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The third item in the noble Lords Bill is the removal of the by-election system. I do not think anyone who lived through it, or anyone who reads the extremely good House of Lords Library note on what happens then, can really think that this is something we ought to perpetuate. It was clearly intended to be a short-term, temporary measure and it has outlived its usefulness. The 92 hereditaries were to remain in order to be sure that stage 2 took place in the short term, and the system has clearly failed in that. I take all the points that have been made about defining stage 2 and so on, but this is a measure of sufficient importance to be regarded as stage 2, although it will not inhibit whatever more fundamental reform may happen at a later stage.
The Government seem now to be replying on saying, Well have to see whats in the manifesto. The whole doctrine of manifesto commitments is in shreds. Time
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The Bill is a substantial measure. It increasingly has overwhelming support in this place, and I would have thought it would be equally welcomed in another place. We hear constantly about evolution and the role played by Charles Darwin. This is an opportunity to carry forward the evolution of this House. That is the right way to proceed with reform.
Lord Kerr of Kinlochard: My Lords, I have to declare an interest: I like Mr Straw. I worked for him when he was Foreign Secretary and enjoyed the experience. I was therefore shocked and surprised to read in the paper this week that when 200 of his friends, not including me, received an e-mail purporting to come from Mr Straw, lost in darkest Africa minus his wallet, none of them sent him any money. I can only assume that the reason for this was the rumour that he is still opposed to the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood.
I have very little to say because all the important points I would have made in this debate have already been made by wiser heads. On the substance of future reform, I cannot support a hybrid solution because of its inherent instability. I could certainly support an all elected solution, but the Government must first deal with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, that the relationship between the two Chambers would change dramatically if we were elected. If we were a body of elected politicians we would start behaving politically, and the conventions under which we graciously concede would be no more. I think that those conventions are valuablewe are essentially a revising Chamberand that the House of Commons believes the same. At present, the impossible is being believed; the circle is being squared. The Government need to address that.
I have little to say about the Bill except how much I admire the persistence of the noble Lord, Lord Steel. There are three points that I would want us to consider in Committee. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, and unlike the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, I would think it as well to complement the provision for exclusion if convicted of a serious criminal offence with the possibility of exclusion if found guilty of a serious breach of the rules of this House. I understand the noble Lords point that we do not need to do that by statute and we can do it under our own rules, but the public perception is important here. The public do not think that our own rules are always terribly stringent or that we apply them as stringently as perhaps we should, so I see an advantage in doing it by statute.
Secondly, I go with the noble Lords, Lord Goodhart and Lord Cobbold, in believing that the sensible provision for ensuring that we do not grow too big, but that new
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No one has made my third point, and probably no one would unless I made it. I speak as a Scotsman who does not regret 1603 or 1707. It would be quite good if the injunction on the Appointments Commission to have regard to the diversity of the population of the United Kingdom were complemented by a similar injunction to have regard to regional and national balances within the kingdom. It is not uncommon in bicameral legislatures for one legislature to operate on the principle of representation in strict proportion to population and the other to have some weighting to the peripherythink Senate and House in the United States. That could be useful to us. I make these three suggestions in a constructive spirit. I support the Bill as it stands.
I have one further suggestion, which I also make in a constructive spirit, and I put it to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford; it is a point that I would like the Lords spiritual to think about, although not for this Bill. Suppose the Bill were enacted and everyone else in this Chamber came here via the route of the Appointments Commission. Are we sure that it would be right that there should be one group that did notthat came by a different route? I know of no comparable representation in any other modern legislature. I hasten to add that I am not arguing for disestablishment. I am not an Anglican; I am not an Englishman; I have absolutely no right to a view on establishment, although I note that the established church in Scotland is not represented in this place. It is just a point on which, over time, the Lords spiritual might do well to reflect.
I was absolutely thrilled to read in this mornings Times a very hard story about Cardinal Cormac Murphy-OConnor being about to join us when he retires as Archbishop of Westminster. What splendid news; it is a very firm story. It states: Cardinal set to be the first Roman Catholic bishop in the Lords since 16th century. The Timeshas learnt, it says: the Times has learnt by reading the Tablet. But if you read the Tablet, you find that the story is slightly less hard:
I do not ask the Minister to have a total conversion when he replies to this debate. If he has a total conversion, it would be splendidwhen the sinner repenteth, all heaven rejoicesbut it would be enough if he would laugh and fiddle with his tie. If that is good enough for the Times, it is good enough for me. I support the Bill.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, this match has now entered its second half and the current score is 18-2 to the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and his supporters, and I have no reason to believe that the balance will change very much as we go to the end of the debate. I congratulate him very warmly on at last winning over your Lordships' House with his perseverance and patience and with the excellent speech that he made in introducing the Bill earlier.
