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The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down and at great risk of being charged by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, with cross-examining him perhaps I may gently ask him to assist your Lordships with the answer to two simple questions. Is he aware that the Labour Party manifesto at the last election was, I admit for a short time only, number six in the Sunday Times bestseller list? Is it the noble Lord's view that in our democracy no manifesto can ever give any government a mandate?

Lord Napier and Ettrick: My Lords, I suggest to the noble and learned Lord that times change.

9.43 p.m.

Lord Gordon of Strathblane: My Lords, I am conscious of the fact that I am to be followed by almost 40 speakers, who may wish to get to their beds in time to get up for early church services tomorrow morning. Consequently, I shall regard brevity as more of a virtue than it normally is. I hope therefore that those noble Lords who are hereditary Peers will forgive me if I simply endorse, but with great sincerity, the fulsome tributes already paid to them and to the contribution that their ancestors made to this House by the Leader of the House, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, yesterday and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in opening today's debate.

Perhaps we can get a few matters out of the way. I am frankly astonished to hear people say that this measure is being introduced with unseemly haste. In one of our earlier two-day debates on this subject the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, referred to the famous Roman general Fabius Maximus, who was nicknamed the cunctator because of his delaying tactics. He is made to look like Linford Christie by the antics of this House in delaying any reform of itself for close to a century. It has to be Guinness Book of Records material.

I wish to pick up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Napier and Ettrick, who said that there was no difference between hereditary Peers and life Peers. It is true that, apart from accident of birth, it is purely accident of timing that has made some Peers hereditary Peers rather than life Peers. If they had been created after the 1958 Act, they would have been life Peers; if they were created before it, they were hereditaries. I pause to wonder in parenthesis what caused a Conservative Government to pass the Life Peerages Act in 1958. Did they perhaps believe that it was

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inappropriate for the right to sit in this House to be an inherited right? One must presume so, otherwise there would have been no need for the Life Peerages Act.

I observe to the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, that not all hereditary peerages go back as far as those of the noble Earl and some others. Not everyone came across with William the Conqueror for the day, liked the place and has been here ever since. As the noble Earl pointed out, quite a few bought their peerages from Lloyd George with cheques that were guaranteed to bounce if the peerage did not come through. The noble Earl also alluded to his own ancestry. I am informed that his ancestor merely got "plastered" with the monarch of the time and that I should not assume that anything improper took place.

If the noble Lord is correct in assuming that there is no difference between hereditary Peers and life Peers, I suggest that the traditions of this House will survive in the safe hands of life Peers and others. I take no offence at the assumption that has been made by some speakers in the debate that all the traditions of the House will change. I think that quite the reverse will happen. The spirit of independence of mind comes because people are not elected. That is why I should be opposed to a major element of a new Chamber being elected. Whips on either side of the House will testify to the fact that the idea that people who came from the Chamber at the other end of the building are placemen who can be relied upon to vote is false. They act with great independence of mind. I also suggest that the life peerage is probably at least as much the repository of expertise in individual fields as the hereditary peerage.

I think that in her spirited speech yesterday the noble Baroness, Lady Young, was defending the House of Lords itself rather than the hereditary peerage. It is worth stating the blindingly obvious fact that the House of Lords is not at risk. It is to be preserved as a revising Chamber with very considerable powers. The noble Baroness mentioned that women had reached the top offices in this House. I do not think that that can be put to the credit of the hereditary peerage because of the quaint way that things are handed down under the rules of heredity. It is certainly not hereditary Peers who have ensured that there is no glass ceiling for women in this House.

To those Peers who argue ad hominem, in the case of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, for example, who made a very enjoyable and moving speech yesterday, and ask if we are really going to kick such a man out, I say that the answer is no. If the Weatherill amendment is passed it will be open to Conservative Peers to elect him as one of their number. If they are so anxious to retain the noble Lord, Lord Carrington--as I should certainly be--then they should elect him.

I also believe that the ground work was being laid yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, for a possible action for breach of contract or unfair dismissal. I should warn my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor that he may face a charge of unfair discrimination, or aiding and abetting it, by supporting a group of Peers which includes women and those from ethnic minorities, and discriminating against a group of white males almost entirely from the upper-class.

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If anything is needed to convince noble Lords that the Government's two-stage approach is right, we have seen it in this debate. If the Royal Commission produces a consensus then stage two can, we hope, be implemented quite quickly and we will have what everyone wants. On the other hand, if the Royal Commission does not produce a consensus, or this House or the other place does not agree to its proposals, is it seriously suggested that there will be no reform of the House of Lords for another century? That would be an example of the best being the enemy of the good. I hesitate to suggest that such delaying tactics are in the minds of noble Lords opposite. But everyone is clear that the hereditary peerage is an anachronism. Even the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, in moving his amendment recognised that it was difficult to justify his presence in this Chamber by reason of his hereditary peerage. Let us therefore proceed with what everyone appears to be agreed upon and then, with the widest possible consultation, move on.

For that reason the Government are not spelling out their proposals in great detail. They are consulting as widely as possible as to the nature of the reformed House. Can one imagine what would have happened if the Government had come up with an absolutely prescriptive notion of what the composition of this House should be? Hands would be wrung in false anguish by some noble Lords. They would say that, of course, they were against the hereditary peerage and would dearly love to vote for it, but they would question whether it was wise to be quite so prescriptive at a time of such great constitutional change: closer links with Europe, devolution in Scotland and Wales and even different voting systems. Surely, it would not be the time to proceed with such a prescriptive piece of legislation and we should wait perhaps for another 100 years. The Government are right to take it in two stages and I believe that the House will go with them.

Finally, I exhort hereditary Peers to think very carefully--I do not mean that in any minatory sense--whether it would be fair to the traditions of which they are so justly proud if they were perceived as trying relentlessly to cling on to privilege and the last vestiges of power. I should like to see them embracing reform, creating a sense of "feeling wanted" in the country and a desire to ensure that the traditions which they and their ancestors did so much to create are preserved in the reformed House. That would be an act of true statesmanship which the country has come to expect from the hereditary peerage.

I do not want to end on a controversial note but I confess that I do not like the amendment that has been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold. I believe that his amendment is mean-spirited and tawdry. I am quite sure that the Government are guilty of many things but it is wrong to accuse them of party political advantage in this matter when they have bent over backwards, as my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor pointed out, to endorse privately the Weatherill amendment against the interest of their own party. The Government have gone out of their way. I am happy with the Bill and I commend it to the House.

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9.53 p.m.

Lord Braybrooke: My Lords, I do not want to add to the discussion about turkeys. There is one thing of which we can be sure: turkeys would not vote for Christmas. The House of Lords is admired throughout the world as a second Chamber of great excellence. It works well. Although doubtless many improvements can be made the basic ingredients of competence, fairness and lack of bias, not to mention commonsense, are always to the fore. This is so because we have experts who remain on tap, not on top; we have organised, civilised procedures; and, above all, we practise good manners and courtesy to one another.

