who will appoint the appointments commission? From the Latin, quis custodiet ipsos custodes? We must be governed by institutions that can survive potential abuse in the future; that is vitally important.
It has been said from time to time that without hereditary Peers many votes would have been different in this House. That is quite right. If it had been within the power of the Prime Minister to appoint Peers, there would not have been competition or opposition. He would have ensured a majority in this Chamber and won every vote.
It is the lack of plan that is dangerous in this reform. Who wants to get into an aeroplane not knowing where the pilot is going? He may have five hours of fuel on board and fly towards the dazzling sun in the morning; but then it gets too bright and may he turn off to the right. And only when he runs out of fuel will one see where he lands. I would not do that, and anyone who would is a madman.
The bottom line therefore is that I would be prepared to leave this House. But before I leave I must do my best to ensure that all our children have an accountable and responsible second Chamber which can ameliorate the impetuousness of the primary and elected Chamber. I would vote for that. This Government's proposal is like a child who takes an object apart for the first time to see how it works. It can never be put back together again. The moral of that life experience, as every sensible and caring parent knows, is, "Until you know how to make it better, don't muck it about".
Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, speaking today as a temporary gent--in other words, as a life Peer (if the noble Lord, Lord Annan, was in the Chamber I would stress to him the word "life")--I find the words in the Labour Party manifesto impertinent. It says,
Of course there are some jokers in the hereditary pack, but, alas, so there are among the life Peers. It would be invidious to name names. On the other hand, it would be a tragedy to deprive this House of the wisdom of people like the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell; of the persistence of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the noble Earl, Lord Longford; of the humanity of the noble Baroness, Lady D'Arcy de Knayth, and indeed the brilliance of noble Lords from the Conservative Bench such as my noble friends Lord Cranborne and Lord Strathclyde.
Why should we be deprived--this is important--of the benefits we receive for free from noble Lords such as the noble Lords, Lord Gowrie, Lord Rothschild, Lord Shepherd and Lord Kilbracken, the noble Countess, Lady Mar, and the noble Lord, Lord Selborne, a Fellow of the Royal Society?
When I became a life Peer 18 years ago I found myself surrounded by my betters. That feeling has not changed today. But what of the future? Speaking personally, I can see no reason to differ between being the son of one's father as opposed to being a Prime Minister's favourite or a failed Minister.
Baroness Platt of Writtle: My Lords, increasingly I feel we live in "virtual reality" rather than the real world. In my 17 years in this House as a life Peer I do not remember ever before debating a party manifesto proposal as government policy. However, I suppose one must be grateful for small mercies. And having the opportunity to state opinions before a Bill appears in tablets of stone is better than nothing when abolishing the long-standing right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in this House.
As an engineer, as I have said on many occasions before, one of my tenets is, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". Fixing something unnecessarily when it does not need it and works well often leads to other unexpected and greater problems as a result. Reform of the House of Lords will be no exception, especially if done in the piecemeal fashion proposed. I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway withdrew his amendment as I would have voted for it.
If we were setting up a second Chamber today from scratch, its composition would be extremely different. Such a major constitutional change, as so many Peers have said tonight, would demand a great deal of thought and consultation as it would inevitably affect fundamentally not only the powers and operations of this House, but those of the House of Commons also. I wonder whether the House of Commons, or indeed the public as a whole, want that. The amendment of my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway covered those necessary considerations and should be adopted.
That work of the House is not very well reported, but it is patient, time-consuming, not highly political and also, I might say, unpaid. I believe it is all the better for that. Many experts from outside the House are willing to come and give evidence to the committees knowing they will be listened to attentively and courteously, so that it is worth their while coming. The work of those committees leads to important and knowledge-based changes in government policy.
This House, since 1958, has been composed of hereditary and life Peers who are treated absolutely equally in the work of this House if they have taken the oath of allegiance. Life Peers have had to make some contribution to the life of our country in a tremendous variety of fields before they are chosen to come here. That gives the House the enormous advantage of their widely based expertise, of such value whatever subject we are considering.
It also means that Members of this House, whether hereditary or life Peers, have to do their homework carefully, without the benefit of researchers or secretaries, and think the subject out in depth before speaking. It is a daunting place in which to state an opinion. Life Peers, in order to have gathered the necessary experience, will at least be past middle life on creation, and after that, as has been said by many people, anno domini takes over. The only way young people enter this House is when an hereditary Peer dies young. It would be a great loss if their rights were abolished.
I also believe that their knowledge of eventual inheritance before they come here is of value in preparing them for this responsibility rather like plumbers--although your Lordships would expect me to say that I believe the situation would be even better if women could inherit equally with men as oldest children. If the Leader of the House agrees with me, there is no doubt that that could be brought into effect.
