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Lord Annan: My Lords, there are so many among the hereditaries for whom I feel admiration. Indeed, I have great admiration for the talents of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. There are a number of others for whom I have very great affection, like my old pupil the noble Lord, Lord Denham.
I shall never forget the time when the Shackleton/Carrington proposals were being debated in this House. It was one o'clock in the morning and I believe that it was the noble Lord, Lord Monckton, who quoted the famous lament of Sir Ranulph Crewe over the medieval nobility:
Nay, which is more and most of all, where is Plantagenet?
They are entombed in the urns and sepulchres of mortality".
I shall not vote for the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold. It seems to me in its tone to sound too much like repartee on the playground of a prep school, "Yah boo, sucks to you". As I look round, I hear that First World War recruiting song:
I came to this House nine years ago. I was the first woman from an ethnic minority to come to this House. At that time Lord Pitt was the only other Peer from an ethnic minority background; there was no one else in that category. I was extremely worried about coming to your Lordships' House. I saw myself through your Lordships' eyes. I wondered what your Lordships would make of someone like me. I wondered whether I would be accepted or whether there would be a great barrier due to my different culture, background and, indeed, race. After I had got over being frightened and intimidated by the sheer size of the place, I found that it was extremely easy to be accepted. It was the first institution I had ever entered in this country where I was treated as a person, a friend and a colleague. I have valued that enormously. I was not patronised. I have
I am sad today; for me this is like a wake. We are saying goodbye to many of our old friends and we are doing it in such a summary fashion. That is not pleasing to me. Today and yesterday I heard many people say that the House is ripe for reform and that of course reform is necessary. But when the Conservatives were in government where were the Conservative voices saying that reform was necessary and the House was ripe for reform? I know they did not exist. I spoke to many people and said that this House needed to be reformed and that we should do it before the baby was thrown out with the bathwater. Well, the baby is being thrown out with the bath water. This House will experience a great loss when all the hereditary Peers go. I believe that the hereditary Peers provide a balance in this House and no amount of political appointments or elections will be a substitute for that balance. We shall have a careerist House, whichever way it is reformed.
I say to those noble Lords who may still have some say in this matter that the institutions of this country are the envy of the world. The Labour Party is talking about Cool Britannia. Many people in other countries consider the institutions of this country, the pageantry and the continuity to be very cool indeed, in whatever way one wishes to use the word "cool". It is very sad to see that we can reduce this institution, which has existed for 700 years, and, at the stroke of a small Bill, change it completely, and then think nothing is happening. I think there will be considerable surprise that the work of the House will change and much less work will be done. There will be a great vacuum in the work of Parliament. I do not believe that it will be as simple as the Government think to cut off this major branch of Parliament.
Today we should be talking about a proper reform, a reform which started in the way Bagehot says reform should be started--that is, you look at your first Chamber, you see what the deficiencies are there and then you constitute the second Chamber accordingly. That would have been called reform. This is an insult to the word "reform". This is not reform; this is dismemberment.
Lord Morris: My Lords, it is always a joy to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Flather. I shall keep your Lordships for as short a time as possible. I wish to say a word or two about the nature of heredity. Many people perceive heredity as being a birthright. I passionately believe that that is a classic example of looking down a telescope from the wrong end. It is not a birthright; it is a birth duty. It is a duty which the vast majority of hereditary Peers take very seriously. It is hardly surprising that they do so because they spend the majority of their adult lives with growing apprehension and fear, as the demise of their forebear rapidly approaches, that they will be burdened, should they so wish--that is important--with a duty and must exercise that duty in the best way they can.
The other part of the nature of heredity is that it is a totally random selection. That is one of the reasons why this House is such a delight. We have a total cross-section of people, from the educationally subnormal and every degree above that to the quite brilliant. That reflects the true role of this House.
The role of this House is far closer to the Court of Parliament than it is to a house of first instance. By that I mean that the people we see in this place are far closer to a jury or a fine judge than they are to a collection of highly clever people. Lord deliver me from clever people! One of the astonishing things that I have experienced in this House is that it is quite incredible how some very, very clever people have a total lack of judgment. Maybe this is because we do not want skills and we do not necessarily want great experience; what we seek is wisdom and understanding. Through the extraordinarily random selection process and for a myriad of reasons, there are a variety of people who, in some astonishing way, collectively produce judgments of great quality. This is politically a very unattractive argument to take, but I passionately believe it.
The noble Baroness the Leader of the House used the term "privilege" no fewer than seven times in the first two minutes of her opening speech in the debate. I can tell the House what is the most common experience of privilege that hereditary Peers enjoy and, like the noble Baroness, I will quote, I hope rather more appropriately, Winston Churchill, when he wrote of his great friend F.E. Smith:
Lord Dunleath: My Lords, at the end of the two day debate on the Lords' reform White Paper, the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip commenced his winding up speech by saying that the debate had been more fun than farming--just. As someone who has benefited from the expertise of his erstwhile consultancy practice, I know just how knowledgeable the noble Lord is on all matters agricultural. It will come as no surprise then that, as one of the many hereditary Peers who farms, I feel akin to an endangered species and, as one who does so in Northern Ireland, a pretty depressed one at that.
