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Lord Coleraine: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, will he assist the House? The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that the amendment would be tabled immediately after the conclusion of the debate. The noble Lord said that he would table the amendment at an early stage. When does the noble Lord envisage moving the amendment? The House resumes on 12th April and many Members will not have a chance to see the amendment until then. In view of the fact that the noble Lord and the Government have taken 16 weeks to prepare the amendment, would it not be odd and unreasonable if the noble Lord were
Lord Weatherill: My Lords, I intend to hand in the amendment tomorrow morning--or, it is to be hoped, this evening. It will then be printed on the Marshalled List. I have no knowledge of when it is likely to be considered in Committee, but your Lordships know from various sources the details of the amendment and I believe that there will be adequate time for consideration before it is debated.
Lord Callaghan of Cardiff: I think that ought to wait until I have finished! This morning I heard a BBC reporter say in "Yesterday in Parliament" that hardly any new arguments were adduced in the debate. I agree with him and I fear that that will remain the case with my speech. If noble Lords feel that luncheon calls, I shall fully understand and, indeed, respect their priorities in this matter.
First, let me say to the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, that we all owe him a debt of gratitude for the sincere and earnest way in which he and his colleagues have attempted to prepare a scheme which they hope will enable the House to proceed in its normal calm and accustomed way and perhaps ease the process of transition. I shall certainly support his amendment, although I cannot comment on it since I have not yet fully mastered it. When it comes to Committee, I shall look at it with great sympathy.
I am bound to add--and I hope the noble Lord will not think that this in any way lessens my respect and gratitude to him--that I am happy with the Bill as it stands. If difficulties, which I will not specify, arise with regard to the amendment, I trust that the Government will proceed with their own Bill. That is the commitment we made and the way in which we should proceed.
The debate has been fascinating. I listened to the first 21 speeches yesterday and read the rest this morning, and I think I have the flavour of the debate. Two thoughts in particular struck me. The first was the real emotion with which hereditary Peers regard the privilege they have of serving in this House and their sense of responsibility to it. I refer to those who attend regularly; I do not include those who attend only when a three-line whip is called. I acknowledge that that deep sense of responsibility has been borne in on me more strongly than I thought it would be. It is something we must keep in mind in the way in which we conduct our discussion. I was glad to hear what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said this morning.
The second thought that occurred to me was what an inward-looking place we are. We are conducting this discussion as though there is no one outside, as though we here shall decide what happens, as though we here
The first person to persuade me in that direction was, oddly enough, the Conservative Leo Amery, who wrote a book called Thoughts on the Constitution. It was only a slim volume, but Leo Amery convinced me, as a self-educated young man with few other sources, that, if the House of Commons decreed that all blue-eyed men should be brown-eyed, they would be brown-eyed. I believe I quote his words almost exactly, although it was 70 years ago or more that I read that book. I believe that that is slightly excessive, but I was brought up by Leo Amery and others to believe--and I still believe--that at the end of the day it is the Commons which will, and must, have its say and its way. Those on the other side of the House must take that into account, as I take their views into account. When we are considering our own affairs here, we must take into account the fact that at the other end of the building there is a House which will make the final decisions. Let us, for heaven's sake, put to it plans and schemes that will not so utterly outrage it that we find ourselves without any influence at all. Those are the two thoughts that came to me when listening to the debate.
I hope that I do not cause undue offence in what I am about to say. Indeed, I cannot cause offence because it is true. This House is unelected, unrepresentative and unaccountable. That applies to all of us, whoever we may be. I believe it was that which drove the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, a long time ago--he repeated it yesterday--to say that he could not support the hereditary principle; and it is that which suggests that he supports an elected House in some form or another. He did not specify what form it should take. If we are to take into account the other place and public opinion that is the starting point.
Apart from the full-throated admiration of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, who interrupted yesterday to assure my noble friends that she had defended the hereditary principle, there has been very little defence of that principle. Noble Lords have said that perhaps it is not wholly defensible but this is the wrong Bill, the wrong time and the Government are doing it in the wrong way. I suppose that in some ways that is a very good way of defending the principle by allusion. I do not accept that approach. I support not only this Bill but the way in which the Government are proceeding because of my experience as Home Secretary in 1968, when I was the unfortunate man on whom the earlier Bill descended. A number of people who were associated with that Bill are still here: the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, the noble Earl, Lord Jellico, and the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins. On our side of the House most of those involved have gone.
The Bill had 20 clauses, to which were added 31 new clauses and several schedules. In total 259 amendments were tabled. After 11 days, including morning sittings, we staggered through to Clause 5 when that most masterful parliamentarian, John Boyd-Carpenter, thought of another wheeze; namely, that Clause 6 should
I learnt two lessons from that. First, one should not overload any Bill; and, secondly, there are as many ways of reforming the constitution as there are Members of Parliament and Peers. As to the first, I support this Bill because it does not tackle too much at one time. The hereditary principle is indefensible. Let us deal first with that. Having done so, let us have a sensible discussion as to how to proceed with reform. Based on my experience, I believe that the Government have proceeded in the correct way. In 1968 the scheme put forward with great enthusiasm by Peers on both sides of the House was dictated from on high. It was accepted by the Cabinet but never agreed by the political parties, and that was why it failed. Now we must start the other way.
The Government have, rightly, set up a Royal Commission. Some say that it has been established reluctantly. I do not know the history of it but, whether or not there is reluctance on their part, I believe that the Government have reached the right conclusion. That Royal Commission will take evidence, hear people's views, no doubt discuss with everybody concerned what should be done and then, I fervently hope and trust, produce an agreed report. Mr. Kaufman and the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, the two principal movers on the parliamentary side, have an obligation to produce, if they can, an agreed report. I hope that if and when that happens--all reformers should want that--another stage will be inserted. When the Royal Commission has reported it should go back to the parties, because in the end only the parties will decide what is to happen. The parties will then discuss how far they can accept the report of the Royal Commission. If they cannot do so those on the Front Benches here have an obligation to reach an agreed conclusion as far as possible. Both they and the Liberal Democrats must then put their shoulders to the wheel and see it through.
