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Lord Randall of St. Budeaux: I am very grateful to the noble Earl for giving way. It has the opposite effect. The weighted voting system that I have mentioned does not require any change or flood of new life Peers to create a balance. The system, which is incredibly simple, does it all for you.
Earl Ferrers: It must be a simple system if I cannot understand it. The noble Lord said, I think, that people had 1.3 votes. I find that very complicated. It is a matter that requires a great deal of studying.
While I am not accusing the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, of talking to his noble friend, perhaps he would be kind enough to address his mind to this problem. We want to know where we are going in the reform of your Lordships' House. If we knew where we were going, we might be able to say, "We shall go along with it", with perhaps some criticism of the proposal. But the real criticism is that we do not know what is happening. That is what everyone wants to know; and that is what the country wants to know too.
Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: The noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux, has spoken to a number of amendments. One concerns a voting system which, so far as I can make out, would make this House virtually a carbon copy of another place. I wonder whether it is worth having this House if that is so.
Another of his amendments proposed, I think, voting and speaking Peers, if I have not got him wrong. That is the same as some of the proposals for reform of this House in the 1960s. If I am not mistaken, I think that
I very much appreciate Amendment No. 29 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux, proposing that those of us here now should retain our seats for life. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, has suggested that in the past. That is a suggestion that I would go along with, particularly as I have always loved being here and should like to feel that I could stay here until the great Reaper culled me.
The Earl of Longford: I followed with great respect and some puzzlement the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. In all the years when he was a Minister and I sought to oppose him he slapped me down with unfailing precision. He was the most formidable opponent I have ever come across. Now the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, former chairman of a borough council, is much tougher, more astute and wily. He is not so easily intimidated, so I suppose he will put up some sort of show.
I was under the impression that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, was going to propose an amendment similar to the one I propose; namely, that life Peers should speak but not vote. I did not hear him suggest it. He seemed concerned with wider matters.
Be that as it may, I now propose the scheme referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon: the 1968 scheme. It was the brainchild of the Clerk Assistant at the Table, the late Henry Burrows, my old golf partner. I have mentioned before how he irritated me on occasions, but he was a wonderful friend. Henry Burrows invented the two-writ plan under which hereditary Peers would speak but not vote. The scheme was simple and was approved by the Labour Government. I hope that no one will say that I am a Labour heretic, because for once I am absolutely in line with traditional Labour policy. This is Labour doctrine and for more than two years it has been accepted by the Labour Government with enthusiasm. It was the doctrine of the Labour Cabinet, led by Harold Wilson, the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, being perhaps its most distinguished member. It was Labour Party doctrine in the good old days, and it still is.
The scheme was accepted by the Conservatives and by the Liberal Democrats, most of whom were in the Labour Cabinet at that time. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, certainly was. Some of our strongest members then shifted their allegiance and perhaps they will shift it back. They are mobile people. At any rate, the scheme was accepted by everyone, but was ultimately sabotaged by a strange cross-party combination in another place. At that time, I had resigned from the Cabinet on an educational matter. If I had not done so on that issue, I suppose I should have done so on this one. If the scheme were adopted now, it would not interfere with the Bill. The Bill could go forward and the scheme could be tacked on; it would be a supplement.
What is to be done? With the help of the Chief Whip, I stayed up until three o'clock in the morning. I was provided with a couch and stayed up five hours after my usual bedtime in order to vote for the Second Reading. I showed my obsequious loyalty on that occasion. Nevertheless, something has to happen. We must ensure that the values of the old Chamber--not the old historic Chamber but today's Chamber--is carried on into the new one. My proposal represents a clear way of doing so.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: I wish briefly to support the spirit of everything the noble Earl has said. I find it most moving, entirely constructive and wholly right. It is the only occasion in 20 years that I have been able to agree with anything that the noble Earl has said. However, on this occasion I mean everything that I say. He speaks from the heart and there is sense behind his proposal. There is no logical reason why all the problems of three-line whips, Peers from the hedgerows and one thing and another should not dissolve if there is no vote. We need their integrity, experience and independence. I support the noble Earl with all my heart.