The House of Lords Bill is short but it is not simple. Indeed, as each week passes, it seems to become more complicated. The Government have implied that there is no constitutional or legal bar on the removal of the hereditary Peers. However, from the papers that now seem to arrive in almost every post, ever more detailed research, by and on behalf of noble Lords, would indicate that the Government just may have got this one
Until now the apparent majority view among the hereditary Peers has been that, if the time has now come for us to go, then we should sadly go. I doubt that I am alone in being castigated by all kinds of people for not standing up more for the position of hereditaries in your Lordships' House. From the most unlikely quarters I am being told that we are viewed as the only effective restraint on the executive. Indeed, I am beginning to feel that, far from wanting us gone, the popular mood may be for us to remain. This purely personal experience would appear to tie in with the results of the opinion polls, which were quoted by noble Lords in the Lords' reform White Paper debate last month and again this week. Nevertheless, I am not persuaded that we should necessarily remain.
To return to the reality of the Bill before us today, the Government have gone long on the need for hereditary Peers to be removed before they can embark on the second stage of their reforms. By contrast, they are rather short on the reasons as to why both stages cannot be taken together. The Government say that if they were to do that it would never happen. I am not quite sure about that and over the weekend I tried to come up with perhaps one or two other reasons why that might be so. First, I suppose they could have claimed that it was symbolic for what they believe to be an outdated anachronism to be gone before the dawn of the new millennium. However, in a most thoughtful winding up speech last night, that view of mine was totally refuted by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, which I am delighted to accept. Secondly, it may be that they never intend to move on to the second stage. I do not know. Many other people have spoken about that one.
Thirdly, the Government may fear that they will run out of time. Certainly, within my memory no Labour administration has experienced a second successive lengthy term in office, discounting the elections of 1964 and 1966. Unless the Government have horrendous skeletons in their cupboard, which I doubt, they have every chance of being re-elected in 2001 or 2002, giving them all the time in the world to bring a package of considered Lords reforms to fruition. Indeed, the Government might wish to reflect that, if they were to bring legislation generally forward at a more measured pace, that legislation might be better considered on their part and they would not be inconvenienced by so many amendments and defeats in this House.
The noble Baroness the Leader of the House and others have stated that they wish to take the Bill forward on a basis of consensus. I respect that and welcome it. I initially thought that "basis of consensus" referred to consensus in this House. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, in his reply last night seemed to imply that the basis of consensus was a more global picture. That does not matter. Consensus is a great point and I approve of it. It is clear that a one-stage Lords reform Bill is more likely to achieve that consensus. Notwithstanding the arguments over any rights of the hereditary Peers to remain, our main fear is that under
With respect, the present arrangement of the appointment of life Peers to sit in this House is hardly more democratic in the true sense of the word than the right of the hereditaries, whatever concessions the Prime Minister might make. It will certainly make the House more political, and the independence of these Benches will be diminished. In a recent newspaper article, Mr. Kenneth Clarke argued forcefully for a wholly elected Upper House. It appears that that may also in part be the view that finds favour with the noble Lord, Lord Richard. I have always listened to the noble Lord with interest and with the greatest respect. While that option is certainly democratic, I fail to see how the Upper House can become anything other than a totally political Chamber, a mirror of another place and wholly devoid of any independent presence. Nevertheless, it is a starting-point on which I am sure an acceptable proposal could be built.
Our independence is one of our greatest assets and not one to be thrown away lightly. The Government make much of the fact that the hereditary Peers' right to sit and vote is undemocratic, but go on to give the clear impression that that is largely because so many of them sit on the Conservative Benches. They may well sit there, but I do not believe that they are any more biddable to the Whips' behest than some senior and much respected noble Lords on the Government Benches.
I am pleased to say that there is a little encouragement from the government Back-Benches at least. I have already mentioned the thoughtful and measured contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Richard. The noble Lords, Lord Stoddart of Swindon and Lord Winston, have also given us an element of hope through their constructive remarks. I was struck in particular by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. It provided the most dignified of reactions from a hereditary Peer who gives his allegiance to a party which no longer believes that there is a place for the hereditary Peers in this House.
We have heard a very interesting speech from the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux. The noble Lord's proposals go much further than many of us would have expected. I do not anticipate for one moment that they will be adopted by the Government Front Bench.
As the Bill makes its tortuous passage through your Lordships' House, the end result is far from clear. No doubt the Bill will become festooned with numerous amendments in an attempt to improve it. It would be
Lord Pender: My Lords, like many noble Lords who have spoken so eloquently in the debate, my sole concern has always been, "How will whatever replaces this House serve the people in a free and unfettered way?" It is highly doubtful that the current proposals before your Lordships' House will stand that test. This age of special-offer politics and modern patronage, this preoccupation with millennium rebirth and this quest for modernisation will be viewed in a generation's time as superficial gimmickry, a mere puff of wind by today's political leaders .
We hereditaries have the right to ensure that what comes after us is of a calibre to maintain the existing safeguards that we now offer as a revising Chamber. This principle should be fought for in the coming months.
My own peerage is young, having been created in 1937. It is just 62 years old, not steeped in tradition like some of the great hereditary families of our land who have given unstinting service to this country over centuries and would continue to do so. That service comes from something called duty. "Duty" is a word currently out of fashion. These days you grasp for what you can get and take the short-term spoil. That is rather pathetic, in retrospect.