The present Government seem hellbent on doing away with many of our institutions. Almost daily something else is added to the list. I understand that this week QCs are in trouble. Mr. Blair tells us of the particular class to which we should belong, whereas when we do not have a Labour Government nobody bothers at all about class. I suggest that Great Britain is becoming increasingly difficult to govern because of the farce of Europe which is steadily eroding what sovereign power we have left to run our own ship. We should remember that we cannot always replace that which is so easy to destroy. The proposed dismantling of our institutions has included the Royal yacht. These days one does not hear much about the Royal train. The Queen's Flight seems to have been disbanded. Now the Government are determined to castrate the present House without having in place the sensible solution for reform.

In the last debate the noble Lord, Lord Carter, was asked whether the present Government are proposing to reform the monarchy. I recall that he replied in a somewhat laconic way, that there were no current proposals to follow that road. One begins to wonder where it will all stop and whether the Almighty will soon have to look to his laurels. Do the Government want to turn us all into Euros on the fiddle?

John Betjeman often quoted the phrase, that an ounce of hereditary is worth a pound of merit. Hereditary Peers are of use in your Lordships' House because they are totally independent of mind. They have no axe to grind. They can fear God and no man. They are not placemen who have been voted in by past Prime Ministers. Most of them are not hirelings. On the whole, they are not rigidly beholden to particular political parties. Many have done useful things in their lives. Many of them are not professional politicians.

Most of us have a pet expertise. In my case, I am an expired flying instructor but at heart an engine driver. I started driving steam locomotives in south Wales on the Great Western in August 1939, when I was evacuated, and I am still at it. That brings me to the wanton destruction of our railways in the early 1960s by a government with no foresight. Many of the axed lines, particularly cross country, would be a godsend now.

I repeat that it is not easy to replace that which is so easy to destroy. That is exactly applicable to your Lordships' House. Almost daily we read in newspapers that something has gone or is to be modernised. The Royal yacht earned some money, although admittedly

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not a great deal. The millennium dome will probably lose money and has cost the taxpayer a fortune. Our pageantry, which is the envy of the world, is a great aid to tourism, yet even that is being trimmed. Nonsense is talked about people's princesses and people's Peers, whatever that may mean.

Only this week we read in the newspapers that your Lordships' working time could be shortened to only three days a week. I suggest that is nonsense. This House does an enormous amount of work and should not copy the other place as a half-time operation, merely to satisfy some recently appointed Peers who are finding the House more of a commitment than they thought it would be.

I suggest that we hereditary Peers must stand firm. We have a duty to the Queen; we have a duty to the constitution; and we have a duty to serve. We are not against reform, but how are we to be replaced? We must know. Many hereditary Peers have given years of experience and expertise to your Lordships' House. If hereditary Peers are to be thrown out like so much dirty water, the noble Baroness must produce some clean water.

The proposed new second Chamber should be so constituted that the Members therein are not poodles of the Prime Minister of the day or his or her spin doctors or sycophants, or any others hanging on to his or her petticoats. Those Members of your Lordships' House who fought for Great Britain did not flinch in battle; and I suggest that we hold fast now.

10 p.m.

Lord Gray: My Lords, for the avoidance of doubt, perhaps I had better preface my speech with the announcement that I am the noble Lord, Lord Gray, and I have moved up one place in the speakers' list.

This is a challenging occasion for anyone who over the years has come to know, understand, respect and love this House. I do not want to go. Perhaps I can be provoked by the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, into a spot of ancestor worship, which I had not planned. The first of my name entered the Scots Parliament 602 years ago. Because of the Act of Union provisions, despite my longer time as a hereditary Peer I have had only 35 years with your Lordships rather than the 45 years I might have had had I been an Englishman.

I am not on my feet to defend my privilege of a seat here but to do a duty which that privilege requires of me; namely, to address concerns for the future of this House, this Parliament and this realm. I speak for myself alone, and upon my honour. I have never been, nor aspired to be, a politician. I normally sit on the Benches in the back corner; and if the Conservative Whips were to describe me as unpredictable, I should find that such a compliment that I might wonder what they wanted. On the other hand, I am not a backwoodsman, despite the fact that the Independent newspaper repeatedly straddles its front page with an enormous picture of me suggesting that I am. I shall have to send the editor a new picture; I am getting somewhat tired of the one it has been using.

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Inevitably a debate of this order produces repetition. However, if something is worth saying it is worth repeating; and, luckily, we can comfort ourselves with the thought that each of us is the judge and jury as to what is worth saying. So, here goes. First, I give some thought on the juxtaposition of cart and horse in the Government's scheme of reform.

I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold. It not only makes sense to me, it neatly summarises the views of virtually every seriously informed commentator. Furthermore, it illustrates how seriously New Labour scriptwriters miscalculated. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is having difficulty in following me. All will become clear. In my submission, it has landed its masters in a farcical mess. Perhaps they thought they were throwing a bone to old Labour and simultaneously kicking out the hereditary Peers so quickly as to prevent them debating the future. It must have looked a wonderful package.

My authority for saying that derives from the speech of the Leader of another place at the beginning of the Second Reading of this Bill there. The package has come undone. We have had a White Paper, there is to be a Royal Commission and we have had much discussion. It means that the Government, apparently in arrogance--that is a harsh word, but I think it is realistic--are pressing on with the scheme as it originally stood. Had Her Majesty's Government not decided to blunder on--my words, but descriptive--this debate postponed to its proper place in the process of reform might have been very different and to their advantage.

I find it hard to believe that the Government were so naive as to suppose that the Bill's narrow remit would rule out our discussion of what comes after any more than it restrained Members of another place. If debate on this Bill has become in part an extension of the White Paper debate, the Government have only themselves to blame for a tactical blunder. Let us face it, the White Paper gave us very little information of substance.

When I spoke on the White Paper, I favoured a fully elected second Chamber to succeed us. Support for that notion seems to be gathering momentum. I rejected an appointed Chamber because anything can be gerrymandered, no matter what layers of scrutiny are promised. The trails of who appoints whom and who proposes whom will criss-cross and criss-cross over again.

What troubled me, and troubles me still, is the large black hole lying betwixt the Government securing this Bill and the promised joint committee of the two Houses. It was there before we extracted the White Paper and the Royal Commission. It is still there. We know that there will be life Peers in that black hole, but what else? What will patronage introduce? Will the House be reduced to poodle status? It is possible. And the crunch question is, for how long? That has been emphasised as significant by many speakers in our two days of debate. In those circumstances, we must use the debates now and those to come on this Bill to try to shed some light on the subject and to illumine that dark hole. If we do not get down there and do so, I do not believe that anyone will.

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As regards what may come later, we have no real clues about the Government's agenda. There is no real timetable for change. There are no undertakings as to what Her Majesty's Government will do with the Royal Commission's report. There is no information on the joint committee beyond the fact that it is to be set up. There is nothing about its remit or how it will now fit in to the changed programme.

At the end of the day, will the Government go deaf and send in the Whips in another place to secure what they want regardless of what is said between then and now? What do they want? We have heard about that already this evening. I have never believed their coy assertion that they did not know and do not know now. Unfortunately perhaps their coyness will persist while the Royal Commission sits. However, we have had hints that the Government favour the appointed option, moulded no doubt to please the disciples of political correctness and with regard to political advantage. A change of government--one can only hope soon--and more problems arise.

