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We have an unwritten constitution in this country which, like the common law, is based on precedent. It is very flexible and lively, and every Member of this House and the other place has sworn an oath intending to sustain it. The constitution can be changed, and regularly is changed, after due thought and consultation. This is evolution. It is necessary and quite legitimate; but to change the constitution of our kingdom arbitrarily and peremptorily is not legitimate. Radical changes of one element of our parliamentary constitution--in this case the proposal to abolish the voting rights and the attendance of more than half of the Members of this House--would alter not just the constitution of this House but the whole constitution of the country.
My belief is that every member of this House and every member of another place has a duty to perform, and a trust to keep, to ensure that the constitution is not abused. My concern is that the proposals in the White Paper are abusive and not legitimate. It must be wrong to exclude more than half of this House from the discussion and determination of what should succeed it.
The minimalist argument that the proposals were included in the Labour manifesto before the last election in no way eliminates our duty as trustees of the constitution. The Salisbury Convention, not quite as young a creature as the manifesto, was in no way intended or designed to apply in such circumstances. The argument that the Government must be trusted to complete the new constitution of this House seems to me to be quite false. A trustee can take nothing on trust. The existing members of this House must have an opportunity to see the serious proposals of what is intended to replace it before they can legitimately accept disenfranchisement. If not, we are left with individual breaches of trust as well as a broken constitution.
If there was a hidden agenda to undermine our constitution--for instance, to make it so pliant and dominated by the Executive that it could easily be subsumed into the great European federation--I could at least see a reason for this constitutional vandalism. However, if the objective is truly to modernise and improve this House and the way it works, the two-stage approach is very naive and foolish and/or vindictive as well as being wrong. If legitimacy was an honest desire it could easily be accomplished by waiting on the Royal Commission. Then the issue could be resolved smoothly, quickly and without rancour.
I have no great emotional ties to this House, apart from delight in its courtesy and the many friends I have made here. I am a new boy. My father, Ralph Assheton, was a first creation Peer who served many years in the other place. However, I do have emotional ties to the other place for, although I have never had the privilege of sitting there, more than 20 Asshetons, kinsmen and forebears of mine, have done so over the centuries.
The first I know of was Sir John Assheton who was called there in 1323. Ten generations later, Ralph Assheton, who served in the Long Parliament, and was originally a staunch parliamentarian, became so appalled by the outcome of his support for Cromwell, which had resulted in the murder of the King and the destruction of both Houses of Parliament, that in his will he left all his unentailed property to the orphaned son of his cousin. That cousin, who died fighting at Edgehill, was my direct ancestor and we live in the house which his son inherited. I can see that Ralph Assheton standing now at the Bar of the House supporting what I have been saying today, "Don't embark on a constitutional revolution without realising what damage you are doing and what the outcome will be".
Lord Ellenborough: My Lords, it is with something of a shock that I recall that I made my maiden speech in the distant days of the Attlee administration. I mention that because however much one may have disagreed with his policies, Mr. Attlee--later, of course, Earl Attlee--was a Prime Minister with high principles. I simply cannot believe that he would have cynically compromised his position in the way in which the present Prime Minister is apparently prepared to do in retaining some hereditary Peers.
Today we have a Prime Minister who, apart from a ruthless pursuit of power and a pathological obsession with the media to the exclusion of Parliament, does not seem to believe in anything much--not even, when it comes to the crunch, in expelling hereditary Peers. After denigrating them and pouring buckets of garbage at them for years, we now have this cynical manoeuvre implying that they are not so bad after all--at any rate, some of them are not so bad--provided, of course, that they behave themselves and that there are no Passchendaeles, no pitched battles and perhaps not even a skirmish. What is so serious for the nation is that the Prime Minister is not just careless but downright irresponsible over the constitution.
It is now the turn of this House to bear the brunt of the Government's constitutional vandalism. As a result of pressure there is to be a Royal Commission, but one that is hemmed in by too tight a timetable and barely concealed instructions. There is an overemphasis on stating the obvious, such as that the second Chamber must neither usurp nor threaten the supremacy of the first Chamber. "Translated" into "Blair-speak", that simply points to a reduction in the existing powers of the second Chamber. However, even now, the powers of the second Chamber permit only a token delay, but it can, of course, be troublesome to an arrogant government displaying dictatorial tendencies if this House draws public attention to something that it believes to be wrong.
Perhaps I may refer to the Weatherill proposals. No one has really had an opportunity to examine the small print; some would say, "not even the large print". Why is there apparently the proposal to retain 91 hereditary Peers? Why 91? The principle has been conceded, so why not 151 or 131, which would allow a place and a role for some of the part-time Parliamentarians, the importance of which is cogently outlined by my noble friend Lord Coleraine in the interesting paper which he recently circulated? I saw my noble friend in his place a few moments ago, and he will no doubt elaborate on that later.
One weakness of the Weatherill ideas, which my noble friend's proposals would avoid, is that the media would surely have a field day at the spectacle of unelected legislators electing some from among themselves as future legislators. That would open the House to ridicule and could produce very odd results and be divisive. I am afraid that it must be said that if hereditary Peers are wrong, as according to this Government they are, then they are all wrong. That is the logic of the Government's proposals.
The Weatherill proposals could unwittingly prove a trap as, once enacted, there might be little incentive by either side to proceed further with any urgency. The Conservatives and the Cross-Benchers might well be inclined to feel that as at least the nucleus of their hereditary Peers remains, so why tempt providence with a full reform? Likewise, the Government might well feel that having got rid of 90 per cent. of hereditary Peers, it would be best to avoid getting bogged down in endless discussions and controversy over the perhaps not very amenable conclusions of the Royal Commission. Therefore, it is possible that instead of a bad Bill being made slightly less bad, a bad Bill could be made even worse.
In many ways, I think that the best solution is that proposed by my noble friend Lord Windlesham and others. I refer to the proposal to pass in this Session a Bill ending the rights of hereditary Peers to sit and to vote, but for the commencement of the Act not to take place until the Royal Commission has reported and legislation is introduced to establish a fully reformed Chamber. Most importantly, that would give the Government a real incentive to get on and to implement the findings of the Royal Commission.
The Royal Commission has been set a tight and strict timetable. It is to be hoped that it will not be too hedged in by hints and strictures about what the Government would like--obviously, that is a largely nominated House, with even fewer powers than now. A largely nominated House would be a House with too many cronies--not just Tony's cronies, but William's cronies, Paddy's cronies and, dare I say it although it is absolute sacrilege to suggest it, there may even be one or two cronies of the noble Lord the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers.
If hereditary Peers are to go and if any full reform is to make any sense at all, the main defects of the existing House--its lack of legitimacy and its inability to exert its powers--must require a relatively high proportion of elected Members, either elected directly or at least by one of the more open forms of PR as opposed to the totalitarian closed list so beloved of this Government. A token 10 or 20 per cent. would not do; 50 per cent. probably would. A further advantage of an elected element is that it would provide a means for younger members to enter a reformed House. That is most important. Such a second Chamber could hardly contribute a threat to any normal government. But of course, the present Government are not a normal government. They have marginalised and diminished the other place almost to vanishing point--all the more reason for the Royal Commission to apply itself to determining an appropriate form of election for part of the second Chamber. The nominated part of the House should be able to include most of the existing life Peers who wish to remain, and would thus provide continuity.
Lord Harding of Petherton: My Lords, I telephoned the Government Whips' Office on Friday to say that I would not be speaking in this debate but obviously the message did not get through and, as my name remains on the list of speakers, perhaps I had better make one or two brief remarks.
I sincerely hope that the transitional House will not continue for long and that the Royal Commission will come up with proposals that will be acceptable to most people and to most of the political parties. I hope that the Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament will agree to proposals that can achieve a consensus. This is a most difficult problem and I do not envy my noble friend Lord Wakeham, who is the chairman of the Royal Commission, or the other members of it.
With reference to the phrase in the White Paper that a reformed second Chamber will make government better, perhaps I may point out that governments are there to govern and that legislators in both Houses are there to legislate. In our system, the majority party in the House of Commons supports the Government. Therefore, the Government must have their way, as they must in this House also.
I hope that the composition and the powers that are finally agreed for this House will enable the second Chamber to have the legitimacy and the authority to oppose measures which come from the House of
Lord Monson: My Lords, the attractive layout and mainly moderate language of the White Paper conceal a number of arguable propositions. Foremost among them is the assertion on page 5 of the document that there is in this country now,
Our tradition is one of gradual change--evolution not revolution. Indeed, the White Paper itself concedes (in the last paragraph of Chapter 3) that the House of Lords has already "changed significantly" in the course of this century, to the extent that many of the criticisms justifiably levelled at it in earlier years are no longer valid. Because of our tradition of gradualism, it is by no means impossible that the Royal Commission could decide that the nation would be best served by a slightly modified version of the status quo.
Therefore, to proceed with stage one in the manner proposed could, effectively, pre-empt the commission's findings. This, together with the fact that stage two is now scheduled to come into effect much sooner than appeared to be the case when we last debated the matter, is another reason for having second thoughts about stage one. "But what about Labour's manifesto commitment?", someone may demand--to which I would reply that no one with a shred of intellectual honesty could seriously contend that more than a tiny fraction of the very small proportion of the electorate who ever read party manifestos from cover to cover voted Labour purely because of the promise to abolish the voting and speaking rights of the hereditary Peers as soon as possible.
