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Lord Peston: We are now going back to the beginning of our debates on this. The reason is that nominated Peers, whether on the opposition side--there are several nominated Peers there--or on this side--I am not saying that we are any good--were nominated by Prime Ministers and Leaders of the Opposition. That opportunity is still available to noble Lords opposite.
That is what the argument is about. It is not about who is better or who is worse, who are friends or who are enemies; it is about the hereditary principle which I heard my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor and my noble friends on the Front Bench argue against a few hours ago. Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord,
Baroness Knight of Collingtree: Before the noble Lord sits down, there are many on this side of the House who are considerably puzzled by what is being said on the other. The noble Lord has twice said that the hereditary principle is wrong. Will he say whether he extends that view to the Throne?
Lord Peston: That is an absurd question with which to intervene. We are discussing a House of Parliament within a parliamentary democracy. I am not for one moment suggesting that the eldest child of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, cannot inherit his title; assuming that the noble Earl has great lands--I do not know whether he has or not--I am not for one moment suggesting that he cannot pass them on; I am not even suggesting that his genetic make-up and that of his dear wife cannot be passed on to his children. I am simply saying that no rational philosopher, when considering parliamentary democracy, would remotely argue for a hereditary peerage.That is what the Bill is about. It is not about the relative quality of hereditary Peers and life Peers. We have had at least five days of Second Reading-type debate; we are to have three days in Committee; and I am told that we have many more days to come. I should like to focus on the one central theme and agree that we disagree--I am not saying for one moment that we do not disagree--but we should forget all the extraneous stuff which keeps coming up and which simply has nothing to do with what the Bill is about. That is all I am trying to say.
Lord Palmer: Along with the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, I put my name to the amendment. One of his main reasons for putting forward the idea of hereditary Peers being able to speak and not vote--I am sure he will correct me if I am wrong--is that, as the Bill stands, the House will lose a great deal of expertise. One thinks of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, after his long parliamentary career and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, who has spent many, many years in the House. I beg the Government Front Bench to take that point on board.
As the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said, there are noble Lords with experience of conservation and the heritage. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, seemed to say, "Forget about agriculture", but agriculture is an extremely important industry. When I initiated a debate on agriculture, 21 noble Lords put down their names to speak, of whom 17 were hereditary Peers. Without those 17 hereditary Peers, the debate would have been a non-event.
I wholeheartedly support the noble Earl's amendment. It seems to meet the point to which the Government object--the right of hereditary Peers to troop through the Lobbies. If one interviewed some noble Lords on the Government Benches after they had been through
Lord Mackie of Benshie: As I understand it, the debate is something to do with agriculture. However, the fact is that I cannot understand the amendment, although it comes from the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, a man whom I greatly admire. I disapprove of the means of nominating hereditary Peers, but I make this practical suggestion. What is to stop the nomination of the very good Tories, and others who are hereditary Peers, so that they can speak and vote? That is logical. But we should not have turned loose on us the vast mass of backwoodsmen. I have listened to some of their recent speeches. Surely it would be a great blessing if they were not allowed to speak and we were content then with the good Tory hereditary Peers who abound on those Benches.
Lord Coleraine: I have put my name to this amendment and I should like, with diffidence, to support most strongly the speech of my noble friend Lord Ferrers. In my view, an interim House, retaining as a transitional measure a considerable number of non-voting hereditary Peers, is greatly to be preferred to what the Bill offers.
My noble friend's amendment deals with the question of the political imbalance of the House, but more than that can be said about it. It can be said that the House would function with 500 life Peers and it may be that, according to the lights of the Prime Minister, it would function better than the present House. But what one has to look at is cumulation and not alternatives. It is certainly true that committees would be filled, Questions would be asked, speeches would be made, amendments would be moved and Divisions would take place, but functioning in that sense is not enough. Bare functioning is not what makes a second Chamber. Important functions of this present second Chamber include the scrutiny of legislation and the interrogation of government. In performing both those functions, the continued presence in the interim House of hereditary Peers in an advisory capacity or indeed as advocates would add considerable weight to that of the 500 life Peers because of the bank of parliamentary experience that hereditary Peers carry with them.
