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My comments have been addressed essentially to those who believe that no change is necessary. I turn to the point already made by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and in some respects I am responding to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. There are those who accept that change of the kind embodied in the Bill is necessary and sufficient, and there are those who believe that such change is necessary but not sufficient. Where these two groups meet is in the acceptance that some change is needed. Those like the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, and my noble friend Lord Lucas who believe that the proposals are necessary but not sufficient and who are confident in their case for further change have no problem in supporting the Bill. Those who are not confident of their case are the ones who attack it.

The Bill delivers change that is desirable and proportionate. I urge your Lordships’ House to support it.

12.41 pm

Lord Low of Dalston: My Lords, I was not able to be here in July when the Bill was first introduced. I am therefore particularly glad to be able to support it today. However, having read the earlier debate, like other noble Lords, I find it hard to find anything new to say that has not been said already. I thought of making a collage of all the best bits from the speeches

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of those who spoke on that occasion, but although the whole may well have been greater than the sum of its parts, it would hardly have made for an original speech.

The Government have made much of the vote in another place. But much doubt has also been cast on that vote. The vote is a matter of record. But in the language of statistics, there is room to question both its validity—was it an accurate reflection of the view of the House of Commons?—and its reliability: would you get the same result if you ran the vote again? It is not uncommon for majorities, sometimes even two-thirds or 75 per cent majorities, to be required in two successive meetings for major constitutional change within the organs of civil society. If the Government are so confident that they have a mandate for a 100 per cent elected House of Lords, perhaps they would like to try the experiment of running the vote a second time. But those matters, which touch on a final solution to the vexed question of Lords reform, are not for today.

The Bill is about introducing a small number of limited, common-sense and relatively non-contentious reforms. They represent, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said in July’s debate, the kind of pragmatic approach to reform that would, in a world where common sense prevailed, ensure a rapid passage on to the statute book. However, so far the Government have not shown much interest in them, which obviously limits their chances of success. I hope that the Government, who claim to be in listening mode, may think again about that.

Why should they do this? There are two good reasons why they should and one very good reason why it would be a big mistake not to. As for why they should, the Bill contains a number of reforms around which there is a broad consensus. The Government say they wish to proceed by consensus, and these reforms are certainly worth having. By closing off the possibility of further accession to this House by right of heredity, the Bill would go a long way to fulfilling the long-held aspiration of many and implementing Labour’s recent manifesto commitments.

Speaking of the piecemeal reforms that have taken place over the past century in her lecture in the Leader’s series recently, Dr Meg Russell of University College London’s Constitution Unit said that,

The reason it would be a mistake not to accord the Bill a facilitative response is that House of Lords reform will otherwise be stalled. There is unfinished business from 1999 as well as some momentum and an appetite for reform. We are promised a White Paper next year—but in what year have we not been promised a White Paper or something of the sort? Like the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, I shall not be holding my breath. Indeed, on the analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, which I personally found devastating, attempts to deliver a final solution in one gigantic hit are unlikely to succeed for at least a decade, if not two. Until then we are staring into a void, and nothing is done to refresh the outdated and

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out-of-touch image of this place as being full of old has-beens got up in ermine, who are here only because their ancestor knew the sovereign or as the result of a tap on the shoulder from the Prime Minister.

Worse than that, though, we know only too well from previous attempts how easily exercises in big-bang, comprehensive reform at a stroke can unravel. The Government believe that the Commons vote has built up a head of steam behind their final solution, but that is before any consideration of matters such as powers, electoral systems, the length and renewability of terms, the balance and size of the House, financial packages and so on. Reform could soon get bogged down in any one of these, let alone all of them together. How robust would that vote be then, and what would the Government have to show?

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, that all the difficulties of timing, phasing and balance that he sees as attending the present Bill will attend more radical reforms in equal if not greater measure. The Government would do well to listen to Meg Russell again:

That is what this essay in incremental reform offers—and it is incremental. It closes nothing off. It offers a positive way forward, containing some important components of reform that the Government could be pretty sure of getting through if they got behind them. The alternative is the House that Jack seems bent on building, based on straw votes, which could well come tumbling down.