In his moving speech yesterday the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, mentioned the deprivation for his son in not becoming a Member of your Lordships' House. I, too, have a splendid son. He is to be denied the privilege of being a Member of this place--an inherent right for over 650 years. That is a pity. The sole redeeming feature is that, not having tasted the delights of the place, he is unaware of what he is being deprived.
One aspect which disquiets me at the present time is the triumphalist attitude displayed by some Members of the House, including those who have scarcely had time to learn the geography of the place, who take the approach: "The hereditary rabbit is snared; go for the jugular". That attitude is regrettable, petty and unworthy, and it should cease. I shall vote for the amendment.
Viscount Mills: My Lords, I shall try not to keep your Lordships long. The Government want to make this House more democratic and representative. No one can argue that it is democratic, but, being subject to the random selection imposed by genetics, it is more representative than many might like to believe.
As a hereditary Peer, I have had the privilege of being a Member of this House for some 10 years, but I do not fit the stereotype that is often portrayed. I am youngish, not rich, have no estates and--it gets worse--am a scientist by training. I am not ashamed of my profession. As a scientist and environmentalist I have tried to make a contribution to some of the Bills and debates about which I have knowledge and experience. I work full time and therefore to find time to participate is rarely easy. What many see as purely a privilege also carries its responsibilities.
I am not in favour of a two-stage process of change. As one of those who is threatened with reform I prefer to be directly involved or at least to know of what a fully reformed House of Lords will consist. Like so many other hereditary Peers I have made a contribution thus far, so why are those with direct experience of the workings of this House not to be allowed to contribute to the process of reformation? If the Weatherill amendment is proposed and accepted, the case for not giving all hereditary Peers this opportunity will be further weakened, for it can no longer be argued as a point of principle that hereditary Peers should play no further part in this process.
Last night I discussed with a friend, a Labour life Peer, whether or not hereditary Peers would really vote for their abolition. I suggested to her then, as I do to noble Lords now, that if the hereditaries had some say in what was to replace them many would do so. That view has been echoed by many other noble Lords in previous speeches. As the quality of this debate has so profoundly demonstrated, what an opportunity has been missed and what a privilege it has been to attend the debate to listen to the speeches.
I regret that I have rarely seen a process of change handled so ineptly. If this process fails I hope that those involved in introducing and managing it will accept a large part of the responsibility. Like so many other noble Lords, I, too, have been saddened by the tone of some of the comments during the various debates about reform of this House. But, as ever, such comment has diminished more those who have delivered it than those at whom it has been directed. Happily, there were many others who while either supporting or opposing these measures managed to preserve, if not enhance, their own
I wish the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and all members of the Royal Commission well in their exacting task. Whatever the final outcome, the removal of the hereditary Peers will break a long and historic tradition that I believe many will see as a loss. It will also create an inconsistency in that by arguing that the hereditary principle is indefensible the Government are, like it or not, arguing directly against the monarchy, however inconvenient that may be, and indirectly against any form of inheritance such as wealth.
Lord Moore of Wolvercote: My Lords, it was 50 years ago that I was first privileged to follow proceedings in your Lordships' House. That was a result of being Private Secretary to several Ministers in the House of Lords at the end of the 1940s and during the 1950s. One of those Ministers is still a member of your Lordships' House and made a charming speech today. That was Frank Pakenham, now the noble Earl, Lord Longford - then First Lord of the Admiralty. As your Lordships may guess, it was a joy to work for him.
At that time, this House sat in the Queen's Robing Room and officials were huddled in the corner on the left as one entered the room. This Chamber was occupied by members of another place, whose own Chamber had been destroyed by the Luftwaffe.
Ever since, I have followed the workings of the House of Lords with great interest, although only as a member for the past 13 years. When I became a life Peer in 1986, it was at once clear to me that Harold Macmillan's Life Peerages Act 1958 had brought about great changes--notably in the increased numbers and influence of the Cross-Benchers. I cannot help wondering whether Harold Macmillan realised at the time how important that Act would prove to be.
The result at the end of the century is that, with a combination of hereditary Peers and life Peers, we have a House of Lords that works more efficiently than ever before as a second Chamber. That is the irony of the present situation. There is a second Chamber that is working excellently, yet it has to be changed drastically. Why? Because in a parliamentary democracy in this day and age, it has become impossible to justify three-quarters of one of the Houses of Parliament being there by right of heredity. Very reluctantly, I accept that it is difficult to oppose the principle of the Bill.
One only has to read the Government paper on reform of the House and the Royal Commission's consultation paper to see how formidable is the problem. I do not envy the Royal Commission its task--or perhaps I do envy it. Do they not face a tremendous challenge?
Surely the right course at this stage would be for the Government to introduce an amendment to the Bill whereby the abolition of the hereditary Peers would not come into force until the Royal Commission and the Joint Committee of both Houses have reported. The Royal Commission is already at work. It does not make sense to play about with the composition of the House at this stage. The Government would fulfil their manifesto commitment with an Act of Parliament abolishing the hereditary Peers, and the House would avoid disruption in advance of the establishment of the new form of second Chamber. I earnestly ask the Government to consider that course.
Lord Tryon: My Lords, speaker No. 168--and seeing that I was in that position I threw away the splendid formal Second Reading speech that I was going to make to your Lordships as all my best foxes have been shot or were going to be shot. I will confine myself to a few short points, just to place on record my views on the Bill, as we are all supposed to do if we want to take part in subsequent stages.
