§ 3.20 p.m.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby rose to call attention to the parliamentary role of the House of Lords; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, until last evening I was feeling a little guilty about introducing this rather ponderous subject so close to Christmas. It does not usually fit in with the spirit of peace and goodwill towards men. But last night something happened which gave this subject a new topicality. The tape told us that the Whip had been withdrawn from a highly respected noble Lord on the Benches opposite, which came as something of a shock. It looked as if the Chief Whip had given a short sharp crack over the Benches opposite as a warning that there must be a greater measure of discipline on the Government side of the House.
§ It seems to me that this incident suggests that there is to be a new regime of harsh discipline imposed on the Benches opposite. I believe that is contrary to the general direction in which a large section of the House would wish to go. Certainly it is the direct opposite of what I submit to the House is in keeping with the constitutional role of Members of your Lordships' House. What has happened may have been the sound and fury muffled behind the genial observations and cautions uttered by the noble Viscount, the Lord President, in his speech on 17th November when he told the House that if we pushed our view too far and too often we might on occasion be in danger of causing resentment to the elected Chamber. I think that we ought to consider now where we stand in relation to this very rare occurrence, and in general to where we think our duty lies in present circumstances in Parliament.
§ For 70 years, within my living memory, there has been talk about reforming the House of Lords. Nothing has been done since 1911 which makes any substantial difference to the constitutional position of the House of Lords, though the Life Peerages Act made a very great difference indeed to its composition. But now studies for the reform of the House of Lords have gone into limbo. The Labour Party has hardened its view towards abolition, much to the misgivings of a considerable section of the party.
§ Why has reform of the House of Lords become a non-subject? I think that it is because the experience of 1968, when an attempt was made at reform, proved that nothing is likely to get done without a large measure of all-party agreement, and there appears to be little hope of that. We have now to consider whether there is any point in reviewing our role in Parliament, contemplating any reforms coming our way. We are good at adapting old institutions to modern and different requirements, and that can apply to the House of Lords as well as to others. So I think that we should leave it alone and get on with what we conceive to be our position in the parliamentary system on the assumption that we shall continue as we are for some time to come.
§ I think we should stop talking about reform; we should firmly reject abolition; we should brush off our detractors and get on with the job. Our job is to work 657 out an up-to-date role for ourselves in dramatically changing conditions. We have had to put up with disparagement, snide remarks, abuse, cruel jokes and threats for far too long. We have let the kettle call the saucepan black in dignified silence. The accusation that the existence of this House cannot be defended in a democratic society ignores the complexities and the many-sidedness of the democratic process. Democracy is not fulfilled merely by giving one man one vote. There is a great deal more to it than that. It is no good saying that the people can express their will through the ballot box when the voting system puts the minority on top. Our elected Parliament is unrepresentative of the electors as a whole. Our Government are a minority government; but they are not the only minority government, for nearly all of them are.
§ One of the first conditions of any Parliamentary system, that of representing the will of the people, is falsified at Westminster under the existing system. The so-called mandate is a political legend called in aid of doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. The House of Commons, as at present elected, is unrepresentative. Out of it is created an unrepresentative Government, and taken together they are not competent to claim the sovereignty of Parliament and rule alone.
§ Your Lordships' House is the only restraint in Parliament to the arrogance of an elective dictatorship. For myself, I see no need for more power. What we do is solely by persuasion and not by veto. The final authority rests, as it should, with the elected House. The Commons are accountable and they take the responsibility. Our job is to help them do it.
§ In his remarks on 17th November (in col. 17 of Hansard) the noble Viscount described our role in agreeable terms. However, his caution to us as to the possible resentment among elected Members of the House of Commons if we pressed our views too far and too often is—that was a note that we should not allow to move us or deviate us from our task. Resentment may be justifiably felt against misconduct, disrespect, behaviour or actions which are in some degree offensive, but not against your Lordships acting in good faith and guided by knowledge, which may be considerable; experience, which may be extensive; and wisdom, which may ripen with age.
§ The composition of this House has changed out of all recognition in recent years. The Life Peerages Act has widened the source of recruitment and has brought about a better balance politically and in every other way. The traditional built-in Tory majority has ceased to exist. Members of your Lordships' House having no declared political allegiance now occupy more than one quarter of the total of our voting membership. The Official Opposition represents 15½ per cent. The Alliance represents 9 per cent. But Members having no party allegiance total 227—altogether 27 per cent. The Conservative Peers taking the Whip now number fewer than half the total number of noble Lords entitled to vote, and obviously that number will gradually get smaller as the further course of expulsions takes effect!
§ I wish to move away from party political allegiances in this House. I am not in favour of an elected House of Lords, nor one whose voting strength is adjusted 658 from time to time to match the state of the parties in the Commons. We are not a duplicate of the House of Commons. Elected Members of Parliament have no reasonable grounds to resent what we believe to be our own duties, and we should take no notice if they do so. We are constitutionally part of Parliament assembled, without which no law can be made except as provided under the Parliament Act 1911. Our limited powers are laid down by law, and we are entitled to fufil them as we think fit. We are not Mrs. Thatcher's poodles. The struggle for power is going on in the elected Chamber and in the country all the time, and I do not think we should have any part in that.
§ We are here to tell the Commons, for the sake of the public good, what they should not do, and to ask them to think again. We should be more magisterial than political. We should not criticise or amend the work of another place simply because we do not like it or because we do not like the politics of the majority party. We should correct what we believe to be wrong, unjust, objectionable or impractical. No claim to a mandate in another place should rule our thoughts. This is an indispensable part of the process of Parliament, and the Commons should accept that and make provision for it in its own timetable of business.
§ There is a lot that we can do to make Parliament a better place in the public estimation and a better place even in our own. Our role is what we have been doing, and we should get bolder and not more nervous in doing it. There is room for the expansion of our study of current affairs. All in all, this is the best second Chamber that we have; we are sticking to it, and we should stick up for it. No single party can get rid of us or carry their resentment too far. There is common sense as well as politics in Parliament, and this House should provide more reasoned argument and less noise than another place. That is what a large section of the public want to hear. My Lords, this is the place where wiser counsels should prevail. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.33 p.m.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
My Lords, in the Conservative Party manifesto at the General Election it was written:we will ensure that the House of Lords has a secure and effective future. A strong second Chamber is necessary for democratic government".I draw attention to the word "effective", because that raises the question of power. What power should your Lordships exercise, in particular vis-à-vis the Government and the other place? That is the question that was raised by the noble Lord's Motion, which he moved—and I hope that I may say this—in such admirable and robust terms.
The Alliance document on constitutional reform made much the same point as was made in the passage that I have summarised from the manifesto. At the back is the fear to which the noble Lord referred of an "elective dictatorship" which was identified in a most notable speech by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor. As the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, indicated, what we are concerned with is the present constitution, not a reformed constitution, still less an ideal constitution, if there were such a thing.
659 There must be a good deal of common ground in this debate. The legal position is, I think, clear. Subject to the Parliament Acts; your Lordships have full and equal power as a House of Parliament whose concurrent advice and consent is necessary for effective legislation. The Parliament Acts preclude your Lordships from considering money Bills and also allow only a limited delay. That delay can be very important, particularly in the last Session of a Parliament; because, if the delaying power is exercised, it means that the measure in question has to be submitted for the consideration of the electorate. Moreover, even the ordinary power of delay, the power to ask another place to think again about some matter, can be very effective. Your Lordships saw it in the last Session in relation to the Housing Bill where obviously the Minister did not want to lose his Bill for that Session and concessions were made in deference to your Lordships' views—concessions which, I am bound to say, I think quite rightly were made.
In addition to that legal position there is a convention, having, I think, the force of law, that the House of Lords does not interfere with or withhold supply. It is the power to withhold supply that gives the other place its effective control over the Executive; not the vote of censure, but the threat, if the vote of censure is carried, that supply will be withheld. I think that the convention that your Lordships do not interfere with supply is now equal in force to law; it is a convention of the constitution having the force of law. But that means (does it not?) that there need be no inhibition to your Lordships carrying a vote of censure against the Government. It does not necessarily involve resignation because it does not have behind it the threat to withhold supply. It marks, if carried, your Lordships' sense of disapprobation; and I entirely agree with what the noble Lord has said, that is peculiarly within the province of your Lordships' House. The Alliance manifesto uses the words "scrutinise, revise or delay", and that seems to me to be entirely correct so far as the role of your Lordships is concerned, and I see no reason why it should not be carried out with the robustness which was recommended by the noble Lord who moved the Motion.
