|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I am grateful for what the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, said about his amendment. He said that it was logical for the hereditary Peers to be appointed in their parties in the proportions in which they already sit in their parties. But, of course, in so doing he walked straight into one of the fundamental flaws of his amendment, which is that afterwards the balance of the Chamber remains unsatisfactory because there will then be 212 Conservative Peers overall, only 159 Labour Peers, and only 47 Liberal Democrats. Worst of all, there will be only 150 Cross-Bench Peers, felt by many of us to be the most valuable element in your Lordships' House, giving it, as they do, much of its highly prized independence. I appreciate that on top of that there will be another 15 hereditary Peers who will be elected to sit on the Woolsack. I dare say there is a sporting chance that quite a few of them will be Conservatives, given the nature of the electorate.
One of the flaws of the noble Lord's amendment is precisely that it prolongs the Conservative preponderance in your Lordships' House which many of us feel is the only thing wrong with it at the moment. It does not give enough to the Labour Party, although I appreciate that the Government can appoint as many more Peers as they wish, although they find that a little more difficult than they sometimes thought in the past. It is extremely unfair to the Liberal Democrats who are cut from 68 to 47. As I said, it leaves the Cross Benches much less well represented. That is just one of the flaws--to which I shall return later in the clause stand part debate--of the noble Lord's amendment.
Lord Strathclyde: My noble friend advances in Amendment No. 5 the important principle that more should be on the face of the Bill with less left to Standing Orders. I believe that that aspiration is right. However, I have some difficulty with one aspect of my noble friend's proposals; namely, the idea that the Labour Party should have no Weatherill Peers and that its two places should go to the Liberal Democrats. Certainly, the Prime Minister has the power of patronage and therefore all the hereditary Peers currently languishing on the Labour Benches could be made up as life Peers. It is also true that the Liberal Democrats feel aggrieved that they have not had enough places for their many excellent hereditary Peers. This amendment would find them two more. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, is opposed to hereditary Peers being in the House of Lords, and as the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, has not accepted that particular offer, I must say that I do not have a great
I accept the thought that underlies Amendment No. 6; namely, that elections should create as wide a representation of Peers as possible, and that that should be done by free election. I am entirely in favour of that. I deprecate any suggestion that there should be a closed list or anything similar that would impose a Stalinist uniformity on those elected. The variety of opinion and the independence of mind among hereditary Peers has always been one of the strengths of this Chamber. To preserve that independence of mind in what might otherwise in time become a Chamber of patronage is one of the great arguments for this clause and the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill. My party would not wish to interfere with that freedom. I am sure that any other party leaders who may speak, or the Minister, would want to give a similar assurance to the Committee that no list system would operate in the elections that are proposed.
As to the method of the electoral system--first-past-the-post or single transferable vote--I am interested in real votes, a first-past-the-post system, although I would support a system of preferences to deal with ties between various candidates. I suspect that that is the best way to ensure variety of opinion. Of course there is another option open to the Liberal Democrats and that is to stand on a coalition ticket with the members of the Labour Party--it would not be the first time they had done that--to unite their forces. It might be interesting to see who was elected.
As regards Amendment No. 20, my noble friends are right to point to the presence of many female and disabled Peers among the ranks of hereditary Peers. It is right to confront the absurd stereotype of hereditary Peers too often advanced by members of the Government. It is from among those Peers that many of the greatest contributions to this Chamber come. The Government are wrong to condemn the hereditary peerage as unrepresentative. Equally it is important that the experience of the Chamber on matters such as agriculture and defence should not be weakened.
Lord Trefgarne: I hope my noble friend will not mind if I interrupt. Is he aware that there are, I believe, no fewer than 18 female hereditary Peers? That is many more hereditary Peers than there are in the Labour Party.
My noble friend Lord Northesk was concerned about party affiliation. I think I can put his mind entirely at rest. No doubt the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will be able to answer this point more fully. It is my understanding that although Peers will stand in accordance with their party affiliation, as soon as they are elected they can sit in whatever part of the Chamber they wish. That has always been the case, as it will be also with the deputy chairmen. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, alluded to that point. I believe that that is how it should be. It would be absurd if we were to oblige people to stay in their political parties for the rest of their lives. I shall reflect carefully on what my noble friends have said, as I hope will the Government. However, I also hope that they will not press their amendments today.
The Lord Chancellor: I shall deal first with Amendment No. 5 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine. I am sure he will forgive me if I do not take up much of the Committee's time in responding to it. The noble Lord has been advised that were it to be accepted it would make the Bill hybrid. I take it that on that ground alone he will not divide the Committee on the amendment.
It is important to remember that we are dealing here with a transitional measure. It is obviously necessary that the basic principle that there should be a certain number of hereditary Peers excepted from the effect of the Bill is on the face of the legislation. But beyond that, elaborate statutory provision is not appropriate. The fear that may lie behind the noble Lord's amendment is that some government in the future may seek to change those numbers to the detriment of one party or to the detriment of the Cross-Benchers. Therefore he would like to see them enshrined in statute. That is not a point which holds any weight with the Government because the Standing Orders of this Chamber can be changed only with the agreement of the Chamber. So far as this Chamber is concerned therefore whether the relevant provisions are in the Standing Orders or on the face of the Bill makes no difference. However, there is the signal advantage of having these provisions in the Standing Orders; namely, that it excludes the possibility of the other place not only having views on these subjects--which it certainly does--but also having the opportunity to assert different views.
I am sure the Committee will forgive me if I do not follow the noble Lord down what I regard as the blind alley of the proposition that I should assent to his proposed gift of the two hereditary Labour peerages to be made over to the Liberal Democrats. Our difficulty with this compromise--and one of the features of my party's difficulty--is that it gives us but two. It would not assist the promotion of this compromise in another place if these two were to be gifted away.
As to Amendment No. 6, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, the main difficulty is that it is simply unworkable. If one pauses to thing about it for any time at all one sees that it introduces concepts that are
Such a process would be bound to give rise to division within parties, and it would be impossible to administer. It is also inconsistent with the electoral system set up in the draft Standing Order, which envisages that candidates should be able to nominate themselves and that Peers would then be free to vote on the basis of their individual judgment about the quality of the candidates. I am sure that that is the only sensible way, so surely we should leave it to the discretion and judgment of the four relevant electorates to decide who are the most suitable candidates to stay on in the House.
This may not be a matter to be decided on the basis of political opinion alone. There are many other considerations which are relevant--some may think much more relevant--such as effectiveness in debate and substantive contribution to the business of the House. There are no doubt a great many other criteria that noble Lords would wish to take into account when exercising their votes in the elections. I am utterly resistant to the amendment as a workable way forward.
As for Amendment No. 20, again I would submit that it is just not workable. What exactly does it mean? The phrase "due proportion" has no definition. Does it mean an exact proportion, or does it mean someone, somewhere, making sure that the various interests in question are addressed? Of all the categories listed in the amendment, only one--the number of female hereditary Peers--is quantifiable with any certainty. Whether somebody wishes to be registered as disabled, or wishes to be regarded as disabled, is entirely a matter for the individual. The whole exercise contemplated here is not in the real world.
The "interests and expertise" of the hereditary Peers are even less clearly defined. We could all suggest some candidates. I suppose that country sports would be likely to be included, but I am sure that there are many others besides. Take the one tangible example that is given. The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, said that there were 18 female hereditary Members of the House. I thought that there were 16. But it matters not for the sake of the argument. Sometimes there are more than 16--
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page