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The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, sits down, will he confirm that his proposition is that all hereditary Peers have a right of property to remain as hereditary Peers with a right to sit and vote in Parliament? Is he challenging the sovereignty of Parliament to remove them?
Lord Norrie: My Lords, I said that by Letters Patent hereditary Peers inherited a specific right to sit and speak in this House but that did not include a right to vote. What I proposed was that the votes of hereditary Peers would not be counted.
Lord Rowallan: My Lords, your Lordships' House is an important institution and however undemocratic we are told it is, it works. I do not believe that anybody anywhere has ever suggested that it does not. And it must surely work better than any of the suggestions that we find either in this Bill or in the White Paper that accompanies it.
It works so well because we are not paid. So we are here because we want to be. Will any other body do it dispassionately? I am an hereditary and proud of it. I am fighting for my future here because it has always been impressed upon me by my father, my grandfather and my great grandfather who was in the other place as well, that this is what I should do.
I have been accused, because I take the Tory Whip, of being not independent of mind. But I believe that I am independent of mind and hope that I have proved it. I have voted many times against my party Whip, even when there have been two lines. I have voted with my party on many occasions when I am sure other people would prefer I did not. I feel that after the Easter Recess there is definitely another subject coming up which will lead me into controversy again with my party. It is therefore unfair to label everybody, carte blanche, with the fact that they are not independent of mind.
However, the right for one is not necessarily the right for all. This Bill has been the most thoughtless measure brought forward by this Government for one very good reason only. It has not been followed through to a total conclusion; it is only a half-measure as it has been presented to us. As a result, it will take up an enormous amount of valuable government time when other matters could be dealt with, probably of more benefit to this Government.
The case for the removal of hereditaries under this Bill has not been made. I accept totally what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has been asking in the last few moments of about the last six speakers; that is, whether it was in the Government's manifesto. Without any question of doubt it was. But I am led to
However, the upper House is an integral part of our constitution. This Bill does not set up a new one--a finished variety--it just destroys the old. We are told that the new House will be more democratic. That is nonsense. Democracy is an absolute and final thing; it is either democratic or it is not. The only way for full democracy in this House is to have it fully elected. Personally, I like that idea. I do not like the Cranborne/Weatherill amendment at all. I believe that all Peers are equal and that that has been a great institution of this House. It would be very sad to differentiate now as we seem to be doing. My feeling is: all in or all out. That is the way it should be. I hope that that suggestion will be considered.
The new House would draw its authority from neither the people nor the establishment. Therefore, it would have to be a poodle to whatever Prime Minister is in power at that time. He would have to make up the relevant number with life Peers to ensure that his government had control in this House. You cannot effect changes in one House without it affecting the other. With Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Europe all coming up in the near future, we should wait and see what happens in that respect before we start to tinker with the constitution in a small way. This is a much bigger picture. With the report of the Royal Commission coming up, I venture to suggest that we should also wait and see. This is a vital Bill which deals with the constitution as a whole. It is a great shame that we seem to be dealing with just a very small part of that constitution.
I turn now to my final point because this has been a very long night. As I have said before--and I am not ashamed to say it again--I really think that to remove the club rights from the hereditary Peers as proposed in the Bill is, at worst, spiteful and, at the least, churlish. Members of Parliament in the other place have those club rights regardless of what they have done. I believe that we should also continue to have such rights. I hope that the Government will reconsider that decision.
The Earl of Arran: My Lords, so here we are today at the start of this momentous and ill-conceived Bill which sets out to deprive so many of your Lordships of the right ever to set foot in this Chamber again. I have in mind those families, so much older and greater than mine, who have given continuous service to this House and who have asked for nothing in return other than that their offspring should be allowed to serve in the same selfless way. All this is because the party opposite
These are devilish deeds of the party opposite, devilish deeds packaged and parcelled in the name of democracy. Reform is obviously needed, they claim; it is the will of the people, they cry. The clear and shining alternative of which they talked--a more effective and improved second House--was there for all to see. But there was nothing to see--indeed, the space was blank--until, pushed and pulled, they scrambled for safety. They kicked for touch and out of the hat was pulled a Royal Commission.
As your Lordships know, for many years there have been very different views on how to reform this House. Why has it not been done before? Very simply because, somehow, it worked. There was no obvious solution for making it work better nor was there huge clamour for it to be changed. If only I could be convinced that the Labour Party wished this in the name of democracy. I genuinely long to be convinced, but I am not. Instead, my conviction lies elsewhere. All political parties have characteristics of which they are not proud, but those of the Labour Party, those of vindictiveness and envy, still abide. And profoundly unattractive they are, really dreadful to behold. After this, whither the monarchy, whither primogeniture?
While the Government over the next few months pilot this nasty and ill-thought-out Bill through your Lordships' House they might do well to consider just how utterly distasteful this side of the House finds the whole affair. In these circumstances I suggest to the Government that they try to understand the sense of despair and frustration that exists among so many on these Benches. After all, suppose it were they to whom this was happening. Perhaps, therefore, when the going gets rough and tough, as it surely will, they might show a little grace, a little niceness, perhaps a gesture of generosity, even perhaps a grain of gratitude for what so many of your Lordships, through so many generations, have done. Perhaps in so doing they might help a little to soften the increasing resentment between we on this side and those on the Benches opposite.