There are a number of difficult considerations which have to be weighed, a number countervailing. We live, and intend to continue to live, in a system of representative government, of parliamentary democracy. Society is democratic in so far as the bulk of the population have power to influence the decisions which affect themselves. That, on the face of it, immediately gives a superior title to the House of Commons. They are the elected body, as the noble Viscount pointed out in the debate on the Address, although I am bound to say that I thought his minatory observations were not really justified by anything that happened last Session. On the other hand, as against the legitimacy that is conferred by election, your Lordships' House in the main is hereditary and nominated. There is much to be said, it seems to me, for both systems and particularly for both systems together; but this is not the occasion to say it.
It is sufficient to note that those two elements leave your Lordships' House open to demagogic contumely, 660 and your Lordships have to bear that in consideration when it comes to a conflict of opinion between the two Houses. It is a political inhibition which your Lordships would wish to bear in mind. On the other hand, owing to the vagaries of our electoral system your Lordships' House is in fact, in its composition, more representative of political society at large than any other institution, and it seems to me that your Lordships are fully entitled to take that into account in the vindication of your views.
So far as the doctrine of the mandate is concerned, the noble Lord has really said all I wished to say. It is a pure fiction. Among the many reasons for voting for a party at an election, the contents of the manifesto, even if known, must be one of the very least. Successive Governments, of course, use it to get their way. However, one must make, I think, a political discrimination. Some items in the manifesto are referred to generally and vaguely. I felt that in regard to the sale of houses particularly suited to the elderly, which we discussed last Session. On the other hand, the proposals for reform of local government, with which your Lordships will be concerned this Session, are very much more specifically dealt with. Certainly I should have thought that Members of another place would feel a moral obligation in respect of that commitment.
May I just say this. All those considerations have to be weighed, and it is a political judgment. But there are two final considerations. The first is that Her Majesty's Government must be carried on consistently from election to election. The other is that representative democracy does mean that measures should not be forced through (again to adopt the Alliance terminology). Representative democracy—Parliament itself—does mean government by discussion, and each measure has to be justified on its merits. Apart from those observations I find that what I had to say was said far better than I could have said it by the noble Lord.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Lord Hooson
My Lords, I must apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, that I was unable to hear the earlier part of his speech, but I congratulate him on his robust defence of your Lordships' House. How we have all changed! On these Benches we believe that an effective second Chamber has a vitally important role to play in the preservation and development of democracy. Your Lordships' House, defective though it is in many respects, is, as the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, said, the best second Chamber that we have. It is only effective, though, when it exerts its power and influence to the maximum extent possible in a responsible, mature and non-partisan way.
We entirely agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, when he refers to the view of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. We subscribe to the view, eloquently developed by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in his writings, that,we live in an elective dictatorship, absolute in theory if hitherto thought tolerable in practice".But I do not think that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor had envisaged the present situation, when the House of Lords has assumed a crucial 661 importance not ascribed to it in his writings. Indeed, we would subscribe to the view which was put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, in 1975, when he pointed out that, because there had been a failure to reform the House of Lords, the House of Lords had to perform its functions and its powers as a second Chamber and pay attention to the fact that the other House, or Parliament itself, had failed to reform us.
We on these Benches believe that the House of Lords should be reformed and reconstituted, but while we are in an unreformed state we should perform our duty as a second Chamber and refuse to be used as a mere rubber stamp. The country expects it of us, and is turning more and more to this House to bring a sense of detached, non-partisan responsibility to our affairs.
I want to consider in particular today our powers and responsibilities in relation to the increasing use by Government of delegated legislation to achieve their political ends. It seems to me that the scope and quality of powers reserved to Ministers in vital Bills for changing the state of things by means of statutory instruments indicates a fairly determined effort to bypass effective parliamentary scrutiny, particularly in your Lordships' House. Thus we find in the published Local Government Bill which we shall have to deal with later in this Session the most astonishing and sweeping provisions to enable Ministers to amplify, change or vary the distribution of functions, powers and property set out in the Bill proper. It will be impossible to deduce from the face of the Bill which successor authorities will obtain what powers. Clauses 21, 40, 61, 80 and 92 of that Bill all contain huge enabling powers to enable a Minister to change functions and structures of London and metropolitan local government, without any further primary legislation.
In these and similar situations, what forms of safeguard does your Lordships' House possess? In theory we have the same powers as are enjoyed by the House of Commons, for the Parliament Acts in no way curtail the powers of the House of Lords over delegated legislation. Therefore, these powers are open to us to use in the national interest if we conclude that we should use them.
However, it is said that there is a well-established convention which has been developed which effectively precludes your Lordships' House from using its theoretical veto over either affirmative or negative instruments. Even as recently as 14th May 1984 the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, who takes a great interest in these matters and who had expressed deep disquiet over the powers taken by the Government in Part II of the Rates Act 1984, put down a Question for Written Answer to which the Leader of the House replied, at col. 1268:There is a well established convention that the House of Lords does not vote against the Second Reading of a mandated Government Bill. Since the House has always exercised restraint in the use of its powers in relation to subordinate legislation, it might be regarded as inconsistent with this convention if the House were to reject an affirmative instrument to implement Part II of the Rates Bill, for which the Government have a specific electoral mandate.".Yet only six days earlier, on 8th May 1984, the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, said this in relation to the very same piece of legislation, at col. 819: 662Of course, some subordinate legislation is of greater importance. For that we have the procedure of affirmative orders so that the proper scrutiny necessary can be given to legislation at the appropriate time.Need I say again that an order under Clause 9 must be approved separately by both Houses of Parliament, and that I feel that that is a great safeguard?Therefore, what is the position? If there is a binding convention that, come what may, this House does not vote against the approval of an affirmative order or to annul a negative order, there is no great safeguard at all. It is a mere sham! Nor does the procedure on affirmative orders afford the proper scrutiny necessary to be given to legislation at the appropriate time.
We have no power to amend and in practice we do not exercise our power to vote against. All we do in practice if disturbed by a piece of delegated legislation is to create a fuss in the hope that something can be done and will be done behind the scenes. For example, in 1983 the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, my Leader, tabled a Motion declining to approve the highly unsatisfactory equal pay regulations. So taken aback were the Government that they withdrew the order before the Order Paper could be printed with the damning words on it. It was then reintroduced in a not much changed form and this House passed it with a rider to the Motion to approve which took the Government to task for not complying with the spirit of the Equal Pay Directive, which rider was passed by, I think, about 40 votes. But the whole matter is unsatisfactory.
In debate on Part II of the Rates Bill, for example, the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, with his great wealth of experience, tried to bring about a compromise on Clause 9 which would enable this House through a procedure to consider various forms of a draft order which could be amended without going to the formal presentation of the formal order. This was I think turned down, too.
On these Benches we would conclude that, with the insidious increase in the way Parliament is now being by-passed by the device of providing (for what should be primary legislation) ends to be achieved by means of statutory instruments, surely the time has come to reconsider our practice in relation to the control and the review of statutory instruments.
We would add that the Joint Select Committee procedure is perfectly adequate to provide the technical scrutiny to ensure that the instrument does no more than is authorised by the parent Act, and that it does so only in the manner and subject to the conditions authorised in that Act. But it does not begin to repair the damage done to our system of parliamentary control of legislation by the change in the nature and quality of the delegated powers given to Ministers in recent Acts and proposed in current Bills.
The problem that this House faces will be highlighted in the next few months by the various provisions of the Local Government Bill and other Bills. In the former, a hurried and ill-prepared Bill is to be held together with vast and unprecedented enabling powers. Whatever your Lordships' views on the basic merits of the proposals in the Bill to abolish the GLC and the metropolitan authorities, this House will surely not find this method of proceeding satisfactory.
663 It is my view that any justification of the so-called convention of your Lordships' House not using its actual powers on statutory instruments is no longer valid. It is said to depend basically on the anxiety of the Labour Party that when in power it should not have its secondary legislation thwarted by a mischievous majority of Tory Peers in this House. That majority is not so obvious as it was! The Cross-Benchers, the Alliance parties, the Lords Spiritual, and Back-Benches of all parties, should not I believe consider themselves bound by a former cosy arrangement between the Conservative and Labour Front Benches entered into in a particular circumstance that obtained at the time.
Either the Government should amend, or attempt to amend, the Parliament Act 1949 to take away the unfettered powers of this House over secondary legislation or they should not be allowed to get away with bringing in major changes in the law of the land by the expedient of statutory instruments. The intense disquiet that has been expressed in this House in recent times by many noble Lords such as the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, and the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, to mention but two, on certain provisions—not only on the Rates Bill but on the London Regional Transport Bill and other Bills—should make us all think about this matter.