There are a million ways to reform the constitution. What is worse, most are plausible and will work. We have to isolate what we are prepared to do. Many fruitful ideas have been put forward on the form of representation in this House. I was impressed by the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington-- a matter with which I have always agreed--about the necessity for the House to exercise some constitutional restraint in relation to the Commons--for example, the ability to prolong its own life. That is absolutely right. I am sure that a large measure of agreement on a number of these matters can be achieved.
I have hopes for the future despite the feelings of hereditary Members that I fully understand and with which in some ways I can sympathise and empathise. I hope we can proceed in a manner that will turn this House into a body representative of democracy and the people of this country, and one that is worthy of the 21st century.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I can agree with the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, in a number of respects: first, his sympathy for the hereditary peerage. I fully appreciate his understanding as the founder of a distinguished Labour dynasty himself. I also associate myself with the charming remarks in the opening parts of the speech of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, for which the House should be grateful. A little later I shall return to the final remarks with which he favoured the House during the course of his speech.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, I am in favour of reform of the composition of your Lordships' House. In a marathon debate, almost as long as the one in which we are now engaged, I hope that I made clear to your Lordships why I was in favour of that reform. I shall not attempt to weary your Lordships with a repetition of that argument. Suffice it to say that it was not because I am the fifth generation of my family to advocate in succession reform of your Lordships' House, although paradoxically--for reasons of heredity--it would be rather odd if I did not follow the guidance of my ancestors. It is because I believe beyond anything else in the absolute importance of Parliament as the centre of our political life.
If this does not sound too grandiloquent, it is the function of Parliament to be the guardian of our liberties by holding the government continuously to account. I have believed throughout my adult life that, sadly, we--and I in particular--have had to watch Parliament weaken progressively, so that it no longer has the strength to command the awe and respect the role demands of it. The trip of the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, down memory lane as far back as 1968 reinforces my point. I wonder whether he and the government of which he was so distinguished an ornament would have had anything like the trouble from another place that he described in its present weakened state.
In February, I explained that the most immediate contribution we could make to the essential task of reviving the central role of Parliament in general and of another place in particular was to reform the composition of your Lordships' House so that the new Chamber had both the independence and the authority to make another place do its job properly, as I rather inadequately and inelegantly put it.
For a moment, I had hoped against hope that it might be possible to proceed by agreement. As my noble friend Lord Carrington so properly pointed out during the course of his admirable speech yesterday, that is the traditional way in which we try to bring about constitutional change in our country. Had the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and I been allowed to bring our conversations to a quiet conclusion, we might easily have succeeded in that respect.
The central tenet of the Bill of fulfilling the two-stage reform promise set out in the Government's manifesto is one that I deeply deplore. For all the affection I feel for members of the Government individually--as I am sure we all do--we have to entertain the scintilla of a suspicion that they could be seduced by the very real political attractions of a two-stage approach. Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, said--and I hope that he takes this description in the generous and admiring spirit in which it is offered--he is perhaps one of the wiliest and most experienced politicians even in your Lordships' House. I was very struck by the remarkable way in which he expressed confidence that we would in fact be able to proceed to stage two.
I confess that I do not in principle share that confidence. However much the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor may protest--and I am proud to confess that I have found him the most admirable of interlocutors, completely straight and honourable in everything that he has said in private--we must entertain a scintilla of a suspicion that a nominated House is a temptation to any Prime Minister of whatever party. However honourable might be his intentions, the temptations are as great as those experienced by a predecessor of his on being shown the kingdoms of the earth after 40 days in the desert; that is, to stick to a nice, nominated Chamber with all the powers of patronage and docility that that brings in its wake.
The BBC think that the present Prime Minister can walk on water. I fear that his qualities, all too obvious to Members of your Lordships' House, are far too firmly based on Earth to enable him to resist that temptation. Even if the right honourable gentleman were possessed of more supernatural qualities than I give him credit for and he were able to resist the temptation I have described there are things that even he cannot control.
Those things are events. Events could all too easily ensure that a stage two Bill was forced down the Government's list of priorities so that, eventually, full reform would be delayed for another 89 years. Your Lordships know the dangers of a two-stage approach.
Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, said, those dangers would exist for any government who adopted that approach, not just this Labour Government. However, when it is this government who adopt it, we are extremely wise to be even more doubtful than in any other case. After all, the Government do have a habit of starting things that they have not properly thought through--the break-up of the United Kingdom, European employment laws, Kosovo.
All of us who have mouthed the mantra, "No stage one without stage two" were right--as Members of your Lordships' House have so often been when disagreeing with governments of both political complexions. The risk is that stage two will never happen. As the summer and autumn of 1998 unfolded, that risk was clearly beginning to grow. The Prime Minister, for all his ability to walk on water, was clearly increasingly and publicly willing to rest for the foreseeable future on stage one.
The noble Baroness the Leader of the House, soon after her appointment, began to emphasise that stage one was a stand-alone reform. She was quoted in a number of newspapers as saying that stage two should wait until devolution had bedded down and its effects were clear. That and a number of private conversations convinced me that stage two would go the way of the preamble to the 1911 Act.
Your Lordships know that we are governed by a powerful government. The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, reminded those who might, not be aware of that fact that it would not be the place of your Lordships' House ultimately to resist the right of another place to insist that we do what they ask. A majority of 179 in another place and the Parliament Acts will ensure in the end that the Government get their business, whatever your Lordships may wish--and I could wish very much what a number of your Lordships' have expressed in the last 24 hours.
However much we resist this stage one Bill and however good our arguments for resisting a two-stage reform--and our arguments are, in my view, unanswerable--our resistance may be heroic but we would lose. Not because of our lack of determination but because that is what the constitution, as at present framed, says would happen to us.
