§ 3.6 p.m.
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington rose to move, That this House take note of Her Majesty's Government's White Paper Modernising Parliament: Reforming the House of Lords (Cm 4183).
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I start on a pleasant note. I am sure that I speak on behalf of the whole House when I wish the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition a happy birthday. It is not, I trust, a vain hope to anticipate that despite the length of the debate he will have time for a celebratory dinner at least on one evening during the next couple of days.
§ In opening the debate I shall try—as I always do—to be as helpful as possible to your Lordships' House. Tomorrow evening my noble friend the Chief Whip will respond to as many as possible of the specific points made during the debate. That may be a hard task but it is one I am sure he will rise to with his usual skill.
§ But I am afraid I may disappoint your Lordships if it is expected that today I will reveal some change of direction or new policy initiative by the Government. The Government's position on reform of your Lordships' House remains unchanged from that we originally drew up before the general election, which is expanded in the White Paper.
§ In the three previous debates we have held on reform in your Lordships' House since last October, I tried to set out the principles of our policy, to explain the approach we have adopted to put that policy into practice, to describe the narrow parameters and intentions of the legislation which is now being considered by another place, and to indicate the route to long-term reform which the White Paper considers. I am pleased to have a further opportunity to speak on some of the White Paper proposals, but I repeat that I fear your Lordships will hear nothing new from the Government Benches. The Government's view is well known and has been consistently developed.
§ I hesitate to ascribe motives to Members of your Lordships' House but it may be that the large number of Conservative Peers who will speak in the debate—some of whom I must say are somewhat unaccustomed contributors to the speakers list—are more concerned to hear the opinions of their own Front Bench than those of the Government.
Noble Lords opposite will be aware that no collective statement on reform has emerged since the confusion and upheaval of last December. Back-Bench Conservative hereditary Peers would, for example, be right to ask if their leadership still supports the 1997 campaign position which described them,
as an asset to democracy … who should be defended in principle".
Recent speeches by Opposition spokesmen in another place appeared to abandon that policy; nevertheless Conservative MPs voted against the Government's first stage reform Bill at Second Reading. It remains a confusing picture.
§ I am glad that we shall hear from the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, as well as the noble Lord the new Leader of the Conservative Party. I hope that we shall see a united policy emerge because from the Government's perspective it would be helpful to have that agreed statement. As the noble Viscount and the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition will well know, we would genuinely prefer to proceed to reform by consensus. But we can only try to build consensus if we know the basis for discussion, for negotiation and, one hopes, for agreement in the future.
The Government's White Paper Modernising Parliament: Reforming the House of Lords opens with the manifesto commitment, on which the Labour Party was elected by a large majority in 1997. At the risk of falling foul of the Companion's strictures on tedious repetition, I shall venture to repeat that commitment today:
The House of Lords must be reformed. As an initial, self-contained reform, not dependent on further reform in the future, the rights of the hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords will be ended by statute. This will be the first step in a process of reform to make the House of Lords more democratic and representative. The legislative powers of the House of Lords will remain unaltered.
The system of appointment of life peers to the House of Lords will be reviewed. Our objective will be to ensure that over time party appointees as life peers more accurately reflect the proportion of votes cast at the previous general election. We are committed to maintaining an independent cross-bench presence of life peers. No one political party should seek a majority in the House of Lords.
A committee of both Houses of Parliament will be appointed to undertake a wide-ranging review of possible further change and then to bring forward proposals for reform".
§ As noble Lords will be aware, since the general election we have decided to build on the process of review by appointing a Royal Commission. I shall return to the commission later in my speech.
§ The White Paper falls into three broad areas. The first part discusses the present House of Lords, and the need for the so called "stage one" Bill to remove the rights of hereditary Peers to be Members of Parliament. This Bill was rightly described by my right honourable friend the President of the Council when she introduced it to Parliament as "short, but momentous". It is now in the middle of its passage through another place. It is being considered by a Committee of the Whole House. Therefore your Lordships will appreciate that it is clearly inappropriate to discuss the detail of the Bill's provisions in today's debate in your Lordships' House. I look forward with enthusiasm to an early Second Reading debate when the Bill reaches this House. I only note in passing that at Second Reading in another place the democratically elected House overwhelmingly endorsed the Bill by a majority of 246—one of the largest majorities of this Parliament, and 69 above the already very large technical majority of 177 which the Government enjoy.
§ The second section of the White Paper deals with the so-called "transition House"—the House which will exist after the passage of the stage one Bill and before 843 long-term reform is complete. The exact composition of that House may, of course, depend on possible amendments to the stage one Bill. I would remind your Lordships that, in any case, approximately 500 life Peers will remain in the transitional House—life Peers appointed by eight successive Prime Ministers over the past 40 years.
§ Two circulating myths about the transition House are dispelled by those simple facts. First, it will not be a dysfunctional rump, unable to carry out its proper role; and, secondly, it will not be made up of placemen sent here exclusively by today's Prime Minister.
§ The plans for the transitional House are not in the Bill before Parliament for two reasons: first, precisely because they are intended to be transitional; and, secondly, because there is no need for legislation to achieve the results we want. As we said in the manifesto the Government are not proposing any changes in functions in the transitional stage.
§ We have therefore determined on a non-statutory package of measures to regulate membership of the House during this period. The Prime Minister has committed himself to take steps to reduce his sole powers of patronage. First, we intend only to seek broad parity of numbers with the main Opposition party, and to allow proportionate creations for the Liberal Democrats and other parties. including of course the Cross-Benchers. In our manifesto we said that we thought party strengths in this House should, over time, move towards reflecting the share of the popular vote at the previous general election. We have therefore now committed ourselves to a smaller share—some 40 per cent. smaller—of the overall strength of this House than we proposed in our manifesto. Again, the simple facts reveal the true situation. In the general election of 1997, the Conservative Party won 34 per cent. of the vote and yet has 66 per cent. of the membership of this House who take a Party whip. By contrast, the Labour Party won 48 per cent. of the vote and has only 24 per cent. of the membership of this House.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness quite so early in her speech, but will she reflect on the statement that she has just made about party strengths? She makes great play about the independent Cross-Benchers—and rightly so. Why, then, does she not include them in the statistics she has just given?
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
My Lords, that would have no impact whatever on the relative strength of the Conservative Opposition, which is the main Opposition party to the Government party, the Labour Party. That is what I was trying to illustrate. I am very happy to talk in more general terms about the membership of the Cross-Benches. I will come to that later in my remarks.
Some of my colleagues may well find that those figures as they relate to the Conservative Party and the Labour Party, and their relative strengths and relation to the popular vote, suggest that we are being too generous to the Conservative Party in our proposals for the transition House. They certainly do not suggest an intention to pack the transition House.
844 This proposal is in some contrast to the position of noble Lords on the Conservative Benches who, during the previous administration, bolstered their already very large built-in majority created by the relative party strengths in the hereditary peerage by appointing more than twice as many life Peers to their Benches as the Opposition.
But I say to the Leader of the Opposition, the Government have been consistently committed to an important Cross-Bench element in this House. On the Cross-Benches sit those Peers who do not want to be associated with a single party; they are genuinely independent.
The second part of our plan for the transitional House is to establish an independent appointments commission to recommend names for Cross-Bench Peers. There have been numerous suggestions that this body will be packed with cronies to ensure that it selects cronies. Quite frankly, again that accusation does not stand up to the simple facts. The advisory appointments committee will be set up as an advisory non-departmental public body; as such, it falls under the jurisdiction of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. His rules on the appointment of its members will therefore apply. I remind your Lordships that the rules were drawn up under the previous administration. Presumably, therefore, the Conservative Party believes they are adequate. Among other things they involve the appointment of an independent assessor in the appointments process.
The representatives of the three main political parties invited to sit on the commission will be chosen by their respective parties. How the parties choose their members will naturally be a matter for them. Of course, the final appointments—and I expect noble Lords opposite to make this point—will be made by Ministers. But Ministers and, through them, the Commission are accountable to Parliament.
During the transitional phase, membership of this House will continue to involve the award of a life peerage. The final recommendations to the Queen—as they always have done—will constitutionally have to come from the Prime Minister. Therefore, the third element in our proposed arrangements is that the Prime Minister has promised that he will not interfere in the details of nominations from the other party leaders, or from the appointments commission. It is the first time that a public commitment to this effect—different from some past practice—has been made.
Taken together, this package of measures amounts to a very considerable safeguard against the abuse of prime ministerial power in relation to nominations to your Lordships' House. It proves that the Government's motive in removing the hereditary Peers as a first step of reform is not intended to be a way of gaining control of the majority membership of your Lordships' House.
These proposals relate to the transition House, which the Government see as being just that—a temporary, transitional bridge to a fully reformed second Chamber. I announced to your Lordships on 14th October last year that the Government would set up a Royal Commission to examine these issues.
845 The third part of the White Paper deals with the terms of reference for the commission and the options for reform which the Government consider it appropriate for the commission to consider. I am very pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, the chairman of the commission, is in his place and will speak later in the debate. He may well take the opportunity to outline to your Lordships the way in which he and his colleagues intend to work. I am also pleased that other members of the Royal Commission who are also Members of the House—my noble friend Lady Dean and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford—are also in their places. I am sure that this debate will prove helpful to them and inform their discussions. Perhaps I may again, on behalf of your Lordships, and indeed on this occasion on behalf of the Government, thank all those members of the Royal Commission for undertaking this important task.
I have previously told your Lordships that the Government themselves do not plan to give evidence to the commission. The Labour Party will do so, as I imagine will other political parties represented in your Lordships' House. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, will also confirm that it is, of course, open to individual Peers to submit their ideas and opinions. However, since the Royal Commission was established, the Government have been asked some specific questions about its terms of reference and its timetable. It seems sensible to respond to at least two of those today.
The first is the timetable. Noble Lords will remember that we asked the commission to report by the end of this year. This is a demanding schedule, but the Government are confident that the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his colleagues can meet it. After all, the issues surrounding reform of your Lordships' House have been extensively discussed for a hundred years. The issues are intellectually and politically challenging, but we know what they are, and we know what are the options for addressing them. There is frankly no need for a long period of primary research, as there is sometimes with Royal Commissions that are set up to consider, for example, fundamental issues of social policy. The Royal Commission, we feel, can move almost immediately to its analysis and recommendations.
The Government are determined to maintain momentum on reform. We want to see a speedy report so that we can, as the White Paper states, respond to the recommendations in advance of the next general election. The more we can achieve consensus on the recommendations, the more rapidly we will be able to move to a fully reformed second Chamber. That is the Government's strategy. It is clear and unequivocal. I can only state again that we have no wish to remain stationary on the transitional bridge.
Perhaps I may repeat the Royal Commission's terms of reference as their scope has sometimes been questioned. The amendment today of the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition seems perhaps to suggest that 846 they might be both extended and additionally constrained. The terms of reference, which are published in the White Paper, are as follows:Having regard to the need to maintain the position of the House of Commons as the pre-eminent chamber of Parliament and taking particular account of the present nature of the constitutional settlement, including the newly devolved institutions, the impact of the Human Rights Act and developing relations with the European Union: to consider and make recommendations on the role and functions of a second chamber; and to make recommendations on the method or combination of methods of composition required to constitute a second chamber fit for that role and those functions".
§ Lord Lamont of Lerwick
My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness about one point in the White Paper. Page 1 of the document states that the purpose of the Government's reforms is to make this Chamber more effective. Page 40 refers to lessening the time by which this House can delay legislation passed in another place. There is a positive reference to that. If the object is to make this House more effective. how would that be served by lessening the time by which this House can delay legislation?
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I hope he will understand that that is precisely the argument I am seeking to develop in relation to the amendment of the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition. If, by the conclusion of the passage in my speech on that, he feels that I have not done so, perhaps we can return to it, but it is specifically that point I am about to address.
Perhaps I may return to the question of powers, which was the point of the noble Lord's intervention. I have been asked whether the terms of reference enable the Royal Commission to look at the potential powers of a reformed House. The amendment of the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition calls for a specific "exclusion clause" to ensure that no possible reduction in the theoretical powers can be considered. Perhaps I may look, first, at the question of the remit to consider powers. The terms of reference clearly include roles and functions and they must legitimately include looking at powers, especially in relation to the legislative function. I think the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, and I had a semantic or perhaps conceptual confusion when he raised this point during Oral Questions recently. I apologise to the noble Lord and to the House if I was unclear about that at the time.
The purpose of the argument in Chapter 7 of the White Paper, to which the amendment of the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition refers, is to discuss different approaches to the powers of a reformed Chamber. The chapter notes that today's House of Lords observes what could be called "self-denying ordinances" in the use of its powers over legislation, self-denying ordinances which rest largely on the self-regulation of the present House and its understanding of the limitations of its existing composition. The White Paper argument discusses the possibility of perhaps institutionalising the present understandings; leaving the powers intact but formally restricting the circumstances in which they may be used. An alternative might be to 847 reduce or streamline the "theoretically" available powers, recognising that they may in practice then be used more frequently.
Those options will obviously be the basis of significant debate for the Royal Commission, but at this stage I think that the amendment of the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition is unnecessary because it elevates prematurely a suggested issue for discussion by the Royal Commission to a formal government proposal. That is not what the White Paper intends or indeed says.
However, I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that, overall, the Government accept the broad sentiments of his amendment. Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, pointed out, the first page of the White Paper emphasises that Parliament is the central element of Britain's democracy, and that for Parliament to carry out its purpose it must act with authority and integrity. That principle is the basis for our proposals for reform of this Chamber; to improve the effectiveness and balance of the House so that it can play a full and proper role in Parliament, a role which necessarily includes a significant scrutiny of legislation and of the executive. Chapter 2 of the White Paper concludes:A fully reformed second chamber will have a vital role in the renewed democracy of Britain".I hope that we can all agree to work to that end. But, as I say, I think the noble Lord's formal amendment is unnecessary.
I fully understand the concerns that have prompted 60 hereditary Peers to speak to the Motion today. Perhaps I may take this opportunity to say once more that many of their individual contributions to the work of this House are highly valued. But I hope in turn that they will understand the Government's concerns and the Government's priorities. As I emphasised last November in opening the debate on the Queen's Speech in relation to constitutional change, constitutional reform is of great importance to this Government, but so too are other legislative priorities. As legislators, we have a duty to look beyond our own affairs, beyond this Chamber and beyond Westminster. We have before us Bills which are central to the cares and concerns of most people in Britain. We are currently considering measures to improve access to justice and to change the National Health Service. Both of those Bills began their passage in your Lordships' House. Other significant legislation has recently included Bills on youth justice and criminal evidence, on social security and on pollution.
I must tell your Lordships that I was disturbed when I saw the lengthening list of speakers for today's debate—disturbed that this debate might disrupt proper consideration on the important Health Bill, which was due to begin its Committee stage tomorrow.
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
My Lords, I am surprised by that reaction. However, I am glad to say that this potential problem, like so many problems of its kind, has been satisfactorily resolved through the usual channels. Nevertheless, 1 must point out that even on the 848 Chief Whip's optimistic assumption about the length of individual speakers' contributions, by the time this debate reaches its conclusion there will have been over 40 hours of general debate on House of Lords reform since last October. That compares with 14 hours on the National Health Service, seven hours on the economy and four hours debating homelessness. In the four-hour debate on homelessness there were three speakers from the Conservative Back-Benches compared with the 62 who want to speak today.
§ Lord Harding of Petherton
My Lords, will the noble Baroness say why the other place was given a week's holiday if a jam in legislation is feared'?
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
My Lords, I do not entirely understand the noble Lord's point. In fact, the other place was given two days. If he refers to the passage of the NHS Bill, as I have just said, that Bill began its passage in this House. Therefore, its passage this time entirely depends on the scheduling of business in this place and has nothing to do with the other place.
As I said, in the four-hour debate, which was the time given by your Lordships to homelessness, there were four Conservative Back-Bench speakers compared with the 62 who want to make their case today.
Individual noble Lords of course have the proper right to decide their own priorities. For instance, many of my colleagues seem to have decided to concentrate their contributions on consideration of the reform Bill when it reaches your Lordships' House. Looking at the list of speakers, it appears that most Liberal Democrats have made the same judgment. Personal choices are indeed legitimate. But I am sure the House as a whole will agree that we must collectively guard our reputation a:3 a serious legislative Chamber.
The Government want to enhance the reputation and the effective role of this House. We do not want to lend credence to the unicameralists nor give ammunition to those who describe your Lordships as "predominately driven by self-interest and out of touch with everyday concerns".
In his introduction to the White Paper, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister writes,for too long Britain has got by with a Second Parliamentary Chamber which is less good than it could he".He goes on to say that the reform process proposed in the White Paper will create a second Chamber of which both Parliament and the people can be proud.
We are now embarked on that reform process. I look forward to our forthcoming debates on the first stage Bill. I look forward to the work of the Royal Commission and to its report. I look forward beyond that to the next stages of reform.
The White Paper charts clear steps towards a renewed Chamber which will be a significant part of Parliament in the new century. I commend it to the House. I beg to move.
Moved, That this House take note of Her Majesty's Government's White Paper Modernising Parliament: Reforming the House of Lords (Cm 4183)—(Baroness Jay of Paddington.)
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ Lord Strathclyde rose to move, as an amendment to Baroness Jay of Paddington's Motion, at end insert "; urges Her Majesty's Government in carrying forward the proposals in the White Paper to set as their objectives an increase in the independence of Parliament and an enhancement of their ability to scrutinise legislation and hold the Executive to account; and therefore specifically calls on the Royal Commission to reject the proposition in paragraph 7.26 of the White Paper that the available powers of this House might be significantly reduced.".
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I wish to begin by thanking the noble Baroness for her felicitations on my birthday. I hope that the rest of the House will not take the length of her speech as an example to be followed.