Surely, the observation of one convention so often depends on the equal observation of another. The Government, for their part are radically changing the convention of the type and quality of power which can be reserved for secondary legislation. We in this House must be equally prepared to change radically our convention to meet this new challenge.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, I join in the gratitude expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, for introducing this interesting topic. As the years pass he seems to me to become more and more eloquent, which is a very encouraging factor for some of us who have also entered later years.
In the time permitted, I shall not become involved in the question of powers. I shall deal entirely with the composition of the House. I should like to say one word of sympathy and respect for the noble Lord, Lord Alport. He seems to have found the Conservative Party in one of its less liberal phases. Fifty years ago I resigned from the Carlton Club. I remember going to see the chairman, as he then was, Lord Clanwilliam. No-one could be more genial than he was: "Have a glass of port" and all that sort of thing. He asked me what the trouble was and treated the matter as a medical complaint. I said that I had written a book which I thought might cause anxiety in some Conservative circles. He said, "My dear boy, if all the members of this Club who had written damned silly books resigned, there would not be a member left!" That was the old Conservative Party of half a century ago. It is not for me to say; it is for the present leaders to inform us whether they think there has been any progress since.
I turn to the composition of the House. This is a very peculiar place. I want to say in advance that I take for 664 granted that we ought to have a second Chamber, so I shall not bother with that. In the second Chambers of the world we find elected members, we find appointed members and we find conbinations. Although some years ago there was some reference to the Nigerian chiefs—I do not know what has happened there—we can take it that this is the only place where there is a large, and indeed a predominant, hereditary element. That is a fact about the House which we all love so much.
The figures that have been supplied show that nearly two-thirds of the Members are hereditary, so despite all these changes that is what we are—predominantly a hereditary Chamber. We have to ask ourselves whether that can be justified. Can anybody justify the hereditary principle applied to a Chamber of Parliament in these democratic days? Is it in any way consistent with democratic principles?
I can think of only one argument, a quite fundamental argument, that could be used in favour of the hereditary principle. It can be said that when one family acquires the right to come here that should be handed on in the same way as one's property is handed on; and that it would be as contrary to natural justice to eliminate the noble Duke the Duke of Devonshire from the House of Lords as it would be to take over Chatsworth, with or without compensation. That is one point with which I dare say many agree.
If one walks along the corridor one will see two pictures of the same event. In 1893, the House of Lords were defeating by 419 votes to 41-a staggering vote when one comes to think of what the composition of the Chamber was; it was in fact half its present size—a Bill which had been passed in the House of Commons. It was a terrific vote. I am sure that those gentlemen included (I say it without surprise) a grandfather in my family—my mother's father. Noble Lords of that time would undoubtedly have felt that what I have said is true; that Peers have acquired a place here and are entitled to come here. If one leaves out that argument, it is very hard to see any argument that would justify a large hereditary—and certainly a predominantly hereditary—element. That is the principle of it.
One then comes to the practice. Am I saying that the hereditary element should be eliminated immediately, tomorrow? I am not saying that, for two connected reasons. On the one hand, as some kind of Christian (or, at any rate, from whatever point of view, because it is not a theological argument), and as some kind of moderate Christian Socialist, I believe in some principle of continuity of the state.
For example, I cannot believe that if this Chamber were to be abolished tomorrow and its discussions moved across the river, or wherever, we would possess any prestige for many years to come. In fact, perhaps we would never possess any prestige—and as I believe that this House has a beneficent influence, one would be destroying something of much value. So I am not saying that there should be any revolutionary change.
I am bound to say—although this I qualify—that I believe it is highly desirable that any large constitutional change should be carried out with the 665 consent of all the parties. I say I qualify that, because if that principle were to apply, then the House of Lords would still be where it was in 1893, and the House of Commons where it was before 1832. So one cannot apply that principle absolutely, but it is a desirable principle to bring about fundamental change by agreement. if it can be done.
So we come to the plan that was accepted by the leaders of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal parties in 1967 and 1968. The principle of that plan was accepted in both Houses of Parliament. To cut a long story short (in case my time runs out before I develop my case at length) it was the best and only available solution. In case people do not remember, I should say that it was based on the idea that one had two writs. One kind of writ would enable a Peer both to speak and vote in this House. That type of writ would accrue to anybody who had been awarded a Peerage—
§ The Earl of Longford
Well, my Lords, that is a point of detail, and it is not one in which I shall get involved; I shall not get involved with the question of being paid. I am dealing entirely with the principle. The principle was that those awarded a Peerage would be permitted both to speak and vote in this House, whereas those who had only inherited a Peerage would be allowed to attend and to speak, but not to vote.
That plan was originally unfolded to me at great length on Rye golf course, which I am sure is very well known to the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw. It was explained to me by the late Commander Burrows, who was a high official of this House for many years. At the crucial moment, when I was about to miss a putt, he would suddenly lean across to me and ask, "You do believe in the two-writ plan, don't you?". He was fanatically in favour of that proposal.
When the time came, I suggested that plan. It was adopted, and the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, worked harder than anybody else to ensure the propagation of that plan, although the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and Mr. Crossman in another place, and also the late Lord Byers, made notable contributions in that respect. That plan was agreed, and nothing else has been agreed or is likely to be agreed for many years. But it was sabotaged by some no doubt sincere but rather misguided young people—extremists in the House of Commons on both the Left and the Right. The plan was sabotaged there, but it was an agreed plan. I submit to the House in the few minutes available to me that there is no sign of anybody improving upon that plan, and therefore it is the best plan to cherish and eventually make law.
In the 40 years I have been in this House—and there are other Peers, such as the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, who have been here longer—it has changed in many respects. There has been an enormous increase in numbers and in the attendance; and the pay was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. But in its essentials it has remained the same—in its courtesy, its tolerance, its kindness, and in all its other qualities. Those have not been altered. Also, the introduction of Lady Peers—as exemplified by the noble Baroness, 666 Lady Trumpington—has enabled the high standards of this House to become still higher. That is a great advance. When one remembers that for 40 years after the House of Commons this House would not even receive women, it can be seen how difficult it is to bring about change in this House.
However, in one respect this House remains a nonsense. Its huge hereditary predominance, with its built-in Conservative majority, is indefensible. However much that figure may be juggled with, the fact remains that there are, I understand, 480 Conservative Peers and only 136 Labour Peers. No self-respecting Labour Leader could ever accept that situation—whether he was Mr. Kinnock, Mr. Foot, Mr. Gaitskell or Mr. Attlee. That situation is quite unacceptable. In time, I hope that this House will be reformed in a way that everyone can agree with. In that respect I can only suggest that the plan of 1968 is by far the best plan available.
I am sorry, my Lords, but may I ask the noble Earl one question? Does he not believe in genetics as a basis of the value of deoxyribonucleic acid?
§ 4.7 p.m.
My Lords, if the noble Earl does not intend to reply, may I join in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, for providing an opportunity to discuss this far-reaching topic and say once again what a privilege it is to be able to follow the noble Earl, Lord Longford. Indeed, from my point of view, it is a certain relief—although I am not without some apprehension, as there is always the chance that he might intervene to hurl at me verbal abuse in the way he has done before now. The noble Earl is difficult to follow, even so, with his erudition and wit.
Unlike the noble Earl, I am a failed Socialist. It was an aspiration that I harboured in my youth, but I came to realise that I just was not up to it, and now I have to face the fact that I am too old. Having said that, in my youth I had reservations about the position of your Lordships' House because I felt it was undemocratic. I still feel it is undemocratic—but the difference is that whereas I thought at that time it was a disadvantage, I now regard it as being an advantage. This is for the principal reason that noble Lords do not have constituents whom they have to look out for over their shoulder.
Perhaps I am right in saying (I am open to correction) that I am the only Member of your Lordships' House who has parliamentary constituents. But I do not let them worry me. I say what I like, and they can approve or disapprove. Indeed, I have a sneaking suspicion that the electorate think I am mad and vote for me purely out of curiosity, just to see what is going to happen next. Perhaps I am conceited in so saying, but I find that constituents are surprisingly fair. 667 On several occasions, my constituents have said to me, "I am not alone in taking exception to what you said last week, but for all that, I respect you for having said it because we know that you speak your mind rather than say what you reckon people want to hear". I find that encouraging. But then, in Northern Ireland, we have the advantage of proportional representation on the single transferable vote system. After 11 years' experience of that, I sincerely commend it to your Lordships' House.