A lot has been said about the mandate for this Bill. Any suggestion that it was a real force for decision in the polling booth has been blown away like thistledown. But it is there and I am not attempting to deny it. However, I question the propriety of making the main feature of what was really a paving measure, as it has been so described in this debate over the past two days, to usher in nebulous notions of reform. Because the tactic succeeded does not mean that we should quietly acquiesce and ignore the wider consequences.

This Bill has been touted as an attack on hereditary Peers--a good old class war crusade with overtones of up-to-date justification. But in reality the target is the hereditary entity within this House in its entirety, which is an integral component of the structure of the Mother of Parliaments. Remove it and the knock-on effects for our constitutional arrangements are myriad and as yet unassessed.

I turn now to the Weatherill amendment. I have never liked the idea. Like my noble friend Lord Hesketh, I saw a fig leaf clutched by the Government to give some respectability to this Bill. After the staggering vehemence of the threats this afternoon of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor perhaps the amendment is a dead duck. Perhaps the fig leaf has withered to expose the stark reality.

Other amendments will be tabled. Perhaps the referendum amendment stands a chance of success in the light of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, when he replied to the debate introduced by my noble friend Lord Waddington on 17th March.

I am not alone in wanting to examine the relationship between this House and Scotland in the wake of devolution. In view of her reported comments as to a preference for ditching her in-front title, there is an amendment which may appeal to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House which suggests that this House should no longer be called the House of Lords. She could then have a different title.

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To claim that the Bill democratises Parliament is nonsense. There is nothing democratic about life Peers. To claim that the Bill modernises Parliament is nonsense. Modernity flows from function and procedure, not composition. Those claims are euphemisms of newspeak. I am only surprised that we hereditaries have not been described as hereditarily challenged, rather than some of the rather more unflattering remarks which have been made about us.

Such a fundamental constitutional change should have been built on a foundation of consensus followed by the construction of a House built with extreme care after wise consideration. I was very interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, say that the reform attempt which he as Home Secretary had to take charge of was doomed to fail because it did not start with political consensus. I hope that I have interpreted him correctly. It is certainly not for one House of a bicameral legislature to shape another to its design. But if we go on like this, that is what threatens us. If the Government, as temporary tenants of executive power, dismantle our successful bicameral system and fail to reinstate it with one at least as sound, they will stand condemned at the bar of history.

10.17 p.m.

Lord Wise: My Lords, a few days ago I was discussing the proposed reform of the House with a friend of mine, a retired RAF officer. He expressed his thoughts in the following way. He said that during his flying career, whenever he had completed a flight and landed, he was asked by an engineer if there had been any problems. If there had not, he would say that everything was well and everything was working. The engineer would reply, "OK, sir, LWA". That was an expression used frequently by the engineers and LWA stood for leave well alone. If it is working, do not mess with it. My friend went on to say that, in his opinion, that is what the Government should be doing until they have constructed a new engine.

With this Bill, he thought that they were dismantling the present engine, throwing away components and still expecting it to work until such time as they had designed a new engine. That was my friend's opinion, and I am sure that that is an opinion shared by many others.

In his speeches, the Prime Minister refers frequently to the people and he says that his Government are working for the people. Yet I feel that with this Bill, as it stands, he is showing a complete disregard for the people. From the content of a number of letters that I have received, it is apparent that the people are most concerned that the Government are determined to go ahead with this major constitutional reform without telling them what the outcome will be. As my noble friend Lord Ferrers said in his admirable speech yesterday, no one knows where we are going and no one knows where we shall end up.

I believe the country deserves better than that. We need to know that whatever form the future House takes, it will be put in place quickly and will function better than at present. Whether it will have more powers, whether it will be a purely elected Chamber, a purely

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nominated one, or a combination of both, is to a degree irrelevant, provided that it is absolutely democratic, in the broadest sense, and that people know what it will be.

The Government should not go ahead with stage one and then say that they will think about it. One appreciates that it is an extremely complex matter. I believe that if stages one and two cannot be completed together, the Bill should be at least delayed until the Royal Commission has reported. I strongly dislike the fact that the present Bill deals only with stage one. If the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, moves his amendment this evening, I shall certainly support it.

10.20 p.m.

Lord Nunburnholme: My Lords, I start with the words of Paul Revere to Lord Cornwallis in one of George Bernard Shaw's plays. When the judge has decided to hang the prisoner before the trial, he puts himself at something of a disadvantage to the prisoner.

I give notice that the Parliament Act 1949 is now under close legal scrutiny in respect of its validity in enforcing constitutional change. Talking of law, I must mention H. L. Mencken, the American writer, whose definition of a barrister was that of a law student who has marked his own examination papers.

I must slightly admonish the noble Baroness, Lady Young, but I mean no disrespect to her. The noble Baroness spoke of the Government's "general contempt" for Parliament. I am afraid that she did not refer to the Oxford Dictionary or Fowler's Modern English Usage. Instead of using the words "general contempt", I suggest that the words should have been "absolute contempt".

The father-in-law of the present incumbent of No. 10 Downing Street said, when talking about the closed lists, that he is throttling democracy; he believes that dissent and debate equal anarchy and must be eliminated. May I remind your Lordships of the words of Mussolini: No discussion, merely obedience.

It has been said that no one knows where we are going and no one knows where we shall end up. However, there is one particular gentleman who knows exactly where he is going. I first arrived in your Lordships' House in October last year and we had a two-day debate on the same subject. There were 112 speakers. I went to the Library to ask for the figures. One in seven of those speakers used the expression "poodle" or "elected dictatorship". That is one in seven of the 112 speakers. The gentleman in No. 10 knows exactly where we are going. We are moving towards an absolute dictatorship. I repeat that Mussolini said, "No discussion, merely obedience".

10.24 p.m.

Lord Warner: My Lords, I rise, a fairly new Peer, strongly to support the passage of this Bill. I assure the House that I have not cleared the text of this speech with Alastair Campbell or any member of the Front Bench.

It is now 88 years since Parliament decided in principle to produce an alternative to an hereditary second Chamber. I am all in favour of long-term planning, but we seem to have taken it to excessive lengths in the reform of this House.

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In my short time here, I have been able to see how that delay has occurred. It is very easy for those who enter the Lords to slip into its comfortable embrace. It is more gentle than the Commons. Party allegiances seem less significant. People are so polite. Everyone compliments everybody else on their knowledge, perceptiveness and contribution to the sum of human understanding. There is a rather self-satisfied warm glow about the place. It is easy here to convince yourself that this is a place of great significance and a bastion against the worst depredations of an over-hasty government. It is a comfortable place in which to grow old.

Reform is something best deferred until tomorrow. Well, tomorrow seems to have arrived and, for me, one of the great attractions of becoming a Member of this House was to participate in the transformation of this place for many of my contemporaries have viewed this place with disbelief for many years. Many people see it as a muddled anachronism with an obsolete composition, antiquated procedures and a distinctly odd dress code in some respects.