Hereditary Peers may also be experts and, indeed, often are. Managing great estates brings knowledge of farming, the natural environment and the needs of people living in the countryside. Many hereditary Peers are not so fortunate financially and will have worked in many different fields. Their contribution to this House will include their expertise but also that of the uncommitted, amateur generalist, very like, I would submit, the vast majority of people in this country who do not want extremist political views in the consideration of legislation passing through Parliament. That has been emphasised by many noble Lords this afternoon.
I am glad that the manifesto statement refers particularly to the importance of maintaining the independent Cross-Benchers in our House in the future. We are all, to a certain extent, independent as we are
Finally, in the manifesto the Government suggest that a committee of both Houses of Parliament will be appointed to undertake a wide-ranging review of possible further change after the abolition of the rights of hereditary Peers and then to bring forward proposals for reform. I believe that the two suggested alterations to the composition and work of this House, with such long-term effects, should be considered together before any action takes place--in fact, as my noble friend Lord Hurd said, "to do the job properly".
Lord Monkswell: My Lords, I speak in this debate as an hereditary Peer with some 13 years' experience of this House. I hope that I have learnt some things in my time here. I should like to make an apology, to say a few words about the process and to talk a little of the future. Before I do that I have to pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, for the eloquent way in which she introduced this debate. I agreed with virtually everything she said and I am totally supportive of the Government's policy.
Before my noble friends and colleagues think I am becoming too sycophantic, I should point out that I have one reservation. I fear that the Government may be pushed into action that is too precipitate in terms of the second stage. I shall return to that later.
First, I sincerely apologise to my fellow hereditary Peers because, in my 13 years in the House, I have been unable to persuade many of them to join the Labour ranks, with the result that there are currently 18 Labour hereditary Peers out of a total of 750 Peers by succession. That is 2.4 per cent. If one looks at society at large, we can see that the Labour Party has an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons; Labour councillors are the largest single group in local authorities and the Labour Party's standing in the opinion polls is currently over 50 per cent. Given that scenario, even the massed ranks of hereditary Peers must agree that they are totally out of touch with modern British society. I honestly feel that that is partly my responsibility because I have not managed to do the job of persuading them to come across to our party. I am sorry about that. There is nothing I can do about it now.
One of the things I have learnt in my years here in the House of Lords is the way that it differs from the other place. There are two particular strengths that I would highlight. First, virtually all the main business of the House is taken on the Floor of the House. That means that almost every Member of this House has the opportunity to contribute to debates. Secondly, we have the opportunity to debate every amendment that is tabled to government legislation. That is rather different from what happens at the other end of the building. There,
Those two elements of the way we do business are a tremendous strength of the House of Lords. I fear that, in the process of the Government achieving their business of getting rid of the hereditary peerage from the House of Lords, we might lose that.
We have heard that some opponents of the Government's policy might engage in guerrilla tactics and disrupt government business by tabling lots of amendments and debating through the night. What worries me is that in the process of doing that, the pressure to adopt the same sort of Standing Orders, procedures and restrictions on debate that apply in the House of Commons will end up applying in the House of Lords.
I hope that opponents of change will take a lesson from a group of British workers that I had the experience of encountering. In the early 1980s, the company for which I worked decided in its wisdom to close our Merseyside factory--550 workers were to be made redundant. The workers occupied the factory. There was some concern that the factory and its stock might be damaged by the occupying workers. However, when the occupation ended, the factory was found to be in a better condition than it had been at the start of the occupation. The workers had looked after their factory. I hope that the opponents of change will, once the change has been completed, leave this place in a condition as good as, if not better than, at the start of the process.
Several noble Lords have referred to stage two and the future. I hope that we shall adopt an evolutionary approach. I hope also that we can follow the precedent of the Bishops' Benches. The right reverend Prelates are Members of this House by virtue of their office. They are ex officio Members of this House. It is entirely reasonable that in these days of a multi-faith, multi-cultural society, other faiths should be represented in the House of Lords. Senior members of those faiths could be ex officio Members of this House. Those faiths could be represented here in the same way as the Church of England is currently represented.
One could extend that principle to the professions and to the major walks of life. The membership of the House of Lords could contain as ex officio Members senior people in our society whom everyone can respect. In that way, this House could evolve into a different and, I hope, a stronger and possibly less political Chamber. It could offer advice. I hope that in the future the House of Lords will be seen to be advising the Government and the House of Commons rather than revising that which the House of Commons puts before it. I have always been instinctively antagonistic to the concept that the House of Commons can determine something and can pass a Bill, and we then have the temerity to amend it. We should be subsidiary to the democratically elected House of Commons.
I hope that some of the ideas that I have suggested may find favour with the Government. I recognise that they may not, but I hope that I have contributed to our further debates on the future of this illustrious House.
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, I have been pro-reform of this House for an extraordinarily long time. I shall utter three sentences at the beginning of my speech, all of which will be exactly the same. I am not fighting for the hereditary peerage. I am not fighting for the hereditary peerage. I am not fighting for the hereditary peerage. I hope that everybody now understands that. What I am fighting for is a proper Whig constitution.