There were reservations at the start in Northern Ireland. It was said that the electorate would not understand it, that it would not work, and that the electorate would become confused. In the event, it has worked perfectly well, and my party, being the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, would not have 10 seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly were it not for proportional representation. Our 10 seats often enable us to hold the balance of power. I consider it regrettable that the Liberal Party does not find itself in a position to translate its substantial number of votes throughout the country into seats in another place. I therefore consider it would be an advantage in Great Britain if the single transferable vote were to be introduced.
Having said that, I can well understand that a Member in another place in a marginal constituency is in a delicate position—and not only Members in marginal constituencies but also those with strong majorities. To take an example at random, the Conservative Member for a safe seat could well find himself being ditched by the retired colonels of Cheltenham if he were to allow freedom of thought to find uninhibited expression. Therefore, there is not the same latitude in another place to say what one really thinks as there is in your Lordships' House.
Moreover—and I have said this before—we have a wealth of expertise in all fields which is not always found in an elected Chamber. Therefore, I consider the lack of democracy to be an advantage and a strength, coupled with the strength of the Cross-Benches and the Alliance, because it means that Her Majesty's Government are not so easily able to bulldoze here as they can with a three-line whip in another place. I think that that is of tremendous value.
Having come round to that point of view, I still find it difficult to justify the logic of hereditary Peers. However, I was given cause to think again when I had an interview with a prominent journalist of international repute who was gathering material to write a book on the peerage. I am not sure whether it has yet been published. I said to him that I could not justify hereditary peerages. He said that he had not been able to, either, but the more he looked into it the more justification he found. First, he said, if one were to abolish hereditary Peers—and I mean no disrespect; these are his words, not mine—one would overnight just about double the age of the memberhip in the Upper House because (again his words, not mine) hereditary peerages are a natural sequnce whereas life peerages are all too often long service or good conduct awards, or a convenient means of getting rid of a troublesome politician from the other place. That is uncharitable, perhaps, but that is what he said, and it caused me to think again.
668 He made the further point: how better could one do it? After all, our monarchy has been run on the hereditary principle for centuries, and, by and large. it has worked out all right—touch wood! Therefore, it is difficult to suggest a better alternative. That made me think. Therefore, I support the status quo in your Lordships' House, with the combination of the vast experience and expertise of the Life Peers, coupled with the stimulus of the lively minds of the heriditary Peers—the young, lively minds, such as that of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and myself, which provide a good balance. The main point is that there is no incentive to speak in your Lordships' House unless one has something to say. One is not trying to get headlines in the local press for the benefit of the constituents, myself excluded.
Noble Lords may ask why I am speaking today. The answer is that I have been disturbed by some of the reported suggestions that this House should be reformed. Suggestions have come from quarters from which I would not have expected them. I find that disturbing. Therefore, I have risen to add my feeble voice to those who say. "Let us not disturb what is a well-established, well-proven institution" Without it I believe our British democracy would not be the same.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, the noble Lord can well regard himself as an admirable justification of the hereditary principle. The fact that he is a failed Socialist is a matter for some sorrow, although no doubt his father who once rebuked me for lighting a cigarette while the port was passing might have been happy that he has failed. Nonetheless, I thank the noble Lord for an admirable speech, with nearly all of which I agree.
In particular, I should like to pick up what I can only describe as the admirable speech of my former Leader, my noble friend Lord Longford. If there is one Member of your Lordships' House who contributed most to, alas our abortive attempt at reform, it was my noble friend Lord Longford. I remember saying to him that it was an absolute waste of time but he managed to convert me. We nearly brought it off. It was, in fact, the creation by the noble Earl, Lord Stockton of Life Peers—I was one of the first Macmillan Life Peers—that produced the great reform and indeed created the formula which we had hoped would apply during the reform of 1967–68. We were, of course, defeated by a filibuster on the part of Mr. Enoch Powell, who did not want the House of Lords to be altered, and Mr. Michael Foot, who wished to abolish the House of Lords, together with a certain amount of weakness on the part of the Government. I shall not go over the story beyond saying that I believe, like my noble friend Lord Longford, that that report and set of proposals was the most workable solution.
I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, who was in another place, that in those proposals we dealt with this difficult question of subordinate legislation, and I can give him the reference; it is on page 22 of the White Paper published in 1968.
I make only one further comment on the subject of hereditary Peers. The analogy with the Dukes of Devonshire and Chatsworth is a little unfortunate and does not give credit to the ingenuity of the Devonshire 669 family when an early death put the whole affair at risk. They deserve some credit for their achievement. The Government very nearly came to confiscating Chatsworth. The best argument in favour of hereditary Peers came from the noble Lord, Lord Denham, who was then a Back-Bencher. He asked that I should not misquote him, but I have not been able to check. He said that the argument in favour of hereditary Peers is that one gets ordinary blokes into Parliament. I am very grateful that we have the noble Lord, Lord Denham, but I would never call him an ordinary bloke. His power and his tact are well known in your Lordships' House. They contribute to the excellent communications that exist and make this House work where other Houses could not do so.
I mention that because I have some criticisms which, I am sorry to say, are directed at the Leader of the House. We are all devoted to the noble Viscount. He is one of the nicest, most intelligent, wisest and friendliest of men, but he really should not allow the noble Lord, Lord Bruce-Gardyne, to rise and say, "May I suggest". The noble Lord, Lord Diamond, recently raised the issue of a Member of your Lordships' House asking a Question, saying, "Do the Government agree". I had some difficult people to handle in the past, but I shall not mention their names. I beg the noble Viscount, perhaps in co-operation with others, to deal with this matter. The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, may have to share some blame. The degree to which noble Lords are abusing their freedom in this House is getting out of hand.
The situation is much worse than in the days when there was only a very small attendance. We now sit for 178 days in a year, as opposed to 101. The number of late sittings after 10 p.m. is 93, as opposed to two. The figures are formidable. We are overcrowded, and we must have a degree of self-discipline and firm leadership, if I may say so. I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, has left the Chamber. I am not sure whether she would not be better at disciplining the House than the noble Viscount. I have always thought that she would do so well. I have seen her in action. We need that sort of thing. I put these questions in a kindly and light way, because we are all fond of the noble Viscount, but the way in which the House abuses its freedom really is unsatisfactory. It can survive only if noble Lords exercise discipline and we do not allow questions to go on endlessly, many in an improper form.
I have been a Leader of your Lordships' House, and, like the noble Earl, Lord Longford, am aware of the difficulties of intervening. Today was a bad example. Some noble Lords may have thought that it was deliberate on the part of the Government in order not to have enough time for the last Question. I do not accuse them of that, but that is the danger if we do not stick rigorously to the procedures.
There is still an imbalance in your Lordships' House, but I do not believe that in practice we shall be able to get reform. I also beg for tolerance. I do not know the reasons for the recent withdrawal of a Whip. This is an internal matter and I do not think I can comment on it. But one of the strengths of your Lordships' House is that we have been able to speak freely. On a major issue of Government policy it is certain that the Government of the day and the Whips 670 will insist on party discipline: on other occasions we are free successfully to defeat the Government. There are Members on the other side of the House—and I can see some in the Chamber now—on whom one can rely to listen to our arguments, as I would listen to theirs, and we put our views freely.
Nonetheless, it would be sad if we became as disciplined as they have to be in another place. I do not expect the Government necessarily to comment on the expulsion. But I remember when the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, was Leader of the Opposition, or Leader of the House—I cannot remember which—he used to come to me to beg me to take people from his'side and have them on mine. I said that I was perfectly prepared to arrange a swap if that was what he wanted. It is one of the advantages of your Lordships' House that we can introduce a degree of freedom of expression. We do not get too much publicity, but in certain areas your Lordships now enjoy a reputation, not only in this country, but throughout the world, which is not enjoyed by any other parliamentary chamber.
That is particularly so in our committee work. I refer particularly to the work of the Select Committee on Science and Technology. There are other achievements in other committees. There is no such capacity in any other parliamentary assembly. We have many Fellows of the Royal Society. We debate engineering and we have more engineers than they have in another place. We have this strength, all of which arises from what I call the Macmillan reforms and the introduction of the Life Peerage.
I do not think that we can accommodate many more Peers. We are crowded. I hope that we shall be rather more discreet and that the numbers will not go up any more. When we introduced the 1968 reforms we used the phrase "occasional excellence"—relating to the individuals who are possibly the greatest experts in the country or the world who will take part in some of our discussions and serve on committees. That is why your Lordships have led in a number of subjects, both social and certainly scientific. As the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, will know, the first debate on space took place in your Lordships' House.
