|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Coleraine: I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for giving way. But he is missing the point that any amendments which have been spoken to today are time limited for the period of the interim House.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: That is not the way in which my noble friend expressed the matter. He pointed out that three parliaments would have to go by before we got rid of 50 per cent. of hereditary Peers. I apologise for using the expression "get rid of". There is a rather crude aspect to this. Perhaps I should use the word "vaporised", which was the word used by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. It does not seem to me sensible to approach the matter in that way.
Fourthly, he said that there should be no large overall majority for one party in this House. We agree and our proposals affect that. Fifthly, he said that to minimise the risk of reform we should resist the big bang. With respect, the effect of our proposals leaves 500 of the existing Members of this House in place. That does not sound like a big bang to me.
He said that, sixthly, hereditary Peers should not be treated badly. I agree, but there is an underlying principle in relation to this Bill, which is that the age of the hereditary legislator has gone. That necessarily involves depriving them of the right to legislate on the basis of who their parents were. That does not involve treating the hereditaries badly. That should be done with respect and sensitivity. However, if that is the underlying principle and what we are going to give effect to, then the consequence is that they should be removed in the most sensible way possible.
The noble Lord's seventh proposition was that the solution must be simple. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, described his most impressive opponent as the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, but he could not understand the proposal that the noble Lord, Lord Randall, was putting forward. I understand that its effect is that there will be weighted voting rights as regards hereditary Peers. I understand that Members of the government party would have, under the present arrangements and on the basis of the present majority, something in the region of 4.49 votes per Peer. That does not sound simple or sensible. It does not sound as though it would appeal to the public at large.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am surprised that the noble and learned Lord does not see any good sense in 4.49 votes. I would have thought that a member of the Labour Party would have been quite at home with a block vote.
Having dealt with the principle, I shall now deal with the particular amendments which have been advanced. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, touches on many of the most important issues that have
What must be clear to the whole House as a result of this debate is that this amendment undermines the very foundation of the Government's Bill and therefore it is not acceptable to them. We prefer our own Bill which, as the noble Lord will understand, has as its fundamental proposition that the age of the hereditary legislator has gone. There are many different elements to the amendment, all of which have been debated in quite some detail. I do not intend to address each individual point in the same level of detail, but I want firmly to rebut the underlying principle that governs all the provisions of the amendment that the hereditary peerage should continue to be a basis for membership of the House of Lords.
I recognise that the noble Lord's new clause imposes significant restrictions on the rights of the majority of hereditary Peers and that it prevents membership from being passed down from father to son. Nonetheless, at the heart of it is the conferment of continuing membership for all existing hereditary Peers.
The Earl of Longford: Perhaps I may interrupt the noble and learned Lord. I do not know whether he is going to refer to me before he sits down. But can he explain why the Labour Party in the 1960s was ready to accept the principle that I have suggested to the Committee tonight, supported by other speakers, that hereditary Peers should speak and not vote? Why does the noble and learned Lord not feel that it is even worth mentioning now?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I am sorry, but I was going to come to that. The House is well aware that the Government have said, in a spirit of compromise and consensus, that they are prepared to row back from the basic policy in relation to hereditary Peers to the limited extent proposed under the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, and others. That will be debated later in this Committee.
If the Weatherill amendment were accepted, it would mean that nearly 90 per cent of hereditary Peers would go now and 10 per cent in stage 2. It was explained at some length on Second Reading why the Government were minded to accept that proposal, thereby splitting the delivery of our manifesto pledge into two distinct stages. I do not believe that there would be much point in repeating what was said in relation to the Second Reading debate.
It is true that the Weatherill amendment envisages the selection of a limited number of representative hereditary Peers. The noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, suggests electing 100 among their number to retain full voting rights. The noble Lord's proposal would also allow the remaining 650 hereditary Peers the option of staying on for life and retaining their sitting rights. I
I do not propose to deal at any length with the detailed provisions of the noble Lord's amendment beyond making the two following points. First, I am sure that Members of the Committee are aware that a similar amendment was proposed by the Government in 1968. Indeed, that is the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Longford. Under those proposals, there were two qualifications for holding a voting writ; namely, being a created Peer and having attended at least one-third of the sittings of the previous Session. Therefore, there was already the difference that only created Peers could even begin to qualify for a voting writ. That is not the case with the noble Lord's amendment.
