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Lord Dunleath: My Lords, I suspect it is the wish of this House that I continue. I do not mind how Government Ministers choose to live, but it ill behoves them to throw stones when living in fragile glasshouses.
In reality, I very much doubt whether hereditary Peers would either bother, or have the time, to use the excellent catering and other facilities in your Lordships' House if they are no longer allowed to participate in the business of this House. However, it is sad that they will no longer be able to host events in support of charity, British industry or whatever, within the Palace of Westminster, as they do so well at present.
I turn to the White Paper and the business of reform. The Government make much of the fact that stage one has to be completed before stage two can be implemented. There are no valid reasons for that argument. A Royal Commission has been set up and its members selected, to include the noble Baroness, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde. Following extended pressure on the Government, I understand that the commission is to report by the end of 1999--a very short time indeed--and that stage two will be implemented within the lifetime of this Parliament. Given that the great majority of hereditary Peers are committed to sensible reform, and that the sticking point is over the Government's intransigent attitude that the two stages have to be taken separately, why on earth can the Government not give way gracefully, taking the reforms as one package? That will mean that the hereditary Peers are gone by 2001, or, at the very latest, 2002. After all, it is surely an insult to suggest that hereditaries, many of whom have served your Lordships' House with distinction for 20, 30, even 40 years or more, do not have a worthwhile contribution to make towards the future structure of this House. The present arrangement is akin to asking us to leave home without locking the front door.
I understand that perhaps I should not speak for too long, but I have one further point to make. I turn finally to the implications these reforms will have for my own part of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland. In the Province we have nine life Peers with an average age of 71 and seven hereditary Peers with an average age of 58. If the three Irish Earls of Antrim, Belmore and Caledon were allowed to join us, the average age of the hereditaries would drop to 56. I am old-fashioned enough to subscribe to the view that age often equates with experience, but our life Peers do not represent a broad spread through the generations. Of greater concern is that, if the rumours about a retirement age for life Peers at 75 are true, we would lose five of that number immediately and another within a couple of years. With the hereditary Peers also gone, Northern Ireland would be left with just three representatives in your Lordships' House.
Noble Lords have put forward ideas--some ingenious and some well thought out--as to how the new House of Lords might operate. I, too, am disappointed that we have not heard more from the Labour Back Benches. Maybe their reluctance to speak is because they have no real idea of how to move forward. However, we have had a speech of monumental thoughtfulness and good sense from the distinguished former Leader of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, which largely mirrored in content that of the former Conservative Leader, the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. I could detect very little between them and, in truth, I would
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, the end is at last in sight. I refer not only to the end of the hereditary Peers' membership of your Lordships' House, but also to the end of this debate. There have been times during this afternoon and evening when I felt that the two were likely to continue for about the same length of time.
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, as they have just demonstrated, his noble friends are waiting eagerly to hear him, as are, indeed, the rest of us. I therefore hope that I shall not keep your Lordships too long from that treat.
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, this has been a very long debate. More than 90 Peers have already spoken. Indeed, it has been so long that my mind has wandered off course from time to time. At one point, I drifted off for a moment and dreamed that we were debating a moratorium on the genetic modification of the hereditary peerage. I then woke up and found that that was what we were debating! Of course, the genetic modification of the hereditary peerage has been going on for at least as long as the hereditary peerage has existed--and I shall not speculate on whether it has created an improved product!
Your Lordships' House has had a curious appearance in the past two days. The Conservatives and the Cross-Benchers have been here in force. The Government Benches have been relatively empty, and our own even more so, although I now notice some rather unfamiliar faces behind me. As far as my party is concerned, I make no apology. Of course we regard the reform of your Lordships' House as a matter of the highest constitutional importance. We, in this party, have been advocating reform for years, even when the other parties were largely silent. We had two days of debate on this subject in October and a considerable part of another day during the debate on the Queen's Speech.
The noble Baroness the Leader of the House was absolutely right in recognising the wish of the House and arranging this debate, but on these Benches we prefer to keep our powder dry for Second Reading. The result of the shortage of Back-Bench speakers on our
Today, the debate has been raised to very great heights by the speeches of the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and the noble Lord, Lord Richard, who were to a remarkable extent in agreement with each other. That is the only point on which I agree with the immediately preceding speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath.
