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Lord Hacking: Come over!

Lord Selsdon: My Lords, we could all go over and then we would not have a problem of division--but we would not vote for them.

I leave it at that. It has been a pleasure to be here today.

9.24 p.m.

Lord Nunburnholme: My Lords, that is a hard act to follow! Everyone in the Chamber knows exactly what is going on so I will not elucidate further. The previous four speakers were excellent examples of knowing what is going on.

Not so long ago I wrote a short tome on the three-pronged attack on democracy; the closed list, which has now been effected; hereditary Peers, which we are discussing today; and the single currency, which we shall discuss a great deal more in the future--you can bet on that! It is happening every week. There were the Woolf reforms on civil litigation and the 1995 practice direction. There is the business about Wales and Alun Michael. The Brownshirts came out for that one!

Perhaps I may remind your Lordships--I am sure I do not need to--that the monarch does not rule by divine right. Neither do the Commons rule by divine right. Nor does No. 10 Downing Street rule by divine right. There is only one institution that does rule by divine right. That is common law and the will of the people. If the present Government press on with the single currency, the people of this nation will never forgive them or never forget.

I played backgammon in Turkey for a full month. On one occasion I actually lifted a game off a Turkish gentleman who spoke good English. He reached back for his glass of tea and said, "Ah, do you know that in Turkey we have a saying about the English? If you spit in an Englishman's eye, he will smile; if you spit in his eye a second time, he will say thank-you; if you spit in

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his eye a third time, he will kill you". With a very large majority and the arrogance of the present Government, we are seeing the demise of the socialist party.

Pray continue.

9.27 p.m.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, the evening is drawing on and I hope it will encourage your Lordships to know that if anyone is interested in my thoughts on the way to take forward reform of the second Chamber, I shared them with your Lordships in the autumn of last year. I have no intention of re-visiting them this evening.

Any parliamentary Chamber's activities are determined by its composition, its powers and its functions, and their inter-relationship. A great deal of the debate over the past two days has focused on composition. I wish to comment mostly on functions and powers. In particular, I want to juxtapose some of the contents of the White Paper with the Prime Minister's comment in his introduction that what the White Paper proposes is a "radical and historic task". I do not doubt its historic significance. It is the epithet "radical" I question.

At page 3 of the White Paper it is stated that the removal of hereditary Peers is,

    "a real change in the way Britain is governed".
That, my Lords, is an ambitious claim which I suggest is not fully supported by the facts.

Not only is Britain not governed by the hereditary peerage; it is not even governed by the House of Lords, which contains, of course, a large number of hereditary Peers. It is governed by Parliament as a whole. As those of us who were involved in the debates and votes on the European Parliamentary Elections Bill know, it is the other place which governs this country. It did so before the tabling of the Bill that is currently before the other place, and it will do so after that Bill is on the statute book.

No change is being made to the way in which the powers and functions of this House work; merely its composition is to be changed, which will of course affect the way in which it operates. But something similar happens in the other place at every general election. On those occasions the Government may change, but the way of government is unchanging.

The composition of this House is being treated like the workforce of a business that has been newly taken over. The new boss has decided to get rid of many of the workers on what might be described as a "first in, first out" basis. Apart from that, there is to be no change to the system. Things will go on in much the same way as before. Whether the composition, and for that matter the functions and purposes, of the second Chamber of Parliament should be changed in such a manner by those who for the time being are in control of the first Chamber is a matter which might be for consideration by the Royal Commission. Should the composition of a House of Parliament, its functions and powers be constitutionally entrenched against change by simple majority of another place?

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The Government have decided that they want the so-and-so's out. I almost used another, vernacular word in this context but then realised that it would be technically inaccurate in the case of hereditary Peers. It is hardly very noble, but it is a recognisable and precedented exercise of naked power. We have seen it before and we shall no doubt see it plenty of times again. I am not only talking about this country.

There is a whole range of political consequences. The Government know that and appreciate that they must deal with them ex post facto. That is why phase two has been put in place, to address those problems. But the problem about phase two is that the Government do not know what they want to do. It is clearly true that they wish to see minimal change to the way in which Parliament as a whole works. Hence they have established a Royal Commission to help them achieve just that. After all, why are the terms of reference of the Royal Commission so circumscribed? It is specifically stated that there is a "need to maintain the position of the House of Commons as the pre-eminent Chamber of the realm." Why is there such a need? What is the evidence? If it is such an overridingly sensible conclusion, why cannot the Royal Commission be relied upon to reach that conclusion? If it cannot be relied upon to reach it, why are its deliberations to be relied upon in other respects?

