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Viscount Trenchard: I congratulate my noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch on his inspired and sensible amendment. Many noble Lords on all sides of the Committee will agree that it represents a better way forward than does the Bill incorporating the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, with due respect to him.
I agree with my noble friends Lord Strathclyde and Lord Cranborne that the Weatherill amendment makes a bad Bill better. That is why I voted for it last week. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, said that it made a good Bill worse but nevertheless supported it. I find it hard to think of good reasons why any noble Lord who supported the Weatherill amendment would not prefer the rather better alternative to it of my noble friend Lord Pearson. It has in it something to appeal to all Members of the Committee and would, I believe, produce a better transitional House which would be better able to continue to discharge its constitutional responsibilities. It provides for a greater degree of continuity with the present House and is therefore more in keeping with the evolutionary nature of our constitutional arrangements.
One of the reasons I find my noble friend's amendment attractive is that it treats all Members of your Lordships' House, appointed and hereditary alike, in the same way and therefore removes any suspicion of hybridity which I believe exists in the Bill as currently drafted. The Government have claimed that the Bill will make your Lordships' House more democratic and more legitimate. Recently, the Government have tended to use the word "representative" rather than "democratic". The argument that life Peers are more democratic than Peers by succession is obviously false and I rather doubt that life Peers are any more representative than hereditary Peers.
Legitimacy is a more difficult question. It is often claimed that your Lordships' House lacks legitimacy because of the hereditary principle. I do not think that is true. I believe that the legitimacy of the House does not derive primarily from the means by which your Lordships became entitled to be Members but rather by the knowledge, ability, skills and contribution which they bring to this place. I would not like to argue that all hereditary Peers have equal legitimacy with all life Peers, although I can understand the argument that on the day of taking his seat a Peer by succession who has made no obvious contribution to public life may enjoy a lesser degree of legitimacy than the life Peer who has already made a noteworthy contribution to public life. The situation may be quite different a few years after taking their seats. The degree of legitimacy that each is accorded will then be based on an appreciation of their respective past and anticipated future contributions to the work of this House much more than on the qualification by which each was originally entitled to receive a Writ of Summons to attend this place.
Contrary to what we often hear from some noble Lords, I believe that this House as presently constituted is regarded as possessing a high degree of legitimacy both at home and abroad. My noble friend's amendment would ensure that the transitional House would retain most of its legitimacy.
I am also attracted to my noble friend's amendment in that the electorates or constituencies are not divided between Peers by succession and appointed Peers. I support the view that all Members of this House, once they have become Members, are equal and should be treated as such.
This amendment would guarantee the continued membership of a far larger number of Cross-Bench Peers than would be the case under the Bill as amended by the Weatherill amendment. Noble Lords are aware of the Government's determination that the House will continue to contain a significant independent element. Under this amendment, it would be the largest element. It would enable the House to continue to discharge its functions as a brake on the unfettered power of the executive and as guardian of the constitution.
My noble friend's amendment provides for the continued participation in this House of those noble Lords who are judged by their peers to have the most to contribute irrespective of whether they are life or hereditary Peers. The resulting transitional House would therefore be likely to contain a wider range and greater quantity of knowledge, experience, skills and talents than would be the case under the Bill incorporating the Weatherill amendment.
The amendment would end the right of all hereditary Peers to sit, and continue to sit, in this House by virtue of a hereditary peerage alone. In that, it meets the Government's objective as efficiently as does the Weatherill amendment. The Government seek broad parity of numbers between the two largest political parties. This amendment would immediately ensure exact parity of numbers between Labour and Conservative Peers, which will not be the case under the Bill as amended by the Weatherill amendment. That feature should commend my noble friend's amendment to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House. Assuming that the three party groups and the Cross-Benchers elected life and hereditary Peers in equal proportions to the numbers taking the various Whips, I calculate--the Committee will forgive me if my mathematics is incorrect-- that 18 out of 18--that is, all Labour hereditary Peers--would continue to sit; as would 127 out of 301 Conservative hereditary Peers; 21 out of 24 Liberal Democrats; and 150 out of 209 Cross-Benchers. Of course, it would not turn out quite like that; a higher proportion of hereditary Peers than life Peers very seldom attend this House. I expect that in the event rather fewer than 127 Conservative hereditary Peers, and rather fewer than 150 Cross-Bench hereditary Peers, would be elected.