We ought not to be ashamed, but we must realise that we shall continue to be open to criticism on the hereditary side. I do not know whether any Member of the Labour Party or of your Lordships' House overall takes seriously the threat that the Labour Party has uttered for years that it will abolish the House, but I believe that to be impossible. The House of Lords has a basic constitutional role. That has been made apparent. We could have an extremist House of Commons, either Right-wing or Left-wing. In those circumstances, unless we move to a written constitution, there is little doubt that it would be able to pass legislation which, as of now, I think, the judges would be bound to uphold. I therefore think that the House of Lords has an important role.
I would urge only that we are more discreet in our discussions; that we take less advantage at Question Time; and that the noble Viscount will have a good talk with his noble friend Lady Trumpington on how to keep the House in order.
§ 4.25 p.m.
The Earl of Halsbury
My Lords, if I state my conclusions and then recite as many of my reasons for reaching them as I can, the guillotine can come down in the middle of a sentence without your Lordships losing anything that matters. The portrait that I have of this House in the future—and it is a portrait and not a photograph with fuzzy edges—is that of a non-ideological life senate of the professional classes, with an increasingly characteristic Cross-Bench flavour. I penned that phrase before I heard what the noble Lord. Lord Houghton of Sowerby, was going to say, but it appears that he and I are reaching very much the same conclusion.
I think that discharging the hereditary element in our composition is not the most urgent task, nor, if we decided to do it, need it be the most difficult one. But I do not think that we shall reach it. The most important and the most difficult task is to reach agreement with the other place, first, on what we are each here for, and, secondly, on how we ought to discharge our functions as co-operative elements in a partnership rather than as opponents on a battlefield. I do not think that that kind of agreement will be reached in a hurry. Therefore, once more I find myself in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, that we should carry on as we are for the time being.
I have spoken of the Cross-Bench flavour that I think will increasingly characterise this House. We on these Benches are not a party. We are a group of individuals who are sometimes in agreement with one another and sometimes not. But I think we have a flavour which perhaps derives from a nucleus of those of us who have been civil or public servants, either whole-time or part-time, paid or unpaid—and I think that I have been through all four combinations at one time or another in my life—and who are not really interested in the Conservative Party, the Labour Party or the Alliance, but who think of the Government of the day as the Queen's Government, which must be carried on and whose programme of legislation must be helped rather than hindered, provided that it represents a responsible attempt to discharge the viable portions of the manifesto. That leaves quite open private opinion as to what is a justifiable element in the Government's programme, and that is where we can, of course, disagree with one another. But the broad programme of helping the Government of the day is one that I have always discharged, irrespective of which side happens to be sitting on the Front Bench.
If one accepts that view of the desirability of that attitude, increasingly the recruitment to this future life senate will be from among those who are from the civil and public service, either whole-time or part-time, who have done public work and who are not insensitive to public affairs. That is why I think the Cross-Bench flavour will tend to increase rather than diminish.
Perhaps I may illustrate what I mean from my personal activities connected with the decimalisation of the currency, which occupied 10 years of my working lifetime. I started the job under the premiership of the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, the Chancellor of the Exchequer at that time being Mr. Selwyn Lloyd. I continued it under his successor, the 672 noble Lord, Lord Home. There then came an electoral upset. I worked on undisturbed under the premiership of the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, and various Chancellors of the Exchequer and finally finished off the job under Mr. Edward Heath. I could not have been the willing workhorse of all those successive Governments if I had been closely identified on the Floor of this House with any one to them.
My original reasons for sitting on these Cross-Benches were not at all political. I thought that, since I was one of the very few working scientists earning his living at the laboratory bench when I inherited a peerage, it would be to the advantage of this House to have me as a non-party member rather than sitting on one of the party Benches.
Now I come to my second reason for reaching these conclusions. This is again very much linked with what the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, said. It is concerned with two usages of the word "representative" which are not always recognised in use. Certainly a Member of Parliament represents his constituency in the House of Commons. Equally, counsel, learned in the law, represents his client in court and so on. That is one usage of the word "representative". But there is another usage, as when we talk of a sample being representative of the bulk from which it is drawn. I think this is what the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, had in mind when he said the elected Chamber is unrepresentative. He was using this word "representative" in its second sense. I would readily agree that in the first sense of the word of course a Member of Parliament represents his constituents, but in the second sense I believe that we may be the more representative body.
I think there may be a reason for it if we look at the laws of heredity as they are established, and not, as we might use them, on an ex-parte basis, to justify conclusions that we have reached in advance. I refer here to Galton's law of heredity, the law of regression, which states that any exceptional ancestor tends to be succeeded by people who are less and less exceptional, until you reach the level of the man in the street. Each one of us in the hereditary Peerage is descended from somebody who was sufficiently exceptional to get here under his own steam, but I think as the line has progressed we have become more and more representative of the man in the street.
In fact, you could have an almost ideal Chamber in which you had constituency representation in the Lower Chamber and proportional representation in the Upper Chamber: or of course you could go out into the street and capture a representative sample and say, "Right, now you are going to be the constituents of the Second Chamber". But that would not work because the last thing the man in the street would want to do, unless he was preconditioned to it, would be to get up and make speeches, join parties and do things like that. The man in the street is not interested in politics. Granted that the capers of anybody who has got himself into trouble are suitable as a topic for conversation in the local, like the weather, a stranded whale, the latest cricket test score, or whatever it may be. But the man in the street is not dedicated to political activities as are honourable Members in the other place.
673 So it seems to me that one of the unconscious effects of the hereditary principle is that we indoctrinate our young into thinking that participation in public life is a normal thing to do, so that when the call comes to them in due course they respond to it. I think that is quite a happy issue of the matter, though I do not attach very much importance to it.
As I have said, the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, and I have often disagreed on many topics. That has not stopped us being good friends in private, however much we may have disagreed in public. However, I am glad to say that this is one of the occasions on which I can thank the noble Lord for having introduced this subject and given me an opportunity to ventilate my own thoughts about it. I am most happy to find us in so much agreement with one another on this occasion.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Lord Ardwick
My Lords, I feel I am in rather starry company today in this debate. It was initiated by a former Cabinet Minister and no fewer than four Leaders of the House are taking part. Moreover, there are two former Prime Minsters who are listening to this debate. I wish they had been taking part in it; I should have loved to hear them discussing the theory of the elective dictatorship—a theory that was formulated by the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack, and to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hooson, referred today. I have a feeling that those former Prime Ministers would tell us that government was not as easy as that. I think they would also tell us that they were not bound by the manifesto as closely as is supposed. but that the great difficulty is always to adjust the manifesto—which is written in the white heat of political passion before an election—to the current realities.
I feel diffident about taking part in this debate. However, I spent a good deal of time in the last Session digging up the facts and studying the events of that Session in order to make a contribution to a learned quarterly. The events of last Session which excited public opinion were by no means unique. The Government were defeated a score of times—rather more than the dozen which the noble Lord, Lord Denham, has identified as par for the course. Mr. Heath was defeated no fewer than 26 times in the lifetime of his Administration, and Mrs. Thatcher went down 45 times in her first Administration. However, the defeat that the Government suffered on a vital clause in the paving Bill caused a kind of national sensation, coming (as it did) after a vote in the Commons in which 13 Conservatives voted against the Government and at least 11 abstained.
It is almost true, as the noble Lord, Lord Denham, said, that the Government cannot always be certain of commanding a majority even in this House. They cannot command it on every issue, it is true, but when the Government are faced with a vote of confidence—which was the effect of the reasoned amendment to the Second Reading of the paving Bill—they can do it, though narrowly. They won by 20 votes out of 454, which was the third largest vote on record in the history of this House.
The difference between the parties is that a Labour Government are not just occasionally but are always 674 vulnerable in this House. They are always in a minority. Indeed, we are at a remarkable point in the history of this House when the three opposition parties together are not only a good deal smaller than the Government party, but they command a score of votes fewer than those of the Cross-Benchers. With the greatest respect to the Cross-Benchers, who are all most distinguished people, I sometimes wonder whether the balance is quite right. Perhaps the Leaders or the Chief Whips should try to do some recruiting and bring them over to these Benches.
One of the dangers that this House faces is of too high public expectations. I think that the public are in a new and a strange mood. Many of them have developed a distaste for adversarial politics, particularly as practised in another place. They prefer the milder, more consensual style of this House, and some of them are looking to us to perform miracles to soften the harshness of conviction politics practised elsewhere.