Today, we have also heard a thoughtful speech from the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, about the future role of your Lordships' House; a very entertaining speech from the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon; what I would describe as a typically moderate and balanced speech from the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, and we have had the sight of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, wearing not only a Garrick Club tie, but also what appears from this distance to be a Garrick Club shirt!
Too many speakers have harped on the same old themes. Some have praised your Lordships' House for its independence. The alleged independence of your Lordships' House reminds me of an experience I once had when canvassing. I rang a doorbell; a woman opened the door; I asked her for her support in the forthcoming election, and she answered, "We are not interested in party politics; we are all Conservatives here". The Conservative Members of your Lordships' House are perhaps a little more independent than their honourable friends in the other place, but they are still Conservatives. Indeed, the Cross-Benchers seem to speak and vote far more with the Conservatives than against them. I note that many Cross-Bench speakers today were even more firmly opposed to reform than were most Conservative speakers.
It is a good idea that control of your Lordships' House should from time to time be in different hands from control of the other place. Speaking for myself, I would welcome a system of election to the second Chamber which would make that possible. We cannot justify a system which means that the Conservatives are always the most powerful party in your Lordships' House, whichever party has a majority in the other place.
Other speakers have proposed a continuation of the role of hereditary Peers in the second Chamber, through the conversion of the Cranborne/Weatherill amendment into a permanent arrangement, or through proposals such as those of the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, and others in various versions, that hereditary Peers should have a right to speak but not to vote.
Frankly, that is unrealistic. The principle is quite clear: no one should have rights to take part in the proceedings of Parliament simply by reason of the accident of birth. Indeed, only Glenn Hoddle could find
The Cranborne/Weatherill amendment is a useful, pragmatic and ingenious agreement which, I believe, makes it virtually certain that stage two will go ahead. But there is no reason why the special rights of hereditary Peers should be continued even in vestigial form into stage two. Other speakers have emphasised the need for more gradual reform. Gradual? Perhaps I may remind your Lordships' House that the preamble to the Parliament Act 1911 called for,
Of course I have great respect for the services to Parliament of hereditary Peers through work in your Lordships' House and its committees. I echo the tribute that was paid so eloquently yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. I recognise that it will be a matter of personal sorrow for hereditary Peers who have made valuable contributions to the work of this House to have to leave. However, hereditary Peers have been living on borrowed time for 88 years. That loan has been left outstanding far longer than anyone in 1911 could have expected; but is now, at last, being called in.
I must also say that some very effective points were made against the Government during the course of the debate--points with which I concur. First, the Royal Commission should have been appointed 18 months ago. It has been given a very tight schedule--indeed, in practice, rather less than 10 months. I hope that the Government will allow it a few months extra if the members if the commission think they need it, as well they may.
Secondly, and more importantly, like my noble friend Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, I believe that the second Chamber should be predominantly elected. In my mind, "predominantly" means at least two-thirds. I am, therefore, unhappy with the proposal in the White Paper which appears at paragraph 33 of Chapter 8, suggesting that two-thirds might be too high a proportion of elected members. In that respect, I fully support what the noble Lords, Lord Richard and Lord Desai, said on this subject. I would not go as far as some in calling for a wholly elected second Chamber; there is, indeed, a role for non-political experts in membership of a second Chamber. However, I think, as our Liberal predecessors thought in 1911, that a second Chamber should be constituted on a popular basis. In my view, a "popular basis" does not mean an appointed one.