§ I have heard some say in the past few days that there is nothing new to say on the subject of the House of Lords. Indeed, the noble Baroness herself has not disappointed us. Others have said that this debate is unnecessary. But I have also heard that this is all a matter for the Royal Commission and that we should therefore wait and see.
§ It is an odd doctrine that it is right for Ministers to have a view on everything, down to the new England football manager, but that this ancient House should not have a chance to express a view on its own future. To those who say that this debate is unnecessary, I say: just look at the list of nearly 100 speakers. Sadly, it includes only five Labour Back-Benchers. Yet, at the end of last week, there were seven. What has happened to the noble Lords, Lord Haskel, Lord Graham of Edmonton and Lord Gordon of Strathblane, in the intervening few days, which means that they have denied us their views during the course of this debate?
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, the noble Lord charges me with adding my name to the list of speakers and then removing it. Perhaps he will reflect. When I put my name down, I thought that we were going to have a serious debate. When I saw the list lengthening dramatically, having been a Chief Whip for some time, I knew exactly what was happening. I was not prepared to play the game.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, I was not chiding the noble Lord for removing his name; I was chiding him because it does not allow this House to hear again his valid views on its future.
Let no one doubt that Members of this House are deeply interested in the future of this House and of Parliament—not from some vain sense of our own self-importance, but because we are deeply suspicious of where the Government may want to take us. This debate is an opportunity for the Government to explain their vision of the future—which was sadly lacking in the noble Baroness's speech. They must realise that there is no institution more precious than Parliament. Parliament is the vessel in which the liberties of the people are cradled and protected. Shatter that vessel, weaken that protection, and the ability of the ordinary person to stand up against all the petty tyrannies of the executive will be reduced.
850 How often in its history has it fallen to this House to protect the subject against the misguided actions and ambitions of the executive, whatever party may be the government of the day. This House, however reformed, must have the freedom, the will and the authority to perform that role in the future.
It often seems to me—and we have heard it from another place time and again lately—that hereditary Peers are the last group in our society whom it is politically correct to abuse for who they are, not what they do. Whatever may become of the current Members of this House—and the Government with their majority in another place can do what they will with this House—I put it to your Lordships that we must fight to ensure that the ability of this House to check bad law is no less.
That is why I have tabled an amendment to the Motion moved by the noble Baroness: to give this House a chance to state a view on its future role, its functions and powers, in a way that the narrow compass of the Bill itself may not allow.
I know that making an amendment to a "take note" Motion is a rare occurrence in this House. But this whole situation is unusual. The Government's handling of it is extraordinary in its combination of high-handedness and low manoeuvre. I believe it is appropriate for this House to have a chance to express a formal opinion on its future powers. Tomorrow evening I intend to give it that opportunity.
Of course we have debated the Government's vague plans and threats in the past. This time, at last, we do so with an official document before us. Sadly, the White Paper is not well written, informative or even accurate. It is a sorry thing. But it is the best apology for a policy that we can now expect to wring out of this grudging Government. This is the document that the Government never wanted to publish. This is the debate that they never wanted to have. And tomorrow is the day that they never wanted your Lordships' voices to be heard.
The Government have consistently prevaricated over their long-term plans for this House—and they are still doing so today. What are their opinions? Do they want this House to exercise more power, or less? Do the principles—the so-called better approach—set out in paragraph 7.26 of the White Paper represent the views of the noble Baroness? Or do they not?
The questions are not so hard. This House looks to its Leader to have the answer. Throughout last year, Ministers refused to provide even a relatively simple options paper. Your Lordships will remember my noble friend Lord Cranborne continually asking the then Leader of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, why no options paper had been produced, or even better a Royal Commission. Answer came there none. Only when William Hague asked my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern to produce an options paper, and he published an interim report in less than three months, did the Government crumble. The noble Baroness, Lady Jay, told the House in October that the Government would after all, and reluctantly, publish a White Paper.
851 But what are we to make of this document? It says that it is about "modernising". But we are never told what modernising means. "Modernising" appears in five of the eight chapter headings. But what does it mean? It is never explained.
I worry about "modernising". It is a good slogan, but it is your Lordships' House no policy. And now we discover that it is just a veil drawn over the centralisation of power. When it came to electing a Labour leader in Wales, modernising was out like a shot. Old-fashioned gerrymandering was in. We do not want to see this House treated in such a cavalier fashion.
If instead of "modernising" the Government had used the word "strengthening" then we would have been on much more united ground. After all, in the face of an ever-rolling tide of executive power, what task is more important than to strengthen the authority of Parliament? That will be my party's objective in the weeks and months ahead, and when we return to power.
This debate should be about the kind of second chamber that the people of our country and this Parliament need. I believe in a strong and independent-minded House of Lords as part of a strengthened Parliament; a second chamber which is not a simple rubber stamp, but one that can hold the executive truly to account.
If all that comes out of this process of reform is a long-term retirement home for ex-politicians and former civil servants, admirable though they may be, with a nod to elected members of the new parliaments and a smattering of the good and great; and if, with all of that, comes a reduction in the powers of the House, then this whole process will have been wasted. Another sad, perhaps even closing chapter, will have been written in the 20th century story of the debasement of the authority of Parliament.
It may be another generation before this subject is broached again. That is why we are so opposed to the two-stage process chosen by the Government. A single-stage reform, after the Royal Commission had reported, would have been so much better. The Government turned down that advice. It put class prejudice before constitutional reform. So we are left—
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will be very glad to learn the noble Lord's proposition for a reformed House of Lords. Even though his eight minutes are now up, I am sure that we will give him a few extra minutes in which to explain his ideas.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, the noble Lord must contain his patience for a few minutes more. I shall explain to the House exactly why the Tory Party will put thought before action rather than the reverse, which has been so prevalent in this Government.
We are left with a process which is muddled and confusing. Having sat on their hands for 21 months, the Government have demanded an answer from the Royal Commission in less than half that time. If the Government are in such a hurry, why do they not use the current parliamentary Session to deal with their priority business and leave the next Session of Parliament to 852 bring forward a properly thought-through plan with the consensus on which the noble Baroness tells us she is so keen. The process that we are currently going through is another classic example of action before thought; slogans before sense.
When we look at the White Paper we see in those pages a paradox which strikes right at the heart of the government's thinking. Throughout the White Paper the Government talk of "legitimising" the House. Chapter 1 states,The present House of Lords suffers from a lack of legitimacy because of its anachronistic and unrepresentative composition".One might think that the Government wanted a stronger House made more legitimate by reform. But compare that with a passage in Chapter 7.26 which states baldly,A better approach might be to reduce the theoretically available powers".It is never explained why the Government believe these powers to be theoretical or why they should be reduced. The paradox is that the Government believe that they can legitimise the House and reduce its powers all at the same time. The noble Baroness has not answered the question put to her by my noble friend Lord Lamont. Of course there are conventions in this House, but they are there precisely because there were, first, hereditary Peers in this House and, secondly, because post-1945 there were very few Labour Peers. That situation changes as soon as the noble Baroness and her party have the parity that they crave.
The Government's approach is wholly unacceptable to me and my party. What is the point of being a member of a legitimised and invigorated House of Lords when its ability to do anything has been weakened? I can imagine that there may be those who would still wish to be a member of such a House. But let no one doubt that this "new" House would only fit the popular stereotype of a House which is a weak and irrelevant body, with no chance of ever being able to influence important issues of the day. How can that be a worthy or lasting successor to the 700 years of service from this House?
It is easy to destroy, but hard to build. This House, and all its powers, can be scattered to the winds by one sweep of the Executive's mighty hand. How are we to replace a Chamber which is hard-working, inexpensive and effective? That surely is the critical question. No one following the sadly shallow debates in another place over recent weeks will have found an answer. With some honourable exceptions the debates reveal more about the inadequacies of another place than about our own. The cure for those who doubt the charge that we shall never get to stage two should be to look at Hansard to see just how confused are Members of another place.
"One can have any House that one wants as long as it is not the way it is and it does not have any power". That is the radical rallying cry from another place. A few brave souls mentioned an elected House. But too many are unicameralists or are just preparing their own nest for the future to want to build a strong, independent and authoritative chamber in place of the present one. It is as though our elected politicians have had a collective 853 loss of confidence. The terms of reference of the Royal Commission refer to the House of Commons remaining pre-eminent. That is fair enough. But it speaks volumes about the Government's own insecurities on this subject that the Royal Commission is forbidden from even discussing an alternative. Am I alone in my amazement at the revelation by Mr. Peter Mandelson that his was the lone voice in the Cabinet sub-committee calling for a Royal Commission? Where were the voices of the then Leader of the House and the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip?
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
My Lords, I am sorry to intervene. I do not wish in any way to undermine the noble Lord's argument. Mr. Mandelson was not a member of the sub-committee when I and the Chief Whip were members. He held that post in his previous incarnation as Minister without Portfolio.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for giving way. May I assure him that there were voices inside the Government machine in favour of a Royal Commission. I made that very clear very early on in the process. I have no reason to dissent from that.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, I am delighted to hear the noble Lord put the record straight. It was right for him to do so. He was also right in his initial instincts. I did not mean to accuse the noble Baroness of anything. I was referring to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and to the Government Chief Whip, who will no doubt wish to put the record straight tomorrow evening.
In some respects this insecurity prevalent in another place is not surprising. The long-term effects of Labour's continual attacks on the integrity of MPs is coming home. That is what has given the Prime Minister the opportunity he so relishes to run the country directly by inspired leak and injunction as the mood suits him. Last year, when Peter Mandelson made a speech in Bonn asking the question: "Is this the end of representative democracy?" he was saying something extremely significant about how the Labour Party views government and the parliamentary process.
All the necessary warnings are in place. We must declare here and now that the powers of this House and the responsibilities of Parliament should be reduced no further.
Of course, I hear the accusation, not least that of the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, that the Tory Party is repenting at leisure after years of undermining the parliamentary process and that this is a deathbed conversion to reforming the constitution. The answer to those accusations is simple. The Tory Party believes in the parliamentary process and we believe in parliamentary strength and stability.
This House is changing. The die is cast. It can never be the same again. But that does not mean that we should plunge forward in haste or stagger blindfolded, as the Government do, groping in the dark for a solution. The future of this House bears the most careful thought, and the fullest, most open debate. As Conservatives, we 854 believe in doing the thinking first. That is why I look forward to reading the deliberations of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern when they are published next month. That is why. when we as a party have decided on the way forward, we shall be making a presentation to the Royal Commission.
Soon we shall be faced with a narrow and offensive little Bill that seeks to remove the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords. It is a Bill that evades the big questions and betrays the spitefulness of small minds.
This debate, however, is not about that; it is about the big questions. It is about the long-term future of this House of Parliament and about whether we should mark our ground in defence of the principle that this House's ability to scrutinise and amend legislation and to ask the executive to think again should not be reduced. I find it hard to believe that any current Member of your Lordships' House would wish to see that happen.
I hope, even after the speech of the noble Baroness, that the Government may yet feel that they can accept this amendment. If the noble Baroness clings to her belief that my amendment is unnecessary, why cannot she accept it? But if the Government cannot, I shall ask the House to agree it, by Division if necessary. The amendment is broadly drafted, and I trust that the principles behind it will appeal to the widest possible group in the House. Tomorrow night will be the first, and conceivably the last, time that the House as currently composed can make a positive statement about the role of the House in the future, and in particular not to allow a lessening of its powers. I hope therefore that, if it comes to a vote, I shall be joined by all those who believe that at the very least no government should agree to any proposal that leaves this House weaker than before. I beg to move.
Moved, as an amendment to Baroness Jay of Paddington's Motion, at and insert "; urges Her Majesty's Government in carrying forward the proposals in the White Paper to set as its objectives and increase in the independence of Parliament and an enhancement of its ability to scrutinise legislation and hold the executive to account; and therefore specifically calls on the Royal Commission to reject the proposition in paragraph 7.26 of the White paper that the available powers of this House might be significantly reduced.".—(Lord Strathclyde.)
§ 3.51 p.m.
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
My Lords, when the White Paper was published on the 20th January I was doubtful whether there was much new for the House to discuss, coming as it has between our two-day debate last October and the Bill when it arrives from another place presumably after Easter. But on closer examination there is more to say about the White Paper, including about the transitional arrangements, than I suspected. This debate is clearly justified on those grounds alone.
Above all, however, on developments as historic, far-reaching and sensitive as these it is absolutely right that Members of this House, often directly affected by 855 them, should have the maximum opportunity to express their views. In that spirit I believe that it should be mainly a Back-Bench occasion when the Government should carefully listen. I must say to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House that although I share her sense of priorities when she refers to homelessness and health I do not believe that that is a fair comparison in a matter of this constitutional importance.
There will be questions of a specific kind appropriate for the Government to answer. Perhaps a few of them will be asked by me. I hope that the ministerial arrangements—at the moment it appears that only the Government Chief Whip will reply—will allow for replies to important questions that arise in the course of this debate. I would much prefer to see them answered by Ministers in the Chamber—that is the best way to proceed—but I accept that that will not happen.
What I did not expect from the noble Baroness—and do not expect and would not want from the Government Chief Whip when he winds up—is any further attempt by the Government to influence the Royal Commission; nor should the Government pronounce views of their own on matters that the Royal Commission is to consider, thus anticipating its conclusions. That is for a later stage when the Royal Commission has reported. The noble Baroness said that there would be nothing new from the Government Benches. That turned out to be the case, and I welcome it.
The Royal Commission is safe rather than innovative. It carries no whiff of "epoch-making", but I wish it well. Despite having previously urged a quick report, I believe that it deserves some flexibility if a few more weeks will ensure a more thorough and considered document. Despite the observations of the noble Baroness this afternoon, she may want to take a rain check on that just in case.
I remain puzzled, however, about whether the Royal Commission can consider powers as well as the role and functions of the second Chamber. When I asked that question of the Leader of the House on the 20th January, having read the terms of reference of the Royal Commission, she explained why the Government had been careful,not to open up the rather difficult area of powers".—[Official Report 20/1/99; col. 591.]But on the same day in another place the President of the Council, Mrs. Beckett, said in reply to a similar question:As for the powers of the replacement Chamber, they would be a matter for the commission to consider".—[Official Report, Commons, 20/1/99; col. 915.]
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
My Lords, I believe that some confusion remains. It must be due entirely to my lack of clarity. In my earlier remarks I referred to the confusion which I thought had arisen with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. The issue that I described in the original Statement was related to the comparative powers of the two Houses. Perhaps that was not made clear.
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
My Lords, I do not believe that it was made clear because I cannot remember any reference to comparative powers before 856 the noble Baroness's remarks on that occasion. I believe that it still needs to be clarified. The Royal Commission does not include a reference to powers. If so, it is not clear to me how it is possible in the terms suggested by the President of the Council for the Royal Commission to consider them. There is confusion which I hope will be clarified. Perhaps a simple and considered statement by the Government Chief Whip at the end of our debate tomorrow night will help the House.
The noble Lord—like others, I wish him a happy birthday—has made an issue of the very point about comparative powers. We do not like amendments to "take note" debates, and we therefore do not propose to support him in the Lobby tomorrow evening. At the same time, we are very sympathetic to the noble Lord's cause. Guidance to the Royal Commission on the possible reduction of powers seems gratuitous, despite the context, given the exclusion of powers, to which I have already referred, from its terms of reference. This is also something that must be further explored.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord for giving way. As to the question of powers, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House has quite fairly conceded that what she said on 20th January was in error. She has said twice that the question of powers needs no further clarification and that it is before the Royal Commission. What more can the Leader of the House do?
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
My Lords, I am most grateful for the noble Lord's intervention. I did not think that the noble Baroness had necessarily conceded that she was wrong on the previous occasion. She put a gloss on what she then said. I prefer that gloss to remain on the record in the Official Report to be looked at and considered by the Government Chief Whip when the time comes, as I suggested.
We on these Benches are concerned with the matters raised by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. But where we can support the Government is in the general statement of underlying principles in paragraph 6 of Chapter 7: that the reformed House must remain the subordinate Chamber with the House of Commons pre-eminent. I go further. Any proposal that takes powers away from the House of Commons, or is seen to do so, will not succeed. Even the docile ranks of this Government—not here, of course, but in another place—would turn. I say that remembering vividly the course of the Parliament Bill in the Commons 30 years ago when it did not find favour even with many Labour Members of Parliament who loyally supported it.
I shall not try to anticipate the report of the Royal Commission any more than the Government should do. All I say is that any stable, long-term reform— I do not say permanent because the House will continue to evolve—must start from the powers, role and functions of a second Chamber. The first question is: what is it meant to do? Only then is it sensible to ask what sort of Members does such a House require; and, after that, how are we going to get it?
My preference remains for a predominantly elected second Chamber, but I am open to persuasion. I have changed my mind before. Indeed, I should be surprised 857 if any noble Lord who has followed the discussion over the years, taken part in recent debates, and read the White Paper, can be dogmatic. We should be ready to listen and to change our minds. It is also important that we should have a dialogue with the public at large.
I hope that the timetable for the Royal Commission and then cross-party talks will enable the Government to put firm proposals into their manifesto-1 think that that is what the noble Baroness has in mind—and that the modernised stage two House can be in place within about five years.
I should like to mention one other point about the longer term before saying something about a transitional House. I have thought for some time that there would be virtue if every government Bill started its life with a Second Reading in the Commons where its principle would be approved, and then moved on immediately for a Second Reading here. The Bill would then pass through all its stages in your Lordships' House before returning to the Commons where it would be picked up for its Committee, Report and Third Reading stages. That would enable the fully elected and politically representative House to have the first and effectively final say, but for your Lordships' House to carry out its full, expert process of scrutiny before the Commons had committed itself to details. The political role of the Commons would be maintained, perhaps enhanced. The role of scrutiny of your Lordships' House would be less inhibited by earlier Commons decisions.
