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Lord Hacking: My Lords I was hoping to establish that those backwoodsmen who arrived were not the responsibility of the noble Lord. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has given a further reason why we must proceed in the way the Government propose.
We are told that the second stage will never take place. There has been much discussion during the debate about the train having left the station without the passengers knowing the destination. Peers seem to have forgotten the nature of the debate. This is not the Second Reading of the Bill for the reform of the House of Lords. It is a debate in which the Government have asked for the views of the House. It is a debate to which the Government have expressly stated that they wish to listen; and, having listened to it, the Government will publish their White Paper and propose the terms of reference of the Royal Commission.
The Government have listened. My noble friend Lady Jay heard almost every speech yesterday. The noble Baroness has not been able to be in the House the whole of today. My noble friend Lord Williams has sat almost constantly for two days in your Lordships' House--for 14 hours--taking no refreshment. In my recollection, his steadfastness is matched only by the jury in the Penn and Mead trial of September 1670. The court ordered the jury to be kept all night for 14 hours or more,
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene. I apologise. However, is the noble Lord aware that there are two types of listening? Of course one can sit and listen. But what the noble Baroness the Leader of the House proposed was that the Government should take stock and listen with an open mind. That is quite different from sitting and just listening.
To have the views of your Lordships expressed in the debate, before the White Paper, before the publication of the terms of reference of the Royal Commission, demonstrates to me that they are a listening Government.
Let us finally hit on the head the notion that we shall not go to the second stage. After we have gone, the answer to that lies exclusively with the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish--I do not see him in the Chamber at present--and the 172 other Conservative life Peers. It is for them to show their mettle. Let them exercise the authority that they undoubtedly have. Let them refuse a Second Reading after debate when the Bill is sent from the House of Commons, ill drafted and ill considered. Let them refuse a Third Reading in your Lordships' House, when the Bill is still in an unsatisfactory state. Let them refuse a First Reading in your Lordships' House of a government Bill first produced here. If they do that, I guarantee that the House of Commons will move rapidly to the second stage.
In the meantime, it is time for we hereditary Peers to leave in dignity, in the words of my noble friend Lord Shepherd. I know that my noble friend Lady Jay also wishes us to be allowed to leave in dignity.
Last night my noble friend Viscount Thurso said that when he was asked by the Whips' Office to be the last speaker from these Benches last night he felt like a comma in the proceedings. It is even more daunting to be considered a full stop at the end of a debate which has had more than 100 speeches.
When I was asked to carry out this task, it reminded me of an occasion some years ago when I went to give a fraternal address to the conference of the German Liberal Party. I was sitting on the platform beside their leader, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, and the time for my important address on the future of Europe and the world was passing by as the debate went on and on and on about some obscure topic concerning the operation of the European Commission. In exasperation I turned to Genscher and I said "Has not everything that needs to be said on this topic been said?" He said "My dear David, you are absolutely right. But you do not understand. Not everybody has yet said it."
There was a real danger that that might have happened in this debate. It is a tribute to your Lordships' House that there has been remarkably little repetition. In these 100 or so speeches there have been literally hundreds of proposals quite constructively brought forward from all quarters of the House for the Royal Commission to consider.
It is well known that on these Benches we come from two streams of thought in one river. My noble friend Lord Rodgers is unencumbered by the aura or baggage of previous Liberal leaders. I, unfortunately, am not. I remember that David Lloyd-George, one of my distinguished predecessors, described the House of Lords as 500 ordinary men chosen accidentally from among the unemployed. He seemed to think that he was improving matters if he chose them accidentally instead of from those who had very large bank balances.
The main argument that has run through the debate--particularly from the Benches on my left--has been whether the Government are right to proceed in two stages or whether we should demand that we have the whole of the reforms at one time. Others have adopted a half-way house, saying that they would accept stage one if they could have sight of stage two and so on. The Benches on the left seem to be divided between the ordinary Conservatives and the progressive Conservatives. The ordinary Conservatives are those who believe that nothing should be changed for the better; the progressive Conservatives are those who believe that it should, but not now. The general tone of the speeches was delay, delay, delay.