I should like to take your Lordships back 10 years, to the passage of the House of Lords Act 1999which, coincidentally, was about the time when I joined your Lordships. The House then was about to embark on changes to its composition which were more profound than at any time in its recent history except for the passing of the Life Peerages Act 1958. It is fair to say that nobody seemed sure then, including my friends on the government Front Bench, what the 1999 Act would mean for the effectiveness, legitimacy and standing of this House. The concept of a House in which no one party or grouping had anything approaching a majority, or indeed even a third of the membership, was a novelty, as was the idea that the Government would sometimes need to win the argument before winning a vote to get their business through.
Those novelties have now become established principles for this House and for future Houses. For as long as we remain a revising Chamber, subsidiary to the ultimate will of the House of Commons, no political party can dominate its membership. That principle is enshrined in Clause 8(2)(b) of the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel.
The Bill also has the merit of tidying up a number of the loose ends left around since the 1999 reform. It deals with what I think we must regard as the quaint hereditary by-election provisions. When I go to schools on the Lord Speakers outreach programme, I have to confess that I find it hard to justify that it is possible, as has happened with vacancies in the ranks of Liberal Democrat and Labour hereditaries, for a contest to take place where there may be 11 candidates for a seat in the House of Lords but just three voters.
The Bill also makes secure the lifetime membership in this House of the 92 hereditaries, and I have no problem with that. But I am equally convinced that heredity should no longer be a criterion for membership of this legislature or, indeed, of any legislature. As we heard earlier from the noble Lord, Lord Norton, there is no bar to hereditary Peers being appointed to this House in future. Indeed, it is worth making the point that the other place has among its rankselected ranksa marquis and two viscounts who, prior to 1999, would have been Members of this House.
The 1999 Act established another important principle, which this Bill takes forward, and that is to separate the peerage of the United Kingdom from membership of this House. Outside Parliament, it is up to each of us individually to decide whether to use the titles bestowed on us by heredity or appointment. It should also be possible for us to choose whether to remain Members of this House. I therefore welcome the provisions in Part 3 which allow for retirement. There are powerful practical reasons for this, too. Apart from the intervention of the Grim Reaper, voluntary retirement provides the only means of reducing the size of the House and creating space for new appointments. I shall not make the point that I was going to make about what will happen after the general election, because the noble Baroness, Lady DSouza, and the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, have both covered it. However, if we have a retirement provision, it will at least make some room for new creations post the election.
The latest White Paper has not had a very good press in this House, or indeed anywhere else. Nothing would give me more pleasure than to hear in this debate that the cosy consensus among the Front Benches which led to its production has at last fallen apart. It would have been helpful to know how such an impressive group of highly intelligent and distinguished men and women in both Houses and from all three parties could possibly have produced such a dismally unimpressive document. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, points out, we are not being allowed to find out, because the Government rejected my Freedom of Information Act request for the minutes of the working party to be published. What we do know is that the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, can be exempted from any criticism for her part in those proceedings. It is now apparent that it was she who best represented the views of the Back Benches in all parts of this House, and I thank her for it.
I am really looking forward to the speech of my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, to whom this rather toxic chalice seems again to have passed. I shall not mind hearing him say that the Government wish to keep open the possibility that, at some future date when a consensus has been achieved that encompasses both this House and the other place, there will be a serious debate on the future of Parliament. That debate will need to embrace such matters as the role of Parliament in its relations with the devolved Parliament and Assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; the relationship between the House of Commons and the House of Lords; and the strengthening of parliamentary arrangements for scrutinising and calling the Executive to account. It may be that at the end of that process there is an agreement that there should be a new constitutional settlement between the two Houses and that this House is replaced by an elected senate with new powers of scrutiny and, I suspect, supply. But that is all some way off. The fact that we may have such a debate at some point in the future is no reason for not proceeding now with this Bill, the provisions of which are long overdue.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I attended this debate not to speak but to listen. I was greatly impressed by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, because he hit the nail straight on the head; that is, that an evolutionary process is our constitutional tradition. It is evolutionary and, in this context, cannot evolve in one House only without the other being considered. That is and was the reason for my previous opposition, which I shall not dream of repeating; it is boring anyway, and in any event most people know the reasons. However, I shall take one point quickly out of the hat. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, is in his place. He knows that I regard a deal as a deal and why I stand by it. So does most of the House, and there is no object in going over that again. I am only grateful to the Government for having kept their word.
I am beginning to wonder whether I should be speaking at all. As for the 15-year term, I have been here for 28 years and on any age requirement, I would have been a candidate for imposed retirement some
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On leave of absence, I am not repeating what I said earlier, but it is related also to the convictions for criminal offences. We should basically retain that within our own standing orders. There is no justification or reason for us to surrender our entitlement in that regard. Indeed, there is every reason why we should retain it, because if you are going to have severe penaltiesthe time has probably come when we have to have themthere should be a form of judicial assessment on the gravity, the circumstances, what has been done, how it happened and the quality of evidence. I will not go into this in detail, but the essence of my argument is that it is not fair to deal with people without a form of judicial or quasi-judicial determination of the merits, the severity and what should be done. I served on the Privileges Committee for some 12 years; four Law Lords also served on it and I hope that they still do because they are essential on this committee. When the new arrangements are made, I hope that some account will be taken of that. If you try to do it by statute, you can make rules but you cannot ensure that they are fairly applied. That is the main thing that I have to say. It affects the provisions on absence and convictions.