Given that it is generally accepted on all sides that phase two is likely to set the form of the House of Lords or whatever the second Chamber may be called for many years to come, surely, as my noble friend Lord Norton pointed out yesterday, we should look at the workings of second chambers elsewhere, both inside and outside the common law tradition, to see whether there is anything useful to be learnt from them. Surely our arrangements here are not, in the words of the great Lord Brougham, the Lord Chancellor at the time of the great Reform Bill, incapable of improvement. Why is the Royal Commission expressly forbidden to seek after truth?

While I am sure that the publicly expressed wish to get phase two through expeditiously plays a part in this, surely the real reason is that the cabal which directs the party opposite and the Government is predominantly composed of Members of another place. As any Member of this House who has been a Minister knows, it is cabals in the other place that direct government policy. Obviously, those people love the pre-eminence of the other place and cherish it jealously, with all the emotional affection of the longest serving Member of this House. But surely that is a good reason in itself for asking the Royal Commission to examine the near closed shop which the House of Commons locks on government.

One of the great benefits and uses of this House is that it is a door through which any citizen can go if the government of the day wishes him or her to be part of the administration. In that context one has only to think of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and the noble Lords, Lord Simon and Lord Macdonald, each of whom could not be a member of the Government if this opening were not available.

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Given our system, where a member of the Government must become a Member of Parliament, if one adopts the line argued by the right honourable Member for Chesterfield and others that all members of the Government must be Members of the House of Commons, one limits the pool from which the Government can be called to something like 400 people out of a nation of more than 50 million. That I consider to be absolutely ludicrous.

It is my view that the Government might well be improved if more Members of this House were members of the Government. I suggest that the Royal Commission should consider whether Members of this place could speak for the Government on the Front Bench in the other place and vice versa.

I return to the main thrust of my remarks which is that under a description of radical modernisation the Government's plans for changes in the Parliament here at Westminster guarantee that there will be no discussion of the merits or disadvantages of radical change. In many ways they will deliberately ensure a minimum of substantive change in the future functions and powers of Parliament.

In both phase one and phase two we see no genuine radicalism, despite the brave words of the White Paper. The real question for the Government is not to criticise their radical plans, it is to question their self-proclaimed radical credentials. The question is: if the Government's plans are so radical, why are they so timid in their thoughts and intentions? In short, why are they so conservative?

9.35 p.m.

Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, as the 80th speaker in the debate, I do not intend to weary your Lordships with my own views on the details of the White Paper. Its inconsistencies have already been well exposed by previous speakers. However, I add my voice to the many others before me who found it bizarre that the Government's White Paper stated its intention to increase the legitimacy of a reformed Chamber, but then went on to suggest reducing its powers. A so-called more legitimate House should surely have more powers, not fewer. I would also not be alone in saying that if I hear the word "modernisation" again I think I shall scream.

I have three specific points to raise which flow from the White Paper and its consequences. When the Government get their way and the hereditary Peers are kicked out--the "affronts to democracy", as the Prime Minister calls us--there will remain a House of about 482 life Peers. According to the figures produced by the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, last year during the debate in this House in October, over half those Peers are aged 70 or more. Further, of those 482 Peers only about half turn up.

We do not yet know whether the mooted 91 affronts to democracy, as proposed by the Weatherill amendment, will be part of the interim Chamber. Are the Government satisfied that the business of the House will be able to be carried out effectively during the period between stages one and two? I am thinking of

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the Deputy Chairmen of Committees, the European Communities Committee and its sub-committees and several other committees of your Lordships' House. For example, the European Select Committee on which I have the honour to serve has eight hereditary Peers among its members. The agriculture and fisheries sub-committee has seven hereditaries out of its 11 members. At my count--and I stand to be corrected--the various committees of this House are well served by 67 of those affronts to democracy.

Are the Government able to give the House the assurance that the work done by the committees which is widely acknowledged to be of some value will be carried out to the same standards by a House much reduced in numbers and which may last for much longer than the Government envisage at the moment?