Finally, I strongly share the view that the existing powers of your Lordships' House should not be reduced under the new regime, though, as my noble friend indicated yesterday, I do not believe that it is appropriate to direct a mandate to the Royal Commission. Therefore, we do not support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, perhaps I should start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, for his trailer. In exchange for that, I have given him some supporters on his Back-Benches which would otherwise be quite vacant. I should also apologise to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House--and, indeed, the four speakers who succeeded her yesterday--for not arriving here until my noble friend Lord Denham was reciting G.K. Chesterton. The fault was not in my stars but in my aircraft, in that British Midland let me down badly on my trip down here and the 11 o'clock plane from Glasgow did not take off until about 10 minutes to two. Your Lordships can work out that as British Midland has not reached the stage of space age travel where you just vaporise and appear at your destination a second later, it took me some time to get here. Therefore I am composing a letter of complaint to British Midland, although perhaps I should send a letter of thanks. However, I heard the two opening speeches today. I heard the one from the ill-trained spaniel. I am not sure what canine equivalent applies to the noble Lord, Lord Richard.
The noble Lord, Lord Richard, said that if he and my noble friend Lord Cranborne had been left to get on with the matter, who knows what would have happened? Having listened to both of them and agreed with much of what they both said--as I think did most of your Lordships to judge from the sounds that emanated from around the House--that prospect might have led to a better and certainly a quicker outcome than that on which we are now embarked. My noble friend described this Chamber as the repair chamber of Parliament. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, quoting Mr. Hugo Young with approval, said that we had to be meaningful actors. Both explored the simple proposition that if we are to be a meaningful, good repair chamber, we require authority and standing.
Interestingly enough, the serious changes which have been made to Parliament in my lifetime have not been made by the modernising, progressive Labour Party, but by the Conservative Party. It was the Conservative Party when in government which introduced life Peers. It was the Conservative Party which introduced lady Peers. That may not have been a good thing, but who knows? I suspect that on balance it was. After the experiences of a few moments ago one or two noble Lords might not agree with that. We also introduced the right of Peers to renounce and to stand for the Commons. Of course in the other place my noble friend Lord St. John of Fawsley introduced the important Select Committees and my noble friend Lord Jopling introduced the Jopling reforms. Therefore we have a record of reforming Parliament which can certainly stand comparison with the party opposite. Therefore the idea that we or indeed your Lordships in all parts of the House want a changeless constitution is simply not true. Indeed, when the Labour government in the late 1960s proposed
I think it is true to say that hardly any, if any, hereditary Peer who has spoken has argued the right of all hereditaries to sit and vote here. What my noble friends and others have said is that if they have to go, they want to be sure that the House which succeeds them is as good if not better at its job than this one. Of course I agree that some 300 hereditary Peers hardly or never attend. Clearly they will not be missed. Equally, there are a number of life Peers who hardly or never attend, and clearly they will not be missed either. I hope that one of the matters the Royal Commission will address in any newly constituted House is exactly this problem.
I return to my noble friends, the hereditary Peers, and indeed to their colleagues around the House, and specifically to those who attend. I think it is right that at the end of this debate I should underline the fact, mentioned by many Peers who have spoken, that they have played an important part in the affairs of this House and of this nation. That role is not just played out on the Floor of your Lordships' Chamber; it is also played out in particular in many of the committees in your Lordships' House. I think we should publicly thank them for their work over the years. We appreciate them and they should not listen to some of the spiteful things said about them in the other place, or even here. I refer to the tendency on the Government Benches to be pretty spiteful. Even the noble Baroness the Leader of the House--if I may say so, having read her speech--descended to that a little when she compared the length of this debate with debates on health and homelessness. I have checked the debate of 10th February. It is interesting to note--the noble Baroness did not mention this--that of the 18 Peers who spoke in that debate, one was a right reverend Prelate, three who wound up were life Peers, but of the other 14, six were life Peers and eight were hereditaries. I do not care from where they spoke in the House. I do not think it was worthy of the noble Baroness to make that jibe.
I also think it is a pity that the Labour Benches have been largely silent in this debate. Such is the control tendency that even some who are always keen to give us their views have followed the pager's instruction and taken a vow of silence. Or perhaps their almost total absence for most of the debate--although I am glad to see a few are here now--can be taken by some of us to show their lack of support for this particular government policy. Which is it? Your Lordships should be told. I thought something had gone wrong when the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, was drawn to his feet at one stage during the day, but then I realised the problem: he is so newly on the Government Benches that he has not yet been given a pager.