I have been a hereditary Member of this House for 22 years. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Annan, that I was 36 when I joined, so we are not all old on these Benches. At times I have been quite actively involved, although recently less so. I have always sat on the Cross-Benches and have remained fiercely independent of all political parties--and almost as much so of my fellow Cross-Benchers. That I think is in the best tradition of the Cross-Benches. That is how the House works well. I say this because there are many new faces present, which reflects the evolution of the House, and quite a few noble Lords probably have not the faintest idea of who I am.
I probably voted against the Conservative Party more often than against the Labour Party. But that may be because I have experienced 18 years of Conservative Government while I have attended the House and only four years of Labour Government: two in the 1970s and two now.
I have always believed that one of the main roles of this House is to make governments in another place think again. Therefore, I have lived quite happily in a state of perpetual opposition to whichever government were in power. Numerous noble Lords have pointed out that the will of another place will always prevail, so why all this fuss? While I have not listened to all the speeches, I have heard a huge number. None that I heard
The criticism of hereditary Peers seems to be that we are hereditary. Frankly, it is not much more than that. A number of life Peers have greatly praised our contribution. I do not think that such praise applies to me. I have not made as great a contribution as many other noble Lords have. However, I have been immensely impressed in my time here by what others do.
I have also been hugely impressed by the work of the House over the years. My approach to the Bill is summed up by the old saying, "If it ain't bust don't try and fix it". That was said by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and, I expect, by others, but I strongly believe it. An analogy for what is going on here may be as follows. I hope that it may be a new point, hard though it is to find new points at this stage. I have been a trustee for a number of years for many organisations. From time to time one has either wanted to resign or get someone else to resign. The lead advice has always been, "You cannot go and you cannot kick out this other fellow until you find someone better or at least as good to replace you or him". I have heard no one say that what will replace this House without hereditary Peers will be better than that with them, at least in the short term. We cannot possibly walk away not knowing what will replace us. That is my major objection, and the major objection of most noble Lords who have spoken.
Furthermore, I feel strongly that those who want to make major constitutional changes, as this is, should be made to fight every inch of the way. We must not roll over and just walk away. Too many noble Lords assume that this match is all but over. It is not over until Royal Assent--and an awful lot can happen before that.
The reasoned amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, sums up most succinctly some of my objections to the Bill. It sends out a message which I, too, would like to send to anyone outside who is paying attention to our deliberations on this matter. I will therefore support him tonight and I will support noble Lords who want to make difficulty for the Bill at later stages.
Lord Dulverton: My Lords, I am one of those rare animals nowadays; I am an industrialist. Hence, I do not speak very often, which I regret. I did not receive a letter similar to that of the noble Lord, Lord Rea. But, luckily, I have a few years before I meet the description of the noble Lord, Lord Warner.
We are living in a period of suspended animation. Maybe that is because we have a noble and learned Lord Chancellor of over-exuberant energy. He certainly has a prodigious work output, for which he should be admired. The trouble is, as so many noble Lords have said, where are we going? Some years ago, there was a story about the possible erection of a statue to an outgoing Minister. It became apparent that it was difficult to find a position to situate it. It could not go
In a few months, we will be got rid of and a cheer will go up in another place. I fear that maybe--just maybe--we are heading for a one-Chamber legislature, just as Scotland will have at the end of the summer. Maybe in a few years we will have no monarchy and the members of the Boston Tea Party will have had the last laugh. But will the public really cheer, too? We deserve no less than to be told where we are going before we are banished.
Lord Annaly: My Lords, I must start by declaring an interest as an hereditary Peer. I took my seat eight years ago and have always realised how fortunate I was to have the opportunity to attend your Lordships' House. During this time, I have enjoyed the company of noble Lords from all sides of the House, regardless of whether they were life or hereditary Peers.
I take the Conservative Whip, but two of the most memorable occasions I recall in my early days here were the well attended debates on Maastricht and the war crimes Bill. From memory, these were strongly whipped by my own party, but that did not stop myself and many other noble friends on this side of the House from voting against the party Whip. I mention that simply to remind noble Lords on the Benches opposite that Conservative Peers do not always support their own party in the Division Lobbies if they do not believe that their party is right.
It is not easy for an hereditary Peer to defend the status quo because it inevitably sounds as though the defence is being made through reasons of self-interest. I hope, therefore, that noble Lords will take it at face value and not consider it as self-interest when I say that I believe that the House works well as now constituted.
However, every institution needs to adapt and reform, so I do not set out to oppose reform out of hand. To the contrary, reform of your Lordships' House would be welcome if it were clearly seen to make it more effective in holding the Executive to account while maintaining the important independent characteristics of its membership. But that is obviously not easy to achieve.
What we have in front of us now is a narrow Bill dealing with the reform of one part of one of the two Houses of Parliament, the removal of the hereditary Peers from your Lordships' House. I have listened to the arguments which the Government have put forward for carrying out a two-stage reform. The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, who is a much respected Member of your Lordships' House, made a notable speech in the morning in support of the Government's two-stage approach to reform. I have yet to be convinced by the
The winding-up speech last night by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, did nothing to diminish my reservations. In answer to an intervention by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, the noble and learned Lord said that it was neither appropriate nor necessary to give any guarantees on the face of the Bill that stage two will happen. My noble friend was not asking for the details of stage two to be on the face of the Bill; simply that stage two would take place. That would seem quite a reasonable safeguard. The noble and learned Lord's reply last night does not fill me with confidence that stage two will take place in a short time frame, if at all.