I mentioned agriculture and fisheries. It brings me to the second point I wish to raise. When the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, introduced the White Paper on 20th January this year--and it is repeated in the White Paper--she said that 60 per cent. of hereditary Peers have some connection with the land. It follows, therefore, that when they go that interest will go with them. Twenty-three per cent. of the population live and work in rural areas, 30 per cent. of the national gross domestic product is produced in those areas and a large number of jobs depend on them. I hope that the Royal Commission will put the necessary pressure on the Government to ensure that the rural constituency in the United Kingdom will be properly represented in this House, whatever its eventual composition. This cannot be left to another place which is predominantly urban in outlook. The countryside and the rural economy are under pressure as never before and their voice must be heard.

Finally, I should like to suggest to my noble friend Lord Wakeham and his Royal Commission that they examine a system of party Whips. Yesterday I was encouraged by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, and today by the speech of my noble friend Lord Selsdon who shares some reservations on this matter. At this point I part company with my noble friend Lord Jopling who dealt with this matter yesterday. He prefaced his remarks by saying:

    "I am the third former Chief Whip to speak and I hope that I am not seen to be making a plea from the 'Chief Whips' mafia'."--[Official Report, 22/2/99; col. 872.]
He then went on to make a case for serial flagellation. I speak as a victim of whipping during the debate on the Maastricht Treaty. I was pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Moran, reminded us of those events, in particular the question of a referendum on that unfortunate treaty. Those of us who supported a referendum were opposed most effectively not so much by reasoned debate as by ruthless whipping by both the Labour Party and by my noble friend Lord Hesketh on behalf of the then government. His final duty was to make sure that the whipped ones went into the voting Lobby of his choice rather than one of your Lordships' cloakrooms. The vote on this matter was lost but I believe that the argument

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was won, as some months later both the Conservative and Labour Parties found that they would after all have a referendum on economic and monetary union.

As a "whipee" (if that is the correct word to use) my experience was no happier. I expected to be telephoned at any moment by the Whips Office. It never happened. I waited for the call and it never came. However, one day I received a fax headed, "Top Priority. Urgent. Your immediate attendance is required in the House of Lords without failure". I ignored this and carried on castrating pigs, filling in my IACS forms, or whatever else I was doing at the time. I later telephoned that day to find out whether the Government had fallen or some other calamity had occurred only to be told by an uninterested voice on the other end of the telephone that there had been no vote on the matter at all.

I believe that whipping diminishes Parliament in the eyes of the public. If this reformed House is to be a real and legitimate check on the Executive, of whatever political hue, then the party Whip should have no place in it. Measures that are proposed in Bills should stand or fall on their merits. Both my noble friend Lord Cranborne and the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said that this House would become more party political after the reforms proposed in the White Paper. If so, the Royal Commission should be aware of the dangers and will, I hope, guarantee that the second Chamber will be both legitimate and independent. The amendment of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde is a first step towards this desired goal and I support it. If it comes to a vote I shall vote for it.

9.43 p.m.

Lord Gladwyn: My Lords, the White Paper, although very repetitive, makes a convincing case for ending the hereditary principle in Parliament though a bad case for splitting House of Lords reform into two steps. As one of the most junior of the hereditary Peers--I am No. 729 out of the 759--whose peerage dates from the twilight period of 1960, and as only a later arrival in your Lordships' House, I am particularly aware of my good fortune at being here, but I cannot in truth justify it. However hard the present House of Lords may seek to fulfill its functions, however high the standards of debate, however conscientious its membership and however admirable its amateur unpaid status, it is inherently impeded by its preservation of the historical anachronism of hereditary legislators.

In respect of stage one, I should like to make one point that was touched upon yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Denham. The Government could have confined their measure to all Peers who sit by virtue of inheritance. It is not necessary for this purpose to extrude also hereditary Peers of first creation. Earlier proposals for House of Lords reform did not go so far.

The White Paper does not propose the abolition of that part of the peerage which is hereditary. It is perfectly possible, although unlikely, that hereditary peerages might still be created in the future. I do not see why anyone so honoured should not sit with life Peers in the House of Lords. Why is that being prevented? Perhaps because it was tempting to cut the link now that

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there are so few living hereditary Peers of first creation, or perhaps it was to prevent future Royal Peers from sitting. If the latter, it is superfluous since, as I see it, the monarchy is already sufficiently distanced from the peerage not to be affected simply by the exclusion of hereditary Peers. It stands by itself, as do the seven other constitutional monarchies of Europe. Paradoxically, one of its most enduring strengths is that it is not so rigidly bound to the strict rules of heredity, since the Royal succession ultimately depends on acceptance of the Sovereign by Parliament, as has been made clear on several famous occasions in our history, most recently in our own times in 1936.