How did this House arise? This House came into existence because it was a Chamber of the powerful. The 1911 Act was passed because the then hereditary peerage was not powerful enough to stop it. That 1911 Act would never have been passed in 1811. Your Lordships must remember that it was in 1688 that the peerage invited William of Orange to this country--the consequence was the Glorious Revolution--because the House of Commons was not sitting.
The power of individual Members of the House of Lords is nothing to what it was. Perhaps I may give a small illustration of that. My forebear built a house. It cost him 70,000 quid between 1720 and 1730. That was about 5 per cent. of the annual running cost of the Royal Navy. That shows that he was a powerful chap. His brother was Speaker of the House of Commons for 33 years. He was a very great Speaker--this is his signet ring. I hope that we can ensure that we have a properly balanced Whig constitution.
I was fascinated by the opening remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Jay. She spoke at considerable length about democracy. With respect to her, I do not think that she arose, anointed, in an ermine gown, straight from the voting booths of a democratic society. She came here by appointment--on merit, I am sure, but she is no more democratic than I am just because my bribe was paid to Pitt. I make no allegations and I am sure that there is no question of any bribe with regard to the noble Baroness. I am sure that she is completely free of that. But my bribe to Pitt is gone. It was finished years ago.
What do I propose that we should do? I propose exactly to re-form the House of Lords. By "re-form", I mean "remake" in the 17th century use of that word. I mean that the powerful should become Members of this House. But how can we choose the powerful? I suggest that we expand enormously the principle of the Bishops--in other words, people should be invited to become Peers as a result of the position that they hold.
I also suggest that we should expand the principle of self-election. I refer to the old principle of the Scottish Peers, not of the Irish Peers because they did it differently. Groups of people should be able to send up to this House those of influence and ability.
I also suggest that the Prime Minister should continue to appoint people to this House. We would then start to have a properly balanced House of Lords. The House could then use the powers that it has. I agreed totally
When I entered your Lordships' House today, the light at the top of the staircases, which normally shines on the shield of the first Baron Onslow, was out. I think that that was because the electrician may have been hereditary; I do not know.
However, before I go, I regard it as my duty to do my level best to ensure that whatever comes after me is much, much better. If that means that I behave either, for the benefit of the intellectuals, like Fabius Maximus Cunctator, or, for the benefit of the tabloid press, like a football hooligan, so be it. I regard that as my duty.
There is one infinitely depressing thing about the present Government. There are many excellent things about them, but the one infinitely depressing thing is that they seem to have no feeling for the parliamentary Union--that parliamentary Union which, since 1707, has seen off tyranny on the Continent and enabled the United States to develop in peace. That is not a bad record for a small, offshore island. The Government seem to have no concept of the grandeur and the greatness of the United Kingdom. They just want to fiddle about with the constitution and ruin it. That is what I am going to fight--and I shall do it to my level best. Therefore, I beg the Government to think and to put in place a properly reformed House of Lords, not just the mish-mash of proposals that they are now suggesting.
Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, there is a wider prospective to this debate. In considering the future of this House, we are, in fact, considering the future of Parliament because Parliament is an organic whole and if you play with any part of it, you play with it all.
I am not a historian; still less am I a parliamentarian. I sometimes wonder whether I am a Lord, but I have the enormous privilege of being a Member of this House. During the Recess, I took the trouble to read a history of this House. It would be superfluous to bore the House with it. There was a consistent theme that ran through that book--and the consistent theme was the role of this Chamber. It has, it seems to me, three essential characteristics. It was at times an interface between authority and the people. It was at other times a balance between authority and the people. On yet other occasions it was a lubricant between authority and the people. Those roles are still relevant today.
The House of Commons is a wonderful place. It is, traditionally, a source of government power in this modern era. The only thing that I can see that is truly democratic about it is the process of election to that House. Party machines dominate candidate selection and party business in the other place. How far that is a democratic process I would not like to say. Looked at objectively, I think the ancient Greeks would have some difficulty in allying it with a true concept of democracy.
This debate, in part, is about how the House is to fulfil its role, bearing in mind that in the other place the MPs' popularity is in inverse proportion to the volume of legislation that they pass and, indeed, to their professionalism.
Let us look now at what is happening to the whole of Parliament and, if you like, to use a shorthand phrase, the British constitutional settlement. Consider the Bill that we have passed through for the Welsh National Assembly. Very good and very worthy. But one effect that it has--and for the purposes of this debate it is the only one that is relevant--is that it creates a separate class of MPs for Wales. We need not go into the question of the marginal over-representation which Wales might enjoy in the other place, but it does create a separate class of MP.
We are about to consider a Bill for a Northern Ireland Assembly. Here the precedents are different. Traditionally, Northern Ireland parliamentary representation has been on a reduced level because of the existence formerly of Stormont.