A fundamental question which the Government have yet to answer is this. Do they want a more effective Chamber than we now have? Do they want the second Chamber to be able to hold the Executive to account more than it is able to do now or not? The White Paper on House of Lords reform included options for doing the opposite, reducing the delaying powers of the House. Putting country before party interests, would the noble and learned Lord when he winds up confirm what he believes the real objectives of genuine reform should be? Does he agree that it should be for a stronger, independent Parliament and House and that the power of the Executive should be reduced? I believe that we are entitled to know what answers the Government have to these questions. The Bill before us does not address these matters and on a stand-alone basis increases the power of the Executive.
A number of noble Lords have mentioned the future composition of the House and the percentage of elected Members, be it one-third or two-thirds, in the revised Chamber. With or without the so-called Weatherill amendment, I suggest that an elected House is what the country is going to demand in due course. After all, there has been much talk in this debate about democracy from the Government Benches and this could well be the unintended consequence which the Government did not foresee. I do not know what the timescale will be. What I am sure about is that once the hereditary Peers have gone, in the event of having a mixed House with appointed life Peers, Bishops and some elected Members, it will not be long before the elected Members of the House make it clear that they believe that they have more authority than the appointed Peers, just as the Government are now saying that the vote of an hereditary Peer is not as valid as that of a life Peer. My noble friends Lady Buscombe and Lord Hesketh made this point in notable speeches earlier in today's debate.
There has been much play from the Benches opposite on democracy. To follow that argument through, the second Chamber would have to be elected. The irony--and it is something which I do not believe the public at large appreciate--is that the democratically elected House of Commons, with its very strong system of party whipping, is not as good a defender of individual liberty as your Lordships' House, which is undemocratic as it is now constituted. Whatever reforms now take place, it
I conclude by saying that I do not like this narrow, nasty little Bill and I deplore the way in which the Government have approached reform of just part of your Lordships' House without having any idea, certainly not one which they are prepared to share with your Lordships, about the future role, functions and power of the House. I shall be supporting the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, if he moves it.
Viscount Devonport: My Lords, many noble Lords, noble Baronesses and the right Reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester have spoken extremely ably over these two days and nights on the reform of this House. At this late hour, I wish simply to highlight those matters of personal conscience which I believe each of us has a constitutional duty to ensure; that is, we must see that the new House retains the best of the old, to which can be added those new powers needed for the next millennium.
Like the noble Viscount, Lord Mills, I am optimistic that a more effective House can be built upon the strengths of the present House. First, I believe that the Royal Commission, which I welcome, should examine the workings of Parliament as a whole and not exclude from debate the 700-year role of the hereditary Peers. Nearly six days of debate in your Lordships' House since October have failed to throw up any alternative that guarantees more securely the independence of spirit, the breadth of skills and experience, the spread of age and minimum political bias and patronage than does the present composition of the House of Lords.
The surest way in which to make that invaluable wealth of experience the foundation of an improved and more effective upper Chamber is to ensure that we play a major part in its reconstitution before disenfranchisement. Regularly attending hereditary Peers who will lose their seats will be unusually objective judges of the future composition of the House. Even established life Peers could be so viewed if their tenure of a peerage were curtailed.
For that reason, we shall need to press the Government to do three things: first, to confirm that they will conform in practice with all the terms of the White Paper, including the appointment of Peers in the transitional stage by an independent commission with no right of veto by the Prime Minister. Secondly, before the next election the Government must set a precise timetable not only for proposing but also for implementing and establishing a reformed House, its composition and its powers. The transitional stage, after the abolition of hereditary Peers, should not be open-ended.
I turn now to the proposals which I submitted to the Cross-Bench committee last March; that is, that the new powers of a future House will need to serve the nation valuably in the next millennium. I have no doubt that the future House should represent the whole United Kingdom, especially as future regional bodies in England and island bodies in Ireland will be added to the devolved Scottish and Welsh assemblies.
Secondly, the House should concern itself with European matters, including European human rights. Thirdly, in order to secure the independence of the judiciary, perceived as increasingly threatened of late, I believe that in future, the composition of this House should no longer include serving Law Lords. Instead, an alternative Supreme Court could better fulfil that role.
Fourthly, in future, it may well be to the advantage of the Church of England to be disestablished. In that case, religious representation of major denominations and other religions need to be enshrined in the appointment and/or election requirements of the upper House.
Importantly, the 23 per cent. of the overall population in rural England and Wales who contribute 30 per cent. of the jobs in goods and services and 30 per cent. of gross domestic product, need explicit rural representation. A rural voice in policy and legislative scrutiny, particularly on matters where the rural angle is not always recognised--such as the need for economically viable farm and forestry land use--cannot be guaranteed in the other place, where most Members represent urban constituencies. Without that, I have no doubt that nothing less than the future of the landscape of Britain is at stake.
Seventhly, the House could act as a counterweight to the so-called electoral dictatorship of the House of Commons and continue what I might call the Cross Bench factor. Ideally, a new House should be composed of Members in place for not less than 10 years, and numbering not fewer than 300, of whom at least half would be appointed by the electoral regional assemblies, and the remainder elected nationally or appointed, as already discussed, by an independent commission. Appointees from regional assemblies (which would replace county councils) would, on a rolling basis, take their seats in even years and central appointees in odd years. MEP and House of Commons elections would remain as now.