This debate provides a welcome opportunity for those of us who may not be here after the end of the present Session to speak about what the White Paper suggests beyond stage one. It contains several encouraging features. First, and most basically, the Government firmly endorse the need for a bicameral Parliament, something about which the Labour Party used to waver in the wobbly days of Michael Foot. Secondly, in the face of public concern about their commitment to further reform, a Royal Commission will produce proposals and an ambitious timetable is set for the Government to declare their policy before the next general election. Thirdly, the scandal of Prime Ministerial patronage, which has continued seamlessly from the era of hereditary peerages into the era of life peerages, is to be significantly mitigated in the transitional House by the Appointments Commission and the Scrutiny Committee.

And yet, despite these assurances, doubts must remain about what will actually happen, given the entrenched interests of the House of Commons and of the Crown-in-Parliament in confining the status and powers of the second Chamber. A stage two reform might simply prove too contentious or be set aside in the face of unforeseeable political events. Anyway, the timetable seems impossibly tight. The transitional House might become the permanent House, always susceptible to being packed in the final resort, as the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, has so eloquently reminded us. Alternatively, and at the other extreme, if the Government attempt to rush through stage two, it might not last long during the impending century, in which there might be stages three, four and five as the unwritten British constitution is still further manipulated.

It is most regrettable that the Government are pushing forward their reform in this way when they could well have done so by consensus, finding, as they have, an easier quarry in the ermine-mantled Peers than they did in the pink-coated fox-hunters. Today's hereditary Peers are no diehards. They are altogether different from the proud aristocrats of past centuries. This was proved in the events of 1968 when the House of Lords voted five to one in favour of the White Paper on reform. At that time the hereditary Peers far outnumbered the life Peers and yet they voted for the end of the hereditary principle in Parliament even though the two-Writ system provided some temporary relief.

It is, of course, true that the 1968 White Paper proposed significant reductions in the powers of the House of Lords. The reformed House would have been

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confined to only a six-month delay in the passage of an ordinary Bill and the power of final rejection of subordinate legislation was removed. However, many things have changed in the past 30 years and in particular the powers of the Executive have been greatly enhanced--a tendency which is as much Thatcherite as it is Blairite. The weakness of the House of Commons is obvious with the control by the party machines of their candidates as well as the dominance of the fourth estate in all aspects of public life.

Therefore, I applaud the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition for having tabled tabling his amendment which, if he moves it, I shall certainly support. The powers of this House, though they must remain subordinate to the other place, should be strong and meaningful and, whatever they are, they should be used.

9.50 p.m.

Lord Morris: Many noble Lords here tonight may believe that after 80 Members have spoken there must be little left of the White Paper to debate. That is true, not least because my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth and many others quite brilliantly shredded the White Paper with the skill of a Chinese chef shredding a cabbage. There is nothing left of it.

I have listened to every speech I possibly could and I have read all the speeches which were made yesterday and I am provoked into speaking by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. I was reminded of a saying of Somerset Maugham, to the effect that just because a man is inarticulate it does not mean to say that he is stupid. The corollary interests me more: that just because a man is articulate does not mean to say that he is intelligent. I was not too pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and other noble Lords continually refer to this Chamber as the second House. Noble Lords will know that in Tudor times in the ceremony of prorogation, it was referred to as the Higher House. In more modern times it was referred to as the Upper House. If anything, it is the first House of Parliament.

The noble Lord, Lord Richard, also suggested that if the House of Lords were to be properly reformed it might be the second most important institution in the realm. I would have thought that he, as a lawyer, would know that the first estate of the realm is the Crown, the second is the Church, the third is Parliament--which means both Houses of Parliament--and the fourth estate is the free press.

I shall leave your Lordships with a quotation from the same period of history as the quotation made by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. It is an observation in the third chapter of Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and it has high relevance to this debate. It is a fearful, fearful warning and it is worth remembering that the first democracy which the world experienced, the city state of Athens, lasted only 100 years. The warning is:

    "The principles of a free constitution are irrevocably lost, when the legislative power is nominated by the executive".

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9.53 p.m.