I shall be very interested to hear what my noble friend on the Front Bench has to say about this amendment. I hope I shall not hear that it falls within the ambit of the anathema announced by the Lord Chancellor at Second Reading. Equally, I shall be interested to hear the reply of the noble and learned Lord. It is not always wise to anticipate replies, but I expect him to refer to the manifesto and the mandate and then to pick up the point hinted at by the noble Lord, Lord Peston; namely, that what matters at the moment is not so much the political balance of the House of Lords as the fact that the hereditary principle is wrong. It is clear that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, will vote against the Weatherill amendment.
However, I have today tabled an amendment to the Weatherill amendment. Had my noble friend Lord Geddes not left the Chamber, I would have told him that I do not intend to withdraw it. The amendment would reduce the number of hereditary Peers entering the interim House with votes and allow a larger counter-balancing number of hereditary Peers to remain in the interim House without votes. There is nothing permanent about this. Such an amendment can be contained in and sheltered by the Weatherill amendment. It can therefore be discussed on its merits and cannot easily be challenged legitimately on the grounds that it offends either the manifesto or the Salisbury-Addison accord.
There will be room for argument as to the appropriate balance of voting and speaking Peers. As my noble friend Lord Cranborne made clear, there will be room for argument as to whether there should be second-class Peers in this House at all. That discussion is for another time. I speak as a potential second-class Peer. All I can say to my noble friend, who, if there is any justice in this world, is a potential first-class Peer, is that it seems a little rich to be told that all Peers should be equal in this House and that therefore I, as a second-class Peer, should go.
The Earl of Erroll: First, I should like to correct the impression that all Peers have vast rolling acres. I do not farm and never have. Governments of both political colours have ensured that through taxation. I have written computer programs, designed software systems, done smartcard development and am on the Internet daily. One can have the virtual votes of the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, on the Internet very easily. Secondly, I had not realised that former MPs can have lunch in the Palace whenever they feel like it, which sounds very attractive.
Lord Eden of Winton: I believe I am right in saying that former Members of Parliament who are Members of this House may enjoy the club premises of the other place but not if they cease to be Members of Parliament.
I am against the idea that Peers should be able to speak without having a vote. I believe that to be a great nuisance. On the other hand, it is most important that stage two legislation goes through. If a lot of Peers are to bore everyone to death in the interim and force through stage two, I believe that to be a very good thing.
Lord Desai: I do not want to go into the question of club rights, but noble Lords will no doubt agree that any Member of this House who has left it to become a Member of the other place is perfectly free to come to have lunch here.
In the long history of de-colonisation one is again and again presented with the foreign ruler who very touchingly asks, "What will you people do without us? How will you govern yourselves? We are so good, wise and nice. We hate to leave you to your own devices because we love you. Without our wisdom, experience and knowledge, how will you carry on?". There were
What we are saying is that, good as hereditary peers are--and they are marvellous people--there cannot be any excuse in principle for them to be here. The idea that somehow, without their great wisdom, experience, knowledge and so on we will be bereft and the world will be poorer is just tosh--if that is parliamentary language.
As my noble friend Lord Peston said, it is very hard for us on this side to comprehend why people do not understand. It is not the hereditary principle as biology. We cannot change biology. We have children; sometimes we have some property which we pass on. That is not what is being discussed. When we speak of the hereditary principle we are not simply talking about the hereditary principle but about the right of the first-born son of a hereditary Peer to come and legislate. That is what we do not want.
Once we do not want that, with the right to speak as with the right to vote, then we just want rid of it. That is clearly stated and I do not know why we have to go through endless debate: "Do let us come. Do let us give the benefit of our wisdom". Thank you very much, but can we please get on with it and have a good second Chamber?
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