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This would be the first time that stakeholders in this House, as well as in the House of Commons, had some ownership of the appointments system. I have written a memorandum on this whole question and shall send a copy to any Member who would like to see it. Certainly in the case of the Labour Party, this would be the first time in 100 years that we moved away from what might be called the default position, subconscious as it may be, of saying that, even if all the hereditaries were not still there, having been removed, we would still be very suspicious about how the life Peers got there. That is not too surprising when the conclusion is, “Let’s abolish the whole thing”. But the statutory appointments commission and the reforms that I am suggesting would, for the first time, change that. It would be a fundamental change, the absence of which has bedevilled this whole debate for many years.

I underline that, if people are to have confidence in the ownership of the House of Lords, it is not sufficient to remove the hereditary principle, much as we all agree with that, and of course that is in the Steel Bill as well. Making such a rule change in the Labour Party and providing a panel system at one remove from the National Executive Committee would not only change much of the psychology in the parties in the country but would remove much of the hostility to this place among our colleagues in the Parliamentary Labour Party.

I turn to my last point. I know a little about the Labour Party and what makes it tick, but others will have to describe how this all plays in the Conservative Party, which I find as inscrutable as the Tang dynasty or perhaps another dynasty with which I have mixed it up.

These are major preconditions for any legislation that is to be brought forward in the near future and, of course, we will have to take another look at the issue after the election. There is nothing wrong with some of the language in the Avebury Bill but I cannot support it. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, to acknowledge that, for the reasons I have given and if he is serious about early action on the question of the 92 hereditaries, he should support the Steel Bill, which has its Second Reading on 20 July. It could have the support of the Commons—perhaps not as it stands but after it has been picked up by the Government. It is an excellent measure in its own right. Even if it were faced with spoiling amendments, those could be voted down with the support of the Government, based on a White Paper supporting our approach at this stage and dealing with other matters later, after the election. Vis- -vis this approach, last July I said to a senior colleague in the other place, “Why look a gift horse in the mouth?”. I think that that message is now getting through.

12.34 pm

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, said: this is not the Bill to get this proposal on to the statute book. I am grateful for his instruction as to what goes on in another place and for his views on the merits of another Bill to which I do not propose to speak.

This Bill has to be seen in its true perspective. That means, to use the expression of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that it has to be revisited. We have to revisit the Cranborne deal, a self-denying ordinance whose fundamental concept was to enable the House of Lords Bill to be passed by this House in the interests of this House.

It is now established as a wholly well founded concept that this House has never been in better shape and is working at its best with the formidable expertise and dedication of the hereditaries, who serve on the Woolsack, on the Front and Back Benches, and as chairmen and members of committees. The quality of those services is recognised on all sides of this House, including the Spiritual Benches and Cross Benches.

The Cranborne deal is reflected in the Weatherill amendment and in the 14th draft of Standing Orders to seek to avoid hybridity. It was made in honour of Privy Council terms and was binding on the Government. It was made with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, the then Lord Chancellor, who is a man of his word and would have honoured the deal. According to the fundamental concept, the deal was to continue only temporarily until enactment of substantial reform of the powers and composition of your Lordships’ House—stage 2 of reform. There is not a word about powers in the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel. I shall not speak to that Bill but shall probably support some of his concepts for composition.

That substantive reform, as discussed in your Lordships’ House, was inevitably related to reform of another place, and then the Cranborne deal was to end. It was also agreed under that deal that, only until that time, the remaining hereditaries should carry out elections to fill vacancies, as provided for in Standing Orders. It is easy to mock, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has done—rather enticingly, if I may say so—but it is much more difficult to construct.

There is now no agreement on stage 2, substantive reform; as I said, no Private Member’s Bill makes such provision. This Bill and Clause 10 of the Steel Bill put an end to filling vacancies so as to enable hereditaries to wither on the vine; they pre-empt a Bill on substantive reform. The concept of this Bill and Clause 10 of the Steel Bill commended itself to certain hereditary Peers. I am delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, in his place. I believe that both he and I thought that it rather a good idea, but there was no amendment to that effect in the Bill. It could not have been in the Bill because it was the basis on which the hereditaries were asked to assent to the deal. There it is: it could not be accepted as it conflicted with the basis of the deal.