It is true that the amendment might result in the temporary retention of a larger number of hereditary Peers than under the Weatherill amendment. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor told us last week that the hereditary Peers who would remain under the Weatherill amendment would have greater authority because they would have been elected by their fellow hereditary Peers. It therefore follows that under the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Pearson, the Peers by succession, and the Life Peers who remain, would have even greater authority, because they would all have been elected by all their fellow Peers. Also, the continued presence of a larger number of Peers by succession would provide a stronger guarantee that stage two will actually happen within the reasonably near future. My noble friend's amendment is also simpler
It has been claimed, even by some of my noble friends, that hereditary Peers are more independent than life Peers. It may surprise the Committee that I do not necessarily agree. There are many life Peers who are at least as independent in their thought, speech and voting as the average hereditary Peer. I would include life Peers whose appointment was recommended by those who have long since ceased to hold political power, as well as some of those who are newcomers to this House. However, hereditary Peers self-evidently cannot be accused of being beholden to the Prime Minister or anyone else in respect of their membership of this place. I regret the emasculation of the independent element of this House that will result from enactment of the Bill. This amendment would greatly reduce that emasculation and the consequent politicisation of this House.
The transitional House as proposed by the Bill, even with the Weatherill amendment, will certainly be much more politicised than it is at present. There will be no room for the part-time politician. My noble friend's amendment would result in a House that might not be unduly politicised, because it would include a much larger independent element. There might also be some room for part-time Peers, who can bring experience gained outside the House.
The amendment meets the requirement of Amendment No. 134 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, in that it would produce a House containing a Cross-Bench proportion of some 34 per cent, leaving aside the Law Lords and the Bishops. On an all-inclusive basis, the proportion would be nearer 30 per cent, which is what my noble friend Lord Lucas had proposed in Amendment No. 81.
All Peers, hereditary and life Peers alike, who were elected to continue to sit would be subject to re-election by all Members of the House belonging to their party or group at least once every seven years in the event that the Government did not after all bring about stage two and a fully reformed House within that period. If stage two is indeed implemented within seven years, it therefore follows that there would be only one set of elections to choose the continuing Members of this House.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor stated earlier today that to include detailed provisions for by-elections under the Weatherill scheme would be needlessly cumbersome because he did not think the transitional House would last long. I wholly accept that that statement reflects the noble and learned Lord's belief and the Government's commitment to stage two. However, in the most unlikely event that, as a result of circumstances which even the noble and learned Lord cannot at present foresee, there is a second set of elections, I suggest that in order to make the proposal more attractive to the Government my noble friend should consider denying new hereditary Peers, both in the election itself and in the proceedings of the House generally, during the trial period, prior to their acquiring greater authority through the election. I suggest that new life Peers should not be restricted from voting in that
All in all, the amendment has much to commend it to all sides of the Committee. I hope that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House and her noble friends will consider it seriously, particularly as it seems to possess several advantages from the Government's point of view, not least the immediate achievement of parity with the Conservative Party.
The transitional House that would result from my noble friend's amendment would be a much better one than that created by the Bill incorporating the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill. It is not too late for the Government to think again. It would not be impossible to form a consensus among all parties to proceed with stage one of reform of this House along the lines of this amendment.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: Perhaps it will relieve the nervous tension of the Front Bench opposite, if I say, first, that it is not my intention to attempt to emulate the eloquence of my noble friends. Secondly, although I have not been a passionate, wholehearted supporter of the Bill, I nevertheless prefer it to my noble friend's amendment.
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