Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, will the noble Lord accept from me, as I am sure the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, will confirm, that there were not two deals, but one integral deal only. I have no notion at all from where the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, has obtained the idea that there were two separate deals. There was one deal and one alone.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, if the noble and learned Lord says so. What on earth could have been the object of the meeting and the second private arrangement, which was never ratified and which was not known about by the other parties? I have asked some of them whether they knew. They did not know. I said that it was made without authority and the short answer to that is that whether or not it was made without authority it still has to be ratified by this House on its merits. That is the point. I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord because he will realise that we do not understand and do not know what on earth has been going on. It is all done between Privy Counsellors on Privy Council terms. We do not know what is going on. Now we are asked to ratify it. We are entitled to look into it. If I have made a mistake, it is not a mistake that goes to the essence of the problem of whether or not, when one examines this matter on its merits, one is going to ratify it. We have to ratify it. It does not bind us until we do.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, I beg to move that the Question be now put.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, I want to speak to the point raised by the noble Lord who just put the Question. One is entitled to debate this Motion. Two or three noble Lords have spoken. There is more than one view. It is perfectly reasonable for the House to debate this.

22 Jul 1999 : Column 1160

I do not agree with absolutely everything that has been done. I do not agree with a lot being said by my noble friend Lord Campbell. But it is surely his right to say it without our shutting him up. Nobody should ever attempt to shut up my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway; that would be a major mistake.

I hope that we do not put the Question yet, but that we continue with the debate for a reasonable and civilised time. This is an important constitutional issue and we ought, first, to get it off our chests; and, secondly, to be intelligent about it. Cutting short the debate does not help in that.

The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Serota): My Lords, I am instructed by Order of the House to say that the Motion that the Question be now put is considered to be a most exceptional procedure and the House will not accept it save in circumstances where it is felt to be the only means of ensuring the proper conduct of business of the House. Further, if the noble Lord who seeks to move it persists in his intention, the practice of the House is that the Question on the Motion is put without further delay.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, I beg to move that the Question be now put.

Noble Lords: No!

The Deputy Speaker: My Lords, the Question is, That the Question be now put. As many as are of that opinion will say, "Content"; to the contrary, "Not-Content". The "Not-Contents" have it.

Question negatived.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I do not speak in my defence. I am grateful to your Lordships for having heard me so far. If I am allowed to speak further, I shall bear that tolerance in mind.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords--

Lord Peston: My Lords, I think it is the turn of this side now. The Cross-Benchers have been speaking continuously.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, I appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, was just making clear that many noble Lords may feel that we have had quite a long debate on this issue but, like the noble Earl, I feel that it is a matter of such profound importance that we should debate it to the full and as long as constructive contributions are being made. I hope therefore that I may be allowed to rise to support the Motion tabled by my noble friend Lord Bledisloe. I must say at once, as others have said, that--for me at any rate--it is not the ideal solution.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, I go back to the beginning of this matter and say that it is a bad Bill, a deplorable Bill. But that is all history. Since then we have had the Weatherill amendment arising from the arrangements made on Privy Council terms. I have

22 Jul 1999 : Column 1161

always strongly believed that the voting arrangements for what are now called the "Weatherill Peers" should be uniform throughout the House, as my noble friend Lord Bledisloe said, and that the electorate should consist of Peers, both life and hereditary.

After all, we are all Members of the same House and of the same Parliament. Although we may have different allegiances, different ideologies, different social backgrounds, we are all Members of the same House of Parliament. It might be worth reminding this House that the word "Peer" means equal in standing and in rank. It was to underline that fact that as long ago as the 15th century those who had previously been Lords Temporal had their names changed to Peers; meaning that all were equal. The only distinction was between the ranks within the peerage. That remained the case even after the Life Peerages Act 1958; we were all equal Members of this House.

5.15 p.m.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, not true.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, does the noble Viscount say, "Not true"?

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I was not asking the noble Lord to give way but as he has so kindly and so suddenly sat down, perhaps I may take advantage of his good nature to say that I am sure that he is exactly right and that it is perfectly true; but they did not choose themselves.

Lord Chalfont: No, my Lords, and I never suggested that they did. Evidently my quick sit-down was to no great effect.

It is only in the passage of this reform Bill that an attempt is now being made to make an important distinction--a discrimination--between life and hereditary Peers. However, those are statements of principle and your Lordships will know better than many that principles sometimes have to be compromised in order to achieve proper and desirable ends.

