HC Deb 16 June 1976 vol 913 cc545-56

3.37 p.m.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to abolish the House of Lords. There are many reasons—[Interruption.] Not so much applause, or I shall not have enough time. I will attempt to indicate several reasons why I think that it is necessary to bring in this Bill. First, I have been under great pressure from Labour Members of Parliament, most of them on these Benches and a few who are not present today despite the fact that no pairing system is operating. I take the view that many constituency Labour Parties want to know where their Members stand on this matter. One of the main reasons that they have advanced to me in the course of discussions throughout the past few weeks has been that, so far as many of the super-democrats on this side of the House are concerned, the House of Lords—a non-elected, non-democratic body—has no place in modern society.

In fact, considering the proposed devolution, as I see it, there are no proposals for second chambers of non-elected Members in Wales or Scotland or in the Convention in Northern Ireland. I assume that Scottish Nationals, Welsh Nationals and Northern Ireland Members of Parliament will flood into the Lobby behind me to ensure that we get rid of this institution.

I hope that Liberal Members are also here in force. I hope, too, that the contestants for the Liberal leadership will indicate clearly whether they are prepared to get rid of the House of Lords. My guess is that the Young Liberals will be anxious to know whether one or other of the contestants for the party leadership is prepared to back the case which they have advanced over many years.

This, therefore, is a unique opportunity. The Trades Union Congress is meeting at Central Hall. It has said on some occasions, sometimes behind cupped hands and sometimes more openly—it depends on the company it is keeping—that it would like to get rid of the House of Lords. However, one of the contingents, the NUM, passed a resolution in November saying quite clearly that it wanted to see the abolition of the House of Lords. It is true that I was present. I did not vote. Nevertheless the union passed that resolution, notwithstanding the fact that there might be some in the NUM who might like to get to the House of Lords; but that is another argument.

I should like, seriously, to put to hon. Members what the other place does in practice. I have been doing some research this morning. My investigations lead me to one conclusion. It is that when a Tory Government are in office, an elected Government in the House of Commons, the tendency is for the House of Lords then to cross the t's, dot the i's and insert the commas, and nothing more. On some occasions the House of Lords does not even do that.

When the Common Market legislation went through in 1973—one of the biggest issues, if not the biggest, in which we have been involved in the past 25 years—the House of Lords, because it was Tory legislation, did absolutely nothing. It did not even register a single comma, in order that there could not be any further progress on further stages of the Bill.

However, when a Labour Government are in power the situation is very different. I do not want to recall all the instances, although there is the classic example of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Bill, in which we were finally defeated and ultimately had to invoke the Parliament Act, way back in November 1975, when we lost the Bill, or, at least, it was defeated by the Tories, the Liberals and all the other cross-benchy types in the House of Lords, by 186 votes to 86.

The Employment Protection Bill was defeated 11 times. The House of Lords ripped apart the Community Land Bill. It is true that it got some assistance, at the time and afterwards, from some who were deposited on the Treasury Bench, perhaps for the same reasons. Nevertheless, those in the House of Lords were responsible in the main for decimating that very important piece of our manifesto.

Today, all in all, as I see it, the House of Lords is nothing more than a Tory longstop. When the lady in red chiffon has difficulty in stopping legislation in this House, she instructs her "bovver boys" in ermine to put the boot in. In my opinion, that just about sums up the practicalities of what happens in the House of Lords.

What about its composition? I do not know whether any of my hon. Friends have actually stopped to examine that. I know that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House examined it in 1968 and 1969 and came to certain conclusions. I assume that he still holds those same conclusions today and will act upon the proposals I am putting forward. Over 1,100 peers can claim £13.50 a day. It is true that they do not all do so. Some 820 hereditary peers are still closeted in that place, if they deign to attend. There are 272 life peers and 26 bishops. Out of that number, 400 take the Tory Whip—and on some occasions we can manage to muster as many as 130. That is the sum total of those who are prepared to take the Labour Whip. To get them all in the House of Lords at the same time to vote would be a miracle.

Some of my hon. Friends, and probably some Opposition Members too, would argue that there are a number of crossbenchers who take a rather impartial and objective view about any piece of legislation going through Parliament. Based upon my investigations into the way that they have voted on contentious pieces of legislation, nothing is further from the truth. For example, in November 1975 on the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Bill, when 106 peers went through the Lobby to defeat us, 73 cross-benchers went in with the Tories and only 26 went in with Labour. Therefore, let us have no more fancy arguments about having life peers who, coming from the main streams of industry, can vote impartially either for Labour or for the Tories. Nothing is further from the truth.

