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This approach is piecemeal and, as several noble Lords have said, does not even attempt to tackle the main issue of long-term reform. It will be interesting for all your Lordships, I am sure, to hear from the Minister the Governments new thinking on this matter, following confirmation of the identity of the next Prime Minister.
There are many ironies in this debate beyond the fact that the noble Lord, who put himself forward for election in 1999, is now trying to persuade me, who put myself forward for election in 2005, to join him barking in the manger to keep any other hereditary Peers with the wish to serve Parliament and their country from submitting their names to do so.
One of those ironies is that we are debating this so soon after we mourned the death of Lord Weatherill, whose proposal to keep 92 elected hereditary Peers on a transitional basis pending enactment of stage 2 reform was carried with massive majorities in both Houses eight years ago. I have seen no concrete and detailed proposal for stage 2 yet coming forward with the support of the House of Commons. While we await it, I feel, if I may say so with all courtesy, that it is perhaps surprising for someone such as the noble Lord, who has himself benefited from a system that Parliament agreed, to seek to force the early termination of that very system. If he felt that the principle was so wrong, perhaps he should not have stood for election in 1999.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord but, in view of his remarks, I wonder whether he is aware of the fact that when I joined this House in, I think, 1993 it was completely controlled by his party, with the support of several hundred hereditary Peers, most of whom did not take part in debates but came at around 5.30 to stand at the Bar of the House waiting impatiently to vote. They would constantly vote in favour of the Conservative Government in a completely unprincipled way. One may criticise this Government, but they have at least got rid of that vice and have had the good sense not to seek to control this House, where they have no majority. Is the noble Lord aware of that?
Were there not provision for replacement, the number of non-appointed Peers would already have fallen by 10 since 1999, as other noble Lords have said. The appointed element among Lords temporal, which was raised from 45 per cent to 82 per cent in 1999, would now have risen to over 88 per cent. From there, this Bill would carry us inexorably towards 100 per cent, something that the other place has clearly said that it does not want. Such a change can happen very fast and should not, I again respectfully submit, be sought in a Private Members Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is quoted on his partys websitemy noble friend Lord Northbrook referred to thisas having said of the process of elections for hereditaries, in commenting on his Bill on 13 March:
This process ensures that the average age of the 92 hereditaries continually rises, and that the replacements are drawn from those who were not seen as useful by their colleagues when the original 92 were selected.
I respectfully point out to him that that misrepresents how the system works. I, for one, was not here before the reforms and, I suggest, I am manfully contributing to a reduction in the average ageas will others, as long as the system is allowed to continue.
This is the wrong Bill at the wrong time, dropped into a House that is functioning well and targeted at a rare category of new entrants untainted by the accusation of impropriety over their means of entry to your Lordships' House, a category that few outside the House, against the background of cash or loans for peerages, see as the most urgent target for reform.
Surely, we should await stage 2. While we await it, I hope that we will be invited to participate in discussion and debate by the Government. After all, they have a duty to seek consensus in these matters. As they do, they should surely also consider ideas for reform not only of this House but the other place.
The House of Commons is not working properlyfor example in its lack of scrutiny of great chunks of legislation, which are often sent here unconsidered. That problem seems to be recognised even by Gordon Brown. That defect in our constitution cannot, sadly, be corrected by a Private Members Bill in this place or the other. In the interim, we should surely not further expose this House to control by the operation of patronage, against which the Bill offers not a single safeguard. Instead, it moves us steadily in that direction.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, I join the sentiments expressed about the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, with whom I have had the privilege of working, and of having tea with yesterday. I congratulate him on introducing his Bill and giving us an opportunity to debate what is clearly, from the contributions made, an important subject. I reassure him that my noble friend Lady Farrington said that she has indeed had that issue raised on the doorstep once when canvassing in Lancashire. None the less, in my view, that is a good sign.
I am also delighted that we have had the useful contributions of the noble Lords, Lord Addington and Lord De Mauley. My noble friend Lord Strabolgi talked about the fact that this is not a private members club, it is a House of Parliament. That is the backdrop to all our discussion and all the contributions made. We in this House are very mindful of the need to ensure that it is well understood that we are a House of Parliamentwe are legislatorsand that decisions are made by those who turn up, make their contributions and vote. I have learned a little bit more about how Pall Mall social clubs get their membership, for which I am extremely grateful.
The noble Lord, Lord Lester, said that we do not have an afterlife, but he then talked of exactly the person who came to my mind, Earl Russell. I can hear his contribution; he does not need to be here. I then thought about what my late friend Lord Williams of Mostyn would be saying in my ear were he sitting beside me. I very much regret that neither of them is here to contribute today, because I cannot possibly attempt to do as well as they would have done.
I was fascinated by the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, who took us from the Bill all the way through to ending up with a wholly appointed Senate of about 350 members with a 12-year membership. It was wonderful to see that journey. The difficulty, as she will know, is that while she is on that journey, other people are travelling in equal and opposite directions. That is always the interesting and difficult part of our debates on the subject.