For that reason, I was attracted by the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill. A self-elected body of hereditary Peers in the stage one House would mock the Government's tone of moral outrage that such a thing as a hereditary Peer should exist in Parliament in 1999. Such a body would be a standing reminder to any government to get on with stage two. And if events prevented stage two from coming about, at least the noble Lord's amendment would have made stage one a marginally better change than the Government's original
I hope that I have made it clear that I dislike the Bill as much as I dislike the Government's overall approach to reform of your Lordships' House and other constitutional reform. I hope and believe that your Lordships will give the Bill the rigorous examination that any constitutional measure deserves at the hands of your Lordships' House and which your Lordships have a constitutional right and obligation to give. If the House will allow me, with the greatest respect and affection this is where I part company with the closing remarks of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. It would have been on my part an act, even by my high standards, of astonishing arrogance to commit your Lordships' House to a certain course of action as part of a deal or an agreement. It never entered my mind that I should commit your Lordships. I do not have the power to do so; and I dare say if I had done so I should have been reproved by the then Opposition Chief Whip for even contemplating it.
I believe that what has come to be known as the Weatherill amendment is a least bad option for a nasty and ineffectual little Bill for the reasons I have explained. But--I say this with the greatest respect and affection for the noble and learned Lord--to threaten a House of Parliament with reprisals if it fails to be persuaded of the merits of an amendment and agreement is not the way to make your Lordships' House do what it is told. Your Lordships' House, quite rightly, is perhaps the only independent part of Parliament that is left. Of course I shall do my part to persuade noble Lords that this is the least bad amendment, the least bad way to proceed. But I have to say to the noble and learned Lord that by his attempt to bushwhack the House today he has not made our task any easier.
The Lord Bishop of Winchester: My Lords, first I must apologise to the House for being unable to be present yesterday. I had to be present for the installation as Bailiff of Guernsey of a fine lawyer and a committed Anglican. I apologise also for being unable to stay to the conclusion of the proceedings today. It being Tuesday in Holy Week I have to leave to take part in a Holy Week series in the Roman Catholic church in Winchester.
Having sat with an open mind through most of the debates in the past year on reform of your Lordships' House, I find myself totally unconvinced that this is a proper way to bring about reform, the necessity of which I fully appreciate. My concern has four points. I recognise that some of the anxieties may have been expressed by others with different standpoints. First-- I suspect that this may be true whichever party were in power--at a time when the Executive is becoming ever more powerful, ever less easily checked, it is essential that this House should remain as effective as possible through the next years. I do not intend to question--
As the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, hinted, at a time when there is a series of increasingly serious, contentious and difficult issues not only on the horizon but on the table, it may be difficult to bring adequate attention to these matters. However that may be, this House needs to be in the best position to work effectively. Only time will tell, but there may be some rather subtle reasons why a transitional House without hereditary Peers, however justified in principle their removal is, may be more disabled than the Government have allowed.
I have been a Member of your Lordships' House for over three and a half years. I have observed the House in action. I use this word neutrally and descriptively, and not in any way in a pejorative sense. The activity of those of us who are not hereditary Peers may in some ways be parasitic upon the dutifulness of those who sit as hereditary Peers. However committed the remainder of us may be, we may find ourselves disabled in subtle ways by their absence. My first concern as regards the proper working of the House questions the way we are going about a necessary reform.
Secondly, the Government have embarked on a range of constitutional projects, in almost all cases for good reason, in an alarmingly unconnected and ill thought through fashion. The Bill represents one such project, but there are seven or eight others. It is essential that the Westminster Parliament, of which this House is a significant part, should be able to do its business effectively, with effective scrutiny and active questioning of the Executive. Now is not a wise moment for the disruption which may ensue.
Thirdly, I find it highly regrettable that the Government are looking so hard at the parliamentary activity of this House and so much less at that of another place. In some of its procedures and in many other respects, the legitimacy of another place is at least as questionable, other than as regards the democratic principle.
As I go about my business, people talk to me. Many, even among the Government's friends, read the initial work on this House as a sign of the Government's unpreparedness to think through issues from scratch. Parliamentary government of the United Kingdom, when so many projects of constitutional reform are afoot, really needs thinking through.
Fourthly, it is often said--and there are particular reasons for a Member of these Benches to say it--that it would have been better had the Government sought to achieve this significant and widely understood to be necessary reform by consensus. The Government, with their huge majority, could have sought and achieved that. There is plenty of evidence that that is the case.
The Government could have sought their, in my view, legitimate and justified objective in another way. They could have won the consent of their supporters, and many others, by adding to the considerable--in my view, over large--instructions in the White Paper to the Royal Commission the clear statement that in the light of 150 years of assumption there would come a time when the hereditary peerage would no longer be present in this House, they were committed by their manifesto and tradition. They could have made clear in the White Paper, by reference to their overwhelming majority in another place, that that would need to be an element in the recommendations of the Royal Commission, whatever else transpired.
Had they taken that line, they could then have sought to work in a more consensual way by including the hereditary Peers until that point. With that clear statement in place, they could have avoided the tortuous arrangements which will stand under the name of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, and others who have worked hard, and in so consensual a way, to reach this point. But they are arrangements which the more they are explored the more Byzantine they become. The Government could have saved us all an unconscionable amount of time and, as they pointed out in another tone of voice, freed this House to do other things had they worked in such a way.
Finally, they would have encouraged many of their more thoughtful supporters, as well as many others, had they sought to behave in ways it is still worth while noting might have been possible. Many people would have been encouraged by the fact that the Government may after all be prepared to seek to fulfil their responsibilities in a more modest and consensual fashion than they appear to do in this matter as well as in others.
The Earl of Devon: My Lords, it is a number of years since the Earl of Devon made his maiden speech in this House. My late father was a man of many excellent qualities, but neither politics nor speech making was ever very high on his agenda. My father succeeded in 1935, which is 64 years ago. My grandfather, sadly, would barely have had time even to take his seat; and which of my forebears was the last to speak in this House is no doubt a matter of record, but is not known to me.