Despite the explanation of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, it is a pity that the Liberal Democrats have followed the pager message as slavishly as they have. But I suppose that Paddy--if I may call him that without being reprimanded--and Tony agreed on that at one of the Cabinet committees.
When we were so lacking in speakers from the governing party, it is not easy to be positive and say what we can probably all agree on--but I shall try. I think we all agree with page 24, paragraph 6, in the White Paper. It states:
I shall leave out the bit about the role of the Bench of Bishops. As a Presbyterian, I was reminded earlier by my noble friend the Duke of Montrose about battles long ago. I am not sure whether I am allowed to approve of bishops. But I always listen with interest to what they say, and occasionally I had to vote against them when I was in government.
As to the Law Lords, I also agree with the point made in the White Paper, although I do not think that it is just retired Law Lords who play a distinguished part; I think all Law Lords do. It was a pity that the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, decided to have a debate the other night about the role of the Law Lords and not to subsume that debate into the one we are having today. In that debate my noble friend Lord Kingsland said:
It is because the question of composition and powers are inexorably linked that my noble friend Lord Strathclyde has tabled his amendment. It draws our attention in particular to paragraph 26 of chapter 7 on page 40. That paragraph--which I am not going
Five bull points are addressed in paragraph 26. I have no problem with the one which suggests that perhaps Bills which start in your Lordships' House should be treated in the same way, as far as concerns the Parliament Act, as Bills which start in the other place. I have no problems with that, but I have problems with all the others.
I agree--this is where I suppose the Mafia not just of the former Chief Whips, as they were described earlier by my noble friend Lord Jopling, but of former Members of the House of Commons comes out--that governments should get their business. Indeed, they do and they did. On student fees, for example, and on the European elections, they got their business. They had a bit of a struggle but they got their business. And that should be underlined. So it is ironic how on every defeat in this Parliament the Government have put out a bleating, self-pitying press release complaining about the hereditary Peers, yet when they defeated us in the last Parliament--I was certainly a recipient of a few defeats at the hands of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham--they put out boasting, gushing press releases about the wisdom of your Lordships' House, hereditary Peers and all. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, said, from the safety of the Back Benches, if I may say, that in opposition Labour described the Conservative defeats as rebuffs, yet in government it describes government defeats as outrages.
I believe that the combination we have in this House of conventions allied to the Parliament Act severely constrain, rightly, your Lordships' powers vis-a-vis the House of Commons. I hope the Royal Commission will say clearly that, until it is shown to be unworkable, any differently constituted House should continue the same mixture of convention and the Parliament Act. It is in an elected, or even in a partly elected, House that the powers of this House and the primacy of the other place would come into the clearest conflict. Absolutely no one should underestimate the problem of creating an elected second Chamber. Whatever it starts off with, it will demand more and more powers vis-a-vis the House of Commons.
I think that there are huge problems about a partly elected chamber, because half of your Lordships--the elected half--will think you are every bit as good as the Commons, and certainly a lot better than the other half. So I hope that the Royal Commission will proceed with caution and will realise that if it goes down the elected road it will have to address very seriously the way it rebalances our constitution between this House and the other place.
There are lots of variations on how you appoint a House, if that is the direction in which you go, but I have no wish to go into them in any great detail. What is true is that there is a great deal of shallow thinking on the Government's part, and nowhere more so than in the suggested relationship of Members of this House to Members of the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the European Parliament. Indeed, the
I want to use the Scottish Parliament as an example, if I may. What role would the Scottish Peers sent by the Scottish Parliament, especially if they were Members of the Scottish Parliament, have here? They could discuss only reserved matters. No Scottish legislation will come to this House, unless the Government have a surprise up their sleeve. So how could Scottish Peers be sent by the Scottish Parliament to take part in English legislation? They simply could not. That is but one small example of how I believe the Government have not properly thought out their constitutional changes. My noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, who knows a great deal about constitutions, made that point very succinctly in a speech which we should all read a few times over to see exactly the kind of problems we shall have if we address the constitution in a piecemeal way.