However, that is not to argue against some interim changes pending the report of the Royal Commission. A great many hereditary Peers in all quarters of the House, most notably and recently the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, speaking earlier this afternoon, have for long expressed disquiet about the "backwoodsmen" having the right to vote, as distinct from the right to speak. In addition, I have for long felt that Back-Bench hereditary Peers should be strongly discouraged from taking any party Whip, unless they happen to be strongly committed already to any one or other political party. If changes in those two spheres alone had been implemented 20-odd years ago, we should have been spared the appalling spectacle of dozens of backwoodsmen being dragooned in to vote, for the most part reluctantly, for contentious legislation introduced by the previous administration--episodes which did so
However, culling the backwoodsmen, metaphorically speaking of course, and depoliticising the bulk of the remainder of the hereditary peerage, would not be quite sufficient. Although a Labour Government's defeats by the inbuilt Conservative majority in this House are almost invariably quickly reversed and rarely delay Bills for more than a fortnight, they are undoubtedly an irritant: they offend Labour's amour propre, and I can well understand why the Government demand changes. But I submit that this problem could be tackled in one of three ways, without throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
The first option is to limit the voting rights of hereditaries to the 160-odd who are regular attenders. The second option would be to adopt the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, in a very well-thought-out submission, whereby all hereditaries would be debarred from voting on the later stages of government Bills. No doubt we will hear something about this from the noble Lord later this evening. The third option would be to adopt essentially the proposal of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, to remove voting but not speaking rights from all hereditary Peers. The first option probably does not go far enough; the third would seem to go needlessly far. However, the proposal from the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine--or some variation of it--would surely meet all Labour's legitimate grievances, pending the implementation of stage two.
Why do I suggest that the Royal Commission might recommend some variation of the status quo, as opposed to radical reform? First, because reading through the White Paper one is struck by the fact that this House, as at present constituted, does just what the Government expect of it in terms of thoroughly scrutinising legislation, and so on, at least 90 per cent. of the time. However illogical its composition may be, the place works.
Secondly, let us consider the alternatives. An all-nominated House, consisting mainly of "the great and the good" would be excessively elitist. Conversely, a directly-elected House would be subject to the same tabloid pressures as the House of Commons, with all that that entails in terms of hastily-introduced panic legislation. Clashes between the directly-elected Lords and the directly-elected Commons would replicate clashes between the United States Senate and the House of Representatives.
What about a House that is half directly elected and half nominated? That would evoke the same sort of response from this Government as we have had where hereditary Peers are concerned; for example, statements to the effect that, "The Government would have won such and such a Division by 29 votes had it not been for the wretched undemocratically nominated Peers".
As for indirect elections, here I have to disagree most strongly with my noble friend Lord Walton. Indirect elections would be dangerously corporatist and liable to produce the same sort of result as we saw in Wales the day before yesterday, where the will of the individual voter was overridden by the will of the institutions.
I turn finally to the amendment tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde; that is to say, the 30-something Lord Strathclyde to whom I, too, offer my congratulations today. As my noble friend Lord Weatherill, with his enormous experience in both Houses, has often reminded us: the House of Commons needs reforming far more than the House of Lords. One of the main problems in the other place is that there are far too many office-holders--paid and unpaid, actual and aspiring. Only two or three dozen individualists from both major parties who are content to remain Back Benchers almost in perpetuity can afford to be mavericks, or thorns in the flesh of authority. Therefore, much of the burden of challenging the executive must continue to be borne by this House, which, for obvious reasons, contains far fewer politically ambitious individuals than the House of Commons. For that reason alone, I believe that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, should be supported tomorrow.
The Earl of Liverpool: My Lords, I should like to begin my remarks by joining with other noble Lords in wishing my noble friend Lord Strathclyde a very happy birthday. I should also like to assure him that, if he presses his amendment tomorrow, I shall join him in the Lobby.
The timing of the debate is a little unusual--as, indeed, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, pointed out--in that it has already reached the Committee stage in the other place, while we are still considering the White Paper. However, in some ways that is an advantage because it gives us an insight into how the other place views the landscape. If I may, that is a subject to which I shall return a little later.
The fact that our constitution is unwritten is its enduring strength; but in times of a mad dash for change or, to use the current spin word, "modernisation", it is also its weakness. I say this because the sum of our constitutional elements intertwine in ways which cannot always be foreseen. If change is embarked upon with all the enthusiasm that those opposite would wish, there is little doubt that it will take us in unpredictable directions. Constitutional changes already enacted by this Government bear witness to that fact.
I am one of those who believe that the removal of the hereditary Peers will undoubtedly weaken the position of our sovereign and once that delicate balance has been removed, or tinkered with, who can predict what an over-mighty executive with a tendency to bypass Parliament might take it upon itself to do? We should be under no illusion that the monarchy is under very real threat. We cannot, and indeed should not, anticipate the outcome of the Royal Commission, but one proposal gaining ground is a part elected, or even a fully elected Upper House. It is suggested that we might have regionally elected Members of your Lordships' House and that this would include representatives possibly from Scotland and Wales. I find this somewhat confusing because the Government are embarking on a policy of ceding power to the regions by setting up unicameral parliaments and assemblies and then apparently hoping for elections to take place in those
I do not think there is much doubt that the majority of the public favour the retention of a bicameral system at Westminster but getting rid of the hereditary Peers without knowing what you are eventually going to land up with is the first step along a road which, in my view, jeopardises the very future of this system. If any of your Lordships doubt what I am saying, I pray in aid a speech made in another place when the Bill received its Second Reading. I quote from the speech of the honourable Member for Medway, Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews, who stated,
The noble Baroness the Leader of the House said today that we should not give ground to unicameralists. I entirely agree with her, but can she control her party? When I first came to your Lordships' House 30 years ago at the age of 24 I was quite possibly the youngest Peer to sit and I was in much need of wise counsel from my elders and betters. There is one anecdote which stands out in my mind at that time. It was the occasion when the Chief Whip of my party, the late lamented Lord St. Aldwyn, spoke to me about what "taking the Whip" entailed in your Lordships' House. His words to me went roughly like this, "If you come to this House because of a party Whip and you do not sit in the Chamber and listen to the debate, then we would expect you to vote with the party. But if you listen to the arguments in the Chamber and, in all conscience, you do not feel able to vote with the party, then you should vote with your conscience". I tell that anecdote simply because I believe that this great privilege which fell by accident of birth upon my shoulders carries with it some responsibilities and duties. The advice I received at that time has, I believe, helped me to discharge those.
Having the luxury of being true to oneself is a rare commodity in politics. I only hope that I have not tested the patience of my Front Bench too much at times when my conscience has parted with that of my party. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, who is not present, can accept what I say because I know that it runs somewhat counter to the remarks he made during the humble Address last year. I tell this story simply because I fear that if the future membership of your Lordships' House goes down the electoral route, the power of the party Whips will increase, to say nothing of the pressures which might come from certain powerful minorities in the electorate, which those elected are serving, and the conscience vote will become a rare thing indeed. This House will be in danger of becoming simply a shadow of the other place.
On the subject of an elected, or part elected, upper House, I have another fear and that is election fatigue of the electorate. The British public currently have to--or perhaps I should say are invited--turn out for general elections, county council elections, local parish elections and European elections. In the future they are apparently to be asked to turn out for House of Lords or senate elections. We already know that the turnout for European elections is around 30 per cent. or less and may well fall further this year as a result of the ill-advised closed list system. Voter fatigue is a very real possibility.
I should now like to turn to the value-for-money question. Despite the relatively large numbers in our House, compared with any other upper house around the world, it provides extraordinarily good value. We operate at one-tenth of the cost of the House of Commons which costs in the region of £200 million per year. This will change if and when elected members arrive here. Salaries and not just expenses will be demanded, if not offered. Better office accommodation will be needed together with facilities for research workers, secretaries, etc. How long will it be before another ludicrously expensive office building similar to that over Westminster underground station is being built at a cost of over £250 million? I believe many people in our country care very much about these things and question whether we either need or want this added cost of government. But we are told that reform is coming and that a Royal Commission has been set up to report by the end of the year. That being the case, why on earth cannot the British people have the opportunity of examining the findings of that Royal Commission before the hereditary Peers have been removed? This is an action like joining the euro--there will be no turning back--so let us be sure that we fully understand the consequences of our actions.
I, like many of my noble friends, plead for nothing more than the chance to see what the Royal Commission proposes, and provided that it can be seen to be a sound method of good governance in a bicameral system, pass muster with the Select Committee, and avoid the political long grass--that is an important factor--I shall walk away from this House without a backward glance. It is simply that I see it as my duty not to walk away with the job unfinished. That would seem to me to be nothing less than irresponsible behaviour.
I support my noble friend Lord Strathclyde in asking even at this late stage for no stage one without stage two. I hope that the Royal Commission can manage the near impossible task of reporting by the end of the year because that might, just might, make it possible for that to happen. A system which has lasted for over 700 years and which by and large has served this country well should not be torn apart without seeing what will follow in its place.
Lord Norrie: My Lords, there are few Members of your Lordships' House who would still champion the right of hereditary Peers to block, change and approve the passage of Bills into law. Such arrangement is no longer acceptable in democratic society. Yet democracy itself ensures the sanctity of individual and personal rights.
My circumstance as a hereditary Peer is not based on any social or political view, but as a claimant of those individual and personal rights under law, in this House and Parliament, granted by Letters Patent.
I stand in this Chamber because I have sworn the Oath of Allegiance and because I have a right to a seat, a place and a voice in the parliaments and assemblies in the United Kingdom, according to Letters Patent, which are not revocable by Parliament or any other authority in this state. There are other solutions to reform than that which the House of Lords Bill proposes. In considering that Bill I ask, with respect, that this House and the Government look most carefully at the origins of Parliament's legislative authority and that of the Crown. Parliament's power lies in those twin pillars which uphold the British constitution called custom and convention, the greatest and most powerful example of which exists in the very process by which Parliament passes Bills into laws. Parliament's power to do this is founded entirely on the authority of customary practice. There is no statute of parliament that enacts this power. It is a power derived from custom and convention in our constitution, and conventions are law.
