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We have heard about the reduced authority of decisions of this House due to the presence of hereditary Peers. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Shore of Stepney, referred earlier to a particular decision of this House being ignored by "the country"--I emphasise the word, if I heard it correctly--due to the number of hereditary Peers who had voted on that decision. The country? It was the present Government, who cannot abide anyone disagreeing with them, least of all this House.
Again, we are told that this House is undemocratic. It depends how you define democracy, but I suggest that, given the present dominance of the executive, this House is about the only bastion of democracy left.
I am disgusted at the timing of this debate, both immediately--as has been well rehearsed, it is being held during Easter week--but more to the point, in the medium term. As many noble Lords have said, stage one is being divorced from any decision on stage two.
The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, in a very impressive speech on Monday, came to conclusion that the only legitimate form that this House might take other than its present one would be an elected Chamber. I do not disagree with the theory of that. Where I do disagree is that another place would never tolerate a second elected Chamber. Indeed, we were told earlier that that is why previous attempts to reform this House failed.
Finally, I am utterly disgusted by the style with which this debate has been conducted from the Front Bench opposite. We have had scant and belated credit given to hereditary Peers. And then, to compound the previous discourtesies, we had the opening remarks yesterday of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. Were his remarks a deliberate ploy, or were they just gratuitously offensive? His threat was
Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, during my life certain numbers have stuck in my mind. When I served in the Royal Marines my number was PLYX112105. I never forgot that. When I became a student at the Open University, it was 0046965. And when in future my friends say to me: "What did you do during the war on the House of Lords reform Bill?", I shall say, "I spoke as number 177". That will be as significant to me as participating in this debate must have been to everyone who has spoken. It is a privilege to have this opportunity of expressing a view. At this stage there can be nothing in the detail of the issue that has not already been touched upon.
I wish to say as kindly as I can that I believe the hereditary Peers have grown too sensitive to the fact that their future is at stake. Of course it is at stake. It has been at stake for a very long time. I can understand the emotion, the joy and pride, that have come across the Chamber when hereditary Peers have spoken about their forebears, what they have done, how they survived, and many other matters.
I speak for the unelected, non-hereditary Peers, a group which deserves to be remembered. I do not have a family tree which goes back hundreds of years. The Clan Graham was a Border clan. The Grahams were known as Border reivers. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, nods his head; he recognises a reiver when he sees one. A reiver was a chancer, someone who moved from side to side, who stole cattle and who was in the pay of one side or the other. The Grahams moved into Northumberland. Newcastle-upon-Tyne, which is my home town, is full of Grahams. My grandfather Graham on my dad's side, who was poor and did not have much, served in the First World War. My grandfather on my mother's side was a miner, and I am proud of that. My father served in the First and Second World Wars. I am as proud of my heritage and my hereditary traits as anyone here. Let us not get into the difficulty of trying to justify where we came from. We are all individuals. When I look at the hereditary Peers, mainly on the other side of the Chamber, I do not see hereditary Peers but fellow politicians. We are all here at the behest of a party leader and ultimately of the Queen.
Whether one likes it or not, and however one dresses up what it should be, this is a political House. When I listen to the case that has been made against the Bill, I wonder where some of the critics have come from. One or two Members said that the Bill was a sop to the left wing of the Labour Party. I have
For many of us this is unfinished business. Whether or not we have fought or argued, we have believed that part of our destiny was to have the opportunity one day to stand here, as I do, to speak not for the aristocracy and the hereditary class but for the working class, from which I sprang.
Earlier in the debate I heard the noble Viscount, Lord Mills, regret the language that has been used. I agree with him. During the two-day debate, as my noble friend Lady Thornton said, Members on this side of the Chamber have been accused by speakers opposite of being cuckoos, poodles, Gadarene swine, pigs in a poke, fraudulent, paltry and poor, envious. We have now been told by the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, that we are participating in a process which is odious, vindictive and debased.
