HL Deb 08 December 1988 vol 502 cc719-51

6.27 p.m.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will propose a restriction on the right of Lords to vote in Divisions on the basis of a given number of attendances over a specified period.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in asking this Question perhaps I may say how gratified I am at the interest which has been shown in it and I also thank in advance all noble Lords who have decided to take part in the debate.

I tabled this Question on the Order Paper on 24th May of this year. That was the day following the infamous vote on the poll tax when the Government brought in their so-called backwoodsmen to defeat an amendment of one of their own Back-Benchers, the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, for which there was clearly much support among the regular attenders of this House, Members of another place and certainly in the country as a whole.

Your Lordships will recall that on that occasion the vote, which totalled 500, was the highest since the vote on the Motion to approve the White Paper on the European Communities. On 23rd May the Government mustered no fewer than 317 noble Lords to their Lobby and achieved a majority of no less than 134. It was not only I, members of the Labour Party and members of other minority parties who were shocked and hurt by this brazen use of the Government's in-built Tory majority. Informed opinion, including the bulk of the media, were certainly and sincerely dismayed by that vote and public opinion generally felt that the House of Lords, whose reputation has certainly improved over the past few years—and I think we would all accept that with gratitude—did not, after all, constitute a proper and worthwhile safeguard against an overweening Government backed by an overwhelming and obedient majority in the House of Commons. I have to tell the House that at least some of the Government's own supporters were troubled by that vote on 23rd May. The kindest criticism that could be made was that the Chief Whip had on that occasion indulged in massive overkill.

I make it absolutely clear, however, that I do not criticise the Chief Whip and his colleagues on a personal basis. My experience as an Opposition Whip here, and even more so as a former Government Whip in another place, enables me to understand that Whips will use all proper measures that are available to them to get the maximum number of votes into the Lobby. What I suggest is a limitation on what is available to them. Therefore there is no criticism of the noble Lord, Lord Denham, who does his job for the Government so admirably in this House. I assure him that there is no personal criticism.

However, the dismay at the poll tax vote was certainly reflected in the press on the following day and on subsequent occasions. In my experience of politics over a long period I have seldom, if ever, seen this House given such a lashing as it received on that occasion. I quote from some press cuttings that I have here. The first is from the Guardian—I am sure that the Guardian commends itself to noble Lords opposite. In an article by James Naughtie headed "Thatcher's Lords a-leaping" the opening paragraph reads: The Government had to choose last week between the poll tax Bill and the pretence of decency in the Lords. It chose the Bill, and in Monday's triumph, which doubtless echoed through Boodles, Pratt's and the Turf long into the night, questions were raised which some ministers may find it hard to answer. The sight of 317 Conservative peers queueing up to vote was startling and maybe disturbing, even to some Government whips not noted for their squeamishness. Bertie Denham, the long-suffering chief whip in the Lords who is required to play from a difficult hand, had done well. But had he done too well?

Next I come to the Financial Times of 25th May under the headline, When seeing leads to disbelieving". Peter Riddle writes Monday's crushing defeat of the poll tax rebels exposed several myths about the Lords. The scene was a cross between Gilbert and Sullivan's lolanthe and Noel Coward's The Stately Homes of England. The Tories' own block vote, the hereditary peers, was mobilised—219 of the 317 on the Government side inherited their titles. This was enough on its own to defeat Lord Chelwood's amendment". In The Times of 26th May Ronald Butt—a respected figure particularly on the Benches opposite—under the headline "A power forgone" wrote: After using their hereditary cohorts against the poll tax amendment on the grounds that the Commons must not be offended, the Tories will have not the slightest ground for encouraging the voting majority of the Lords (even when it consists of working life peers) to resist any dictatorial measure by a future socialist government. So the Constitution has been changed because Mrs. Thatcher committed here self to abolishing the rates, found a substitute hard to devise and finally hit upon a flat-rate tax disliked by many Tories". My final brief quotation comes from the Observer of 29th May under the heading: Lords are cashing in on the poll tax". The opening paragraph reads: The 'backwoodsmen' peers who gave the Government its resounding victory on the poll-tax vote last week will be among the greatest beneficiaries of the new legislation, an Observer survey has revealed". The article goes on to name a number of peers but in this debate the naming of noble Lords would be invidious and I therefore do not intend to do so.

My action in tabling this Question was not prompted by press comment. I did so because I felt angry, frustrated and affronted that the vigorous and genuine efforts of so many hardworking Members of this House should be brought to nought by an invasion of noble Lords who normally show little or no interest in the proceedings of this House. I therefore asked myself what measures could be taken to eliminate this anomalous position where casual or virtual non-attenders can decide what view the House of Lords reaches on a major issue.

It is well known that the Labour Party has, over a long period of time, believed that the House of Lords should be abolished; but even though people as diverse in their opinions as Roy Hattersley and Tony Benn agree that abolition is the right course, I fear it will be a long time before any realistic move can be made on abolition. In saying that, I notice the Chief Whip is looking at me in a quizzical way. I do not mean that the Labour Party will not obtain office at the next general election; of course it will. However, abolition of the House of Lords will not be a priority in its first parliament. Therefore, it will be a long while before any realistic move can be made in that direction.

The same is true of full-scale reform, short of abolition, since that would require all-party agreement, which I cannot see being achieved in the foreseeable future. Therefore, I concluded that the only real possibility of bringing respectability back to this House lay in restricting the right to vote to those who regularly attend the House. It is probably the only proposal likely to be agreed by all parties within a reasonable period of time. I trust therefore that I shall receive a sympathetic answer from the Chief Whip when he replies.

People have asked me how the system would work. I suggest that a 33 per cent. attendance record, as proposed in the 1968 White Paper on House of Lords reform, might constitute a starting point. Of course the final details can be sorted out after all-party agreement has been reached in principle. Some idea of what that would actually mean in practice can be gained from the report from our own House; from the group on the working of the House in the Session 1987–88 (House of Lords Paper No. 9). According to that paper, if the 33 per cent. rule were to be applied the composition of a working House would be something like this: the Conservatives, 168 Members; the Labour Party, 88; the Liberals, 27; and the SDP, 24. Therefore, in party terms the Conservative Government would have a respectable majority. However, the Independents would number 73 and therefore to get legislation through the Government would have to put forward extremely good arguments. I believe that would be altogether good for the Government. It is therefore possible and feasible to adopt my suggestion.

When I tabled my Question I believed that my proposal had not previously been discussed on the Floor of the House. However, one has to be either a near genius or extremely lucky to do something new in this place, which has existed for over 800 years. I discovered that such a proposal had been made. A Motion had been put forward restricting the voting rights of Peers by the then Marquess of Exeter on 17th March 1953; that is 35 years ago. The Motion that he moved was roughly, that no Peer, except that he had obtained leave of absence under Standing Order No. 21, should vote on a division of this House unless he has … attended the House at least x times … during the previous session in which the House has sat for public business on twelve or more days". So we have had this proposal before.

The debate on that occasion was a good one. But it transpired that the Marquess of Exeter's Motion, even if agreed by the House, could not be carried into effect because this House cannot take away from any noble Lord the right bestowed upon him by law; namely, that once in receipt of a Writ he is entitled to a 'seat, place and voice' in Parliament". Since a voice is taken to mean a vote, that vote cannot be taken away by a simple Motion agreed by your Lordships but only by a Bill passed by both Houses of Parliament and receiving the Royal Assent. That is why the question has to be put to the Government, because I understand that it is only they who can bring forward such a Bill.

Nevertheless, the House has certain powers. If the noble Lord, Lord Denham, cannot give me a good answer tonight we might look at those other powers. They have been looked at by the Select Committee on the Powers of the House in Relation to the Attendance of its Members. Its report was published in January 1956. It transpires that this House has powers to compel Members to attend. I refer to the powers contained in paragraph 40 under the heading "Powers in General". Your Lordships' Committee reported in 1956: The House undoubtedly has power to order the attendance of its members and to punish members who disobey such orders by reprimand, by fine or by imprisonment". Imprisonment, mark you!

A Noble Lord

Hang 'em!

Lord Denham


Lord Stoddart of Swindon

It is even worse than that, because your Lordships have the power to dispatch the Sergeant at Arms to bring in the defaulting Member under arrest. My researches have revealed that this House has considerable powers and if the noble Lord, Lord Denham—

Noble Lords


Earl Russell

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that dispensation from these powers is almost invariably given automatically on request?

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

I was not aware of that, but I am sure that it would be given. Nevertheless, one begins to wonder when we have such turnouts as we had on 23rd May whether such dispensation should always be given unless there is very good reason. Perhaps that is a subject for another debate.