The rights of hereditary Peers are created by Letters Patent, which confer upon them the right to "hold and possess a seat, place and voice" in Parliament. At the time of its creation, this right is personal to the appointed Peer. Constitutionally, the Royal prerogative cannot be waived.
But all Peers also have rights acquired by custom. By denying the hereditary Peers their customary rights the Government deny the validity of customary law. A Government can do this only by using the same customary power that they use to create statutes which authority they now deny with this Bill. To remove rights acquired by custom--even using a customary power--is not lawful.
All Peers have property rights in this House. These rights have been established over the centuries--certainly from before legal memory. Such rights are firmly established in the common laws of England, and I refer the House to them. As a Peer, I have the customary personal right to enter this palace, enter this Chamber, to sit and speak in it. this is a custom that has existed
Each Peer can pursue and protect his personal right to attend this place. Each is entitled to use whatever lawful means he has, with the same vigour as he would to preserve his customary right to walk across his neighbour's field to attend church, or to land his fishing nets on another's beach, where that has been done by custom from time immemorial. This is established law.
I draw your Lordships' attention also to the human rights issues presented by the Government's Bill. The Government have stated their purpose as being a constitutional and a democratic reform. However, the Government also clearly state a political motive; that is, "to remove an embedded Conservative majority." That is a political objective, not a constitutional reform. In that context, may I draw your Lordships' interest to the case of the Turkish Communist Party, decided in 1996 by the European Court of Human Rights? This decision protects a political group (even an embedded one) from exclusion, even if its "activities" are regarded by national authorities as undermining constitutional structures of the state. Such law protects the rights of all, regardless of their politics.
Would the exclusion of a so-called embedded Conservative majority from the parliamentary process be lawful under the human rights treaty and laws? It has yet to be explained why the Bill states that it complies with human rights laws. The legality of statutes passed in such circumstances may be questioned.
As with many features of our constitution, there is a compromise between defending democratic rights and individual property and other rights. Thus, I claim my right to attend and sit in this House, a right established by Letters Patent and by custom according to the laws of property of this state. I have this customary right under the same custom and practice as does Parliament to pass laws by three readings in each House and with the Royal Assent.
I propose a compromise--that is, not to claim my right to have my vote counted. May I also propose that the Government agree to a constitutional convention with hereditary Peers? As an interim measure, at least, the hereditary Peers would continue to vote, but agree that their votes would not be counted in the process of determining the passage of Bills or the procedures of this House. Their property rights to attend, sit and debate would remain intact under customary law.
Finally, some questions need to be answered. Is not the Government's proposal for reform of this House--being an attempt to abrogate laws established by custom and enforced by the courts--also a denial of the very basis of Parliament's power? By what other authority does Parliament enact laws, other than by the practice
I propose that it would be far better to agree a convention of our constitution by which hereditary Peers accept that their votes are not counted in the making of Parliamentary rules and laws. Do not conventions have the power and effect of law in our constitution? This issue is a matter of the state, the Crown, the constitution and its customary laws. Must it be set about by politics and partisan vengeance? It is best resolved by convention and not by statute, the authority of which would be questionable and challenged. Our individual and personal rights are the basis not the result of our democracy and constitution.
Lord Rowallan: My Lords, this is the last legitimate chance that I as an hereditary Peer will have to talk about the future of your Lordships' House. Once we start discussing the Bill, then that will be the remit, not the long-term future of the Upper House within the government of Great Britain.
It seems very sad to me that this is happening at all. We are, after all, only law revisers; we are the insurance policy that the law being introduced by the other place will work. Nearly all of the amendments passed in this House are accepted in the other place. Surely we have proved ourselves over the years as both reliable and sensible. But it is very important that we, the hereditary Peers, must not be seen to be fighting for our future and our future alone. We must be seen to be fighting for the good governance of this country.
As I see it, there are only two options for the second Chamber in a modern Britain: keep it the same or change it entirely and elect it. Any mix, as has been suggested, of elected and appointed leads to two classes of Peer. We have never had that in your Lordships' House up until now, and a very good thing too.
The Government seem to prefer a selected House. The reasons for that are fairly obvious: first, the strength of the Lords increases proportionately with the demise of each hereditary Peer or with the election of any new Peer; secondly, as a consequence of that increase in power, the power of the other place diminishes. So the Government seem to favour a selected House, over which control can be kept as its Members will be beholden to the patronage of someone--not necessarily the Prime Minister, but someone.
Patronage must be unhealthy; it must lead to the stifling of personal thought and to consideration of things other than good, conscientious governance. Although it could be said that the first hereditary Peer received his title as a result of patronage, this cannot be said of any of the inheritors; they are not beholden to anyone but themselves. Packing the House with party friendly Lords can never be considered to be correct form nor to provide good governance in this day and age.
I would venture to say that if this Government were to stay in power for 10 to 15 years many of the next generation of hereditary Peers would support them. I may take the Conservative Whip, but the records will show that I have often voted against that Whip or abstained on a matter of principle. I am proud to be independent of mind in my dealings in your Lordships' House.
It is this one subject of getting rid of the hereditary peerage that shows this Government as being biased, bigoted and old Labour in thinking. That is shown in capital letters by the insistence that the hereditary Peer, once ousted, will lose his "club" rights. All former MPs enjoy those rights and I fail to see why the hereditary Peer who has served his or her country very well over the years for little or no pay should have those privileges removed as well. It is spiteful and vindictive and, frankly, not worthy of the many noble Lords I have come to know and like on the Government Benches. I hope that the Government will think again on this issue.
So strong is the determination to get rid of the hereditary Peers from the Upper House that we are to be unceremoniously dispatched within a few weeks of the Royal Commission reporting. Surely, when we are trying to ensure good governance and the sensible study of all the alternatives for a second Chamber for this country in the 21st century, we should not do the job piecemeal and within small parameters, which might suit the government of the day of any political persuasion but not the future superlative government of Britain. This Royal Commission is being asked to do a rushed job on a vital subject, with the status quo not being an option. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House stated in an answer to my noble friend Lord Chesham that there was no need for an hereditary Peer to be on the commission as the idea was to get rid of them. That begs two questions.
First, even if we accept the premise, it does not answer why, with all the experience of Parliament at its feet, an hereditary was not asked to give his or her views from inside the commission rather than from the outside. Secondly, who is to say that the commission will not decide to go for an elected House as its preferred option, in which case, working on the same principle, why are there only life Peers on the commission?
Unless the commission is thought to be a stitch up, we must be careful to allow it to consider all the options available, not just those which suit the Government. How can it report sensibly until such time as it sees the results of the Government's devolution plans? That is yet another issue where I, as a devolutionist, do not sit necessarily very comfortably within the Conservative Party of old. The devolution settlement will change the whole governance of this country. How can we change the upper House's constitution at a time when the whole governance of the country is changing more radically than in any period before? We will probably have representatives from the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the European Parliament in a new upper
I do not like the Weatherill agreement. I do not like it because it has to a large extent removed the fight of the hereditary Peer to ensure the future good governance of our country into a concentration on which of us is going to stay in your Lordships' House. We hear rumours that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, the Government Chief Whip, who I am pleased to see in his place, has a wish list of preferred hereditary Peers. We hear rumours that the 91 will be selected by each party machine. We hear rumours of elections by everyone from each party or just by the hereditary Peers themselves, but we do not know. Who will decide who the replacements will be should any of those elected--or, even more frighteningly, selected--unfortunately die in the intervening period between stages one and two? Will those 91 hereditary Peers be made life Peers after stage two? All noble Lords in this House are equal and yet now we have a division of life Peer and hereditary Peer.
Many government supporters will vote for the Weatherill amendment as they have begun to think about their own position once the reform process is started and gets into gear, while many of my party will vote against the amendment for the reasons I have outlined. I think the vote will be very close. If the Government are to create sufficient Peers to counter the increased number of Conservative hereditary Peers under the agreement, then surely they will inherit a large majority when stage two arrives and the 91 are thanked for their help in the transitional House and patted on the back as they leave. But I say, "Beware life Peers", because it is as obvious as the nose on my face--and that is very obvious--that we are moving to an elected second Chamber long term or a unicameral system. Either way the end is nigh for the tried and tested system that has been in place for centuries. And what about the much vaunted and rumoured upper age limit? There are too many questions and not enough answers.
Your Lordships' House was set up by the hereditary peerage and it was not until the late 1950s that the life Peers were invented. It has taken a very short time historically for them to Veni, vidi, vici--I came, I saw, I conquered. We are living in changing times. Before the hereditary Peers go--I feel that the country will regret that decision before we are too much older--we should do two things. First, we should change the name of your Lordships' House to something less evocative of times gone by. We should change it to the Senate or something similar. Secondly, we should insist that the ultimate right of appeal in law is to the Law Lords and not to the House of Lords.
Since coming to your Lordships' House I have seen how it works and have been very impressed. I have met many wonderful people and I have many new interests. It does not matter what specialised knowledge you have. There are at least six other noble Lords who know as
If I do not make the cut, I will miss this place. I will miss it for its wisdom, its grandeur and its good governance. I have come to admire it for its cheapness to run in comparison with the other place or the European Parliament. I will ponder whether a system that has served this country so well really deserves to be finished and cast to one side in such a cavalier fashion.