Where do these people come from, in the main? It is true that a few of them have got to the House of Lords as a result of spending a few years on these Benches. There are a few honourable men among them—very few—and women. Perhaps I could name the mother of my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody). She tries her best. She has difficulties because she is surrounded by scores, indeed hundreds, of others who are prepared to vote against her on the occasions when they find it necessary.

The Big Four banks have 21 Lords representing them in the other place. The other banks have 23 more. Insurance companies have another 28. The top 50 private companies have another 25. The Daily Mirror has several. It is no wonder they spend a lot of time assisting the Government in trying to sell their pay policy—although I am told that the fellow who is running the Sun is writing editorials hoping to get a Tory victory, because he has managed to get one as well, under Labour. There are other Press barons, as well—those from The Times and the Daily Telegraph. There is a horde of people who are representative of those in the very highest elite of our society, and very few who come from the stratum of society which, by and large, has to provide the wealth of this country—those 25 million who work by hand and brain.

Some 20 peers alone own 2 million acres of land. That is a lot of land. It is no wonder that they took the action they did on the Community Land Bill.

The same sort of thing applies to education. Out of the 1,100 peers, 432 went to Eton—that surprised me—and another 255 went to other public schools. I suppose that among them there are a few who started their existence, perhaps, not far from where I stand now. It is no wonder that they voted to keep fee-paying grammar schools last November—on the last day of term. They voted 134 to 33. I wonder where the rest were.

With all due deference, I suggest that when the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill gets to the House of Lords, if it manages to get there—if it is pushed there by those on the Government Front Bench here, although I am told that some are wilting on that particular matter—there will be no fancy arguments about ships and rigs and hybrids. They will kill it. They will not need those technical arguments to flatten the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill.

The same will apply to pay beds legislation. Do any of my hon. Friends imagine that those who represent the Tory Party, those who represent the elite and the wealthy in our society, will not stop up night after night if necessary to prevent that legislation from making any further progress?

That is roughly the sort of composition of the House of Lords. That is where they came from.

What about attendance? Out of the total, about 25 per cent. manage to turn up for work. One can pick up the House of Lords Hansard for any given Session and find references made to miners and to other industrial workers who have managed to stay at work for 85 per cent. of the time. Some of their Lordships turn up for work, but that does not necessarily mean that they are going to vote. According to research done for me by the Library, although an average of 262 went to work in 1974–75, only an average of about 130 actually stayed to vote. It seems to me, therefore, that they walked through the door, nodded in the right direction, got the £13.50 tax-free attendance fee, went for a drink in the Bar, and went out of the side door.

To those who might argue that there is a need for a second Chamber, I merely say that they may have their arguments about that. Incidentally, although it is not part of my argument today, I would argue that there is no need for a second Chamber. New Zealand and Sweden do not have one. It is almost like saying that a local authority which passes all the necessary rating requirements and all those other important matters needs a chamber of commerce in order to look at what it has been doing. I ask you!

There have been many times when attempts have been made to change this institution. There was the Life Peerages Act of 1958 and the introduction of women in 1963. There have been no hereditary peerages since 1964, and there was an attempt to repeal the House of Lords in 1969. However, it is still very much a reactionary and backward institution. Whenever there has been an opportunity to change this institution in any other form, it has failed. It is all summed up in one sentence. Our ex-Prime Minister made more life peerages than any other Prime Minister in history—close on 200. We still have a job to find 100 who will go through the Lobbies and vote Labour. It is time we got rid of it.

Mr. Speaker

I apologise. I got carried away, and that is why I allowed the hon. Gentleman two minutes over time.

3.52 p.m.

Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)


Mr. Speaker

Does the hon. Gentleman wish to oppose?

Mr. Ridley

Yes, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has presented his case with typical moderation. I wonder sometimes why it is that we have bad relations between the other place and the party opposite. I can only tell them that it is reciprocated.

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman was really being fair. Perhaps it was pique at the recent strengthening of another place by the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), who has put some fine entrepreneurs into that place in his latest honours list. The hon. Member for Bolsover should also remember that on that list were many people who have greatly helped the Labour movement. There were the Prime Minister's personal political secretary, his physician, his publisher, his butcher, his baker and his mackintosh-maker. They are all additions which I would have thought the hon. Gentleman would welcome. I also do not think he will be thanked by many ex-Labour politicians who have been put out to grass on £13.50 a day in another place. I think his strictures upon them were very hard. He seemed to feel they have not earned their rest.