I remain convinced that the electorate for the Weatherill Peers should consist of both life and hereditary Peers. In the first place, as others have said but it bears repeating, there is no logic in the present proposal that 15 Peers--the Deputy Chairmen and others--should be chosen by the whole House, while the remaining 75 are to be elected by hereditary Peers only. I have never heard a persuasive argument for that and to me it is an illogical arrangement.

A good deal has been said--the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, referred to it again during this debate--about it being in some way offensive to hereditary Peers to suggest that they cannot manage their own affairs without the participation and help of the life Peers. The answer to that somewhat insubstantial debating point might be that this is not merely a matter of the "own affairs" of hereditary Peers; it is a matter of the composition of this House, affecting everyone in it. It is equally offensive to life Peers to suggest that they should have no role whatever in electing those who are

22 Jul 1999 : Column 1162

to be their colleagues in the interim House. So, the less we hear about the way in which we cause offence to the hereditary peerage, the better.

It became clear to me when I was privileged to attend and address a recent meeting of the Procedure Committee that the possibility of ensuring that the electorate for the Weatherill Peers would be an electorate of both life and hereditary Peers was remote. I discovered that the Procedure Committee consisted substantially of heavily whipped Front-Bench representation from the major parties. It may be worth while in this context pointing out that in that fairly large committee there are only three Cross-Bench Peers. The committee was clearly bent on a system in which only hereditary Peers would elect the Weatherill Peers. That is what appeared in its report. It seemed to me from the discussion that took place in the Procedure Committee that that determination was based largely, if not entirely, on the now famous deal negotiated between the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne.

Perhaps at this stage I should say a few words about the agreement. The first point I should like to make is that the agreement cannot be binding on anyone who was not a party to it. That certainly applies to us on the Cross-Benches, where each Member is independent and obviously will not be bound by an agreement between the Labour and Conservative Front Benches, even if a small number of Cross-Bench Peers were involved in the negotiations which led up to it.

Those in favour of the present form of the legislation have made much of the point that it is important to have an independent element in your Lordships' House. We on the Cross Benches regard ourselves--with some justification--as that independent element. My noble friend's Motion this evening, as he implied, seeks to remove from the realm of rhetoric the need for an independent element and to place it in the realm of reality.

In any case, I turn back to the agreement--the famous deal--for a moment. I may be wrong and no doubt, if I am, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor or the noble Viscount will correct me. However, I do not believe that this business of the hereditary Peers being the only voters for the excepted hereditary peerage was a fundamental, important and integral part of the deal. Indeed, I do not believe that the deal would have stood or fallen on that one element alone. It is, of course, entirely right and honourable that those who were party to the deal should consider themselves to be fully bound by it. However, in my opinion, it is extremely doubtful that such an agreement should be the sole basis, or even the main basis, for a fundamental procedural decision of this kind.

I return to the recommendations of the committee. I was present during the proceedings of the Procedure Committee. No strong arguments were advanced at that time in favour of this system of hereditary Peers electing hereditary Peers. Although my noble friend Lord Bledisloe and I took the time to advance very strong arguments against it, I never heard any of those arguments refuted. Indeed, as my noble friend Lord Bledisloe has

22 Jul 1999 : Column 1163

said, the only argument that was ever seriously advanced in favour of the "hereditary-only" electorate seemed to have disappeared. I refer, as he did, to the argument that the Weatherill Peers were to be representative. If the proceedings of the Procedure Committee are to be taken as a guide, apart from anything else, the Conservative Party now seems to have abandoned any pretence, or any claims, that the Weatherill Peers are to be representative.

In my view, the recommendation of the Procedure Committee as it stands is, therefore, based entirely on assertion, not on argument. Indeed, a friend of mine, for whose legal expertise I have great respect, has suggested to me that if the proceedings of the committee were subject to judicial review, they would almost certainly be quashed. Despite the significant change on the subject of the representative nature of the Weatherill Peers, from the soundings that I have taken since the meetings of the Procedure Committee it seems to me to be clear that the possibility of ensuring that the electorate consists of a universal system and that all Peers--not simply hereditary Peers--should form the electorate is, to say the very least, in the balance.

As this is my major preoccupation and as I very passionately want to see adopted the principle that the Weatherill Peers should be elected by a mixture of life and hereditary Peers--a substantial number of my noble friends on the Cross Benches believe the same thing--it seems that the only way in which we, the independent element in the House and in any future House, can avoid being bulldozed by the major parties and bring about the system that we want to see, is to support the Motion tabled by my noble friend Lord Bledisloe.

As a result of this debate, if for no other reason--it has, in my view, been a good, constructive and informative debate so far--I trust that there will be support from a sufficient number of Peers of all groups and parties to ensure that my noble friend's Motion is carried.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page