12.47 pm

Lord Selsdon: My Lords, one word that I hear repeatedly in the House of Lords is “expert”. I do not really like that word because if you use it, it means you do not know what you are talking about. I tend to prefer the word “amateur”, which in England is often derogated. Someone will say, “Oh, he’s a bloody amateur”. But the word actually means someone who knows and loves his subject.

There is another word I often hear. I once asked the noble Lord, Lord Bach, who I see is in his place, if he could give me the definition of “vermin”. I think it was to do with the Hunting Bill. He said, “No, there is no definition of vermin. The Oxford English Dictionary therefore prevails”. So I went to the OED. The first definition it gave was “small brown animals”, and the second was “politicians”.

I stand here today as a bloody amateur who does not know what he is talking about and who must be subservient to the noble Lords on the Benches beneath him, such as the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, who have served here longer than he has. But I am actually the longest-serving Back-Bencher, with only 45 years’ service. I have been there, done it, seen it and never got the T-shirt.

I would like to expose a few things now. This is not the “Lord Steel Bill”. It is the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth—a gentle and honest man of

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great integrity who felt he was too amateur to introduce a Bill, so he needed a politician. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, was selected to introduce something. This is not really a Bill. It is yet another debate on a subject that will not go away. Here we are, the longest-serving House in the world, in the greatest Parliament in the world, worrying about our own future rather than deciding it ourselves.

The old method of introducing people was to make them stand up here in black hats, wander around and be looked at; you looked at the chaps who were introducing them and then you wandered by and bowed. Beforehand, though, I had to go to the Lord Lyon King of Arms, and he told me, “You’re not with us, you’re without”, because I am a Scot. You then had to choose not only your name, but also your “of”, which is terribly important. A certain noble Lord on the Benches opposite will not mind me telling the House that he asked whether he could possibly have “of Jerusalem”. He was told, “No, not unless you’d owned it or sacked it”. What I am about to suggest is heresy. As you go through, you then shake hands with the Lord Chancellor and everyone says, “Hear, hear!”. If we are to have a statutory commission, I propose that we should have the right to say “nay” and that anyone put forward by a commission must come before the House and have “aye” or “nay” said against him. It is called blackballing, and I believe that it is a good way to do it, because I do not trust commissions.

In my years here, having done masses of research, I have bored the House rigid. I have probably the greatest database of your Lordships’ House, in which I have great pride. I have also done a recent analysis of “how they got in”. My own codes for this are slightly difficult. They are: “bought their way in”, “wormed their way in”, “screwed their way in” and “how did they get in?”. However, once they are in, they do not want to get out; they have gone down a wormhole and really do not want to leave. So they are not being honest when this matter is debated.

I have a certain degree of integrity: I am an elected hereditary Peer. I sit on what is called the Barons’ Bench. I am one of the few Members of this House who was elected. I did not approve of the method of election. I did not expect to be elected. I was away at the time and I knew that there was a Front-Bench fix whereby they all voted for the Front Bench. I asked the bookies about it and they said: “It’s very easy. If 10 people all agree to vote for each other in the first 10, they get in anyway. It doesn’t matter how many candidates there are”.

I am here, and I really believe in this place. It is a strange love that I have for it; I have affection for everybody. However, it is very easy to change the situation. We are talking about not allowing the secondary election process. If, by voluntary agreement, the elected hereditary Peers and those who are on the waiting list agreed that this system should be replaced by placing all those on the waiting list on a list before the commission, it would solve the problem. It does not need a complicated Bill. This Bill provides a good opportunity for debate. I have enjoyed myself in my few minutes, and I am grateful to anyone who listened to me.



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12.52 pm

Viscount Falkland: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, is a hard act to follow. I did not realise that he was what one might term “an ermine anorak”, in knowing everything about us, but it does not surprise me.

Before I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Steel, on introducing the Bill, perhaps I may agree with the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, that it is not a Bill in the normal sense; it is really an attempt by my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood to stimulate some momentum in incremental change, during a period when the reform of the House of Lords has become irretrievably stuck. Other noble Lords who have spoken in a most interesting debate may not agree. I say that because I never expected to be here when I was a younger man. However, I find myself here at the appropriate time as a hereditary Peer. I expected House of Lords reform to have taken place long before I arrived here.