I shall pick up four or five key points. The first is whether the Bill goes far enough. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, made it clear that if it is amended, that would create great difficultyindeed, that would be the end of that, as it were. I think that it was my noble friend Lord Lea who said that it is irresistible that that will happen. That is my concern. Members of this House and certainly those in another place will feel that, important though the measure is, they want additional measures in a piecemeal fashion and without the consensus that the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, felt was essential for the future. Above everything else, we have to bear that in mind. Whatever the merits of the initiatives that have been taken, it is a serious issue that we cannot ignore. Noble Lords have talked about another Private Members Bill, which your Lordships will have the opportunity to debate on 20 July. I will say nothing about that now.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, said that stage 2 must be achieved by statute, which is right, and the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, said that there should be something bigger. I, too, have looked at what happened. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, quoted from Hansard, which I will not repeat. However, on 7 March, my right honourable friend Jack Straw spoke about the stage 2 pledge. He said that paragraphs 3.27 and 3.28 of the White Paper correctly indicate the position,
For the avoidance of doubt, I spoke to my noble Friend, the former Lord Chancellor, this morning, and he authorised me to say that the passage in the White Paper, at paragraphs 3.27 and 3.28, is a correct summary of the position.
The noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, and the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, talked about using a Private Members Bill in this way and the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, also raised concerns. While the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, said that we do not have a constitutional tradition of this, the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, said that we do. There probably is a discussion to be had at another time about the use of the Private Members Bill. I can say that only very recently have I found myself involved in Private Members Bills; namely, two today and the forced marriages Bill. It has already become clear that they are incredibly useful vehicles to raise important issues. From time to time, as with the forced marriages Bill, it can lead to a great consensus across your Lordships House to try to deal with a particular problem. I pay tribute to all noble Lords who introduce them.
I think that the point the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, was getting to, which certainly was the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, and the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, is that this issue is bigger and is an area where, because we know that we can only move forward in the kind of consensual way that noble Lords have expressed, it is very difficult to see how this Private Members Bill, because it is so narrowwhich is its advantage and its disadvantagecould take us forward. I interpreted that in that spirit.
I thoroughly enjoyed the discussions about the Gilbertian or the Lewis Carroll methods of electing, particularly those contributions from noble Lords who have been participating in those electionsmy noble friends Lord Strabolgi and Lord Rea, and the noble Lord, Lord Addington. It is clear that across your Lordships House there is a genuine desire to deal with this. I think that it is fair to say that noble Lords do not feel that this demonstrated the best of your Lordships activities, which we need to do.
In saying that, I am not suggesting that I wish to say anything other than very positive words about the contribution of hereditary Peers in your Lordships House. Noble Lords described the contributions before I arrived. I am from the class of 1999. I arrived as the vast majority of hereditary Peers left, so I did not benefit from witnessing their good or their bad contributions. Of course, I know that there have been very significant contributions from hereditary noble Lords subsequently, and I pay tribute to them. None the less, it is important that we continue with reform and move on.
On where we have to go next, my right honourable friend the Leader of the House of Commons has indicated that he is discussing the free votes in both Houses within the Government and will return to Parliament with a statement on the way forward. He intends to reconvene the cross-party group to assess the outcome of the debates and the free votes in both Houses, and to continue to work through the outstanding elements to the reform package. I do not doubt that in so doing he will talk to his right honourable friend the Chancellor and Prime Minister-designatethe word of the momentnot least because he is his campaign manager. I imagine that they have a close relationship on this, but I am not yet party to where that will take us. However, it is already clear that some discussions are to take place.
I have expressed my reservations about the scope of the Bill in that it is too limited in what it seeks to do, but in accordance with the traditions of the House, I will not oppose giving it a Second Reading.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to all those who have taken part in the debate, particularly to the Minister for listening so carefully and for giving us assurances that the Government are thinking about these matters in the hope of moving on, perhaps through the medium of the Bill of my noble friend Lord Steel or in some other manner, to what may not be a full stage 2 but will be an ameliorating measure to get rid of some of the anomalies left over from the 1999 settlement.
Much of the discussion has concerned whether that settlement amounted to holy writ. One would certainly think it was, according to some of the contributions this afternoon, such as those made by the noble Lords, Lord Campbell of Alloway and Lord Norton of Louth. The contribution of the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, was particularly interesting. Not only does he support ardently the retention of 92 hereditary Peers, but he thinks it perfectly right and proper that Peers who were not Members of the House in 1999 and who may have no experience whatever should nevertheless be brought in through the process of by-election. I accept that some of them may be extremely valuable Membersthe noble Lord is himself an outstanding example. However, the question is not about individualsI carefully avoided mentioning any particular hereditary Peers, although the majority make a central contributionit is about the principle of whether this is the right way to bring new Members into your Lordships House. As the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, said, this is not a private club.
Among others, the noble Lord, Lord Rea, outlined his own experiences in the Labour Peers by-election, while my noble friend Lord Addington revealed some of the secrets of the internal discussions which took place following the death of Lord Russell. All this amounts to what my noble friend Lord Lester described as an untenable situation. The question is therefore whether we should proceed with this Bill or, as the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, would like, place our bets on another measure coming down the track but which is not due to be discussed for several weeks. We could place an each-way bet on it. If we allow my Bill to go forward today and we have another go when my noble friends Bill comes before your Lordships, we will be able to see clearly which one has the best chance of going through.
I reject entirely what has been said about what will happen in another place; it is in the realm of hypothesis and conjecture. If this Bill were to go through your Lordships House unamended and the other place saw what had been done, it would think twice about attempting to graft on to it any other measures, however desirable they may be. I cite, for example, a statutory appointments commission, which I accept we would like to see in a comprehensive reform measure.
I shall not say any more at this stage, but I hope your Lordships will allow the Bill to have a Second Reading and go into Committee. We will then see whether the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, carries out his threat to ruin it by putting down masses of amendments or whether, on the basis of the opinions that have been expressed today, noble Lords will at least give it a chance of going through to another place.
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