More and more the country is becoming aware of the good job done in this House. A good, sound, cheap, albeit anachronistic, upper House it is defendable on its own record of being a standard bearer of good governance. I will continue to fight for that good and informed governance with every breath left in my body for as long as I am allowed into this august Chamber. That is what we should all be seeking to ensure for the people of this country. Yes, change your Lordships' House, but let us do it correctly when we do it and let us do it in a structured and thoughtful way.
The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, to use a seasonal metaphor, if our constitution took the form of an apple tree, the Government would be stuck in its branches with pruning saw and secateurs. The proposed reforms would be like removing one of the principal boughs and grafting on a completely new variety. I accept that the bough may be unsteady and ultimately has to go, but not before the alternative growth has been fully planned and nurtured. I do not accept the assumption that all the canker is on only one side of the tree. It all needs pruning. There is plenty of opportunity for new growth if, as in the case of this House, the Government resist its root and branch critics and continue to preserve what is good and take great care not to lose the tree altogether.
I am another of those who cannot understand why the Government could not bring forward their options at the very beginning. I regret that a misreading of the manifesto--a false assumption that the people of this country wanted to do away with part of our constitution before the whole had even been discussed--has brought us to the position we are in today. I nevertheless welcome the White Paper even though it is thin on policy. It is long overdue. At last we have the promised options paper which looks forward to stage two and provides a clear set of guidelines for the Royal Commission. I am relieved, perhaps with the right reverend Prelate, that the Bishops are secure and that along with other Cross-Benchers they will represent other faiths. I am surprised that there is not more attention to gender balance in the House, particularly in view of the comment of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that we are going to see an emasculated House--perhaps she did not mean that. I am sorry that the previous government in 18 years did not make more effort to prepare for change--which was inevitable because of their majority--because it would have ensured greater
This should be an historic time, yet there is a lot of confusion here and in another place. If you listen to debates there, as I have, you have the feeling that there is no real heart in it or understanding of the value of this House or of the longer-term issues involved. That is a real disappointment to those like myself who are in principle in favour of reform beyond the abolition stage. We expected something better, and in the end perhaps we got no more than could be expected of the ordinary mortals that parliamentarians are.
Some Members of Parliament and some areas of the media have rubbished hereditary Peers during the recent debates. That is to be expected, but it is worth restating to them that those who have survived years of uncertainty have performed a valuable service over many years and, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, generously said, in some cases they have made an outstanding contribution to this House without either public recognition or reward.
We have heard a lot of complaints from hereditary Peers already. I shall try to turn my own into more positive suggestions. I would personally apply a test of attendance to the present list of hereditary Peers rather than retain a strict 10 per cent. quota, because under the amendment we should lose a number of valuable Members who have done service for 10 or more years and it is folly to sacrifice them in advance of any serious proposals by the Royal Commission. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, was hinting at that.
I also recognise the realpolitik behind the amendment that the Government are impatient to get something done. I should make it clear that while I am not committed to the Cross-Bench amendment, I very reluctantly support the ultimate demise of the hereditary element to which I belong.
I am conscious that at least 11 generations of my family have been in this House, and I feel fortunate--especially as my father was a reluctant MP turned Peer who decided to give up his seat here (mistakenly) in 1964--to have been present up to the final moment of execution.
As a Cross-Bencher I have come to value the role of independent Peers, who not only hold the balance but are now the obvious way out of the Government's impasse. I should like to make only three points. First, I am pleased to see in the White Paper that there will be a strong guarantee of an independent group in a reformed House, as was stated in the manifesto, and that that will in future come through the new appointments commission. Paragraph 6.9 states that,
This is where I part company with the Liberals and some Conservatives (who have made an elected Chamber a ploy) and others who seem to think that we could imitate the US system. I am certain that we should aim for continuity, as the noble Lord, Lord Eden of Winton, wisely said, and the preservation of the best that this House can already offer. I do not, by the way, think that quotas of MEPs and regional Peers will work very well in practice.
Secondly, one consequence of removing hereditary Peers may be the loss of a wide range of interests, including significant minority interests and, along with that, a degree of voluntary commitment. Is it possible to retain the spirit of personal commitment in a reformed House? I put that question to the Chief Whip. The range of non-political interests is another strength of the present House, recognised in the "mixed Chamber" in chapter 8 of the White Paper.
I suggest that more formal consultation of interest groups is a safer way than the Irish model of indirect election through "functional constituencies"--a phrase I have never heard before--referred to in paragraph 8.10 on page 44.
I support this modified version of a nominated chamber, but it will only be easily understood by the country at large if there are more established procedures before consultation. The new commission should be able to make these more transparent in possibly an extended version of the present Honours List.
Finally, I hope that the Royal Commission will consider the question of compensation very carefully. To some people, "working Peers" means full-time, paid professional working Peers. Is it necessary to see the revising Chamber as a full-time fully paid professional House? It has been said many times that Peers' outside interests lend this House its distinctive non-party political character. I hope that the commission will do everything to maintain these interests and the quality of debate in which both hereditary and life Peers currently share their individual and personal experience without becoming a "House of brains".
While respecting the will of the electorate, I hope that we shall not pander to any false sense of democracy in this House which will compete with another place and, worst of all, sacrifice the advantages and standards that have been developed in this place over centuries.
The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, the Government have taken upon themselves a daunting task: to reform one of the most historic and stable political institutions that the world has known. There are many on this side of the House who could echo the Prime Minister's words in his introduction to the White Paper when he calls this House,
My noble friend, Lord Wakeham, and the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, described the Government's programme as one leading to the most radical constitutional change known this century. In a recent publication by Professor Robert Hazell of London University on the future of the constitution, he isolates five separate constitutional initiatives by this Government. From those have emanated 16 constitutional Bills since the Government have been in power. The Government may have an idea of what they intend with each one, but each change will have repercussions on the others, as was mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Liverpool. I do not see how the Government can maintain that this is a step-by-step approach. So far as I can understand it, this is the "Big Bang" approach, but somewhat lacking in the omniscient mind which we trust accompanied the first Big Bang which brought the world into being.
If there are any noble Lords present who feel themselves at war with history--there is perhaps a slight emptiness on the other side of the Chamber--I crave their indulgence for a moment as I try to enlarge the historical perspective in which we are considering this change.
As mentioned in the White Paper, our present institution can be traced back to the Saxon witenagemot. The names of some of those who are still represented here by their English titles echo down the centuries. But entwined with this whole institution at Westminster are also the successors of Scotland's Three Estates, the Parliament of Scotland, which was joined with it in 1707. It was as representing one of those three estates that my family first came into your Lordships' House . In my family's achievements we can only claim to have become Lords of the Scottish Parliament in 1445, which was when the title was inaugurated, although we can measure our involvement in the affairs of Scotland for some 300 years before that. Even so, when it comes to titles of antiquity there cannot be many in your Lordships' House who can claim the antiquity of the title of the noble Countess, Lady Mar, which again is a Scottish title. The original Earldom was granted to the 13 Celtic rulers or mormaors at the introduction of
Only recently the uniqueness of the element was somewhat lost by the removal of the need for the election of Scottish representative Peers by the 1963 Act. The present Bill not only removes the right of all hereditary Peers to be represented in this House, but it also removes the present claim by which representatives of Scotland can sit in your Lordships' House as of right.
I note that in their considerations for the further reform of this House, at paragraph 7.22, the Government are suggesting re-introducing the representatives of one other Estate of the old Scottish parliament, and that is the Church of Scotland. I heard that this was proposed under the original settlement in 1707, but it was turned down by the churchmen as they were to be few in number and a Church which prided itself in equality could not countenance such preferment. I hope that the Government have thought of an answer and that a more satisfactory outcome will be found to the present suggestion.
On the winding up of the Scottish Parliament Lord Seafield bewailed it as, "ane end of ane auld sang". It seems to me that what we are now looking at is the end of the final reprise. I am interested to see that in paragraph 5.16 the Government, after consultation, propose that the Royal Peers should surrender their hereditary rights to sit and vote in this House. I wonder how much consideration has been given to the fact, with which some of your Lordships are probably very familiar, that there is a pair of titles which are in use by the Royal Family created by letters patent which are life peerages; namely, the Prince of Wales and the noble Earl, Lord Chester. Of course, these are not life peerages created under the 1958 Act, like those of a great many noble Lords sitting in the Chamber here. But if it was so desired it would surely be perfectly just and possible that the rights of such titles could remain as long as they do for the rest of the life Peers.
It is perhaps understandable that the Government have proposed that hereditary Peers be removed from this Chamber, but I am interested to know whether the even more radical reform is envisaged which removes all the rights of the Monarchy to attend this House on anything other than the most formal occasion. In this most civilised age no one here is approaching the prospect of being hung, drawn and quartered, but as there is such determination in the Government to see this as the end of an era, I am reminded of the last lines penned by my ancestor the first Marquis of Montrose as he contemplated his execution. They conclude:
Lord Belhaven and Stenton: My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose. His name certainly echoes down the centuries in Scottish history. I am very glad to be following him.
I may be wrong, but I seem to remember that some time ago White Papers were white. This one is not white at all and resembles a travel brochure. When one opens it one finds that, instead of an attractively posed lady in a bikini next to a swimming pool, one is faced with a photograph of the Prime Minister in his shirt sleeves. In fact, most of the White Paper resembles a travel firm's brochure. It is mainly waffle interspersed with some useful information to which I shall come later.