I took careful note of the language of many Members opposite: "a constitutional outrage"; "nasty"; "political prejudice"; "contempt for Parliament"; "chaotic and unpalatable"; "extraordinary pettiness"; "a bad day for the House"; "pious declarations"; "a terrible little Bill"; "an absolutely miserable, pedestrian measure"; "an abuse of power"; "a mean and spiteful measure"; "vindictive, time-serving"; "cheap and cowardly"; "absolute contempt". I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Mills, that we should regret the use of that language. However, it did not come from this side of the Chamber but from the other side. Sometimes noble Lords opposite delude themselves by believing that they are more in touch with the opinion of the House and the country than those on this side of the Chamber. I doubt that. I believe that on any fair test the people of this country will support this measure.
Much has been said about the independence of the hereditary Peers. I like the definition provided by my noble friend Lord Richard. He said that hereditary Peers sat independently, spoke independently and then voted Conservative independently. Of course they do. That is the whole argument. Others look at this in a different way but I view it as an argument about politics. More than once when I was Chief Whip when a result was declared and analysed I was not surprised. We had our own intelligence. We looked at the figures and knew what would happen. When we had a Labour government, they were defeated on average 75 times a year, but when a Conservative government were in power the figure was 10 to 15 defeats. One may say that those are only figures but they must be translated into the time consumed in the other place to put matters right.
I hope that this Bill will be passed unamended. I believe that when I go through the Lobbies I shall also be entitled to say what the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, said on one famous occasion: "Rejoice, rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great will be my reward, if not in heaven, somewhere else".
Lord Mancroft: My Lords, some years ago your Lordships debated a proposal to set up an independent commercial television station. I was not present for the debate because at the time I had not mastered the art of speech and was still having trouble learning to walk. But I remember my father telling me the story some years later. Apparently your Lordships debated the issue quite extensively and the strong thread running through the debate, led I suspect by the spiritual Benches, was that what was then called the alternative programme would inevitably lead to an overwhelming decline in national morals rendering every home with a television set into some kind of Sodom and Gomorrah. Eventually, one noble Lord, elderly and perhaps a little hard of hearing, rose from his place, pulled his hearing aid from its socket on the Bench in front and threw it onto the Floor of the House, saying, "I wish to God there was an alternative bloody programme on this thing", and then marched out of the Chamber. I suspect that not a few of your Lordships feel a little like that tonight. I am very conscious that as speaker No. 178 there may not be an awful lot left to say. But I am the last of the hereditary Peers to speak in this debate and I should like to make one or two points.
Much has been made of the fact that so few speakers have sought to defend the hereditary principle. I believe that the hereditary principle needs no defence because to attack it is ludicrous. The principle of heredity is neither right nor wrong; it is both natural and normal. We get our looks, height and the colour of our hair and eyes from our parents. Many of us get our ideas, morals and beliefs from our parents. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House knows that better than anyone. Hardly a household in Britain, be it stately or rather more humble, does not contain a piece of furniture, an item of jewellery or some object that has not passed down from a forebear. Much of the land in Britain and across the world passes down through families. Have your Lordships never bought a newspaper from a hereditary newsagent like W. H. Smith? How many noble Baronesses buy their clothes from hereditary suppliers such as Marks & Spencer? Do we not drink beer from hereditary brewers such as Greenalls or Whitbread and eat food supplied by that most successful hereditary grocers Sainsbury's?
The principle of heredity thrives in almost every area of our lives. For many hundreds of years, it has played a central role in many great nations of Europe and beyond. In the debate on the White Paper in February, the Leader of the House made great play of the fact that only Britain retains that hereditary influence in its political system, and that is entirely correct. There is a very sound reason. Britain has a
To risk that stability on half-baked change would seem more than a little unwise. That is not to say that reform is inevitably undesirable. There is an increasingly strong feeling in the country that our political system is no longer delivering the goods as it used to do. But the place where reform is most needed is the other place, for it is on the House of Commons that most criticism and discontent is focused, not your Lordships' House.
I believe also that reform of this House is desirable, for the reasons so well articulated by my noble friends Lord Carrington and Lord Cranborne. I am clear in my own mind that reform will and probably should ultimately end in a wholly elected second Chamber. I accept the difficulties that will present, particularly for the other place--but there are no easy solutions, otherwise it would have been done before.
That is all in the future. We have before us today a Bill, and it is on the Bill before us that we must focus. Whatever may be the Government's intentions, whatever the Royal Commission may or may not suggest, and whichever way the wind of world events may blow us, we have to consider today not the long-term reform of this House and not--as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, suggested--a paving Bill. As the Leader of the House made clear when opening the debate and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, repeated, this is a free standing, one-off measure and must be considered on its merits--and there appear to be very few of them.
