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Earl Ferrers: My Lords, during the passage of the Bill concern was expressed as regards what should happen to those hereditary Peers who would no longer attend the House. I thank the Offices Committee and all those who contributed to the suggestions which I consider are kind, generous and respectable.
However, I was amused when the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said that the measure should be rewritten to state that if a noble Lord books a table he should partake of the meal. But if he does not like the food or feels sick, is Black Rod to turn him out? One can try to put too fine a point on these matters. Everyone knows what the measure intends.
I was sorry to note that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, was a little ungenerous today. He has made many plausible arguments for bad cases, but today I thought that he made rather a bad argument for a bad case.
Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, I thought that I was being rather generous. I accept that former Members of the House have made substantial contributions to this House. I was not trying to offend against that principle; I was trying to be generous.
In previous debates we were told that it was bad to be a hereditary Peer and that one should not sit in this House by virtue of heredity. One understands that argument. However, it is curious that the children of life Peers have the right to sit on the Steps of the Throne. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, has a child. He probably has lots of
As I said, I believe that the present proposals are reasonable. However, the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees stated categorically that nothing which is not in the report should be included as a privilege. However, what would happen if noble Lords who wish to listen to a debate want to have a cup of tea? I suppose that they are probably not allowed to have a cup of tea. What would happen if they wish, in the vernacular, to go to the toilet, or, as your Lordships would say, go to the lavatory? Are they not allowed to do that because that is not mentioned in the provision? I presume that one takes that as read.
The Earl of Erroll: My Lords, with regard to sitting on the Steps of the Throne, we should not lose sight of how that tradition came into being. It was introduced to enable eldest sons to come to the House and learn about the tradition and the procedure of the House before they took up their seats. The noble Lord has said that they will no longer take up their seats. However, he has forgotten the by-election process and those 90 Peers who can be replaced. Therefore, it is right that those who show an interest in the place should come to the House to learn about its procedures. That was the reason eldest sons had the right to sit on the Steps of the Throne.
I realise that this courtesy has been extended to life Peers whose eldest sons will not necessarily sit in this House, although we understand that certain peerages have followed, as it were, a life peerage hereditary line. But leaving those aside, I see more logic as regards disbarring the eldest children of life Peers than as regards disbarring those possible future Members of this Chamber who happen to be excluded for the moment and for the interim.
Baroness Hooper: My Lords, I support the suggestions of the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees and the tone in which he made them. I disagree profoundly with the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel. I do not believe that the suggestions are patronising, condescending or any such thing.
I remind your Lordships that there was a time when Members of the European Parliament were refused admission to the House of Commons on the grounds that they would swamp it. The House of Lords kindly allowed Members of the European Parliament admission rights and the use of certain facilities of the House. There was certainly no swamping in that case.
Lord McNally: My Lords, I am well aware that the two Front Bench members of the committee have gone along with these arrangements but, with characteristic generosity, the Leader of the Liberal Democrats said that if anyone felt impassioned about these decisions they should speak. I feel rather impassioned. I have listened to the speeches so far and it would seem that the best thing the committee can do is to remove the right of the eldest sons of life Peers to sit on the Steps of the Throne, because that is a clear anomaly.
The clearest statement I heard during the debates on the reform of the House was contained in the final speech of the Leader of the House, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, who said, "Thank you and goodbye." I think that we are now slipping back from a commitment, not to reform a club, but to reform the second Chamber of Parliament. In these recommendations the committee is sending all the wrong signals to the outside watching world about how serious we are as regards truly reforming the second Chamber.
When the Conservative government abolished the GLC, there must have been members of that council who had given their lives to the governance of London and who felt deprived of the facilities of County Hall. But they went because that was the decision of the elected government. It would be far better for the hereditaries who have departed and, more importantly, far better for our commitment to a modernised, 21st-century second Chamber if we did not go down this slippery slope. I shall have few opportunities to vote today, but I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Williams, that I will be voting with him.
Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, I am one of those who feel that we should not simply express our gratitude to the departed Peers for the services they have given to the country but that we should do whatever we can in tangible terms to help them deal with the difficult transitional period through which they are going. I share the view that we should deal with them as best we can in a civilised fashion. Therefore, generally, I welcome the package before us.
However, I do not believe that the Offices Committee has got the balance quite right, particularly with the inclusion of paragraph 2(b). The qualifications that the committee has written into paragraph 2(b) are a fair indication that it is worried about the possible effect and consequences if paragraph 2(b) is put into practice. I think the committee has cause for some concern. A fair number of Peers are unhappy about the rest of the package. Being reasonable people, I suspect that they will live with it. However, I venture to suggest that they will not live with paragraph 2(b). If that is adopted, it will be a cause of continuing concern. I shall explain why.
We should take note of the point made by the noble Lord, Lord McNally. We now have a new House. It is changing; it is moving broadly in accord with the wishes expressed by the people of this country who, in May 1997, opted for a quite significant change of direction. I do not wish to repeat many of the arguments we have had previously about the manifesto but, in so far as they affect this House, they were part of that change. If we are seeking to bring through the doors into the Chamber people who are neither life Peers nor exempted under the Act we have just passed, we are, in a sense, seeking to fly in the face of the will of that statute. We are trying to go backwards, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said. For those of us who want to make a success of this House, that is not the right thing to do.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Does he not realise that the House has been through a pretty rough time which has created a rather sad atmosphere? Does he really think, when we are trying to construct the new House--and have faith that we may be able to do so--that this kind of contribution is of any constructive value?
Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, I believe I am being constructive in my contribution. I have been here since we embarked upon the legislation and I have felt for those people who have been affected by it. I am seeking to ensure that we do our best by them, but, more particularly, that we do our best for the country also. I share the view that we are not necessarily representing the best interests of the people who have been asked to go. I have spent a lifetime dealing with people who have been made redundant. There is a balance to be struck in how we handle this matter. I hope that people will reflect on that. I look particularly to the Liberal Democrats to reflect on their position here. It is about moving to change the House. It is also about looking after, as far as we can, the best interests of those who have left. The balance at the moment is incorrect. I support the amendment to remove paragraph 2(b).
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