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Viscount Astor: My Lords, we have heard some interesting contributions. The first was from the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, who showed how easy it is to rewrite history, even very recent history, and come up

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with an entirely different view on what many of us thought had happened. I would like to introduce a new rule when it comes to discussions on the deal between the noble and learned Lord and the noble Marquess. As far as I can see, those who were furthest away from the negotiations have the strongest view about what happened, and it seems to be directly opposite to the view of those who were actually there, but never mind. What is clear—this was confirmed by my noble friends Lord Salisbury and Lord Campbell of Alloway, who asked me to add his name to this—is that they both expected reform would come sooner rather than later. That is why the deal was agreed. We all expected that, and it is a surprise that we have not had any stage two reform.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said that the Government would produce a White Paper. Rather surprisingly, that means that I have a certain amount of sympathy for the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Lea. A White Paper usually outlines government proposals, and a Green Paper allows discussion of a subject. Equally, we had a letter from the Leader of the House saying that the Minister,

cross-party discussions,

It seems to me that the Government have already decided to accept what another place has put forward. It does not inspire confidence that there will be any open discussion about any other type of Chamber, whether appointed or elected in a different way. The letter from the Leader of the House seems to rule out that possibility. Will the Minister comment on that?

There has been some comment on the cross-party group, and I see that the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, is extremely concerned that the minutes of the meetings are not made public. Indeed, the Minister has rejected two applications under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Why is that? If we are to have an open debate from all parties, why should that happen? I ask that particularly in the light of the letter in today's Times from the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers, the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, who says that as a,

So it seems to me that some people do not accept the premise on which the Government are proceeding. Will the Minister comment on that?

I have a further question for the Minister. The Government have always said that they would not use the Parliament Act to push through any reform. Can the Minister confirm that that is that still the case?

I return to the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. Part of the deal was that there would be an electoral system that would allow the hereditaries to remain but stage two reform would still go ahead. It is not the fault of those of us who are hereditary Peers that stage two has not happened. For various reasons, the Government have been unable to produce consensus. Indeed, this House and another place do

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not agree on how reform should proceed. One can argue for an appointed House or an elected House. Two entirely different Houses would result from the two options.

The Bill is wrong for several reasons. First, we are waiting for the Government to say what their proposals are and, as we heard, they are going to consult. Therefore, the Bill pre-empts that process to some degree. Secondly, the only way in which we shall achieve substantial reform is for members of both major parties to agree a stance among themselves—the parties do not have to agree with each other—and put it in their manifesto. One party will win the general election, and that will probably be the moment when reform happens. That seems to me the most sensible process. The country will be able to decide the right way forward.

I do not think that the Bill is right. I will support the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Trefgarne. I agree with him that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, put forward a rather strange doctrine that seemed to say, “You can’t put down amendments to my Bill if I don’t think they should be put down”.

Finally, views differ around the House on whether we should have an appointed or an elected second Chamber. My views change sometimes, usually depending on whom I have last heard speak. So I hope that noble Lords who are wavering after hearing my speech will not suddenly stop supporting an appointed second Chamber and switch rapidly to support a fully elected one.

12.32 pm

Lord Desai: My Lords, I commiserate with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. It is bad enough to have to spend your birthday at work but being made a member of the Committee of Public Safety and compared with Gromyko must be special presents that he probably did not expect. I wish him a long life. I see that he shares a birthday with Bruce Forsyth, and that cannot be a bad sign.

I have always been for a wholly elected House. Although the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, called his approach gradualist, it is not—we have been very gradualist about House of Lords reform as it is—it is incremental. I do not like incrementalism because, as I said in Committee on the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, it is likely that a Bill like this, once passed, will make people think, “Oh, we’ve reformed the House of Lords. What is there left to be reformed”? I want the big bang. I make no apologies for that.

I very much follow the arguments made by the noble Earl, Lord Erroll. I want an elected House because that would be the only guarantee of a binding restraint on the Executive. As we are right now, talented and marvellous and handsome as we all are, we always hold back and say, “Another place has been elected, therefore it must have primacy”. As long as that continues, the Executive here will misbehave. We know that Executives of all parties misbehave and that only a strong legislature can keep them under control.