What makes our task more difficult is that so far members of the Government Front Bench have failed to address the Bill in any detail. The Leader of the House deployed a battery of statistics to make her case. Statistics are rather like bikinis. What they reveal may well be very interesting but what they conceal is truly far more important.
The Lord Chancellor, towards the end of his rather elegant but difficult speech, took the time to explain the Government's view of the Weatherill amendment, but that was all. Considering the extraordinarily unprecedented nature of the Bill, I hoped that at least one member of the Government would have taken your Lordships through the uncharted waters that the Bill seeks to navigate. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, will fulfil that role in his usual courteous and careful way when he winds up.
There is one final issue to address, and it was touched on by the Leader of the House in her opening remarks. The noble Baroness was right to point out that for all their record of public service, hereditary peers do not have the monopoly on duty. Life Peers too have an honourable record of public service. I am very happy to have the opportunity to pay tribute to them. This may be one of the last times that we work together on a Bill of such importance.
The duty of all noble Lords is the same whether hereditary or life Peer. We have a sworn duty to go through the Bill with the tooth comb that it requires. Of all your Lordships, the Lord Chancellor knows that no Bill is perfect. Issues arise during the passage of a Bill that could not reasonably have been foreseen. Noble Lords have already raised issues relating to the Commonwealth, Letters Patent, Writs of Summons and other matters--all of which will need to be addressed at a later stage. To suggest that the Government will accept no amendment to the Bill is to ask noble Lords to abdicate their responsibilities entirely. I have to tell the noble and learned Lord, that that is not a possibility however much it may suit the Government's purpose.
Apart from revising legislation, the single most important duty that your Lordships have is to prevent a government from prolonging its own life--a power that was deliberately left with the hereditary peerage under the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949 but which for some reason was left out of the consultation document that the Royal Commission published last week. Although the Prime Minister stated his intention to give up some of his powers of patronage, as the Bill is currently drafted he gives up none, and he will gain practical control over this House by retaining the sole ability to nominate new Peers and thus assume powers that no British Prime Minister has ever had. Unless he relinquishes that power in some form, or some other type of safeguard is written on to the face of the Bill, I, for one, will have the greatest difficulty in going along with it.
I regard the Weatherill amendment as an interesting initiative worthy of extremely close and careful scrutiny. If, as my noble friend Lord Cranborne suggests, it offers some guarantee that stage two will actually take place and that some measure of independence will be maintained in your Lordships' House in the future, I could even support it. But that is my only interest in the offer of 91. I have no interest in my own survival in this House, only in the continuation of a second Chamber with enough power to check an overmighty Executive. And if by my departure I can ensure that to any degree, I shall leave this House, albeit sadly, in the knowledge that the departure of the hereditary peerage has not been in vain.
Your Lordships will remember Nelson's famous signal on the eve of Trafalgar: "England expects that every man will do his duty". I wonder how many of your Lordships remember the comment of his vice-admiral, Lord Collingwood: "I do wish Nelson would stop sending those bloody silly messages. We all know exactly what we have to do". I think that I know my duty in this nasty little matter. I suspect that your Lordships do too.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, in a number of interventions in the early hours of the morning (I do not remember which morning it was now), the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor made much of the Labour Party's manifesto pledge to end the right
As my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth said in his excellent contribution to this debate, other measures will have to be taken in order to make stage one work. None of those measures is contained within the Bill. Nor was it ever the intention of the Government that they should be. It was, however, a manifesto pledge that the powers of this place would remain unaltered. We now know that that promise will not be kept.
The noble Lord, Lord Richard, said that this was a paving Bill. There is not a single paving clause in the Bill. It is of course described in the manifesto as the first stage of a two-stage process. There is no guarantee of a second stage. I share strongly the cynicism that we shall not see a second stage. I hope that amendments will be passed which commit the Government to a second stage before stage one is implemented.