I wondered whether the hon. Gentleman's motive was that he disliked the hereditary principle, but then, I remember, he voted for the extension of the hereditary principle to agricultural tenancies. He voted for the Dock Work Regulation Bill, which extends the same sort of regime to the whole of the dock labour force. Indeed, I looked up the hon. Gentleman personally in Who's Who, in which he said that he came from "good working-class mining stock". That is the hereditary principle. That cannot be the objection which has motivated the hon. Gentleman this afternoon. No, it is his light and subtle touch on the question of constitutional reform which moves him—[An HON. MEMBER: "Declare your interest."] I have no interest to declare—[An HON. MEMBER: "Your father has."] My father is dead, Mr. Speaker, and I do not see how I can declare an interest of a dead father.

The constitutional aspect is what motivates the hon. Gentleman because he wishes to curtail the activities of another place in relation to legislation. He started off by talking about amendments, and I would have thought that the whole country would agree that amendments which another place has made to legislation recently have been quite minor in character, with one exception. They have tended to improve the legislation. Only last week they ameliorated the tenancy provisions of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman liked that, but that seemed to me to be a reasonable thing. The exception is the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Bill. Here the other place voted to try to maintain one of the fundamental human rights—the right to belong, or not to belong, to a trade union. That is in the European Convention or Human Rights. I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would concede that the other place is the protector of our constitution and human rights.

It seems extraordinary that we should have a committee of the Labour Party under the chairmanship of the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection studying how to bring in a Bill to preserve human rights and then popping into the Chamber and voting to take them away in respect of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Bill. Would it not be better to leave the other place to protect our rights? Of course, the real crunch will come when

the party opposite tries to rig the rules. It tried to do this only a fortnight or so ago. We have seen it unable to accept the verdict and the vote of democracy.

We see that there is another committee of the party opposite—the Home Affairs Committee—studying how to take the Queen out of politics and how to take away her right to dissolve Parliament if the Government can no longer command a majority. Now we see the hon. Gentleman trying to take away the House of Lords, which is the only protection we have for free elections. If the Labour Party tried to abandon the five-year rule, there is only one safeguard that the people would have. It is not the right hon. Lady's charter of human rights; it is another place, which is the upholder of our constitution.

In due course the hon. Gentleman, whom we all admire so much, will grow more into the way of discretion and less into the way of valour. I cite to him the example of his hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), who last week attended the Trooping the Colour—unheard of and unbelievable. He actually said he saw nothing wrong with it and that he had nothing to quarrel about.

All firebrands smoulder out. The hon. Gentleman would be wise not to divide the House against me on his Bill, because the time will come when he himself will be only too pleased to go along the corridor as Lord Clay Cross and take his £13.50 fee as well.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of Public Business):—

The House divided: Ayes 153, Noes 168.