Lord Birdwood: My Lords, in these last offerings of a long day, I want to enshrine one word, one idea. The idea is guardianship. Because we were the inheritors of a continuum, an inheritance not of our making, the privilege strangely is doubly precious. My own inheritance is as nothing in time terms to the names in this House which have rung like bells across the centuries, defining so much of what we understand by country. I am only the third bearer to sit, and my grandfather, the first, seemed to care little for the business. But I feel the press of years, I feel the continuum, as deeply as if I had the perspective of generations. I feel the obligation of guardianship stretched out into the future.
My noble friend Lord Ferrers said, "Power is finite". We are onlookers today of power on the move everywhere in the machinery of state. Power is being leached away from the elected Chamber and ferried noiselessly into the mysteries of European integration. Power is packaged as information, and manipulated to where it is indistinguishable from propaganda.
The voice of government has never been clearer, and perversely it has never been more obscure. "At last", we are told, "there is a people's government". "Everything to be done", we are told, "is being done for the best". "At last", we are told, "power is in the hands of those who really care". How guilty we are made to feel if we, the people, harbour a scintilla of mistrust. A tiny chip off some ancient freedom, what of it, it will never be missed. One thing this bland, smiling assurance cannot tolerate is dissent.
So I said that the voice of government was obscure. A consequence of soothing reassurances that it is all for the best, you are in safe hands, do not worry, is that the challenge , "What is your policy?", is answered by, "what do you want it to be?". Dear heaven, we now have the world's first post-modern Parliament.
In the context of this Bill, the continuity of any hereditary presence was an offence. Presumably, here was a point of principle. But now we have the signals that 90-plus of these democratic offences might continue for a while. So the vaunted principle is not of rigid iron but plasticine.
How tiresome it must be to have argument when one's motives are so elegant, so obviously right. How intolerable to have opposition to cloud the prompt execution of such well-intentioned ideology. Yet I have the impertinence, without the democratic mandate, to claim that I and my ilk are guardians of certain bedrock freedoms and, above all, one absolute duty: to prevent a parliament perpetuating itself beyond five years. But the guardianship is greater than the man. I am just, for a time, a curator. Reassure me that this role is sacred in other hands and I am content.
One of the characteristics of regimes such as this is that the dissenter is regarded not as mistaken but as mad. The grit in the New Labour Utopia has to be eliminated. I fear, I really do, that this bitter little Bill, framed to erase the mild dissent offered by the hereditary elements in this House, is the blueprint for future executive actions of a deeper, more sombre purpose.
Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, I am in total agreement with the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, and shall support him in the Lobbies tomorrow if he chooses to press it. However, there are one or two other things to be said.
The Government have sought to justify the Bill, over and over again, on the grounds that it was a manifesto commitment and that therefore the electorate wished for it. It is worth pointing out yet again that a manifesto is
In any case, it is not widely understood in this country that the hereditary Peers are to be removed lock, stock and barrel from the House. The press, and the BBC in particular, have repeatedly put about misinformation on this subject by referring to the hereditary Peers losing their voting rights. Whether this has been a genuine mistake or whether they have been under pressure to do so in order to prevent the public knowing what was really afoot is open to speculation. If that cap should happen to fit anyone--such as the Government, for example--let them wear it.
For those reasons I consider it essential that a referendum is held before this Bill, incorporating one of the most important constitutional reforms of this century, becomes law. After all, referendums were held on the questions of Scotland and Wales having their own parliaments and on Britain joining the European Union, so why not on this fundamental constitutional change?
The more I reflect on the proposed so-called Weatherill amendment, the less I like it. To start with, to try to trade our present rights for 91 hereditary Peers is quite unacceptable. The number is totally inadequate. If the proposed number were more realistic, it might be a different matter. That curious number of 91 was cooked up between the parties in a sort of Mandarins' stitch-up. I suspect that the Government had worked out that that was the largest number which would not pose a threat to their nefarious plans, so that it was a small price to pay for not having their legislative programme disrupted. Had the number been 200 or 250, it might have been acceptable to the House, although not to the Government.
After the Cranborne/Blair deal was stitched up, the press, even those elements of it which should have known better, took the line that the noble Viscount had done it in order to save his and his noble friends' skins. Of course we in this House know better. We know much better. We know that it was done for totally honourable reasons, certainly on the part of the noble Viscount, in order to maintain a modicum of independent-minded Peers in the House until stage two, which many of us believe we shall never see. But the general public, having been misled by the media as usual, do not. Their opinion of hereditary Peers has been damaged. That is one very strong reason why I dislike the proposition intensely. Anyway, the price is too high. Acceptance of
My Lords, the Government have resorted to blackmail, for that is what it is. I, for one, and I am not alone, am not prepared to be blackmailed. My Lords, stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, and do not be browbeaten!
If a referendum is held, the Weatherill amendment becomes irrelevant. Should the Government refuse to accept an amendment providing for a referendum, it can only possibly be because they know that the public are likely to reject this Bill.
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