When you come to consider the Scottish Bill, where we are creating an even more devastatingly separate class of MP, we have a more problematic situation for the future of Parliament. I recall a quite esoteric debate last week at the Committee stage of the Scotland Bill when the matter of Scotland's over-representation in Westminster was under discussion as a matter which should be taken care of after the Scotland Bill had passed. Scotland has at present 79 MPs. There was a question of whether that should go down to 59. There was then a further question, upon which I think there was general agreement, that this should not affect the number of members of the Scottish parliament. Scottish MPs are losing half their functions. Should we not rather be following the Ulster precedent? Maybe 30 Scottish MPs would be a more appropriate number. Or, if they are only doing half a job, we should pay them half a salary. I do not know the answer to that question.
What I do know is that it is a destabilising influence on the other place and, therefore, it is a destabilising influence on Parliament as a whole. I therefore find myself increasingly in favour of some stability in this place at the present time.
There is of course a separate issue behind all this. What about England? I am not an English nationalist. Still more, I am passionately committed to keeping the United Kingdom together. There is a problem already
There is the worse problem of the West Lothian question, which has already been touched upon. What will happen the first time English business is determined by whipped Scottish MPs? That is not a party point. It happens to be a party point at the moment but that is an accident of political fortune. It is a point that could arise at any time.
Is the answer, perhaps, an English grand committee? Well, that did not satisfy the Scots. What will the Scottish MPs do if we create an English grand committee sitting in the House of Commons? That might not be an unreasonable solution.
The cracks in the United Kingdom constitutional settlement which this Government have created will take some solving. Constitutional change, like devolution, is not an event but a process. This Government have, so to speak, stepped on the escalator, but the escalator will not stop--although they might wish it would--until we arrive at a new situation of stability. I do not know where that new situation of stability will be. What I do know is that compared to the problems that we face as a result of changes already initiated by this Government, the removal of hereditary Peers from this place, if they will forgive me, is completely trivial. It would be better not done.
That said, I have some sympathy with the Government. They have a manifesto pledge and, of course, within our customs and procedures in this place, we would normally give that a fair wind. Stage two is much more difficult. Stage two goes outwith their election manifesto. They are committed to a process but they are not committed to any conclusion. At that point the Government might find that they will have to begin to act in the interests of the United Kingdom instead of the interests of the Labour Party.
Lord Clifford of Chudleigh: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for introducing this Motion and for assuring us that there will be a White Paper which will give us an opportunity to go into the matter in greater detail.
Since the beginning of the century another place has pointed the finger for reform of the Lords on about five occasions. On certain issues this may have been arguably correct. But on each occasion, as one finger has pointed at this House, three have pointed back at the accuser, another place.
The first finger could be called petulance or impatience--impatience with this unelected group interfering with the wishes of those elected to rule, those with the powers of change, those elected to govern. Is it government for the people by the people, or is it more often prone to be government by people interested in their party power which causes this mood? It is understandable that those who "cannot get their way" show indignation and react illogically. See how we are being asked to consider everything before the Royal Commission report is presented to us.
The second finger wears the magnanimous ring, sparkling with the word "mandate", the order from the electorate to pursue a purpose. Noble Lords have already been reminded that 31 per cent. of the total electorate voted for the present Government. We should not forget that 29 per cent.--almost the same amount--did not bother to vote at all. It is the mandate to pursue a purpose, a line, a principle, often inadequately explained and very often geared towards subjects emotionally attractive to the electorate; not necessarily practical or policeable, but sure to interest the media. That portent of information is politically biased, sometimes socially in conflict with a sizeable portion of the electorate who gave the Government their mandate.
The third finger may be the smallest but it is certainly the most self-effacing and the most self-destructive. It is self-importance. That proud digit may be the shortest finger but it is certainly the most short-sighted. On the subject of constitutional change, this finger refuses to encompass all the bodies relating to government, be they civil servants, be they the House of Lords--we must remember that about 35 per cent. of hereditary Peers and about 25 per cent. of the life Peers do not attend--or be they the elected House of Commons. This little finger, proud of its power position to deal with other people's problems, at home and abroad, refuses to consider that introspection might reveal where changes should occur, not where the first digit should be pointing but rather at the body singled out by this last digit: the accuser.
The position of the House of Lords is clearly that of a revisory body, a group of sage men and women--some old and some not so old--who have learnt the technique of "smoothing the edges", making legally feasible Bills presented by the elected body in the House of Commons, the executive body. In an age when we are encouraged to think quickly and to act quickly--after all, you do have a computer at hand--this revising Chamber permits the executive body to "think again" and so prevents that body losing face and credibility and helps the ruling party, whichever it may be, to gain the confidence of the people, the electorate who must abide by legislation passed in both Houses.
