Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Acton: My Lords, I am sorry, but it was Talleyrand.

Lord Weatherill: My Lords, I thought that it might have been Metternich, but the story stands. I wondered what was meant by the by-election procedure which, as the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, pointed out, has serious flaws and difficulties for the replacement of hereditary Peers on the Liberal Democrat and Labour Benches if the electorate consists only of the hereditary Peers.

When we were negotiating the details of Clause 2, it was clearly understood that the 75 hereditary Peers would be representative hereditary Peers. I was under the impression that that had been discounted. In previous debates, we were informed that they would be elected to carry on the work of the House not as hereditary Peers but as those best qualified so to do.

The reason we negotiated in that way was to ensure that the Government would move rapidly to stage two, because as the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and others pointed out, the Government would not wish to have a body of representative hereditary Peers in this House for longer than absolutely necessary. As the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, pointed out and as the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, said so well, there is no logical reason why after the election of the 15 Chairmen of Committees--those who will sit on the Woolsack and will serve the whole House--the 75 additional hereditary Peers, who will also serve the whole House, should be elected by a different method.

When I moved my amendment, which is now Clause 2 of the Bill, I made it plain that I was speaking as an individual and not as the Convenor of the

22 Jul 1999 : Column 1153

Cross-Bench Peers. Today, I do speak as Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers, and I do so in order strongly to express their views. Many of them would have liked to speak today, but will not do so for reasons of time. I therefore support the amendment tabled by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, and I hope that the House will weigh its arguments and do likewise.

In saying that, I must pay a tribute to the noble and learned the Lord the Lord Chancellor, who I know takes a different view. He has consistently and honourably said that he struck the arrangement, the deal, with the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and that he must stick to it.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Will he explain a crucial point? It is accepted that a private arrangement was made between the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and my noble friend Lord Cranborne. This was long after the deal brokered by my noble friend Lord Cranborne. There is no doubt--it is accepted--that the private arrangement was hereditaries for hereditaries. None of us knew what happened, so I am asking the noble Lord whether he could be kind enough to say that it was no part of the deal brokered by my noble friend, which ended up in the Weatherill amendment, that hereditaries should support hereditaries.

Lord Weatherill: My Lords, the noble Viscount must speak for himself on that. I was present at some of the negotiations with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, but not at all of them. It was always my understanding that the hereditary peerage would select the representative Peers, for the reasons that I have already stated; namely, that the Government would not wish to have a body of representative hereditary Peers in this House for longer than was absolutely necessary. I think that in a previous debate the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, said that it was sand in their shoes. I would rather use the expression "ginger under the tail". But the intention was to ensure that they got on with the second stage.

Perhaps I may return to paying a tribute to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. It is quite remarkable that the Government have a manifesto commitment, regularly repeated in your Lordships' House, that no political party should seek a majority in the reformed House of Lords. I doubt whether there is any other government in the world who would contemplate subscribing to such an arrangement. In effect, it means that the balance of influence will always be with the independent Peers on these Cross Benches.

If that commitment is to be put into practice, it must surely mean that the independent Peers should not be pressurised into voting one way or another by any deal that may have been arrived at through the usual channels, of which we are not normally part. So, in a sense, the vote on the amendment of the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, is a test of that commitment.

The debate on the report of the Select Committee is not about a matter of government policy. It has already been described as a technical matter, and it was arrived

22 Jul 1999 : Column 1154

at by members of the Select Committee on Procedure, of whom there are 27, only three of whom are Cross-Benchers, one of them a Law Lord. That is despite the numbers; we are inadequately represented on that committee.

Despite the committee's recommendation, I hope that in a matter of this kind--a matter of procedure, not of government policy--there will be a genuine free vote. If the amendment of the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, is carried, it will not bind any other party to follow suit. If the Conservative Opposition prefer that the election of the 42 hereditary Peers should be by hereditaries alone, so be it; it is a matter entirely for them. Similarly, that would be true of the government party and of the Liberal Democrats, as the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, has already said.