I have thought a great deal about the subject of this White Paper over the years. I have concluded as a first principle that nothing that can be suggested in the matter of the radical reform of this House--and it is that with which we are faced--will be better than the present situation. The non-radical reforms that suggest themselves to me are simple and would effectively rid us of the phenomenon of one party having an unassailable majority on certain occasions, as has happened in the past. One such reform would be to deprive noble Lords of the vote unless they had attended some proportion--one-third, one-half or whatever--of the sittings in the previous Sessions. They could come to speak, because one does not have to come here continuously to make a valuable contribution on something about which one knows.
When I consider the situation of the hereditary peerage at the present time I am struck by the fact, as was my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, that we are condemned by many, including Her Majesty's Government, not for what we have done, but for who we are. There have been unpleasant precedents in the past over that. The position of the Jews in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s comes to mind and, of course, some people in Ulster think it is all right to condemn a man or woman on the grounds of his or her religion. We also have ethnic cleansing taking place at present. I realise that these are extreme examples, but I believe that they are relevant to some extent.
And, of course, we are mostly white, but that is hardly surprising. Most Members of the present South African Parliament are black, which is something that the Labour Party has long striven to achieve and which, no doubt, is correct. I know of none of my ancestors who came from anywhere but these islands, but does that really disqualify me? If there are not enough representatives of ethnic minorities in this House--and that may or may not be the case--the Government have the simple remedy of appointing them. I certainly would not object. But to suggest that being white and male is a disqualification for sitting in this House is certainly objectionable.
I can tell your Lordships about health, schools and housing, which the right honourable Member of another place imagines the hereditary Peers know nothing about, but in a long debate I do not wish to weary your Lordships except to say that I know as much or as little about these subjects as anyone else who has had the privilege of living in this country for most of his or her working life.
I return to the White Paper. It is difficult to read as most of it, as I say, is waffle. So I shall skip that and come to the actual information it contains. On page 14 is set out the numbers of Peers. It gives the number of hereditary Peers as 750. Of that number nearly 200 have never attended the House and 56 are on leave of absence, which, according to my arithmetic, which is not very good, leaves 504 which is fewer than the 510 life Peers. Of the hereditary Peers, 67 per cent. attended for less than one-third of the sittings. That leaves 168 hereditary Peers as regular attenders as against 150 life Peers who attended for more than one-third of the sittings. Incidentally, where are the famous Labour working Peers? I see two of them here this evening. I do not know where the rest of them are. After all, the reform of this House is their idea. I would have thought that more of them would be here to support the thesis of the Government which they themselves support.
The White Paper continues by saying that nearly 40 per cent. of the Members of the House, excluding those without writs of summons and those on leave of absence, were born before 1930. I plead guilty. I hope it is not suggested that to be born before 1930 means that one has become incompetent or gaga. It does mean, however, that in the nature of things one is unlikely to be around for very much longer.
There follows a chapter on second chambers overseas. We have already dealt with this. Reference is made to Canada. As far as I am aware that is not a very good example of a nominated upper House. I do not believe that we should take into account most of our continental neighbours or partners (which is the fashionable term). As my noble friend Lord Marlesford said, France has had 12 constitutions since 1789 and, as far as I can see, is capable of a few more even in what is left of my lifetime. Germany has had three reichs and is now a republic; Spain had a bloody civil war not so long ago and has not completely recovered from it; and Italy went from a kingdom to a republic in 1947, since when she has been governed by a process of spectacular corruption. The less said about Greece the better. Therefore, we do not need to look for guidance to any
At all events, the new House should and, as my noble friend Lord Strathclyde said, must have power to challenge the House of Commons and effectively end the elected dictatorship under which we now live, whichever party is in power. Only such a reform is worth bothering about. I have believed for many years that the only way seriously to achieve this is to make the new House elected.
Finally, I should like to say a word about the hereditary principle. It is widely condemned by all major parties as being unacceptable. That is why I want to talk about it. Our forebears would have been puzzled by this as until the 19th century Europe was almost exclusively governed under the hereditary principle. My noble friend Lord Beloff in a previous debate drew attention to the hereditary nature of the Jewish priesthood and the Jewish polity in general. That has certainly stood the test of time. The late and much-lamented King Hussein of Jordan was descended from the prophet Mohammed and derived his legitimacy from that fact. The Hindu caste system is hereditary and has survived the British raj and the imposition by Congress of a secular state. One may not like it but it is there. Hindus also believe in reincarnation, as do Buddhists--a fact that appears to have escaped most of our press, the football establishment and seemingly Her Majesty's Government.
Most if not all noble Lords care deeply about their children and children's children and hope--dare I say it--that they will do better than other people's children. That is human and natural and has been so throughout history. When we engage in all this grand talk of the hereditary principle being unacceptable let us bear in mind one fact: democracy is new and comparatively untried. We do not know what will come of it over the decades and centuries to come. The hereditary principle has ruled mankind for the greater part of man's history. Let us not be too ready to dismiss it out of hand.
The White Paper points to the value of their perspective and, presumably, advice. I am delighted to accept the advice of bishops or farmers, but I do not think that that is the point. The issue is not whether bishops and farmers can give good advice, but whether they should be allowed to decide for the rest of us on matters like the age of gay consent. The Government's answer is that farmers should not but bishops should and that the anachronistic nature of the latter arrangement should be addressed by appointing some rabbis, mullahs and moderators to your Lordships' House. What is to be done particularly to represent the consciences of those with no religion who are also mentioned in the White Paper is, perhaps understandably, unspecified. This is symptomatic of the central problem. The Government seem far clearer about what they do not want than about what they do; otherwise they would not need a Royal Commission at all. For instance, in the case of Scottish devolution--a more limited but not in principle simpler matter than reform of your Lordships' House--serviceable legislation appeared in a few weeks.
What the Government do not want is a perfectly reasonable thing not to want but it turns out to be no substitute for a complete and positive vision. The alternatives proposed for stage two--appointment by quango, nomination by party, representation of special interests, democracy--are not a cocktail to be mixed according to taste. They are expressions of fundamentally different views about how a nation should be managed. Perhaps I can help by saying something that is too simple for your Lordships' House. The essential rights over legislation belong to the people. The whole process, not just part of it, belongs to the people. It has therefore been in essence stolen from them--from us--and we should have it back. The first Chamber should account to the people and so should the second. Neither accountability replaces the other. That notion, embodied in every tiny American town that elects a sheriff, seems to me to be the only basic and fundamental principle engaged in this entire process. If it is a true principle, which I think it is, its consequences need to be accepted and managed, not fudged.
Many noble Lords have put forward various contrary arguments today. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, has put it quite neatly on several occasions, pointing out that he is here because of what he is supposed to have done
Therefore, first, all parts of the legislature need to account to the electorate. Secondly, there may be a good practical case for power being divided asymmetrically between the two Chambers but this should be done directly by defining the powers of both of them, not indirectly by tinkering with the legitimacy of one of them. My main complaint about the White Paper is that it treats the relationship between branches of the legislature as primary and the rights of the electorate as contingent upon it. This is absolutely the wrong way up and represents a definite deterioration from the sentence I quoted earlier written by that collection of bandits and ecclesiastics 800 years ago. It creates a real danger that we will continue to refuse or delay right or justice to almost everyone.
Lord Coleraine: My Lords, it is good to see the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, and two of her noble friends on the Front Bench. It is difficult to know why we have so few comments from Labour Back-Benchers. Perhaps it is because, as my noble friend Lord Strathclyde suggested, it is a document that the Government never wanted published, or because they are not interested in what happens to this Chamber after the hereditaries have left.
It is said that hereditary Peers must go, and go now. Their protestations that they are ready to go when a replacement is ready to take over are travestied, their good faith impugned. They are asked, "Why now? Why not
In the absence of Labour speakers, perhaps I may say a word about the amendment moved by my noble friend. I hope that we shall not have a Division and that, having made his very worthwhile points so cogently, he will be content to withdraw the amendment. It is a small point but it could be a mistake to suggest that this House is not prepared to consider the loss or reduction of its "theoretically available powers", where the loss is balanced, as it could be, by reforms giving a more meaningful and effective role in Parliament than this House has at present. That was indeed accepted in the consensus of 1968.
The White Paper states that a better approach might be to reduce the theoretically available powers, recognising that they might as a consequence be used more frequently. If one inverts that sentence, one gets what I believe it can mean: that a better approach might be to reduce the theoretically available powers in order to ensure that they are used more frequently.
My noble friend would have had me more clearly on board had his amendment focused on the tendentious messages about the second stage which chapter 8 of the White Paper sends to the Royal Commission. Given the long and distinguished history of the proposal for a two-writ system which began, I understand, many years ago on a golf course, it is surprising that this system is not offered to the Royal Commission as a fifth model. It is not even set up as an Aunt Sally to be shot down. Yet it is a constitutional innovation which found a wide measure of acceptance in 1968.
If, as the noble Baroness said, there has been a great deal of thought given to reform over many years, with a large existing literature, so that the Royal Commission will have an easy and quick task, why does the menu in chapter 8 of the White Paper exclude the two-writ option? It is the one constitutional reform on which there was general agreement after prolonged consensual discussion 30 years ago.
It is perfectly clear to me that Labour is sending a clear message to the Royal Commission: "You will be wasting your time if you look at any other than one of the four models we have prescribed, and of these we have a mixed Chamber in mind for your preferred choice". Why do I say that? Because the choice is put forward tendentiously in the following form. We have, first, the nominated Chamber, with its advantages and disadvantages. Then we have the elected Chamber, again with its advantages and disadvantages. Finally, it is explained that the mixed Chamber will share the advantages of the nominated
I am glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, has allowed us to enter into the parliamentary discussion on the shape of the second stage of reform. I should be content, if it were possible, to have an elected House. However, I sense that it is not possible, that there will not be an elected House and that the preamble to the Parliament Act will remain unconsummated. In that case, I hope that the Royal Commission will eschew the mongrel too-good-to-be-true mixed Chamber and plump for a wholly nominated Chamber, coupled with a two-writ system. I make no secret of the fact that I see advantages in the two-writ system quite outside the scope of the White Paper, and those will be discussed in due course.