Now is not the time to debate the future composition of a reformed second Chamber. Instead, I want to comment on three aspects of the current Chamber which seem to me to be barriers to reform and which the Bill tackles. I refer to size, the unrepresentative nature of the Chamber and turnover. It is a truly remarkably state of affairs that at the end of the 20th century we still have a second Chamber with a potential size of nearly 1,300 Members and with a current maximum attendance of about 1,150. No other country in the world has a second Chamber anything like that size. The poor Americans and Canadians bumble along with a little over 100 in their senates. The Germans do even better with only about 70. The French seriously overdose with over 300 in their Senate. Even when the hereditary Peers have been removed from this House, there will be over 500 life Peers and Bishops with about one-fifth of them being Cross-Benchers representing a strong independent element. Do we really believe that the British are such an unruly and difficult people and that their governments are so wayward that we need a checking second Chamber that will be double the size of the American, Canadian and German second Chambers combined?

There is an old joke, "What do you call 500 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?", to which the answer is, "A good start". Removing 750 hereditary Peers seems to me to be a good start in getting this country's second Chamber to a more appropriate size. Personally, I hope that we shall go further and in the next stage reduce the number of Bishops and life Peers, and transfer the Law Lords into a separate supreme court. It is perfectly possible to have an effective, revising and reflective second Chamber with a strong independent element and an elected component with well under 500 Members.

The second issue to which I want to refer is the unrepresentative nature of the House of Lords. For a second Chamber to be able to challenge the elected primary Chamber, it must be credible. I suggest that to be credible, it must be selected in a way which is fair and transparent. Its composition should have some

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resemblance to the society in which we live. There is already a strong independent element with the Cross-Benchers, and the Government have committed themselves to continuing that in the transitional House. However, this Chamber is not representative. Politically, it has a large in-built Conservative majority. Whatever the popular mandate in the Commons, hereditary Peers ensure that Conservatives can vote down any non-Conservative government's measures--and they do.

In terms of gender and ethnicity the House of Lords does not get to first base. Around 50 per cent. of the adult population are women and 7 per cent. are from ethnic minorities. We fail by a huge margin to get anywhere near those proportions in the composition of this House. Basically, we are a club for older white males and are seen as such by many people outside this Chamber. Removal of the hereditary Peers is a start on redressing that balance and improving the credibility of this Chamber by creating a more diverse membership.

Finally, I wish to say something about turnover. Once one is here, it is an extremely difficult place from which to be removed. In the other place, the electorate can hand out P45s. In this place, a position has been guaranteed by the hereditary principle. While some degree of stability is required in any second Chamber, we seem to me to have overdosed on that in this House to a great extent. The reforms in the Bill will enable us more easily to introduce concepts like terms of office and retirement ages. These will be essential if the second Chamber is to be kept to a reasonable size. I can see little in the national interest in having terms of office of longer than 10 years. Removal of the hereditary Peers will enable us to begin the reform process for achieving more turnover in the membership of the second Chamber.

In conclusion, I suggest that experience this century shows that we are never likely to be able to move from the present composition of this Chamber to a reformed one in a single move. Those who argue for doing nothing until the whole design is completed are really pressing for the retention of existing privileges for as long as possible. I understand the advantage of the privileges. I know how much easier it has been since I came here to obtain reservations in popular restaurants. Bank managers are much more understanding. US immigration officials are much more polite when one enters the USA with a title. However, we must recognise that if we want to tackle the problems of size, the representation and turnover that I mentioned, the hereditary Peers have to go. The Government have a clear mandate to do that. In my view there can never be a more justified moment to start delivering not only the Government's manifesto commitment, but the preamble to the 1911 Parliament Act.

10.32 p.m.

Lord Belhaven and Stenton: My Lords, I shall resist the temptation to follow the noble Lord, Lord Warner, except to pick up on his last point. He has not been here for very long. As I remember it, the biggest number of people we had in this House was when we divided on the Reform of the House of Lords Bill in 1968 when

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450 Peers voted in favour of reform and 50, including myself, voted against. That means that this House is not just stuck in the mud. We were stopped from reforming this place by the House of Commons, not the House of Lords.

We are presented today with a Bill which I believe we should consider as standing alone and by itself. Stage two may or may not happen, but all we have now is this Bill. However, I will briefly digress because in my view it is part and parcel of a more sinister movement which will, whether or not by intention, destroy the United Kingdom. I do not wish to impute motive but I and many people I know have the impression of a concerted policy of deliberate destruction and we heard something about that in an earlier speech.

We face the probable break-up of the United Kingdom as a result of the Scotland and Wales Bills; an attack is being mounted on the Metropolitan Police and the RUC, for ostensibly different reasons; there is secularisation and erosion of moral values which were revered by previous generations. Above all, there is an erosion of parliamentary power to Europe which makes almost anything we do to change this House irrelevant. Over several years, this House and another place have steadily given up power to a body of people who only two weeks ago were revealed as being a group of irresponsible incompetents, or maybe worse. I believe that all this is relevant.

I now return to the Bill. I should like, first, to ask one question: does it add anything to representative government? If anything, I believe that it does the reverse by proposing a House of placemen where the balance must always be in the favour of the government of the day. However elegantly that may be phrased, this would make it as close a replica of the House of Commons as possible in terms of the political views of its Members. For that reason, I shall support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, which I am reliably informed will be moved.

I do not propose to suggest what could eventually replace this House. We are not concerned with that in this Bill; we are concerned with whether this Bill is a good or necessary one in its own right. I believe that it is neither. Therefore, perhaps I may ask another question, which I have asked on other occasions. Will anyone in the United Kingdom be one penny better off or, indeed, better off in any way because of this legislation? Will it add to the income of the poorest old-age pensioner? Will it improve the quality of the Armed Forces, the police or schools? Indeed, I could go on. Of course it will not do so. Not one person in the whole kingdom will gain one halfpenny because of this Bill.

If the Government are going to complain that what they see as beneficial legislation will be held up because some of us do not like the Bill and would at least prefer it to be amended in a variety of ways, they have the simple expedient of dropping it altogether. We might then be able to discuss quietly and sensibly the greater question of what is to replace this House if we feel that it needs replacing. Certainly, what will arise out of this Bill will not be an adequate or acceptable replacement and that is enough for the present.

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I turn now to particular points in the Bill. There is one thing that puzzles me and perhaps this could be explained. It is to be found in the Explanatory Notes to the Bill under the heading, "Financial Effects of the Bill", which states that the latter,

    "will be negligible. The Bill will reduce the size of the House of Lords, but since many of those who will be removed attend very rarely, there will not be any significant savings on Peers' expenses and daily allowances".
That is mind boggling. If, as the latter says, we hereditaries attend so rarely, what on earth is all this about? I would really be glad to know what this means as it is not borne out by the other statistics that I have read or heard of. The lack of savings could be because, on our departure, the Government intend to increase the expenses of those who remain or to give them salaries. However, I think that an explanation of that astonishing statement is required.

The most squalid part of the Bill is the exclusion of the Royal Dukes, including the Duke of Edinburgh. I have been a Member of this House for 35 years and have been a regular attender for 18 of those years. The occasions on which a Royal Duke attends are very rare and they are not controversial. His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales made an excellent maiden speech quite a long time ago, after which the wish was expressed that we might hear him more often. As he is specifically mentioned in the Bill, it is quite clear that the present Government do not wish to hear him at all. The nation will be the poorer for such an exclusion. We are also informed that Her Majesty the Queen is not a Peer and so her position will not be affected. Do not the writers of such explanatory memoranda realise that we know that? Indeed, we are not a kindergarten. It would be a good idea if such patronising statements of the obvious were to be left out of such documents.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jay, said that the Government prefer to act by consensus. That is a noble sentiment which is not borne out by any of the actions that the Government have taken over this Bill. In 1968 the government did act by consensus. I have to say that, even though I disagreed with the consensus. I do not know why they cannot do the same thing today. There is not even a consensus on the timing in which this Second Reading debate is being taken. I believe that this is the first time that I have witnessed disagreement, on the day on which a Bill should be taken, being openly expressed on the Floor of the House.