Scotland offered the Government a real warning--a warning about that well known law, the law of unintended consequences. In the words of very senior government Ministers, devolution was supposed to bury the SNP. Let us look at the facts. To date, the best result obtained by the SNP, which wants to break up the United Kingdom, was in 1974 when it won 11 out 71 seats. All the polls suggest that it is likely to get about 40 out of the 129 seats in the Scottish Parliament. That is a very considerable increase in percentage terms in the influence and impact of the SNP in the legislature.
It is the duty of the Royal Commission to examine the unintended consequences of any reform of this place. I do not believe for one minute that when the Government set out on devolution for Scotland they believed that the consequence would be a more powerful Scottish National Party; they believed that it would be a weaker one. Such is the law of unintended consequences.
It simply cannot be sensible to remove the hereditaries and to make this House, in the Government's words, more legitimate, yet at the same time decrease its powers. Almost all noble Lords who have spoken, as well as outside commentators, are not worried about increasing the power of the Lords or the Commons to deal with the Executive. It is the power of the Executive to neuter both Houses of Parliament which causes concern.
However composed, what we need is a vibrant House of Lords, differently composed from the Commons, clearly not usurping the position of the elected Chamber, trusted to behave properly and to exercise its powers sensibly and, above all, with sufficient strength and independence to ask the Commons, or rather the Government, to think again.
Lord Carter: My Lords, this has certainly been a wide-ranging debate. A number of noble Lords kindly referred to my patience in sitting through the two days of debate. It is more fun than farming is at present--just! I have to admit that at a certain point I had that familiar feeling that all that needed to be said had been said, but, as always, not every noble Lord who needed to say it had said it. It would be invidious of me to suggest when that point was reached. I shall leave it to your Lordships to make that choice.
In the time available it would be impossible to mention all the contributors by name. I therefore propose to deal with the questions raised by grouping them into broad subjects. I shall mention noble Lords where I can. I hope in that way to be able to deal with most of the issues raised.
As my noble friend the Leader of the House said in opening the debate, the Government have set out in their White Paper as much as they think it appropriate to say about the issues now being considered by the Royal Commission. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, will recognise the large number of submissions that have been made in the course of the debate. We, too, have taken note of them. However, it would not be right for the Government to respond in any detail to them as so much of the debate was, quite properly, directed towards the Royal Commission and not to the Government.
The Government entirely share the view that it is essential that Parliament should be properly equipped to scrutinise legislation and to hold the executive to account. That is precisely why we wish to reform the composition of this House. In our view its present composition means that it lacks the legitimacy to do properly, and with confidence, the tasks entrusted to it. Of course I should be the first to acknowledge that many Members of the hereditary peerage work honourably and hard in fulfilment of the duties laid upon them. Some have used their status here as a platform to draw attention to important issues which otherwise might have passed unnoticed. I freely admit that. But, as has been said so many times, we think that it is time to change, and we are convinced that the change we propose is the right one.
Turning to the debate in general, I detected what I can most politely describe as a certain lack of intellectual rigour in the Conservative Party's official view on this important subject. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, made much of the Opposition's intention to put thought before action. Having listened to the debate, I cannot help feeling that the Conservative thought process on this matter owes rather more to Rip Van Winkle than to Socrates. Indeed, a number of
I turn to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. My noble friend the Leader of the House has made clear that the Government agree with the first part of it. Who can be against an increase in the independence of Parliament and an enhancement of its ability to scrutinise legislation and hold the executive to account? However, in our view where the amendment falls down is by suggesting that the Government should prescribe the work of the Royal Commission. The amendment refers to Chapter 7, paragraph 26, of the White Paper regarding powers but ignores an important point made at the beginning of the White Paper in Chapter 2, paragraph 24. It clearly states:
Your Lordships know very well that the formal powers of this House are those of a co-equal but not subordinate Chamber except when it becomes necessary formally to invoke the Parliament Acts. It is now universally accepted and also in this debate that in practice this House is the subordinate Chamber. The only way in which a proper balance between the two Houses respecting that agreed relationship can be achieved is for us normally not to use the powers available to us or to hedge their use around with conventions. It does not seem to the Government an effective way of proceeding for the relationship between the two Houses in the future to be left dependent upon conventions, especially as the rationale for many of the conventions will itself have disappeared with the reformation of the membership of the House.