If the Government do not reply favourably we may have to look at some of those measures. Perhaps they are not realistic in 1988. I urge the noble Lord to give me a favourable reply because the reputation of this House is important to Parliament; it is important to this country and to its people. I hope that he will not give me a dusty answer tonight but will listen to the debate and to the views of the Members of this House and of the public. If the noble Lord does that he will certainly give me some encouragement that the Government do indeed believe in democracy and that this House, properly run and constituted and having proper duties, can continue to constitute a part of that democracy.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, if only on this occasion to be able respectfully to disagree with him and to give some reasons which may commend themselves to your Lordships. It is appreciated that the noble Lord makes no personal criticism of my noble friend Lord Denham. It is also appreciated that the noble Lord, as always with his commendable frankness, in effect accepts that this question is sired by frustration out of anger which is not the best parentage, I suggest to your Lordships, for such a progeny.

One takes the proposal as it stands. The purpose of the proposal is avowedly political. It is to seek to ensure that the Whip to those of us who sit on this side of the House and accept it and no one else—that is, the pious hope or unsettled expectation of my noble friend Lord Denham to carry through the government business— shall be less effective. The proposal does not inhibit Whipping the attendance or contribution of any noble Lord, but only the right to vote. If I am not mistaken it is said that it is only to correct an imbalance of voting strength between the Conservative and Labour parties. As the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, put it, it is an abuse of an inbuilt majority.

Let us face the question head on. The proposal is erected on an entirly false premise; namely, that there ever could or should be any imposed balance of voting strength in any second Chamber, however constituted, in any democratic society. That is more particularly so if it were to be elected at political hustings. Of course, if it is abolished, cadit quaestio! Even if a temporary balance were to be achieved, whether by accident or design, the equilibrium would inevitably be upset by defections that have happened within living memory from the parties opposite.

This dream, this false ideal, is a false premise of an imposed balance of voting strength. It is a nonsense; and built upon a nonsense we proceed. As we are constituted at present, with Cross-Benches and Spiritual Benches, implementation of this proposal, however, effected, would be impractical; it would debase the standard of our debates and produce a monstrous absurdity. It is much to be doubted whether this indirect approach to seek to correct an imbalance of voting strength is permissible under our constitution. I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, in effect accepts that such is the case. If noble Lords will forgive a canine metaphor, this Stoddart muzzle muzzles the bite of the lordly dog to curb Whipping by its lordly master.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

I am not seeking to muzzle noble Lords. They can come to the House and speak as much as they like. However, they will not be able to vote unless they have played a proper part in the proceedings of the House in a previous Session.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I fully understand what the noble Lord is saying. I have already taken the point as he will see in Hansard; but unfortunately he was distracted by the noble Earl, Lord Longford. It is a very good-humoured debate.

The right to vote, subject to leave of absence, is but an incident of the oath taken by noble Lords within the remit of the residual powers of the Royal Prerogative. Apart from statute, mental incapacity being one example, no restriction may be placed on the right of any noble Lord to vote.

There is another aspect. The sheer generality of this proposal would be to deprive your Lordships of invaluable advice on matters of great public importance which lie outside the political arena. I have especially in mind the contributions from the Cross-Benches of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice. These would be excluded.

Noble Lords


Lord Campbell of Alloway


The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I hope that I am not distracting anyone this time. I cannot help supposing that the noble Lord did not understand the point of the intervention. Under the plan of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, the Lord Chief Justice and other eminent people would be allowed to speak to the House, but they would not be allowed to vote. There is no question of our being deprived of thier counsel.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I assure the noble Earl that I did understand. I was about to deal not only with the contribution of the noble and learned Lord but with his vote on an important matter.

Why should this House be deprived of the contribution and the vote of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice, whose administrative duties are so vast that he can only seldom attend? It is nonsense. I give as an example the Children Bill. Contributions and votes from any side of the House on the Children Bill are of the greatest importance. If it is said by the noble Earl or by the noble Lord that we must make exceptions for special cases, how shall the basis for exemption be defined? Surely not because of specialist knowledge or expertise, for there are Bills such as the Children Bill where common sense, practical experience and broad principles are of greater importance than any special knowledge or expertise.

Surely on any objective examination—it is reasonable to examine a proposal objectively—this proposal, however implemented, must produce an absurdity. We must ask some questions. What is an attendance? What is an attendance in the meaning of the Unstarred Question? Does an attendance for the purpose of the question involve an obligation just to vote or to make a contribution to the debate? Does it involve working in one of the committees on a particular day? Is that an attendance? Or is attendance just sitting in one's place for a scant period of time? Or has one to sit in one's place and watch the clock? If so, for how long? What is an attendance? What is the noble Lord proposing?

If by some good fortune a Division were to be called, would the vote as such, having removed oneself from the precincts of the Chamber (if I may put it that way) into the Lobby, count as an attendance? If the right to vote is to be based on a given number of attendances over a specified period, surely attendance at one of the committees of your Lordships' House is equally as important as a contribution to debate. How many attendances would be required?

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, the White Paper to which we refer stipulates that attendances at committees would count.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, the Unstarred Question makes no such concession and is completely unclear as to what is proposed. Even if it were couched in the form in which the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, has suggested, still my question arises. How many attendances would be required? The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart,says 33 per cent. What kind of attendances? Over what period? If a contribution to debate is relevant, is any intervention, however short, a contribution to the debate? I welcome interventions because they focus attention on the issue; but these questions have to be defined and answered before any regulatory process can be introduced. And with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, none of them received any attention in his speech.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, the noble Lord invited interventions. He will recall that I wanted to shorten my contribution as much as possible. I said that once the matter had been agreed in principle between the parties, the details could be worked out. In order to save time I did not go into detail.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, with respect to the noble Lord, that simply will not do. It is no use talking about working out things that cannot be worked out. They cannot be worked out without making a total nonsense. No one has yet devised a viable or operable system. If the noble Lord has one, why has he not so informed the House?

I apologise for taking so long, but I had to accept the interventions as they came. If by and large, subject to the Parliament Act and convention, the will of the elected Chamber were not respected at the end of the day, the retention of your Lordships' House as presently constituted could serve no useful purpose. By and large, the convention of restraint has been exercised by both parties. Assuredly my noble friend Lord Denham, both in the short term, and far more importantly in the long term, was wholly justified—on the poll tax and especially on the steps taken to ensure that the financial privilege of another place should not be infringed as a result of a mere procedural quirk and anomaly.

It has been the declared policy of the Labour Party since 1918 to abolish your Lordships' House. That is its policy today. It is no use the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, saying that it will not happen in the next Parliament. It will be a manifesto commitment as I understand Labour Party policy, and presumably it is proposed to implement it.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, I am sorry to intervene again, but it was not in the last manifesto.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, it was not in the last manifesto but—and I hope that the noble Lord will agree, because I have studied the subject a little—that was the first manifesto since 1918 which did not in fact include it. But be that as it may, as I understand it it will be in the next manifesto. So what is the use of worrying about the last manifesto? I simply do not understand the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, when he says that it is a matter that really will not happen before this and that.

I conclude on this observation. The important aspect is this: in the case of noble Lords who would wish to abolish this Chamber as a matter of policy and who have only to produce a monstrous and manifest absurdity, is there any need for further justification for their case for abolition?

7 p.m.

Lord McNair

My Lords, it was felt in that backwater—or should I say that important tributary—of the usual channels which I inhabit that someone ought to make clear the approach of the democrats (that is, the Social and Liberal Democrats) to the grievous problem to which the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, has drawn our attention this evening. I fear that this means that mine will be a relatively humdrum contribution to the debate. I shall leave it to my noble friend Lord Russell to remedy the inevitable deficiencies of my speech both in historical perspective and entertainment value.

The immediate short-term problem is this. Since your Lordships' proceedings came to be televised there are more people in the country who know a little bit more and are therefore able to take more interest in what goes on in this House. So when some unpopular outrage is perpetrated in another place, such as the poll tax, eyes or teeth, no matter what it concerns the press immediately sets about raising the hopes of the public—the long suffering public—that the House of Lords will intervene in the nick of time, like the seventh cavalry, and snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat.

However, what actually happens is this. The great day comes and behold, what looks like two or three busloads of noble Lords with venerable titles and unfamiliar faces converge upon this place, make their way, not without difficulty, into the government Lobby and bulldoze the offending measure on to the statute book. The public is bitterly disappointed and we all look mighty foolish.

If I were to sum up our position on these Benches in one sentence I would say that we applaud the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, and certainly the charm and humour with which he posed his Question, but we are not sure that he has hit upon the right solution. I shall await with great interest the reply of the noble Lord, Lord Denham. However, I shall not be surprised if he finds quite a number of practical and legal difficulties in the noble Lord's proposal. Even if practical, it would be no more than a palliative because it does not tackle the real problem, which is the archaic composition of the House. I believe that there may still be a House of Chiefs in Fiji, but apart from that I think that we are unique in the 20th century.

Our attitude towards the wider question of House of Lords reform can perhaps best be conveyed by a quotation from a publication optimistically entitled The Time Has Come which preceded the drawing up of the Alliance manifesto in the last election. It says: The Alliance Parties believe that reform of the House of Commons must be matched by reform of the Second Chamber. It is unacceptable that there should still be a legislative role for peers merely by virtue of heredity. We need a reformed Second Chamber which includes an elected regional dimension". That leaves many a "t" uncrossed and many an "i" undotted, an omission which I hope will be repaired in time for the next general election.