I will turn in a moment to press for more details, as others on my Benches have. Before I do, I draw the attention of the House to a quotation from the Prime Minister on 21st February in the other place at col. 1747 of the Official Report:
I did not know, until I delved into previous Official Reports, that, even before the introduction by the Liberal Government--and how I enjoy that phrase--of the Parliament Bill in 1911, a year before a resolution moved by the Earl of Rosebery, another distinguished former Liberal Leader, had been passed in this House in these terms with regard to the future of the House of Lords:
In that context, I found some of the language used by some noble Lords quite extraordinary. The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, announced that the Labour Party manifesto was tantamount to abolition of the House of Lords. In that case, I can say only that this House abolished itself in
However, I believe that the prize for the best distortion of the English language must go to the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, of whom I am very fond. He drew extraordinary gazes from the Bench of Bishops when he asserted that the phrase from the Sermon on the Mount that the meek shall inherit the earth was somehow biblical authority for continuation of the hereditary peerage. The truth is that opposition to a two-stage reform has been unsustainable and to maintain an unrepresentative House is no longer sustainable in present conditions.
I said that I would turn to some questions. Although the Leader of the House gave us an excellent preview of what is to happen it was a little short on detail. My noble friend Lord Rodgers was right when he said that she used the phrase "building on" in reference to the manifesto, but it was not at all clear. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, can tell us what exactly is proposed. Is the Royal Commission in place of the joint committee mentioned in the manifesto, or is it to precede the joint committee of both Houses? We should be clear about that.
We need to know a little more about the timing of the White Paper. I assume that it will spell out what the Government propose in stage one and broadly in stage two. I hope that we will have that White Paper and be able to debate it here and in the other place before we proceed to the Bill dealing with stage one.
Many noble Lords from all parts of the House asked whether it is proposed, as has been widely rumoured, that some of the hereditary Peers should be allowed to remain. I think that that is only fair. Those who have given good service to the House ought to be entitled to become life Peers, or Peers of Parliament, as my noble friend said. But how many, and when will it happen? How will it be arranged?
When I was a student of law at the University of Edinburgh, the professor of constitutional law used to tell us--and I remember the phrase precisely--that the House of Lords was the only parliamentary institution in the world which was kept efficient by the persistent absenteeism of the majority of its Members. That is undoubtedly true. We cannot go on with the numbers that we have. However, I believe that it would be only courteous to allow those who are already here, as distinct from those who will succeed them, but who are having to leave under the legal changes to have the use of the facilities of this building, as the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Fawsley, suggested--although personally I would delete the car park from that item of generosity! It was interesting that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester reminded us that retired bishops have such a facility and I do not see why others should not, too.
There is then the vexed question of the age limit. Two of my oldest friends in this House, my noble friend Lord Mackie of Benshie and the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, advocate an age limit of 75. I am not aware that we have any party policy on this matter, but it seems to me reasonable that an age limit should be introduced. The bishops have to retire at 70 and we retire ambassadors at 60. Over the years since I started in the House of Commons, the House of Commons itself has changed. When I first entered that House there were many Members in their 70s and 80s. I believe that there is now only one of whom I know who is well over the age of 70. The constituency parties of all parties have introduced an effective retirement age.
If, as one noble Lord said, we are to have carnage, one might as well have a more effective cull and introduce an age limit at the same time. But I do not like words like "cull" and "carnage". I think "ermine euthanasia" is a better alternative.
Another point which I hope the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will confirm is that after the passage of the stage one Bill those hereditary Peers who choose to stand for the House of Commons should be able to do so and certainly their successors should be able to do so.