Having said that, the Bill before us is curious. It does not get rid of the hereditary peerage at one fell stroke, as it were, as the Bill introduced by the noble

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Lord, Lord Steel, was trying to do. It does not do very much except attempt a slow and steady erosion of the number of hereditary Peers. Therefore, I do not quite know in what sense it would reform the House. I know that people do not like the by-election clause. For historical reasons, 75 Peers—10 per cent of the 750 hereditary Peers—are elected from party constituencies, and 15 elected by all of us. If people do not like small electorates, let us assume that every vacancy could be filled by all of us. That is perfectly doable, and it would remove small constituencies in by-elections and give us all a stake in which hereditary Peer got in next. If the smallness of the electorate bothers people, it can be amended.

If people do not want hereditary Peers here at all, they will have to remove the entire Section 2 of the House of Lords Act 1999, and not just reform it. Any parliament can change—

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, I am trying to listen as carefully as I can to the proposition that he has just put—that there could be a different system of election. Is he suggesting that all the Members of the House of Lords could decide who a Labour-whipped Member would be, or, if it was to be on an open list, that they could be all Labour or all Conservative and so on? Has he thought through how exactly that system would work, given that—he did not quite put it this way—under the absurdity of the present system we are down to, I believe, two or one electors in the Labour Party for an incoming Member?

Lord Desai: My Lords, I am a generous, non-partisan sort of person. I am happy to have anybody run for a vacancy because, in a sense, what distinguishes us is not so much that we are in different parties but that we come here on different grounds depending on whether we are hereditaries or life Peers. Therefore, all hereditaries should be able to compete in a by-election. Nobody is asking me to reform the House or the world, sadly; I am just suggesting ways in which one could improve the current system if the narrowness of the constituencies is the objection.

If the objection is the very presence of hereditary Peers, as I said, the entire Section 2 would have to be removed. Although one Parliament can reverse what another has done, constitutional change can be made only with consensus. It cannot be made incrementally. In that I agree with noble Lords opposite, not because some fundamental understanding may have been arrived at between two privy counsellors. If you go through the history of this country, you will find that all sorts of betrayals and reneging have been done on Privy Council promises. I shall not go into that murky area.

We have to agree consensually that the reform is necessary. We have to wait for the White Paper. I hope that a House of Commons decision to have either 80 or 100 per cent-elected House will be implemented as soon as possible by whichever party has to do it after the next election.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, before we start the wind-up speeches, may I ask for a ruling on appropriate intervention? The Government Whip read

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out paragraph 4.37 of the Companion to the Standing Orders, stating that lengthy or frequent interventions should not be made even with the consent of the Member speaking. This is not Committee stage; we are having a Second Reading debate. Behaviour that would be appropriate in Committee seems, in a House that polices itself and therefore has to impose self-restraint, out of order today. I ask for a ruling on this for future purposes.

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, I hesitate to rule on anything. However, the Companion makes it clear that, as one listens to a Second Reading speech, it is perfectly in order to ask a question on a point of clarification if one is not entirely sure what a noble Lord has meant. That is entirely different from intervening in order to make a short speech, to contradict or, as sometimes happens—not today—because one has not put one’s name down to speak in the debate. In my view, it is inappropriate to do any of the latter, and that is certainly where the Companion stands.

We are a different House. We pride ourselves on listening, even when severely provoked by noble Lords. It is one of the joys of this House to be provoked on occasion intellectually and sometimes even emotionally. We should relish that, but we should also hear each other out.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I entirely support the noble Baroness the Leader of the House in what she has said. I thought that the timing, and indeed the wisdom, of the noble Lord, Lord Bach, on this occasion was entirely appropriate. He read from the Companion before we started to get out of order. That was extremely helpful and, as a result, we have had a very good debate.

12.41 pm

Lord McNally: My Lords, I now expect to be heard in total silence and with a degree of respect. First, I associate myself with the congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, on his 48th birthday. He beats my birthday by two days but, alas, I beat his by 17 years. Working with the noble Lord keeps me young. Apropos the last intervention, I think that the problem lies with these early morning sittings. Your Lordships come in well rested and far too feisty.