Secondly, there are other flaws in the amendment. Under the 1968 proposals, a voting writ, once lost, could not be recovered in the same Parliament. The proposed new clause does not contain any such safeguards to ensure that those who qualify under it continue to give proper service to the House; nor does it contain any allowance for legitimate absence during the qualifying Session. The other problem with the clause is that it would make continued membership of the House dependent upon something which happened in the past but which, at the time, carried no such implication.
It is worth making the following point in addition to those points. There was a genuine case in 1968 for retaining the services of the hereditary peerage, both for the sake of continuity and to preserve sufficient numbers to carry out the business of the House. Now there are no longer those grounds, or any others, for maintaining the hereditary presence in that way. So there are very considerable differences between 1968 and the present position.
As for the proposal to introduce a system of voluntary retirement set out in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, that may well be a consideration for the Royal Commission when drawing up proposals for the longer term. However, we are not proposing any changes of that kind in the transitional phase. I give way to the noble Lord.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord. I can understand the Government's intention and determination to achieve a balance by means of this Bill, but can we take it that the House of Lords will not be unbalanced by the creation of new life Peers in the interval between this legislation and the implementation of the Royal Commission?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: It has been made absolutely clear that the creation of life Peers after the passage of the Bill will not be used to lead to an unbalanced House. Indeed, we have made it absolutely clear that we take the view that no single party should have a majority in this House. That is unlike the present position, where, unquestionably, it is unbalanced. We have said throughout that that will not be the position after the passage of the Bill.
I hope that I have dealt adequately with the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon. I believe that I have also dealt with the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux, in some detail in my response. So far as concerns the suggestion put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, I should say that his amendment, like most others in the group, has failed to grasp the reality of the Government's position. We object to the fact that the hereditary peerage means that the Conservative Party has a built-in majority over our party in this House, regardless of which party is in government. However, that is not the sole ground of our objection. We object, on principle, to the idea that heredity alone is a sufficient basis for membership in any form of a legislature. So, again, the noble Lord's proposal would fall foul of the basic proposition that underlies this legislation.
We do not say that all hereditary Peers are bad or incompetent legislators; indeed, we have made that absolutely clear. We have always said that we expected some of them to be invited to remain in the House on the basis of their own achievements. We have now said that we are content to see those Peers identified by the mechanism proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, but that does not undermine the basic principle of our stance.
Our manifesto commitment--I am sorry to have to draw attention to it again--was to end the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote. If we had meant that we intended to end only the dual right, and that allowing either one of them to remain would be a fulfilment of the manifesto, we should have said so. If we had thought that allowing hereditary Peers to sit but not vote was adequate, that is what our manifesto would have committed us to. Once again, I am afraid that I must urge the Committee not to accept this amendment, which is incompatible with the principle of the Bill.
I believe I have dealt with the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Longford. As I have indicated, I know it is the same as the one proposed in 1968. However, time has moved on. In 1968 the life peerages had existed only for 10 years. Even taking into account the presence of a much larger number of hereditary Peers of first creation, there was then a real question of whether the Chamber could cope if all the expertise of the existing hereditary Peers was removed in one go. The then government were prepared to phase them out by allowing the existing Members to sit and speak but not to vote. In 1999, however, things are very different. We have had life Peers for over 40 years. There is an enormous number of experienced life Peers in this Chamber. They are more than capable of sustaining the work of this Chamber and they bring sufficient accumulated wisdom of the world, both inside and outside the Chamber, to ensure that our debates continue to be as well informed and effective as they have always been.
As I have already said to my noble friend Lord Randall and to the noble Lord, Lord Monson, these proposals do not fulfil our manifesto commitment. They do not even come sufficiently close to it to be acceptable. Again therefore I must urge the Committee not to support them.
The Earl of Caithness: The noble and learned Lord has talked in global terms about the number of life Peers. However, does he not agree with me that the number of those life Peers does not give a true reflection of the number of life Peers who attend and work in the Chamber? The number of life Peers who attend on a regular basis--that is over 50 per cent. of the time--is under 300. If you take away the hereditaries--we cannot now consider the Weatherill amendment; we are considering the Bill as it is--there will be a 100 per cent. increase in the workload of life Peers.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page