For the moment, however, I merely mention some of the advantages of the two-writ system. First, it would make it possible for voting Members who found that they could not give time to the business of Parliament to disclaim their voting rights and sit as speaking Members. Secondly, it would also enable speaking Members to be appointed with special expertise. They would not be subject to any obligation, moral or otherwise, to be present to vote at all times and on all manner of subjects.
Thirdly--I hardly dare bring up the subject--paragraph 44 of the 1968 White Paper provided that voting Members would lose their voting rights at the end of the Parliament in which they reached the age of 72. Perhaps I can keep life Peers with me by pointing out that that idea was not directed at removing Members just as they began to approach the height of their powers but at keeping the number of voting Peers at a reasonable level.
Paragraph 46 of the 1968 White Paper suggested that initially a reasonable size (excluding Law Lords and Bishops) would be between 200 and 250 Peers. This assumed that existing hereditary Peers would remain in the House and continue to do much work. Today the comparable figure would have to be larger. It would be interesting to know what the Government consider would be the appropriate figure today. Perhaps the Chief Whip will be able to tell us in due course. In another place Dr. Tony Wright--I understand that last year he was the Lord Chancellor's PPS--said on 15th February that anyone looking at a mature, fully-formed House of Lords would agree that it would contain only about 300 Members. We already have 510 life Peers against Dr. Wright's 300, with apparently floods more still to come, depending upon a certain contingency.
I agree with the comment of my noble friend Lord Lucas about the possible retirement of life Peers. Life it is, and life it should remain. That is the way for an independent House. But retirement seems inevitable. The dilemma can be solved effectively only by a two-writ House, with life Peers becoming speaking Peers at an appropriate moment. I hope that that is a matter that the Royal Commission and the Government will consider seriously.
Parliament has always been both a court and a legislature. It is constitutionally important to retain the High Court of Parliament. On important constitutional points, it is vital that the House of Lords retains the right to sit as a whole House, "calling the House", not only in Committee. Peers are perfectly capable of acting judicially. Sometimes they have a better understanding than the professional members of the Appellate Committee. We do not need an American-style Supreme Court, or, God forbid, a British version of the discredited European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. The House of Lords has legitimacy, whereas a new court would not. One has only to look at the European Court of Justice, many of whose judgments do not command respect and which is widely seen as a political court.
When sitting as a whole House--for example, on the trial of Lord de Clifford in 1936--the Members are under a duty to act judicially. I believe that there are few instances when the whole House has sat in judgment of a Member behaving other than judicially. An example is the Ashby v. White in 1703 when 76 Peers passed judgment on electoral rights.
The power of the House to vote as a whole House remains unaffected, save that by the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876 at least three of the Law Lords, the Lord Chancellor, the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary and Peers who have held high judicial office--for example, the noble and learned Lords, Lord Denning, Lord Ackner, Lord Lane and Lord Donaldson--must be present.
As stated in the Government's White Paper on House of Lords reform, no party should have a majority voting power, save for a group known as Cross Benchers; a group not subservient to a partisan whip and most easily identified by the country as a whole as "independent of party political pressure". The Law Lords should be included in the Cross Bench group.
A suggested number of voting Peers might be: Labour, 50; Conservative, 50; Liberal Democrats, 50; and Cross Benchers, 75. That would be a total of 225, or 17 per cent. of the total life and hereditary Peers presently permitted to vote and speak. Each of the groups represented by "voting Peers" would request from their ranks, both life and hereditary, the names of those who would be willing to stand for selection and be prepared to sit in the House of Lords for three out of the four weekly working days. "Self selection" is a system whereby the Peers within each group/party would cast votes for Peers within their group/party and thus select, through preference, the required number for their group/party.
Although this system may be contrary to that suggested in the White Paper of January 1999, it would avoid, first, the House of Lords being a Chamber elected by people and so in competition with the House of Commons which is elected by the same voters. Secondly, the self-selection principle would avoid further imposition and intrusion into the electorate's private time--media and television, lobbying, personal visits by potential voting Peers--which is a situation certain to arise if the White Paper's preference for "people's Peers", or regionally selected Peers, was to be adopted. An overdose of political rhetoric will encourage further disinterest and apathy from the public who are becoming increasingly removed from politics and politicians, whether national, European or local.
The self selection of voting Peers would occur on a quinquennial basis, as stated in the 1715 Act, or, should a voting Peer die or retire from politics, similar to a reselection or by-election for the House of Commons. I suggest that should the House of Commons force a government to resign, or should a general election be called before the completion of a five-year government period, the nominated voting Peers within the House of Lords who would be considered for selection every five years would not be affected. No Peers should be permitted to hold the rank of voting Peer for more than 10 years; in other words, the full lifespan of two government periods.
Again, contrary to the suggestion in the White Paper 1999, both hereditary and life Peers should be permitted to put their names forward for selection as representative voting Peers for their appropriate group/party. Such a move avoids the unnecessary and obviously false suggestion that hereditary Peers should be appointed life Peers if they are to work as voting Peers within the House of Lords.
All Peers should be permitted to speak within the House of Lords, as that would provide the broadest, most diverse opinions for consideration by the voting Peers--the jury within the House of Lords--and it would avoid any question of age restriction. The religious, cultural representation within the House of Lords could be sensibly broadened by sage appointments made by the unbiased selection committee suggested in the White Paper; the committee considering life peerage appointments.
Surely it would be financially beneficial and ensure job security for so many of the staff if all Peers be permitted to use the House of Lords facilities. That point was raised in the White Paper. The facilities are of educational and historical benefit to the many parties from abroad as well as from the United Kingdom; parties introduced to the Houses of Parliament by both life and hereditary Peers.
By retaining much of the present system within the legislature of the House of Lords the cost of an elected Chamber would not be incurred. The second Chamber would continue to act as a second outlet for public opinion and alleviate the increasing pressure applied to elected Members of Parliament by an increasingly aware and demanding public. The second Chamber, as
The House of Lords would continue to be composed of talented, by degree, life and hereditary Peers who would act as ambassadors for Great Britain and who would listen to and be heard by those involved in all walks of life, both nationally and internationally. The House of Lords would respect its responsibilities to the monarchy and to the people whose interests its Members represent and in whose areas they reside.
Contrary to what was stated by the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, on the "Today" programme on 14th October last year, the House of Lords will never believe that it has the same legislative power and is on a par with the elected Members of Parliament in the House of Commons. Parliament is not a one man band; it is a trio of the Monarch, the Commons and the Lords.
A Parliament Act 2000 should be introduced realising the 1911 Act and revising the delegated 1949 secondary legislation Act; so complying with the principle of modernisation espoused by the present Government--and I thank all the Peers who responded to my circular on the validity of the so-called 1949 Act, arguably secondary legislation. Such a revisory move is further prompted by devolutionary moves within the United Kingdom and by Parliament's increasing involvement in European Union legislation, and in the councils and committees of the European Parliament, initiating such legislation as devolution and federalisation.
The Earl of Dundee: My Lords, I, too, welcome the debate. In November 1968 a number of today's speakers took part in the previous White Paper debate on House of Lords reform. Given that it is sometimes alleged that this House is an undemocratic assembly, it may seem paradoxical that your Lordships gave such solid support to that White Paper, while in the following year the Bill was caused to fail by groupings and members of both the main parties in the other place. Yet it is clear that none of the blame lies here for the failure of the Labour Government's Lords reform Bill of 1969. Your Lordships were determined to make the Bill work, and in this place there was cross-party agreement in relation to its main provisions.
Conversely, since the current White Paper has not been able to emanate from all-party talks, it may not be too surprising that, unlike its predecessor, it has not managed to win a great deal of confidence. However, as your Lordships have made plain today, the resolve in this Chamber to help to devise sound legislation for Lords reform is just as firm now as it was 30 years ago.
This debate, today and tomorrow, can certainly encourage common purpose among us. That is so not least because its focus is far more the essential question of what a revised second Chamber can and should do, rather than only the narrower issue of who its Members
This leads to the central point of how the functions of a reformed second Chamber can further improve our parliamentary democracy. As regards the second Chamber's role to scrutinise legislation, clearly a key aspect, as has been said, is how voting rights are reformed. In the current White Paper, the Government indicate that they seek only broad parity with the Conservatives. Many of us will consider that this is a good approach. It can enable the opposition parties and the Cross-Benchers to unite when necessary to defeat the Government. In terms of something better, it would assist the relationship between the two Houses and enable the other place to be more prepared to heed the advice of this House. That is simply because it could no longer be complained that Lords advice, excellent though it was, had come from an undemocratic Chamber with an in-built majority of Conservative voting rights.
I turn now to the present White Paper's reference to this Chamber's deliberative function and its recognition of the quality of contribution. If such comes through questions and debates, not least is it also evidenced by the highly regarded Lords European Select Committee reports and by the work of Lords delegations overseas, including the Council of Europe, where I have had the honour to serve for seven years, retiring last month.
The question is what arrangements should be made as part of Lords reform to preserve and enhance the quality and effect of the deliberative function of this House. As my noble friend Lord Coleraine has just mentioned, the 1968 White Paper addressed that question by recommending a two-tier House with voting and non-voting Members. Clear advantages arise from this expedient. First, in the immediate future and in the short term there is no threat of discontinuity to present high standards and independent-mindedness. That is because existing Peers would retain speaking and committee rights, although not necessarily voting rights.