The debate about constitutional change must include both Houses of Parliament. The Government cannot and must not even consider pressing forward with the first stage of constitutional change without putting into place what is to replace it. I am not the first Peer to have said this. That must be the case, however long it may take. I welcome the Royal Commission, an idea that was dismissed by Her Majesty's Government. I must remind the Leader of the House that the idea was put forward by many Members of this House, the majority of whom are hereditary Peers.
I look forward to reading the White Paper. Unlike the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, I believe that this House should never be subject to public election. It should be self-selected, as with the Scottish Peers. I feel absolute confidence that most of us examine every issue and vote on it according to our consciences and not the consciences of the Whips. The ideal House of Lords is one without a Whip where we are relied on by the public to vote as our consciences dictate.
Lord Middleton: My Lords, it is right that we should be focusing in this debate on stage one--what is right about it and what is wrong about it and how it should be related to stage two. We should not at this time devote too much attention to the composition and powers of a reformed House of Lords in stage two. So I shall try to avoid that except to make two points.
First, however anomalous the present composition, pending full reform it might well be better--here I echo my noble friend Lord Cranborne--to proceed on a no change basis than to hand over to a nominated body for an indefinite period. Writing in the Daily Telegraph today, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, said that the present system is wrong in principle and wrong in practice. Wrong in principle, it may be, but wrong in practice?
The composition of the House has radically altered since the introduction of life Peers in 1958. No fewer than 91 were introduced in the last Session. The Conservative overall majority exists no longer. Such powers as remain to the present House are limited by convention. The Salisbury rules are scrupulously observed and the House's function as a revising Chamber is carried out assiduously and effectively. That has been said often today. My noble friend Lady Platt, who is not present at the moment, quoted the American saying, "If it ain't broke, don't aim to fix it." I think we should try to fix it, but not the Government's way.
I turn to my second point. If ever stage two is reached, I hope that the option of retaining an agreed number of hereditary Peers will be considered. It should be looked at, not as the last gasp of a dying hereditary system but as a practical way of retaining in a reformed House wide knowledge and expertise that would otherwise be lost. More importantly, the freedom and ability of hereditary Peers to exercise independent judgment would be lost too, greatly to the disadvantage of Parliament. In that context I disagree totally with what the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, said.
The noble Earl, Lord Longford, with his enormous charm, referred to the knowledge and experience of so many hereditary Peers. In the 1970s, during the passage of an environment Bill, I remember a noble hereditary friend being of enormous assistance at the Committee stage on the strength of his experience as a corporation dustman. A way must be found to keep some of that expertise.
I turn now to the Government's proposals, as stated in the Labour Party's 1997 election manifesto. I very seldom disagree with my noble friend Lady Young. I have enormous respect for her. We made our maiden speeches on the same day. She said that this proposal is one that might have emanated from a sixth-form debating society on one of its better days. No, my Lords, it might have emanated from a poorly instructed sixth-form debating society on a bad day.
I can understand the frustration felt by the party opposite when it was out of office which animated this drive for reform. Shortly after taking my seat in the House I remember moving an amendment to the 1972 Local Government Bill. It would have made sense out of an ill-judged Conservative plan for redrawing local government boundaries in Yorkshire. Despite support in the Chamber I was roundly defeated by a flood of Peers from my own party, none of whom had listened to the debate. However, that experience of the Labour Party cannot excuse the wholly unacceptable action the Government have in mind. They intend to put a shabby cart before a perfectly respectable horse. I make this point with some hesitation. My family has been immensely honoured--since the original command by Queen Anne--to continue to be summoned to this House by the monarch. We do, however, understand the case against our unfettered right to sit in the future.
Groucho Marx made the well-known quip, "If this club is one that would have me as a member, then I don't want to join." Perhaps I can turn that round and say that if this club is to be one that would not have me as an unelected member, I should ask, for myself and my successors, to be eligible in the future to join either this House or the other one as an elected member.
Whatever options for reform are adopted--if they ever are--this stage one option is such a bad one standing on its own that I gladly join my noble friend Lord Cranborne and so many others of my noble friends in condemning it.
Lord Addington: My Lords, this debate has contained much that people expected. In my opinion it is overdue. I first attended this House over 12 years ago. I found this House fascinating but terrifying. I was a 22 year-old student. I was terrified of everything that went on here. In fact if I had not been quite such a coward, I would probably have admitted my terror, turned tail and run away.
There is a conception of this Chamber as somewhere where people are chosen on an arbitrary basis. This is considered to be a great advantage. People are drawn from a group which is nowhere near as homogeneous as people seem to think. I lose count of the number of times I have disappointed people at dinner parties when I have told them I do not have a castle. A number of Americans have been disappointed when I have told them that I cannot disembowel peasants who disagree with me. I could do that, but it would not get me very far in the courts. As I said, people are chosen on an arbitrary basis. It is like saying, "Three per cent. of you
When I joined the Liberal Party, as it then was, I paid my subscription and the cheque was pocketed by my local councillor, Philip More, who then said to me, "You realise that we are in favour of banning hereditary Peers, don't you?" The fact that the cheque was already in his pocket said something about the organisation and the efficiency of our local party. As I said, we cannot expect to carry on as we are. When Peers are given a Whip they know what is going on. They can be cajoled into turning up to vote.
