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Lord Desai: I assure the Committee that when I leave this House, I want to take the noble Lord with me.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: It is all very well for the noble Lord who has all sorts of professorial things to do, but what should I find to do if I were not able to tease the Government and fulfil what I believe to be the responsibility of your Lordships' House?

One of the major defects in the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Randall, is the weighting of the voting. I understand that he included that to get round the problem of his party's obsession with the numbers game. But some of the suggestions that my noble friend Lord Caithness and I have made about removing the "nevers and hardly-evers" would go a long way to help in that regard.

I sympathise with the Government's point about numbers although I believe that they rather over-estimate the problem. As I said, I had a number of defeats inflicted on me. That does not suggest to me that my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, the then Government Chief Whip, was able to whistle in huge armies of people to support the government. Occasionally we thought it better not to whip in too many Peers in case they were not persuaded by my argument. That is one problem with your Lordships' House. Your Lordships' House feels obliged to be persuaded by the argument. That is a totally alien idea to the House of Commons where the last thing that anybody is persuaded by is the argument. The Whips rule in the House of Commons; the argument does not matter. There is a major difference.

Therefore, although I believe that it is an ingenious weighting system, it is fundamentally wrong in its objective, which is to make this House a mere reflection of the other place. I certainly believe that the noble Lord's more gentle approach to the hereditary peerage would be in keeping with what we are told continually is the more gentle approach of this Government.

The Earl of Kinnoull: It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak to Amendment No. 15, to appease the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Amendment No. 15 comes in the group after next. It may be sensible to wait until we reach that group.

The Earl of Kinnoull: I was not consulted about the grouping of Amendment No. 15, but I am happy to comply with that.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: As we have had this debate once before, perhaps I may reply to only the specific points that are new in relation to this debate. First, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, is absolutely right;

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there was a contradiction in what I said; namely, that what the noble Lord, Lord Randall, said was wrong and flawed in every respect. He is right to point out that I entirely agreed with him when the noble Lord, Lord Randall, said that the time had come for the end of the hereditary Peers and that was the settled view both of the country and this House. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Randall, in relation to that.

Secondly, the noble Earl asked whether restricting the number of hereditary Peers who survived to those who regularly attended--that is slightly truncating his argument--would make it more palatable to the Government. The answer to that is no. The Government's position is that they believe the time has come for hereditary Peers to be removed from the legislative Chamber. They have indicated that they would support the Weatherill amendment if moved, but that involves removing 659 of the 750 hereditary Peers. That is their position.

The noble Lord, Lord Geddes, said that he would like a chamber where one party did not have an absolute majority. This Government have said that in the transitional House they seek broad parity with the Conservative Party in relation to numbers. That would mean that they would not have an overall majority in this House. Therefore, it would appear that the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, supports the proposals of this Government in relation to the transitional House.

I have great sympathy for the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. I do not suggest for one moment that what happened was not in order, but it is rather difficult to follow, for a new boy: one is speaking to an amendment that has already been spoken to once before, the same issue will arise in the group after next, and one noble Lord speaks to an amendment that he has not yet put down on the Marshalled List and of which we do not know the details. I do not, for one moment, suggest that any of that was out of order.

The noble Viscount, Lord Cross, gave an excellent speech. However, I do not believe there was anything in it to which I have not replied. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, in the persuasive way for which he is so famous, skilfully seeks to give some support to the noble Lord, Lord Randall, without pointing out that his "rather slower" approach involves 15 years before 50 per cent of the hereditary Peers will have gone and 60 years before they will all have gone. That would be a very slow approach indeed.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux: Because of the lateness of the evening, I shall be brief. First, perhaps I may respond to the points made by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, as regards the way the voting system would work. I had decided to leave this until Report stage because it is almost impossible to talk about a formula and statistics in the House. I shall, however, prepare a note and put it in the Library for Members to read if they so wish.

The aim of the amendment is not to reduce the number of hereditary Peers--the fact that they are hereditary Peers is beside the point--but to reduce the

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number of Peers attending this House arbitrarily and on such a scale that I cannot accept it as a good thing to do. We do not know the quality of the people who will be going; what experience they have had, whether they are able to attend regularly, and so forth. For us to ignore that cannot, in principle, be right. For the sake of the House, let us take more of a measured approach. This would all have to be done in the context of the Government's manifesto. I am doing this because, as the Prime Minister knows, I am a keen supporter of him and my party on this matter.

Perhaps I may briefly talk about the weighting system in practical terms. This system ensures that those Members who are not members of the Government have their vote in the usual way, but those who would be supporters of the Government would have a vote times the weighting factor. This is necessary because if the number of hereditary Peers is to be reduced, if they are to be replaced or if they are not to be replaced by their heirs on their death, there is a system of rapid decline. As the Minister pointed out, it has an asintotic effect at the end. That is the mathematics. It declines very rapidly. I apologise for using mathematical terms, but it is incredibly simple. That is why I said it would be necessary for everybody to have a note to explain how it works. What, in fact, would happen is a rapid decline.

That is how we would vote. When we go through the Division Lobby, the Clerks would put their ticks on the paper in the usual way, but when they come to do the aggregate, they would have a look-up table which would say, "Instead of reading 323, please read 296". The Whips would come in in the usual way and nobody would really know the difference.

Lord Naseby: On a point of order--

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux: I would really prefer not to give way.

Lord Naseby: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I have a point of order. What happens on a cross-vote when some of the weighted voters decide to vote in the Content Lobby and some in the Not-Content Lobby? I hope the paper that is to be distributed will explain that in some detail.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux: The vote still stands, of course. When Peers vote against the Government, the vote would be carried across.

Perhaps I can comment on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, on the question of the unfettered power of the Government. That point was also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. In looking at the weighted voting system I tried to balance the points made by my noble friend Lord Richard, who is not in his seat, who talks convincingly about the democratic legitimacy of the Chamber. I tried to reflect the weighted voting system in this Chamber on the number of seats held by the government in another place. But of course one could change that for a system based on a greater

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independence of the House. I am open-minded on this. I chose the one that gives democratic legitimacy because more people raised that with me. One can change this around and I would be happy to change it at Report stage if that was felt to be desirable.

I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Cross, for his comments. I appreciate his courtesy in what he said. I wish to make one final point on the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, in relation to bad attenders. Again, that is a convincing argument. But I tried to obtain simplicity. And that simplicity arose--I do not intend to spend time on this--by my own personal analysis when I sat down one weekend and put down what I felt should be the objectives on which reform should be based. Then I put down on a piece of paper what should be the principles. Then I came up with my solution, which I feel is objective. I believe it is in the interests of the House that I arrived at that.

I say in a kindly way--one finds this in business--that oftentimes people sit down and design a product and then say, "Let us see how we can use this". That is the thinking of the 1950s. Modern thinking is that one sits down, decides what one's objectives are and comes up with the right solution. In doing that, one can obtain consensus and a decision based on the interests of this Chamber. I say to the Committee that I will do what I believe to be right for this Chamber as well as being loyal to Tony Blair, the Prime Minister.

I do not want to spend more time on this. I should like to try to get everybody home and to bed early tonight.

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