I raise the matter now not as a major subject for discussion on this occasion, but because of paragraph 27 of Chapter 7 where there is an invitation to the Royal Commission to consider recommendations to the House about procedure. I am not sure about the weight of this suggestion. On the face of it, it is not an area in which the membership of the Royal Commission as a whole has an obvious competence. I should be grateful if Ministers would explain what they have in mind.
I turn now to the transitional House, debates upon which will occupy your Lordships for much of this year, and to which Chapter 6 of the White Paper refers. For the most part, I welcome what it says especially about the principles that should underlie the political balance and further nominations to the House. Broad parity between Labour and the Conservatives is about right, and proportionate creations for these Benches is in keeping with previous undertakings. However, I should like to know the significance of "presently" in paragraph 3 of Chapter 6; and "our present intentions" in paragraph 7. There is a note of reservation. The Government appear to be hedging their bets. It points to the possibility of an alternative approach. What would lead the Government to have second thoughts?
Whatever the answer, I have to say that what we have come to call the Weatherill proposals push in the opposite direction to the balancing principles set out in the White Paper. They involve a substantial and disproportionate addition to the Conservative Benches which already have the largest number of life Peers. This will aggravate the disparity between the two parties. I recognise that the proposal brought forward by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, the noble Lord, Lord 858 Marsh, and the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon has been an attempt to ease the passage of the Bill. And no one has done more for the harmony of Parliament, if I may say so, than the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill. He has brought his service and skill to both Houses and we all value what he has attempted in this respect. At the same time, we have to look very closely not so much at the proposals, although they deserve scrutiny, but on how they will be implemented if that can be done.
On 20th January, when the White Paper was published, I said that the Government were a little heavy handed in saying that the Weatherill proposals would succeed only if Peers behaved themselves. On reflection my sentiment was misplaced. I have to say, painful though it may be, that the only case for the Weatherill proposals is if they smooth the passage of the Bill by promising some hereditary Peers that they may stay longer here than they had expected previously. These Benches were not involved in any way in negotiations between the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and the Prime Minister, or any other Member of the Government. The news was as much a surprise to us as to the Leader of the Conservative Party, although we received it with better grace than William Hague. We are prepared to acquiesce in the deal but only if the Weatherill proposals can be put in credible form and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, succeeds in keeping his own troops in order.
Apart from unbalancing the House in its political complexion still further, what is the case for electing 14 hereditary Peers to make them available as deputy chairmen and,in other capacities in the scrutiny of legislation and the workings of the House"?What are those mysterious "other workings of the House" for which they alone seem to be eligible? They will sit on the Cross-Benches but will be free to vote; and, if they are as politically unrepresentative as most hereditary Peers, they will tend to vote one way rather than another. I fail to understand the rationale for this odd arrangement for what perhaps I may be allowed to call the Weatherill 14.
Then there is a question of how those Peers—75 plus 14, if that is still the right number—are to be chosen. I know of no later authentic text than the press release of the noble Lord and his colleagues of 2nd and 3rd December. Apparently, leaving aside the 14, a block of one-tenth of hereditary Peers will be "elected among its number". But we are now led to believe that there will not be a block, but different groups in each party will elect their own; they will still be elected by hereditary Peers. Will this be laid down in statute or by a resolution of the House? If the latter, how can it override the provisions of the Bill? Why in any case should the political parties be given instructions on the conduct of their own affairs on who, among their number, should be free to stay? As regards the 14 hereditary Peers who have this particular role, they will not be elected by the hereditaries, as I understand it, but by the whole House. Why them and not the others?
I do not wish to ridicule what is a genuine attempt to solve a problem, but the situation becomes stranger and stranger. Hereditary Peers will presumably be free to stand in two elections: hoping to get on their party list 859 (first-past-the-post or STV, if we are allowed that choice); or on the list of 14. What will then happen? All that opens the prospect of long days of generous hospitality in the Bishop's Bar and the Barry Room. We may see such campaigning that this House has never seen before!
I know that the Government are trying to sort this out; and good luck to them. I hope that they can and we shall try to help them. But until we see the fine print we are suspending judgment on whether the Weatherill proposals really stand up. At the moment they are a dog's breakfast—and I say that because I do not believe that that can be an offensive expression in your Lordships' House. We shall find great difficulty in supporting them if, after all the trouble, they fail to deliver the Bill without wasted time.
When early discussions on the prospect of legislation took place, it was widely accepted that some hereditary Peers who played a particularly active role in the House—and there are many known to all of us, widely respected and held in the greatest affection—should become life Peers when the Bill received the Royal Assent. My present view is that it would be far better to return to that straightforward approach with reasonably generous numbers than to press on with the Weatherill amendment, given the present problems with it.
The White Paper is plainly written and clearly presented. It deserves to be widely read outside Parliament as well as within. It shows the complexity of the task on which we are embarked; bringing statutory change to a living institution with all its conventions, instincts and unwritten ways. It is a reminder, even to those of us long familiar with the arguments, that the task upon which we have embarked is not an easy one.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Winchester
My Lords, I welcome the appointment of the members of the Royal Commission and the inclusion among them of my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford. And not just because he sits on these Benches but for the range of experience, insight and independence that he will bring to a commission which will require all that it can have of all these, and which has, it still seems to me, very much more to do than it can do properly so as to report by the end of this year.
I appreciate the reasons which the noble Baroness the Leader of the House again adduced today for the pressure of time which the White Paper placed upon the commission. But although she mentioned some of the elements which have surrounded the debate for 100 years, she presumably chose not to mention those elements, in part set out in the White Paper and in part around in public debate, which are of much more recent origin and which are intricate, uncertain and in a large part beyond prophesying. I think of those which relate to the Government's various devolutionary strategies, to regional government and even to relationships with the institutions of the European Union.
Very many noble Lords intend to speak in this two-day debate and they will range widely over its field. Speaking from these Benches, and at this earlier stage 860 both of the debate and still more of the process upon which we are engaged, I shall limit myself to an observation about the powers and responsibilities of this House, or of any future second Chamber, before attending in a preliminary way to the points made in the White Paper about the Lords Spiritual and about the representation in your Lordships' House of other churches and of other faiths.
The White Paper notes that the House of Commons is itself committed to some modest reforms of its procedures. But whatever the outcome, and whatever the political composition of that House, and whether one party has a large majority or none has—as may be the result of moves towards proportional representation—it will surely remain crucially important that any second Chamber keeps at least powers comparable to those which your Lordships' House has at present and gains the fullest confidence in its own legitimacy to use them to the full.
To say that is not to question what the White Paper describes as,the supremacy of the House of Commons".But it is to say that if another place is responsibly to exercise its supremacy, Parliament needs to keep in place and in good repair provisions which ensure that not only the government of the day but the House of Commons itself can be kept under appropriate and effective scrutiny by this House. I doubt that this House should seek, any more than should the Government at this point, to mandate the commission. Notwithstanding that, I still think it right to make the point, which I intended to make before I knew of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that I hope the commission will not begin by reckoning itself bound by the first line of chapter 7, paragraph 26, which states:A better approach might be to reduce the theoretically available powers".I turn to other issues, though not necessarily less controversial. I welcome, as the Church of England has welcomed at least since the 1970 Chadwick Report on Church and state, the points made in chapter 7., paragraph 22, about the benefits—though it also notes some of the complexities—of enabling the presence in a future second Chamber of representatives of other churches and of other faith communities. I and others on these Benches have made clear in previous debates our encouragement to the commission to explore how this can be achieved. However, we have also consistently tried to explain to your Lordships' House, and so to the Government, that we should not ourselves, the Lords Spiritual, be understood in this way.
With my colleagues, and with many others, I appreciate and welcome chapter 27, paragraph 21, of the White Paper where the Government show themselves well informed both about the range of issues, international as well as domestic, on which Bishops contribute from experience to the work of your Lordships' House and about the difficulties which in our circumstances we would have in sustaining this range of participation if our numbers were at all significantly reduced. But only rarely, and with reference to specific Church of England legislation, can we be accurately described as "representing the Church of England".
861 I hope that I have your Lordships' understanding to quote a sentence on this matter from the distinguished Roman Catholic theologian and Church historian, Professor Adrian Hastings, from his contribution to the collection of letters published by the Policy Studies Unit under the title Church, State and Religious Minorities. He writes:The bishops in the House of Lords cannot really be there as Anglicans but rather as representatives of spirituality, a voice of Christianity and indeed of religion wider than Christianity".Put another way, we sit in this House as a sign of, and as a contribution to, the Christian, and then to the more broadly religious, reference of every aspect of the Queen's Government and so of the public life of this country.
On those questions, and across the whole range of its work, the Royal Commission will shortly receive a detailed submission of the Church of England. I wish the commission well and I repeat the hope that once it is at work—and I presume that it has not yet met—it will take whatever time it finds that proper consideration of its terms of reference require.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ Lord Denham
My Lords, the question has been asked by noble Lords in all parts of the House, and even this afternoon, why should it be necessary to hold a debate on the subject now when we already debated it fully in October and we shall have another chance to do so on Second Reading, when the Bill has come up to us from another place. The answer that I have been able to give, without hesitation, is that the Second Reading debate in another place showed an almost universal lack of understanding of your Lordships' House, which must be put right before the Bill completes its stages there.
Just to quote one example, the right honourable Lady the Leader of another place taunted your Lordships over the fact that they did not throw out the community charge Bill. She said:With a few honourable exceptions, the Lords waved the poll tax on its way, rejoicing".—[Official Report, Commons, 1/2/99; col. 613.]I assume that the noble Baroness the Leader of this House will by now have explained to her right honourable friend that, had your Lordships done what she wanted, they would have been committing a direct breach of the Salisbury-Addison convention for the first and only time in 50 years.
Another facet throughout the debate was to dismiss as a cliché the saying that, while the hereditary content is indefensible in theory, it has always worked in practice. If the party opposite is determined not to recognise the fact that the existing House works rather well, and at least make some effort to understand why, how on earth will it be capable of deciding what to put in its place?
It is worth noting at this point that this major constitutional Bill has been allowed to go through all its days in another place so far with barely a mention in even the broadsheet press.
862 The question, to which we have never yet had a satisfactory answer, must be asked once again. Does the party opposite really believe, against all informed opinion, against successive polls, that it is more likely to achieve the best possible alternative second chamber if it is done in this piecemeal fashion; or is it just that its right honourable friends cannot wait that long for the prospect of spilling parliamentary blood on the floor? Is it really wise to get rid of the people who are best qualified by long-term experience to know about the working of this House so long before the final decision as to its future shape is to take place?
The noble Baroness said last Thursday, when asked why no hereditary Peer had been invited to serve on the Royal Commission, as against four life Peers and one right reverend Prelate, that,as it is the purpose of this Bill that is passing through another place this time to exclude the hereditary peerage from being Members of Parliament I do not believe that it would be logical to invite them to take part in considering the longer-term position of the Second House".—[Official Report, 11/2/99; col. 324.]Does that really make sense or could there be some other reason, as yet to be divulged, as to why this decision was made?
It is at least a concession—and I must welcome it rather more than did the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank—of some sort that the collective experience of hereditary Peers is now to be represented by 91 of our number when we leave. But what is so magic about the number 91? A researcher of mine has come up with a possible answer: 91 is the maximum number of passengers allowed to be carried on the latest model of a London bus-43 upstairs, 28 downstairs and 20 standing. Your Lordships may laugh but it is scarcely less far-fetched than the real answer. It was originally intended that the nine remaining hereditary Peers of first creation were to make up the round 100. In all previous attempts at reform, and notably the 1968 reform, hereditary Peers of first creation rightly ranked with and, indeed, above life Peers under the group name of "created Peers" and not with Peers by descent.
I find it totally unacceptable, particularly with regard to the late Lord Stockton, the late Lord Tonypandy, my noble friend Lord Whitelaw and my noble friend Lord Cranborne, advanced like his grandfather before him in one of his father's titles, that what had been given as a signal honour has been turned by Her Majesty's Government into a slur and their offer to throw in a life peerage to make up the balance does not make it better; it makes it worse.
More serious still is the fact that we have been told by the Leaders of both Houses that this concession will only be honoured if your Lordships enable reform to proceed by consent. When questioned by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, the Leader of the House refused to elucidate further. Perhaps the noble Lord the Chief Whip could do so at the end of the debate. If we send a number of amendments back to another place, which we are certainly entitled to do because it is a matter which affects us really rather closely, would that be proceeding by consent? What if we sent an amendment back a second time; or even if we insisted on one, as is our constitutional right, and on occasion our constitutional 863 duty to do? How will she interpret that? If this rather nebulous threat hanging over us amounts to something less than contempt of Parliament, I would be grateful if someone would tell me why.
In previous debates about this two-stage reform, I have been far more concerned about the interim House on the grounds that I did not believe that the second phase would ever arrive or, if it did, that it would never get through another place. I am far more concerned now that we might indeed get a second stage, but a bad second stage. The terms of reference, which have been mentioned already, of the Royal Commission start quite reasonably with the words:Having regard to the need to maintain the position of the House of Commons as the pre-eminent chamberSo long as another place retains its exclusive powers over Finance Bills and Bills of Supply, many of which go back not only to 1911 but to 100 years before that, its pre-eminence may never need to be in doubt. But to weaken the powers of the new second chamber—which, in spite of what the noble Baroness said, the White Paper rather hints at—after they have eliminated the only part of its composition that they cannot accept, seems to me to be dangerous in the extreme. I therefore support wholeheartedly the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde.
If 30 years on the Front Bench has taught me one thing about the difference between the Houses, it is that Members of another place seem to exist in a sort of air-tight time capsule, bounded by either extremity of the single parliamentary term in which they find themselves. Nothing that happens before the start of that term has any relevance and, more dangerous still, consequences, however direct, that might happen after the following general election are not worth bothering about. On the other hand, Members of your Lordships' House think in a straight, unbroken line.
Generations of Labour oppositions have been only too happy to use the independence of your Lordships to inflict defeats on Conservative governments. This happened between 15 and 25 times a year throughout my time as Chief Whip. All right, in times of a Labour government, there might have been rather more defeats but a higher proportion of those are usually reversed in another place, so the net result on the Acts as they appear on the statute book is about the same. Of course, these are only a fraction of the number of amendments which can consequently be won by argument on the Floor of the House. Yet to read the debates on this Bill in another place, you would think that none of that had ever happened at all.
I remember my noble friend the former Prime Minister once asking me why I did not arrange to modernise the procedures of your Lordships' House so as to get her business through more easily. "I cannot do that, Prime Minister', I said. "Why not?" "Because next time there is a Labour government, we are going to need the very procedures that you are complaining about". I thought I was going to be taken out and shot forthwith for the mere suggestion that there might be another Labour government ever again.
864 And here we go again. Owing to the impetuosity of the party opposite, the connivance of the Liberal Democrats and, I have to add, to a certain extent, the inertia of my own party, we seem to be drifting inexorably towards the point where we could be left for all time with a second chamber tailor-made for the temporary convenience of just this one Administration, which happens to possess a crushing majority in another place.
I must ask the noble Lord the Captain of the Gentlemen at Arms, who does not himself suffer from such limitations to his vision, how he thinks that he will cope with the legislation of a right-wing Conservative government of the future if he has allowed this House to be emasculated by his right honourable friends in the meantime?
It is being said of hereditary Peers—although the noble Baroness the Leader of the House was a little kinder than that—that although we may talk very big, all we are trying do in reality is to preserve our own seats in this House. I am not going to pretend that it will not be an enormous wrench to leave your Lordships' House, and after 50 years it would be strange if it were not. But I assure your Lordships that that wrench will diminish into insignificance compared with the fear that blindness and bigotry will have caused us to do so without our having any assurance that we shall be leaving behind the best possible alternative in our place.
I beg Her Majesty's Government even now to give very serious consideration to some of these things, lest the prophesy of G. K. Chesterton in his poem "The Secret People" should at last come to pass:We only know the last sad squiresRide slowly towards the seaAnd a new people takes the landAnd still it is not weThey have given us into the handOf new unhappy LordsLords without anger and honourWho dare not carry their swordsThey fight by shuffling papersThey have bright dead alien eyesAnd they look at our labour and laughterAs a tired man looks at fliesAnd the load of their loveless pityIs worse than the ancient wrongsTheir doors are shut in the eveningAnd they know no songs".
§ 4.30 p.m.
My Lords, I share the view of my noble friend Lord Denham that this is an extremely important debate. It is a matter of the constitution and its importance is only equalled by the debates we have had either on decisions to join the European Union or some of the important constitutional Acts which followed from that original decision.
Of course it affects much more than the House of Lords. It affects the relationship of the House of Lords with the House of Commons; it affects the balance between the Executive and the legislature; and ultimately it affects the relations between the legislature and the electorate and the Executive with the electorate. 865 Each part of the constitution is interdependent and we cannot alter one part of it without it affecting all the other parts.
Constitutional changes are unlike other political changes. They should be agreed by all party agreements and are intended to last a long time. The Royal Commission on the House of Lords cannot be compared, as I suggest the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, did when answering a Question the other day, with the solution of the long-term care of the elderly. The issues are of an entirely different order of magnitude. Nor did I follow the argument of the noble Baroness this afternoon about the other Bills before the House. Of course the Bills on the health service, the debates on the homeless, pollution or the environment matter; but they are issues which to a large extent can be altered by one Parliament or another; they can be altered within the lifetime of a Parliament. Matters of the constitution, like the future of your Lordships' House, are quite different.
What worries me and many of my noble friends is whether the Government actually take this matter seriously. There are times, when listening to the speeches and reading the White Paper—here I share the view of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, that some of it is inaccurate and much of it repetitive—when one feels that this is not a serious document. Indeed, I have the feeling that the Government were pushed into producing this White Paper; pushed into producing this debate and pushed into producing the Royal Commission, no doubt because the Conservative Party set up the valuable commission under my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern.