I believe that future behaviour is always judged best by a consideration of past behaviour. The political system encourages the appointment of Peers who agree with the views of those who appoint them. When I first came to the House the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, advised me not to join the Liberals. When I asked him why he said that, he replied that there were not enough of them and inside three weeks I would be on the Front Bench doing everything. He was wrong. That took six months of regular attendance. I have been told that this party has not had any working Peers appointed between 1981 and 1990. I do not know whether that figure is correct as we can argue all day about the definition of "working peer". However, we must bear in mind the appointment system. The reform that is proposed will be a sham unless the promise of balance is seen to be in the legislation and the appointment system becomes transparent. There can be no more of this system of nods and winks. I do not care if that has been the position in the past. If we always followed precedents we would still be riding round on horses, bashing people over the head. We must take on something new. I favour a predominantly elected Chamber for the simple reason that we would become self-renewing.
We must try to address the matters that are before us at the moment. If we do not, we shall continue to argue about nothing and continue to chase the perfect state of affairs. That never works. I think anyone who has spent any time in this Chamber would agree that it is a great place for taking small victories as opposed to big defeats. If we insist on trying to achieve a perfect state of affairs in the future, we shall be totally ignored as regards any reform. I think everyone knows that. I believe that the usual channels are probably already busy with the real negotiations. If we join in that process, we shall have an input. If we adopt guerrilla tactics or act like football hooligans, we shall become isolated and will be treated with contempt. We must join the debate on this matter, accept the political realities and realise what we are trying to correct.
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, in discussing the composition of this Chamber we are talking about matters that are at the very heart of this House, which is in turn at the heart of Parliament, which is at the core of our constitution. History shows how changes in the
If one looks at the way in which the 18th century Whig-dominated oligarchy evolved into a 19th century male-dominated deferential democracy, which in turn moved on to a 20th century universal individual democracy, we see a process which shows a continuous weakening of the second Chamber. Its capacity to act as a check or balance on the first Chamber has been eroded. We have been moving towards what my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham has called the tyranny of the majority of the House of Commons.
How has this happened? It is very simple. In cases of conflict the political and moral power of democracy has, quite rightly, engulfed the undemocratically constituted second Chamber. Almost every time, when given the choice between changing its composition and changing its powers, your Lordships' House has decided to change its powers. I believe the cumulative effect of that has been a mistake. It has left Parliament unbalanced.
I remember, when I was small, being told fairy stories, some of which I tell to my children. One was the story of the Emperor's Clothes. In that story it was the small boy who told the emperor that he was naked. Perhaps I as a Conservative, pro-European hereditary Peer, no doubt shortly to leave this stage permanently, am allowed to say that while election confers the right to legislate, it does not necessarily confer the ability to do it well. There are those in the other place who are very able and effective, but equally, there are those who are less so.
A characteristic of our age, and one which many people deprecate, is an increase in the amount of litigation in respect of professional negligence. The lawyer, the doctor and the accountant all owe a duty of care to their clients. Equally, Parliament owes a duty of care to the public.
I am among those--I am not sure how many there are on this side of the House--who support the concept of the extension of the courts' control of the executive. But I do not believe that that kind of legal control is suitable for Parliament as a means for trying to enforce that duty of care. Rather, the second Chamber should do that. It cannot do so unless it has greater democratic legitimacy than it has now.
It is often said that this place is a model of an effective revising and amending Chamber. I do not think there is any disagreement that a very great deal of good work is done here. But the reality, viewed dispassionately in the cold light of day, is that we do that on the sufferance of the government of the day. That is not a satisfactory constitutional arrangement. The distance between this Chamber and the Chamber of another place is about 100 yards down the corridor. But in many ways the gulf that divides us is wider than that which divided Dives from Lazarus.
Some say that we must not have gridlock in our system; the Government must get their business through. That seems to be the justification for the strong-arm tactics of Whips and party managers, those hard men
There is an alternative. It is for the government of the day to find sensible policies and to draft legislation that commands support. I accept that that may make legislation and policy-making more difficult. But the effect will be that the subsequent administration will be better.
There needs to be an internal rebalancing within Parliament to increase the power of the second Chamber in respect of that of the first. The House of Commons is not coterminous with Parliament. If our institutions are debased in this way, we debase Parliament as a whole. We can only rebalance Parliament if we increase the democratic legitimacy of the second Chamber. It is not necessary for it to be completely elected; nor do we necessarily need to have a fully bicameral Parliament with powers of co-decision. However, I believe that we should move significantly in that direction.
