Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Hamilton of Dalzell: I would much rather stay in your Lordships' House and vote and speak, but I know that I could not do that if the House is balanced and it becomes a political House--which I would regret. The reason why I could not do it is that, when I inherited my position and my properties, I also inherited what I felt was an obligation to repay some of my good fortune by taking on an element of public service. I am chairman of three charities.

I can see some merit in these amendments, because at least if one could come here one would be more useful to those people whom one serves by, in any year, having to make the points they wish to make. I am fully aware that it is not only people with hereditary peerages who have a prominent position in public service; but one of the reasons we are asked to do these things is that we have a voice in your Lordships' House, in order to make the points which arise in these situations. Such points are not always made on the Floor of this House but by what are called "the usual channels", or at least they were during the last government. I find that they tend to be rather less active under the present one. Nonetheless, things change. We do have a valuable role to play by being able to make the points of the people we serve who are less fortunate than we are by having access to your Lordships' House.

Lord Monson: My name is on Amendment No. 16 because it is a paving amendment, not only to Amendment No. 22 which we have been discussing but also to Amendment No. 23, to which I spoke last week. I still prefer my Amendment No. 23 for a variety of reasons, but I do not intend to return to it tonight. I am happy to support Amendment No. 22, which achieves most of the same objectives.

27 Apr 1999 : Column 267

Almost exactly four hours ago the noble Lord, Lord Richard, complained that acceptance of Amendment No. 13 and the two amendments grouped with it would mean that Labour would continue to be unfairly defeated by the in-built Conservative majority, or, to be more accurate, the in-built non-Labour majority, for a few months longer than would otherwise be the case. The noble Lord made a perfectly valid point. But he cannot object to this amendment on those grounds. On the contrary, acceptance of this amendment would help Labour to win more victories, unless the powerful, eloquent arguments of the non-voting hereditaries convinced a number of Labour Back-Benchers to change their views and defy the diktats of their Whips. It may be that prospect which alarms the Government Front Bench.

Lord Davies of Coity: As has been said so many times in this Chamber, the Labour Government have presented a Bill to both Houses of Parliament to achieve what was mooted nearly 100 years ago: to remove the right of hereditary Peers to vote and to sit in this Chamber in order to participate in the legislative process.

The purport of Amendment No. 16 is, "Yes, we accept that we can no longer vote, but we want to sit and speak". At best that seems to be a damage limitation exercise and at worst something of a begging bowl. If it is a begging bowl, I regret that the hereditary Peers are displaying a lack of dignity which I would not have expected from them.

Why would they want to sit in this Chamber to speak but not to vote? Is it to maintain club rights; or is it to attempt to frustrate the activities of a future government because of their hereditary privilege? I find it incredible that these amendments have been put before us in this Chamber. I hope that they will be withdrawn. I hope that the hereditary Peers will recognise that the Labour Government, with the support of the British people, are putting forward a Bill that is not antagonistic to individuals but to a system whose removal is long overdue.

The hereditary Peers in this House may well justify the life peerages given to them for their expertise and their contribution. But the system has to be removed. It is no longer defensible. I do not think that it has been defensible for most of this century. It is not defensible today. I hope that the Opposition will recognise the views of the Labour Government which have the support of the British people, and that hereditary Peers will go from this House with the dignity and respect that they deserve but which they will lose if they perpetuate these arguments.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree: As a life Peer, I wish to make one point in support of the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Ferrers. I can assure noble Lords that it is not only the hereditary Peers who support the amendments. I welcome and have found most valuable the views expressed to this House by hereditary Peers. But I want to keep the Cross-Benchers.

27 Apr 1999 : Column 268

The Cross-Bench element in this House is of crucial importance. We are sweeping away all the hereditary Cross-Benchers.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Baroness Knight of Collingtree: Are noble Lords opposite saying that hereditary Peers can stay on the Cross-Benches? That seemed to be the reaction. I understand that we are referring to all hereditary Peers. I understand that 70 per cent of the Cross-Benchers are hereditary Peers. Nothing has been said in the course of debates on the Bill to reassure us that we shall still have that strong element of Cross-Bench Peers. I want them. I warmly support the amendment moved by my noble friend.

Lord Ellenborough: At this late hour, I support my noble friend Lord Ferrers, and especially as I put my name down to the amendment in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, which was briefly debated in the rather confused debate on Tuesday last.

I believe that the Bill becomes increasingly pointless and unnecessary as we go along, especially if full reform is on the way. The object of the exercise is to remove 750 hereditary Peers. However, since about half or more never come, they have removed themselves for practical purposes. So that does not get the Government very far.

Then if the Weatherill amendment is passed, 100 or so of the most active and most frequent attenders will remain. That, too, does not get the Government very far in their objective. That leaves some 150 hereditary Peers whose future this and similar amendments address. I refer to those hereditary Peers who come fairly often, but some relatively seldom, especially when they feel they have a contribution to make.

During the two debates on the White Paper and Second Reading, a considerable number of noble Lords spoke in favour of the proposition that most hereditary Peers would no longer have a vote but should still be entitled to speak. As other noble Lords have said, it is difficult to see what objection the Government can have to such a non-divisive and acceptable way of proceeding.

Incidentally, the Labour Party manifesto is most misleading. It is, of course, my bedtime reading, but I have yet to find a page which refers to the removal of the hereditary Peers' right to speak. The media have taken up the proposal that hereditary Peers can no longer vote, but they never say that they can no longer speak. Many people come up to me and say, "Oh dear, it is bad luck that you won't be able to vote any more, but never mind because you will be able to speak".

In any case, the whole proposition of non-voting Peers was endorsed by the Labour government of 1968, in particular by such eminent Labour figures as the late Richard Crossman and the noble Earl, Lord Longford. The whole thrust was to provide for the need for the participation of a considerable number of part-time hereditary Peers with wide interests and experience who could make useful contributions. With or without the Weatherill amendment, that still makes sense. It deals

27 Apr 1999 : Column 269

successfully with the problem of the in-built Conservative majority and the hereditary principle and it provides continuity at least for as long as the transitional House exists.

The criticism made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, was that hereditary Peers coming to speak is no longer necessary because compared with 1968 there are so many more life Peers now. The only problem is that so many life Peers do not attend.

11.15 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: I thank my noble friend Lady Knight and I support the amendment because I am as concerned about defence and what will be said about it in this House as others have been about agriculture. I remember a defence debate last year with 35 speakers. Only two came from that side of the House. That is very serious.

I recognise that the Royal Commission will produce proposals for bringing expertise of every kind into this House. It may well solve that problem then, but in the mean time we could have a gap if the Government have their way. I believe that it is incumbent on us to consider our responsibility in that respect. We are better informed here than are Members in the other place. That is partly a matter of age and experience because most of the people in the other place, and most of the new arrivals here, are too young even to have done national service.

I am not being prejudiced; I am concerned about a very important subject. I hope that consideration will be given to that in our debates.

Lord Strathclyde: The most interesting speech I have heard tonight was that of the noble Lord, Lord Peston. He said that he did not know the position of the Opposition. Clearly, he did not sit through as many of the Second Reading speeches that were made from these Front Benches as I did. I shall refer him back to Second Reading and the speeches made from this Front Bench. He might then care to examine the report of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, where he will see another furtherance of a Tory position which is forward-thinking, and then he will contrast both those positions with that of his own party.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page