All that the Bledisloe amendment seeks to achieve is the freedom of the independent Cross-Benchers to exercise their judgment as they think best. It is their majority view that the choice of the hereditary Peers best qualified to carry on the work of the House in the interim period before the second stage of reform of your Lordships' House would best be made by life Peers as well as by hereditary Peers.

Therefore, despite the fact that this arrangement was made between the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, to which I have already said that I subscribed at the time, for reasons stated, I wholeheartedly support the amendment so well and so eloquently moved by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe. I do so because I so strongly applaud the commitment of Her Majesty's Government that the balance of influence in your Lordships' House should be with the Cross-Benchers, and because the amendment is a test of that commitment.

4.45 p.m.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, because that enables me once again to congratulate him on his wisdom in advising your Lordships' House to put the minimum amount of detail on the face of the House of Lords Bill, thereby ensuring that your Lordships can control your own procedures, a matter to which the noble Lord rightly gave considerable weight, particularly because, as he has reminded us, as if we really needed reminding, that, as in all things, it is for your Lordships to decide on your own procedures. I seek merely to persuade your Lordships. I am under no illusions that I have any prior claim on your Lordships' support beyond the power of the arguments that are laid before the House this afternoon.

Before coming to the matter of the electorate for the 75 hereditary Peers--the most contentious issue before us this afternoon--I should like to reiterate two points which I seemed to make repeatedly during the Bill's Committee and Report stages.

First, I personally would much have preferred it if the electorate, when and if by-elections are held, consisted of all hereditary Peers. As I never tire of saying, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has behaved

22 Jul 1999 : Column 1155

more than honourably over the past few months. I know that the basis of our agreement was that the election of hereditary Peers should be by hereditary Peers for the 75. We were less certain about the basis of election for the 15, a matter to which I should like to come in a minute.

There are perhaps sensible reasons for suggesting that it is unwise for the House, certainly for the 75, to elect its own Members. It has been suggested--most notably by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, and others during previous debates and today--that it would be unwise to allow a large number of hereditary Peers, many of whom do not come to your Lordships' House regularly, to make a judgment on who would be most appropriate to serve in your Lordships' House from among the hereditaries. It has been said that the life Peers together with the hereditaries would be far better qualified to perform that task because, by implication, life Peers are more likely to see more of the active hereditaries than the hereditaries themselves.

I may have misread the figures, but I do not necessarily find from my reading of them that the overwhelming majority even of life Peers are here all the time. Of course, very many life Peers are; but it seems not entirely sustainable to assume that the life Peers are more likely to be able to judge who is a sensible Member of your Lordships' House.

I also wonder how sensible it is for us to assume that we should trust the experts. I am always doubtful about the wisdom of trusting experts. That is a principle to which we should do well to adhere in parliamentary institutions. Experts have often misled us in the past. The whole basis of election to another place is that it is the inexpert electorate that we trust beyond the specialists who, in some other polities, perhaps might be chosen as more reliable. It seems to me that the whole basis of election in this country is that it is the non-expert, the broad outside electorate, on which we rely. I suspect that no one in this House would oppose that fundamental principle.

Let us take the example of another place. We trust the electorate, who see no more of the work of Members of the other place carried out in Parliament--as opposed to work in their constituencies--than the media allows them to. We are clear that we encourage the electorate, even though they have limited exposure to proceedings--unless they are complete groupies and watch Parliament all the time on television or sit in the Gallery--to elect Members of another place. I fail to see why we cannot trust a wider electorate of hereditary Peers, which is no more or less deficient in judgment--I make no assessment between the two--to elect the representatives of the hereditary peerage in the interim House.

For that reason alone, the broad franchise which applies to the initial electorate could have been applied to the question of by-elections with great advantage. Such a franchise would have avoided the remote possibility of the absurdities to which a number of noble Lords, notably the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, have alluded. Equally, I agree in principle with the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, that large electorates are better than

22 Jul 1999 : Column 1156

small ones. However, I make one proviso. It seems to me that large electorates are advisable as a general principle of the need to avoid the Old Sarum difficulty so long as those electorates--

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page