We should like to know a little more about the responsibility in terms of appointment of the Royal Commission. The major issue which it will have to confront--and it was a recurring theme in this debate--is whether the successor House at stage two should be elected or appointed, or a mixture of both. My noble friend Lord Goodhart quoted from the preamble to the 1911 Act. It is interesting that the adjective used was not that it should be an elected assembly but that it should be a "popular" assembly. That was the word used by Mr. Asquith in the debate as well.
My noble friend Lord Wigoder gave us some thoughtful reflections on the tensions between the two Houses were we to move towards election. He was supported in that by many noble Lords--the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and the noble Lords, Lord Gordon, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish and Lord Armstrong--pointing out the danger of rivalry between the Houses if we have elections. Indeed, that is what happened--and I remember it well because I was there at the time--in the debates in the House of Commons in 1968.
One has only to look at the United States to realise that the prestige of a senator is much greater than that of a congressman. I do not see the other place agreeing to any such future arrangement here in this House.
I am well aware that I fought many elections arguing for a wholly-elected second Chamber. Colleagues in my party used to say that I never really knew what party policy was on any particular issue. That was an image I liked to cultivate because it avoided the embarrassment of having to espouse policies with which I did not agree. But I understand that our current position is that we think it should be 80 per cent. elected and 20 per cent. appointed. I believe that that should be an issue for much wider public debate and certainly for scrutiny by the Royal Commission.
Secondly, there is the issue of the powers. A number of noble Lords have made the sensible suggestion--and I believe it is in the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern--that issues such as human rights, our relations with Europe and, as my noble friends Lady Linklater and Lord Bath said, dealing also with the future issues of the devolved parliaments and the regions of England.
Then there is the extremely important point made by my noble friend Lord Phillips in a remarkable and refreshing speech about the need for public consultation on the changes. I believe that the Royal Commission mechanism provides an opportunity for a much wider public debate than would have been possible simply by a committee of both Houses. That is a very important point.
In the meantime, before we have the Royal Commission, we shall have that other commission which is to appoint the life Peers to this place in future. I unhesitatingly congratulate the Prime Minister on the decision to give up his personal power of patronage. But how is that commission to be appointed? Is the noble Lord, Lord Williams, able to tell us any more about that?
Much more important than the present power of the Prime Minister to appoint, which is open to objection, is the power of veto. My noble friend Lord Harris was remarkably restrained this afternoon when he failed to pick up the point made by my noble friend Lord Addington yesterday about the quite disgraceful treatment of this party during the period of the previous government. In the 12 years that I was Leader of the Liberal Party I was allowed to nominate only one working Peer to this place. There were, admittedly, four others who were retiring on dissolution lists as retired Members of the other place and three who were distinguished public servants who happened then to come and sit on our Benches. But that is a total of eight in 12 years. I am happy to say that under Prime Minister Major and Prime Minister Blair the number has gone up to 30 in eight years and is much more reasonable.
But I remember going with Lady Seear, who was then leader of my party, to see the Prime Minister and argue that we had Members in their 80s acting as Front-Bench spokesmen here and our numbers were dwindling. We have a saying in Scotland: there are occasions when you should save your porridge to cool your breath. I can assure your Lordships that that was one of them, because we got absolutely nowhere. We were left with the technique of pursuing at funerals of our departed brethren the eldest sons. As soon as the coffin was decently in the ground we would inquire gently as to whether they would be taking our Whip. That was no way to maintain numbers in a second Chamber, and the process of appointment on a proper basis is, I am sure, the right one.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I rise to wind up the debate on behalf of the Opposition with a sense of regret, a sense of disappointment that we have not attracted enough speakers to reach a third day. It has been a pre-legislative debate. That in itself is unusual. It has been a good experiment and I very much hope that the Government Chief Whip and the noble Baroness the Leader of the House will consider these kind of debates in the future. I hope that the right reverend Prelate will not find it impertinent if I say that one of the most striking elements has been the magnificent sight of so many right reverend Prelates listening to the discussion. It may well be that there has been a meeting of the House of Bishops, but they are always welcome here, particularly when we are discussing the future of this House.