The Table advises that the Cranborne deal can be rescinded only by statute. The fact that it ends on stage 2 is under the deal, but its constitutional end can be achieved only by statute. It is interesting to revisit the essence of the concept. If this Bill were passed in your Lordships’ House, it would inevitably, subject to what the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, may say—one never knows, but it is sometimes very helpful—be defeated by objection in another place as a Private Member’s Bill.

Reverting to the true perspective—the interests of this House—what is the need or justification for haste to end a process that will end in any event at stage 2, confirmed by statute? If the purpose today were to afford discussion, it has been afforded—some of it a little wide of the essence of the Bill—and will again take place on Clause 10 of the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, which appears to reflect an informal selective cross-party consensus. To what conceivable constructive end shall your Lordships give this Bill a Second Reading, which by convention, albeit not acceptable to Government, they may not wish to oppose? I have nothing further of use to say.

12.44 pm

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, the wisdom and propriety of a Private Member’s Bill being used to effect the final and full reform of this House, which we were promised in 1999 would eventually happen, are very questionable. This is a grave constitutional matter, and as such I think it is quite wrong that it should be resolved by a Private Member's Bill, particularly one having its Second Reading on a Friday afternoon, when most noble Lords have gone home for the weekend. It should be resolved only by a government Bill, introduced in prime time, the contents of which should have been arrived at by all-party consensus. If it is not done in such a manner, what guarantee will anyone have that it will be accepted by the Government, the opposition parties and the country as stage 2 of the reform which was started in 1999? For that reason alone I am totally opposed to the Bill.

Even Part 1, which could have created an Appointments Commission truly independent of Prime Ministerial patronage, signally fails to do so. Far too much power is vested in the House of Commons, which has no idea at all of the qualities necessary for a Member of this House, and apparently this House is to have no say at all. That is only one small fault; I can assure your Lordships that there are plenty of others. As far as I am concerned, and I am wearing my hat as a hereditary Peer, Part 2 is not acceptable. The 92 hereditary Peers are supposed to remain here, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, explained, until the completion of stage 2 of House of Lords reform, which started in 1999. That was stated on 11 May 1999 at the Dispatch Box by the then Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, who said:

Later in the same column, he said:

That was confirmed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, on 13 March this year:

What guarantee have we that, if this Bill were to receive Royal Assent, the Government, or anyone else, would be satisfied that the reforms embodied in it constituted stage 2? Absolutely none. In that case we, the hereditary Peers, would no longer be here as such, to be a thorn in the Government's flesh, a sort of politically incorrect gadfly to torment them by our very existence, an existence they had a manifesto commitment to terminate. Much is continually said about the ludicrousness of the Peers' elections, and I cannot deny that; but the principal thing that is ludicrous about them is that the electorate is made up only of hereditary Peers, so that in the case of Labour and Liberal Democrat elections you have two or three Peers voting for many more candidates. That would be simply remedied by making the electorate all the Peers in the relevant party, which, with hindsight, is what I now believe it should always have been. Other matters could also be tweaked and improved. But when stage 2 really has been enacted and comes into force, the 92 should go because that was the agreement. If all or any of them are offered life baronies by the Government, it will be up to them as individuals whether to accept them. I have said before, and I say again, that for any of us hereditary Peers to be party to abolishing the elections sticks in my gullet. It is tantamount to saying to our erstwhile colleagues, who were so meanly and cavalierly sacked in 1999 and whose only hope of either getting back themselves or of their heirs’ doing so is to be elected, “I'm alright Jack, and you can go to the devil”.

Turning to another part of the Bill, it is a pity to be so sanctimonious about Peers who have served jail sentences sitting in this House. They have paid their forfeit and should be allowed back into the game. I can think of one, the late Lord Kagan, who was born Lithuanian, whose knowledge of what we used to call the “Russian steamroller” and its ways was invaluable in debates about defence, although he was very diffident and it took a lot of persuasion to make him speak.

Lord Addington: My Lords, I think the noble Lady refers to my noble friend Lord Steel’s Bill. This Bill does not mention people who have served jail sentences.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, I beg your Lordships’ pardon. I was looking at the wrong Bill.