The first six chapters of the White Paper are almost entirely devoted to stating that hereditary Peers must lose their right to sit and vote in the House. They are devoted almost entirely to the transition of the House. Let us look at the arguments adduced for this. It starts, in the introduction, with the comments of the Prime Minister. He refers to:hereditary peers with no democratic legitimacy".The truth is that life Peers are just as undemocratic. The noble Baroness, Lady Jay, and myself are both here as a result of political patronage. A House composed only of life Peers would have no more democratic legitimacy than the present House. It is ridiculous to think otherwise. It will not "enhance Britain's democracy" as stated in chapter 2, paragraph 3, to move to an all-appointed House. It is no use protesting again, as has been done on many occasions, that there is to be an appointments commission. That commission will be indirectly appointed by the Prime Minister and the number of appointments it may make will be determined by him. It is unlikely to make the House more democratic, whatever else it may or may not achieve.
Then we are told that referendums,have shown a clear appetite for change"—for constitutional change, for modernisation. Yet we know that the referendum in Wales to establish an Assembly was carried by less than 1 per cent. of the population—some 6,000 votes. And in the referendum 866 on London only 24 per cent. of the people voted. That is hardly an overwhelming majority in either case, and not much of an appetite.
Then, over the weekend, we had the unbelievable spectacle on our television screens and read extensively in the newspapers about the extraordinary events over the election of a new leader for the Welsh Assembly. To the outsider New Labour's idea of a democracy, let alone devolution or devolved powers to any of these organisations, is hardly open, transparent or democratic; indeed, some might say that it comes dangerously close to a "fix" by the Government.
That compares with the real concerns of many people that the Government, under the guise of modernising Parliament, are intent on down-grading the House of Commons. Who would have believed that they would enjoy a half-term holiday at a time when extremely serious events are taking place in the world? After all, British troops may be sent to Kosovo and where will the MPs be? Back at home, having a holiday. The Government appear to be fixing those who will be responsible for devolved institutions, emasculating the House of Lords and elevating the Executive. Referendums are not a substitution for consideration and debate.
The Government's proposals for an interim House of Lords do not have the support of a single, serious, outside observer. As far as I can see, there is no suggestion in the White Paper that the present House of Lords is doing a bad or ineffective job; it says that it is doing an effective job with the wrong people. Far from being,unresponsive to political and social change"—chapter 2, paragraph 16—the House of Lords has consistently sought, by amendments, to improve legislation. That has been accepted by another place. Major Bills have been virtually re-written in this House and accepted in another place. It has done that successfully and serious commentators agree that it has done a valuable job.
It is only when we come to chapters 7 and 8 that we touch on the Royal Commission itself. In the short time left I should like to make only three short comments. First, I very much support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde. It would be absurd to go through all this and end up with a House of Lords which was weaker than the present one. If it has been criticised, it has been criticised for being too weak or not exercising its powers sufficiently. At least it ought to be able to exercise all those powers in any future House without worry. To weaken it would be absurd. It is important that the House of Lords, in a reformed state, along with the House of Commons should keep intact for the future its constitutional power to check the Executive. There are already far too many who believe that the Executive, in the form of the Government of today, is far too powerful and that it is Parliament that needs to be strengthened, not the Executive.
I end where I began. Any change in your Lordships' House affects all the other parts of the Government and our constitution. It is important that we take this matter seriously; that we take no steps that weaken 867 Parliament—one of the great traditions which has stood this country in good stead over hundreds of years and which has been the envy of foreign countries; and that it should not be destroyed without proper care, consideration and argument.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down—all of us are extremely fond of her—she made the point that there is no difference, from the point of view of democracy, in the creation of life Peers and hereditary Peers. Does she really wish to make the point that there is the same democracy when the head of a democratically-elected Government makes an appointment and, from her point of view, when hereditary Peers are created by the Almighty?
My Lords, I think, perhaps, that I made the point that we are all created by the Almighty, hereditary and life Peers. However, I had not realised that we were in for a theological argument. I should be delighted to have one. The point I made, and I stand by it, is that everyone in your Lordships House, with the notable exceptions of the right reverend Prelates, is here either by heredity or political patronage. Neither group are democrats; none of us has been elected.
§ 4.39 p.m.
§ Lord Walton of Detchant
My Lords, when I spoke in the two-day debate on the reform of your Lordships' House, I said that the United Kingdom owes an enormous debt of gratitude to the contributions made to national and international life by the hereditary aristocracy of this country over many years and generations. Nevertheless, knowing of the manifesto commitment of the elected government of the day, I had to conclude reluctantly that the Bill before another place to remove the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in this House was one which I could not, in all conscience, oppose.
However, having said that, contrary to the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, I believe that in the interim House it is crucial to the continuing validity and functioning of this House that the "Weatherill amendment", or something very like it, must be accepted to retain a significant cadre of hereditary Peers in that body.
I turn to stage two of the reform, a matter with which the Royal Commission is expected to deal. The commission has been confronted with an extremely demanding and difficult task and a very short timetable. I am pleased to learn that following the commission's report, a joint committee of the two Houses will be established to recommend means by which the implementation of the commission's recommendations is to be introduced.
In the commission's report, we will be faced with three possible options for the long-term future of this House, one of which is a wholly-elected chamber. I find it remarkable that so many people, whose views I normally respect, have come out strongly in favour of such a chamber. Can it be conceived how introducing a second other chamber, wholly elected, could be established without removing significant powers from 868 another place? I believe that the potential for constitutional upheaval by introducing an elected chamber is absolutely unacceptable. For that reason, it is one which I would wholly reject.
Nevertheless, I wholly accept the strictures upon the idea of a wholly-appointed chamber, set out so clearly by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. It has its attractions, but it could lack validity and constitutional propriety in the longer term. For that reason alone, I much prefer the idea of a hybrid chamber, say, two-thirds appointed, and one-third indirectly elected. I confess to being attracted very much to the idea that the indirectly-elected members might be partly elected on a regional basis but that others might be elected! by professional and other occupational groups, not necessarily representative but brought about in such a way.
Having mentioned my reasons for rejecting an elected chamber, I have said on many occasions that the expertise in this House is in many ways absolutely exceptional. In my 10 years of experience I have heard many outstanding contributions from all parts of the House and from all the life Peers. I cannot conceive that more than a tiny percentage of the existing life Peers would ever have dreamt of standing for election to a directly-elected chamber.
My final remarks will deal with a sensitive issue. Being in my 77th year, I shall, without question, be accused of self-interest. I refer to the problem of ageism. The White Paper does not say in terms that a retirement age will be imposed by the Royal Commission but the strong hints—not only in the White Paper, but more particularly in the public press—suggest that a retirement age is likely to be introduced. At a time when consultants in the National Health Service retire al 65 and cannot even hold honorary contracts beyond 70; when heads of houses in Oxford and bishops retire at 70 and Law Lords are no longer able to sit beyond the age of 75, that sounds absolutely logical. Many problems are associated with ageing. As one of my colleagues said,I've come to terms with my bifocals,To my dentures I'm resigned,I can live with my arthritisBut, by God, I miss my mind".The validity of that was brought home to me a few months ago. A colleague in Oxford said that he wanted to see me about an extremely sensitive matter. He came, and I said, "What do you want to talk about?" He said, "It's very sensitive. I am one of the medical obituaries editors for The Times. I've been asked to get a copy of your curriculum vitae."I said, "Do you happen to know something that I don't?".
As we get older, we all suffer from a difficulty in remembering names, quite often those of our close friends and noble friends on these Benches. This is known, happily, as benign senescent forgetfulness. Gladly, it leaves intellect, judgment and wisdom unimpaired. I have been greatly struck by the quality of the contributions made in your Lordships' House by many Peers on all sides in their ninth and tenth decades. They have demonstrated a vast range of accumulated experience and wisdom. To discard that expertise 869 would, in my view, impoverish and even, in some respects, emasculate the House. I have calculated that if a retirement age of 75 were to be introduced, two-thirds of your Lordships' Select Committee on Science and Technology would disappear within the course of the next two years.
Many years ago William Cowper said:Knowledge and wisdom, far from being one,Have oft times no connection, Knowledge dwells,In heads replete with thoughts of other men;Wisdom in minds attentive to their own.Knowledge is proud that he has learned so much;Wisdom is humble that he knows no more".I believe that the powers of this House are about right. I should hate to see any reduction. This is an effective revising Chamber. To cast aside the repository of sagacity and experience now so evident in the debates in your Lordships' House would, in my view at least, imperil its future as an effective revising Chamber.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ Lord Wakeham
My Lords, I am tempted to start by saying that I know of one noble Lord in this House who has done his best to see that there is a mistake in his obituary in one of our national papers. He has left a letter to be sent to the editor the day after his obituary appears saying, "Sir, I may be dead, but …"
I share the view that this is an important debate and recognise that large numbers of your Lordships wish to participate. Therefore, I shall he brief.
I am deeply honoured to have been asked to become the chairman of the Royal Commission examining the future of this House. Our task is hugely important and the timetable very tight, but it is a task to which I am much looking forward.
I start from this position. I have the greatest respect for the contribution that this House has made to the life of this nation over hundreds of years. I am conscious of the service given by your Lordships, by whatever route we have arrived here. The task of the Royal Commission in the new circumstances of today is to propose a way forward, taking what is good in the present arrangements and to make suggestions for its future.
I am sure that your Lordships will understand why it would be inappropriate for me to make any substantive comment on the issues raised in the White Paper or, indeed, on today's excellent and very useful debate, to which I shall listen carefully and read any speeches that I might miss.
However, I should like to make some more general comments, the first of which is to say how delighted I am to have as colleagues in the task ahead several distinguished members of your Lordships House: first, the right reverent Prelate, the Lord Bishop of Oxford; secondly, the noble Baroness, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, who is an old colleague of mine from the Press Complaints Commission, and of course, the noble Lord, Lord Butler and my noble friend Lord Hurd, both of whom I have worked with over many years and on many issues.
870 We shall also benefit from the wise counsel of Sir Michael Wheeler-Booth, a friend of many of us and a friend of this House which he served with distinction for many years, particularly as Clerk of the Parliaments. I got to know him well when I had the honour to lead your Lordships' House.
I am also extremely pleased that the other members of the commission are equally distinguished figures in their own walks of life. I am sure that all of your Lordships can draw considerable reassurance from that. Together the members of the Royal Commission combine experience and wisdom with a wide range of perspectives on the difficult issues with which we shall need to grapple.
Our first formal meeting will take place on 1st March. Obviously, I do not want to pre-empt the collective decisions that we shall need to take then about the way forward. However, I should like to emphasise three points which, again, I hope that your Lordships will find reassuring.
First, I well understand the anxiety of those concerned to ensure that the later stages of proposed reform will follow quickly on from those set out in the House of Lords Bill. Although we have a precise and challenging timetable, I shall do my utmost to ensure that we play our full part in ensuring that that happens.
Secondly, I should like again to set on the record, as I first did during the Statement on the publication of the Government's White Paper, that I believe the commission's terms of reference to be sufficiently wide to enable us to deal comprehensively with all the issues relating to the role, function and composition of this House.
I also believe that the commission will want to seek the widest possible range of views on these matters, both in written and oral evidence, as well as in public hearings. Of course, it is for the commission to decide whether to take evidence in private or in public. However, I want to be as open and as forthcoming as possible. I expect the commission's work to take place in the context of a vigorous public debate.
Many of your Lordships have already taken the opportunity to make your views clear in this House and to me personally. We shall, of course, take all views into account. I stress that it would he enormously helpful if those of your Lordships with particular or deeply held views would submit formal evidence to the commission.
Finally, I know that a number of your Lordships have expressed concern about the concept of "modernising" the House of Lords. I am one of those who believes that modernising anything for the sake of it is a pointless activity, but I make this point: we are currently experiencing a more profound set of constitutional changes than at any time since the start of this century—and perhaps even more fundamental than that. All of those changes will impact on this House. One of the challenges facing the Royal Commission is to find a way for this House to play a distinct and significant role, complementary to that of the other place, within the new constitutional arrangements. This is an exciting 871 opportunity and it will not come again. That is why I welcome the Government's White Paper and why I believe that your Lordships should too.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Lord Jopling
My Lords, it is a courtesy of both Houses of Parliament that speakers sit through the speech following their own. Therefore, it is my great good fortune that the chairman of the Royal Commission will have to listen to my views and that that will save me the trouble of explaining them to him!
I have deliberately avoided speaking in your Lordships' House on the subject of Lords reform until now. I had some experience of reforms in another place and have been flattered by having my name attached to those reforms. However, I felt that I should wait until now before trying to express opinions about how your Lordships' House might be reformed.
As a creature of the House of Commons, I have been hugely struck in the almost two years since I became a Member of this House by the better informed and certainly better mannered work of this place. It is sometimes not easy to get used to that after 33 years in the other place.
However, 1 am less impressed by the way in which the Government have been thinking out their revisions to our constitution and our Parliament, which seem to have cascaded upon us during the past 18 months. I really cannot understand why the Royal Commission could not have been set up 18 months ago. We could then all have had a much better understanding of the possibilities of phase two. Frankly, and with great respect to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, it is no good her complaining about the number of hours that this House is spending discussing reform. The fact that your Lordships want to spend so much time discussing it is a function of the uncertainty about the future, and must be quite understandable.
The noble Baroness spoke of the need for consensus. I resented the way in which the Government made fundamental changes in another place, particularly with regard to Prime Minister's Question Time. There was no consensus there. I ask the noble Baroness to consider the reforms in another place, which, as I have said, occasionally bear my name. They were proposed in 1992, but until we achieved consensus across the House of Commons the government of the day did not implement them. They could have done so perfectly easily, but felt that there had to be consensus.
My conclusion is that, once the hereditary Peers have left your Lordships' House, this House is destined to become infinitely more political, more party political and more combative. So many experienced colleagues, who have spent all their lives in either another place or in this House, firmly believe that that will happen. I am certain that it will. I shall return to that point later.
Others speak about the need for an age limit. I agree very much with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, on that point. Frankly, I think that we would be mad to deprive your Lordships' House of the contributions from Peers such as the noble Earl, Lord Longford, the noble Lords, Lord Callaghan and 872 Lord Renton, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, who are all both regular attenders of your Lordships' House and fascinating contributors on many occasions. We would be crazy to get rid of such contributions.
In my view—I am afraid that this will be controversial—we would be a good deal wiser to question whether, in the calculations about party strengths and numbers in the future, we should take account of those life Peers who rarely attend your. Lordships' House. I have been trying to do some research into this and I have calculated that of those life Peers who were eligible to attend for the whole of the first Session of this Parliament, about 70—that is, about one in seven—attended on fewer than 10 per cent. of the Sitting days. We understand, of course, that many of them may not be well or may be of an age when one should not be surprised by infrequent attendance. I hope that the Royal Commission will give some thought to the possibility of making arrangements to balance out party membership in the way in which the Government require, but, while doing so, perhaps we could consider excluding from party numbers some of those rare attenders and allowing them to speak but not to vote. I believe that very many of them have great wisdom which greatly enhances the reputation of your Lordships' House.
I return to the matter of party numbers. I hope that I shall be forgiven because I am the third former Chief Whip to speak and I hope that I am not seen to be making a plea from the "Chief Whips' Mafia". My old friend and opponent, the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, always used to tell me that one must always remember that Parliament (in both Houses) works only because of the unwritten understanding that the government of the day must be allowed to get their business. That is a fundamental facet of our life in this building. If it were not, frankly, the whole business would collapse. If we are to become more party political—and I am convinced that we shall be—as I said earlier, it is essential that we do not make it totally impossible for the government of the day to get their business through in your Lordships' House.
In Chapter 6 of the White Paper, the Government say that,no political party should have a majority in the House of Lords".Well, that is fair enough. However, it also says that,we presently …"—and I emphasise the word "presently"—seek only broad parity of numbers with the main Opposition party".After stage two, quite frankly I do not believe that that will be enough in a much more highly charged political atmosphere. I realise that what I am about to say may be unpopular on my own side, but in a new, more political House I think that the government party ought to have parity with all the other national opposition parties. The ever-present danger of the strictures of the Cross Benches have, to my certain knowledge—and I can remember some very tart conversations with the noble Lord, Lord Denham, in the years gone by, and he will remember them too—provided a nightmare for 873 Chief Whips of both parties in your Lordships' House. Given that the government party has parity with the other main opposition parties, not a majority over them, and bearing in mind the Cross-Benches, that will be quite enough for any Chief Whip to have to contend with.
To achieve that parity which the Government speak of in the White Paper will mean an adjustment of numbers after each change of government in order to get to that level of parity. It is quite impossible to expect the whole of the electorate to go and vote again immediately after a general election to top up the Members. Therefore, if we are to have an elected element in your Lordships' House, that is the time to do it, through indirect elections.
However, in achieving the parity which the Government want, we must be careful that we do not find ourselves in a period of frequent changes of government becoming a bigger and bigger House, which is totally unmanageable. When I chaired the Select Committee in another place on this, to my infinite regret I was not allowed to address the matter of the number of Members there. I know how much I would have been delighted to propose a very large reduction. In that context, I am alarmed at the proposal to which the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, referred; namely, to allow 91 hereditary Peers to stay on. My name did appear in a letter to The Times, along with the names of my noble friends Lord Howell of Guildford and Lord Baker of Dorking, which tried to make the point that the proposal is not as clever as it has been made out to be by some of our colleagues. However, time prevents me from explaining that at length.