Lord Annaly: My Lords, as the 43rd speaker to rise to speak on the second day of the debate on the White Paper and at least the 80th to speak during the two days, I am sure that noble Lords will be relieved to hear that I do not intend to detain the House for more than a few minutes. The White Paper on House of Lords reform poses more questions than it answers. We are told in Chapter 1 that the Government are committed to,

    "improving the effectiveness and balance of the House of Lords, with the aim of it playing a full and proper part in Parliament".
Do the Government want to keep the present and tried balance of power and responsibility between your Lordships' House and the other place, or do they intend to reduce the powers of your Lordships' House? Perhaps the noble Lord the Chief Whip will address that issue in his reply.

I believe that the Government owe it not to this House but to the country as a whole to clarify their position regarding what appear to be contradictory statements and suggestions in the White Paper. In Chapter 7, between paragraphs 23 and 27, there are some suggestions concerning the reduction of the powers which are currently available to your Lordships' House on the basis that they might be used more frequently by a reformed House. As other noble Lords have said, any reduction in the powers of your Lordships' House would make a mockery of the Government's claim to want a more effective second Chamber.

The Royal Commission has a great burden of responsibility. While I have every confidence in my noble friend Lord Wakeham and the other members of the Royal Commission, I do not have any confidence that the Government will follow the commission's recommendations and implement an effective reformed second Chamber.

The Executive is all powerful in another place. That is the case now as it was in the past when my party was in power. Members of another place are subject to very strong and effective party whipping. One of the strengths of your Lordships' House is that the Whips do not have any sanction and, in addition, as has been acknowledged, noble Lords on the Cross-Benches play an invaluable part in our proceedings. Thus it is essential that your Lordships' House is no less powerful in its reformed state than it is now so that it is in a position to hold the other place and, more important, the executive to account. The present Government and previous governments, including those of my own party, are not capable of holding the executive to account. The country perhaps does not understand that and it may not understand that, ironically, this House, in its present, undemocratic state, is the last defence which has some form of lever--by asking questions and causing delay--with which to hold the executive to account.

I shall support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, should he press it to a Division, for the reasons that I have given.

Finally, your Lordships' House will inevitably become more political after stage one of the reform and probably even more political after stage two, if it ever

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happens. That is regrettable as your Lordships' House will then undoubtedly lose many of the qualities which set it head and shoulders above the other place.

9.56 p.m.

Lord Monk Bretton: My Lords, the White Paper has already been well castigated by noble Lords in those areas about which it should have been castigated. Therefore, I hope that that shortens what I have to say.

I shall deal with one area, and one area only, which I wish to address because everything that I say hangs upon that. The White Paper mentions the Bryce Committee of both Houses in 1917-18. That studied proposals for an elected second Chamber more thoroughly than any other committee or commission has done. The Dictionary of National Biography says that in view of the many and varied views with which the chairman, Lord Bryce, was confronted, which led to difficulties in relation to agreement, he took the unusual step of reporting by letter to the Prime Minister of the day. I am afraid that that does not sound too good a precedent. After all, little was done about that report thereafter and it has gathered dust for about 80 years. Nevertheless, I believe that its proposals are worthy of note and I am glad to see them in the White Paper.

The abilities of Lord Bryce himself were also worthy of note. I should like to saw a few words about the other things that he did, which have a bearing on this. He was a Liberal. He was very well known in the United States for writing a book, The American Commonwealth, which was not read so widely in the UK but was read widely over there. It was a critique of the United States's constitution with many valuable comparisons with our own constitution. He did not express opinions himself; but he had a way of leading one to opinions that one could readily form for oneself. One got a good deal of guidance. It is interesting and important also that the book was written before 1911.

At that time we thought that the American constitution was too unwieldy; it had too many checks and balances and would therefore endanger the Executive's ability to govern. One should look back on that today. The United States' constitution has provided great stability. Their nation has grown to great prominence in the world and those impediments about which we were worried and felt might be disastrous do not seem to have mattered and perhaps were an advantage.

Their opinion of our constitution was rather like the one the noble Lord, Lord Richard, described earlier today; that is, with our Cabinet system of government, the only system of checks and balances we had appeared to consist of the House of Lords. We otherwise had what amounted to an outright elective dictatorship. The Americans feared that the powers of the House of Lords were already too weak; that the House of Lords was vulnerable to demands for reform; and that such reforms would reduce the remaining checks and balances and render the Executive too powerful. They felt that that could destabilise the nation.