If that sounds like an argument in favour of the Bill before your Lordships today, let me assure you it is not. Nevertheless, I am uncomfortably aware that I may have little time to put right the omissions of earlier
I am of course aware that a maiden speech should not be provocative. I may have some difficulty with this, given the particular circumstances of today's debate. I, after all, did not draft the Bill. In order to make my position clear at the outset, perhaps your Lordships will allow me a brief family history. I am the direct descendent in the male line of Sir Hugh de Courtenay, 6th Feudal Baron of Okehampton, who was summoned as a Baron to all the parliaments of Edward II and Edward III and in 1335 was summoned as Earl of Devonshire. Some 30 generations later, after a number of attainders, imprisonments, beheadings and re-creations, not to speak of an abeyance of 275 years, the title devolved on me on the death of my father last November. I think that puts me among the more hereditary of hereditary Peers.
I sincerely hope that it is not the usual practice for hereditary Peers to begin their maiden speech with a pedigree--I think it might be regarded as an abolishing offence--and I would not have done so were it not relevant to the matter before us.
I have followed with interest the ongoing debate on the future of this House, but I have necessarily followed it from afar. I am therefore able to bring to the debate the view of an outsider and therefore of the great majority who have no connection with this House. I have spoken to a number of intelligent people from all walks of life and the view expressed to me without exception is one of great apprehension. There is a perception out there that Parliament is at present not properly performing its function of keeping a check on the executive; that only your Lordships' House is performing that function within the constraints imposed upon it and that to tamper with this House at this time is extremely unwise.
I have heard some noble Lords, hereditary Peers, for whom I have the greatest respect, being interviewed on the media, and there seems to be a lament, which goes something like this: "Well, of course I shall miss it very much; the sense of duty, the camaraderie of the House, the debates, the committees and so on. But I think it is the right thing". Well, I disagree. What you have never known you are not going to miss, and I am of course in that happy position.
Furthermore, I want to continue running my business in the west of England and doing those things that I enjoy. I do not want to spend many hours coming to London to take part in debates and to sit on committees. I have done all that. I spent many years in local government and while I suspect that debates in this House may be somewhat more interesting--although this morning's discussion on potholes sounded vaguely
My self-interest lies entirely with supporting this Bill. My ideal is to come here today so that I can tell my grandchildren that I made my maiden speech in this House, and then, with the demise of the hereditary peerage, to go home with a clear conscience. But I believe that the Bill is wrong, and all those people out there to whom I have referred and who also believe it is wrong have asked me to come here and say so.
I do not say that the hereditary peerage is sacrosanct and that this House should not be reformed--far from it. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House, yesterday appeared to equate opposition to this Bill with opposition to reform of this House. I hope that enough noble Lords have made the same point for her to accept that this is not the case. No institution is perfect and every institution should be capable of being reformed provided that the reform results in something better. But in this Bill there is no sign of anything better; in fact, there is no sign of anything at all. We are told that that is to come later. I appreciate that I am not the first to have made that point.
There is to be a Royal Commission to decide the future constitution of the House of Lords, but if we are to have a Royal Commission, why do we have this Bill before us today? In the absence of proper, impartial consideration or any wider debate, why is one part of the House to be removed while the others are to remain? If the test is democratic accountability then we all fail the test by the same fairly wide margin.
I believe that we need to consider fairly carefully the role of democracy in government. Clearly, that is a much bigger subject than I have time for today, but democracy, in a nutshell, is, I believe, only the fairest way of choosing a government in that everyone above a certain age, with a few exceptions, can have their say. It is also a fairly new concept. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House reminded us in her opening speech yesterday that in its present form it dates only from the first quarter of this century. I believe that universal suffrage came in--we had the date yesterday, but I do not have it. That does not necessarily mean that democracy is the only means of forming a government or that it necessarily results in the best government. If one looks around the countries of the world today, many of which in the post-colonial era had a western-style democracy imposed on them, it is quite hard to put one's hand on one's heart and say "Look at that country, isn't it wonderfully governed? all because the government was democratically elected".
I make this point because I detect a tendency in some quarters to elevate democracy above its true status. Sometimes I believe that there is almost a belief in the divine right of a democratically elected government, which mirrors the 17th century belief in the divine right of kings. We all know where that got us. I hope, therefore, that it will be possible for the question of how this House should be formed in future to be considered with a completely open mind. It is often described, quite rightly, as the "House of Experts" and, hopefully, when reformed, will continue to be so.
It was put to me recently that the early parliaments to which my distant ancestor was summoned, were a House of vested interests, and so indeed they were. The vested interests who advised the king in those days were of course the powerful landed Barons and as a result this House today still retains a strong rural bias which has proved a valuable counterweight to the predominantly urban bias in the other place. It cannot be expected, however, in a reformed House, that the agricultural industry would retain such a predominance. The vested interests would have to include representatives of industry, commerce, the professions, the Armed Forces, the trade unions, the educational and medical establishments, other religious denominations and many, many more, together with perhaps a representative element of the hereditary and life peerages.
As will be apparent, I do not favour a wholly elected House, still less one appointed by patronage. But I believe that there is a case for extending the principle whereby we already have the Lords Spiritual and legal, leading to a largely ex officio House. I believe that I am another "mish-mash" man, or in the delightful phrase of my noble friend Lord Tenby, "A pot-pourri Peer".
If the mention of vested interests sends shivers down many spines, as it will, then I can only put it to your Lordships as it was put to me--and I do not claim it as original thought on my part--that the existence of a forum through which the vested interests can legitimately be represented in parliament would obviate the need for any cash-for-questions or anything of that nature in another place. There is a certain symmetry about having every man and woman in the country represented through the democratic process in one House, while the bulk of the nation's wealth and many other interests, are represented in the other. It also has the advantage that the political allegiance of Members would be largely incidental. I do not believe that we should set too much store by party arithmetic.