When House of Lords reform was introduced by new Labour, I had the greatest concern about it achieving what it was setting out to achieve in the short term, which it did not do. I certainly did not expect to find myself here as part of an election process, which is dealt with as one of the four main points of the noble Lord’s Bill. The Bill suggests that it is something to which we should turn our attention, but one is in a difficult position about that. The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, said jocularly to me as he passed: “I suppose you’ll be talking about extending your time here”. Well, I do not think that I have to do that, because I think that I am going to be here for a little time, at least for as long as I am able to get here in the mornings by whatever means of transport I choose.

I absolutely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport. What is wrong with the Government’s attempt to produce wholesale reform of this House is that they have not understood the very important historical point that he made. “We are not a Jacobinical culture” was, I think, roughly what he said. We do not like big things—big buildings, big change or people who are too big for their boots. Incremental change is what has happened in our history and it is why we are here today, in this astonishing Chamber. Most of us have to explain to people who visit us from other countries exactly how it came about that we are all here calling ourselves Lords, using seemingly strange language and having such a jolly time. At the same time, we are fulfilling our constitutional role as well as our day-to-day role of revising and amending legislation. Several Peers have mentioned our constitutional role; it is important and always at the back of my mind. We are here to control the Executive and hold them to account. Whatever replaces the Chamber as it is now formed needs to fulfil that function. Nothing that has happened so far leads me to believe that that will be easily achieved.

There is no consensus at the moment about the way in which the House will be reformed. Several noble Lords have talked about various votes that have taken place in the House of Commons and elsewhere, but there is no consensus; the Government are still

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seeking it. It takes a long time to get consensus with institutions such as this, so I do not see that we will be hurried along, but at least the Bill gives us the opportunity to look at one or two points. I do not suppose that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, thinks that they are perfect, in any sense. As I speak, the noble Lord has just entered the Chamber. He went out when I was speaking because he knew that I was one person who would not complain if he needed to leave the House for a sandwich. I do not complain that he has not heard my speech—in fact I am rather relieved.

The noble Lord addresses four points in his Bill. I am not sure that I agree with any of them fully, but I congratulate him on introducing them as a subject for debate so that we might possibly get some consensus to improve the House as it now is. On independent appointments, I do not think that there is much wrong with the present appointment system, except that people need to be asked if they are prepared to turn up, which did not happen in the first instance. That point is also dealt with in his suggestion that we should deal with permanent leave of absence, although I do not particularly like the idea of policing leave of absence.

On criminal offences, I have to tell your Lordships that I had an ancestor who was impeached by the House of Commons—being a Scottish Peer he sat in the House of Commons—and was sent to the Tower of London. He was there for quite some time, during which he retained his high office of state, until he got smallpox and died. That ended the problem.

This is a helpful measure. It will stimulate discussion and debate and may move us forward a tad. It certainly will not increase the chances of achieving any consensus, which will be a long time coming. If I am alive I shall accept the consensus when it comes, in whatever form it takes. The noble Lord has done us a service in giving us an opportunity to examine the whole subject as we have done so entertainingly this morning.

12.59 pm

Lord James of Blackheath: My Lords, I would not take much of your time this morning except for the fact that as a very strong supporter of the Steel Bill I am deeply concerned whether it has tactical and strategic flaws that may prohibit it from going the distance in the long run. I see it as very much an attempt to achieve the resolution of what would be a major corporate restructuring exercise, in which an unstoppable force is coming from one direction heading straight for an immoveable object in the other. In the middle is the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. I keep having nightmares about the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in which he appears to me as an extremely large and very happy spider. He stands there looking very pleased with himself saying, “I wish to thank the noble flies for agreeing to follow me into my parlour named consensus”. That is what I fear will be the fate of the Steel Bill in its present form. I do not believe that it has enough tripwires in it to bring about a meaningful negotiation on the outstanding points which we should insist on resolving for the long-term interest of this House.