That was 100 years ago. We are still here today. Of course, the House of Lords kept going rather better than anybody, including myself, ever thought it would. At

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times it is true that we rushed into political actions which did us little good. Our all-important economy would have been stronger without some of those actions. We have already paid a price. My noble friend Lord Cranborne mentioned his anxieties about what was going on over constitutional matters.

The Americans would suggest that we have two options. One is to remove the Executive from the House of Commons; and the other is to move towards an elected second Chamber with more power. The first of those, it has to be said, is alien to our thinking. But the second, though many doubts have been expressed in this debate, may have to be the course we have to consider carefully and to go down. It will be a momentous change if and when we do. We may have to draw back from the brink--I do not know, we may have to draw back from several brinks!

It is a difficult matter that we have been trying to resolve for many years. That is why I suggest that the "no-stage-one-without-stage-two" proposition would be safer than stage one without stage two. Once the hereditary Peers are gone, I doubt the permanence of a nominated transitional House for long because of the need to top-up to preserve political balances. Unless and until we know, and stage two can be decided, we shall be off on a slippery slope without knowing what is at the bottom. For those reasons I support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde.

10.5 p.m.

The Earl of Northesk: My Lords, this is not the moment to discuss the relative merits of the hereditary Peerage. The Government will get their Bill. Rather, it is a case of what comes next. As a number of noble Lords have suggested, that makes it all the more surprising that the context of our debate, the White Paper, is so obsessed with justifying stage one. Far from being a dispassionate exposition of the options for stage two, the White Paper is little more than a party political polemic.

The propriety of this is questionable. It may also be indicative of either the vacuity of the Government's case for further reform or an unwillingness to expose their real ambitions to detailed scrutiny. Peter Hennessy commented that,

    "without doubt the twentieth [century] has belonged to the executive, not the legislature. Ours is very much the executive's Constitution".
That is true. There can be few who dispute how much of a creature of the executive another place has become. That is one cause among many for public disenchantment with our governmental and political processes. It is implicit in the text of the White Paper that the aim of the Government is to turn this Chamber into an instrument of the executive; to bind the powers and functions of your Lordships' House to the whim of the party of power. It is that which makes so much of the White Paper so offensive.

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Despite high-minded protestation that,

    "Parliament is the core of political accountability in Britain",
the underlying thrust of the Government's case is the exact reverse; namely, that Parliament should be accountable to the executive. That is unacceptable. It also underscores a most persistent fiction of the current debate. As my noble friend Lord Inglewood pointed out, the White Paper claims that enactment of stage one proposals will represent,

    "a real change in the way Britain is governed".
It will, but what I dispute is the presumption that this House is an instrument of government. It is not, at least not yet.

As the White Paper makes abundantly clear, it is above all else part of the legislature not the executive. As such, its primary and inter-related functions are the scrutiny and revision of legislation and the holding of the executive to account; functions which, for the sake of constitutional balance and good governance, are performed from a wholly discrete perspective to that which prevails in another place. The White Paper freely admits that, even--dare I say it?--with a measure of approbation. It acknowledges:

    "A second chamber not only provides a longer process of scrutiny of legislation, it also allows it to be examined from a different point of view".
However, it singularly fails to explain the context of our bicameral arrangement, the Burkean principle of wants and needs.

This is not complicated. To use an analogy, an alcoholic wants to drink; he needs to be dried out. The one is a quick fix, the other an enduring solution. So it is with our legislative process. The other place is driven by a short-term political aspiration aimed at electoral advantage. Your Lordships' House is driven by a long-term, non-political obligation aimed at the "greater good". That is as it should be. It is an essential component of our constitutional balance.

At the moment there are few certainties attached to enactment of the Government's stage one proposals, let alone any of their further plans for reform. However, as many noble Lords have pointed out, we can be certain of at least one thing: the further politicisation of this House will be accelerated. It is implicit in the White Paper that the Government view that with approval. Of necessity, the text pays lip service to the need to maintain an independent element, but recent comments in debate from the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, from the Leader of another place, and from the Home Secretary have undermined the Government's sincerity here. The text of the White Paper is riddled with references to the Government's wish to achieve a more politically effective and balanced House--in effect, a suppression of "needs" in favour of "wants".

The Government's plans for this House do not involve any improvements to the legislative process or to the capacity of Parliament to hold the executive to account. No, I repeat that they involve,

    "a real change in the way Britain is governed".
That would break the distinction between the two Houses. It would corrupt constitutional balance. It would weaken Parliament. The underlying theme of the

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White Paper is further to subjugate Parliament to the will of the executive. However disingenuous their presentation, that is the sense of paragraphs 25 and 26 of Chapter 7.