I may have strayed from the strict subject of the Bill before us into the realms of what may happen thereafter, but the two are inextricably linked. I may have covered ground that was already covered in your Lordships' debate last October and in the early part of this debate, but I hope that I may have also contributed something fresh. I thank noble Lords for listening to me.
The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, we have moved from a Peer who takes his ancient title from the deep and balmy south-west to one who takes his ancient title from the north--the far, wintry north at the moment. I hope that, whatever the composition of this House, it has the same diversity of composition. On behalf of all the House it is my pleasure to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Devon, on his very measured maiden speech. It is also a great pleasure to welcome another surveyor to the House. The countryside needs every friend that it can have at the moment. I hope that the noble Earl does not go back down to the south-west never to return. He has shown great experience in his knowledge of local government. He has great experience of the agricultural
There is no doubt that this is the most important Second Reading debate I can remember in this House. I have not spoken in any of the recent debates about reform of this House or what might be established in its place, but in preparing for today my mind went back to the essay that I wrote for my British Constitution A-level on the future of this House. Little did I think then that I would be in the Chamber for this debate because I felt sure there would have been a proper revision before now. The logical arguments then, as today, centred on what was to be the purpose of a second Chamber and what powers should it be given in relation to the House of Commons. Only then could one address the issue of composition. It is good to see that the Royal Commission sets it out in exactly the same way, but the Government, sadly, do not. They are not tackling this constitutional reform for the benefit of Parliament and the country.
In some respects I will be sad to leave this House after nearly 30 years, 10 of which--one-third of my working life--has been spent on the Front Bench. What saddens me most--and indeed makes me angry--is not the fact that the hereditary Peers are going, but that the successor Chamber will not be better than the one we are leaving because it has not been properly reformed. Furthermore, the hereditaries, many of whom have great experience and knowledge to contribute, will have no say in the matter whatever. In this respect I must congratulate the Government. They have excelled themselves. Never have I seen a Bill designed to exercise such profound change; put something less good in its place and which has been so carefully drafted for the premeditated smothering of debate. However, it is not that surprising. It is clear that this executive find this House an irritant, as it is the only place where it can be held to account. What better than to have a simple reform by removing the hereditary Peers, whom they like to blame not only for doing our duty in asking the elected Chamber to think again, but also because we are seen to be a block to the future. From everything that has been said in the recent debates it is clear the hereditaries are far from being the block to a better second Chamber. I for one would like to see a comprehensive reform.
The consequence of this Bill is the creation of the country's largest quango, consisting, except for Bishops and Law Lords, solely of people appointed by this Prime Minister and his immediate predecessors. It cannot be called the House of Lords for that would be a misnomer. However, whatever it is termed, it will be just as undemocratic, less youthful, in many ways less representative and certainly less independent than the current House.
The Government tell us that there is to be a stage two, but there is nothing in the Bill to say that. We can speculate but, as my noble friend Lord Waddington said, we must treat this Bill as the definitive article on reform. The Government have now been pushed reluctantly into having a Royal Commission and, as a result, they are beginning to lose that tight control they thought they
I agree with my noble friend Lord Ferrers who said they have a tiger by the tail. The Early Day Motion in another place for an elected second Chamber and signed by more than 140 MPs is but one example. It forces the Government to face up to the key questions that they have ducked so far: not only what this House is for but how the powers, procedures and composition of the second Chamber will, for the first time, have to be controlled by the party machine.
Through inability or unwillingness to think out a proper policy, a thoroughly messy situation is developing. The longer it continues, the more the strains on our unwritten constitution will manifest themselves and the fractures will become greater. Already it is being proven that we were correct to say that one cannot take away one significant part of this carefully constructed arrangement, built up over 700 years and which still bears nearly half the workload here, without creating a change to the overall balance. However, due to the lack of consensus, particularly in another place, and notwithstanding the pressures for reform, I agree with those noble Lords who fear that the proposed transitional House will last longer than many think because the Government will find it more convenient than any alternative arising from stage two. I hope that my fear is misplaced and the sooner the full reform comes about, the better.
Although it is not in the Bill, it is appropriate that we should spend some time looking at the composition of the future House, as we know who will be there. The Government make great play of the overall figures in relation to life Peers, but that is a con. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House stated that, even without a single hereditary Peer, there would still be a Conservative majority over the Labour Party. Although that is true, as far as it goes, she knows that it is a crude and simplistic interpretation of the position. A truer representation would be that no one party has anything
The Labour Party's position to redress the alleged imbalance in its position is, like the rest of its policy, unclear. In its manifesto, it states that party appointees should reflect the proportion of votes cast at the previous general election. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House said on 20th January that there should be 40 per cent. more Labour Peers than Conservatives. That would mean an additional 70 Labour appointees. However, if we are to accept that the manifesto is not so sacrosanct after all and that the Government will only move towards parity with the Conservatives, that will mean a further 20 creations. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, to make it absolutely clear tomorrow morning or later this evening as to what their policy is; on what basis decisions are going to be made; and what in their view constitutes parity.
Overall numbers are not a true guide as Prime Ministers have made their political appointments for different reasons. When I was a Whip I soon learnt that in order to obtain an accurate picture it was essential to look at the attendance records. What really matters is who turns up to take part. Taking the figures for the last Session as supplied by the Journal Office and using the composition of the House on 19th November last year, I have analysed the number of Life Peers who attended more than half the sitting days. I chose that period as it gives a fair representation and also because, for better or for worse, this Bill sounds the death knell of the part-time politician. For ease, I shall call those attendees "regulars". I have assumed also that all Labour and Liberal creations during the last Session were working Peers who would have attended at least half of the time if they had been able to attend the full Session. The results are illuminating and present a very different picture from that given to us by the noble Baroness.