They are expecting too much. We must demolish a flattering but dangerous romantic myth that we can play a heroic part in the frustrations of Government. As the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack has written, we do not have in this House the moral and political authority needed to challenge the will of a representative assembly, chosen by universal suffrage. What we can do is to express our distaste for a measure by occasionally qualifying our approval at the Second Reading by a reasoned amendment. We can from time to time ask the other place to look again at clauses which have passed through it with some strain, or which have passed through it perhaps without any consideration at all.
Even so, I think that we have to take care not to overdo it. It is all very well to be robust, but we do not want to be too robust. We do not want to unite the other place against this place. I sometimes ask my young friends, who regard this House as a great reactionary obstacle to progress, how on earth they think that the Labour Government of 1945 carried through their glorious revolution except with the consent of this House. Yet I do think that the Conservatives overdid it between 1975 and 1976 when they defeated the Labour Government 126 times. It was this, I think, that fortified the flickering will of the Labour Party to abolish this House when the opportunity might come. The House last Session followed I think its best traditions. I should be happy if I could believe that when the party opposite is again in opposition it will use its strength with the traditional moderation.
§ 4.41 p.m.
§ Lord Kagan
My Lords, may I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, for not having been here at the beginning of his speech. It was due to the train arriving late from Yorkshire. I am speaking with diffidence, but as one who was not born in this country and has witnessed and observed parliamentary systems of the Weimar Republic and the Soviet Union, may I say that every European who has lived through the trauma of Hitler and the war is conscious that Hitler came to power absolutely constitutionally in a one-chamber parliament?
675 In regard to democracy and heredity, I think there are some myths about Europe. In the Soviet Union heredity, privilege and caste are much stronger than this county has ever seen. If you are a high-level employee of the Soviet Government you are allocated a flat in a house belonging to that grade. It will be in a district of that grade. That person's children will never mix with the children of somebody who is an ordinary artisan, nor will he socially mix with ordinary people. His chances of getting higher education and better jobs are better. So much for a pursuit of egalitarianism, and so much for questioning whether we are so illogical and wrong in retaining the hereditary principle.
If it be true that the Commons is the Mother of Parliaments, perhaps the House of Lords would qualify as the "School" of Parliaments. To be able to disagree without being disagreeable, to be effective without being offensive, to manage to be forceful without being aggressive, and therefore all the more convincing, is an art which many parliaments would envy and most would try to emulate. If this country could give Europe one single most desired, most coveted, Christmas present perhaps it would be a House like the House of Lords for their country, and they would sleep better at night.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge
My Lords, the noble Lord will forgive me if I do not follow him in his particularly interesting reference to what goes on elsewhere and to what they might like to have elsewhere. I am not going to follow him because I want to pursue one particular point that comes out of Lord Houghton's most interesting introduction, which was taken up again by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, and the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury—that is the question of the composition of this House in relation to the composition of the other place, both of them in relation to the popular vote as shown; and to see if, upon a consideration of that, there are any conclusions we can draw.
The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, dealt very clearly with the inevitable anomalies of first-past-the-post voting in an electorate which has more than two serious contenders for an outright majority. He went so far as to say that democracy was falsified at Westminster. Your Lordships may think that I am going to make a party political speech about PR. I am going to try very hard not to, because it has been a wonderfully un-party discussion. On the other hand, one cannot look at the composition of the House of Commons in relation to the popular vote and then at our composition in relation to the popular vote without seeing that there is a very real difference, however it arose. It certainly did not arise through election. I suppose it arose through luck.
If I may give the figures again, your Lordships will see that they are really rather interesting. At the general election the Tories polled 42.8 per cent. and got 397 seats; Labour got 27.6 per cent. and 209 seats; and the Alliance polled 25.4 per cent. and got 23 seats. Thirty-three thousand votes gave a Tory seat; 40,000 votes gave a Labour seat; and 338,000 votes gave an Alliance seat. If you take this House, you will find that the Tory vote of 42.8 per cent. is represented, 676 according to the House Magazine, by 392 Peers—391 now, I suppose—who take the Tory Whip. The Labour vote of 27.6 per cent. is represented by 130 Peers who take the Labour Whip. In regard to the Alliance vote of 25.4 per cent., the House Magazine says there are 77 Peers, but from direct inspection I can say that there are 85 Alliance Peers.
This is not quite what PR would give us, but, if I may say so, it is an enormous distance nearer to it than is the ludicrous position in the Commons. It is extremely significant that there can virtually never be a Government defeat in the other place. whose composition bears no relationship whatever to the popular voting, while here, where our composition bears quite a reasonable relationship to the popular vote, we can, and do, occasionally defeat the Government. I will come back to that point in a minute.
I should like to turn for a moment to the main point of the noble Lord's opening speech, which was inspired by the off-the-cuff comments of the noble Viscount the Leader of the House at the end of the debate on the gracious Speech. I must say that I think the noble Lord who opened was making rather a mountain out of a molehill here. In spite of our composition being much more in accord with the popular vote than that of the other place, we must never forget that we are in fact not an elected body; and the constitutional relationship between us does not depend, and is not meant to depend, on electoral systems, which I think ought to be changed. But I do not think the constitutional relationship ought to be changed. It is designed—correctly, in my opinion—so that the elected body has the last word.
This means that it is only political common sense not to push our luck too far. I do not share the noble Lord's anxieties. Our very existence here is an anomaly, which is what makes it rather fun being here at all. It was 18 years ago, give a week or two, that I was introduced—one of a bunch of Labour creations made not as a reward for work done but in the hope that some work would be done in the future. I think that most of us have done some real work, but between bouts we do regard this place as a most satisfactory substitute for work. Of course, if there was not a regular attendance the place could not function at all. So even when we do not speak or sit on committees for weeks at a time we still feel that turning up at all and listening to other people speak is fulfilling a useful, though sometimes a rather wearisome, duty, and one which I perform regularly and with some satisfaction.
It is fashionable now to talk about infrastructure. I have to confess that I think that the infrastructure here is a good deal too good for what is above it. The place not only runs smoothly; it runs politely and with good manners. Our assistance from Black Rod through all the administrative levels to our splendid and omniscient clerks, our admirable attendants, doorkeepers and policemen, not excluding our restaurants and bars and their charming servers and the tireless cleaning ladies, are not only friendly but actually friends. I feel that our tiny influence in the country hardly does them justice. But we are lucky to be here and to be so served, and we know it. There may be three or four Peers who think that we should not 677 exist at all, but in spite of party pronouncements I do not think that there are more.
To sum up: if the official Opposition of the Labour Party agrees with the Alliance in opposing the Government—and, excluding a few major planks of policy such as defence and Northern Ireland and one or two other matters, we agree on a very large number of issues—and if we can carry some of the 227 Cross-Benchers with us and one or two brave dissidents from the other side, we can defeat the Government. Moreover, when we do so we can feel pretty sure that our combined vote is nearer to the majority feeling in the country than the swollen vote across the way. This is a great responsibility and it must be used with circumspection.
Let me pay tribute to the Leader of the House. I think that I speak for all of us when I say that we can trust him, whatever may be his personal views, to represent the majority views of this House strongly and fairly to his colleagues. I spoke earlier of our tiny influence; perhaps with his help it need not be so tiny.
There is one other point that I should like to make here which is slightly off-line and I think that this is not a bad occasion on which to make it. I refer to the creation of Life Peers. Since the Alliance was formed after the formation of the SDP, 72 Life Peers have been created. There were 33 Tory Peers, 21 Labour Peers, 14 Cross-Bench Peers, four Liberal Peers and none for the SDP. The figures show that the Alliance had four out of 54 party political creations. The figures speak for themselves and I shall not rub them in.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, can the noble Lord say how many Members of the Labour Party he has recruited into the Alliance?
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby for raising a subject which I know is of considerable interest to us all. I know that my noble friend has for some considerable time been concerned about the role of this House and the way in which the Government and the other place react to it. I suspect that it was the few remarks of the noble Viscount in his speech in the debate on the Address which stimulated my noble friend to raise the matter today. I have looked again at the noble Viscount's words on 6th November, at col. 17. They read as follows:However, I feel that your Lordships will understand me when I say that the views of this House, if they are pushed too far and too often, could on occasion be resented by the elected Members of another place".I am bound to admit that I have some sympathy with the noble Viscount, as I am sure does my noble friend Lord Houghton. I can visualise the Cabinet scenario when the noble Viscount as Leader of the House seeks to explain why this House—as his Cabinet colleagues see it—behaves so akwardly from time to time and appears to frustrate their objectives. I can imagine the reactions of the Prime Minister as she contemplates this assortment of noble wets and 678 dissidents. It is a scene from which one tends to avert one's gaze with pity and understanding.