I take it that it is almost unnecessary for me to add that a reform of the system by which the House of Commons is elected must form a central element of any constitutional reform. A system which contrives that a party supported on polling day by a bare third of the electorate can muster an impregnable majority in the House of Commons is not only an anomalous absurdity; it is also incidentally the root cause of several of the fiascos of the last Session of this Parliament to which the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, has drawn our attention.

If the composition of the House of Commons had been even roughly proportionate to the wishes of the people, does anyone believe that the iniquitous poll tax would ever have reached this House?—surely not.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will give way for a moment. I wonder whether he has recollected that on that historic vote in this House it was in fact a majority of the independent Peers who supported the Government and therefore the whole of his argument based upon the apparent lack of representation falls to the ground.

Lord McNair

My Lords, with respect, I do not think that it does fall to the ground. If the House of Commons had been constituted as I described, I do not think that the Motion would ever have emerged and come along the corridor.

I return to the composition of this House. I suggest that in the next few years it will become increasingly apparent that we must make some changes which will enable our MEPs to play a greater part in the deliberations of our own national Parliament to build a bridge, as it were, between Westminster and Strasbourg. If we fail to do this, our lines of communication will break down.

Perhaps I can best conclude by reminding your Lordships of what was said in a thought-provoking way about the problems of bicameralism by that aphoristic savant The Abbé Sieyès. He said: A Second Chamber either agrees with the Lower House, in which case it is superfluous: or it disagrees, in which case it is pernicious". I profoundly disagree with the Abbé and would add a reasoned amendment to his dictum which would read: But if the Lower House cannot guarantee to examine all legislation in detail, then a Second Chamber is essential". With all our imperfections I think that that is what we are.

7.8 p.m.

Lord Birkett

My Lords, I confess to finding myself a little surprised that this debate is taking place at all. However, since it is, I think it perhaps not inappropriate that someone who is a hereditary Peer should speak from these Benches. It is generally supposed that we on these Benches have no friends. But we have compensations for it: we are allowed our independence. However, sometimes it is removed altogether; it only needs the creation of a new peerage for us to be homeless for at least the first part of the afternoon.

There was however a moment of excitement in what the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, said when suddenly I thought that far from being an island of independence in this great political sea all around us we might—all 73 of us whom he would allow to vote in these matters—hold the balance of power. This is indeed heady stuff. But I doubt whether these not entirely full Benches this evening would go along with my sense of excitement, so I shall leave it to one side.

I think that the serious point is that there is within your Lordships' House a vast reservoir of experience and wisdom. Not a subject under the sun arises but a few, and sometimes many, of your Lordships have a wealth of experience and technical expertise in such matters. Further, the combined weight of your Lordships adds up to a great deal or ordinary old-fashioned human wisdom.

This combination of expertise and wisdom is governed by no factor whatever. It has nothing to do with age; it has nothing to do with wealth; it has nothing to do with geography. It has, I think, nothing to do with the nature of the peerages which entitle your Lordships to sit in this House. It is not the prerogative only of Life Peers, however well deserved those peerages may be, to be wise or experienced or to be able to help your Lordships; and certainly it has nothing whatever to do with regularity of attendance. There are countless debates in which an enormous amount of valuable expertise and guidance is provided to this House by people who very properly do not attend many more debates because they feel, as I often do, that there are debates about which they simply do not know enough to take part. They tend to restrict their appearances to those subjects on which they can at least be helpful to this House and the nation in general.

If that is the case, it seems to me that to suggest a qualification of attendance is wrong. It would simply mean that a very large proportion of the wisdom and experience available to your Lordships was reduced to the status of mere consultancy. To have a lifetime of experience in something, to be allowed to speak on it and then to be denied the opportunity of voting, giving, as it were, teeth to your opinion—if that is not too mixed a metaphor—seems to me to be entirely wrong.

The solution to this problem, if it is a problem and not merely a complaint, seems to me to lie in your Lordships' hands entirely. Political loyalty is a phrase that is often invoked, but usually simply because there is some kind of dichotomy in the mind of somebody about to vote between what his party directs him to do and what he thinks is sensible. This is often brought out as a matter of conscience, but conscience is something which occurs only in the major issues of the time. Very often it is simply a matter of believing things to be mistaken or amendments to be necessary. Political loyalties are invoked on every side.

I am well aware that obligation and friendship play some part in these matters. I am also quite aware of the charismatic influence of the noble Lord, Lord Denham, the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and other noble Lords who find that Whips are an essential piece of furniture in their office. But what surprises me is the number of your Lordships who respond to it. However charismatic they may be, it seems to me that this House is properly constituted to represent a very great deal of independence of spirit and independence therefore of voting. I am constantly astounded that people who so far as I can see have absolutely no reason to do so should respond to a Whip. There is nothing to prevent those noble Lords who are Whips from using their very best endeavours upon these people, but I think that there is more voting by party than there should be. I wish that it were less. I should have thought that your Lordships' House was the very place where that spirit of independence ought to be encouraged.

This is a Question to the Government whether they will make recommendations about the ability of Lords to vote. For all these reasons, I hope very much that they will not.

7.13 p.m.

Lord Diamond

My Lords, I am indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, for airing a generally felt grievance. I hope that he will not regard me as discourteous if I say that perhaps a little of the edge of his argument was taken off when he made it perfectly clear that all he was doing was arranging for me to have an opportunity to straighten my tie before going to the guillotine. That is not a very serious proposition. Despite what I imagine the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, is going to tell us, the Labour Party official policy is that the House of Lords should be abolished in its present form but not immediately—and for that we are very grateful. That is not my view, and of course I no longer have the privilege of being a member of that party.

I share the view of the noble Lord. Any proposal which could be accepted—of course, it is unlikely to be—which would accentuate the need for this House to become more and more of a work-house rather than a House attended on what I might call, despite what we have just heard, a somewhat dilettante basis, would have my support. It is shown by the number of those who attend regularly that it is becoming more and more a House of working Peers, and that is all to the best.

Until we have a thoroughgoing reform of your Lordships' House, in my view we can only work on the basis of complete equality, whether man or woman, whether seventh Earl or newly-created Life Peer. One cannot justify logically the composition of this House, and there are many ways in which it can be reformed and should be reformed. However, it should be reformed in a major way and not in any minor way, meeting the kinds of difficulties that have been proposed. Once one starts on the road of selecting those Peers who should be entitled to vote, where will it finish?

The priority suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, would not be my priority. My priority for excluding Lords from voting would be every single hereditary Peer who has an elder sister—every single noble Lord who comes here and votes for a sex discrimination Act and then proceeds to participate in a system under which the child entitled, by being the first born, to participate in your Lordships' House and to enjoy one of the greatest honours in the country is excluded from that on one ground only; namely, that she is a woman. That would be my priority in dividing Peers into voting Peers and non-voting Peers.

I am bound to say to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, that once one starts on part reform one gets into the kind of difficulty which he illustrated. He chose the vote of the Lord Chief Justice.

Viscount Mountgarret

My Lords, will the noble Lord forgive me and allow me to intervene? He said that it was restricted to the first male child to be allowed to enter your Lordships' House and inherit the title. That is not quite correct because it depends entirely on the way in which the Peerage was granted in the first place, as I am sure the noble Lord is aware.

Lord Diamond

My Lords, I do not want to get bogged down with the detail; otherwise it would take too long. We have had this point many times before, and this is mainly what occurs.

I raise the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, merely to illustrate the total illogicalities with which we are faced in the present way in which the Chamber is constituted and run. The noble Lord was very anxious that the Lord Chief Justice should have the right to vote in your Lordships' House. The basis of democracy, as he, a distinguished lawyer, will acknowledge, is the separation of the judiciary from the legislature. We have a situation in which we somehow or other manage to make it work—not entirely satisfactorily—where you have a number of Law Lords participating in the legislation. If the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, had my problem of trying to explain to many distinguished visitors from the Commonwealth what a great democracy we are and how the House of Lords is the champion of democracy, he would find that that aspect presents a little difficulty. Let us not pretend that we are not full of illogicalities. However, we are experts at making the illogical work somehow or other.

I come back again to this: I think that the only principle on which we can work is that each Peer is the keeper of his or her own conscience. He alone must be responsible for what he says and what he does. He must be free to take advice from the Whips as to what he should do and either to accept it or to reject it, and he must be entitled to take advice from any Whip to whom he chooses to go—even the noble Lord, Lord Denham. That is the only basis on which we can work. I can think of no formula that fits our traditions, the practice of our House and the aspirations which I am sure all noble Lords share other than that each of us should be regarded as one among equals.

7.21 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I have too much respect for the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, to wish to disconcert him unnecessarily, but I cannot help recalling—although my memory is not what it was—that he was a distinguished Member of the Labour Government of 1968 which produced a plan under which there would have been a very selective arrangement whereby hereditary peers would have been allowed to attend but not to vote. The noble Lord joined in responsibility for that. Time has moved on. I shall not pursue the topic.