As has been said by a number of speakers, all Peers lack certain characteristics of democratic legitimacy. I, as an hereditary Peer, accept that we shall see change. In my case I wish to place it on record that I have been very fortunate to have had a second political career in government here when my first, as a Member of the European Parliament, came to an end at the hands of the electorate in 1994. I am proud of my family, which has been represented here in various guises since the 17th century, and of my kinsmen and families like them, who have made a material and beneficial contribution to the country. In Yeats's words, "They are no petty people".
On a purely personal level I should like my son to be able to follow me here if he so wishes. What father would not? But there is a more important issue at stake; that is, the good governance of this country. It matters to my son and to my daughters, and not only to my son and daughters but to every family in the country. To achieve that, change is not merely desirable, it is essential. When change is necessary, it is necessary to change.
But that does not mean that I support all change, only change which I judge will bring about improvements. I wish to see in proposals for that change a clear description of that vital and seamless relationship that has to exist between the composition of this House, its powers, and its position within Parliament as a whole, without which a proper internal rebalancing cannot be achieved.
I do not, I fear, see that in the proposals so eloquently and seductively elaborated by the noble Baroness in her opening remarks. Rather, she seems to advocate throwing a few deckchairs off the deck of the "Titanic", leaving it to sail onwards into the western sunset.
Lord Monson: My Lords, most civilised countries have bicameral parliaments; however, the role and composition of the second chamber varies from country to country according to their traditions and needs. What are the attributes required of a second chamber in the traditional British context; that is to say, where for a century or so it has been deemed unlikely that either the executive or the primary legislature--in other words, the elected lower House--will abuse its powers, and that therefore the powers of the second chamber to challenge the first chamber (as distinct from merely tidying up and improving its work) should be relatively weak--in total contrast, for example, to the powers possessed by the United States Senate?
I suggest that the attributes required of such a hopefully influential, but undoubtedly subordinate, second chamber include the following (in no particular order of merit). First, it should contain a large number of independent-minded people, whether or not they take the party Whip, who are prepared to challenge the accepted wisdom of the moment without having constantly to look over their shoulders at constituency selection committees or the tabloid press. I have had the privilege of sitting in the same Chamber as the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for more than 30 years. I disagree with the noble Earl on at least 75 per cent. of the occasions when he speaks. However, is it not an excellent thing that there is one Member (to use the word loosely) of Parliament who is prepared to stand up and champion sometimes very unpopular prisoners serving life sentences, whether or not one happens to agree with him? No elected Member would dare to do so for fear of instant deselection.
Secondly, it should be comprised mainly of people who have the time and inclination to go through Bills line by line, comma by comma. It is an enormous privilege to be able to contribute, but it is inevitably often arduous and time-consuming and sometimes tedious. The large number of well-meaning individuals who maintain that a second chamber should be packed full of captains of industry, eminent heart surgeons and trade union leaders are frankly naive. Such people, as my noble friend Lord Annan reminded us, never have the time and rarely the inclination for such work.
Fourthly, it should contain a preponderance of people without political ambition. The politically ambitious tend to believe that all ills can be cured by more and more legislation. Those without political ambition are more inclined to be sceptical and suspicious of ever-growing regulation and general bossiness.
Fifthly, although the second Chamber should be essentially senatorial, in the Roman sense, with a preponderance of mature people, it should also include a good sprinkling of younger people, including a handful of the very young, which, in this context, means people in their early 20s.
Sixthly, it should not of course be populist, but nor should it be elitist. A House composed exclusively of ivory tower dwellers who maintain, for example, that the public are making far too much fuss about crime, would be a big mistake.
Seventhly, it should naturally contain people from a wide variety of backgrounds with a very wide range of opinions. However, all of them should be prepared to observe the civilities and respect the customs of the House. They should avoid excessive partisanship, and above all be prepared to learn from one another. I was most interested to hear the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford making the same point in a most interesting speech.
My eighth and last desirable attribute is this. Writing in today's Daily Telegraph, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, claimed that some people can decide--that was the word--on the laws that govern our country by an accident of birth. But that is not true. The elected Chamber ultimately decides, as is right and proper. All we can do is to insert amendments, some of which the Government accept and some of which they reject. Normally, that is the end of the story. There are occasional exceptions. In 1976, the House threw out the dangerous proposal to extend the scope of the dock labour scheme. But the people who ultimately scuppered that were not Members of this House, hereditary or otherwise, but two rebel Labour MPs, Mr. Brian Walden and Mr. John Mackintosh. That is the only exception I can think of.
However, one must accept that whenever the House of Commons and the Government reject Lords' amendments in their entirety, the consequent delay, albeit slight, is a mild irritant and one must expect a Labour Government to try to minimise the number of times they experience that irritation. Therefore, it is desirable that any gross political imbalance should be redressed.