Of the 120 Cross-Bench Peers, only 26 are regulars; the Liberals had the best attendance record with 40 out of 45; of the Conservatives, 91 out of 173 are regulars; and the Labour Party is in the majority with 132 out of 158. Therefore, Labour has over 47 per cent. of the regular attendees. Now, if we add to that the so-called legitimate claim by the noble Baroness for parity with the overall Conservative numbers by the appointment of 20 new working Peers, it is clear that the Labour Party has a majority over the rest of the House combined-- I repeat, over the rest of the House combined. That is something which the Conservatives do not have. One can fine tune the figures and the percentages but the basic premise is sound.
It is best expressed by the remark from a Labour Peer that I overheard after the debate and vote on the procedure of the House last week. He said, "There is no need to get too upset as we will soon be able to do what we want". Yes, my Lords, they will. This Government will have an elected majority in the other place and an appointed majority in this House. To use the words of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, that is what I call "entrenched dominance". It is also something that I deplore. I have always held that every government
What is more worrying to contemplate is the Queen's Speech at the opening of the next Session. With a free hand in both Houses, all those highly controversial proposals will come forth like a torrent but with no House to call the executive to account. With the hereditaries gone, resulting in an almost 100 per cent. increase in workload for the life Peers and the majorities they need in both Houses, the Labour Party managers will have an easy time bulldozing their policies through. This Bill either needs to be amended to prevent that situation occurring or, if that cannot be done, then it is best rejected as the only way to get across to the country what is really happening to our constitution. I should say to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that I do not believe that the country would be on the Government's side.
This apparently harmless, politically correct little measure has devastating and unexpected consequences. I cannot believe that the Government do not know that. It is a bad Bill conceived out of dogma, born in prejudice and nurtured by an executive that brooks no opposition.
Lord Grantchester: My Lords, I always rise with temerity to address your Lordships' House, and it is with even greater trepidation that I do so today. I declare an interest as the 3rd Baron Grantchester.
No one today can seriously argue for the hereditary principle to be retained in the composition of this House. It is not retained in any other public institution. We live today in a meritocracy where everyone must earn his place.
The continuance of hereditary Peers detracts from the standing of your Lordships' House outside Parliament, leads to a weakening of its powers and to abuse from political bias because of its inbuilt Conservative predominance. As an hereditary Peer, I am no exception. I support the Government in bringing forward this Bill to modernise Parliament. I also have no difficulty with the staged reform of your Lordships' House since it was confusion about how to replace the hereditary Peers following their abolition that scuppered previous attempts.
I do not look back as far as the early years of the century, as perhaps others do, to argue for this long overdue measure. I prefer to highlight the Life Peerages Act 1958 as I regret that both parties failed to introduce that legislation much sooner. That measure started the process of change and led to a lessening of hereditary influence, such that there is almost parity in terms of the numbers of hereditary Peers and life Peers.
Clearly, it is time to examine and review the composition of your Lordships' House, as the system of patronage inherent in the Life Peerages Act has the potential to be equally venomous, marginally more
The newly formed Royal Commission, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, to consider the future shape of the second Chamber, must consider its proposals against a background of constitutional change outlined by the Labour Party manifesto--
I wish to take this opportunity to put forward a few principles, in a positive way, for a new second Chamber. The function and role of the House of Lords as an authoritative, revising Chamber is vital in improving often hasty legislation from the House of Commons, enabling the other place to be more productive than it otherwise would be.
We must guarantee a large element of independence in the second Chamber and ensure that leaders in every avenue of life are Members. I believe that means a multiplicity of systems to assess merit, and a multiplicity of ways of entering your Lordships' House, leading to a system of representation that can be both elected and appointed from a cross-section of communities in the widest sense. There are many people who could bring great benefit to your Lordships' House who would never submit themselves to an election. We must ensure that they can contribute and still be allowed to pursue interests and commitments outside the House without being registered as inactive Peers.
It follows that no Member in a new second Chamber should be there for life, or the elected Members will not have equal standing. Parliament should reflect the world at large, where no position is for life, as that hinders transition and development in tune with the mosaic of life. I do not necessarily call for an upper age limit, but all appointments and elections should be for a fixed duration or for a fixed number of terms of membership.
A new second Chamber should also redress the democratic deficit in Britain and bring into the mainstream those who currently feel excluded from it, especially women and ethnic minorities. I also argue two special cases. First, we must ensure that the interests of our rural communities are protected and furthered, for while some may argue that the countryside is well represented in the current House, it is unclear what mechanisms can be put in place to hear the voice of rural Britain.
The recent formation and activities of the Countryside Alliance bear testimony to that need. Rural areas in England and Wales contain 23 per cent. of the overall population and contribute 30 per cent. of GDP. In the North West, where there is a newly formed Regional Development Agency, two-thirds of the area is rural.
Secondly, there is a clear need for a powerful regional voice in a new second Chamber. That could be represented partly by appointment, partly by election, and could take in the regions of England while ensuring a voice for the newly devolved Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly.
A strong regional voice should also be set in the context of the Regional Development Agencies. The constituency basis of 60,000 per Member in the House of Commons is a narrow and urban perspective that could be rectified through a more strategic and integrated view of communities that would be provided through the agencies. In addition, deprived areas, such as Merseyside--where my family has strong connections--will have a stronger voice as they seek greater recognition and assistance in tackling their problems.
Returning to the Bill, it is clear that in Committee there may be important amendments to include a commitment to stage two and a timetable for reform. Both those issues are echoed in what is now known as the Weatherill amendment, which would retain 92 hereditary Peers as an interim measure to stage two. While it may be argued that the Bill's principles should not be sullied by party deals, tactically that would adeptly leave unfinished business on this side of the House that could hasten stage two proposals. That amendment would mean a smoother transition to stage two, but it must be thoroughly scrutinised in Committee as it contains many peculiarities.
I share many concerns voiced by the noble Lords, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank and Lord Harris of Greenwich. I doubt whether it is reasonable that the reduction in the number of hereditary Peers to 92 should be decided on party percentages. Is a less "active" Conservative Peer to be chosen over and above a more "active" Liberal Democrat or Cross-Bencher? That would perpetuate the political bias. Furthermore, that bias will be extended into the future by the proposal that the 92 Peers could be replenished should their numbers fall after selection.