As to our constitutional position here, the law is clear and the conventions are perhaps not so well known. The important moment arrived in 1945 with the election of a Labour Government with an overall majority for the first time, while noble Lords opposite were in the position of being a majority Opposition in this House. They concluded very wisely to adopt the explicit convention of self-restraint which provided a precedent for subsequent years. The late Lord Salisbury uttered the following words which I believe to be very important. He said:The Conservative Peers came to the conclusion that where something was in the Labour Party Manifesto we would regard it as approved by the country and we would have Second Reading and amend it in Committee stage. If they produced something that was not in the Manifesto we reserved the right to do what we thought best".That was the view of Lord Salisbury. This gave rise to the doctrine of the mandate; it conceded the primacy of the elected Chamber, provided that Bills were matters promised in the manifesto.
I must say for the record that I believe strongly in the primacy of the other place. We are a second Chamber and one with some deficiencies, and it is by a clear recognition of these that we can come to terms with our position and think of the future. But we must also not forget the exasperated reaction of Labour Cabinets in similar circumstances; the difference is of course that Labour Cabinets expected nothing better, while Conservative Cabinets feel—to quote scripture—that they have been:wounded in the house of [their] friends".My noble friend however regards the matter as having some constitutional implication, and in the broader sense he is quite right. What is our place in the constitution and are we in fact keeping to the rules? You can of course go further and ask whether we perform a useful and necessary function or whether we should, as some believe, be abolished altogether.
Our place in the constitution is defined first by statute—that is, by the two Parliament Acts—and secondly, by convention. We certainly observe the statutes and so there can be no complaint about that. It is on the conventions which have developed over the years that there could be argument, although personally I believe that we keep to them in spite of quite considerable pressure from the outside to breach them on highly contentious issues. I think that this has been the experience of both sides of the House from time to time.
Any detached observer would I think conclude that the rules written and unwritten have been reasonably well kept over the years. The Prime Minister and the great majority of the Cabinet and Government sit in another place; all major contentious legislation starts in the other place, although we must not forget that increasingly important Bills do commence their journey here. The elected Members sit in the other place and, not least in importance, the other place holds the purse strings—it has the power to withhold supply, as was said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale.
Having said that however let it also be remembered that this House has essential functions to 679 perform, and the experience of the last few years has brought these into focus. I believe that the constitution and the country would be much poorer without this place. Its four main functions were summarised in the Bryce Conference of 1917 and the position has remained the same since then with the addition of the important EEC Committee with its subject subcommittees. Finally, but not least in importance, the need for the consent of this House before the other place can extend its five-year tenure is of primary importance.
My noble friend Lord Houghton is a parliamentarian of long experience and of the highest integrity to whom I always listen with great respect. I had the privilege of sitting with him in Cabinet and of following him as chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party. I know my noble friend's mettle. He said:I see no reason at all for lowering our standards of diligence or our integrity to placate those who have the power, but not the will, either to reform themselves or to change the arrangements in your Lordships' House".—[Official Report, 8/11/84; col. 177.]My noble friend has explained his case more fully today in a moderate and well-argued speech. I noted the advice of my noble friend Lord Shackleton to the noble Viscount and indeed suprisingly to me. There is much in what my noble friend said and we must ponder his remarks as time passes, although things have somewhat changed since he was in office some 10 years ago.
I have always believed in the need for a second Chamber and my own personal view about this House during a comparatively short experience here is that we perform a useful and necessary function, and also that we have not exceeded our powers. We have not voted against Government Bills on Second Reading, although we did put down reasoned amendments on the two most contentious Bills. The Government carried the day, as one would expect, given their strength and their ultimate expectation of support from the majority on the Cross-Benches.
We have sought to carry out our duties as a revising Chamber, and I believe that we have done so effectively. By "we" I do not mean the official Opposition alone; I include the Alliance parties, some Cross-Benchers, many right reverend Prelates, and a few notable and courageous noble Lords from the Conservative Party, like the noble Lord, Lord Alport. The fact is that the official Opposition alone cannot defeat the Government in the Division Lobby. When the Government introduce highly contentious and divisive Bills, they must expect to be opposed. They have been defeated several times in Committee, notably during the Telecommunications Bill and of course the Local Government (Interim Provisions) Bill on 28th June. In the event, the view of this House was accepted, and rightly so, as public opinion in this country made clear.
As the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, has said, there is the tendency for Governments to be sensitive now and to forget completely their own performances when they were in Opposition. If we look at the 1975–76 Session, we see that the then Conservative Opposition defeated the Labour Government 126 times and killed 680 two Bills—the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Bill and the Trade Union and Labour Relations Bill.
I could go into far greater detail, but I mention this merely in order to get matters into some perspective. I am entitled to ask whether we have at any time in the last five and a half years exceeded our powers or breached a convention. If we have, I should like to know when we did so. We are bound within the limits to oppose the Government as strenuously as we can on matters of principle or where we think legislation is badly drafted or unworkable, and we shall continue to do so. I believe that the noble Viscount understands this well enough and he has, if he will allow me to say so, accepted defeat with good grace, even if some of his colleagues have not.
Time does not allow me to deal with reform in this debate, save to say that I believe it is desirable and that an inquiry along the lines of the Bryce Conference or indeed a Royal Commission is well overdue. I much enjoyed the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, and my noble friend Lord Halsbury on the question of reform, and what they said would be of great interest to a Royal Commission when they, as I am sure they would, give evidence to it. The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, made important points about the Government's increasing use of delegated legislation, and a book which was published over 50 years ago called The New Despotism swam back into my consciousness once more. The procedure on the treatment of statutory instruments in this House I believe calls for careful reconsideration and could perhaps be looked at if necessary by the Procedure Committee of this House, although one must not overlook the fact that paragraphs 57 and 58 of the 1968 White Paper make clear that the matter is not without its complications.
Pending some sensible reform therefore as my noble friend Lord Houghton has argued, we should now do our utmost to make this House an effective working legislature and, again within our powers, a check on a Government which, unhappily at this time, are out of touch both with reality and with the nation.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ Viscount Whitelaw
My Lords, I have found my time as Leader of your Lordships' House humiliating, humbling, very instructive and indeed extremely enjoyable, and I am prepared to admit all that. This afternoon has been no exception. I had begun to think that what was described by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, quite rightly as a somewhat off-the-cuff remark that I made before really was unwise. I still think that it was actually unwise and am prepared to admit it; but I am now rather pleased that I made it, even if it was unwise because it enabled the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, to initiate this excellent debate today and enabled some noble Lords to educate me further.
First, it is fair to start by replying to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, and to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, about the use of powers, because that was the main point of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton. He wishes to leave the composition alone, and I shall return to that matter when I refer to the speeches of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and the 681 noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. As to the use of the powers, perhaps in that short speech on the humble Address I did myself less than justice because I think that one should judge someone more by what he does than by what he says. My unwise remarks were certainly no reflection on what I had actually done and tried to do as Leader of your Lordships' House. After all, in the last Session during the proceedings on the Telecommunications Bill your Lordships demanded that legislation should be introduced to regulate the interception of communications. Such legislation will be introduced in this Session of Parliament. That was something which your Lordships achieved.
Then of course the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, referred to the concessions on the Housing Bill in the rural areas and the services for the disabled and the elderly. There was also parliamentary approval for licences for telecommunications operations. Several noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, have referred to the Local Government (Interim Provisions) Bill. The House defeated the Government—I hope that I interpreted the views of this House correctly to my colleagues—and as a result amendments were introduced into the Bill which removed the provision for nominated joint hoards in the period preceding abolition of the GLC and metropolitan county councils.
On the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill the House made amendments regulating the admissibility of improperly obtained evidence and making racially discriminatory behaviour a police disciplinary offence. I think that perhaps my remarks arose from the last of those battles which occurred shortly before we came to that debate, and it was perhaps on that that I made some comments which I hoped would be picked up by others rather than by my immediate audience—a very unwise thing to do! I rather hoped that those words might be picked up in another place by those who were expressing their views on my general behaviour in very forceful terms to some of my colleagues. I am well prepared to take that and well prepared to understand it, but possibly I expressed those remarks in a moment of frustration, and perhaps that was unwise.