Add all those desirable attributes together, plus a few others, and what do you get? You get a House composed very much as it is at present, but with some infrequent participants deprived of the right to vote on government Bills. There is no reason why they should not vote on private Bills or Private Member's Bills, table Questions and so on, but they should be deprived of the right to vote on government Bills.
Who would be excluded? First, naturally, the backwoodsmen who did so much harm to the reputation of this House at the time of the poll tax debate, although it was not entirely their fault, it was more the fault, I suspect, of the over-zealous Conservative Whips. The backwoodsmen would still be allowed to come down from the Outer Hebrides or wherever once a year to speak on the plight of hill farmers or whatever. But they would not be allowed to vote. If that move still leaves too much of a political imbalance, we would have to turn to some of those who dwell in forests much nearer the Palace of Westminster. By virtue of their proximity, they can emerge from their thickets more regularly, to attend on an almost daily basis. But delightful though they may be as individuals, they contribute little to the
These relatively modest changes would remove virtually all the Labour Party's legitimate grievances, with the accent on the word "legitimate". But what if I am over-optimistic? What if the delicate constitutional balance which has served us so well for decades and which has so far permitted our second Chamber to exist with relatively weak powers is upset? Suppose that the sinister skills of the spin doctors, soundbite merchants and other propagandists, bolstered by support from influential mass-circulation tabloid newspapers--which have no parallel in continental Europe or North America--turn out to give the Executive ever more effective power which a heavily whipped lower House containing a high proportion of office-holders is unable to curb?
If that is the sad prognosis, then we are in wholly new territory. The upper House will clearly have to flex its muscles much more. This muscle flexing can only be legitimised by having 60 per cent. plus of its membership elected: to that extent and that extent alone I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood. Pending the election, if it happens, of the new elected Peers, why could not the more active hereditary Peers keep their seats warm for them?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for initiating the debate. She appeared to suggest that almost all hereditary Peers are out of touch. I think she said that only 2 per cent. of hereditary Peers claim to be working class. I do not claim to be working class. How can I, as I am public school educated? I do not like blowing my own trumpet, even quietly, but what I can claim is that I can operate a variety of machine tools. I am able to weld by gas, electric arc or metal inert gas. Also, not only do I hold a class one HGV licence but I am qualified to train people to drive such vehicles and have done so commercially. I can also operate heavy commercial recovery vehicles. As a result, I am well able to communicate and relate to people in the black hand industries.
But clearly being purely hands on is not good enough. To be of any use to Parliament you need to have suitable education and management experience. Part of the skill I offer is being able quickly to understand technical matters using my practical experience. I know that I will not be alone among hereditary Peers with that kind of hands-on experience. It so happens that today I was discussing the Authorisation of Special Types (General) Order, the Authorisation of Special Types, Special Order, the Vehicle Excise Act and the law as it applies to engineering plant. In particular, I was discussing whether it was correct for vehicle excise duty on roadsweepers to be on the basis of their design weight or actual weight--all highly technical matters.
The noble Baroness, her predecessor the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and her right honourable friend the Prime Minister make much of the fact that there are rather a lot of Conservative hereditary Peers but only 18 Labour ones. It is interesting to note, however, that on the Labour Back-Benches 25 per cent. are hereditary Peers at the moment. They conveniently choose to forget that there are just over 200 Cross Bench hereditary Peers who have not joined the Conservative Party or the Labour Party.
One has to ask: how has the House been put into this undesirable situation? Indeed, why am I sitting on the Conservative Benches and why are Labour hereditary Peers such a rare breed? When I took the Conservative Whip, I knew that I would have to answer some interesting questions, particularly as to how my grandfather would have felt. He was above all a realist. I was not surprised by the comment of my noble friend Lord Baker that at the Oxford Union it had been said that although the House of Lords was in theory indefensible--it is--it should be left alone because it worked rather well. I believe that it does but that it requires evolution.
I have no difficulty in taking the Conservative Whip because both the Labour and Conservative parties are very different from when my grandfather was active in front-line politics. Furthermore, the challenges faced by government and society today are completely different even from those of the early 1950s. We have come a long way since then thanks to the efforts of successive post-war governments. Sadly, the challenges that a new Labour hereditary Peer would face are much steeper. One can imagine the question being asked, "How do you feel about parliamentary euthanasia?" As soon as the Labour Party dispensed with clause 4 and the loony left it became electable. The Government are still very popular and their position on the political spectrum is not wildly different from that of the Conservative party. Apart from the future of your Lordships' House, there are stark differences on constitutional matters. I cannot for the life of me understand the attraction to devolution and I do not believe in their economic policy. I may be horribly wrong. Devolution may work very well and in the next few years we may enjoy a period of unprecedented stability. Only time will tell. I am sure that there are many hereditary Peers who support devolution and other government policies but who are not on the Labour Benches. But why not? Why are there so few hereditary Peers on the Labour Benches? Could
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