I support the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon. It happens, for reasons I shall not inflict on the House, that I have been asked quite often in public lately whether I think the House of Lords is a good thing. I recall, as many do, what Mr. R. A. Butler, as he then was, said about his Prime Minister, Sir Anthony Eden: He is the best Prime Minister that we have". I should say that the House of Lords is the best second Chamber that we have. I am in favour of a second Chamber; I want there to be no doubt about that.

When we consider the Chamber, we can hardly regard it as perfect. I never got as far as the House of Commons. The superior eloquence of the noble Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, denied me that chance in an election many years ago. With all due diffidence, it seems to me that we are its superior in many ways. Our manners are better. We are kinder to each other. We have more knowledge and more wisdom, we like to think. I use a word introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Birkett. We are therefore a very fine House in terms of debate. I do not underestimate the influence that can be exerted in debates over a period.

When it comes to voting, of course, the place is a sick joke; it is an absurdity. No one really questions that. It is quite indefensible. The real point is whether anything at all ought to be done about the voting system. We want to continue as far as possible the influential, wise and delightful discussions and the life that we enjoy so much. But any dispassionate observer from outside would certainly say that something ought to be done about the voting system. No other country has copied, or is the least likely to copy, it. It has just grown, and here we are with it.

If I speak about reform, I do not want to seem to be speaking from a Labour Party point of view only—although I do speak partly from that point of view. From our point of view it is intolerable that—when I last looked—between 300 and 400 Members take the Conservative Whip and rather more than 100 Members take the Labour Whip. That is an absurd imbalance. No one would constitute a chamber in any civilised world with that kind of composition.

I shall not pursue the question of how far the Conservative Government—I do not want to get involved in what would happen under a Labour government—of today have an automatic majority. We are all aware that the Government are beaten quite often. That is of course a feature of a part-time House. I am all for a part-time House. I think that all the famous wisdom and the contributions would be much less weighty if we had to attend full time; so I am all for a part-time House.

We all know the situation. The Government can be and have been beaten quite often in the past few years, but when they want to pull out all the stops they always win. It is a question of whether on a particular occasion they want to pull out all the stops, or how many stops they want to pull out. The question of the poll tax has been dealt with.

We might consider the matter of charges for eye testing, which arose recently. When that was discussed in the House, plenty of Conservatives did not like the charges at all, together with Independents and Labour and SDP Members. Two hundred and fourteen Members voted, and the Government were defeated. The matter went back to the House of Commons, and it scraped through by eight votes. It was brought here again, and 464 Members voted. Twice as many voted when it came to the pinch. Whether we think it is a lovely, a ridiculous, or an indefensible plan, that is the situation.

The question is whether anything can be done in practical political terms. Here I look at matters more from the Conservative point of view. The pressure for reform of this Chamber is no new thing but—until1968 anyway—it came almost entirely from the Conservative side. For various reasons, I happen to have had occasion to look into all that, but I shall not weary noble Lords with my researches. In 1907 Lord Newton, a Conservative Peer, introduced a Bill that prevented the automatic right of a hereditary peer to a seat in the House of Lords. Eighty years ago that was a Conservative initiative.

There were all kinds of other proposals—nearly all Conservative proposals—for reform. In one way or another they have all been defeated. Proposals were put forward, for example, by a Conservative government in 1927, and private Members' Bills were introduced by Conservative Peers in 1929, 1933 and 1935. The initiative for reforming the House, recognising that the composition of the House is really indefensible, has come from the Conservative Benches.

Quite a number of noble Lords would have been Members in 1968. I was Leader of the House at that time. I took the initiative in making a proposal that only Peers who had been awarded their peerages should be allowed to vote; hereditary peers should come and make the contributions that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, values so highly, but would not be allowed to vote. That was agreed by the two Front Benches. After I resigned from that government, a lot of work was done on the proposal particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington and the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, on the Conservative side, and by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and, in the other place, Mr. Crossman, on our side.

An agreement was reached between the two parties to abolish the hereditary right of Peers to vote. It was sabotaged in the other place because the Back Benchers on the extreme wings did not want this House of Lords to be rational; that is, so far as I could understand the motivation of the other place. Thus it was sabotaged after an agreement had been reached. Let no one assume for a moment that the Conservative Party throughout the century has stood for the automatic right of those who inhereit titles to come and vote; quite the contrary.

Since that time there have been one or two Conservative initiatives. An exceptionally strong Conservative committee, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Home, and including the noble Lord, Lord Blake, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, in 1978 published proposals for a second Chamber which would have had a combined basis of election and nomination. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, in an impressive and absorbing book has come out for an elected second Chamber. I do not know whether anyone has had time to read the book. If they have, they may not have welcomed that proposal. One of the most eminent Conservatives of the day now favours an elected second Chamber; so do not let us talk as though suggestions for reform come from wild, fanatical lefties who want to destroy the whole institution. I have given facts, whether or not the House finds them acceptable.

My noble friend Lord Ponsonby may go into more detail about the proposal put forward by my noble friend Lord Stoddart. I shall not detain the House. If anyone wonders whether these proposals are practical, they can look at the 1968 White Paper to which I have already referred. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell, will find in it that some of his questions are answered. No doubt further work will need to be done on the details. I dare say that my noble friend Lord Ponsonby will go into that point.

I repeat that the main feature of the 1968 proposals was that hereditary Peers would lose the right to vote but would be allowed to speak. That 1968 agreed proposal contained an arrangement of the kind proposed by my noble friend Lord Stoddart.

The noble Lord, Lord Denham, has an exceptional position. In my 43 years here, there has never been a Chief Whip who was at once more astute and more popular. If one can be astute and popular, one achieves more than is usually given to mortal men.

I recognise that the proposal made by my noble friend Lord Stoddart, however it is worked out, might add to the difficulties of the noble Lord, Lord Denham. With his infinite resourcefulness, he will overcome those difficulties. He should not be intimidated by the proposals. I ask him to consider my submission that reform of the composition of the House is in the great tradition of his own party. I hope that he will give us some encouragement in that direction this evening.

7.33 p.m.

Baroness Platt of Writtle

My Lords, I disagree with the proposal before your Lordships' House. I wish to speak from personal experience. When I was first created a Baroness in 1981 I attended your Lordships' House on average on two days a week. When Mr. Whitelaw, as he then was, the Home Secretary, appointed me in 1983 as chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission, it was on the clear understanding that I would spend an average of two days a week at its headquarters in Manchester. Over the five years of my appointment, I carried out that undertaking, and worked much more than a full-time week, including travelling all over the country speaking generally on the importance of equal opportunities for men and women.

Lord Diamond

Hear, hear!

Baroness Platt of Writtle

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. During that five years, m y attendance in your Lordships' House was naturally abysmal. My statutory duties lay elsewhere.

However, when the second Sex Discrimination Bill passed through the House, I was present on all occasions, to speak, to vote and I hope to influence the Government to change the Bill for the better. Your Lordships may recall that I put forward an amendment which, with the support of noble Lords on the Opposition Benches, was carried against the Government. Had an arrangement such as that suggested today been in force, I should have been prevented from doing that, and therefore in my view prevented from carrying out my statutory duties. I hope that your Lordships will agree that it would also prevent someone with specialised knowledge in a particular field from casting his vote based on practical experience of the subject before the House. That is my experience, which I know is not unique. Other noble Lords have for periods of time been placed in a position similar to that which we have heard of tonight. I hope that your Lordships will not follow the suggestion put before you tonight.

Lord Diamond

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, from her vast experience and hard work, may I ask her what proposals her group is making about elder daughters being ignored in respect of attending your Lordships' House?

Baroness Platt of Writtle

My Lords, I cannot tell the noble Lord what is available in that respect. However, I like the idea of elder daughters having that right. I also know that peerages have been created over the centuries in different ways.

7.35 p.m.

Lord Monson

My Lords, many of your Lordships will have expected my distinguished noble friend Lord Moran to rise to his feet at this juncture. I am sorry to have to disappoint you, but in the perhaps inevitable pre-Christmas confusion a printing error would seem to have substituted his name for mine on the list of speakers.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, for drawing attention to a problem which has had many of us uneasy for months and in some cases for years. The moral legitimacy of this House in its legislative capacity surely rests upon two pillars. The first is tradition, or our unwritten constitution if one prefers. The second is the existence of a good degree of public support—not of course unanimous support—for the House and for the work that it does.

I am not qualified to talk about the pre-war years, but to the best of my memory the House has always enjoyed a reasonable degree of public support from World War 2 onwards, even during the fiercely egalitarian middle and late 1940s and the fun-revolutionary middle and late sixties and early seventies. All that support was in evidence, notwithstanding the cartoonists' cliché, which is still with us—albeit an essentially good-humoured cliché—depicting the typical Peer with his drooping white moustache, his hearing aid and his walking stick, garbed in his robe and coronet. But in recent years the House has moved from being merely tolerated to being positively popular. That is partly due to its proceedings being televised, an experiment I freely admit having strongly opposed at the outset. Even more is it due to the fact that the House has defeated the Government on more than 100 occasions since 1979, almost always in responsible circumstances and a responsible manner rather than in any flippant or lighthearted way.