Altogether, I like this Bill so little that, if it were not a Friday afternoon when most Peers have gone home for the weekend, I should have put down a Motion to kill it. As it is, I hope that it withers on the vine.

12.51 pm

Lord Strabolgi: My Lords, I am sure that we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for introducing the Bill, which I support, for reasons that I shall mention later.

I was interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, said about the Cranborne amendment and in what the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, said. However, stage 2 is a very long way away, and this Bill—which has not always been referred to—attempts to change a rather undesirable situation. I accept that the Cranborne amendment has allowed a good number of distinguished and useful Members of this House to come back to membership. Previously, I had the honour of being elected by the whole House as a Deputy Speaker. However, this system should not carry on until the end of time or stage 2, whichever is earlier. This is a House of Parliament, not a private club that elects its own members.

There are only four Labour Peers, including me. If there were a death, there would be three. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, mentioned a number of rotten boroughs and the numbers of electors they contained. I do not say that we are a rotten borough, but we are smaller than any of those that he mentioned. We are probably the smallest electorate in the world. However, there is worse to come. My noble friend Lord Simon and I were elected as Deputy Speakers by the whole House—life Peers and hereditaries. After our deaths, further elections by the whole House will take place. It is possible, indeed probable, knowing the numbers on the other side and on the Cross Benches, that our seats will pass to the Conservatives or the Cross Benches. If that should happen, the number of Labour hereditaries would be down to two. If one of them should die, the electorate would be down to one. That is positively Gilbertian and absurd. It is a further reason why these internal House elections should be cancelled.

A further matter, not mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, or any of the other speakers, is contained in the Bill: the question of the two great officers of state, the Lord Great Chamberlain and the Earl Marshal. There seems to be general agreement that those historic roles should continue, and I agree with that, but because the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, and the noble Marquess, Lord Cholmondeley, are hereditary Peers, it is sometimes suggested in this House and outside it that they should move to the Royal Household at Buckingham Palace or St James’s Palace. However, they are already members of the Royal Household. They have important duties, particularly at the opening of Parliament, and it is important that they should remain because they provide a link between the Crown and Parliament.

I support the Bill, which puts right something undesirable. I hope that the Government will give it a Second Reading and that the usual channels will arrange an early date for the remaining stages in this House so that it can be sent to another place without delay.

12.56 pm

Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, it may be worth reminding the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that the Parliament (No. 2) Bill in 1969 failed because of opposition in the other place, not because of any problems in this House.

Much of what I would like to say has already been covered in previous speeches, not least those of the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, and my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway. Given that, I shall endear myself to the Minister, and possibly to the whole House, by saying that I intend to keep my comments extremely short.

The noble Lord’s Bill also has the merit of being short. However, it suffers from a number of limitations, some of which are apparent in what the noble Lord said as well as in what was said in preceding speeches. As we have been reminded, during the passage of the House of Lords Bill in 1999, the Weatherill amendment was accepted. It provided for the retention of 92 hereditary Peers as Members of this House and was accepted by the Government on the understanding that it was an interim provision pending stage 2 of reform of this House.

That understanding leads logically to two conclusions: first, that the composition of the House remains unchanged until stage 2 is agreed; and, secondly, that stage 2 must comprise more than the removal of the remaining 92 hereditaries. What follows is that if the provisions of the Bill are to be accepted, they have to be accepted as part of a wider set of provisions that are recognised as constituting stage 2. The Government accepted that this wider set of provisions should be reached by consensus. That was embodied in the Queen’s Speech in November, and that was the extent of the commitment. In short, if we are to proceed, we should do so on the basis of general agreement on a set of proposals. The noble Lord’s Bill fails to meet these criteria. We should therefore await a measure that does.

The other points I would wish to make have been said. Given that, I do not propose to go into the argument concerning hereditary Peers and the by-election provision. The hereditary Peers who serve in this House continue to contribute significantly to its work. Their value is recognised by the fact that the number of hereditary Peers sitting in your Lordships’ House exceeds the statutory 92, some of them having been reintroduced as life Peers. Indeed, in the fullness of time, if the by-election provision were to be removed, there would be nothing to stop hereditary Peers being nominated for membership. I note that not only are there hereditary Peers sitting in this House as life Peers, but also three hereditary Peers sitting as Members of the other place. Whatever happens, hereditary Peers are likely to continue to make a significant contribution to public life. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, is incorrect therefore to say that the by-election mechanism is the only means by which hereditary Peers may become Members of this House. That is to underplay the merits of hereditary Peers.