On the Lords spiritual, I argue that in a modern, multi-cultural Britain there must be wider representation of faiths. That was argued vigorously by my grandfather on many occasions as he sought to disestablish the Church of England.
Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare: My Lords, I begin by joining my noble friend Lord Caithness in congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Devon, on his maiden speech. Having joined the House last Thursday and lost his virginity today, I fear that if the Bill is passed, the opportunity for promiscuity is fairly small. However, if it is defeated we shall have the opportunity of hearing him on several occasions.
For many years I have felt that reform of your Lordships' House was inevitable. I regret that the Conservative Party did not carry out the task during 18 years of government. Much of what we now experience need not have taken place if we had accepted that the Labour Party would at some time become the Government, and as they have threatened Lords reform in three party manifestos in a row, we can hardly blame them for wishing to carry out such reform.
I accept that it would be unrealistic to go into the 21st century with a House dominated by hereditary Peers. Like so many Members of your Lordships' House, I feel that it would have been wiser for the Government to have set up a Royal Commission within weeks of taking office, listened to its deliberations and then presented a Bill to both Houses. However, in very few of its constitutional proposals does a great deal of thought appear to have been given to the eventual outcome before legislation is placed before the House.
That case has already been well argued and therefore I shall not ask the House to consider it again, but to place on one side for a moment the fortunes of hereditary Peers and turn to consideration of working Peers.
I wonder how many citizens in our country realise that there are different types of life Peers. There are life Peers who are honoured in the Queen's birthday or New Year's list for services to their country and who richly deserve to enjoy the title of Baron and who turn up to your Lordships' House when and as they please. There are former Cabinet Ministers who are elevated in the Prime Minister's resignation list. Surely, they are the great and the good, who bring to the House their expertise and their wisdom on many specialist subjects.
In the proposals that I am about to suggest, I do not refer to that group of life Peers. However, I refer to those people invited by the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition or the Leader of the Liberal Democrat Party to become working Peers--the party hacks, the rude mechanicals, the oil that makes the engine turn.
When I was invited to join your Lordships' House as a working Peer, I received a letter from John Major, the then Prime Minister, outlining my responsibilities. With the former Prime Minister's permission, I read one paragraph of that letter:
I personally took a further step to ensure that I fully understood what the responsibility meant and made an appointment to see the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Robin Butler, now the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell. Again, I sought and received permission to repeat the conversation that we had some seven years ago. He considered that the commitment of being a working Peer would be honoured by having a 75 per cent. attendance record and a 75 per cent. voting record during the administration of the Prime Minister who had invited one to serve. Having considered the words of the former Prime Minister and the advice given by the former Cabinet Secretary, I wrote to John Major confirming that I felt able to take on such a responsibility. It might interest your Lordships to know that Sir Robin also informed me that some people had felt unable to honour the commitment and therefore had turned down the offer of a peerage.
When we consider the Bill in Committee, it is my intention to place before your Lordships an amendment on the status of working Peers which will mirror the amendment on hereditary Peers that is to be tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, thus giving your Lordships the opportunity to remove from the House working Peers who do not work and never had the intention of doing so in the first place.
If I were given the chance, I would also strip them of their titles as it is clear that that was the only reason that they ever accepted the honour in the first place. However, I have been disappointed to discover that even the skills and ingenuities of the Public Bill Office cannot find a way for me to carry out that particular desire.
I ask your Lordships to consider that if you were invited to be a director of ICI, Shell or British Airways and you never turned up for a board meeting, how long would it be before you were dismissed? How do we explain to the electorate that if you are invited to be a working Peer, frankly the word "working" does not mean anything because there is no redress if you do not bother to turn up? What example is that to the young who wish to go out and seek work? In short, why should we remove hereditary Peers who do work, but keep working Peers who do not work?
Finally, perhaps I may suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, when he considers reformation of this House, that he comes up with a formula for what "working Peer" actually means so that it is not translated as, "Now I've got the title, I needn't bother to honour the agreement". I hope that when my amendment is placed before your Lordships Members from all sides will feel able to support it.
Lord Chalfont: My Lords, I begin what I hope will be some brief remarks by saying that I thought that I was going to be the only Peer at one end of the spectrum in this debate, but I find that I am not. I find myself in almost complete agreement with the remarks made by the noble Earl, Lord Devon, in the course of
If there were some argument that the presence of hereditary Peers here made it more difficult or impossible for us to carry out our work or made the whole place totally uninhabitable for one reason or another, I might support that approach; but that is not the case. As we have heard, some hereditary Peers never come anywhere near the place. They do not do any of us any harm. Those who do come make an enormous contribution to the effective working of the House. That is why I am totally opposed to this Bill, whether it represents stage one or stage two of any alleged reform process.
As one of our leading modern political philosophers has said, the task of doing nothing in politics is the hardest task there is, apart from martyrdom. This government, like most governments of all complexions, have been beguiled by the need to do something about this, rather than to do nothing. There are many ways in which it would be possible to remove hereditary Peers from the House if that was what the Government honestly wanted, and nothing else. They could, for example, have said, "Let us leave present incumbents of hereditary peerages in this House to sit and to vote until they die". That would then be the end of that line of succession as regards sitting and voting in the House. But they did not do that. They want suddenly and with one fell swoop, in one enormously draconian Bill, to remove all hereditary Peers from this House and everything to do with it for ever.
As some noble Lords have said, it is possible that although the Bill is alleged to be stage one of a process, there will in fact be no stage two. I do not say that to imply any bad faith or absence of faith on the part of the Government, but simply to point out that they cannot control what will happen in the future. In the end, it may be that stage one will be--they have already said that it is--a stand-alone measure and that there will be no stage two.