I saw the list of attendees that was sent round. The two most assiduous attendees from the Liberal Democrat Benches were my noble friends Lord Addington and Lord Falkland, two of our hereditaries. It also has to be said that, of the seven speakers today, five were hereditaries, and of course the noble Lords, Lord Lea and Lord Desai, both belong to the aristocracy of Labour, so we have had a good hearing.

My noble friend Lord Avebury got it right when he said that the present system was “bizarre, irrational and undemocratic” but that is exactly what the deal was. It gives a lesson that surely we should have learnt some time in the past 500 years: always beware deals with Cecils. The family has some record and some skill on these matters, which a poor Scottish advocate may not have had



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Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord McNally: My Lords, certainly the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, left Labour with a tar-baby. What has not been said today is that one reason for the deal—a view shared by all Benches—was that, unless there was some kind of hostage to the future, the then Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, might have liked to continue with a House of patronage, as it provided him with all kinds of ways of dealing with, and stocking, this House. That has been readily proved in the delay in bringing forward reform. I remember talking to our Leader at that time. I was furious about the deal because it was a betrayal of a previous one—the Cook-Maclennan agreement—between Labour and the Liberal Democrats before the 1997 election. I remember saying to my noble friend Lord Rodgers, “Never mind. We’ll get full reform in two or three years”. My noble friend, being the wise old owl that he was, said, “I don’t think we’ll see another Bill for reform for another 10 years at least”. I was shocked, but how right he was.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Desai, I am in favour of full reform, but I voice one concern. Something like more than half the Members of this House were created Peers during the Blair years. Although a few of them were younger, most entered the House in their 50s and 60s. If that situation remains untouched, it will not be long before this House has nearly 1,000 Members, with a large proportion of them being over 70, popping in for their tick and drawing their expenses. I say to your Lordships that, when that happens, the high regard in which this House is held by the general public will begin to fade. Therefore, I worry that, if reform is left indefinitely and these anomalies are left unresolved, there will be a problem with the reputation of this House.

As to the way forward, if you put the noble Lord, Lord Lea, and me in a room—in the past, we have often been in a room trying to reach agreement, and it has not been easy and has rarely been brief—we will never agree on Lords reform. I disagreed with the noble Lord, Lord Desai, when he said that the only way to get constitutional reform was by consensus. We have never got constitutional reform by consensus; we have achieved it by threatening revolution or by threatening to create 1,000 Peers. We would have got full reform in 1998 if the Labour Party had not bottled it when it had the full authority of a massive majority. However, we are where we are and the only way that we will get Lords reform is, as suggested by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, and the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, for the major parties to put in their next manifesto a clear determination to reform this House. I shall answer the noble Viscount, Lord Astor: I believe that with such a clear determination, endorsed by the electorate, the Government of the day would be entitled to use the Parliament Act because without it this House would be left with a veto on constitutional reform, which is unacceptable in the light of the opinion of another place and the endorsement of a general election.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Avebury for raising this issue. It should spur us on to reform, because unless we reform we will find that the high

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reputation that this House enjoys begins to fade as the public become aware of the absurdities of the present situation.

12.48 pm

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have been kind and generous in their birthday wishes, much to my embarrassment. I was hoping to wish the noble Lord, Lord McNally, a very happy birthday two days ago. Sadly, I know that he has not been well, but regardless of what was wrong with him, he is all right now and on very good form.

The whole House will know that Lords reform is one of my favourite subjects. I always enjoy speaking on it. This has been a vintage debate with the noble Lord, Lord Lea, accusing me of being like Gromyko, saying “nyet”, and promoting me to an earl, which I take in very good spirit. If the peerage and membership of this House are ever separated, there is no reason why earls should not return—not to this House, but as part of the honours system. The days of the earls are not yet over, I suspect. As I said earlier, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for reminding us of the proper procedures during Second Reading.