Finally, I believe that some of the powers stripped from this House in 1911 and 1949 may need to be restored so that the upper House may serve Britain as effectively as their Senates serve the people of the United States and Australia.
Lord Elton: My Lords, this has been a long and fascinating debate. However, we have wasted an enormous amount of time and misdirected our attention for a good deal of it in attacking or defending the hereditary principle. That debate was decided a very long time ago.
In 1944 my father said to me, "I am delighted that you have started to take an interest in what I am doing in London, but I hope you will not become too enamoured with it because the chances of you ever doing the same are remote indeed. If I were run over by a bus tomorrow you would have lost the power to speak and vote in the House before you achieved your majority and if I live to a reasonable age the House of Lords will have been abolished or totally reformed and you would be out of it long long ago".
I have no intention of defending the rights of hereditary Peers to take part in the proceedings of Parliament. I am concerned with a different matter. My father was called to the barony in 1934 by Ramsay MacDonald--impeccable credentials, you may think, for noble Lords opposite. The fact that his opinions changed with maturity is another matter.
It was that barony that made it possible to have a Parliament at all. For nearly 700 years it succeeded in making Parliament work, but not always--in fact, quite rarely--in a democratic manner. In the latter years, it moved steadily towards the democracy that we now have.
That gives me a sense of being a trustee at the end of a long line of trustees with a duty to hand their trusteeships over to reliable hands. That is what concerns me. The noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux, said that he, too, saw himself as a trustee of this House. Of course, we all are. But we are more than that. We are trustees of the constitutional rights of the British people. When noble Lords say that we are having an inward looking debate, they are right to an extent, but I have scarcely heard that interest mentioned.
The function of this House in the protection of the British people is to see that the democratically elected body, which houses and provides the Executive, remains the servant of the electorate. There are times when the pressures of political necessity drive executives into courses that the electorate do not wish. There are times when really fat majorities tempt them into paths which the electorate do not really wish and there are many occasions when the pressures of parliamentary business mean that the legislation that comes here has in large part scarcely been considered at all. The function of this House is to revise that legislation and, where necessary, call the Executive in the other place back to account by giving the other place the opportunity to think again and drawing the attention of the public to the failings of the Executive, whether of our party or another party.
Those are the functions that we need to see continue after we are gone. It distresses me to have noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, who has the duty of replying to this debate, has had a pen
In a disputed passage in his speech, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor made it very clear that there were certain areas into which we ventured at our peril if we sought to achieve that end. I shall not go into the manner in which he drew the lines in the sand, but we must recognise that he spoke for the Executive who at present have absolute control of the other place and can therefore get us to do what they want. I respect those lines, but they do not exclude us from doing various things which are necessary.
The great danger which many of us see is that there will be an indefinite delay in proceeding to stage two, during the whole of which this House will consist almost entirely of nominated Members who can be reinforced by an infinite number of other nominated Members of the political colour of the Executive of the day, which may well change because it could be a long process.
One way of guarding against that, and from which we have not been excluded, would be to say that the effects of this Bill could cease at the end of whatever period we think it proper to give the Government in which to bring the new organisation into position--perhaps at the end of first Session of the second Parliament after the passing of this Act. I refer to the second Parliament after this one. I take the timescale suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, who knows what he is talking about. I can think of no bigger pistol to hold to the heads of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and the Minister than the prospect at the end of that period of the whole of the hereditary peerage returning jubilant to this House. I am sure that the Government would bring in a new House of Lords before then. That would be effective.
There is the question of whether the effects of excessive patronage might become felt within that time. That is guarded against in part by what has come to be called the "Weatherill amendment" which we shall see later, but that alone may not suffice. The danger which lurks biggest in most of our minds, although not all of us have mentioned it, is the danger of excessive and irresponsible use of the patronage of appointment to this House.
Another area which the noble and learned Lord has not excluded us from considering is putting the patronage of the Prime Minister into a commission. I therefore suggest a second amendment which we ought to consider before the Bill returns to another place. I hope that in telling us that the other place would not consider many--indeed, any--exchanges of
Those two amendments seem to me to open the door to a way through which we could go with comfort. What I now wonder is whether what we shall hear playing when we leave this place is the faint strains of Nero's fiddle, or the slightly louder sounds of the string section of the "Titanic"; or whether perhaps it could just possibly be, by a great effort to be courteous and understanding on both sides of this House, the sounds of "Auld Lang Syne".
Lord Sawyer: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Elton. As he rehearsed his possible musical scenarios, I thought perhaps that one for the Conservative Party opposite might be "Always look on the bright side of life".
Many years ago I had the pleasure of reading the biography of Ramsay MacDonald, which I believe was written by the noble Lord's father. It was an excellent book, only to be surpassed in recent years by the definitive biography of David Marquand.
I am still very much in the early days of my apprenticeship in your Lordships' House, but it has been impossible not to be impressed by the quality of many of the contributions made in this two-day debate. Inevitably some on the fringes did not meet that standard, and I say that sadly; but on the whole the experience and wisdom spoken during this debate has been impressive.