Such a development appealed to most voters, including one suspects a majority of Conservative voters who are no less inclined than the rest of their countrymen to feel that over-mighty institutions, which category includes governments with massive majorities in the other place, need to be humbled from time to time.

Now all that great good will towards this House seems to have evaporated almost overnight. Of course, popularity should never be an end in itself, and there is a case for saying that it is just as well that the honeymoon period of excessive popularity is over. It was never realistic to suppose that one can or should please all of the people all of the time; but the pendulum has swung alarmingly far in the other direction, thereby challenging the moral legitimacy of the House. Why should that be? The catalyst of course was the evening of what we conveniently term the great poll tax Division.

The following day, The Times suggested that no fewer than 60 backwoodsmen turned up to swell the government Lobby. Rather more charitably, I should have put the total of, let us say, infrequent attenders at 49; other noble Lords may have arrived at different totals, but whether the figure be 60, 49 or some other number of that magnitude, it still seemed to many people to be excessive. The tragedy is that it was not even necessary. The Government could have won handsomely without scouring the shires to such an extent.

To turn up once in a blue moon to vote on an important issue which is not strictly party political (for example the death penalty) might just be justifiable—I remain open-minded on that point—but to do so on a strictly party political issue on which one is most unlikely to have heard the arguments in any detail, if at all, is quite another matter. One senses that most members of the public, irrespective of party, are shocked at this state of affairs and do not approve at all. I must say that I considered many, if not all, of the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, to be well founded.

I suggest that one possible step in the right direction would be to tighten up the leave of absence rules. Finally, I wish to point out that the emotions of those of us on these Benches, however few or many we may be, who happen to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, are most certainly not: sired by frustration out of anger", as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, suggested.

7.40 p.m.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, this debate could quite easily have devolved into farce as the Denham dilemma, or Bertie's backwoodsmen. But I am glad in a way that it has been much more serious than that. There is the funny side of course because we are a complete anachronism. We in this country call ourselves a democracy and yet we are ruled by a parliament that is so undemocratically constituted as to be a laughing stock to the rest of the world. It is only the good manners of the rest of the world which prevents it from laughing at us all the time. Unfortunately, some of our actions are changing that and I suspect we are becoming a bit of a laughing stock.

It is quite interesting that just about the only aspect of this Chamber's operations that is democratic is the way we relate one to another. We are considered equal, we have equal speaking rights and we have equal voting rights among each other. That I think is a great credit to us. The problem, and the question that we are really discussing tonight, is raised by the whole hypocrisy of our very existence. We are not debating the way we conduct our business, but what we do in relation to the governing of the country, what relationship we hold to the other Chamber and what relationship we have to our monarch.

Some people espouse the idea that the House of Lords is a backstop against an all powerful House of Commons. Others espouse the belief that we are a repository of specialist knowledge and wisdom and that our object in life is as a revising Chamber, giving the impression of going through Bills line by line, correcting the grammar and the spelling and making sure that everything is correct. But in practice we are a very political Chamber. That is something that the public at large does not appreciate. Many people involved in this House, who only attend occasionally, do not appreciate how political we are. We are divided on party lines—dare I say it?—in the old county tradition where there is always a good number of independents on the county councils. But those of us on the Labour Benches always knew and recognised those independents as unofficial Conservatives. The way they voted, virtually on a 100 per cent. basis, demonstrated that to us.

I express the following idea rather differently from the way other noble Lords have expressed it. I believe there are approximately 1,300 people eligible to sit in this House. Out of that number, approximately 120 are Labour Party members. Therefore, the Labour Party, Her Majesty's official Opposition in the House of Lords, constitutes one-tenth of the membership. On that basis there is an overwhelming Conservative majority.

The interesting thing is—dare I say it?—how inadequately the noble Lord, Lord Denham, performed up until shortly after the election in 1987. He seemed to be able to lose vote after vote. But when we realise the implications of that, we see that there were two implications. First, it created an illusion of the odd nine-day wonder that the Conservative Government were being defeated. Secondly, it created an illusion that the House of Lords was a good place.

But, in practice, the Bills put forward by the Conservative Government were only changed in the margins. The Bill to abolish the metropolitan counties and the GLC went through with, admittedly, some minor amendments; but the reality is that we no longer have a GLC, and we no longer have the metropolitan counties. The destruction occurred of that whole tier of democracy. Here we can see the flaw in the Conservative myth that the House of Lords is a backstop against an all powerful House of Commons.

We are a political Chamber and we are an anachronism. So, what is the practical use of the House of Lords? I suggest that it has one practical use and that is as a retirement home for senior members of the establishment, whether Members of another place who have retired or retired people from the City or retired people who have occupied senior positions in the trade union movement. It is a happy resting place for them and it keeps them out of mischief. It gives them somewhere to come, have a drink, chat with their friends and, if they feel like it, think that they are doing something useful. That is quite a useful thing to have; but that I think is the only useful function of the House of Lords.

We then come to considering how we might change the form of government in this country, because that is what we are talking about. I suggest that there is not the popular will to have what effectively would be a revolution to get rid of the House of Lords and the monarchy and just have the House of Commons as the government. I do not think at this stage that there is the popular will for that to come about. But we have over the years evolved a constitutional monarchy whereby the monarch takes advice from Parliament and, so far as I am aware, never disagrees with that advice. A monarch has the capacity in theory to refuse to sign a Bill; but in practice he always accepts that advice.

In practice, I believe the best way of dealing with the problem of the House of Lords is to turn it into a constitutional Chamber. The way to do that would be for all Bills to start in the House of Lords, in order to benefit from the undoubted wisdom of the assembled company. There are some tremendously powerful individuals in this Chamber with tremendous abilities to offer in terms of giving advice. Bills would be considered here first. Having been deliberated upon, in another place, they would then go on to the House of Commons. Thereafter we would have nothing more to do or say about them. The constitutional niceties could be observed and the Bills could come back for consideration of Commons amendments, for example.

But there would be no more amendments to the Bills after the House of Commons had effectively done with them. In that way we could retain our say and we could observe the constitutional niceties, but we could also demonstrate to the world and the people of Britain that we in this country are a democracy, because at the end of the day the elected representatives of the people would have had the final say. I have probably spoken for too long, especially as it is the second time that I have spoken today. I shall leave noble Lords with those remarks.

7.50 p.m.

Viscount Mountgarret

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, seemed to be most concerned with equal opportunities and fairness for all. I think I have a possible solution to his concerns which would obviate the necessity of trying to implement some of the ideas underlying the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. Far from restricting Members of this noble House from attending, why not consider creating a whole lot more hereditary Peerages, only this time they might be entailed general as opposed to entailed male. I am sure that would meet with the approval of my noble friend Lady Platt.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, will not think that I am saying to him personally that he is thoughtless, inconsiderate or presumptuous, but I would say that the proposal behind the Question is to an extent a mixture of all three. First, it is thoughtless because it has not been thought out in terms of what the knock-on effect will be. Various noble Lords have already pointed that out.

There is another area which has not been pointed out. At the moment we have the right to attend and to vote in this House and therefore we do not have the right to vote at a general election. If any Members of your Lordships' House were to find that their right to vote was removed they would have to have the right to vote in a general election. If that were to happen and certain noble Lords were barred from voting for a particular length of time or in particular Sessions, can one imagine the machinations which would have to go on in the offices of the registrar to decide who would be able to vote, when and where?

The proposal is inconsiderate. It is inconsiderate to many noble Lords who do not appear to attend your Lordships' House regularly to describe them as having no interest. I think that that is somewhat unfair and slightly offensive. We have already been given two very good examples—the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice and my noble friend Lady Platt. There are many other noble Lords who carry out an enormous amount of work and business which precludes them from attending. Because they are loyal to the party to which they belong, be it Conservative, Liberal, SDP or Labour, they will make tremendous efforts to come when asked to do so on matters of great importance. I think therefore that it is inconsiderate to suggest that those who are prepared to make such efforts should find their services, however apparently scant, rewarded in such a way.

It is also presumptuous. It is presumptuous because it is assumed, certainly I think by the noble Lord who tabled the Question and perhaps by many of his noble friends, that Conservative Peers will automatically support their party if Whipped in. No chief Whip could ever automatically assume that that would be the case. Indeed, I know that the other day my noble friend the Chief Whip welcomed one of his noble friends whom he had not seen for some time and thanked him most profusely for coming so far to help the Government's cause. To his utter horror and chagrin he found him walking through the Opposition Lobby. One can never take anything in this life for granted.