We therefore suggest that the Royal Commission will need to address the issue. We feel that there are at least two ways of doing so. One is to codify the conventions under which we operate at present in legislation. However, those conventions spring largely from the deficiencies of the present composition of the House. We therefore suggest consideration of a different but perhaps more straightforward and honest approach. That is to look at what powers the House needs to have
So I am afraid that we cannot support the amendment as drafted, although we are in agreement with the general sentiments expressed in the first part of it. However, we do not think it right to support an amendment which suggests that the Government should attempt to prescribe the work of the Royal Commission, with a very important exception, which is set out in its terms of reference, having regard to the need to maintain the position of the House of Commons as the pre-eminent Chamber.
If the Leader of the Opposition decides to press his amendment, I shall advise my colleagues to take no part in the process. We cannot accept that this House should attempt to fetter the considerations of the Royal Commission. For us to support the amendment would be to run directly counter to our proposition that the Government should not attempt to prescribe in advance what recommendations the Royal Commission might make.
Some noble Lords commented on the provisions of the Bill at present before the other place. The Government have taken careful note of the points made in debate. However, the proper time for us to respond to them is in the debate on the Bill itself. I do not propose, therefore, to comment at this stage on detailed points about the contents or drafting of the Bill. There will be plenty of time for that when the Bill is before the House.
My noble friend the Leader of the House explained why we have decided to proceed in two stages with the reform of your Lordships' House. Whether we are right or wrong to do so is, I recognise, a question on which there is a genuine difference of view. I also recognise, however, that it is a question on which a lot of spurious political capital is being expended. The conversion of noble Lords opposite who desire full-scale reform of your Lordships' House--the so-called "big bang"--is entertaining to observe, especially in light of the statement in their own 1997 campaign guide that it was important to defend the hereditary principle in its own right. I reiterate that, based on previous experience, we are convinced that the two-stage approach is the one with the greater chance of success.
The party opposite appears to be in a muddle when it considers both the transitional and reformed House. On the one hand, we have heard about "the Prime Minister's poodle", "an ermine quango" and "Tony's cronies". We have also heard at length about the increased legitimacy of a reformed House and the terrible things that it may do to the Government. I am afraid that one cannot have it both ways. The two arguments cannot both be right.
Chief Whips deal in only two commodities: time and numbers, with the necessary by-products of charm and good will. As to time, my noble friend the Leader of the House pointed out in her opening speech yesterday that by the time we finish today's debate the House will have devoted some 40 hours of its time to Lords reform since last October, before the reform Bill has even reached this House. Therefore, I do not think that anyone can claim that the House has not had sufficient time to debate this important subject.
I turn to numbers. Perhaps I may deal once and for all with the question of the independence of hereditary Peers that has been raised by many noble Lords. Your Lordships will be familiar with the figures, but they are worth repeating. In the 1974 and 1979 Wilson and Callaghan governments the House of Lords defeated the Labour government on average about 60 to 70 times per Session. During the Conservative years in government there were on average 13 defeats per Session. In the first Session of this Government (1997-98) there were 38 whipped Divisions when they were defeated. The Government would have won 35 of those Divisions on the votes of Life Peers.
But the really interesting figures arise if one looks back to the previous Conservative government. If one takes the last complete Session of that government (1995-96), excluding Divisions where there were free votes or votes without a quorum, there were 94 normal Divisions. The Conservative government were defeated 10 times, but nine of those defeats would have been greater without the votes of hereditary Peers. Of the 84 victories of the previous government, 64 would have been defeats without the votes of hereditary Peers. Under the previous Conservative government it was the life Peers who asked the other place to think again and the hereditary Peers prevented it.
Some noble Lords have commented on the power of this House to act as a brake on a government with a very large majority in another place. As Chief Whip I certainly saw that power being exercised in the first Session of this Parliament. What happened to it during the period when the then Mrs. Thatcher had a huge majority? Does anyone believe that if Mrs. Thatcher, as she then was, had faced a House of Lords with Labour vastly in the majority she would not have driven through a reform Bill to alter its composition?