The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, indicated in his speech that this debate had been a good one, but somewhat inward looking. As the debate is about us, here today, that is natural. None the less, I agree with him but not for the reasons that he gave. Since last week this country has been at war--a fact which may not yet have sufficiently penetrated. Her Majesty's Government's action in concert with NATO and the United States in attacking Serbia does not, in my view, carry the wholehearted consent of our people and we are in a situation of great peril, not experienced since 1939. We should not underestimate the fighting ability of the Serbs even if we do not like them. Let us pray that the

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peril will pass, but we should not forget it and become too introverted, as I believe it is that that we should be discussing today.

10.40 p.m.

Lord Rea: My Lords, with the very last sentiment of the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, I agree. He has a valid point there. However, I shall not follow him otherwise.

A few weeks before Christmas, among other noble Lords, I took part in an entertainment at the Players' Theatre organised by the noble Lord, Lord Rix, in aid of Mencap. It was called "The End of the Peer Show". It got a good many laughs and a picture on the front page of the following day's Times. Now, however, we have the real thing for we hereditary Peers, and understandably the entertainment has been of a more sombre nature. But there have been notable exceptions, some intentional and some not. An unintentional flash of humour came from the noble Lord, Lord Waddington--I am sorry that he is not in his place at the moment--when he responded to an intervention by my noble friend Lord Ponsonby yesterday. As I recollect, the noble Lord was extolling the independent spirit of the hereditaries. My noble friend asked why, if they are so independent, 300 of them are Conservative and only 18 Labour. The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, in a very good try, replied that their independence led them freely to choose to be Conservatives as this better reflected their values. At that there were visible smiles and audible chuckles around the House, although not, I think, from the Conservative Benches.

Hereditary Peers, however, should not be downhearted and unhappy; they should in fact be pleased that they have had a stay of execution for 88 years since the Liberal Government of 1911 proposed,

    "a second chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis".
Although that proposal was never translated into legislation then, or later, for a variety of reasons the argument for the retention of the hereditary Peers as legislators is intellectually indefensible for anyone who claims to believe in the democratic principle. Tom Paine, quoted in the White Paper, pointed out the absurdity of the hereditary legislator as long ago as 1791.

My noble friend the Leader of the House told us that the only other House of Parliament in the world with an hereditary element was the Senate of Lesotho, half of whose Members are traditional chiefs. I suggest that these chiefs have a more legitimate and meaningful role in their country than hereditary Peers do here today. They are still venerated and respected in their own districts, whereas hereditary Peers here, bar a few, lost that connection many years ago, or never had it.

My personal position is that I have been, as an hereditary Peer, incredibly privileged to have been a Member of your Lordships' House for 16 years. I have tried to use that privilege to take part in the activities and work of the House but I have always wanted an opportunity to end the right of hereditary Peers to legislate. I did not think it would be 16 years after taking

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my seat in 1982 before that opportunity arose. In fact for the first half of my life it seemed inconceivable that this medieval leftover would still be in operation by the time my noble kinsman died. However, the inconceivable became reality, and when the time came to take up my inheritance, my own inclination was to disclaim. But encouragement to take my seat came from unlikely quarters, my most left wing friends. Knowing that I was leftward leaning in my views and had medical knowledge they pointed out that I could play a useful role in your Lordships' House.

However, it was a letter from the late Lord Brockway--who, by chance, met my son on a train--that finally persuaded me to overcome my reluctance. He said in his letter:

    "Many of us who are Reluctant Peers"--
and he put that in capitals--

    "do try to use the chamber to urge the causes in which we believe, and I think we are having some success in this. I don't know whether this will lead you to reconsider your attitude but I can assure you that we would much like to have you with us".
Who could refuse such an invitation?

Turning to the amendment, it reiterates the familiar stance of the Opposition on this measure. Knowing that popular opinion is in favour of the principle behind the Bill, they cannot--the Salisbury Convention apart--openly advocate retention of hereditary Peers to be legislators. So the next best thing is to play for time and hope that the debate on full-scale reform of this Chamber will go on for years, thus giving the hereditaries and their vast Conservative majority over the other parties an extra lease of life. The truth is that stage two reform will be conducted much more effectively and democratically without the over-representation of privilege which is inherent in the hereditary peerage. In my view the amendment should be rejected.

In any case, like some other noble Lords, I think that the amendment comes perilously close to breaching the Salisbury Convention in spirit, although not of course in fact as it will not stop the Bill. Strictly, in the debate we should be concentrating on stage one of the reform, which is the substance of the Bill. I have several ideas for stage two for the Royal Commission to contemplate, but I think there will be other occasions for putting my ideas forward.

I would like to end, as did my noble friend Lord Davies of Oldham, with a plea to change the name of this Chamber. Our present name embodies the very power and privilege which the Bill seeks to end. In effect this House is, and should continue to be, a senate. But I would like to think that in Britain we might come up with a more original name: a "House of Revision"; a "House of Reflection"; or a "House of Enlightenment". None of course are adequate or accurate but, whatever we call it, it is--and I hope it will continue to be--a "House of the Uncommons". But its Members should be uncommonly able rather than being uncommonly privileged.

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10.48 p.m.

Lord Ashburton: My Lords, I wonder whether the "House of Correction" might not be the most appropriate term.

I spoke on 14th October of last year on this subject and therefore I have certainly wondered very seriously about whether I should take up your Lordships' time again. I was at first tempted to say "Enough is enough. Leave well alone. Let the previous speech stand on its own". I also contemplated, shortly, making exactly the same speech again. I made it at almost the same time, at 10.55 p.m., on that occasion and there was virtually no one in the Chamber. No one except a real Hansard junkie would remember that I had said exactly the same. But I rejected both ideas because I want to register my strong disagreement with the Government's approach to this major constitutional change.

I shall not speak for long. I should perhaps warn noble Lords that, standing as I am next to the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, who was my very strict chairman on Sub-Committee A of the European Communities Committee, if I sit down very suddenly you will know that he will be tugging my coat when he thinks that I have talked for long enough.

Whatever the merits of the contribution of the hereditary Peers, I must record that the automatic right of succession of all hereditary Peers is, in my view, no longer possible to justify and should lapse. I am wholeheartedly in favour of the way in which this argument is moving. However, I do not believe that this two-stage method of approaching reform is right.

Whatever happens, I shall try to go with as good a grace as I can muster, but I do not pretend for a moment that I have not enjoyed my work on Sub-Committee A, under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, and of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, and I have very much enjoyed contributing to those debates in your Lordships' House about which I felt I knew enough not to talk nonsense. Nevertheless, I am no political junkie. If I am sent away I shall shake the dust of Westminster off my feet and try to go on to the next thing, because at the age of 70 there is plenty of time. However, I believe strongly that Parliament--I refer to Parliament and not just the House of Lords--is overripe for reform.