The reason for the concern of noble Lords opposite which has given rise to the Question springs from the feeling that they cannot command a majority against the Conservative Party because they know that unfortunately a large number of hereditary Peers happen to support the Conservative Party. One has to ask oneself why that should be so. Gilbert said: That every boy and every gal, That's born into the world alive, Is either a little Liberal, Or else a little Conservative! Indeed, yes; one might be born a hereditary Peer but one is not born a herditary Labour Party supporter, Conservative Party supporter or Liberal Party supporter, or what you will. People change their affiliations.

Why do they change their affiliations? They do so because they like and are attracted by the policies of the party to which they wish to belong and what that party stands for. If over the years since the war the policies of the parties of noble Lords opposite have not been such as to attract the many backwoodsmen who appear to take no interest in politics, one has to say to noble Lords opposite: why not think about the things which you are expounding and stand for? Perhaps if one were a little more radical and not so determined in other ways one would have better support. If that were done, the balance of voting strength which has been referred to might be better than it is at present. Surely it is better to achieve that by natural causes rather than by these proposed artificial means.

7.56 p.m.

Earl Russell

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, will I think understand that I share the frustration which has led him to bring this Question forward. In the time since I have been a Member of this House I have I believe voted in the government Lobby once. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, may forgive me if I remind him that that was on the Firearms Bill. I fancy that he was in the same Lobby.

I have been in this House and in the anti-government Lobby on all the days in the past year when the backwoodsmen have been present. On 8th November last I heard that the noble Lord, Lord Denham, was asked how many times I had voted against him that day. The noble Lord said, "He only voted against me twice because I only gave him the chance to do it twice. He would have voted against me 17 times if he had had the chance". I think that the noble Lord understands me very well. It is in that spirit that I make my remarks about the Question.

I share the frustration. If we have won the argument, if we have won the support of the public outside, as on all three of those occasions we had, it is extremely frustrating to find that we are defeated by the ability of the noble Lord, Lord Denham, to call spirits from the vasty deep. However, though the noble Lord has uncovered a major cause of concern, like my noble friend Lord McNair I am not convinced that he has found the correct remedy.

My concerns about the proposal are connected with liberty. Liberty has something to do with rights, a patchwork collection of rights, here and there and wherever you do not expect to find them. The more those rights cause inconvenience, the more those rights are a guarantee of liberty. The right to attend this House is among them.

I shall touch only briefly on the perfectly practical point that this proposal would deprive us of the services of those noble Lords who hold the perfectly proper view that they should not attend and vote unless they know something about what is being debated. If, for example, on the Education Bill my colleague the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, had been told that as a living, working, vice-chancellor he was not entitled to vote on the position of vice-chancellors, I think that the House would have been the poorer. After the division on the Local Government Finance Bill the Guardian published a list of those Peers who had voted in that division but who had not voted in 10 divisions during the past year. I looked at that list carefully. It intrigued me to see included the name of the noble Lord, Lord Barber, whom we heard recently in the debate on the humble Address. Whatever anybody may say about the noble Lord, Lord Barber, he is not a man without political experience. In debating the actions of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer it would, I think, be a great mistake and a great derogation from the rights of the House if we were to deprive ourselves of the services of the last Chancellor to make the same mistake.

There are also those noble Lords, junior Members of this House, who have full-time employment in other places. I hope that the House can benefit from their presence. I must confess that I was quite taken aback to hear the proposal by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, for a 33 per cent. attendance record. I came to the House believing that I was coming here to defend the rights of others. I am somewhat startled to find that I am defending my own rights, and much relieved that I had decided to take a disinterested stance before I was aware that I was in any way threatened. However, I must confess that as a servant of this House I take amiss a proposal which would deprive me of the right to remain one.

I think that it is also worth considering the relationship of Members of this House to each other. In 1621 an incident took place in this House which I think some noble Lords will understand a lot faster than many of my professional colleagues. An enormous row took place between Lord Spencer and the Earl of Arundel. The House, with a delightful right and left, decided to reprove Lord Spencer for calling the Earl of Arundel "a great Lord". It said: there are no great Lords among us; the greatest Lord that is lays down his greatness at the door. My Lords, I think that that was a good principle.

If there are no great Lords then there are no little Lords. Still less should there be any lesser Lords without the vote. The principle that all Lords count equally is, I think, important. I do not want to be a party to a proposal to make some Lords less equal than others.

I ask noble Lords to forgive me if I speak personally for a moment. Coming to this House as a new Member and facing the full weight of an extremely determined government, I was delighted to find that the House in fact practises what it preaches in this regard; namely, that all Lords when they get up to speak rise equal and whether they sit down equal is up to them. I have taken so very much pleasure enjoying that equality that I cannot be a party to depriving fellow Peers of it. I am not happy about that proposal.

I believe that it is also worth remembering that the power to restrict membership of the legislature is potentially a very dangerous threat to liberty. It is something that kings in time gone past have tried very hard indeed to do. The last one to try was King Charles I and the last time he tried to do it was in 1640 against Viscount Mandeville. Three days before the House met, the spiritual ancestors of Mr. Bernard Ingham were drumming out the message that Mandeville would obtain no writ. When the House met he had his writ and he was there. I do not know why it happened. I know that in the procession at the State Opening he presented the Lord Admiral with "Five pounds of Bermoody orangs".

In the 1960s the ci-devant Viscount Stansgate rashly tried to retell that story. He attempted to argue that the granting of the Writ of Summons was discretionary and that the Crown had the right to withhold it. I am delighted that he was overruled. If we reintroduce a discretion to withhold a Writ of Summons, we are threatening a vital freedom of this House. This House has always resisted attempts to tamper with its membership. Indeed, it is a matter of pride for me to know that all through the Civil War it resisted the most savage pressure from another place to deprive its Roman Catholic Members of the right to attend.

I have said that this is a genuine problem. It is an old problem. It is not the first time that Members of this House have felt aggrieved by the power of the Crown to achieve a massive attendance in this Chamber. I remember the remark which was made by Professor Haley about the exclusion debate in this House in 1680: what delighted the courtiers about Halifax's speech was not having the better of the vote—they were used to that; what was new to them was having the better of the argument. I think that some noble Lords will recognise that voice.

But where there is an old problem there is also an old remedy. My advice to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, is traditional advice: he should get himself and his honourable and right honourable friends into a position from which they can advise Her Majesty on the exercise of her prerogative. I choose my words carefully here. It is an area in which Her Majesty normally chooses to take the advice of Her Ministers. On three occasions the Crown has decided that it needed to correct the balance of power in this House. On only one occasion has the Crown had to carry out that decision. If there is an overwhelming imbalance of forces in this House, the Crown if so advised by Ministers has the right to correct it. That is the target at which the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, should be aiming.

Meanwhile, I believe that the rights of Members of this House should only be taken away if considered as part of a general parliamentary reform Bill which should apply to both Chambers of Parliament. I cannot support any reform of Parliament that is confined to one House. The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, said just now—I believe it was the phrase he used—"the people or at least their elected representatives". The noble Lord has to accept that those are two very different things. In all the recent areas of dispute, the overwhelming support of the people has been on the side of this House. In the matter of eye tests 87 per cent. were on the side of this House.

If we have a situation where the people are better represented in this Chamber than they are in the elected Chamber, I think that we have a case not for a procedural reform but for a great reform Bill.

8.8 p.m.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, I very much enjoyed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, and agreed with his logic to a great extent. Unfortunately democracy is not logical. In a general election the village simpleton casts his vote, as does a great captain of industry who employs 10,000 people and brings great wealth into the country. The captain of industry and the village simpleton have the same power to choose their final arbiter—if that is the right word to use. That is not logical.

As I said, I enjoyed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, which I think was a very good one, but with due respect to him I must say that with whatever logic one may argue one is beaten in the end because democracy is not subject to logic. True enough, the ancient Greeks who started the system were renowned for logic but of course their system is not possible here today because they had a parliament of the elite. The people in it were great scholars and had great experience. However, I shall not go into that.

With the Chief Whip sitting on the Bench below me I have to be very tactful. I agree that i1 is annoying for the Opposition if we have an overflow of Peers on a great occasion—although I would riot call the £10 charge for spectacles a great occasion. However, they are not all Conservative voters or supporters. Members on the Cross-Benches do not necessarily vote Labour; in fact very few of them do so, and one has to include them in the number. One cannot therefore always blame the Tory voters for a defeat.

I wrote a book on this subject some time ago. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor was kind enough to write the introduction. In it I set out various schemes. However, it sold out very quickly and has not been reprinted.

The noble Lord on the Cross-Benches made a very good speech. He pointed out that it would be terrible to destroy the tremendous expertise in the House. Some people say, "They can come and speak, but not vote". But I do not think that that would be satisfactory to many of them.

I have been attending the House since 1956. I have one criticism, although it may not be a good one. When I first came to the House, if one were a BackBencher and read a speech one was called to order. With due respect, I find today that many BackBenchers now read speeches. We do not wish to become like America—I am sure that most noble Lords have been to America. You will know that in the House of Representatives and the Senate one can have one's speech typed out by somebody—one has not even written it—and one hands it in to the equivalent of Hansard and it is printed as if one has been present. One does not even have to attend the Chamber.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, what has this to do with the subject?