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All that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, needs to do is to take this very good Bill and say, “This is a major attempt at consensus. All we need to do is go back to the unstoppable force end of the equation and cut and paste back in the requirement for 100 per cent election and everyone will have what they want, will they not? You get what you want from this Bill and we get this”. It does not actually force a debate with the other place or with the Government on the process of election.

The Bill should have a couple of tripwires inserted to force a meaningful debate on the critical issues. I recall from the last debate that those issues were about how we could rely on the quality of this House being maintained for the future to carry out effectively the purposes that it discharges now: from where the flow of candidates would be forthcoming; how that would be impacted by the electoral process; and what sort of transitional process could be mounted that would be compatible with the very real need of this House to assimilate, train and prepare the new incoming Peers.

After one year in your Lordships' House, I know that there is no way that you can come and sit on the red leather and magically become a Lord. On average, I would estimate that it is a six-year process requiring a lot of good will and patience from all parties concerned. I do not think that your Lordships would relish having 300 new arrivals to assimilate at once if there are only 100 of you left to do the task. That would not allow for the continuity of good governance.

In those circumstances, we should be looking towards introducing a consideration or at least a dialogue about whether some limited form of electoral process should be allowed by the commission being mandated to create electoral colleges in one or two places, just as an experiment. That would at least bring in a proper dialogue on how it might work. You could have two reasonably respectable and sober groups of people such as the TUC and the Law Society. That would give us a lot to learn for the future. As it stands, we would be caught with the lack of clarity about how that process could apply. We do not force the unstoppable force to sit at the table and negotiate on the key points of the Bill in its present form. We need to put the tripwires in.

I should warn your Lordships that I have had a long-term career obsession with the need always to have a plan B. I am not sure that the Steel Bill at the moment is clear about whether it is intended to become the future plan A or whether it is plan B if we cannot overturn the unstoppable force's plan A. Next week I have my 70th birthday and my colleagues over my long-term career have volunteered to my much younger wife that they wish to give me a birthday present of my tombstone, which they wish to pay for and commit to now—they may look for additional contributions from these Benches. They want the tombstone to have engraved on it, “See what plan B gets you”. The local parish priest has barred that on the grounds that it is an insult to religion. I am expected to be sentenced to 40 lashes on Sunday morning.

I warn your Lordships that the Steel Bill at the moment, for all its admirable features, is not yet plan B and a way that ensures that it does not get you to

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the same place as that tombstone would imply. It needs to have some tripwires in it to force the negotiation on the meaningful points, and they are not there.

1.03 pm

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, for giving us the opportunity for further debate on House of Lords reform. However, like some of the previous speakers, I do not welcome the Bill at this juncture. There is an awful lot in it that is needed and on which there is genuine consensus in Parliament, including in this House, but there are other points on which there are quite deep divisions between both Houses and, indeed, within this House. Those cannot be ignored. Nor can we ignore the underlying change in voting patterns in the Commons over the past 10 years. I would like to hear evidence from anyone that there are indications that it will change and go in the opposite direction.

Incidentally, I congratulate whoever was responsible for briefing the Sunday Times last weekend on the Bill’s intentions. It was a masterly piece of spin which elevated, on Lord Steel’s own admission, the smallest part of the Bill, Part 4, while mainly masking the fundamental objective behind it. Here I share the argument expressed by my noble friend Lord Richard that basically it is about the entrenchment and legitimisation of a 100 per cent appointed House of Lords. Perhaps whoever was responsible for arranging that briefing might care to assist my party with its media difficulties.

In my opinion and that of many previous speakers this Bill seeks to pre-empt the business of the Government and their forthcoming White Paper on the reform of the House of Lords with the introduction of elections. Instead it pursues an outcome which is opposed by the public in most opinion polls and is opposed overwhelmingly by their elected representatives in the other place. While many Peers on these Benches may support a 100 per cent appointed House, such a policy would be totally rejected by my party. It would fly in the face of all that we have stood for historically—the extension of democracy and the greater involvement, access and participation of the people of this country in the government of this country.


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