I do not think that I can add any more, other than this. There has been this cross-party affair for three years. They have been beavering away for three years and now have the assistance and support of a large number of Labour Back Benchers. I doubt whether they have the support of many moreit is a matter about which one wonders. In a way, there was an assessment. I did not realise until I retired from itI went to the early meetingsbut a group of people was determined to put forward its point of view to pre-empt government business. I am totally against that; I think that it is wrong. I do not think much of this Government but I do not think that their business should be pre-empted.
Why do noble Lords say that is a question of doing something or doing nothing? It is far better to do nothing than to pre-empt what will happen at the end of a very short time when some other Government could be in power, even a Liberal Government. Anything can happenyou do not know. I think that the Government are dead right and I support their view. As a Back Bencher on the Conservative Benches, I feel a bit awkward supporting the government Front Bench, but I think that they are totally right.
Lord Tyler: My Lords, I welcome the opportunity that my noble friends Bill gives us all to keep up the pressure for what was known when the House of Lords Act 1999 was debated here as the stage 2 reform.
Some may say that the Bill is a device for delay, but that is not my noble friends intention. Indeed, he voted for 100 per cent elected membership of this House and not for the 80 per cent compromise. So he is even more hardline than I am on that matter, and that is quite difficult.
The provisions of the Bill are, in my view, a stepping stone to more radical reform. The Bill is not a desert island on which we should now sit in a state of complacency. I, too, believe in evolution. After all, real reform is now the settled will of a formidable trio: the public, a majority in the House of Commons and government policy. This is a very good moment to flush out the Conservative position. There were occasions during previous debates when, for example, the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, said,
It may be that in your Lordships House not all that many people agree with the Liberal Democrats position, but it is at least clear. Not only did we have a unanimous view in the House of Commons, we had a substantial majority in this House too. We believe that the House has improved in terms of both its assertive nature and its deliberative nature since 1999. It has become more assertive because Peers appointed here have been more likely to attend and take an active part in proceedings than those who simply landed here as an accident of birth. It has become more deliberative because, as has been said several times this morning, no one party has a majority. I believe that to be a good thing. But what the House has gained in assertiveness, unfortunately, it has not gained in increased democratic legitimacy.
Given the recent events that have concentrated on specific cases, we may be forgetting the previous concerns about loans for Lords; cash for amendments may have taken up too much of the medias attention. It is very important to look back at that as well because the way in which people come here is clearly a matter of public concern, not just of housekeeping in your Lordships' House.
Amen to that, as I am sure Members of your Lordships' House would say. That is surely sage advice. I hope we will get an opportunity to divorce once and for all membership of Parliament from the honours system.
Anomalous and undesirablethose are not sufficient for the present situation. I am not clear, with all respect to my noble friend, whether Part 4 is really adequate to deal with that question, as my noble friend Lord Goodhart said.
When the Minister responds, I hope that he will say whether he, too, thinks that this Bill is a stepping stone towards the Governments past commitments. I recall that my noble friend Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank said, back in 1999,
I do not know whether he has been able to cash in, but he ought to. We were not party to the agreement in 1999 about the hereditaries and the by-elections, but I recall that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, who is not longer in his seat, said very firmly:
It really is to stand logic and experience on its head to imagine that this Government, with their great popular majority and their manifesto pledge, would tolerate 10 per cent of the hereditary peerage remaining for long. The 10 per cent will go when stage two has taken place and their presence is a guarantee that stage two will take place.[Official Report, 11/5/1999; col. 1092.]
Well, perhaps the Minister could tell us where stage 2 is. One thing is quite clear: this Bill may be stage one and a halfand a very useful stage one and a halfbut it is not stage 2, as it was in the minds of all the participants in the debates of 1999.
We have had umpteen reports, and I have contributed to some myself, but really we have to move on. No more reports, no more deliberating and no more pausing for reflection will change the basic truth that was so clearly elucidated in one very serious broadsheet earlier this month:
That is the problem we face. Although my noble friends Bill makes some very welcome modifications to the present arrangements, the reputation of this House and of Parliament will not be saved by tinkering.
The Governments White Paper makes proposals which I believe form the basis for a serious move forwards. They are now fully formed proposals; they are on the table and are being carefully looked at by a large number of Members of your Lordships' House as well as those in the other place. My noble friend is the first to accept that limited changes in his Bill cannot substitute for more comprehensive reformfor the completion of the process, which has been referred to again this morning. Yes, they have been carefully agreed across the parties and from both Houses, and they fulfil the promises of 1999 and the votes of the Commons. Today I have heard the echo that we still surely believe that the House of Commons has primacy in this Parliament.
I do not believe that we can leave things as they are. This Bill is helpful, and I support it, as I know my noble friends do as well. But it does not add up to
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