For hereditary Peers on all sides this must be a difficult time, especially for those who have given good service to the House. I am still finding it a difficult time to adjust to my role as a life Peer. I felt it was rather ironic that one of the last jobs I had as the General Secretary of the Labour Party was to try and persuade the candidates on our Euro list that being sixth or seventh on the list when only five or six candidates might win was in fact an honourable task to carry out on behalf of the party, never thinking that in a few months time I would find myself 174th on a list in a different place, but hopefully still in a winning position.
As I reflected on my time here, I felt that I could have applied for an hereditary peerage myself, as it will probably take me two lives to master your Lordships' House. It is not just the strange hours, the rituals and the conventions, but problems like how one meaningfully joins a debate after 174 speakers. How do I make a contribution? How can I help the Government? That is always my intention, as noble Lords will learn.
I was thinking that last night when the noble Baroness, Lady Perry of Southwark, came to my rescue. She wondered what the woman on the Clapham omnibus would think of this Bill. There, I thought, is my golden opportunity. I sit next to the
Then I thought, "No", I have something more to offer than that. My grandfather was not just a passenger on the Clapham omnibus; my grandfather was the driver of the Clapham omnibus--northern version, but same principle. Just imagine if he had been an hereditary driver of a Clapham omnibus; where would I be today? Well, I would not be sitting on red leather benches, but on a black plastic bench somewhere on a night bus between Elephant & Castle and Kennington. But perhaps not. Driving a Clapham omnibus is much more dangerous; far more poorly paid and much less privileged than sitting in your Lordships' House. So I may have relinquished my black plastic seat to take up my position here.
I say this mainly to noble Lords opposite. Those of us born to drive Clapham omnibuses and the like, as opposed to those in this House born to rule in countries and the like, feel that it is time for change. This is not the politics of envy. It is not the politics of class hatred; indeed, it is the principle of fairness that drives us to bring these measures before the House. As noble Lords on all sides of the House will know, you cannot drive a Clapham omnibus on your grandfather's driving licence. You can only drive a Clapham omnibus by passing your own driving test, deploying your own brains and developing your own skills. It is time that one can only get a seat in your Lordships' House on that very same basis. Although I know that after 700 years some noble Lords think that we are taking liberties and moving a bit fast, I saw a nice quote from Dryden the other day which said:
Some 20 years ago I was appointed by a small executive of a major trade union with a membership of three-quarters of a million to be one of the leaders of those members. I felt absolutely legitimate, as, indeed, my members thought I was. A Conservative government came along with a manifesto commitment, which was probably read by something like 2 per cent. of the people, to make me stand for election for my job. I did not like it, but I respected the result of the general election and the right of that government to change the legislation. I obeyed the law; I was challenged and could have lost my job. However, I won and I was still legitimate. I do not believe that my status changed at all in the eyes of my members from the day that I became an appointed official. I went on to become the General Secretary of the Labour Party, appointed by an executive, confirmed by a ballot of conference delegates--indirect election and legitimate in the eyes of Labour Party members.
I have cited all these experiences briefly to show that appointed, directly or indirectly elected can all be legitimate; it is how the people you represent feel about you and the representative nature of what you do that really counts. I end on this note. Political classes in another place--and, indeed, some noble Lords as well--are marshalling arguments for direct elections to a revised Chamber. But passengers and drivers of a Clapham omnibus would be more cautious.
I believe that people very strongly support and demand the principle of the Commons as the prime elected Chamber. They do not want to undermine that. They want a second Chamber which is subordinate and, to some extent, independent. They know that more elections mean more selections, more candidates, more manifestos, more parties, more party politics and, indeed, less independence. By the way, if I go to election for this seat behind me, which I would be prepared to do, I shall not be urging voters to support me to check and balance the executive. I shall be saying to them: "Vote for me, support our party and our Government". On what other basis could anyone in our democracy stand for election?
Similarly, I shall not be saying to the voters: "Vote for me, support me and I will carry out my manifesto promises. But I am sorry, I can't promise to deliver". Why? "Well, because there are a hundred appointed Cross-Bench Peers. They are all independent and they didn't stand for election. But they can thwart my mandate and they can dilute the power of your vote". You cannot have a sem-elected Chamber with two different bases for serving and two different conflicting bases for voting. So tread warily over the seductive veneer of direct elections; the process is not as simple as some people make out. Avoid also the pitfalls of a semi-elected system that has inbuilt conflicts and contradictions. Do not dismiss the potential legitimacy of Peers who could reach this House through an open, public nomination procedure. Be endorsed by party leaders or an independent commission and perhaps be confirmed in some way by indirect elections.
Legitimacy is conferred by those we represent. A wide-ranging discussion with the British people through the report of the Royal Commission, and possibly at a later date through the political parties, will, I believe, show that people want a more sophisticated, flexible and subtle arrangement than they demand for the elected Commons. I think we should give consideration to and take part in that debate.
What distresses about the Bill, what offends, is its promotion of short-term party political advantage at the expense of constitutional balance. Lest anyone doubted it, our debate on the White Paper--many of
I state the obvious. The Bill is concerned with composition. Inevitably, this has provoked debate about its abject failure to address the inter-related matters of powers and functions. This must be a deeply distorting omission. We can but hope that we may be able to address that in Committee. But, perhaps more importantly, there has been precious little discussion, let alone consideration on the face of the Bill, of what could be termed "method", the Burkean distinction between legislating for "wants" and legislating for "needs". The Government are adamant that the two Houses in Parliament should retain their own distinctive character and that the other place must retain its supremacy over this House.