If, as I expect, the Government insist on topping up their numbers in the transitional House to make up for the deficit caused by the appointment of the 91 temporary hereditary Peers, it is essential that those individuals, too, ought to disappear when the temporary hereditary Peers disappear. Otherwise, we shall be left at the end of the transition with a whole disparity which will have to be corrected all over again. I have said enough; indeed, I have exceeded my time. Nevertheless, I am grateful to the House for listening to me with such patience.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Baroness Strange
My Lords, unaccustomed as I am to such amazing prominence in the list of speakers, I shall have to rewrite most of my speech which was all about bedtime and breakfast. I shall still try to make my speech as brief as possible. There are just two points that I should like to make. The first is about heredity. The idea of hereditary Peers has been dismissed as indefensible by every speaker in the other place. I did not listen to their debates, but I have read both of the relevant Hansard reports. Therefore, like the noble Lord, Lord Denham, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and I am sure, late tomorrow night, the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, I shall defend it.
Every single Member of the other place, indeed all of us here—indeed, everyone in the whole world—is hereditary. We owe much of what we are to our own 874 dear parents from whom we have inherited much. We have, as my noble friend Lord Walton of Detchant will be able to tell noble Lords with more authenticity than I, inherited many genes from stray ancestors down the road of time. There has been much talk of hereditary plumbers. Indeed, I do not see why not. Children are brought up in houses where their parents do one thing or another, the parents talk of their interests and of their professions; some of it somewhere must rub off.
We all bring up our children to be good, useful citizens of the world. We want them to be kinder, nicer, cleverer and more successful than we are ourselves. Of all my children's reports, the ones I most cherished were those which said they were kind, thoughtful and considerate of other people. I therefore see nothing to be ashamed of in being an hereditary Peer. It is something marvellous which one has inherited and, as a result, it is one's duty, while one has it, to use this privilege to help others. I also do not believe that to describe hereditary Peers in the ways in which they have been described during the past year is either true or kind; or, indeed, necessary. Personally, considering the difficulties that we have had with our central heating over the past few weeks, I think it would have been much more useful to have been born an hereditary plumber.
This House of your Lordships is a wonderful place. I say that not only because the gold, the crimson, the amazing Pugin features, lions and unicorns and angels are all part of the glorious background; not only because of the marvellous people who actually run it, the Clerks, Black Rod and the Doorkeepers, the refreshment staff and the police, together with all the ladies who keep it so gleaming and polished, many of whom are our dear friends—if I started mentioning names it would indeed be breakfast-time before I had finished—and not only because on whichever Benches we sit, whatever views we represent, we are all a team, dedicated to improving legislation and to defending the interests of the people, though we may not always agree on the best way to do this. All of your Lordships are so kind. I remember when I first came the late Lord Home of the Hirsel sat and had tea with me, the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, told me fascinating stories of his early days in the other place, the late dear Lord Elwyn-Jones talked of the Nazi trials after the war and the late Lord Houghton of Sowerby talked of life in the trenches in the First World War. I even had the reciprocal pleasure of giving tea to Lady Callaghan while her noble kinsman sat through a long list of speakers after he had spoken.
Whether you were a life Peer or an hereditary Peer, whether you were a duke or a baron, a former prime minister or someone very insignificant like me; indeed, whatever Benches you sat on, you were all friends and you were all working together. It was like a Victorian children's story which my grandmother used to read to me called The Angel of Love, in which every person is a house and his eyes are windows out of which looks the little angel of love. Of course there had to be drama in it, and there was. Rosie, the middle sister who was six, was playing one night with the gold sovereign that her grandmother had given her. It fell between a crack 875 in the floorboards and was lost. So she stole her little sister's, and lied about it. All the servants were accused of theft and she spent it all on sweets for herself. Of course, Rosie's poor Angel of Love had a terrible time of it because she had let in spite, envy, jealousy and lying, and even anger—each one let in something else and they drove the poor angel out.
In the past year something very similar has been happening in your Lordships' House, with the bleak and bald announcement that all hereditary Peers are to be got rid of. We have all worked together, as best we could, some of course more successfully than others, and we have all tried. Many of us have become very unsettled, and very unhappy. And all that will be achieved at the end of the day will be something possibly not so good, nor so efficient, and certainly more expensive to the taxpayer.
I would like to tell you what the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip quoted from an American judge, in April 1995. He said,The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding".I think that is a very fair description of what has been proposed for your Lordships' House. Rosie's story, however, ended happily, your Lordships will be glad to hear. She took her younger sister Babs out to find a carpenter, for some reason in a snowstorm, and Babs caught pneumonia, and very nearly died, but Rosie was terribly sorry and repentant. She prayed to God and confessed to everyone what she had really done, so Babs got better, the sovereign was found and the Angel of Love came back into Rosie's eyes again.
There is one other very short point I would make. There has also, regrettably, been much talk of an age limit. In this House, we have no age discrimination, no ageism, we revere and admire the wisdom, brilliance and wit of your Lordships who have reached the mature age of 90, and even of the younger 80 year-olds. Perhaps one should bow to the idol of modernity, and fix an age limit, and I would suggest as a temporary measure, 105—at least until some of your Lordships reach that age, when we might have to make the upper limit a little more.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Lord Eden of Winton
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, and I hope to echo some of her sentiments during the course of my remarks. I begin by taking issue with the title of the White Paper. It is referred to as Reforming the House of Lords. From what I see in the contents of the White Paper there is more of an intention to replace than to reform. What appears to be the preferred solution of the Government—at least that is my interpretation of pages 40, 41, 49 and 50—is that they want an altogether different Chamber, a new second Chamber with fewer powers and a changed composition. Even the Life Peers are only to be Peers for life, apparently, for the time being. In the process they will alter fundamentally the purpose and powers of Parliament as a whole.
876 I hope very much that the Royal Commission will take into account the impact on Parliament as a whole during the course of its deliberations. It is, if I am fair in my summary, the Government's declared aim to modernise our institutions in such ways as will enable them more accurately to reflect current realities. I have no grounds for protesting about that but I suspect that they have another prize in mind. They have nothing less as their ultimate objective than the diminution of Parliament itself and the concentration of true power in the hands of the Government.
I am a Conservative with both a large and a small "C". I am not against change per se but I am distrustful of changes which are pushed through perhaps because they conform comfortably to some populist slogan and which are promoted with ill-concealed contempt for any opposing point of view. Of course one must always be ready to change and adapt. If one does not do so, as an institution this Chamber will soon lose popular sympathy and support. Ideally such change should be a gradual, evolutionary process preceded by much thought and accompanied by much debate. That is the right way to proceed, in harmony with our national character and contributing greatly to the relative stability of political life. Such an approach should influence any proposals for change in our great national institutions such as Parliament. The White Paper acknowledges this at page 46 where it states,Constitutional reform in the United Kingdom has normally been gradual and incremental. This has contributed to the basic stability of the United Kingdom's system".Yet, in embarking upon a series of constitutional changes which are anything but "gradual and incremental", the Government appear to be more eager to undermine than to underpin the existing structure. In his foreword to the White Paper the Prime Minister salutes, as examples of progress and modernisation, what he calls the new "representative arrangements" for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; the new structures for the regions of England; and a new scheme for the government of London. Taken together with the plans for this House, they are being hailed as a comprehensive and radical programme of reform. I wonder whether that is the whole picture. Is that really what this upheaval is all about?
I have to confess that my suspicions are heightened by the ministerial glee with which the Government set about denigrating hereditary Peers. They found in them an easy target, it is true, because they were not going to resist the changes proposed. I suspect they set about their task all the more robustly in the terms of the Bill before Parliament in the other place now because they did not want the contribution of experienced hereditary Peers to be brought to bear upon the consideration of what should take the place of the present House. Hereditary Peers have in the main served long hours in this place and have demonstrated a tradition of service and a sense of responsibility. Their departure will be a great loss not only to Parliament but also to discerning people throughout this kingdom who have a high regard for their independence and judgment. This is reflected in the White Paper at page 40 which states: 877the Lords, conscious of their absence of a specific mandate, their political imbalance and the existence of inheritance as one of the qualifications for membership, have restrained themselves … going further than the actual legislative constraints on their powers".I predict that the new members of the new second Chamber will not be inclined to feel so constrained. They will not have those same traditions bred into them. They will have an altogether different approach and one which is being actively encouraged by the Government to represent special interest groups, to pursue specific objectives and not to think about the position of Parliament as a whole and the constitution of this country. I believe that in this way the Government will find that this House will become a forum for intensive lobbying. There will be push and pressure such as they have not known it so far. That will lead inevitably to conflict with the Commons.
That is perhaps why they are already trailering the reduction in powers as envisaged in paragraphs 25 and 26 on pages 40 and 41. We can now see what kind of picture is unfolding. They are bringing this out gently, line by line, colour by colour, until gradually we see the whole portrayal before us, but they are not telling us openly, in advance, what it is that they are about. Apparently they see the new second Chamber as becoming the hub of a representative institutional network. Frankly I confess that I dislike the prospect of an institutional representative network. It will be a mishmash of assemblies, committees and debating chambers—this House and the other place being just a part of it all. It does not need much imagination to see who will be the beneficiaries of all this. It will be Ministers—Ministers who will become less and less accountable; who because of the proliferation of representative bodies will be able to avoid scrutiny. Executive accountability will be fragmented. Is this what it is really all about?
The Prime Minister—who appears to be Parliament-shy and anything but media-shy—who resents opposition and criticism and is ready to resort to the block vote if it suits him, now seems intent on creating a series of neutered institutions to replace the present Parliament at Westminster. The Government are going completely in the wrong direction. They should be strengthening Parliament, adding to its power. A strong Parliament makes for a strong government; a strong and accountable government is good for Britain. That, not this wobbly jelly fantasy, is what Britain must have as we enter the 21st century.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Lady Kinloss
My Lords, when I first sat in your Lordships' House there was only one other woman Peer sitting with me on the Cross-Benches, my noble friend the late Lady Swanborough. I inherited her very nice coathanger, which I still use and treasure. There has been a great sea change; not only have women Peers become more numerous but Cross-Benchers have more than trebled in number. I shall refer to this change later.
I voted, with others, for a constructive reform of the House of Lords, which was quashed in the other place by extremists of the left and right. We are now 878 considering the abolition of most of the hereditary Peers and the question of the composition of the House. Those of us who have always believed that there is need for the reform of this House have been denied the opportunity to discuss its powers, which is a far more important question.
As I understand it, it has long been believed that the hereditary Peers scotched the last attempt at reform. This I regard as incorrect. I find unacceptable the abrupt dismissal of hereditary Peers, many of whom would support a constructive reform. I see no reason for a transitional House of Lords until its future is determined by consensus. I find extraordinary illogicalities in the White Paper.
The change to which I refer has been wholly spontaneous. The White Paper seeks to make the composition of the House completely rigid. Given the fluctuations of public opinion, any attempt to enforce any rigidity is bound to break down. Perhaps the Minister can say what will happen if a Peer or Peers wishes to cross the floor and so change the balance? This they can do at present, and have done so. Peers are subject to the universal law of death—whether hereditary or life Peers of any party or none—which no legislation can repeal. Some 50 Peers, whether hereditary or life, have their peerages extinguished by death every year. How will an independent appointments committee be able to recommend, as the White Paper suggests, non-political appointments and vet all nominations to sit in the House of Lords? Can the Minister say whether I am correct in thinking that non-political appointees will sit on the Cross-Benches?
The terms of reference of the Royal Commission, as set out in Chapter 22, paragraph 23, read very well, but they do not really disclose the Government's intentions. I wonder what they may be. Royal Commissions have been ignored within my memory; can the Minister say why this Royal Commission may not be ignored? If it is, what happens then?
Are future Peers—or whatever they may be called—to be paid, as is the case with Members in the other place? To what extent will they be merely place men? Without remuneration they may not be eager to serve, and may not be financially able to do so. I find some difficulties in giving unreserved support to the White Paper.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, I do not believe that the Government have ever fully appreciated the strength of feeling among your Lordships with regard to the reform of the House of Lords. That strength of feeling is clearly demonstrated by the number of noble Lords who have already spoken or intend to do so, and by the fact that the Government have had to extend the time of the debate to two days.
In her opening remarks, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, made much of the Labour Party manifesto commitment to abolish the speaking and voting rights of hereditary Peers. It is perhaps interesting to reflect that a recent survey suggests that no more than, I think, 2 per cent. of the population understood, accepted, or 879 even agreed with that undertaking. I am not quite sure therefore how the commitment can be declared in such equivocal terms by the noble Baroness.
This is an important debate. The Government cannot expect us to allow 700 years of history and tradition to be swept away without so much as a by your leave. After all Simon de Montfort's Parliament—the so-called mother of Parliaments—was largely a House of Lords and not a House of Commons.
I have had the privilege of serving in your Lordships' House for more than 35 years; 13 of those years were spent on the Front Bench, two in opposition and 11 in government. I make no claim to be wiser or cleverer than anyone else but, like many of your Lordships, I speak from a position of some experience in this House—of its roles, its customs, its strengths and its weaknesses. I believe that we are a unique House and that we have been able to retain our independence from both the government of the day and the House of Commons and serve as an effective revising Chamber within our parliamentary system.
As a Minister—like many others who have served in Parliament—I soon learnt that it was very unwise to take your Lordships' House for granted. That applies equally to both Conservative and Labour administrations. It will come as no surprise that I have found to my cost when speaking from the government Dispatch Box that I have not always been able to persuade your Lordships of the merits of my proposals or to resist other proposals put forward.
The Government make great play about the so-called in-built Conservative majority among hereditary Peers. Indeed, we know how annoyed the Government are when they have suffered occasional defeats in this House at the hands of combined numbers of Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, their own Members and Cross-Benchers. Of course, they were very swift to praise your Lordships when previous Conservative administrations suffered defeat in this House, as they quite often did.
The truth is that any government who enjoy a large majority in the House of Commons are safe in the knowledge that they can force any controversial legislation through that House, come what may. In the end it must be the view of the House of Commons which prevails, as it always can and should under the provisions of the Parliament Act and the Salisbury-Addison convention, to which my noble friend Lord Denham referred. Without a doubt, the hereditary principle has provided Parliament with an independent, free-thinking and unprejudiced group of people. It is that independence which is, in my view, the most important characteristic of your Lordships' House—independence from the House of Commons, independence from the Government, and independence from any particular sectional view.
Whether an individual Peer decides to take a party Whip or join the Cross Benches is a decision reached by that individual Peer. Even then, hereditary Peers can still—and often do—ignore the voting instructions of the party machine, free from the pressures which might be felt by someone who owed their position to their 880 party or someone who was seeking further political patronage. That is the uniqueness of your Lordships' House.
Take my own position. Since taking my seat I have always taken the Conservative Whip. But that was my own decision. My father was, first of all, a Liberal Member of the other place; he then became a Labour Member of the other place; and then rejoined the Liberal Party in this House towards the end of his life. My decision to join the Conservative Party and rake the Conservative Whip was not an automatic one; it was one which I agonised over and took with great care in the context of all sorts of advice at that time. And, my Lords, it is from that perspective that I view the Government's decision to start the reform of the House of Lords in the way they intend more in sorrow than in anger.
Like many noble Lords on this side of the House and elsewhere have already made clear, I do not oppose reform of this House in itself; far from it. For example, there is, as everyone knows, a perception that my noble friend the Conservative Chief Whip can summon up sufficient noble Lords any day he likes to secure the view of his party. That is, I believe, more a perception than a reality, but perhaps no less real for that. I would therefore not necessarily oppose a restriction on the voting rights of Peers who were very infrequent attenders. I would emphasise that the problem of infrequent attenders is not confined to hereditary noble Lords of ancient lineage. It is regrettable that so many of the recently created life Peers, many of them apparently Labour Party supporters, having taken their seats, then subsequently attend hardly at all. I would also welcome allowing the leaders of all the main religious faiths in this country, and not just those from the Church of England, to be Members of this House and contribute to our debates. I listened with great care to the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester. I am not sure that I wholly went along with the view that the present Prelates who sit in this House are representative of the whole religious community in this country. I would welcome the leaders of other faiths here as well.
And, if some part of the hereditary system is to be retained, as perhaps it will be under the proposals, I would welcome a reform whereby the first born, and not just the first son, might inherit the title.
Many important functions, such as membership of Select Committees and being Deputy Speakers, are held by hereditary Peers. If hereditary Peers are to lose the right to sit in this House, then it will be for life Peers to fill those positions. I wonder whether life Peers, even those who are regular attenders, are willing to take on all the responsibilities that these extra duties require.
The Government have repeatedly drawn attention to what they see as the shortcomings of the hereditary principle. These arguments, if valid, could apply equally to our hereditary monarchy. Of course, the Government deny that they have any plans in this regard. No doubt that is true for the moment. But the fact is that when and if the forthcoming legislation passes into law, the 881 Queen will be the only remaining hereditary element in our constitution. Your Lordships may share my apprehension at that prospect.
Perhaps I may finally refer to the Royal Commission which the Government have announced. With the obvious exception of my noble friend Lord Hurd of Westwell, I wonder as to the knowledge and experience of the proposed members. I confess that their names, when I read them, were not all, although some were, familiar to me. Perhaps I do not move in the right circles. But I hope that the members of the Royal Commission will be ready to consider their evidence openly and freely and not come to their task with any preconceived notions.
We are, in the proposed legislation and in the first phase of the reform, upon which we are about to embark apparently, taking, as my noble friend Lord Strathclyde said, a great leap in the dark. I am reminded of the words of Sir Winston Churchill:A thousand years scarce serve to build a city; an hour may lay it in the dust".
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Lord Norton of Louth
My Lords, before I address specifically the White Paper, I should like to take up a point that was made by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House during her speech. She said then that the issue itself had been discussed at great length over many years and there was no need for primary research. She is quite right in her first assertion. It is a topic that has been frequently discussed at great length over many years. But there is a great difference between a topic being discussed at great length and a topic being discussed in great depth. That is what has been absent from the debate about your Lordships' House in recent times. It has not been discussed in depth and I do believe there is still a case for serious primary research, not least into what happens in second chambers elsewhere.
