Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My noble friend's amendment is designed to keep a substantial number of hereditary Peers into the foreseeable future. He says that the amendment states that they should be allowed to die out. I have to say that the words of the amendment are not quite so brutal, but that would indeed be the consequence of his amendment.

11 May 1999 : Column 1140

I think all your Lordships know the amount of work our hereditary colleagues do day by day. That, I am sure, was one of the motives behind the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, which your Lordships have just passed with a modest majority. It is true that before that amendment was passed this afternoon the result of the Government Bill, as it then stood, would have been to throw out all the hereditaries, good ones and bad ones, and we would lose some very good Members of this House. I have to say that the electorate can do that as well, so it is not something that is quite unique to this particular Bill.

What is clear, as my noble friend Lord Strathclyde said earlier, is that we are embarked on something and we do not really know where we are going to end up. That is not the wisest position to be in. But in Scotland they are currently embarked on trying to form a government and they are not sure where they are going to end up, other than in the confused situation which PR inevitably brings about. I did a little check on just who would pass the "Rowallan" test. There were 76 days in the last session and on that basis some 228 hereditary Peers would have passed; 130 Conservatives, 62 Cross- Benchers, 17 Liberals and 16 Labour. My noble friend Lord Rowallan would pass with flying colours, which will not surprise your Lordships: otherwise he might have put the gateway at a slightly lower level!

In terms of his amendment, when I studied the list of your Lordships who have an excellent attendance record, it showed the good contribution that many of my noble friends make. It also shows the great contribution made by the hereditary Peers on other Benches. The House will be sad to lose them. Nearly all the hereditary Peers on the Government Benches actually passed the Rowallan test, which is more than can be said for a few of the new creations of the present Prime Minister--but that is entirely another matter.

I think there is merit in looking at hardworking Peers, and I am sure that in fact the amendment that your Lordships have just passed will take on board, so to speak, almost all the hardest working Peers, although I suspect that the gateway will be just a little tougher than my noble friend would like. So I must say to him that, while I understand his point and appreciate the hard work that many hereditaries have done, I think that your Lordships' House has, so to speak, "done its business by the hereditaries" in passing the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill. I am afraid I would not be able to support my noble friend's amendment if he were to press it to a Division.

Lord Goodhart: I shall intervene only very briefly. Your Lordships' Committee, like it or not, has just passed the Weatherill amendment by an enormous majority, which I have to say would still have been quite a large majority if my noble friends and I had chosen to vote against it. That undoubtedly can be taken as an expression of the will of the House. I was therefore somewhat sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, chose to move an amendment which creates an alternative suggestion to the Weatherill proposal. In view of the size of the majority in favour of that

11 May 1999 : Column 1141

amendment, I hope that other amendments which propose alternatives to the Weatherill amendment will not be moved.

Lord Monson: I wonder why the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, has set the threshold as low as he has. Would it not be much easier to support the principle of this amendment if the threshold were set at, say one half? As this is a committee stage, the noble Lord has the right to rise to his feet on more than one or two occasions, and so I wonder if he could say whether he has worked out how many hereditary Peers would remain if the gateway were to be set at one half.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux: I should like to say just a few words on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan. The principle seems to be to retain people of skill, of experience and of good attendance to contribute to the wellbeing of this House, and I think the principle is a good one. This is why I believe we need to have a system of gradually removing hereditary Peers, rather than have the "big bang" approach that has been followed so far. The principle of protecting the interests of this House I find commendable and therefore I support what the noble Lord is saying. Also, I support the idea of not allowing hereditary heirs to enter this House automatically on succession: I find that is very reasonable. However, I have difficulty with the balanced voting arrangements.

My own view on this is that this House will do very well with a weighted voting system, which is incredibly simple. All you would need to do is to find out how many government Peers were in the Contents Lobby and how many in the not-Contents Lobby, and multiply by 2.7. Lo and behold! We could then keep all the hereditaries here, let them fade away and the Government get their business done. However, that is to come later. I believe that there is a very simple and very workable system available which I think will start emerging in the later stages of the business of this House.

I think that this particular amendment would still leave us in a very difficult position where we would not get the right balance as between Conservative and Labour; and then there are the votes of the Liberals, the Cross-Benchers and others. That has to be organised in some way that enables there to be equity in the voting system and which would enable the Government to get their business through, which it cannot reasonably do now, with the current structure. However, the principle there of protecting the interests of the House by ensuring that we just do not get rid of, in a great big lump, a lot of people arbitrarily without taking into account their skills, knowledge and so on, which is what will happen now. We are going to be dumping these people in a way which in business would never ever happen. I very much regret that this is a solution which emanated from a wrong approach in all this. We should have laid down, and got agreement on, strategic objectives in regard to the legislation. The solution would then, in the end, have come out very easily; but we have never had those

11 May 1999 : Column 1142

strategic objectives and therefore there was no basis for a consensus. Unfortunately we are still running around trying to find solutions.