I use the word "reform" rather than "modernisation" because I like reform and I think modernisation is now a jargon word. I am told that another place is at least as much in need of reform as your Lordships' House. In particular, I believe that any reform that does not leave this place better able to carry out its functions, whatever they may be in future, would be fundamentally flawed and, indeed, a fraud on the electorate. This reform means that there would be a talent drain because quite a number of talents would leave the House. There would be a need for those talents to be replaced quickly so that there was not an interregnum when the House could not function as competently as it should. Talent drains are extremely debilitating, especially when debate should be taking place about the future functions, composition and so on, of a reformed House.

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The Government have seen fit to go for a two-stage process--a Royal Commission later but preceded by this Bill which eliminates the hereditaries. I accept that that is justified by the manifesto, but my withers are not particularly wrung by the force of that argument. Many manifesto commitments will be abandoned when inexpedient. Nevertheless, the Government have every right to go ahead with reform of this kind.

Great as my respect is for the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his colleagues who make up the Royal Commission, the consequences in the real world of Royal Commissions of recent years do not inspire a tremendous amount of confidence. I am also perfectly happy to accept the Government's assurance that stage two will be achieved. But the seat of my pants tells me--I apologise for referring to such an intimate part of my clothing but I find that it is quite a useful sensory organ--that the chances of abandonment of stage two are much greater than the Government admit or would want to admit. Agreement on the next stage will be extremely difficult to achieve and the process will be appallingly time-consuming.

Earlier today the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, told us what happened with the Bill in 1969--how many amendments there had been and how many weeks were spent on it--before the whole thing was abandoned. If that happens again, the Government's business will begin to suffer. One can almost hear what will be said--"Further delay to other legislation is not justified"--and the Government will be able to abandon the Bill with great justification. I do not say they would change their mind. I refer merely to the practicalities of the way the world works. I do not want that to happen. Lo and behold, your Lordships' House would be stuck in stage one. It would not be a better place. There would then have to be appointed Peers in quite large numbers. There would be no real increase in legitimacy or democracy so far as this House is concerned.

I believe that the Government have got it wrong. To put it colloquially, they have made a cock-up. They have no one to blame but themselves for what is beginning to appear a rather unattractive atmosphere and the difficulties that may now arise when moving to stage two.

The Government are perfectly well aware of the problem of "improving" this House vis-a-vis the other place. Any change will simply not be accepted if it is seen as being very significant. They have missed a great opportunity to initiate constitutional change. They could at the same time have made it perfectly clear that the abolition of the hereditaries was a non-negotiable part of the change that they wished to see. If agreed change had proved impossible, they could well have introduced this Bill when they gave up the idea that moving to stage two was a possibility.

I know that a large number, possibly a majority, of hereditary Peers feel as I do. We should be happy to retire as part of a proper reform. I may have to go, but I cannot in the present circumstances go happily. Pie in the sky is not good enough. This Bill is not nasty or mean--just bad.

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This debate has given rise to some excellent speeches. It has greatly interested me that at least three, if not four, Labour Members would clearly have much preferred a single-stage reform. They may be in agreement on the hereditaries, but there is certainly not full agreement on the best way forward.

I think that the Government must have their Bill this evening, but we are being offered a pig in a poke.

10.57 p.m.

Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, I know that I speak for many of my hereditary colleagues when I say that in our view many of the speakers in the party opposite are tilting at the wrong target. Many of my hereditary colleagues feel as I do. We are prepared to go. We know that we should go, but with the proviso that a no less effective provision is put in place. In our view that proviso has not been satisfied. Were I in your Lordships' position, I would go for the hereditary principle. It is much easier than justifying this Bill.

We are reminded time and again that the abolition of the hereditary Peers was a manifesto commitment not dependent on any further reforms of the composition of this place. Perhaps I may make just one observation on the manifesto commitment. I suggest that it is incumbent on a party making a manifesto commitment and being decisively elected on it to ensure that the structure resulting from that commitment is satisfactory. It is our case that the structure as it presently stands is not satisfactory.

Among others, the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, whom I was happy to see at the Bar of the House a moment or two ago, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, who replied in the small hours of this morning--which is euphemistically termed yesterday's business--both made the point, with commendable frankness, that the Bill is a means to an end and that it embraces stage one only because experience had shown that a Bill embracing both stage one and stage two was not achievable. But the Bill is a half-baked measure. It has had unflattering epithets heaped upon it many times during the course of this debate.

If this is indeed just a means to an end, and not to set out in the manifesto a stand-alone measure not dependent on any further reform, the onus is even more on the Government to proceed to stage two with all dispatch. I was pleased to hear that intention endorsed by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in his speech this morning.

Your Lordships will recall the debate on House of Lords reform in October 1998 and that that debate was called by the Opposition following explicit indications by the Government of what could be expected in the Queen's Speech. I am sure I was not alone among noble Lords in being surprised by the number of hereditary Peers who expressed the opinion in one form or another during that debate that the hereditary principle should go, but always with the proviso that something no less effective would take its place. I apologise for repeating that point.

Where I believe the Government are really open to criticism is that in proposing fundamental changes to the constitution they should have instituted a Royal

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Commission within a month or two of taking office. I suggest to your Lordships that they would have found among hereditary Peers the very sentiment which was so apparent in that October debate. I do not think it is taking hindsight too much for granted to say that a consensus could well have emerged, and--who knows--that consensus could have developed to a point where a progression straight to stage two might have been possible.

Consensus is one of the most valued pillars of this House, round which the whole ethos of the House revolves, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon. But it is ironic, even scandalous, that this consensus has been virtually ruled out, due in large part to an unforgivable delay of 18 months, during which period the Government, under time pressure, have upped the confrontational stakes. Despite this delay, the Royal Commission has been asked to report in 11 months on a measure of fundamental importance to the constitution in stage two.

I share the concern expressed by many noble Lords at this wholly unsatisfactory interim Chamber, the timing of the start of which has become more and more irrelevant. As the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, put it, why ruin 600 years for 60 days, the time between the passing of this Bill and the report of the Royal Commission?

Much has been made on the Benches opposite of unfinished business. My understanding of good business is that one does not dismantle a system which is not perfect but is at least effective until there is something workable to take its place.

However, the Bill is with us. We on this side shall endeavour to ensure that this bad Bill leaves your Lordships' House in a better state than when it arrived. In the meantime, I shall vote for the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold.

Perhaps I may make one other point. I do not think that when life peerages were introduced to this House under the Life Peerages Act 1958 even the most enthusiastic supporters of this measure could have envisaged what a success the life/hereditary Peer cocktail would prove to be. I suggest that the complement of the two categories of Peers and the extraordinarily successful working synthesis between them has in no small measure been responsible for the success and achievements of your Lordships' House over the past 40 years.

If I may add a personal note, when dealing with parliamentary business in this House I am unaware whether the person I am dealing with is a life Peer or an hereditary Peer. It is his or her contribution as a Member of this House to which I pay attention. That is a view which I think would be shared by many noble Lords both hereditary and life, on both sides of the House.