In terms of the White Paper itself, the Motion invites us to "take note" of the White Paper. I find a slight problem in that because I am not sure there is a great deal to take note of. The White Paper raises far more questions than it answers. The White Paper tells us two things about the Government's approach to reform of the upper House. The first is that it does not exist within any intellectually coherent approach to constitutional change. The Government's plans for reform are flawed, because the Government are treating a change in the composition of this House as a cause, rather than a consequence, of wider constitutional change. This is especially important given the Government's other changes to the constitution.
As has already been mentioned in this debate, the starting point of constitutional change should not be the composition of a legislative chamber. The starting point should be the constitution. I have made that point before. What form of constitution do we want? What are the first principles that should determine the role of the legislature? Once we know that, then we know the powers and composition that are appropriate to the two chambers.
882 The Government have already embarked on a number of constitutional changes. It is the combination of changes that is important. Each has consequences for other changes. Taken together, they alter the constitutional framework of the United Kingdom. What will the end result be? We are not altogether sure. That is not because the Government will not tell us. It is because the Government themselves do not know. They have no cohesive perception of the actual constitution that they are working towards.
The constitution became a topic of political debate in the 1970s. In subsequent years several coherent approaches to constitutional change emerged. In the past decade, two of those approaches have tended to dominate. One is the traditional approach. which is wedded to the Westminster model of government. The structure and relationships of our system have, for the past century, largely adhered to that model. It is a model that delivers a number of benefits: it provides for a form of government that is coherent, responsive, effective, flexible and, above all, accountable. There is one body—the party in government—responsible for public policy; and that body can be swept out of office if electors disapprove of that policy.
The other approach that has made much of the running in debate has been the liberal approach. It presses for a new constitutional settlement—one that is based on a particular view of society and of the individual—and the changes to the constitution that it favours are radical. It wants a new electoral system, a judicially enforceable Bill of Rights, devolution—or, in its pure form, federalism—and an elected second chamber, all embodied within a written constitution. I do not agree with that approach but I recognise that it is intellectually coherent. It has a clear goal and a clear premise for what it wants to achieve.
The problem with the Government's proposals for change is that they fit squarely within neither of those approaches; nor indeed within any of the others that emerged in the 1970s and 1980s. They have not sought to articulate a coherent approach of their own. It appears that they have no clear goal. The absence of a clear goal is demonstrated beyond peradventure by the White Paper. The Government want to get rid of hereditary Peers—that is clear—but beyond that they have no developed views. They know there are several options. They point the Royal Commission in the direction of a mixed composition but otherwise they appear content to leave it to the Royal Commission. In other words, the Government are saying to the commission "We are a radical Government but please tell us what to do; and please do not do anything that will affect the House of Commons". There is a very strong case for maintaining the primacy of the House of Commons—I stress primacy rather than dictatorship—but it is not made in the White Paper. It is not put within any clear, coherent, constitutional framework.
The inadequacies in the White Paper lead me to pose a number of questions to the Government. What exactly is the approach—the intellectual approach—of the Government to constitutional change? How do the Government's proposals, such as they are for the Upper 883 House, fit in with that approach? We are entitled to expect answers that are grounded in the debate and the literature on the British constitution.
My fear is that we shall not get such answers—certainly not adequate answers—to those questions. That brings me to the second distinguishing characteristic of the White Paper, already been touched upon by other noble Lords. That is, that the Government's plans are clearly rushed. There has been inadequate preparation. The White Paper adds little knowledge on the subject, relying at times on material that is dated.
More fundamentally, the White Paper is clearly rushed in terms of the Government's thinking. Removing hereditary Peers, it is claimed, will enhance the legitimacy of the House. The White Paper also floats the possibility of a reduction in the powers of the House of Lords. In short, the Government envisage greater legitimacy but fewer powers. They are not committing themselves to fewer powers, but the fact that that possibility is mentioned in the White Paper lends itself to that perception. We must add to that the fact that the Government lean towards a mixed composition—that is, a part elected House. Once you have an elected body, be it wholly or partly elected, it is unlikely to rest content with limited powers.
The Government have not thought through the consequences of removing hereditary Peers. That is clear from the White Paper, from the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill, and from Answers given to Parliamentary Questions. The assumption is that the House can simply carry on as before. And that is all it is: an assumption. The Government have taken no steps, carried out no study, to determine the consequences. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House made clear in answer to a Written Question from the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, that they have no intention of doing so.
Everything about what the Government have done exudes a sense of panic as well as a sense of disdain. There is an unwillingness to address the issue squarely and in depth. A Royal Commission is being hastily set up. II is to be rushed into producing a report. It is almost certainly not being given enough time to call the kind of witnesses that are crucial to such an inquiry; that is, experts from abroad who can offer authoritative testimony on second chambers. That is the kind of research that is clearly lacking in this whole exercise. Most of the debates over the years have been a repetition at a rather superficial level. There is a case for much more informed scrutiny and research of the role of second chambers.
The Government have had over a year, almost two years in fact—longer than they are giving the Royal Commission—to undertake a proper study in preparation for a White Paper on Lords Reform. The White Paper that we have before us is clearly not the product of such a study. We are entitled to ask why not.
In short, and in conclusion, the Government are rushing headlong into change on the basis of an incoherent approach to constitutional change. It may be too late to stop them getting it wrong, but let us he in no doubt that that is exactly what they are doing.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Lord Judd
My Lords, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and others, I believe that the White Paper is to be welcomed. It does not seem to me to mince words. Indeed, it sets out the agenda very clearly. I hope that I shall be forgiven for underlining some of its priorities. If it is arguably rather prescriptive for the work of the Royal Commission, that at least indicates the firm resolve of government rather than a shunting off of the responsibility of leadership.
Clearly the time for fundamental change has come. We cannot go into the 21st Century as we are, especially when so much is being done in other spheres of governance to regenerate the spirit of democracy. However, I do believe that in preparing for change we ought fully and generously to put on record that, whatever the historical origins of their privilege, and these can in some instances bear little scrutiny, there have been and still are hereditary peers in all parts of this House who have used their space and material security to bring a great sense of responsibility, originality, commitment, wisdom and public service to the affairs of Parliament. Some have also coupled those qualities with professional and academic distinction and with experience which have greatly enhanced the quality of our proceedings. It would be mean and dishonest to pretend otherwise. We have all witnessed it, not only in this Chamber but in the work of Select Committees as well. Indeed, the standards set by some hereditary Peers have been a challenge to the rest of us. That should be said without equivocation. I am glad that the White Paper and proposed interim arrangements at least in part acknowledge it.
Noblesse oblige is no bad principle; and whatever the changes that come, history will not smile on us if we underrate character and independence of judgment. We must not replace what we have with a grey, boring place made up of aspiring, over-compliant placemen unduly beholden to their party managers.
That brings me to my first point. We are closing a long and powerful chapter in our history. We are saying that it is no longer appropriate for a genuine democracy to have a second Chamber rooted in the power of wealth and social advantage: and that is what the title House of Lords has been all about. It belonged to a story in which social elitism dominated. Whatever the form and tasks of a new second Chamber, it needs a new name to convey the sense and purpose of a new reality. There should be no lingering doubts or confusions about its nature. Titles like "Lord" or "Lady" should surely no longer apply per se to membership of the new Chamber. I am glad that the wording of the White Paper, as I read it, with its very careful reference to "second Chamber"' in the terms of reference for the Royal Commission, does not fall into that trap. However, with the greatest possible respect, it is the amendment before us which does invite us to make just that mistake with its reference to "this Chamber" and with its failure to register a new beginning. We are not, I hope, about substituting a new would-be social elite for the old.
My second point is that, at a time of such historically significant change, we should not assume that, just because a second Chamber presently exists, there has to 885 be one. I personally believe one is needed. But I hope the Royal Commission will be brave enough to go back to first principles and look at this issue honestly. What it proposes should rest on a convincing case for such a Chamber. It should then go on to elaborate the precise functions before making recommendations about its form and membership. These recommendations should be tested against the purpose and function.
"Think again" and initiation of debate on matters of strategic concern which do not find an adequate place on the agenda of the House of Commons are obvious functions. But there is another. With the accentuation of global interdependence, more and more policy is inevitably considered and decided in international meetings and institutions. It is vital to keep such policy formulation and decision-making—not least treaties, conventions and agreements and the input by the UK to the process—under systematic scrutiny. We currently do this in this House with the European Union. But the arrangements for scrutiny should surely cover the IMF, the World Bank, the UN system, the G7, the World Trade Organisation, environmental conferences, NATO, OSCE, WEU, the Council of Europe and the rest. A second Chamber could well have a key part to play in monitoring globalisation and keeping the principle of accountability alive.
But at all costs the power of final decision-making should rest, and be seen to rest, with the Commons. Any fudging of this could tend to undermine the democratic accountability of the executive. "Divide and rule" could become potentially tempting. Care will therefore be necessary to ensure that nothing is inadvertently done which, over a period of time, whatever the parameters laid down at the beginning, might lead a second Chamber in the name, for example, of electoral legitimacy, to start challenging the supremacy of the Commons. Apart from any continuing specialist legal functions, a second Chamber should be, and should be seen to be, advisory.
As we have all come to understand, sustainable democracy is about more than general elections and adding up votes. It demands an open society with freedom of information; responsible, stimulating and challenging media, and an educational system which prepares the young for citizenship enabling them to become enquiring, analytical, questioning and positive individuals, self-confident and able to challenge authority. Healthy and sustainable democracy depends upon vibrant civil society. It values pluralism. Its political institutions, therefore, need to reflect that pluralism and not be about quantitative representation alone. This is obviously highly relevant to the composition of any new second Chamber. The importance of pluralism is manifested in the realms of religion, ethnicity, profession or occupation, culture, voluntary and non-governmental organisations, recreation and much else besides. As the significance of the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the new constitutional arrangements in Northern Ireland, the European Parliament and, indeed, regionalism in England increases, we shall also have to give serious 886 consideration to the relationship of these political developments to the centre of the context of a second Chamber.
There has been a tendency for formal political life to become a "closed" community. This is not wholesome. Political institutions, not least Parliament, should be open and transparent and involve the widest possible cross section of society. Any second Chamber should be well serviced, with its members able to give it their proper, effective attention. Eligibility for membership must not be inhibited by the limited means of any potential member.
I make two brief points in conclusion. I hope the Royal Commission will look at the case for a fixed term of service with no question of extension—in other words, nothing to play for. This could well contribute to strengthening the spirit of independent thought and judgment. Similarly, while ageism should be avoided and experience and perspective should be at a premium, nevertheless, while this may well deprive the nation of some still first class minds, I do believe the Royal Commission will need to grasp the nettle of an age limit. Any such limit could, of course, well reflect the evolution of society towards healthy longevity.
I join with those who have wished the Royal Commission well. We are well blessed by the calibre of those who have agreed to serve on it.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Lord Marlesford
My Lords, my quarrel with the Government is not that they wish to reform the House of Lords; it is that they are going about in such a cack-handed way. They started with their manifesto commitment to end the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote. There is certainly a case for reform along those lines both because the number of hereditary Peers is disproportionate and also because the present system is widely perceived as being politically unsustainable, although as I have argued before, I believe that it is essential to keep the best of the hereditary element. That is why I strongly support the compromise negotiated with the Lord Chancellor and the Prime Minister by my noble friend Lord Cranborne and the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill.
However, I reject as pernicious the proposal that this should be followed at once by a further and final reform. Of course, I recognise that the Government were tempted down that route from many sources, partly by people in another place and partly by my own party. Indeed, having carefully read the speeches made in another place, it does not seem that either theme or great wisdom emerged to assist the Government. Frankly, I am not sure how interested MPs really are in it, or even some Members of the Government. I predict that boredom will quickly erode any support that the Government may have for their measures among the wider public.
But to set up a Royal Commission on this complicated subject with no more than 10 months to report is dangerous nonsense. In a recent Written Answer, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, kindly listed for me the 39 Royal Commissions set up 887 since the war. Thirty of these took over two years to report. Only one of them met the timetable set for the House of Lords Royal Commission, and that was set up in 1951 to consider the relationship of Dundee and St. Andrews universities, a subject which some of your Lordships might just feel is somewhat easier, although certainly not less important.
The simple fact is that within any constitution, whether written or unwritten, there is a most delicate set of inter-relationships. Perhaps it is rather like a game of spillikins. in which the players try to pick up a spillikin from the heap without moving any others. The Government give the impression of believing that the ideal New Labour Britain can have its constitution worked out on the back of an envelope, probably during a taxi ride.
At the present time there are at least two major changes being imposed upon our constitution. The first is internal: the devolution of power to Scotland and Wales, and perhaps subsequently to the English regions. The other is external; namely the ever-growing role of the European Union in our domestic affairs. There is also, of course, the little matter of the possible change to our electoral system.
Some of us who over the years have had a professional task of observing Parliament, and particularly the House of Commons, at work and at play, may also have noted that the quality of political life has changed. This may already have had a negative effect in attracting the ablest participants.
I would suggest to the Government that before it is possible to come to any view on the long-term functions and structure of the House of Lords it will be essential to see how various major upheavals work out in practice.
In making my case for delay I would like to make a few remarks about the constitutions of two other countries with which we have had the closest links over the centuries, namely, France and the United States. Seldom have so many attempts been made to change a constitution than in France since the French Revolution. I leave aside the period of the revolution itself and the five further years of chaos until the military dictatorship of Napoleon was established. Since then there have been nine different constitutions. The current one, the Fifth Republic, has lasted over 40 years.
But in some ways the most interesting political lesson of the French Revolution is that, for all the drama of those early years and the subsequent changes, France has ended up being run by very much the same sort of people as were running it before 1789—an elite bureaucracy. In the days of Louis XVI, it was the corps headed by the group with the rank of Secretaire du Roi. These high offices, which were often purchased by those who had embarked on successful commercial careers, led to immediate hereditary ennoblement. Lesser posts gave ennoblement for life, although if the post was held for three generations the ennoblement became hereditary.
888 Today France is run by the Enarches, the products of the Grandes Ecoles or ENA, many of whom are remarkably similar in their elite educational background and proven ability to Members of your Lordships' House.
If one measures the success of a constitution by its durability—it is not a bad test especially in a democracy—the constitution of the United States stands out. It is truly remarkable that in over 200 years there have been only 26 amendments, and the first 10 of those were in 1791—the Bill of Rights.
The American Senate, by the test of any form of proportional representation., can hardly be described as democratic. There are two senators from each state: equal representation for California, the largest state, with a population of 32 million, to Wyoming, the smallest, with fewer than half a million. Originally the Senate was indirectly elected, with senators chosen by the legislature of each state. Direct elections were only introduced under the 17th amendment of 1913. I understand that changes in the present arrangements are not regarded as a priority in the United States.
Earlier this month I had the opportunity to visit a fascinating exhibition entitled "The Great Experiment— George Washington and the American Republic" in the Huntington Library in California. In the scholarly catalogue John Rhodehamel, curator of American history at the Huntington, paraphrases a reply by Washington to an English aristocrat who had inquired as to his ancestry:In republican society people born equal still seek honours supplied by titles of nobility. A kind of loose republican aristocracy may exist in America but entry into its ranks does not require fortunate birth but rather demonstrated talent, ambition and a virtuous devotion to the public good".Your Lordships may feel that that is a remarkably close description of many Members of your Lordships' House—and not only life Peers. It is perhaps not a coincidence that in the United States senior public servants retain for life the title of their office or the descriptor "honourable".
As the Government have in the short run—the very short run—handed over responsibility for the future of your Lordships' House to my noble friend Lord Wakeham and his 11 colleagues on the Royal Commission, I suppose that it is to them that my remarks are primarily directed. I hope that it will not be too many months before they return to the Government with a short lesson in the complexities and practicalities of constitutional reform. At present there is a real danger that the White Paper will degenerate into instant and ill-conceived legislation such as that on dangerous dogs and firearms. The difference is that this is all rather more important. It really could affect the lives and wellbeing of all the people of our country. Noble Lords may well be justified in using their powers to ask the Government to think again and again—and if necessary again.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Viscount Trenchard
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for introducing this debate today. The White Paper states that stage 889 one—the removal of the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in your Lordships' House—is a real change in the way that Britain is governed and one of the most radical seen this century. This major constitutional change is one of several which, as your Lordships are well aware, have been enacted since this Government took office. However, unlike devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and the mayoralty and assembly for London, the Government do not propose to submit this radical change for the people's approval in a referendum. This does not surprise me because two recent opinion polls by MORI and ICM suggest that by margins of two to one and three to one the public are opposed to the removal of hereditary Peers from your Lordships' House until the details of reform, including stage two, have been settled.
The Government believe that your Lordships' House suffers from a lack of legitimacy because of the presence of hereditary Peers. The White Paper also reveals the Government's belief that the existence of inheritance as one of the qualifications for membership has led your Lordships' House to exercise restraint in the use of its legislative powers. I do not believe that this is so. Rather, most Members of your Lordships' House, life and hereditary Members alike, believe that the extent to which they should challenge the will of the democratically elected House is limited.
The Government believe that the removal of the rights of hereditary Peers will in itself amount to a marked improvement of your Lordships' House, removing much of the cause of its deficit in both effectiveness and balance. It is harder to argue about balance. However, it is not true, although it is sometimes claimed, that the Conservative Party enjoys a large overall majority in your Lordships' House. The White Paper itself states that 476 Peers, or 41 per cent., take the Conservative Whip. It is also clear that most noble Lords are much less driven by their political affiliations and are much more independent than Members of another place. Twenty-seven per cent. of your Lordships have no political affiliation. On the one hand, the White Paper recognises that the voice of independent Peers is one of the great strengths of the House, but removal of the hereditary Peers would reduce the number of Cross-Benchers by nearly 70 per cent. The transitional House will have a much smaller independent element, and it is hard to see how any future House, appointed or elected, could include as strong and independent an element as exists at present.