When I thought about speaking in this debate I could not help but reflect on groundhog day when looking at the list of speakers. However, I looked up the last time that we debated this Bill and to my amazement I discovered that I had not spoken on it; I just thought that I had. My noble friend Lord De Mauley in fact wound up on behalf of the Opposition on that occasion, but he has had a busy week and so I thought I would take the task off him. I was also sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, did not speak on this occasion, but I am delighted that he is here because he and I agree on a great deal on this subject, and have done for some time.

I was baffled why the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, reintroduced this Bill which had had a Second Reading less than a year ago. I was also puzzled because I could see that nothing had changed sufficiently to bring this Bill forward again for another go. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, answered that question and said that it was all his fault because of a brief conversation that they had had in the Prince’s Chamber. All I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is beware of brief conversations in the Prince’s Chamber from now on.

Not a great deal has changed as regards the background to this Bill, but much has changed otherwise. The Steel Bill has been reintroduced in this Chamber and one of the great differences between the two Bills—the House knows that I have suggested one or two improvements to the Steel Bill—is that at least the Steel Bill tries to tackle some of the more fundamental issues surrounding a wholly appointed House. That is one of the merits of the Steel Bill; one of the demerits of this Bill is that it does absolutely nothing else.

Secondly, the Government have said that there will be a White Paper over the course of the next few months, so we shall have plenty of time to debate and to discuss the wider issues of reform and the timetable. We now know that it is extremely unlikely that a reform package will be introduced prior to the general

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election, so we have plenty of time to get it right and to search for that consensus. Whether we shall succeed, I do not have the faintest idea. However, it is right that there should be a search for consensus and that as many people as possible should be included in the debate. That is why I do not regard myself as being part of secret talks. I have no difficulty in this being an open process. I have suggested that there should be parallel committees. I have no difficulty with others seeing the papers, the minutes, the timetable or anything else.

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, I am sorry I promoted the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. He says that he has no difficulty with publication of the minutes of the Joint Committee. I doubt whether the noble Lord, Lord McNally, who will correct me if I am wrong, has difficulty with open government and I doubt whether the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, has any difficulty. Without embarrassing anyone on my own Front Bench by asking them inappropriately direct questions, I am pleased to be able to tot up a majority on the Joint Committee for publication of the minutes, so that there is no alarmist talk about what they are up to or about stitching things up in secret. Is the implication of the noble Lord’s remark that he will vote on the Joint Committee for publication of the minutes?

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, votes were certainly taken, but I was going to say that it is not my committee: it is the Government’s committee. They have invited some of us to come along and discuss these issues with them, and have taken the view not to share the papers in quite the same way that I think would be all right. I have no difficulty with that because there is nothing hugely secretive about these papers. There is nothing very surprising; they go through an analysis of what an elected House might look like. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Lea, and others do not approve of that, but they will have plenty of time to look at that in the near future.

Thirdly, I will not follow other noble Lords in a huge analysis of the Irvine declaration. Those of us who were there know what it was about; the Minister has repeated it and he is right to do so. If there had not been provision for the by-elections, what would have been the point of the hereditary Peers accepting that there should only be 92 hereditary Peers—although they would be life Peers—staying behind? It was because of the promise of stage 2 that they agreed to go and the Bill was passed, actually surprisingly quickly, as was the rest of the Government’s legislation.

Lord Richard: My Lords, surely the main incentive for the hereditary Peers when they were all about to be abolished was that 92 of them could continue to sit in this House. Surely that was the main consideration, not whether they could pass it on to their sons.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, there would have been no incentive to go on to stage 2. Some were unsure whether Mr Blair and his Government meant it when they said—not, I might say, the noble Lord, Lord

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Richard—that they wanted a full democratic House. Some of the advisers around the then Prime Minister have confirmed that they never had any intention of going forward to an elected House. So when the hereditary Peers left as they did, it was on the understanding that stage 2 would be brought in and the by-elections would continue until that took place and be, in part, an incentive for it to happen. One reason we have this White Paper is that the by-elections are still in place. In that context, the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, was indeed one of those wise people who foresaw that stage 2 might not happen for some time.


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