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, it has a great deal to do with it.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, may we have the benefit of that exchange?

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, I wish to say that if one messes about with this House too much one will destroy a House of great value. I understand that my noble friend Lord Carrington has written a book in which he suggests that this House should be an elected body. If that were so, one would have only a mirror of the Commons. I can see very little point in that.

I shall cease now. However, I agree with the logic of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. It is good. But I do not see how he can put it into practice because democracy is so illogical.

8.14 p.m.

Viscount Ingleby

My Lords, I should like to ask the Government one question. Was it an honour to the House when the police at Peers Entrance had to challenge a number of Members on a day not so long ago, and when some of those Members had to ask where the cloakrooms were? I met a friend of mine; I was delighted to see him. He is a Member of this House but I see him only on rare occasions because he comes only when he receives a certain communication from the Chief Whip.

I should like to ask whether it is right that some of those Peers should be able to go into the Division Lobby and carry the vote for the Government. Does this not provide ammunition for those who would like to abolish this House? I would be very sorry indeed to see that. If the people of this country see that when it comes to the crunch on an important matter the Conservatives will always win, this will only strengthen the argument for abolition. If this House is to retain its credibility—as I very much hope that it will—it must surely occasionally be able to defeat the Government on an important point.

However, on the matter of bringing the House into disrepute, could this not be avoided without any change in the rules if the Whips of all parties were to exercise self-restraint—

Lord Elwyn-Jones

There is not a hope of that.

Viscount Ingleby

—and not to send three-line Whips to those who do not attend this House? If this agreement could be reached and honoured—I hear some doubts expressed on the other side—would this not be a much better way of achieving the aims which the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, and many others would like to see?

8.16 p.m.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, perhaps I may first thank the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, for putting down this Unstarred Question. He admitted when he opened his remarks that he had put it down in a feeling of anger and I think that feeling of anger and concern was very widespread after the vast votes which we had earlier in the year, in particular on the poll tax. The question of the reputation of the House is a matter of concern to all noble Lords. I think that the reputation of the House suffered as a result of these particular occasions.

The noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, said that he too was concerned about the reputation of the House. I therefore hope that he will join with me on that point. I have been a Member of this House for 12 years, since 1979. The noble Lord who is to reply to the debate this evening, the Government Chief Whip, has of course been Chief Whip since 1979. During the time he has been Chief Whip I would say that the reputation of the House has been enhanced. The House has enjoyed more public esteem. This may in part have been because of the televising of the House. It may in part have been the fact that this House showed that it could on occasion defeat the Government. However, this enhanced reputation has suffered on every occasion when he has decided to over-exert himself and bring in vast numbers of backwoodsmen.

It so happens that I received a copy of a letter written to the Government Chief Whip today which was sent by a citizen of Nottingham and I think it puts this very well. He says: For many years I have been a staunch supporter of the House of Lords in the belief that it was a moderating chamber for the discussion and revising of the Government of the Day's more sensitive proposals for legislation.

I have to say that my belief in the impartiality of the House of Lords has been shattered by the tactics employed by you as the Government Chief Whip when there is a strong possibility of defeat for the said Government on an unpopular or major issue.

By this I mean your inviting to the House a large number of peers, who do not normally attend the Lords, to cast their votes to crush any rebellion. This has taken place at least three times in the last couple of years.

I sincerely believe that these tactics are destroying the credibility of the House of Lords … I propose in future to vote for any candidate whose policy includes the abolition of the House of Lords". In fact the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip is not achieving what he hoped to achieve by these tactics with this citizen. It looks from the tone of his letter as though he previously voted Conservative.

It is interesting to note that among the many statistics available to Chief Whips we have a list of the Divisions in the House of Lords of over 300 votes between 1831 and the present day. During that period there have been 44 such Divisions. During the period before the noble Lord became Chief Whip there were 20 such Divisions over a period of 140 years, so roughly we had one really big vote once every seven years on matters such as the Common Market Motion on the Government of Ireland Bill, the Prayer Book Motion and other such matters. Since the noble Lord has been Chief Whip these really big votes have taken place three or four times a year. We have had vast and heavy turnouts—I am talking now only of votes over 300, but the higher votes too are very much included in these figures—only since the noble Lord has become Chief Whip. Obviously there is some connection between the two matters.

But the noble Lord should not be all that worried and think that he has so many detractors because he knows that last week the Observer newspaper named him as the Peer's Peer. Earlier on 23rd November the Spectator nominated the noble Lord as the Whip of the Year. I should like to congratulate him on that. Indeed he is the first noble Lord to have been given a Spectator award. The citation says: Lacking the disciplinary sanctions of House of Commons he has to use the more aristocratic arts of charm and gentle persuasion to coax scores of dozing Lord Emsworths from their country seats. In this he has succeeded, and without any sacrifice of the good humour of the Upper House". Those of us who attended the occasion when those awards were presented by the noble Lord, Lord Whitelaw, were most amused to hear him say that he remembered the occasions when the noble Lord the Chief Whip would come to him and say, "I think it is about time that we had a government defeat".

The question we have to ask ourselves is whether the turning on of the screws so frequently is an abuse of the anomalies with which this House lives. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Monson, that the reputation of the House has suffered as a result. We have a working House, the composition of which was laid down by the Procedure Committee Report, in which the noble Lord the Leader of the House partook last year, which defined a working Peer as one who had attended one-third of the meetings of the House. There is a feeling that when we are taking many of the decisions and votes it is mainly the people who have been involved who should be participating in the votes. To bring in many additional Peers on certain occasions does not help the working of the House.

As has already been said, no Peer can be deprived of his right to vote without legislation. I have a feeling that that would be difficult to achieve, but restraint would be easier to achieve. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, and the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter—if he were present in his place, he would no doubt be bouncing up and down on this Question as well—are always keen on the problem of composition and whether the Labour Party wants to abolish the House of Lords. The truth is that the abolition of the House of Lords has been in and out of the Labour Party manifesto all this century. It was not in last time, but it was in the time before. What can be clearly stated is that the Labour Party is against a second Chamber composed as this Chamber is at present. For there to be any change in the nature of the second Chamber is a matter which would have to have all-party agreement and nothing would be likely to proceed in that area without such agreement.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I am grateful to the Opposition Chief Whip for giving way and I shall be very brief. No, the policy of the Labour Party is abolition, not reform. Those are the words used in its manifestos.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

No, the noble Lord is not right, my Lords. It is abolition in its present form, which means reform. The House of Lords is, as has been said on many occasions this evening, a revising Chamber. We respect the will of the elected House. We do not seek to challenge it at Second Reading—a dictum which was laid down in this House many years ago. We retain the right to put proposals to the other place for amending legislation. It is our considered view when we put those proposls as to what should be done.

I see no reason for the Government to be unduly upset if we do this from time to time against their wishes. We know that the Government Chief Whip feels that it is healthy for the House of Lords to do that from time to time, but obviously not too often. We would hope—indeed I go further—we feel that when the House's views are expressed after considered debate by noble Lords they should command a fair wind when they go down to the other House. A fair proportion of those views should be accepted. Unless that situation persists and unless our proposals are given a fair wind when they go to the other place, noble Lords will feel that they are wasting their time—that is, if no amendments that we propose to a Bill are accepted down the other end. That would not be healthy for Parliament.

My noble friend Lord Stoddart is seeking a solution to a problem which has concerned many of us. Many noble Lords have raised points of detail concerning his ideas. I do not believe that it is appropriate to discuss points of detail this evening because if it were decided to proceed any further on the principle, those are matters which would be discussed at a later stage. I know that my noble friend has no right of reply, but the 1968 White Paper suggested a 33 per cent. threshold, but there is nothing sacrosanct in that figure. Interestingly enough it is the same figure as the Committee on Procedure used to define who was or who was not a working Peer.

There is another interesting aspect which occurred before my time, but not perhaps before the time of the noble Lord, Lord Denham, or the Leader. Originally when attendance allowances were introduced into this House this was an assiduity rule, which meant that no Peer could claim attendance allowance unless he had attended on a certain number of occasions—

Lord Denham

A travel allowance, my Lords.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

Travel expenses—unless he had attended on a certain number of occasions. This was found to be quite unworkable at the end of the day because it cut out some of the people whom the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, had in mind. It is possible that when one considered those proposals again such problems would arise. My noble friend has put his Question today. It merits consideration and we await with interest what the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip has to say.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Denham

My Lords, the answer to the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, is no. In the first place the noble Lord's suggestion is impractical, as he told the House most fairly when he introduced the Question.

Under the terms of the Letters Patent granting a Peerage your Lordships are entitled to a "seat, place and voice"—and "voice" means a vote in this context—in all Parliaments, as well as all the rights, privileges, pre-eminences, immunities and advantages", heretofore used and enjoyed or, at present, used and enjoyed. Furthermore, since the early 17th century it has been held that the issue of a writ of summons to Parliament—so that these rights can be exercised— to treat and give your counsel is inherent in the Peerage and cannot be denied to your Lordships.