I do not wish to defend the hereditary principle in democratic terms, which is clearly difficult. Indeed, it is equally difficult to argue that appointed Peers are democratic. However, I do not agree with the comment of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, in your Lordships' House on 14th October last year that she did not believe she would employ a hereditary plumber. My experience leads me to the opposite view, as expressed today by the noble Baroness, Lady Strange. All other things being equal, I think I would tend to employ a hereditary plumber rather than one whose father had had a completely different occupation. I also would tend to prefer a hereditary accountant, builder, 890 soldier, or any other hereditary. I have the highest regard for the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, and therefore I am not at all surprised that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House has turned out to be a competent and effective hereditary legislator. Noble Lords will be quick, and correct, to remind me that she sits in this place by appointment as a result of her distinguished career and impressive achievements. Nevertheless I would be equally happy to see her sit in this place under a writ in acceleration, like my noble friend Lord Cranborne.
As a hereditary Peer I feel a little disappointed that the Government think that our removal from your Lordships' House will improve its effectiveness. This suggests that hereditary Peers make a net negative contribution to the effectiveness of the House. To be replaced with nothing is a profoundly depressing thought, whereas most hereditary Peers would happily depart this place if they knew the details of the fully reformed House and they appeared to make sense and commanded a degree of public approval.
Your Lordships' House is obviously not democratically elected but it plays a crucial role in the democratic process in various important ways. Its in-built conservative (with a small "c") majority enables it to act as a restraining influence on the introduction of radical changes to our legislation and our constitution. I believe that even some noble Lords on the Benches opposite would agree with the proposition that constitutional change should be more difficult for a powerful Executive commanding a large majority in another place than a minor legislative change. In many countries constitutional change requires a two-thirds majority in both Houses of Parliament and a referendum. It is relatively easy to change our unwritten constitution here, and I believe it is a good thing that your Lordships' House has been able to act as a brake on too rapid and ill-considered change. Unfortunately, I do not believe that we have been successful enough in this, but, as I have said, we must ultimately submit to the will of the elected Chamber. The transitional House will be much less able to perform this important function. It will also be much less able to hold the Executive to account in a wider sense. It will clearly have fewer Members with current or recent experience in many varied walks of life; it will be much more political, and I expect that the power of the Whips will gradually increase. There will be more pressure for regular attendance, and the membership will include a much larger element of professional politicians, making your Lordships' House more like another place.
The White Paper states that the deliberative function of your Lordships' House is important and valued and expresses the hope that the fully reformed second Chamber will be equipped to continue it and even to expand it. I am surprised that the Government are content to express such a hope rather than acknowledge that a reformed House must be so equipped. It is thus all the more dangerous not to achieve consensus on what a fully reformed House should look like before proceeding with stage one, which will leave a neutered Chamber, with reduced ability to carry out its functions, commanding less respect and held in lower regard than your Lordships' House is today both at home and 891 overseas. I believe that the Government are wrong. The transitional House will have less, not more, legitimacy than the present one. It will be less and not more effective in exercising its duties.
I have spent nearly half my working life in Japan and have travelled extensively over 25 years as an investment banker. This Parliament, including your Lordships' House, is regarded as the Mother of Parliaments and is held in great respect by many people around the world, in spite of or, dare I say, partly because of its unique features. There are many reasons why Britain punches above its weight in foreign affairs. One is the excellent quality of our Diplomatic Service and those who represent this country abroad. Another is the high regard in which this country's constitutional arrangements are held.
Like many noble Lords, I, too, was concerned at the Government's suggestion that the powers of your Lordships' House might be reduced. I therefore welcome the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde which I shall support, and I urge other noble Lords to do so. If I may, I should like briefly to talk about Japan. The Japanese Diet before the Second World. War was modelled closely on our Parliament, with a largely hereditary, partly appointed, House of Peers and an elected House of Representatives. After the war the constitution was changed at the instigation of the American occupation forces and the House of Peers was replaced in 1947 by the House of Councillors, 50 per cent. of whose members are elected for six years every three years partly on a national constituency basis by a closed list proportional representation system and partly on a prefectural constituency basis. Most Japanese believe that the adoption of the closed list system for the national constituency was a mistake.
It was intended that Japan's reformed upper House should be a "Chamber of common sense". It was hoped that its members 'would not conduct their business in accordance with the dictates of political parties and that its membership should not consist principally of professional politicians. Unfortunately, Japan's citizens have been disappointed. There is general apathy towards the House of Councillors and in recent elections only around 30 per cent. of the eligible electors have bothered to vote. Many of the Members are former Members of the lower House, the House of Representatives; and the business of the House is dominated by party politics. The electoral systems used by the two Houses are fairly similar, following recent electoral reforms, and many Japanese now believe that the upper House is redundant because it offers nothing different from or additional to what the lower House gives the Japanese.
Perhaps if we, rather than the Americans, had been the occupying power in Japan after the war they might have kepi their hereditary upper House intact, in which case it might well have survived even until the present day. It is also a fact that Japanese electors appear to believe in the idea of hereditary legislators; some one-third of the seats in the lower House are occupied by sons, grandsons, sons-in-law and, increasingly, daughters of their predecessors.
892 In conclusion, I should like to return to the challenge that we face in creating a second Chamber which is better than the present one. I know that the Royal Commission under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Wakeham will have its work cut out to produce firm recommendations by the end of this year. In order to ensure that the reformed House should have more not less legitimacy and credibility than your Lordships' House has at present, I would hope that the commission will make recommendations which maximise continuity with the present system arid preserve a significant and independent element, without which Parliament as a whole will be further diminished rather than strengthened, as it needs to be. I have spoken too long and I thank your Lordships for your patience.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ The Marquess of Bath
My Lords, I congratulate the Government on producing a White Paper which answers nearly all our questions with regard to a reformed second Chamber. It lays down encouraging guidelines on the prospects for further modernisation. It is on the latter subject, however, that I wish to speak.
I take the line that the nation will be best served by a second Chamber which stands in complete contrast to the first Chamber. I envisage that its Member; will be appointed in part by an all-party committee to select Peers with the broadest possible expertise and the widest possible range of professional qualifications. I should like to see them sitting for a 10-year period of office, with the committee holding the option to renew their peerages for an additional term, or half a term, according to what the committee thinks best, but with an upper age limit of 75 as the threshold for automatic retirement.
While these might account for half of the Peers in the second Chamber, I remain anxious that the additional half of your Lordships' House should accurately reflect the regional diversity of this land. I have been encouraged by the fact that the Government have set up regional development agencies which will probably emerge as the initial nuclei for the future English regions, although the creation of regional assemblies will also be essential before they can possibly feel that each is emerging in control of its particular quality of life.
I sincerely hope that the Government will encourage these regions to appear, each within a territory soon to be defined and of sufficient geographical size to warrant the sense of emergent identity. If they were too small the purpose would not be served. The smallest region should perhaps be the size of Yorkshire, but in most cases a whole group of counties would be involved, until England might finally consist of nine regions of a similar size in terms of their population. This will furnish the map of England which I envisage will find its place at the heart of European political evolution towards a "United Regions of Europe".
However, those regions require cosseting and governmental care in their emergence upon the political scene; and they must surely be given representation within the proposed second Chamber, with each of them 893 sending up a delegation of Peers who should be selected by a method parallel to that used for the selection of the other Peers, although not by the same all-party committee for the appointment of Peers on a national basis.
In order to reinforce the idea that those latter are regional nominations, the appointment should be made conjointly by the county councils of each region, with it being a matter for themselves to decide the character of Peers who should form their own delegation. That would constitute a second Chamber appointed by those who have been directly elected: in the first case chosen by our elected Members of Parliament to sit on the all-party committee for selecting Peers on a national basis; and in the second case chosen by the elected county councillors to represent their particular region. So Peers of both varieties will have been indirectly elected to the second Chamber with equal authority and similar duration of office—a unity of purpose and responsibility that should create no psychological division between the two groups, and without any of them having been directly elected.
The two elements that would still be missing from such a second Chamber would be the European and the spiritual dimensions. The appointment of Lords Spiritual could well continue on the existing basis, but in participation perhaps with the all-party committee's quota for appointees. And I would hope that the representatives of all the faiths which are to be found within this nation would find themselves nominated on a basis proportional to the prevalence of each faith within our society.
The European dimension should emerge as the special responsibility of the regional Peers: to establish cultural bonds with regions elsewhere throughout Europe, discovering where in Europe they might be doing things better than we are; and assisting them to learn from us where that might be applicable—for it is largely by these methods that the Europe of regions will finally emerge.
It will be in those particular functions of the second Chamber that we may expect Europe to start coming closer together in harmony, but with cultural diversity. I suggest that that is the legacy which we should be striving to hand down to our children. So while your Lordships' House will remain strictly subordinate to another place, we might well discover that the quality of life, both in terms of our region and our continent, are very much in these hands.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, it is a rare privilege to follow the noble Marquess, Lord Bath, and to listen again to the fascinating exposition on regional government and the composition of a second Chamber without physical divisions and so forth. But I am lost—I do not understand what it has to do with the subject of the White Paper.
I wish to express my gratitude to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for clarifying that the powers of the second Chamber are to be within the terms of 894 reference of the Royal Commission. It is a matter of considerable consequence. I gave the noble Baroness notice of the question and I am extremely grateful for her answer. The main issue in our discussions today is concerned with the weakening of the powers. As my noble friends Lord Lamont and Lord Strathclyde and many other noble Lords have observed, that is the crucial issue which will go before the Royal Commission.
The concession given by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House is also extremely valuable because the Royal Commission cannot deal with functions until it has dealt with powers. Until it has dealt with both, it cannot devise composition. I suggest that the concession goes to the root of our discussions. It is a very important factor.
I turn to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, and apologise for my intervention. He raised many questions of detailed implementation as regards the arrangement of the transitional House. He was a party to that arrangement and he was not conversant with so many details of implementation. That worried me and it may in due course worry your Lordships. I suggest with great respect that it would have been helpful to your Lordships to have the benefit of the knowledge of the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, and the noble Lords, Lord Weatherill and Lord Marsh. which they could put at our disposal to help us in this matter.
The Motion moved by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House enjoins your Lordships to "take note" of a phased strategy of attrition to distress the constitution and debilitate Parliament. It is but a reflection of the policy of Labour since 1910, as the noble Lord, Lord Richard—and I see him in his place—conceded some time ago. In the wake of the landslide election, my noble friend Lord Cranborne, suggested a referendum on options for reform, which was declined; albeit a matter on which resolutions should be sought by consensus, as the noble Baroness the Leader of the House agrees in principle.
However, is it not a meretricious assumption that only the proposals in the White Paper can afford requisite reform; an hubristic dissemblance of the people who, before partial demolition of the structure, wish to know the plans for reconstruction of the edifice? The case for a referendum, as sought by my noble friend Lord Cranborne, remains as valid as when unanswered by reasoned response.
Is it not apparent from the Official Report of the proceedings in another place on the first phase of the strategy that the acknowledged function of your Lordships' House as guardian of the constitution is neither recognised nor understood by another place? My noble friend Lord Denham, in an authoritative speech, made that all too plain as being his opinion.
In the exercise of that function, having taken due note of the Motion, your Lordships may well conclude that the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde is to be supported if only to persuade the Government to preserve some form of an effective bicameral administration under the Queen in Parliament; a proposition which envisages retention of the ethos of 895 the independence of your Lordships' House. And this debate—it may be said to the contrary—could never have taken place on Second Reading of the Bill, which was only the first stage of the implementation.
I have notes, but I shall pick at them in order to keep within the time limit. I should like to deal with a transitional House. According to the White Paper, the Government are minded to accept the provisional inchoate arrangement brokered by my noble friend Lord Cranborne, if tabled as a Cross-Bench amendment. That is how I understood the position. However, there is no definitive version of that arrangement and no draft of the amendment is available. No assurance of safe conduct of its passage through either House can be given. However, it may riot be assumed that the preconditions as to acceptance, as expressed at Chapter 5 paragraph 11 of the White Paper, or by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House on 20th January, form part of such arrangement as being in deprivation of parliamentary entitlement. None of us was there, none of us would know, and there is no way in which we can know, the details of implementation.
The version of the arrangement given at Chapter 5, paragraph 11, bears no resemblance whatever to Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 moved in Committee in another place. That is certain. Those amendments import disparity as to the implementation of Clauses I and 4, which could attract hybridity. The accommodation made to ensure orderly transition was a feat of diplomacy on the part of my noble friend in the interests of the body politic. It is in one way or another worthy of your Lordships' support. I say "one way or another" because it could be by amendment, it could be by an enabling Bill, which could, not attract hybridity, or by some other arrangement. The hope is that the substance may be given effect.
§ 6.30 p. m
§ Lord Pilkington of Oxenford
My Lords, on reading the White Paper, my principal worry was that when it was putting forward suggestions and considering the place of a second Chamber in the constitution, it seems to have given little—almost no—consideration to what I conceive to be the major problem of the British constitution; namely, the dominance of the executive over the legislature.
That is not a new phenomenon. It has grown steadily throughout this century and has particularly accelerated over the past 30 or so years. Even the rather feeble check which MPs used to have on the executive—namely, that when an MP was appointed to the Cabinet, he had to stand for re-election—was removed in 1926 with the support of almost all the parties.
In essence, that executive power springs from the very close control which modern political parties exercise over their members who are chosen for the legislature. It is extremely difficult for a modern Member of Parliament to be free and independent. Rebellion can always be punished by deselection. I need hardly say that that power is enhanced enormously by closed lists.
The only time that we have seen the legislature—the other place, in particular—checking the executive over the past 50 years has been when a government have had 896 a tiny or no majority. Few individuals who have left their party have survived long on their own, as noble Lords on other Benches know. It is noticeable that modern rebels find solace and comfort by joining another powerful political party rather than face the thorny and rugged path of independence.
That power of the party machine, strong enough 'In itself, has been enhanced by the growing professionalism of politics. There are Members of another place from all major parties who have known no other trade than politics. They left university, often with distinguished degrees, joined a think tank, became a political adviser and, lo and behold, they are in Parliament.
What do they do if they are defeated? They find it difficult to obtain jobs. I can tell your Lordships that when I was headmaster, I had four such applicants at one time applying for posts. None was successful. But that gives the party even more power over its members. It says to them, "If you are defeated, there is nothing much for you outside".
That power has been enhanced also by the increase in the number of Ministers and the number of quangos for which appointments can be made. That means strong parties, strong patronage and sticks and carrots—a large stick and a juicy carrot.
We talk about democratic accountability in relation to the reform of this House. However, if we had a totally elected Chamber, that would mean giving the parties greater control than they enjoy at present. We must face the fact, pure and simple, that those who advocate a largely elected upper House are in reality promoting strong executive and party control.
In that regard, I must say to noble Lords who have talked about indirect elections that, again, one faces the path of control by the party. Indirect election is exercised in the French Senate. The senators are chosen by the elected members, local authorities and so on. In fact, in the end, it means control by party and retired and defunct party functionaries being pushed up to the upper chamber. Moreover, we should remember that the parties in France are much weaker than they are in the United Kingdom.
I go further. I suggest that if the Royal Commission advocates a largely elected upper House, then it must also be prepared, if it is not to face total executive control of the legislature, to face the radical step of separation of powers. In the British system, the only way in which to avoid a totally party-controlled legislature, if we had both Houses elected, would be to separate the executive from the legislature, as is the case in the United States.
Therefore, whatever the Royal Commission decides, it must maintain a measure of independence for this House. That must be the essence, the centre, of any reform. Would the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee be as independent as it has been, torturing governments of both parties, if this House were controlled by the party machine? Can your Lordships imagine either the Conservative or Labour Party having its health or education Bill subject to the sort of criticism which has occurred in the past?
897 Even a fully nominated House of life Peers would, to my mind, be more independent than a fully elected House. My noble friend Lord Peyton often reminded the Whips of his party that there was nothing they had that he wanted and there was nothing that he had which they could take away from him. I share his opinions. But if the present Government reform the constitution by statute, with the support of a large majority, I am no longer so sure.
Unlike the noble Marquess, Lord Bath, I cannot offer a blueprint for the future. It is very, very difficult. However, I suggest, for the third time, that election is no panacea. Recent events have shown that "elective dictatorship" is no cliché. Any reform must refer to independence. Indirect election is not necessarily an answer. I admire the Royal Commission for taking on that task but that will be a massive task if it is to preserve an independent second Chamber which will curb an over-mighty executive. I hope it rises to that.
§ 6.36 p.m.
My Lords, I am an hereditary abolitionist of the role of the hereditary peerage in this place. At the beginning of this century, my great uncle argued strongly for an end to it, as did my grandmother and mother and myself in my time.
It is a great sorrow to me that my party took the attitude that it did, and, fundamentally, I am delighted that the Government have chosen at last to make this step, although I believe that had we done it we should have done it a good deal better and in better order. Nevertheless, I am pleased that we find ourselves where we are.
I wish my noble friend the very best of success with the Royal Commission in producing a dynamic, independent and effective second Chamber. I mean dynamic as an opposite to static. For too long in this House we have had a static arrangement. We wanted to change the constitution of this House in 1968 and were prevented from doing so. If you stop the system changing when all around it is changing, all you have at the end of the day is an earthquake, which is what we have at the moment. We have a turning upside down of the system, of which none of us can predict the outcome.
I should prefer to see a dynamic system where changes occur gradually and regularly in a well thought out and well considered fashion. I hope that my noble friend will take that into account when he is following through the work of the Royal Commission. If we try to propose something which is too radical, if the Royal Commission suggests something which is too different from where we are now, the chances of it getting through another place must be very small. I should prefer it to advocate a relatively small change now but with a programme for evolution in the future.