However, from what has happened since I have been Leader of this House, I think I can show that I believe this House has the duty to make the Government think again. Since this Government came to power I think I can say that that has been the case, because many amendments have been made which arose from discussion and debate and then from my discussion with my colleagues. All that has happened. That should be our job, and frankly I cannot disagree at all with what the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, said. The noble Lord referred to the fact that this House was not Mrs. Thatcher's poodle. Alas! in a moment of great frustration I said to my colleagues, "You really must understand that their Lordships are not anybody's poodles". So I have already used that phrase myself. It was justified too! Therefore, there is nothing between us.
The same point arises in connection with what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, said. He made the point about thinking again being very effective and very important when we considered the Housing Bill. I am very grateful to him because we 682 had some discussions at that time, and in an unguarded moment before the concessions were made I said that frankly I thought he was right and that the Government line which I was studiously supporting was wrong. Subsequently his view prevailed, and I am very glad that it did. Again, that was an important change.
I want to turn to a remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, because it is important. It also arises from what the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, said about conventions. The conventions are there. They have grown up with time, as I have learned. They are but conventions and it would be possible for this House to change them if it wished to do so, but before it changes them it has to think carefully whether it would be wise to change some of them.
I accept that the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, feels that legislation by statutory instrument is being practised too much by this Government and perhaps by previous governments as well. It is a growing trend. If he concludes from that that it would be right to abandon the convention of this House not voting against statutory instruments, then I hope he will appreciate what that will mean. The power belongs to your Lordships to defeat a statutory instrument outright. It was done, but the convention has since been observed.
That runs straight against any question of thinking again. That is not the action of a Chamber asking another House to think again. It is telling the other House, though they may have passed it, that that is the end of the story. That would be a great change. It might be right, and your Lordships have it in your power to decide that it is, but I do not think that it sits easily with Lord Houghton's point about asking the other House to think again, because so far as the statutory instrument is concerned that is not available if the power to defeat the statutory instrument is used on the spot. I hope that will be considered if it is thought that a change should be made. Personally I think it could land us in great difficulty if we went down that road. I should like the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, to think carefully for a moment about where that might lead us in the end.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, would the noble Viscount give way? He is being very helpful. In view of what the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, has said, I wonder whether the Government would consider a short Bill merely following out the recommendation in 1968 that a statutory instrument—I shall not go into the details at this time—if rejected in this House would then go back to the Commons, and if passed again in the Commons we would let it go. In other words, it would give the opportunity for another House to think again, which at the moment they do not have. This would he a relatively small measure.
§ Viscount Whitelaw
My Lords, of course I shall pay attention to what the noble Lord. Lord Shackleton, has said, and I shall consider it with my colleagues. The pressure on legislative time is very considerable, but if that were felt in this House, and I could get my colleagues' agreement, and it could be done quickly and sensibly, it might be a way out of the problem. I hope the noble Lord will agree with me that I have 683 described correctly the problem as it stands today, and I hope we might consider it against that background.
The noble Earl, Lord Longford, discussed composition, as did the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. They regretted the failure of the proposed plan. Alas, I have to admit that at the time when that plan came before another place I was Chief Whip of the Opposition. My standing with my noble friend Lord Carrington fell then—and I think never quite to rise to the same level again—because he said it was my weakness as the Opposition Chief Whip which had allowed the Opposition not fully to support the Government,
There are quite a number of noble Lords now in this House, some in prominent positions, who were unable to follow the Whip that I issued on that occasion in order to try to get those proposals through. I tried, but I have to admit that we were defeated by a powerful combination, as the noble Earl, Lord Longford, will know. The last leader of his own party and Mr. Enoch Powell together are powerful debaters. When opposed to something specific they are very good indeed in opposition, and they were exceptionally good in opposition to that proposal, as anyone in the other place at that time knows.
I have to say once more to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that I am sorry. I did not play a very honourable part—I think it was honourable, it was not very clever.
§ Lord Elwyn-Jones
My Lords, the difficulties on the Opposition side were nothing to the difficulties of the unfortunate Attorney General who was trying to get it through on the Government side.
§ Viscount Whitelaw
My Lords, we all had our part to play in that particular failure. The noble Lord. Lord Dunleath. said that he was the only Member of your Lordships' House who had a parliamentary constituency. That is not strictly correct. My noble friends Lord O'Hagan, Lord Bethell, and Lady Elles, all of course have parliamentary constituencies in that they are members of the European Parliament. I do not know under what category he would regard my arrival here—whether as a troublesome politician in another place. I do not think it can be quite so. If it had been so I suppose that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister would not actually have kept me in her Cabinet on that basis, so there must have been some other purpose for which she decided to send me here.
I note that the noble Lord says that he is too old now to become a Socialist. Obviously I am always glad to hear good reasons for not becoming a Socialist, and that perhaps is as good a one as any other. The noble Lord. Lord Shackleton, took me to task about Questions. I was grateful to him in one way because he taught me something. I shall certainly do my best; but I have regarded my position—perhaps too much—as trying to interpret the wishes of the House, and trying to move at the speed that the House wanted and not to impose on it too much.
Perhaps I ought to have imposed my will somewhat more; but if I am to do so I must say to noble Lords that I shall need the help and support of noble Lords, and as the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, has said, noble 684 Lords on the Opposition Front Bench and noble Lords on the Front Benches of the other parties. As the noble Lord, Lord Shackelton, stated, no doubt my noble friend Lady Trumpington would make a far better job of it than I would. I do not doubt that. On the other hand, I do not doubt her capacity for almost anything. But so far as that is concerned, I think she would need the support of the House just as I would.
It is difficult, as I have discovered—and the noble Lord will have known this too when he was Leader—because when you are the Leader of the House and the leader of the Government party as well, something you must not do is try to stop Questions simply because you realise at the time that your noble friends on the Front Bench are having a very difficult time with the House. If you use that moment to stop the Questions you would be rightly thought to be using a very partisan position, and I would be anxious not to do that.
Against that background I shall certainly consider what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said, and I shall see how I get on. If I get thoroughly ticked off in the process I shall at least be able to blame the noble Lord—and I most certainly will! Not that that will help me very much when it comes to the moment; but I see the point.
The noble Earl, Lord Longford, discussed the question of the change in composition, as other noble Lords have done. As my noble friend Lord Stockton is here today, I should like to say that I do not think that anyone in this House will doubt that the introduction of Life Peers has made the most remarkable change to this House. and without the introduction of Life Peers I doubt whether this House could possibly perform the role that it is performing today. That is an indication of the wisdom of that particular measure.
It also produced of course the ladies. Now we are on the move the whole time. I do not know whether your Lordships realised this afternoon that we not only have the ladies but we actually voted away one of the gentlemen's "loos" for the ladies. That you did in approving the offices' committee report this afternoon. You may not have known it, but you did it. Therefore, we are changing all the time in these ways.
The noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, hoped that in the future a Conservative Opposition would use its strength with moderation. As I hope to see the Conservatives not in opposition for the rest of my lifetime I do not expect to be in a position to exercise much influence in that matter. I nevertheless note what he says, and I think that many of the conventions which have grown up have arisen from that particular point of view. If I were to say that possibly those conventions which perhaps help the Government sometimes are right whichever party is in Government or Opposition. I think that may be true.
I was very interested in what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Kagan, about Hitler coming into power constitutionally in a one Chamber system. That is of course a very strong argument for your Lordships' House and for its work. I feel that this afternoon we have had a most interesting debate about your Lordships' House and about its work, and for that we are particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. I am very grateful to have been 685 able to share some of my thoughts with the House as a result of his particular initiative, and I should like to thank him and say to the House that I hope they will feel that we have had a useful and successful debate this afternoon.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
My Lords, I am more than gratified that I had the good fortune to draw this place in the ballot, and I am much more satisfied than I thought I would be before raising this particular issue. I really was not sure how your Lordships' House would take this subject at this time of the year, and I am very gratified that your Lordships should give such careful attention to it.
There is nothing I can say which would add to the wisdom and the quality of this debate. Moreover, I think it is remarkable how much can come out of a debate in your Lordships' House in two-and-a-half hours. That I think is a model of parliamenatry discussion. The points of view which have been expressed on different sides of the House have added I think to our general appreciation of the position and duites of the House.
I am a comparatively short-term Peer in this House (only 10 years) but I did have 25 years in another place. Out of that long parliamentary experience I have tried to judge the situation as I see the future of our Parliament in a representative democracy and with so many people feeling that in some ways Parliament is not responding as it should.
I am very much obliged to all noble Lords who have spoken. The noble Viscount is so disarming that one can only be thankful that we have such a generous-minded Leader of the House at the present time. What co-operation he requires from us to strengthen his resistance to the Prime Minister will be generously given. I now beg to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.