Can we now recognise the inherent unfairness of the present structure of the House and stop talking about the independence of hereditary Peers? The figures clearly show that in the Division Lobbies hereditary Peers have saved Conservative legislation and savaged Labour legislation, including forcing the use of the Parliament Acts on a whipped Bill for the first time since 1949. This is not to deny for a moment the considerable public and parliamentary service that has been given by many hereditary Peers, but it underlines the manifest unfairness of the present House and the urgent need for its reform.
The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, referred disparagingly to the fact that the Government had, as he put it, sat on their hands for 21 months. The Conservative government sat on their hands for 18 years, during which
Does anyone imagine for one moment that had the Conservative Party won the last election it would have produced proposals for the reform of the House of Lords? Of course not! We know why not. The figures that I have given illustrate why. The present structure of the House admirably suits the Conservative Party. We can be quite certain that if it had formed the Government in 1997 there would have been no question of it considering reform of the House of Lords.
A number of noble Lords commented on the tight timetable, as they put it, proposed for the Royal Commission under its terms of reference. I cannot do better than quote the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, who said yesterday,
Other noble Lords asked why we did not set up the Royal Commission after the election in 1997. As the terms of reference of the Royal Commission make clear, we wanted it to take into account the wider context of the other constitutional reforms that we have put in place such as devolution and the incorporation of human rights into our domestic legislation, and to take account also of our developing relations with the European Union. That simply would not have been possible 20 months ago when the devolution and human rights legislation was not even on the statute book.
It is, of course, for Parliament ultimately to decide on the recommendations of the Royal Commission. As your Lordships are well aware, no government is bound by the conclusions of a Royal Commission. We have deliberately not pre-empted the process of consultation and deliberation by giving an indication at this stage of our preference for the long-term House of Lords. By the same token, we cannot predict that the outcome of the commission's work will be wholly acceptable to the Government. But, obviously, we shall take extremely serious account of all its recommendations and will give careful consideration in our response. There will be no question of ignoring the work of the Royal Commission.
A number of noble Lords asked about the possibility of retaining seats, but not voting. The Government believe it wrong for anyone to be a Member of Parliament on the basis of inheritance alone. That is the principle on which our proposals are based. It may be argued that preventing hereditary Peers from voting removes their ability to defeat the government of the day. However, your Lordships well know the importance of speaking in this House as compared with simply voting. We move to a vote comparatively rarely. Most of the work of this House is done through speaking. For example, we table numerous amendments on government legislation which are never pressed to a vote so issues can be aired. That is a valuable function and I would certainly not wish to see it undermined by a presumption that everything should be pressed to a vote. But it points out how much power will be retained by the hereditary Peers if they retain their right to sit and speak even without the right to vote.
There is the question of club rights. Several noble Lords have commented that the Government are being unnecessarily harsh in proposing that hereditary Peers should lose their right to use the refreshment facilities, the Library and other facilities in the House. I ask noble Lords to look at the realities. Your Lordships' House is not a club, but a Chamber of Parliament. We are here to do a job of work. The facilities are provided to assist Members in fulfilling their functions. It would not be right to insist that hereditary Peers, no longer having any function in the House, should still have the right to the use of those facilities provided by the taxpayer to support the work of Parliament. But if the transitional House itself decided as a concession to extend the use of the facilities to non or former Members that would be entirely a matter for it. Indeed, as Chief Whip I can already detect the first request for a two-day debate in the transitional House.
Are the Parliament Acts available to secure the passage of the reform Bill? The 1911 Act makes its scope very clear. There are special arrangements for money Bills. Bills to extend the life of a Parliament are outside its scope. All other public Bills introduced first in the Commons are subject to its provisions. Since the question of reform of the House of Lords was at the forefront of debate at the time the 1911 Act was passed and the Act's preamble makes explicit reference to further reform of the House of Lords, I find it inconceivable that Parliament would not have made a restriction on the use of the Act's powers for this purpose on the face of the Act if that had been its intention. Since the Act makes no specific provision of this kind, the normal rules for the construction of the Act must be followed and therefore the general provisions of the Act have to apply even to Bills reforming the House of Lords. The 1949 Act merely changed the time for which the House of Lords could delay a measure.