Division No. 184.] AYES 3.59 p.m.
Allaun, Frank Buchan, Norman Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)
Ashton, Joe Buchanan, Richard Corbett, Robin
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green) Cox, Thomas (Tooting)
Atkinson, Norman Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill)
Bain, Mrs Margaret Canavan, Dennis Crawford, Douglas
Bates, Alf Carmichael, Neil Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)
Beith, A. J. Carter, Ray Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Cartwright, John Deakins, Eric
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Castle, Rt Hon Barbara Doig, Peter
Bidwell, Sydney Clemitson, Ivor Dormand, J. D.
Blenkinsop. Arthur Cocks, Michael (Bristol S) Dunn, James A.
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Cohen, Stanley Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Bray, Dr Jeremy Colquhoun, Ms Maureen Edge, Geoff
Brown. Hugh D. (Provan) Concannon,J. D. Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) McNamara, Kevin Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) Madden, Max Sandelson, Neville
English, Michael Magee, Bryan Sedgemore, Brian
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Mallalieu, J. P. W. Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen) Marks, Kenneth Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Marquand, David Silverman, Julius
Evans, John (Newton) Maynard, Miss Joan Skinner, Dennis
Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W) Mendelson, John Small, William
Flannery, Martin Mikardo, Ian Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Molloy, William Snape, Peter
Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Spearing, Nigel
Garrett, John (Norwich S) Moyle, Roland Stallard, A. W.
George, Bruce Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Graham, Ted Newens, Stanley Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Grant, George (Morpeth) Noble, Mike Strang, Gavin
Grant, John (Islington C) O'Halloran, Michael Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Hatton, Frank Ovenden, John Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Hayman, Mrs Helene Padley, Walter Thompson, George
Heffer, Eric S. Palmer, Arthur Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Henderson, Douglas Pardoe, John Tierney, Sydney
Hooley, Frank Park, George Tomlinson, John
Hooson, Emlyn Parry, Robert Torney, Tom
Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Pavitt, Laurie Urwin, T. W.
Hughes, Mark (Durham) Penhaligon, David Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Prescott, John Ward, Michael
Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Price, C. (Lewisham W) Watkins, David
Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Price, William (Rugby) Watkinson, John
Johnson, James (Hull West) Radice, Giles White, Frank R. (Bury)
Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Reid, George White, James (Pollok)
Kaufman, Gerald Richardson, Miss Jo Wigley, Dafydd
Kelley, Richard Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock) Wise, Mrs Audrey
Kilroy-Silk, Robert Robinson, Geoffrey Woodall, Alec
Lambie, David Roderick, Caerwyn Young, David (Bolton E)
Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Lewis, Arthur (Newham N) Rooker, J. W. TELLERS FOR THE AYES
Litterick, Tom Roper, John Mr. Bob Cryer and
Loyden, Eddie Rose, Paul B. Mr. Bruce Grocott.
McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)
Adley, Robert Farr, John Langford-Holt, Sir John
Aitken, Jonathan Fookes, Miss Janet Lawrence, Ivan
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Forman, Nigel Lawson, Nigel
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd) Le Marchant, Spencer
Baker, Kenneth Fox, Marcus Lester, Jim (Beeston)
Benyon, W. Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St) Lloyd, Ian
Berry, Hon Anthony Freud, Clement Luce, Richard
Biffen, John Gardiner, George (Reigate) McAdden, Sir Stephen
Biggs-Davison, John Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham) McCrindle, Robert
Blaker, Peter Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife) MacGregor, John
Body, Richard Goodhart, Philip McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)
Bottomley, Peter Goodhew, Victor Marten, Neil
Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent) Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry) Mather, Carol
Braine, Sir Bernard Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) Maudling, Rt Hon Reginald
Brocklebank-Fowler, C. Gray, Hamish Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Brotherton, Michael Grist, Ian Mayhew, Patrick
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Grylls, Michael Meyer, Sir Anthony
Bryan, Sir Paul Hall, Sir John Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)
Buchanan-Smith, Alick Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Mills, Peter
Budgen, Nick Hampson, Dr Keith Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Hannam, John Moate, Roger
Carlisle, Mark Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss Molyneaux, James
Churchill, W. S. Hayhoe, Barney Montgomery, Fergus
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Higgins, Terence L. Moore, John (Croydon C)
Clark, William (Croydon S) Holland, Philip More, Jasper (Ludlow)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Hordern, Peter Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral
Cockcroft, John Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Morris, Michael (Northampton S)
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W) Howell, David (Guildford) Morrison, Charles (Devizes)
Cope, John Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)
Cordle, John H. Hunt, David (Wirral) Neave, Airey
Corrie, John Hurd, Douglas Nelson, Anthony
Costain, A. P. Hutchison, Michael Clark Neubert, Michael
Crouch, David Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Newton, Tony
Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford) James, David Nott, John
Dodsworth, Geoffrey Jenkin, Rt Hon P.(Wanst'd & W'df'd) Onslow, Cranley
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Jessel, Toby Oppenheim, Mrs Sally
Drayson, Burnaby Jones, Arthur (Daventry) Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Kaberry, Sir Donald Percival, Ian
Durant, Tony King, Evelyn (South Dorset) Peyton, Rt Hon John
Eden, Rt Hon Sir John King, Tom (Bridgwater) Pink, R. Bonnet
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Kitson, Sir Timothy Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch
Fairbairn, Nicholas Knight, Mrs Jill Prior, Rt Hon James
Fairgrieve, Russell Knox, David Raison, Timothy
Rathbone, Tim Skeet, T. H. H. Townsend, Cyril D.
Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts) Speed, Keith Wakeham, John
Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex) Spence, John Walker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)
Rifkind, Malcolm Spicer, Michael (S Worcester) Wall, Patrick
Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW) Sproat, Iain Walters, Dennis
Roberts, Wyn (Conway) Stanbrook, Ivor Weatherill, Bernard
Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey) Stanley, John Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire) Stewart, Ian (Hitchin) Wood, Rt Hon Richard
St. John-Stevas, Norman Stokes, John Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Shaw, Giles (Pudsey) Stradling Thomas, J. Younger, Hon George
Shelton, William (Streatham) Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)
Shersby, Michael Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Silvester, Fred Tebbit, Norman Mr. Nicholas Ridley and
Sims, Roger Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret Mr. Ian Gow.
Sinclair, Sir George

Question accordingly negatived.