On the other hand and secondly, since voting and non-voting Members who were Peers by succession would not be replaced when they died by their heirs but by nominated life Peers, it allowed a decision to be taken on the hereditary principle. This was to end the automatic right to sit and vote by succession.
Therefore, the formula provided within the 1968 White Paper is a constructive one. That is because the two-tier system provides continuity of independence and expertise. It addresses successfully the two main grievances, which have always been the in-built Conservative majority and the hereditary principle. As a result, it assists the working relationship between this House and another place and hence, also, it improves the scope for Parliament as a whole to influence the Executive.
We may be fortunate in this country with our system of holding government accountable to Parliament. However, Parliament should have more influence over the Executive than it does and Lords reform is a very good opportunity to achieve that.
In handling this year's Lords reform Bill, clearly we should not pre-empt its conclusions by acting to legislate before the commission has had time to report. Instead, in this House we should now build up consensus among ourselves. And in the wider interest we should be prepared to embrace the wise measures of the Labour government's 1968 White Paper.
The Earl of Drogheda: My Lords, during the debate last autumn on the future of your Lordships' House, I was struck by the blueprint for a reformed House that one noble Lord proposed in which all Peers would be forcibly retired on reaching 75 years of age. That suggestion was made with a commendable display of selflessness in view of the fact that the noble Lord in question was not only a life Peer but, by his own admission, 77 years old. I am happy to say that the noble Lord has not followed his own recipe, thereby depriving your Lordships of the benefits of his wise counsel.
As is well known, the original meaning of the word senatus is an assembly of old men. In ancient Rome, age was held in great respect, as it was in China and in most ancient civilisations as well, as it was formerly in our own.
Recently in the West, with the increasing demands of today's world and the race for the new, the vigour of youth has come to assume a paramount importance, particularly in the case of those in public life. That is doubtless logical where the demands of a constituency must be combined with performing in another place. However, such is not the case in your Lordships' House. Here, time is available for reflection and indeed, one could argue that reflection and mature consideration are of the essence.
The strength of youth is not an advantage here and although age does not, sadly, automatically confer wisdom, neither does youth. In fact, although there may be no fool like an old fool, yet, as Lord Chatham observed:
I fall somewhere in the middle stage--very late middle, unfortunately--between youth and age. I can therefore claim to speak without interest in making the following modest suggestion for the reform of the Chamber which is being foisted on us in such haste. I suggest that in it, in addition to the 91 hereditary Peers who may be suffered to remain, all those hereditary Peers who are over 75 and who are regular attenders of your Lordships' House should retain their rights to sit. Quite aside from the contribution that they offer with their long experience and the wisdom they frequently bring to debate, they will confer a dignity on the revised Chamber and will provide a note of continuity which will soften the effect of the "big bang" approach which the Government seem hell-bent on effecting. Moreover, their continued presence will make more gradual the inevitable change to the familiar landscape here.
There is in Venice a famous portrait by Giorgione of an old and haggard woman looking steadily out at the viewer and pointing to herself. Attached to her is a little scroll on which is written the chilling motto "Col Tempo"--with
Lord Teviot: My Lords, in the words of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, there are matters beyond Westminster for your Lordships to debate, to question and to legislate. She did not spell out those words exactly as I have done but I hope that that is a fair interpretation of what she said. I wholly agree with her and intend to concentrate on that aspect and leave entirely to others the question of the future make-up of this House. I hope to make a few useful comments designed to protect and safeguard what is good and what we do well already.
Therefore, I go straight to the White Paper itself. When I first read it, like all your Lordships, I perused the contents page and homed straight in upon Chapter 4, "The role of a second chamber". I felt that that chapter would give me a lead and provide me with the basis necessary for debate. Sadly, I was extremely disappointed because there is little on which one can cut one's teeth. Paragraphs 5 to 9 on pages 23 and 24, under the heading of "A representative function", contain some wide platitudes and, with respect, I cannot say that they add up to very much.
Paragraph 10, which relates to what the second Chamber should do, is largely innocuous. It outlines only cursorily the functions which a second Chamber should have. Up to now we have had a House of Peers with both a large and small "p"; surely that situation must continue. In all the years I have been here, my experience has been that there is no difference between life and hereditary Peers. Most Back-Bench Peers intervene on subjects on which they have been briefed or about which they have knowledge already, but, in the main, debate has been non-political except on certain notorious occasions. Front-Benchers cannot be expected to cover all intrinsic points of legislation; there are always other issues which it is important to debate.
I do not suggest that only hereditary Peers raise these intrinsic points; of course they do not. But this House is going to undergo major surgery in which its balance may well be altered, possibly to the House's detriment. That is why the Government should lay down certain guidelines for the balance to be maintained. I shall be grateful if the Chief Whip, when winding-up tomorrow, can give the House an assurance that the balance will be maintained--he will probably put it much more eloquently in his own words.
I feel that the commission has an impossible task in being asked to report so soon--Christmas is only 10 months away. And I am afraid I must politely disagree with the noble Baroness that there is little research to be done as compared with other Bills; I should have thought the reverse. For instance, does the commission intend to circulate a questionnaire, which I believe it should do, to all institutions--professional, trade and otherwise and certain societies which over the
Over the years there have been many occasions when I have tabled amendments--sometimes probing and sometimes pressing--mainly on my own subjects. But perhaps I may be anecdotal for a moment. On another occasion the noble Baroness criticised the balance on one side or another. But during the Second Reading of the Wages Bill I felt that I had to raise a matter relating to transport. In fact the matter had been dealt with in the other place on Third Reading so I asked my Chief Whip at the time whether it was still necessary for me to speak just to say thank you. He said, "As there are very few speakers on our side, you will speak for 10 minutes on this Bill and then say thank you". That needed an awful lot of swotting. During that 10 minutes I said that I would be available to take up points in the remaining stages of the Bill. I received a letter from a trade union requesting me to table an amendment. I did and was pleased to do so. It was later fully debated.
Finally, whatever happens I wish this House well and urge this Government and successive governments to insist that this House conducts itself in a dignified and unpompous manner and with humour, as it does already; that it continues relentlessly to scrutinise legislation in the way the country, if not the world, admires; and that this Front Bench, like the Front Bench opposite, conducts itself well. I am not toadying or being sycophantic, but I pray that that continues.
A small but important point worth mentioning for instruction is that noble Lords inform the Ministers who have to answer as to the points they intend to raise. That will ensure that the best answers are given, as they are now. Also, in the new parliamentary Session without the hereditaries, I ask that a card be put in the window of the Peers' Entrance on the front door and the Peers' Lobby on the back door explaining that there have been changes but that it will be "business as usual".
Lord Middleton: My Lords, at this stage of the debate there is a duty to be brief. The White Paper tells us that the Government will renew the House of Lords as a modern, effective second Chamber of Parliament, fit for the 21st century. The Royal Commission will recommend how to make it effective. As to composition, suggestions are made for recruitment to an appointed House--self-nomination--and I am glad to say that the White Paper suggests that there should be people's Peers.
Various forms of franchise are suggested for an elected House, and there may be a mixture of both. So effectiveness is to be achieved by greater legitimacy as to composition. But the White Paper shies away from the natural progression whereby a legitimate Chamber will wish to take upon itself enhanced powers. The general theme in the powers section is that they should be curtailed; hence my noble friend's amendment,
Failure by Parliament to agree about powers of a second Chamber has scuppered all attempts this century to achieve reform. Is it realistic to suppose that the proposed joint committee of both Houses of Parliament, with in front of it recommendations after a few months of deliberation by the Royal Commission, will do any better? There could well be, once again, deadlock, so that an emasculated illegitimate second Chamber will carry on indefinitely, posing no threat to a crusading, modernising New Labour.
That may well be what the Government want and the White Paper is a gesture only. If I am right, it is a very great pity. I believe strongly in the need for reform, but we have to get the new composition of powers sorted out. I cannot see this being done by a Royal Commission with a lifespan up to the end of this year--only 10 months. For a careful and considered reform, in the words of the White Paper, this process must have more time. Meanwhile, there will be an illegitimate interim Chamber that can be no more effective than the present one, which has the probability of an extended shelf-life.
There is a case--in part acknowledged by the suggested Cross-Bench amendment and the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine--for an interim Chamber composed as now but which has divested itself of surplus passengers. Such a culling should be fairly drastic and in my view it would not be difficult. But I fear that that will not happen.
Lord Cobbold: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for rather grudgingly giving us the opportunity to debate the White Paper, more importantly because I was out of the country in October last and was unable to participate in the two-day debate at that time.
As a hereditary Peer I stress from the first that I am not against reform of your Lordships' House in principle. Indeed, I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that its powers should not be reduced. But, like many other noble Lords who have spoken today and on other occasions, I am totally opposed to the two-stage approach adopted by the Government. To echo the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, it is a case of action first, thought later.
I say now, therefore, that I shall oppose the Bill on hereditary representation when it reaches this House, and I do not think that the so-called "Weatherill amendment" makes any difference to the fundamental
If we were starting from scratch in a modern society, clearly, we would not select members of a second Chamber on the basis of heredity. However, we are not starting from scratch; we are dealing with an institution that has 700 years of history and tradition. This is not a trivial statement. The traditions of this House and its history are part of the mystique of this country and of our proud island race, and are admired throughout the world.
As a first generation hereditary Peer, I am proud and honoured to be able to represent my father's name in your Lordships' House. I am sure that a tradition of service is deeply ingrained in all of the hereditary Peers sitting here today, as it is, I am also sure, among the life Peers here assembled. It is not easy to argue in favour of heredity, but I believe that the record of this House speaks for itself, as many noble Lords have stated. The unique tradition of your Lordships' House is important and should not be discarded lightly.