Lord Moran: I speak briefly in support of Amendment No. 27, spoken to by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, to which I have put my name. During our debate on 23rd February, I said that I was unhappy about the Weatherill amendment because I believe that those who negotiated that agreement with the Government got a very poor deal. It would have been much better if they had argued and obtained a solution on the lines of the noble Earl's amendment. After all, that was the arrangement agreed between the parties in 1968, when it was supported by your Lordships on a vote of 251 to 58.
I realise that the proposal has been put forward in the other place and rejected, but it seems to me that it is the best solution. I am afraid that I part company with the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy on this. I consider that it is much more important to be able to speak in this House and to express one's views than it is to take part in votes.
Perhaps I may consider the matter of conservation, in which I take a great deal of interest. Two noble Earls, Lord Selborne and Lord Cranbrook, both have great authority in the field of conservation, and it is valuable to the House to be able to hear their views--much more valuable than them being Conservative Peers who may occasionally vote in the lobbies. Sadly, we may lose that contribution.
To allow hereditary Peers to speak and to take part in Committee work, which a great many do, would be useful. I believe that to deprive them of the vote would be reasonable and would meet many of the objections of the Labour Party to the enormous Conservative majority. I strongly support the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Longford.
I do not intend to take up time with a detailed rebuttal of the nine points made by the noble Lord, Lord Randall. On one or two of his points, I find it hard to understand how Members of the Committee can see this as a complicated Bill. It seems to me to be a simple proposition for a self-contained reform to end the rights of hereditary Peers. I do not think it is a revolutionary concept. I have campaigned for this all my life. It is not something that I have come to the House of Lords to do, although, those who sat on the Labour Benches before me would have liked to vote on this legislation. This measure has been the Labour Party's aim since its birth 100 years ago, so it is not new. Therefore, I believe it is difficult for the Committee to argue that we are acting like a Victorian employer. We have given 100 years' notice of the improvement and change that we intend to make.
Basically, it is about equality and fairness. Perhaps those hereditary Peers who feel injured by this measure should reflect on the outside world. People in the wider society do not expect to advance themselves, to get a job or to make their way in society on the basis of the merits of their father, their grandfather or their great grandfather. They expect to be able to do that on the merits of their own achievements. If that is the case in wider society, is it not right that those who act as legislators or politicians should proceed on the same basis? Fundamentally, I believe that that is extremely simple and I think it is on that simple basis that this Bill should proceed.
On the new voting system, I believe this is probably the wrong place to introduce that. There may be merit in arguing that case with the Royal Commission, which will look at the rules of the reformed House. That will be the proper place to put forward that case.
I do not accept the argument advanced by my noble friend Lord Randall that the depletion of hereditary Peers would weaken the ability of your Lordships' Chamber to conduct its business effectively. I cannot accept that almost 500 life Peers, with all their experience and knowledge, do not have the ability to master the intricacies of the legislation in your Lordships' Chamber. That argument does not run.
Finally, the most important argument advanced by my noble friend concerned Amendment No. 29 and involved extending the length of time that hereditary Peers could sit in your Lordships' Chamber. I say this to my noble friend. He, along with myself, were good party men. We fought elections on manifestos.
We all fight elections on manifestos and we all know that none of them are read line by line by the voters. But we also know that the newspapers run our manifestos, as do television programmes. Lines and clauses are explored by commentators, and people understand the general spirit of intent of the manifestos. Therefore, it is important that, if the next election and elections thereafter are to be fought on the basis of manifestos, we do not do them any more damage in this debate.
My noble friend Lord Randall fought election after election in Hull on the basis of manifestos. He made promises to the voters and said he would deliver to the voters on the basis of manifestos. That was quite right. This manifesto makes it clear that the Labour Party, if elected, would move quickly and speedily to remove hereditary Peers from the House of Lords. Therefore the proposal put forward by my noble friend is against the spirit of intent of that manifesto.
"I do not know how long it would take", says my noble friend--three Parliaments, and 51 per cent. of hereditary Peers would still remain. That would not be acceptable. It would not be within the spirit of the Government's intentions or the Labour Party's manifesto. It is quite clear that we were elected on the basis of taking this step now, and take it now we must.
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