Should the Weatherill amendment be accepted, some residuum of this relationship will remain, but, with the departure of the majority of hereditary Peers, this valuable relationship will largely be lost to your Lordships' House. It will indeed be a sad loss.

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11.3 p.m.

Lord Selsdon: My Lords, I feel that as I open my remarks I should recall Lord Birkett. I feel rather as he did. He used to say, when he had to make a difficult speech, that he felt rather like a mongrel dog confronted by row after row of lamp-posts, wondering if he had enough material to get to the end.

When I first came to this House, I was given three pieces of advice: first, do not show discourtesy to the House; secondly, do not try the patience of the House; thirdly, speak only on matters you know about, and for goodness sake do not read your speech.

I do not know very much about this subject, but I have 30-odd years' experience. I wonder how we could have gone so wrong. The Government have misinterpreted this House. I hope that the feeling that has emerged today is that all of us have sought reform for a long, long time but we are hamstrung without the other place. The hackles on my back rose, not because of this debate, but because of the extraordinary discourtesy shown to this House in the Queen's Speech. If I could move an amendment it would be that no one from another place should ever be allowed into this House.

Discourtesy has been shown to us before and it puts up the backs of noble Lords. We know our place. We are aware that we are second-hand creatures with no real right to be here, but our present legitimacy is based on our Letters Patent and Writs that require us to be here. We are all addressed as "right trusty and well beloved". I was looking at my legitimacy earlier today and found that the words "right" and "honourable" appear everywhere. But I have a worry of which I was unaware. I am a Baron and I am right, trusty and well beloved, but a Viscount is a right trusty and well beloved cousin. An Earl is a right trusty and right well beloved cousin. As one moves up the only people who are entirely trusty and right well beloved are the Royal Dukes.

I do not entirely trust the Government. What I find so strange about this remarkable exercise is that as a Baron I am a right trusty and well beloved chevalier. But life Peers are also Barons and they are the same as me. Their sons may sit on the steps of the Throne. The only difference is that I have been here a long time and my son has the right to come after. I would willingly surrender that right immediately. I do not see why we should go through the strange charade of turning these matters over and over in our minds. We know that reform is desirable and that we have no legitimate right to be here. But the difference is that we have to earn that right. I have done a number of unpaid jobs, usually for socialist governments, as mentioned in the White Paper. People ask me why I put in all that unpaid time. I reply that I want a peerage. They say, "Yes, of course". My next comment is, "Who wants to be a Lord?" It seems as if we are attacked from all sides, but for what? If we are to reform the House perhaps no one should be a Lord, but everybody wants to be one.

Lords would like to be millionaires, but all millionaires want to be Lords. Lots of millionaires devote an enormous amount of time and resources when they arrive at whatever their destination to try to get into

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this place. They do not have the same feeling of duty but they are rewarded for what they have done. They feel that they have earned their reward and need do no more. I find that slightly strange. It is a corrupt practice, just as ours may have been a corrupt system. I can try to justify my existence by saying that when I was a shop steward in the Transport & General Workers' Union suffering from asbestosis I remembered the words of my uncle Stafford Cripps. That is true. My family has been in public life. I am a humble Scot who had to flee the English in order to earn a fortune over many years. I am worried that after 36 years here I still have not, at the age of 61, reached the average age, but I have already outlived every male member of my family for the past 700 years.

That leads me to an interesting point about age. We know that in order for a life Peer to get here not only does he have to do something or manipulate the channels of the Honours Committee, but he must be recognised. It takes a long time to be recognised, so he has already reached retirement age by the time that happens. So he comes here and starts to enjoy it. The Conservative Party introduced life Peers. This place was dying when I came here. I wanted to reform it. It was so archaic. The life Peers came in but the thing was, every year the average age in the House became older by one year. As a result, it is impossible for any of us to die.

Another interesting point is that this is the only institution in the world where men outlive their women. Therefore, I subscribe to the view that there should be no age cut-off point. If there were, my trusty and well beloved chevalier colleagues--and there are a lot of them--would have to go.

Having been brought up by trade union leaders in this House, I used to chair bodies that were made up of the Army, Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and Royal Parks--we used to shove them all in so that nobody would be upset. Then one looked for the power base. The power base is the barons. They comprise three-quarters of this House. It is said by some that one should make one's presence felt and should sit among the barons, not the marquesses. It is said that others should come and sit with the prelates, nobles and Peers. Who are the nobles? They are the most trusty and well-beloved cousins. I am not trying to create a division, but they are noble beyond belief. They are related. I cannot speak for them.

I thought, as a former member of a union--and my father, uncles and grandfather were all unionists--that at this time, we might have a little union together. I am not suggesting that I should form a trade union of barons, but that is not far from my thoughts and I could fund it.

I like to think that the Government have done something extraordinarily clever--that they have flown a kite. They have created a debate and a lot of interest. Could we not help them in some way? We could perhaps have block votes. We on this side of the House are perfectly happy to say that we could do something like that. I am perfectly happy to resign my vote as of now and have other people represent me. I do not see why we have to go through this strange argument, which

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will divide the House against itself--and it will collapse--and ask "Who are the ones to stay? Who will be in the First XI? Who will be in the Second Division?" I do not believe that I, a baron--right, trusty and well beloved chevalier--and a life Peer am any different. The point is that supposedly we have no right to vote, but they have no right to be here either.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Carrington that we should seek to move to the second stage as quickly as possible. We could have a non-controversial stage--keeping the House as it is but removing certain voting rights. The most trusty and well beloved amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, is right in principle. We could reduce the number of votes this side of the House, we could increase the number of votes for the other side of the House, or some of us could vote with the other side occasionally. We would get rid of the Whips once and for all.

I suppose that I ought to think of something to say that relies on the hereditary principle. If I remember Horace, the phrase is "Fortes creantur fortibus et bonus"--gallant sons come from gallant and good men. There are lots of gallant and good men in this House.

Let us not divide ourselves against each other. Remember the words of the Lord. The Lord gave the word and the great preachers were among us. We have had a lot of preaching today. It has been fun.

11.13 p.m.

Lord Blyth: My Lords, I am against the Bill because the country is being asked to accept something in the future about which it has no guarantees. I am by nature a cynic, particularly where politicians are concerned. I have lived under two dictatorships--both black and both in Africa. One was under Nkrumah in Ghana and the other under Kenyatta in Kenya. Both were places where one had to look around before one said things and one did not say anything against those two leaders or their parties.

I regard the Bill and getting rid of hereditary Peers as a step down the slope to a dictatorship. The other place has been so degraded now that there is no opposition there to the Government. The only opposition is in this House.

I shall support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold. I conclude what must be the briefest speech by saying that I had four children to tea last Wednesday. The eldest was about 12, the youngest was six. When she was walking around the House, the youngest said to me, "Anthony, it's just like 'Titanic'". My Lords, I do not want to go down.

11.15 p.m.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux: My Lords, I begin by stating my position with regard to reform of the House. When I was appointed to this House in October 1997, I felt that I had become a trustee of this House. I also believe that it is my duty to do what I think is in the interests of this House. There are some conflicts on the question of reform. There are the interests of the

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Government and the Labour Party. We also have the interests of this House. Part of the reform needs to be considered in that context.