That is all good and well. This has been the foundation of our constitutional balance for many years. Another place is a political assembly performing a political function. Indeed, its political credentials make it the fountainhead of democratic and electoral authority and, from that, flows the legitimacy of its supremacy. In contrast, your Lordships' House is a legislative assembly performing a legislative function. Lest it has escaped the attention of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor the simple fact is that it is our constitutional duty to scrutinise legislation. If nothing else, this alone would secure the status of this House within our understanding of democracy.
However, in warping and deepening the politicisation of this House, as the Bill will assuredly do, the distinctive character of the two Houses will be irreparably compromised. The transitional arrangement--and whatever may or may not succeed it--will be archly political in character. It will be a clone. It will be wholly ruled by the politics of the moment. Its "method" of legislative scrutiny will be all of a piece with another place. In other words, the consideration of legislation from the perspective of "need" will be wholly subsumed by an obsession with short-term "want". Despite the primacy of this House's legislative and deliberative functions, it will become a political assembly.
It is this which makes the Government's proposition so incomprehensible. It is illogical that this misguided conversion of a legislative assembly into a political one can in any way improve the performance of Parliament as a whole.
It is personal, but I disagree with those who hold that the crucial function of holding the Executive to account is one of the primary functions of this House. To my mind, this is one of the ambiguities of our constitution. We are, above all else, a legislative and deliberative Chamber. Our efforts to hold the government of the day in check are subsidiary elements to that remit. Quite apart from anything else--the Bill will not change this--it is from the other place that the government of the day are predominantly formed and that an administration's
But one of the greatest complaints about our parliamentary system--it comes from all sides--is that the political assembly is hugely ill-equipped to check the Executive. Logic demands that the transformation of this House into a political assembly will occasion yet more Executive creep towards absolute control of the legislature. That prospect was quite palpable in the remarks of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor when he opened our debate. This defines the constitutional impropriety of the Government's approach.
More than this, as a number of noble Lords have already observed, there are strong grounds for arguing that the shift in the balance of our constitutional architecture is of such importance that this is a matter that should be judged directly by the electorate. The poll evidence suggests that public opinion favours such an approach. Current constitutional theory, based upon the precedents of 1832 and 1911, requires that in the event that a government seek to swamp opposition to it in the Lords by the creation of new Peers, the authority of the electorate for the specific proposal should be sought. By extension, the corollary of this, a government seeking to subvert opposition by wholesale removal from office of a class of representation in the Lords, must also have validity. In this context, I fully endorse the comments of my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway.
I do not believe that I am alone in supposing that the Government do not set much store by constitutional propriety or precedent. Their respect for Parliament and the constitution is, shall we say, muted. This is a huge source of regret. It is all the more tragic because the seeds of consensus, and thereby the opportunity for the Government to pursue the matter with some measure of grace and dignity, are but a few months away in the findings of the Royal Commission. In addition--and in a spirit of helpfulness--the Government should be aware that the law relating to the hereditary Peerage is governed not by statute but by common law and precedent.
This leads me to the text of the Bill. The Leader of another place glorified in its simplicity, but, especially when it comes to legislative provision, simplicity is no substitute for clarity or for certainty.
The hereditary Peerage is a complex institution. That should not surprise us given its longevity. Of course, at one level, at the political level, it is a simple matter to intend to achieve the Government's policy objective. But at other levels, constitutionally and legislatively, the matter is not quite so clear-cut.
I should stress that, in this, I do not dispute that there is a debate to be had as to whether it is appropriate that the hereditary peerage is part of the legislature. There are credible arguments on both sides of that fence. But, as I have already explained, this is not the point at issue on the face of the Bill. That being so, what will its effects be? It will entrench and deepen the politicisation of your Lordships' House. It will tighten the grip of the Executive over the legislative process. It will empower the party political apparat at the expense of the electorate. It will do all of these things against the grain of public opinion and constitutional common sense.
What it categorically will not do is make your Lordships' House any more democratic. It will not make this place any more representative. It will not engender any improvement in legislative scrutiny. It will not enhance this House's deliberative function. It will not provide better mechanisms for holding the Executive of the day to account.
Lord Geddes: My Lords, many of your Lordships will recall the 1950s BBC radio programme "Take it from Here", which featured a certain "Mr. Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells". This morning, in the context of this Bill, I am "Disgusted of Westminster". I am disgusted as to the Bill's dogma. It is an odious, debased and vindictive little Bill with huge, but huge, constitutional implications.
I am disgusted with its lack of practicality. It has been estimated that the House needs--that is, presently has--about 200 hereditary Peers to keep its committees--in that context, I include Deputy Speakers--running. In answer to my Question, the Chairman of Committees advised on 8th February of this year that there are 163 active hereditary Peers. Those two numbers--200 and 163--are not that far apart and certainly both are greater than the 90 of the Weatherill amendment.
I am disgusted at the Bill's lack of substance. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor told us yesterday morning that membership of this House should be based on merit. I have no argument with that whatsoever. But does it have to be merit that is earned before anyone becomes a Member of this House? Are my noble friends Lord Carrington, after 54 years of service and merit, and Lord Ferrers, after 45 years of service, to be thrown out of this House? I can only get together 24 years, although for the past 14 of those I have sat continuously on the European Communities Committee or its sub-committees. I agree that membership should be based on merit but I make the point only that we should not suffer reverse discrimination.