Your Lordships' House would not therefore be competent, merely through amendment of standing orders, to impose any curtailment of these rights. It would entail primary legislation, a Bill to reform your Lordships' House in fact, and I doubt whether any administration in the near future would be likely to grasp that particular thistle again.

In the second place it is undesirable—not least in that it would not achieve what the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, would like it to do. I have done a little research into the voting figures in the Division on the amendment of my noble friend Lord Cullen of Ashbourne to the Health and Medicines Bill—which I think lay behind the noble Lord's Question. If all Peers who attended less than 10 times during the 1986–87 Session, the last Session for which figures are available, had been eliminated from the voting on that occasion, Her Majesty's Government would still have won the Division. I have all confidence that the same situation would have applied to the previous Division to which the noble Lord objected and which prompted his Question.

But the result of such a proposal would indeed be unfortunate. It would have the effect of keeping away those Peers who live or work away from Westminster, sometimes in remote areas, who add so much to this House by bringing to it an up-to-date working knowledge of their occupations or the parts of the country from which they come. That would have included my noble friend Lady Platt of Writtle.

It would also cut out four out of the seven right reverend Prelates who voted on that occasion. Had the criterion been only a slightly higher number of attendances, all seven would have fallen. The loss of the Bench of Bishops would deprive the House of wise advice and spiritual guidance, to say nothing of individual personal friendships, but I really could not see it affecting the voting figures in the government Division Lobby to a significant extent. It would totally exclude new Peers who had not had time to build up an attendance record at all.

Several noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, have suggested that if you deprive a Peer of his vote you need not necessarily deprive him of his right to make a speech. I do not believe that that would work because it is totally illogical. A noble Lord has only one vote but by making a speech he can influence any number of peers. On occasions my noble friends sitting behind me have spoken against a government Bill and then said that they will not vote against it. My invariable reply is that I would much rather they voted against the Bill because they have only one vote, but if they speak against it they can influence any number of Peers.

I have been at some pains in the past to disperse the myth of "the built-in Conservative majority" in your Lordships' House. But as it has been raised again today, I should like to do so once more. Her Majesty's Government do not have an overall majority in your Lordships' House—whether we consider total party membership or what has been described as "the working House". At my last count, this morning, there were 426 peers in receipt of the Conservative Whip as against a total of 456 who either belong to other parties or who take no Whip at all. On those figures the Conservative vote is 48.3 per cent.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords—

Lord Denham

I did not interrupt the noble Lord and I hope that he will not interrupt me.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, the noble Lord knows that if he makes such a remark I must interrupt him as always. He is counting all the Independent Peers as being against him, and that is patently not so.

Lord Denham

My Lords, it is a question of having an overall majority. Many of the Independent Peers vote against the Government and on occasions every one of them does so. They have every right so to do, but the Conservative figures are as I have given them. It would be impertinent of me, and although I would not use the same word as the noble Lord opposite, it would be unwise of him, to suggest that any Independent Peer will vote in any particular way at any particular time. As your Lordships are aware, these paper figures tend to be pure science fiction because that number of Peers never attends, or a large proportion do not. However you calculate what constitutes "the working House", the results are much the same. For example, if you take those Peers who attended one-third of the sittings or more in 1985–86, the position of the Government is even weaker. There were 168 on the Conservative Benches as against 212 elsewhere. That brings down the figure to 44.2 per cent.

There is another myth current about your Lordships' House which maintains that the Conservative Chief Whip has an inexhaustible supply of backwoodsmen at his disposal who have never attended before but whom he can summon at will. Sometimes I wish that it were so, but perhaps I can have a go at that one too. The truth is that while some of your Lordships are able to attend regularly, there are others whose business commitments and geogaphical locations prevent them from coming here more often than once a fortnight, once a month or even a very few times a year. It is only when I send out a very strong Whip, which is usually once or at most twice a year, that a large number of them are inclined to come on the same day and so be particularly noticed. It has always been my belief that some of these rare attenders, and they exist in other parties too as well as on the Cross Benches, are present on almost every sitting day, whipped or unwhipped, but nobody notices them then.

In order to find out whether that was the case, I carried out another exercise taking Tuesday of last week as a sample, the final day of the debate on the humble Address. There was no Division expected and therefore no Whip in force. But there were present in the House on that day 41 Peers who attended less than one-third of the sittings in 1986–87, 13 more who attended less than 10 and four more who attended no sittings at all. I have not counted some 15 Peers present who had not taken their seats since the 1986–87 figures were compiled.

Attendance is a difficult issue. During the course of the debate several noble Lords have asked exactly what "attendance" means. If a Peer attends for nine consecutive sitting days and sits for half an hour per day—in other words, during Question Time—and then leaves, has he done his duty better than a Peer who attends for one day and sits through a nine-hour debate? Which is the better attendance? On the figures given by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, I have no doubt that the 30 minute-a-day Peer would get away with it whereas the nine-hour debate Peer would not.

I have not gone into various problems of detail—many of them mechanical difficulties which the noble Lord has not really faced up to. Would there be an appeals procedure, for instance? How would the threshold of attendance be established? Would it try to ensure that the Government never win a vote? I cannot think that the noble Lord's party would approve of that. Or would it try instead to mirror the voting pattern of another place? I do not think it would care very much for that either, remembering that my right honourable and honourable friends have an overall majority of 102.

But I really cannot help wondering whether the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, has not missed the point of what this House is all about .Your Lordships' House is not in the business of setting itself up as a rival to another place over matters of major party political principle, strangely though noble Lords opposite now seem to wish that it were. It is a revising Chamber and for this it is uniquely fitted for the very reasons that the noble Lord complains about. It is indeed the disparity of numbers between the parties that makes playing the party political game to a certain extent irrelevant and enables the House to look at minor but nonetheless important points of legislation from a non-party or cross-party standpoint. And it is, as l have said, the rare attenders themselves who can provide professional expertise on every subject that is discussed. A Conservative Government is defeated between 15 and 20 times each parliamentary Session but very many times that number of amendments are won by argument on the Floor of the House.

As the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, suggested—I agree with him on this—it is good that if your Lordships on a revising point ask another place to sit again, they should accept those amendments as often as possible. I believe that to be the value of your Lordships' House. It is not, if I may say so, the business of this House to amend Clause 1 of a government Bill so drastically that further discussion would become impossible. That would have been the effect if the Committee stage amendment to the Local Government Bill, which sought to delete the flat-rate community charge, had been agreed to, and would have wrecked the Bill quite as effectively as if we had rejected it at Second Reading. I must tell the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, that on such a Division I should not have wished to win by a single vote less than I did.

Nor is it the business of your Lordships' House to insist on Lords amendments over matters that are properly subject to Commons financial privilege, as by a procedural quirk it became possible to do over sight testing charges on the Health and Medicines Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Diamond, may shake his head as much as he likes. That was a matter of Commons privilege, and if my honourable and right honourable friends in another place had not honoured a concession which they had promised, the second amendment would have come back to your Lordships with the privilege reason given and your Lordships would not have voted against it. It is slightly anomalous that where a concession has been given this House has the ability to vote again, but where no concession is given the House has to accept it.

Lord Diamond

My Lords, I apologise for interrupting because I know that the Chief Whip does not like it. I have followed his speech with almost complete sympathy. However, the fact is that at the time it came back to us it was new matter and therefore, by all logic, precedent and practice we had the right to discuss it and vote on it.

Lord Denham

My Lords, we had a de facto right to discuss it, which is why the vote was able to take place. However, that was a matter of Commons privilege and there is no shadow of doubt that had that concession not been allowed another place would have rejected the Lords amendment and would have given the privilege reason. The Speaker in another place told the House that it was a matter of privilege. I am convinced that it was in the best interest of this House that in the event your Lordships decided to do neither of these things as regards the vote on the community charge or eyesight testing.

This House has every right, and indeed a duty, when it thinks fit to ask another place to think again. But what some of your Lordships may not realise is that if another place rejects a Lords amendment outright, your Lordships then insist on it and another place insists on its original disagreement, that is the end of the matter and the Bill falls. Another place can offer an amendment in lieu, which in practical terms means giving a concession of some sort, but it does not have the option of asking your Lordships to think yet again.

Your Lordships' House has gone to this length three times in the not too distant past, twice at the instigation of my noble friends when we were in Opposition and once at that of noble Lords opposite during the 1983–87 Parliament; and no doubt there will be times in the future that it will be right to do so again.

Just how often and in what circumstances this House should challenge another place is a matter for the nicest and most carefully balanced political judgment by the business managers of Her Majesty's Opposition. Perhaps I could be of help in this to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, and his noble friends, because I have distant memories of the time when we were in Opposition and this problem was very much in the minds of my noble friends and myself. I do not think that they could go far wrong if before taking such a decision they were to ask themselves the following question: "Is this the sort of action that we ourselves would tolerate the unelected Chamber taking when we are in government and, if not, can it be right for us, in Opposition, to ask your Lordships' House to take it now?"