I am familiar with the criticisms levelled at the mechanism for selecting a hereditary Peer in the event of a vacancy occurring—repeated by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi—but that is the mechanism that has been agreed and embodied in Standing Orders. It is a mechanism that should remain until such time as agreement is reached on stage 2. We are not there yet. We should await a measure that seeks to deliver on generally agreed proposals.

Following the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Lea, I believe that a measure to that effect will soon be before us. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, is right to say that there will be discussion about whether that constitutes stage 2. But that is a discussion for another day.

1.01 pm

Lord Addington: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for bringing forward this Bill and want to take on a little of the blame for it having arrived here. We had something of a planning meeting in Prince’s Chamber a few weeks ago. My noble friend said to me, “I think that we should do something to get rid of these absurd by-elections”. My comment was, roughly, “Yeah, go for it”. As your Lordships can see, the great amount of preparation for my contribution was probably left at “go for it”. My noble friend clearly did.

I appreciate that, as a hereditary Peer, I am guilty of the claim to be pulling up the ladder once I have climbed up it. In thinking that we should do something about the situation, I agree with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi. The idea of the rotten borough of all rotten boroughs, gilded and preserved for ever, is probably better on those Benches, but we get close here. Having been part of that electorate—four of us sitting down, having a chat and deciding on a Member of Parliament in one of the richest countries in the western world—I know that an almost irresistible weight of absurdity comes down on you.

Does stage 2 arrive with this Bill? Will it be stage 2 as envisaged by stage 1? The money must definitely be against that. One thing about yesterday’s radical reform is that it ain’t tomorrow’s. Should we do something now? Yes, my Lords. If we are doing something now, we are addressing the current set of problems. Addressing the current set of problems in politics is one up on the norm because we are usually fairly reactive, so we should try to deal with the problems now. As the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, on the opposition Front Bench, suggested, so far we have been pretty lucky in the people we have in here. Those of us who survived by other methods rose or fell—occasionally we lost. I cannot but help remember the fate of Viscount Long, who was not included on the opposition Benches in 1999. If ever there was a quiet but effective servant of Parliament and his party who was excluded, it was that man. So we can get it wrong among ourselves.

Ensuring that the process of selection is more open will be dealt with later on, but let us just deal with the absurdity. We have several people sitting round asking, “Who shall we have in? Who did quite a good job last time?”, but rapidly they will disappear and we will have to take a punt on someone who is untried. Let us get rid of this process. We are quite capable of looking ridiculous in other ways and we do not have to hang this around our necks.

1.04 pm

Lord Rea: My Lords, I have not so far participated in debates on the reform of the House. That has been, in part, because I feel that as a hereditary Peer I should leave discussions and decisions about the future of the House to those who are here in their own right and will remain after the next stage of reform when we, the surviving hereditary Peers, are finally phased out.

This short Bill, however, deals directly with the remaining hereditary Peers, so my participation is relevant. The Bill proposes gently and painlessly to get on with the phasing-out process. As we well know, the Weatherill/Cranborne agreement by which 92 hereditary Peers were exempted from the 1999 Act, pending the next stage of reform, was a deal which ensured the relatively smooth passage of that Act. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, pointed out, that exemption was clearly understood to be temporary. The replacement of deceased hereditary Peers, added, as I recollect, to the package at a rather late stage, was agreed to by the Government very reluctantly because it perpetuated a significant hereditary presence.

Seven and a half years have passed since the 1999 Act. During that time, 10 of the original 92 have died and been replaced. Clearly, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, pointed out, if they had not been replaced, only 82 would remain. As we age, the mortality rate will accelerate, so that in 10 or 20 years natural wastage will have gone a long way towards eliminating those 82. Eventually, of course, they will all die, but that might take 50 years or more—I look across the Chamber to one of our younger Members. Natural wastage was proposed during the 1999 debates as a humane method of bringing to an end the right of all hereditary Peers to sit and vote in the House. But this is not why the noble Lord has brought in this Bill.


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