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Lord Peston: I entirely concede that I have not had the stamina to listen to as many speeches as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and that is a weakness on my part. But what I do not understand is this: the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, in his brilliant report, which I have read, entirely accepts that the hereditary Peers must go. That is the beginning and the end of all this. What I am trying to work out, as a devoted Member of the House of Lords, is what the rest of all these amendments are about.
Lord Eden of Winton: I think the noble Lord, Lord Peston, indicated that the report of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay recommended that hereditary peers should go. That is a misinterpretation. My noble and learned friend took as his starting point the assumption that the Bill now before the Committee had become an Act of Parliament.
Lord Peston: I have no idea what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, inwardly believes. I have only his report, which is totally predicated on the assumption that the hereditary Peers will go. I repeat that certainly the analytical part of that report is quite outstanding. That is why many of us sitting here who are interested in the next step cannot understand what the Opposition is doing about this stage, which does not seem to be consistent. I do not want to delay the Committee, because there is still a large number of amendments for it to deal with, but I would like to see some rationality and consistency from the Opposition.
Lord Strathclyde: I, too, do not particularly want to continue the debate about the report of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, which I, too, thought was excellent. It may well be that the noble Lord, Lord Peston's interpretation of that report is somewhat different from mine. While his wholly elected option clearly removes the ability for the hereditary peerage to sit in the House of Lords, it does exactly the same for the life Peers, so I think there is no difference between us on that.
However, the other option clearly indicates that it is open to the independent appointments commission to recommend that hereditary Peers should continue to perform a function in the House of Lords. So I believe that his contention is wrong.
The major point that I want to make is to contrast that with the sheer negativity that we get from noble Lords opposite. We are told that this is a Bill that we must not debate, because it was in the manifesto and was passed by the people. We have heard today and at other parts of the Committee stage that somehow it is offensive to propose something different--even if not terribly radically different.
We find what the Bill does offensive. It creates a House of patronage, a House of cronies, a House of political appointees. Noble Lords opposite may not like that description. They may feel offended by it. But that is what the Bill does. I do not accuse any noble Lords of being like that; maybe some of them are. My point is
Later in the Bill, we shall reach amendments which deal with an appointments commission. There has been no indication whatever from the Government that they want to put such a commission in place now. I understand that the Prime Minister can, without any legislation, set up an appointments commission now to deal with this particular issue of what happens when a House comprises entirely appointees.
My noble friend Lord Ferrers accepts what many noble Lords have said on all sides of the House; that hereditary Peers have brought something valuable to the House which should not necessarily be abolished in one go.
In 1968, the then Labour government's position was that such a proposal was perfectly all right. It is the one which Mr. Wilson's government put forward, which was approved in this House, but it went wrong in another place for reasons which are now well known. If it was good enough in 1968, why is it not good enough now? Did the Labour Party consider it again in writing its manifesto and if not, why not? Were there discussions with the noble Earl, Lord Longford, who spoke yet again with such power on the subject this evening?
Moreover, the point was made this evening that, perversely, if the Government are so opposed to the hereditary peerage, by accepting this amendment they would achieve broad parity between the two main political parties so that they win the votes and they make it more likely that we shall go on to a stage two.
The fundamental problem that we have had with the Bill is that there is no vision of a second stage. That is what is missing from the Bill. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House said that she has a vision and ideas, but they are personal ideas and they must not be shared with anyone else. I understand that that is the discipline of the Labour Party. But somehow I sense that we are missing out on something. There is obviously a great seedbed of thought going on in the Labour Party, none of which is being shared with this House, the rest of the Labour Party or, indeed, the general public.
My noble friend Lord Cranborne, in an earlier intervention, made some extremely good points about the issue of sitting and voting. As a former Chief Whip, I have every sympathy with the points he raised, but I hope that in reply the Minister will concentrate not just on the points made by noble friend Lord Cranborne but address also the point made by my noble friend Lord Ferrers who said that he was like a dog who needed a bone. This is an extremely good bone.
Earl Ferrers: Perhaps I may interrupt my noble friend. I did not say that I was like a dog. I suggested that the Government should give something to others, as though they were dogs. But I did not say that I was a dog!
There are a number of issues on which the Government could be rather more generous and forward-thinking in their attitude towards proposals which have been made by noble Lords not just on this side of the Committee but also from their own Back Benches and from the Cross Benches. I hope that that is one area on which we shall receive a positive answer.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Before the noble Lord sits down, I think we are entitled to know whether or not he is going to advise those in his party in this House how to vote in relation to this amendment and, in particular, whether he is going to recommend to them that they should vote, if it is pressed to a Division, in favour of an amendment which involves the continuation of the right of hereditary Peers to sit. So far, he has not indicated his position in relation to that.
Lord Strathclyde: I am not making this proposal. The Government have put forward a Bill and my noble friend has put forward a proposal. I was asking about the Government's attitude to this. A perfectly good proposal has been made by my noble friend. We have not put it forward from the Front Bench. A number of issues need to be answered and I hope that the Minister will do so. It is not for me to do the Government's job for them. They must come up with answers in relation to their own Bill.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I am amazed by that answer. Therefore, the position is that the leader of the Conservative Party in the House of Lords has no view, as I understand it, on whether those in his party in this House should vote for or against the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, or if he does have a view he is not prepared to say what it is. I am slightly surprised by that. I thought that the purpose of his speech was to express the view of the Conservative Party on the amendment. I was obviously wrong.
I turn to the amendment. Perhaps I may apologise for not being the Lord Advocate. I should have mentioned earlier that I was not the Lord Advocate. I am quite sure that the noble Earl would have pitched his very persuasive speech in a different way.
I fully understand the purpose and intent of the noble Earl's amendment. He believes, because he has made it clear at all times, that the hereditary Peers should be entitled to stay in this House to vote and sit, by which he means they should take part fully in the proceedings. He accepts that the amendment relates only to the rights of hereditary Peers to sit but, without any shame or apology, and in a most eloquent speech, he puts that forward as an appropriate proposition. I respect him for holding that view and I understand it. However, I most vehemently disagree with it.
Underlying the Government's approach to the hereditary Peers is the belief that it is wrong in principle that a person should have a right to sit or vote in a legislative House on the basis only of that person's birth. They believe that there are many, many absolutely splendid hereditary Peers. I must tell the House that there are a large number of absolutely splendid people
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