Although in principle I think it is fine to protect the House by keeping good experienced Peers working here, I regret that the voting arrangements proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, would not be acceptable, because they would not be equitable.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: It seems to me that the noble Lord has said a number of very wise things on this Bill already, and what he has just said is wise. May I ask my noble friend why he thinks that actually just "coming along" should be a qualification. It does not seem to me that just coming to the House should be a qualification: it should be what noble Lords do when they get here, and the work they do. The noble Lord mentions committees, and it is difficult to be on a committee without contributing although it is perhaps possible; but just coming and sitting does not seem to me to be a qualification. I wonder whether he could explain why he chose that particular criterion.

Lord Desai: Very briefly, I did not like the earlier amendment, although I did not vote against it. I do not like this amendment either. I do not think there should be any question of the cleverness or quality of the hereditary peerage; for me it is a question of principle. As my noble friend has said, no business would behave like this. A business has to get itself into proper shape. We live in the 1990s and unless we do that we shall not be a properly functioning Chamber. So I await the day when the Weatherill amendment has a sunset and we get a proper Chamber. If the noble Lord divides the Committee, I shall vote against the amendment.

7 p.m.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Rowallan and Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, in recognising the contribution of a number of "active" Peers; that is, those among the hereditary peerage who participate. But, like many other of the ingenious alternatives which have been offered for our consideration, I am afraid that the Government cannot look favourably upon the amendment. That was the case even before the Committee agreed to Amendment No. 31, which we believe has met some of the concerns of the retention of those hereditary Peers who might make an effective contribution for slightly longer.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, I am anxious that we should get on as far as we can and as fast as we can with the business of government. I believe that by accepting Amendment No. 31, the Committee has agreed to precisely the kind of process which we hope can achieve that.

The basic reason why the Government do not wish to accept Amendment No. 52 is that it effectively continues, on a basis which even after the noble Lord had spoken I was not entirely sure was temporary or permanent, the automatic right conferred by birth alone. He stated that 225 Peers would survive in what he

11 May 1999 : Column 1143

described as the "gateway" principle, but my figure is 229. Whatever it is, many more will survive temporarily than would do so under Amendment No. 31.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, that the amendment confuses quantity of attendance with quality of contribution. During deliberations on the Bill, there have been frequent calls for a scheme for selecting the "best" or "most active" hereditary Peers to remain in the House. The Committee may accept that to make the assessment of "best" hereditary Peers dependent on attendance might completely distort the type of qualities for which one would be looking. On the basis of the current figures I have been given, 24 Conservative hereditary Peers who would qualify under the noble Lord's "gateway" neither spoke in Grand Committee nor in the Chamber during the previous Session, and neither did 10 Cross-Benchers nor two Liberal Democrats. It has also been pointed out to me that one hereditary Peer who attended 100 times has yet to make his maiden speech, even though he has been a hereditary Peer for 40 years. So that possible gateway is not altogether helpful, even if the Government were prepared to consider it.

I am anxious to respond appropriately to the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan. I understand his frustration at the previous response, which was indeed made late at night in a general grouping. One of the inspirations on which he may have drawn in making the proposal was the then Government's proposals in 1968, and perhaps I may take a couple of minutes to explain why we believe that it is different. Under those proposals, there were two qualifications for holding a voting writ. One was being a created Peer, and his amendment does not include that, and the other was having attended at least one third of the Sittings of the previous Session. Therefore, there was a difference between the created Peers and those who were Peers by succession. Of course, that is not explicitly the case in the noble Lord's amendment.

Under the 1968 proposals, a voting writ which was once lost could not be recovered in the same Parliament. In other words, if a noble Lord failed to attend during a particular Session, under those proposals he would lose that right. The proposed new clause contains no such safeguards. So even if the clause were acceptable in principle, it contains no guarantees that it would achieve its intended effect of selecting the most valuable hereditary Peers. Furthermore, it is unacceptable in principle. If we had intended to phase out the hereditary presence in Parliament, either by reducing their numbers or functions, we might have suggested that at an earlier stage.

We believe that the proposed new clause would muddy the effect that has been achieved by the original Bill and by the insertion of Amendment No. 31, and I would advise the Committee to reject it.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page