The noble Baroness the Leader of the House began by saying that she was going to listen. She spent a few minutes explaining exactly why she was going to listen, but then rather spoilt it by saying that the Government's position was unequivocal and that they had decided to introduce the Bill. I hope that, some 30 hours later, this debate will have convinced her to do otherwise.
I sense two clear themes. The first is how little the Government know about how to continue the debate; the second is the desire from so many of your Lordships to see a real reform of this House and not just limited change. Sadly, nothing has been said by the Government during the course of the past two days of debate which can give anyone any comfort that they wish to improve the quality of government in this country or that the Government want the House of Lords to play a greater part in keeping the executive in check. Even worse, we have not received many illuminating answers.
The noble Baroness the Leader of the House set out the Government's policy. We thank her for that. But perhaps for the service of the House I can sum up what I understand her to have said in response to questions raised by noble Lords, not just in this debate, but over the course of the past 18 months. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, will correct me if I am wrong. To the question, "What do you intend to do with this House of Parliament in future?", the answer is,"We will set up a process by which we will explore further steps." That to me, in plain English, means "We don't know." To the question, "When will you detail your plans?", the Government say, "What we need to be immediately precise about will be announced shortly." If you can understand that, well done. To the question, "When will a reformed House of Lords be created?", the answer is, "We don't know." To the question, "Will there be a guarantee of stage two before stage one is
Can it really be that the Government know so little, as my noble Friend Lord Ferrers put it, about where they are leading this House and this Parliament? Can it be that they have thought so little and said so little because they care so little? Those are very serious charges against the Government.
There has been no shortage of Green Papers recently. We have had Green Papers on the modification of bailiff certification procedures, casino deregulation, fees for driving licences, wind energy and seed regulation. Green Papers on 62 other topics were published during the summer Recess. But until this less-than-illuminating debate we have had nothing on one of the biggest changes in our upper House of Parliament in its centuries-old history. I think this House deserves a little more.
The noble Baroness the Leader of the House gave us a little glimpse, a little hint, of something welcome--a Royal Commission. A flood of questions came from all around the House, including just now from the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood: when, who, how long, what terms? There are no details so far. Why go to all the trouble, pain and anguish--and there will be all of those--of removing the hereditary Peers while the Royal Commission is still sitting? Why, oh why-- I suspect that the Government will regret this--if the debate of the last 18 months is to result in a Royal Commission, did they not do it a year ago? This debate would then have been about the report of the Royal Commission. It would have been about real reform, not ersatz reform.
Is there any evidence that the Government have been doing any thinking at all over the last few months? After the election we were told that a Cabinet sub-committee had been created to examine the issue, chaired by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. Its members comprised the then Leader of your Lordships' House, the noble Lord, Lord Richard; the Leader of another place, Ann Taylor; the Government Chief Whips of both Houses, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and Nick Brown; Peter Mandelson; and Jack Straw, the Home Secretary--seven people in all.
When the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, replies, can he tell us whether that sub-committee has been reconvened or reappointed since the reshuffle? Has it met? Has it decided anything? If he cannot tell me now, perhaps he will write to me.
I welcome the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to this debate. He is the chairman of the sub-committee. He has not been present much during the debate. I know that he has many other important duties to perform, but I hope that he will read the report of the debate. If he does, he will find some rich material to help him in his endeavours as he chairs that sub-committee.
Right at the heart of government there is a dilemma. Do the Government want to see genuine reform of this House encompassing all current Members? Do they want to give a new body greater powers or even greater confidence to use the powers that this House currently possesses, or do they simply wish to tinker with the House for their own ends?