It is with that possibility in mind that I regard this Bill as not only unnecessary, as I have already said, but dangerous. It is dangerous because if, for any reason, there is no stage two, if the House as adumbrated in the currently drafted legislation is the kind of House that we are to have, it will be a totally nominated House. That is dangerous. I make no profound prognostications about the future except to say that there are some dangerous prospects at the end of that road. There is the prospect of a unicameral legislature. If we had a unicameral legislature, we would next have to contemplate the possibility of Parliament extending its life indefinitely. I do not say that any of that will happen; I simply say that unless we regard the Bill with very great care, that is the sort of danger with which we might be faced.
This is the Second Reading of the Bill. Of course, it is possible to vote against it. My first inclination would be to do so, but I realise that that would be ineffectual. We have a convention in your Lordships' House that we do not vote against measures at Second Reading which have been included in government manifestos. Well, the Government were clever and foresighted enough to include this in their manifesto and I make no complaint about that; nor about the fact that the Government feel it right to be able to force their manifesto commitment through the House. That is their privilege having achieved a large and convincing majority at the last general election.
But there is still a grave feeling of disquiet about the Bill. The only thing one can do at the moment is to accept the thoughts, the sentiments and the feelings behind the amendment of my noble friend Lord Cobbold. We shall not be able to stop the Bill passing through this House and coming on to the statute book. We all know that. We all know that a combination of Parliament Acts, House of Lords' conventions and vast majorities in the other place will prevent us doing what we may want to do. But at least we can make our views known to the Government--our views in relation to the necessity, the rectitude, the morality and the dangers of this piece of legislation. We can also support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Cobbold, as I shall do.
There will be other amendments. In fact, we know that there will be the one now known as the "Weatherill amendment", which is a serious attempt to ensure that there is a stage two to this reform process. I shall certainly vote for that if it comes to a Division. There is also the possibility of an amendment calling for a referendum at some time, which would prevent this legislation taking effect until certain circumstances had been achieved; for example, the report of the Royal Commission. However, it is too late to ask the Government to think again. It is certainly too late for any of us to do much about the Bill, except to make our feelings known and I hope that we shall do that.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said in the course of his opening speech today that this is an historic day for this country. Indeed it is. For those of us who have a love, as I do, and a respect for the traditions and institutions of this country, it is a sad day too.
Lord Hesketh: My Lords, I intend to be brief if for no other reason than that in a previous incarnation I may have been guilty of intolerance with regard to the amount of time many of your Lordships took to speak in this House.
First, I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Devon, on an excellent maiden speech and also reflect that by the time we reach the 183rd speaker tomorrow, it is more than likely that the most forensic examination of a particularly short Bill will have taken place.
The first question I ask myself is: is this a Bill? I fear that it is an apology for a Bill purporting to be a Bill. I fear that its contribution to the future great governments of our country has as much hope of success as another small piece of paper waved at Heston airfield in 1938.
We were admonished by the Lord Chancellor this morning, and I felt in many ways as though I were back in front of my headmaster at my prep school the last time I was beaten. He too admonished me; he said not to cry as my mother was arriving shortly after the ritual had been concluded. I fear that there may be tears and my greatest concern with this Bill is that there are elements of intolerance of what is being done and how it is to be achieved.
Why is that? To find the answer we have to look at the provenance of the Bill. Where did it come from? It concerned nothing other than presentation. It was considered by the Labour Party a long time ago--in those days I was still sitting in the current office of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, so that dates me and my hairdresser would confirm it by inspecting the lack of what is left upon my head. There was at the time a big idea. Constitutional reform did not put the taxpayer at risk; it appeared to be intellectually satisfying, and was placed on the agenda for the next Labour manifesto. Unfortunately, that was the last time it was attended to. The result is a foreshortened humble little document with much to be modest about. It is a modest Bill with little ambition that has an ability to cause fantastic trouble.
The second smokescreen that lies across the battlefield is that the hereditary Peers are in some way unacceptable; that they should be disbanded and sent away. What that conveniently avoids exposing is the fact that a stick of dynamite is being thrown into the Palace of Westminster to structurally remove more than 25 per cent. of the contents of the entire palace. That, structurally, will have a great effect. My concern is that, far from this Bill being acceptable, it will be a source of great contention that will come to cause us troubled grief. It will cause this Government grief from the trouble that comes from it.
It is the parliamentary franchise that is at issue here. That is of far greater importance than whether or not there are hereditary Peers. The question that every Peer must attend to in this Bill is: what is my relationship with the people of this country? That is the issue that faces us all. It is not an issue about whether or not the result of the general election allows a large part of the Palace of Westminster to be destroyed; it is the relationship and a matter of honour that stands before us.
I have thought about the Bill and I have to say that one reaches a conclusion which is and will become inevitable; that is, that there will eventually be a wholly elected Chamber in this place. The contortions that we are now being asked to go through, the endeavours and smokescreens being played with, and the mirrors that will be reflected at the end of the day are meaningless. Once this train sets out on the track it is going to a destination which is called "democracy". It may be that some of us old hereditaries can be called young radicals, but I am wholly convinced that that is the destination to which we are set, and that anybody who believes otherwise is engaged in false modesty or wild over-expectation. Thus it is the duty of every Member of this House to ensure that, as this Bill is approached in a proper manner to be amended for the benefit of the people of this country, it addresses the issue of democracy and not an interim, perverse form of privilege which the Government are trying to destroy.
Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, I was extremely interested in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare--I am sorry to detain him from his lunch for a few minutes more. He made much of the low work-rate, as he sees it, of working life Peers. Perhaps I might draw his attention to his own record over the past couple of years.
In the 1997-98 Session, his main interests were the Greater London Authority (Referendum) Bill, in which I understand he has a bit more than a passing interest, and also his own Succession to the Crown Bill. Apart from that, the noble Lord spoke just five times. It is perhaps worth noting that, during this Session of Parliament, he has managed to vote in under 15 per cent. of the Divisions. I give way to the noble Lord.
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