I support reform of the House of Lords. I support the Government's manifesto position. But when it comes to carrying out that manifesto commitment I do not believe that we are well prepared with a good solution. I believe that the solution now being considered is overly complex and is not broadly supported in this House. I feel also that we have failed to achieve a consensus. I cannot understand why we do not have one. The Government are mighty powerful, and I believe that we should have made some headway on that. I believe, too, that there has been too much secrecy and not enough openness.

Perhaps I may be a little frank because we need to understand where we are on this issue. When I first came to this House and listened to what people said about the hereditary Peers, I sensed a strong feeling of hatred in some quarters. Although that is a strong statement, it needs to be said. It has led to an absolutist view and an overly rigid approach to reform. An attitude is adopted that all hereditary Peers must go immediately, and that nothing else matters. That has not created the right environment for consensus.

Yet I do not believe that the hereditary principle is sustainable. That is a view widely held in this House. However, we may weaken the House of Lords at a time when the House of Commons is weak in the way that it fails to bring government to account--the whole purpose of Parliament. To so weaken this House is unjustifiable. In fact it seems almost crazy. We are weakening the House of Lords during the reform transition. When we think of the House of Lords we think of this wonderful building that we are in--a wonderful environment. But the House of Lords is the people, the Peers. We seem to be tearing this House apart.

The Government's solution worries me. We do not seem to have weighed up the consequences of this reform package. I should like to know what risk analysis--if I may put it in business terms--has been considered. When the Minister winds up, perhaps he will let us know what has been done on that front.

I believe that the Government have an excellent record in the governance of this country and I proudly support the Prime Minister. However, their approach to constitutional reform could well fail if the interests of this House are not put before the interests of the Government and the Labour Party. I believe that the way they have gone in the reform is wrong. It seems wrong to commit this House to a reform based on discussions and a deal which was made outside. That is not the way to reform this Parliament. All that is a worrying example of Parliament being reformed by the Executive.

There is some good news. It is that I see a change in the attitude of the Government towards hereditary Peers. They are prepared to retain 95 hereditary Peers in the process. There is unquestionably a softer line and a more conciliatory attitude. Listening to the Prime Minister on David Frost's programme a few weeks ago, that attitude

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came over, and it is very welcome. I see it as a step in the right direction. There seems to be some kind of agreement, but, more importantly, it shows that agreement on this difficult subject can be reached.

Perhaps I may say a few words about my views on reform. First, I believe that there must be a consensus if one is putting forward a proposal. I believe that with the Government's present power, they have plenty of cards in their hands and can make almost anything work. But we must also satisfy the manifesto commitment. I propose that all hereditaries in this House should remain here but on their death should not be succeeded in this House by their heirs.

The great advantage of that is that there would be no "big bang". Anyone who has spent time in business knows that no businessman would advocate a "big bang" because it produces all kinds of risks and uncertainties. However, I believe that such a move would keep this House strong during the transitional period. I believe--and have not heard anyone else say it--that we should treat hereditaries like any other Member of this House. I do not distinguish between them and the others. The Labour Party is a caring party and I do not believe we should treat people like some of the bad Victorian employers treated their people. Some of our colleagues in this House are hurting. They do not like to admit it and there is a lot of stiff upper lip, but many of our colleagues are hurting.

In putting forward that proposal, which is difficult to explain in such a short time, I believe that there will be a massive decline in the number of hereditary Peers in this House. It is a (y=ex) curve, an exponential curve, and within three Parliaments more than half of the hereditary Peers will have disappeared. To my mind that is the way in which we should go about it. With this proposal everybody wins.

In addition to that, one needs to have a balanced House. I believe that it is not reasonable that one party should have a huge overall majority in perpetuity. So I propose that we introduce a weighted voting system, the need for which would wither on the vine as the number of hereditary Peers disappears. The solution is simple, easy to operate and would create the effect of a balanced House, which is really the main objective of the Government in all this.

I end by saying a few words about the passage of the Bill through this House. The will of the Commons must prevail. We have a manifesto which has to be adhered to. I do not support any filibustering and I would not want to be part of that. But I believe that the approach that we have at the moment is risky and it is not in the interests of this House. I shall take advice from colleagues on this, but I am minded to put down amendments to the Bill on the basis of probing to see what support there is for my proposal which is based entirely on the interests of this House.

11.26 p.m.

Viscount Cross: My Lords, yesterday my noble friend Lord Strathclyde paid tribute to the late Lord Beloff. If I may, I also would like to say a few words in a similar vein as regards Lord Beloff, the constitution

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of this country and the House of Lords. This House will have been very sorry to learn of the death of Lord Beloff. He will be greatly missed. I do not know whether he would have spoken in this debate and it is not for me to surmise what he might have said had he done so; but I do know that he was greatly interested in the constitution of this country and that he held the House of Lords in the highest esteem.

He reminded us only a few weeks' ago that history repeats itself. He uttered a grave word of warning at that time. He compared the early 1930s with the present time. I believe that I can do no better than quote a short extract from his obituary which appeared in last Wednesday's Daily Telegraph, which was as follows:

    "Never afraid to speak his mind, Lord Beloff caused a furore earlier this year when he compared Tony Blair's style of government with that adopted by Hitler during his rise to power in the early 1930s. He claimed to detect striking parallels between Mr Blair's use of 'dispensable allies' in other parties to implement constitutional reform, and the Nazi's co-option of dupes to push through the constitutional changes which then entrenched their own dominance".

I believe that it behoves any Peer who sees that danger to alert the public without delay.

11.30 p.m.

The Earl of Kinnoull: My Lords, I start by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux, on an excellent and informative speech. He summed up the feelings of many Members of this Chamber as to how the House should proceed. He showed great independence and courage in doing that from the Benches from where he speaks.

At the start of today, I was tempted to withdraw from this historic and marathon debate, mainly because I felt that all the points which I wished to make would have been made at least four times and much more eloquently than I could have made them. However, in a sense I was refocused by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor when he delivered his first speech of the day.

His initial remarks were a graceful tribute to the importance of the historical role which the House had played in the 19th century and to the immense power and influence that it held. I found it extremely entertaining and I was beginning to warm to him. I then noticed that he did not pay too much attention to the work of the current hereditary Peers of this House. I am sure that that was not intentional and if I missed it, I apologise. But then he moved straightaway to the core of the Bill--the fact that hereditary Peers should have no place in today's Parliament. He added that the first stage of the reform was promised in the manifesto to make the House more democratic and representative.

I do not intend to comment on the mystery of how democracy and representation are improved by the Bill. That has been commented on already. From that point on, the noble and learned Lord seemed to move into top gear as the Government's official bully boy. He described the Weatherill amendment in part. Neither Members of the House of Commons nor Members of this House have been privileged to see that amendment

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in any detail. He then issued the most astonishing blunt threat. He said that if we were to tinker with that compromise amendment or any other, the compromise amendment would be torn up in front of our faces and the Parliament Act invoked. I believe those were his words. We must all have felt then as though we were naughty schoolchildren.

The House will recall that the Lord Chancellor concluded his remarks by making three points. He said that the verdict of history would be to condemn us if we did not pay heed to his threat.

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