What are the Government's motives? For a while it has been popularly assumed that what the Government wanted was a policy that would unite the Labour Party; appeal in particular to the old Left and new Blairites alike; give no problem in the constituencies; please the trade unions; and not unduly fuss the electorate. Hey presto, their answer was to dig out the "Reform the Lords" file from the archives: kick out the hereditary Peers, promise long-term reform, a problem-free policy initiative, and thus give the Labour Party some cover for not having any policy on practically anything else in the run-up to the general election. That is an old idea that would fit in neatly with their ideas on other parts of the constitution, especially devolution. They may yet regret part of that package sooner than they think.
In fact, as time passes something far more sinister is coming out of the woodwork for increasingly this debate on the reform of the Lords is about the Government neutering criticism of what they do wherever they find it and however small that criticism might be. Have the Government really suffered at the hands of this House during the course of this Parliament in the past 18 months?
This is a debate about obedience. The Labour Party wants a House that will do its bidding as much as the Commons does. The Labour Party wants an obedient House. Yet what the country needs is not a House that will always do what it is told, but one which, by its very existence, is institutionally independent. Achieving a measure of institutional independence is central to the Conservative view of the future of this House.
Perhaps I may take two major issues which have recurred again and again during the course of this debate. The first is the question of balance. It was first raised by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House and many others. In particular it was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. I can understand why he raised it. We were told that it is one of the biggest problems; namely, the preponderance of Tory hereditary Peers. If that is the biggest problem, then I ask the Government: is the only solution to get rid of the hereditaries entirely? Is there no other way in which to deal with the problem?
Perhaps I may suggest some alternatives. First, leave of absence. Could we not improve the scheme on leave of absence and provide incentives and encouragement? Could not noble Lords opposite introduce a qualification for attendance in order to vote? That would have the beauty of dealing with Members of your Lordships' House who are life Peers as well hereditary Peers. And what about the case made for representative Peers made so eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster? Have the Government written off all these ideas and suggestions before they run headlong into the complete destruction of the hereditary Peerage in your Lordships' House?
There is another unbridgeable gulf which, simply put, is this. We do not believe that the Government will ever get round to stage two. I recognise that for many noble Lords opposite, including the Government, their intentions on this subject must be pure. But when one listened to my noble friends Lord Baker of Dorking, Lord Alexander of Weedon and the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and many others, using the experience which they have had in government and in other places, they simply do not believe that stage two will ever happen. It is one of the Government's stated intentions that stage two will happen. Throwing in some healthy scepticism one really begins to believe that it is never going to happen at all.
From listening to the debate in your Lordships' House over the past two days there are many noble Lords who do not believe in stage two at all. They are very happy to have an appointed House and certainly do not want an elected House. I agree with those who have said, as did the noble Lord, Lord Richard, that the time may have come when reform of this House is possible; that there is a genuine momentum building up to push through fundamental reform. But as my noble friend Lord Cranborne said at the start of this debate, it may well be that the best guarantee that genuine reform takes place would be not to move on stage one now.
Indeed, to reverse what the noble Baroness said, I believe that the removal of hereditary Peers now may actually ensure that stage two will simply not happen. All the motivation that drives the Labour Party will have gone and all the fear of ceding powers that has deterred governments and another place from acting across the years will remain. The points that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, made a few moments ago in continually referring to 1911 are as true now as they were then. If we have a stage one without a stage two we may have to wait another 87 years before we have this debate all over again.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, will say in his speech that all this is a ploy to delay much-needed reform of the House. He is smiling. I expect that he has it written down. He will have come prepared, no doubt, with a long list of the failings of hereditary Peers. He will be armed with a statistic for everything to prove that the hereditaries are Tories and reactionary and, therefore, must be done away with at once. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, believes that. He will say that a system based on accident of birth is so fundamentally wrong that we cannot wait for a more comprehensive reform; and, of course, he will say that we, the Conservatives, are not really interested in reform at all and that we just want to defend the hereditary system.
Here is my advice to the Minister. If that is his speech, why does he not just put it away and tell us what the Government's plans are for long-term reform? He does not just owe it to us, he owes it to the nation,
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