The prevarication of the Government's position is contained in the observation that,

    "the range of experience of those who enter elected politics is becoming increasingly narrow".
That is a tacit admission that the other place is no longer in a position to acquit its representative duties properly. It is not the sin of omission of your Lordships' House that motivates the desire to create a more representative Parliament; it is the sin of commission of the other place. The implication is that the tradition of this House for objective and dispassionate scrutiny from the perspective of the "greater good" is to be subjugated to the politics of another place.

We are engaged in a battle--a battle for Parliament. Only last week the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, drew the attention of the House to the fact that we are reverting once again to "executive government by decree". That is not a new phenomenon per se. Noble Lords opposite, when in opposition, have been equally discomfited and equally trenchant in contesting the efforts of the party of these Benches, when in office, to increase the power of the executive. That is as it should be. But it should be said that this Government's assault on Parliament is more dangerous than most. Consciously and deliberately, they seek to unpick the constitutional balance.

In a few months' time--or whenever it is that hereditary Peers finally get their redundancy papers--those who remain behind, in both Houses, should continue to be mindful of their constitutional duty. In this House and in another place, we are all Members of this Parliament. That position will persist post enactment of the Government's stage one proposals and, as Members of this Parliament, our first duty is to the institution of this Parliament. No one disputes that one of this Parliament's primary functions is to hold the Executive to account. We should do that as the White Paper says,

    "on a basis other than that of party allegiance."
All of us, both here and in another place, should be parliamentarians before we are party hacks. Concepts of representation become meaningless if we are not.

As my noble friend Lord Denham suggested yesterday, administrations should be able to justify their decisions against a litmus test of whether they would be comfortable if they were on the receiving end of them. There will be a future Conservative administration. It may, as some believe, be a dim and distant prospect or it may be sooner than noble Lords opposite care to imagine. But do the Government and noble Lords opposite sincerely believe that their interests, let alone those of the nation, are best served by investing this degree of power in a Tory executive? I very much doubt it.

There is a more chilling aspect to the Government's ambitions. As we know only too well, far-reaching structural changes have already been made to our

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constitutional architecture. Despite the rhetoric, these have not--and will not--address the core reasons that contribute to,

    "the national crisis of confidence in our political system"--
the dominance of political elites, the over-weening power of the executive and the apparent failure of the representative principle. They achieve the reverse. They strengthen the power of the party political apparat and the executive at the expense of individual voters--closed lists, Rhodri Morgan in Wales, Ken Livingstone in London, and so on. Proposals for reform of this House and Parliament are of a piece with this. The net effect will be to deepen,

    "the national crisis of confidence in our political system",
and to elicit further disengagement of the public from its representatives, something that is already particularly well-entrenched so far as another place is concerned.

However, as the White Paper makes abundantly clear, Parliament's capacity to function,

    "must rest on the assent of the people of Britain".
Disengagement is but a step away from the withholding of assent. In these terms, delivery of the Government's intent is not only to diminish Parliament but also to undermine its very authority or purpose. That is akin to this Parliament signing its own death warrant.

10.16 p.m.

Lord Balfour of Burleigh: My Lords, when I cross Parliament Square and thread my way through the crowds of people, predominantly young and many from far distant countries, gazing with awe up at the mother of parliaments, I wonder whether any of your Lordships share my feeling that many of them are thinking of their school days when they were told that this was the cockpit of democracy where legislation is formed by the influence of great debates. It produces the legislation which, as the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, reminded us earlier, has provided us in this country with centuries free of civil strife.

How far is this still the picture today? Four or five decades ago people who were busy in jobs all over the country--teaching, running companies and participating in local democracy--came to Parliament for the second half of the day, with their minds informed by the pressures of the task that they had been doing, to make the legislation in another place. No longer is it possible for people in another place to fulfil that dual role. Too often, their voting power must be met by the power to delay and frustrate. Procedural rules, introduced in the last quarter of the last century to deal with the problems of minority people, have been built upon. The result is the network of pacts and deals about which many noble Lords know much more than I do.