I turn to the question of a retirement age. I thought yesterday's suggestion that the proper retirement age should be 105 a shade ambitious. The Government are proposing no change to the life peerage in the transitional House. Neither a retirement age nor the ability to disclaim a life peerage could be introduced without legislation to amend the Life Peerages Act. The Government have made no such proposals and they could not be implemented without the consent of Parliament. Your Lordships will note that some 86 per cent. of the transitional House would be life Peers reflecting on a proposal for their own demise.
The noble Baroness, Lady Strange, kindly referred to a quotation from a great American judge which I used in a speech in this House in April 1995. I must congratulate the noble Baroness on the assiduity of her research. The quotation came from a ground-breaking speech which I made on the Poultry Meat, Farmed Game Bird Meat and Rabbit Meat (Hygiene and Inspection) Regulations 1995. And I stand by every word I said!
The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, asked what the Government mean by their reference in Chapter 7, paragraph 26, to removing artificial restraints on the management of business. As I explained, these are ideas which the Government suggest the Royal Commission would find it useful to consider. There is always a problem at the beginning of each Session in finding business for your Lordships' House. Conversely, there are frequent complaints about the logjam of legislation we face at the end of each Session. The provisions of the Parliament Act are not the only reason for that problem, but they do contribute to it. We believe that the Royal Commission could usefully look at that issue.
We heard blood-curdling speeches from the noble Lords, Lord Waddington and Lord Glenarthur, regarding safeguards to prevent the Prime Minister flooding the House of Lords and subverting it into passing an Act to extend the life of a Parliament. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, will have listened with interest to those contributions. I find the scenario which the noble Lords outlined extremely
There was a question about the possibility of Peers crossing the Floor or dying and thereby altering the parity intended for the transitional House. I accept that Peers may well cross the Floor or, more likely but less fortunately, may pass away. They could do both, I suppose! That is one of the reasons why we presently seek only broad as opposed to exact parity of numbers with the main Opposition party.
There was a question from the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, about what we have in mind in Chapter 7, paragraph 27, about the procedures of the House. As your Lordships' House well knows, the context in which powers are used and the way the powers are used has a significant contribution to make to their effectiveness. If the Royal Commission is making recommendations about powers, it is entirely reasonable for it to indicate how it sees those powers being used. Although I have no knowledge of this and should not wish to speculate, it may be that its proposals in relation to powers may not sit well with our existing procedures. The White Paper acknowledges that the procedures of your Lordships' House are a matter for it to determine and not a matter for the Government.
I must say a few words about the future of the monarchy. Our manifesto made it abundantly clear that we have no plans to replace the monarchy. The arguments against the hereditary principle in connection with the House of Lords simply do not apply to the monarchy. The monarch performs a completely different function in our constitution. It is essential that a monarchy remains totally unconnected with politics. The House of Lords is part of the legislature. It obviously has a relationship with the government of the day and its right and opportunity to make its public comments on the actions of the government. It is inevitably, and despite the presence of the Cross-Bench Peers, a part of the political process. The monarchy, on the other hand, is above and outside politics. It is essential for the proper function of the UK constitution that it should be so and seen to be so. Only a hereditary system will ensure that no potential monarch has a political past. It is worth pointing out that several modern democracies--for example, Japan, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Greece--continue to function with a hereditary monarchy and have no place in the legislature for an hereditary aristocracy.
The first threats came from the opposition side when it was suggested that opposition to this Bill could take the form of excessive opposition to other unconnected parts of the Government's programme. It was not this side of the House which coined the phrase "hooligan" in connection with reform. The House has always prided itself on being a self-regulating body. It well knows what forms of opposition are within its rules and what are not. That includes the spirit in which amendments are moved.
The noble Lord, Lord Denham, referred to that in his speech. Perhaps I may put the question back to him. During his 30 years' experience in the Whip's Office, how many times did this House insist more than twice on an amendment against the wishes of another place? As far as I know, since 1968, this House has never, until last Session, insisted more than twice on an amendment. But your Lordships all know what happened to the European Parliamentary Elections Bill.