Many noble Lords have mentioned the relationship between the current and the reformed House of Lords with the House of Commons. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, pointed out, in this House we have another important and historical relationship; that is, with the Monarch. Each one of us, at the beginning of this Parliament, or on introduction, has sworn an oath of allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen and to her heirs and successors. In so doing, we have all explicitly acknowledged the hereditary principle as it applies to the monarchy.
I have been involved in numerous conversations with people in many walks of life in recent months--as I am sure have many other noble Lords--on the subject of reform of your Lordships' House and of the abolition of the rights of hereditary Peers in particular. I have found pretty general support for reform but considerable concern as to the wisdom of doing away with the hereditary principle in toto. Many people have suggested to me that doing away with the hereditary Peers in the House of Lords is one step on the road towards doing away with an hereditary monarchy.
I know that the proposals before us were set out in general terms in the Government's election manifesto, and that reference was made by Her Majesty in the gracious Speech to the proposed ending of the rights of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in this House. What I do not know is whether that is a proposal that the Sovereign personally supports or whether she feels it to be something that she has no choice but to accept.
I believe that a common sense appraisal of the current proposals is, indeed, that they do represent a long-term threat to the hereditary principle of the monarchy. We are talking about a major constitutional change. It behoves all Peers, and hereditary Peers in particular, as guardians of the constitution, to consider carefully the wording of their Writ of Summons and decide what counsel they should give on this particular "arduous and urgent affair" concerning the Sovereign and the State.
I welcome many of the suggestions for reform of this House contained in the White Paper. I would not support a fully-elected second Chamber. I believe the presence in this House of leading experts and practitioners from all walks of life is of inestimable value to this House, Parliament and the country.
I am not opposed, in principle, to any reform of hereditary representation in this House. I well understand the Government's impatience with the in-built majority against them and with the Conservative Party's frequent abuse of this situation over the years. In fact, I believe that hereditary Peers should preserve their independence and should not take a party Whip at all, unless, of course, they have a Front Bench appointment.
There have been many suggestions as to how hereditary representation could be reformed without completely destroying seven centuries of tradition. Many of them I would find acceptable in principle. One suggestion that appeals to me in the reformed House is that each county council and metropolitan borough should appoint, say, two representatives for fixed terms to the reformed second Chamber, at least one of whom should be an hereditary Peer. That would guarantee regional representation and confer a degree of democratic legitimacy on those appointed.
Another suggestion, and one that preserves tradition, is that hereditary Peers might be entitled to sit in the reformed House for, say, two parliamentary Sessions following their succession. That would have the advantage of preserving the representation of youth in your Lordships' House and would enable the House to get to know new incumbents and vice versa. However, those are matters that should rightfully be considered by the Royal Commission, not ruled out of court in advance.
The only glimmer of hope I can see is that the terms of reference, as set out in the White Paper, do not appear to me to exclude consideration by the commission of continued representation by hereditary Peers in the reformed House. It is a happy but, I suppose, Alice-in-Wonderland idea, that, having been abolished by the current Bill, we might rise again via the recommendations of the Royal Commission.
Prioritising the expulsion of hereditary Peers made good manifesto copy and set the scene for knockabout politicking of the type beloved of the media. A matter of such overwhelming constitutional significance as reform of this House demanded a measured and balanced approach, not one signposted by party ideology. Belief that the underlying reason for isolating the ejection of hereditary Peers was to avoid having us discuss the future House was confirmed by the Leader of the Commons when she spoke on 1st February. However, with the White Paper and the Royal
The White Paper is perhaps more notable for what it does not say than for what it does. Perhaps I may first address the nature of a reformed House. What needs to be decided first and foremost are size, purpose, functions and powers. Not until those fundamentals are settled can composition and membership be sensibly discussed. The order in which the terms of reference for the Royal Commission are set out tends to support that view, and yet the Government have bedevilled the issue and compromised debate by focusing attention first on composition, through their insistence on first eliminating hereditary Peers and necessitating a transitional House.
I can see no good reason why the powers of a reformed House should not mirror those that we now have. Such an arrangement would protect the position of another place. It is us wicked hereditary Peers who are the fly in New Labour's ointment, not the historically evolved relative competences of the two Chambers. The machine works--no matter what selective statistics or partisan points are advanced.
The White Paper ignores the problems of imbalance between Executive and legislature which are currently so obvious. I am certain that that needs re-ordering, which means that the powers of neither House should be reduced. That is why I wholeheartedly support my noble friend's amendment.
The prospect of relative powers being debated by a Joint Committee is troubling, to say the least. One might--or must--hope that the Royal Commission will take a firm stand on the broad status quo as a proper way forward. I have no pronounced views on size or functions, which in any case are subject to evolutionary change.
Moving from powers and companion matters, I come to membership. I advocate that the majority of Members should be elected, with only a very few places reserved for ex-officio Members over and above the inclusion of judges and Bishops. An elected House, when powers were settled, would be no threat to Commons' supremacy.
I would prefer to see election by popular ballot from regions of equal size, promoting balance between heavily and sparsely populated areas and, I hope, an electoral scheme which would secure the return of at least one independent Member and one candidate for each main political party for each region. I do not like the option of a purely nominated House. In fact, I find it almost objectionable. It would lack the teeth of popular mandate. It would be in danger of becoming a giant quango and then a very expensive talking shop, unlikely over time to attract the right calibre of Member.
Would that a transitional House could be avoided. Other speakers have talked about the difficulties of achieving the parity which is looked for, and one worries seriously about how long it would be transitional. The manifesto uses the words "over time" when talking about parity, while the White Paper talks about "moving towards". Both those phrases suggest potential delays.
Inserting a reformed Chamber into an existing parliamentary system is more difficult than creating a new parliament or assembly. With devolution, regionalisation, changing relations with Europe and potential electoral reform, strands are being yanked from our constitutional fabric at an alarming rate. The possible consequences for our parliamentary democracy are frightening if we do not get it right. Such a dramatically important issue can provoke passionate reactions. The Government may face real difficulties with your Lordships' House. I, for one, will not be influenced by the possible offer of the 91 hereditary Peers being included in the next stage. For the sake of our nation and our parliamentary democracy, I can only pray that we do get it right.
Lord Birdwood: My Lords, at the beginning of our deliberations this afternoon, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House taunted these Benches--twice--with inferences that our numbers in the debate, the hours set aside, compared unfavourably to the weight that we gave to health and the homeless. Over the years I have become totally exasperated at this assumption that only a Labour administration, only socialism, can claim ownership of compassion. It may be difficult for an on-message New Labour apostle to take in, but the heart of a Tory, hereditary Peer can break just as readily when faced with the reality of destitution, alienation, misery and disease. Indeed, I think because my instincts are for the individual rather than the statistic that the pain may be even more immediate.
Perhaps I may at this late hour set a little test to the writers of the White Paper: why do those hereditary Peers, who have included the work of the House in their lives, do it? Is it for the money? I hope that this is not seriously mooted. Is it for the glory? Oh, come on! Is it for power? Well, we all know that it is not, not with the balance between the Houses set in statute as at present. Is it because of a love of Parliament? Yes, now we are getting closer. Is it because of a perception of duty? I believe it is just that. But I believe more. We are witnessing real change in the British political system. What is being sold to us is packaged in the "good", the "how-can-you-possibly-argue-with-that?" words, "modern", "evolving", and--I nearly forgot--"new". So this White Paper is presented to us as a necessary first step in the evolution of a modern, new political order.
I am afraid I have a different word. What we are seeing is not evolution but mutation--mutating with all the overtones of unknowable outcome. Under the cloak of synthetic outrage, and helped by a media agenda which would do justice to attention deficit disorder, we are being sold the circumvention of Parliament itself. If my commiseration might be for the petulant mangling of this House, it must spread to the prospects for the other place as well--the other place ambling good naturedly into uncharted, anti-libertarian territories. Power is slipping away from both Houses.
Perhaps the hanging banners of our island history are faded and threadbare. Perhaps ideas of duty and continuity have no pungency for the regimes which lie ahead in our new, modernised politics. Perhaps we have moved into a world of Rice Krispie politics, transient, air-filled, brilliantly advertised. Perhaps this is what we deserve and, although it hurts to say it, I cannot absolve my own party, in its recent past, from responsibility for the process. We brought it upon ourselves.
It is a privilege for me as the 22nd holder of this title to sit in your Lordships' House. I have to say that I have been a backwoodsman over many years and can remember such remarks as "At this late hour" which usually meant well before midnight. Although I have sat up to well after that hour and into the morning, I shall make sure that that does not happen this evening.
We have seen changes in procedure in your Lordships' House as well as a new and more lively House. It is a different place to when I came here. However, the changes have been gradual and I believe well thought out. The proposals for the future appear to me to be as if we were a ship with no engine, sail or rudder, lost in a rather large ocean. I do not like that, and when discussing it with others outside the House they find it difficult to see the future in spite of the formation of the Royal Commission. I try to answer and say that there must be change, etc., etc.
So many of your Lordships have in this long and important debate placed many ideas and points of view before your Lordships' House and I have followed them with great interest. But, in conclusion, I feel it is my duty as the present holder of this title to have stated my view, if only as a duty towards those of my Clinton ancestors who have been Members of your Lordships' House since 1299.
Lord Henley: My Lords, it is late and I shall attempt to be brief. It is not my job on this occasion to wind up--that is a job which my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish will do from these Benches with great skill tomorrow.
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