Most unfortunate is the power taken by those in charge of political parties to control the words and deeds of their members. Those young and idealistic Members in another place have to be so careful about expressing their independence. As many have pointed out, that process is still moving and phrases like "elected dictatorship" have been mentioned. We all have our views regarding just how dangerous that is. But the reason that I repeat what has already been referred to is

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that it emphasises just how important it is that the Royal Commission manages to produce recommendations which the Government can accept, and which will maintain in this House the quality of debate to which so many of your Lordships have referred.

Of course we must be clear--in case other people read Hansard--that things are not always quite so wonderful. As in all institutions, we have to sit through dull moments. Some years ago I attended a quick reading course in which we were told that we should moderate the speed at which we read in accordance with the quality of what we were reading. I hardly dare to tell your Lordships that the example given of the prose with the greatest number of words with the least meaning and substance was the Hansard columns of the House of Lords.

However, against that, we all know that the House of Lords committee on European affairs is greatly respected. The House of Lords Committee on Science and Technology occupies the same premier position. As the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, said yesterday, we must not put an age limit on participation in this House. Age limits are imposed because it is right and proper that people should not retain the leadership of great institutions--which requires great concentration over a long time--at too advanced an age. However, we shall sorely miss the contributions of people in their eighth and ninth decade who come to make a special point as a result of years of long experience.

The proposal in the White Paper which causes me great concern is the notion of balancing the numbers in the new reformed House in accordance with variations in the numbers and proportions of the political parties in another place. Page four of the Constitution Unit's report, Reforming the House of Lords Step by Step tells us that as a result of heavy computer studies it is calculated that an average of 100 new Members will be required in this House every Parliament--at least 25 a year. If we think of the swings that have occurred in the proportions of the political parties in another place in the past two or three decades, I think these averages are probably low.

How can we have an effective debating chamber with a good quality of debate with that proportion of new Members? A colossus computer will be needed. I suggest that if it comes, it should be called the Enigma Variation in memory of all those heroic people who worked at Bletchley during the war. Certainly we shall need a fifth and sixth wheel if the York and Lancashire assemblies come into being. But the deserving result of that proposal would be not so much the numbers but the tendency for the retention of party driven argument to govern debate in this House. It is necessary to have a sufficient number of expert people who are Cross-Benchers or free of party attachment to produce the arguments which, when legislation is returned to another place, will be accepted because of the clarity of the thinking and the knowledge that is provided. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, earlier this evening, mentioned A.J. Balfour and said that democracy is government by explanation. That will be needed to return complicated legislation on difficult issues to another place.

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The Royal Commission's task will be difficult. It must perform the delicate balancing act of producing a report which ensures that another place does not feel threatened. It must be sure to retain the power to return legislation to another place and it must provide for the expertise in this House to which I have referred. I wish the Royal Commission the best of luck.

10.24 p.m.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, I shall start with Macaulay and I shall end with Macaulay. It is interesting to note that when the 1688 rebellion took place it was the House of Lords that summoned King William to protect parliamentary liberties because the Commons was not sitting. As your Lordships will know, Macaulay was a Liberal; he was a Whig. He wrote in about one-and-a-half hours the whole of the Bengal civil code. He was quite keen on the hereditary principle. He holds up as an example Lord Oxford of the time--who was eventually sacked by James II--and, in his great, traditional, Norman, Anglo-Saxon English, he speaks of a time,

    "when the families of Howard and Seymour were still obscure, when the Nevilles and Percies enjoyed only a provincial celebrity, and when even the great name of Plantaganet had not yet been heard in England. One chief of the house of De Vere had held high command at Hastings: another had marched, with Godfrey and Tancred, over heaps of slaughtered Moslem, to the sepulchre of Christ".
I quote that, partly because it is magic English and partly to show that a progressive Whig in the 19th century could still hold heredity to be a contribution to English political society.

I completely concede that that view has now changed beyond anything. What has not changed is the necessity for Macaulay's balanced Whig constitution. Your Lordships' House arose because the king could not govern without the advice and consent of the powerful nobles. My grandfather and grandmother were quite snobbish, and my grandfather--who was the brother of the next speaker's grandmother, though that is neither here nor yon--used to say to my grandmother, "Don't get over-excited, dear, you are only middle-class peerage".

I tell this story because when we built our house in 1720 we spent 70,000 quid on that house. Twenty years before, Parliament had voted a standing army of 10 battalions of infantry and two regiments of cavalry. The cost of that standing army was £370,000 a year. So it shows how, even in my grandfather's terms, the middle-class peerage had to be consulted because we were seriously powerful.

I am not powerful. I am a small peasant farmer.

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