There is much good will across the parties for a review of the constitutional arrangements in this country. Such a review should entail looking at Parliament as a whole, including the relationship between both Houses, Parliament's relationship with the judiciary, the Church, possibly the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, but, above all, Parliament's relationship with the people of this country. A review would define for recommendation to Parliament the role and functions of both Houses; the powers required to carry them out; the procedures necessary; and then, and only then, the composition of this Chamber would be addressed.
That would have the virtue of securing a wider consensus and, more significantly, intellectual justification for constitutional reform. However, such a logical pathway to reform is not for this Government. They have established a modus operandi when dealing with such issues as devolution in Scotland and Wales and proportional representation, where democracy is sacrificed for control by party apparatchiks and the might of the trade union block vote.
This Bill reminds me of a surgeon performing a transplant operation. The heart is removed; the patient is wired up to a mechanical heart machine; and while the patient lies there a cross-departmental committee is set up to discuss the next steps.
We learn today that the Weatherill amendment will be published at the end of this debate. Does that mean it will miss being printed this evening for distribution tomorrow? Why was it not contained within the Bill? The amendment was agreed last December. It is an irony that the Royal Commission, which was agreed to so reluctantly by the Government, should be given a mammoth task with an impossible timetable; and yet the Government, with all the technological back-up, have taken so long just to make up the words
Could it be that the Government did not wish the detail of the amendment to be known ahead of this Second Reading; or is it that Members of this House should have scant time to read and understand the amendment before it is put to the House? As for it not being contained within the Bill, we now know that it is to substitute for a sword of Damocles over our proceedings. My Lords, this is a real form of blackmail.
The Lord Chancellor prefaced a most menacing outburst at the end of his opening speech today with the words, "Let me be brutally frank". The noble and learned Lord proceeded to set out a list of possible amendments to the Bill which, if contemplated by your Lordships, or worse, pressed to a successful vote, we would be punished by the Government, who would withdraw the Weatherill amendment. Were those conditions part of the deal? I think that we have a right to know as other Members of this House.
I shall be equally frank, but not brutal. Even if the deal were conditional, my noble friend Lord Cranborne made it clear in his excellent speech that no Member of this House is bound by that deal. All Members of this House have a legitimate right, and indeed a duty, to consider each matter on its merits without fear of threats made by the noble and learned Lord or his right honourable friend Mr. Blair. Bully-boy tactics, however noble their guise, are hardly a way to attract the good will of Members of this House. And what does all this imply for this House as a check and balance on the Executive?
The noble and learned Lord chided my noble friend Lord Kinnoull earlier today about what he actually meant this afternoon. The noble and learned Lord said that this deal was done with Privy Counsellors. One of the people it was done with was not a Privy Counsellor. Secondly, the noble and learned Lord said that the deal was binding. If it is binding only on those who were party to it, we understand that. But perhaps I may read out the words that I believe the noble and learned Lord actually said:
How very much we miss our noble friend Lord Beloff at this time. His guardianship of the constitution and his respect for a sovereign Parliament were unequalled--I do not see that as a laughing matter, more especially from the noble Lord, Lord Hacking. Lord Beloff's respect for a sovereign Parliament was unequalled. Time and again in his inimitable style he described the arrogance and contempt for Parliament by this Government, who have a propensity for centralisation and control.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor also said unequivocally that this Bill is about the hereditary principle. If that is so, then it is my view that on the passing of this Bill the monarchy as part of the governance of this country will indeed be vulnerable. That point was very well made by my noble friend Lady Knight. It is therefore incumbent on the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, to respond to the question of my noble friend Lady Miller, which was passed over by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, in his summing up. I make no criticism of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, given the number of speakers and the excellence of his summing up. It was clear that some issues had to be left for another day.
The noble Baroness the Leader of the House said that the Bill is not about political balance. Well, you could have fooled me! So much has been made of the so-called in-built Tory majority. As I said on a previous occasion, by and large Peers, and especially Ministers, have to win arguments in this House in order to win votes. It is also true that when we were in office we could not simply snap our fingers and win a vote at any time we wished. If that had been the case I and a number of my noble friends could have been saved a great deal of trouble when we not infrequently lost votes. On so many occasions successful alliances were formed from some or all Benches across the House to oppose Government amendments just as happened for almost two years to this Government. People in our rural communities, students, and many others, have much to thank all Benches in this House for their support.