It has been a great strength of this place that we have control over our functions and what we do. We are able to respond to changes in the world and to changes in another place in deciding how best to spend our time so that we complement and do not tread on the toes of another place.
898 It has also been a great strength that we have many more powers than we use. Again, there is a dynamic balance. We could always go further. We could always defeat the Government more often. We could always push more Bills through to the Parliament Act. But we do not do that because we want to be listened to. And the Government listen to us because we could do so. If we try to fossilise that balance, if we try to have strict rules for what one House can do and the other cannot, we will quickly find ourselves enmeshed in a political stalemate and endless verbal conflict without achieving half as much as we do now.
The second matter on which I differ from the noble Lord, Lord Judd—I have rarely listened to a speech of his and agreed with so much of it—is in the matter of for how long people should be allowed to be Members of this House. "Life" it is and "life" it should remain. I have happy memories of taking a Bill through this House and being out-argued and in the end defeated by three noble Lords whose combined ages were 286. We are told that those being born today and who will one day become Members of this Chamber have a life expectancy of 120. I cannot see why we should not expect them to be active and useful Members of this House well past 100.
In a way this House is self-selecting. Those who can no longer contribute and those who no longer have anything to offer this House do not come. What does it matter? We are left with people like that terror of governments of all colours, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale—the people we should be left with.
The other thing we should look for is independence in Back-Benchers. To be in government and have the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, or my late lamented friend Lucy Faithfull, behind is a great motivation for our Government to change their mind when they are wrong. We not only face difficulties from in front, but we know that behind are people who are powerful in argument and powerful in friends who would, if necessary, defeat us. That makes a great difference. I hope that we see more of them coming from the Government Back Benches.
There are some great minds on the Government Back-Benches who have not yet shaken themselves into open independence. I introduced a Freedom of Information Bill and got not one speaker, nor member of the audience, from the government side, yet that is a subject in which the Government are supposed to believe. That shows an astonishing lack of interest in something that is supposed to be central to their belief and indicates a lack of interest in what is essential to the future of the constitution of this country. This is a great opportunity for Members on the Government Back Benches to put forward their views. I am sad that so few are doing so. We are missing a great deal by their lack of activity and lack of ability to be independent. It will come, I hope, with time in government, but it is a sadness that we have now.
The third characteristic I should like to see in this House is effectiveness. Effectiveness is a question of the quality of the people we have here. We need a broad 899 spread of expertise and experience; we need articulate people and people who are committed to the work of this House. If we are to have that, then Members must feel that they have something to contribute; that this House is able to do something.
We must have a House which can change the Government's mind; it must be a House which can defeat the Government. There seems to be an abiding lack of understanding of that on the Government Front Bench. They seem to resent the fact that this House can defeat them. This House should defeat them. It must be the essence of this place that this House can defeat the Government as often as it likes but controls that ability because, if it starts to over-use it, it will lose its respect from the Government and its ability to win arguments.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, the noble Lord provokes me. Can he not see that a situation in which the opposite side of the House can drag 400 people into a Division Lobby and this side of the House can only drag 150, if everybody turns out, and as a result of that the opposite side of the House can win any Division it wishes, even if the Government Chief Whip pulls out all the stops, produces a strong degree of feeling on this side of the House that we are being and have been unfairly treated for many years?
My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord. It is a ridiculous feature of the way things are at the moment. But 1 hope that the Government will have the strength to see beyond that long suffering through which they have been—to my mind totally unreasonably—and see that the future of this House should not be one where it is hard to defeat the Government. It should be one where it is relatively easy, with agreement in most sections of the House, to defeat the Government, but where restraint is exercised in doing so because the House wishes to win arguments and not play politics. That is a change that I hope to see from the Government Front Bench.
However, I am concerned, as is my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition, that this Government see this House and its transition as a rather old and curmudgeonly crab in the process of changing its shell, and for a few moments it will be soft and vulnerable to attack so that they can take a large bite out of it. I share my noble friend's concern that they wish this House to lose powers. I am concerned too at what is said on page 32 of the White Paper:our present intention is to move towards broad parity between Labour and the Conservatives",as though holding some internal argument, some unstated wish to move beyond that, to the point where the Government have a dominating position. I support my noble friend's amendment and hope that this House will agree to it.
§ 6.45 p.m.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, whose efforts on behalf of freedom and information I salute. It became obvious to me some years ago as a newspaper executive that some of the problems with the role of the media in 900 society were due to the weakness and imbalance in our constitution. What was happening was that two of the three pillars on which the constitution rested 300 years ago were severely weakened. The monarchy no longer exercised any effective political power and the ability of this House to check the power of the other place—and particularly the Government in that House—was more apparent than real. No wonder the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, spoke of an elective dictatorship.
Into the vacuum which was caused by the absence of effective checks and balances were drawn the media, but particularly the press because, while broadcasting is regulated by the Government, despite the events of the weekend, the newspapers are supposed not to be. As a journalist I have never been happy with the notion of the press as being even the fourth estate of government. But it seemed to me nearly 10 years ago when I first advanced the thought—and it seems even more so now with the burgeoning power of the multi-national media—that for them to become in effect the second estate is highly dangerous. I note with pleasure that the idea appears to be gaining currency among some of our more thoughtful columnists. Both Andrew Man in the Observer and Hugo Young of the Guardian alluded to it in recent weeks.
It is timely to point out today that if governments faced much more rigorous scrutiny in the upper Chamber and could not even be sure of getting their legislation passed, they would have to pay more attention to Parliament with correspondingly less time or inclination for obsessive manipulation of the media whether by partial leaking or heavy-handed legal action. That would benefit both good government and freedom of expression. We might even get an effective freedom of information Act. In saying that, perhaps I should declare an interest as a member of the board of the Association of British Editors.
It is particularly against that background that I venture to hold up to your Lordships the document that we are considering today. And against that background, quite frankly, it looks pretty feeble. On the Eurovision Song Contest scale I give it deux points; one for finally proposing to end our rights to vote—in that again I am with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas—and to speak here, and another for proposing (or so I optimistically assume) a substantial reduction in numbers. If the United States can limit its Upper Chamber to 100, we can surely manage with no more.
John Bright said, 140 years ago, that everyone recognised that an hereditary legislature could not be a permanent institution in a free country and no one knew it better than the Peers. Today it is presented to us as something radical. Such a description I can only describe, remaining inside the parliamentary conventions, as exaggerated. At any rate, I will go readily when the time comes but I should like to feel that, in the process, we had contributed to an improvement in our constitution rather than to a cosmetic rearrangement, which seems more likely.
On the specific grounds which I have outlined, and I believe on general grounds as well, what is required is the re-establishment of effective balance in our 901 constitution. In my opinion, that requires that this House be directly elected. We should not fudge this. There is much in the paper about legitimacy. Of course, our present make-up is not legitimate, but legitimacy is often in the eye of the beholder. Once we hereditaries are gone, give or take 91 of us here or there, the legitimacy and independence of the reformed House will not have been improved vis-à-vis the other place—not that the Government are leaving that to chance. They specifically tell the Royal Commission that it must maintain the position of the House of Commons as the pre-eminent Chamber of Parliament. As the Guardian headline had it:He calls it reform, but all Blair wants is an impotent second chamber".From the world outside, where I spend most of my time, the reaction to all this by your Lordships has looked disappointingly near-sighted and self-serving. The Government supporters are largely silent. The Liberal Democrats are seen to have allowed themselves to be hamstrung by a promise of possible PR if they behave themselves. The Conservatives have hamstrung themselves by failing to tackle the problem in their 18 years of office, and the fact that so many of them are hereditary means that anything they do looks like an attempt at self-preservation. I regret that some Cross-Bench manoeuvring, as has already been mentioned, looks similarly unconvincing. Where are the clarion calls for some genuine radicalism and reform? The danger, as we recognise, is real but we are not highlighting it in the country.
I favour an upper Chamber elected on a regional basis and for a much longer term—say, 10 or 12 years—so that its legitimacy is equal to that of the other place. I believe that the Bishops should go. It is surely time that the Church of England was dis-established anyway, but I doubt whether the presence of some nominated Law Lords would be a fatal flaw. The document before us is headed Modernising Parliament. Its proposals do not look very modern to me; not that modernity in itself should be the measure. There is no great merit in it for its own sake. "Improving" or "strengthening" would be better watchwords.
Those who have an understandable attachment to the status quo are inclined to say of this House, "Well, I know you cannot justify it, but it works". I believe that we know, really, that it does not work very well and that the restrictions put upon the Royal Commission are designed to ensure that it goes on not working very well. I think that we should be prepared to say so, loud and clear.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Lord Clitheroe
My Lords, I have been on leave of absence for some time. I should perhaps explain my reason for returning to your Lordships' House and speaking today. I have not been drawn back by threats or blandishments from the Whips. Indeed, perhaps I should apologise to the Whips' Office. I take the Whip in the same way that I take a daily newspaper—as a useful source of information, not generally as a serious guide to action. However, an article that appeared in the 902 Daily Telegraph, attributed to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, with the striking headline, "Hereditary Peers are illegitimate" called me back.
Other noble Lords have mentioned this matter but perhaps I may add a few words. This House works extraordinarily well and has proved flexible to change and modernisation. Nevertheless, I accept, as do others, that there must inevitably be further changes in its constitution, duties and responsibilities. I accept that the hereditary principle is not the flavour of the month. I should be supportive of plans to modernise the House and have no hankering to retain any rights to sit here. So, why did the noble Baroness's article cause me concern? Why did the word "illegitimate" strike me so forcibly? It is mentioned five or six times, I believe, in the introduction to the White Paper.
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord would give way. He, obviously, has not been present, and has explained why very graciously. I have mentioned before, when this particular article was raised, that the headline was not of my making but of the editors of the Daily Telegraph.
§ Lord Clitheroe
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness; nevertheless, that headline called me back! As I said, the daily newspapers and the Whips are much the same to me.
We have an unwritten constitution in this country which, like the common law, is based on precedent. It is very flexible and lively, and every Member of this House and the other place has sworn an oath intending to sustain it. The constitution can be changed, and regularly is changed, after due thought and consultation. This is evolution. It is necessary and quite legitimate; but to change the constitution of our kingdom arbitrarily and peremptorily is not legitimate. Radical changes of one element of our parliamentary constitution—in this case the proposal to abolish the voting rights and the attendance of more than half of the Members of this House—would alter not just the constitution of this House but the whole constitution of the country.
My belief is that every member of this House and every member of another place has a duty to perform, and a trust to keep, to ensure that the constitution is not abused. My concern is that the proposals in the White Paper are abusive and not legitimate. It must be wrong to exclude more than half of this House from the discussion and determination of what should succeed it.
The minimalist argument that the proposals were included in the Labour manifesto before the last election in no way eliminates our duty as trustees of the constitution. The Salisbury Convention, not quite as young a creature as the manifesto, was in no way intended or designed to apply in such circumstances. The argument that the Government must be trusted to complete the new constitution of this House seems to me to be quite false. A trustee can take nothing on trust. The existing members of this House must have an opportunity to see the serious proposals of what is intended to replace it before they can legitimately accept disenfranchisement. If not, we are left with individual breaches of trust as well as a broken constitution.
903 If there was a hidden agenda to undermine our constitution—for instance, to make it so pliant and dominated by the Executive that it could easily be subsumed into the great European federation—I could at least see a reason for this constitutional vandalism. However, if the objective is truly to modernise and improve this House and the way it works, the two-stage approach is very naïve and foolish and/or vindictive as well as being wrong. If legitimacy was an honest desire it could easily be accomplished by waiting on the Royal Commission. Then the issue could be resolved smoothly, quickly and without rancour.
I have no great emotional ties to this House, apart from delight in its courtesy and the many friends I have made here. I am a new boy. My father, Ralph Assheton, was a first creation Peer who served many years in the other place. However, I do have emotional ties to the other place for, although I have never had the privilege of sitting there, more than 20 Asshetons, kinsmen and forebears of mine, have done so over the centuries.
The first I know of was Sir John Assheton who was called there in 1323. Ten generations later, Ralph Assheton, who served in the Long Parliament, and was originally a staunch parliamentarian, became so appalled by the outcome of his support for Cromwell, which had resulted in the murder of the King and the destruction of both Houses of Parliament, that in his will he left all his unentailed property to the orphaned son of his cousin. That cousin, who died fighting at Edgehill, was my direct ancestor and we live in the house which his son inherited. I can see that Ralph Assheton standing now at the Bar of the House supporting what I have been saying today, "Don't embark on a constitutional revolution without realising what damage you are doing and what the outcome will be".
§ 7 p.m.
§ Lord Ellenborough
My Lords, it is with something of a shock that I recall that I made my maiden speech in the distant days of the Attlee administration. I mention that because however much one may have disagreed with his policies, Mr. Attlee—later, of course, Earl Attlee—was a Prime Minister with high principles. I simply cannot believe that he would have cynically compromised his position in the way in which the present Prime Minister is apparently prepared to do in retaining some hereditary Peers.
Today we have a Prime Minister who, apart from a ruthless pursuit of power and a pathological obsession with the media to the exclusion of Parliament, does not seem to believe in anything much—not even, when it comes to the crunch, in expelling hereditary Peers. After denigrating them and pouring buckets of garbage at them for years, we now have this cynical manoeuvre implying that they are not so bad after all—at any rate, some of them are not so bad—provided, of course, that they behave themselves and that there are no Passchendaeles, no pitched battles and perhaps not even a skirmish. What is so serious for the nation is that the Prime Minister is not just careless but downright irresponsible over the constitution.
904 It is now the turn of this House to bear the brunt of the Government's constitutional vandalism. As a result of pressure there is to be a Royal Commission, but one that is hemmed in by too tight a timetable and barely concealed instructions. There is an overemphasis on stating the obvious, such as that the second Chamber must neither usurp nor threaten the supremacy of the first Chamber. "Translated" into "Blair-speak", that simply points to a reduction in the existing powers of the second Chamber. However, even now, the powers of the second Chamber permit only a token delay, but it can, of course, be troublesome to an arrogant government displaying dictatorial tendencies if this House draws public attention to something that it believes to be wrong.
Perhaps I may refer to the Weatherill proposals. No one has really had an opportunity to examine the small print; some would say, "not even the large print". Why is there apparently the proposal to retain 91 hereditary Peers? Why 91? The principle has been conceded, so why not 151 or 131, which would allow a place and a role for some of the part-time Parliamentarians, the importance of which is cogently outlined by my noble friend Lord Coleraine in the interesting paper which he recently circulated? I saw my noble friend in his place a few moments ago, and he will no doubt elaborate on that later.
One weakness of the Weatherill ideas, which my noble friend's proposals would avoid, is that the media would surely have a field day at the spectacle of unelected legislators electing some from among themselves as future legislators. That would open the House to ridicule and could produce very odd results and be divisive. I am afraid that it must be said that if hereditary Peers are wrong, as according to this Government they are, then they are all wrong. That is the logic of the Government's proposals.
The Weatherill proposals could unwittingly prove a trap as, once enacted, there might be little incentive by either side to proceed further with any urgency. The Conservatives and the Cross-Benchers might well be inclined to feel that as at least the nucleus of their hereditary Peers remains, so why tempt providence with a full reform? Likewise, the Government might well feel that having got rid of 90 per cent. of hereditary Peers, it would be best to avoid getting bogged down in endless discussions and controversy over the perhaps not very amenable conclusions of the Royal Commission. Therefore, it is possible that instead of a bad Bill being made slightly less bad, a bad Bill could be made even worse.
In many ways, I think that the best solution is that proposed by my noble friend Lord Windlesham and others. I refer to the proposal to pass in this Session a Bill ending the rights of hereditary Peers to sit and to vote, but for the commencement of the Act not to take place until the Royal Commission has reported and legislation is introduced to establish a fully reformed Chamber. Most importantly, that would give the Government a real incentive to get on and to implement the findings of the Royal Commission.
905 The Royal Commission has been set a tight and strict timetable. It is to be hoped that it will not be too hedged in by hints and strictures about what the Government would like—obviously, that is a largely nominated House, with even fewer powers than now. A largely nominated House would be a House with too many cronies—not just Tony's cronies, but William's cronies, Paddy's cronies and, dare I say it although it is absolute sacrilege to suggest it, there may even be one or two cronies of the noble Lord the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers.
If hereditary Peers are to go and if any full reform is to make any sense at all, the main defects of the existing House—its lack of legitimacy and its inability to exert its powers—must require a relatively high proportion of elected Members, either elected directly or at least by one of the more open forms of PR as opposed to the totalitarian closed list so beloved of this Government. A token 10 or 20 per cent. would not do; 50 per cent. probably would. A further advantage of an elected element is that it would provide a means for younger members to enter a reformed House. That is most important. Such a second Chamber could hardly contribute a threat to any normal government. But of course, the present Government are not a normal government. They have marginalised and diminished the other place almost to vanishing point—all the more reason for the Royal Commission to apply itself to determining an appropriate form of election for part of the second Chamber. The nominated part of the House should be able to include most of the existing life Peers who wish to remain, and would thus provide continuity.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ Lord Harding of Petherton
My Lords, I telephoned the Government Whips' Office on Friday to say that I would not be speaking in this debate but obviously the message did not get through and, as my name remains on the list of speakers, perhaps I had better make one or two brief remarks.
I sincerely hope that the transitional House will not continue for long and that the Royal Commission will come up with proposals that will be acceptable to most people and to most of the political parties. I hope that the Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament will agree to proposals that can achieve a consensus. This is a most difficult problem and I do not envy my noble friend Lord Wakeham, who is the chairman of the Royal Commission, or the other members of it.
With reference to the phrase in the White Paper that a reformed second Chamber will make government better, perhaps I may point out that governments are there to govern and that legislators in both Houses are there to legislate. In our system, the majority party in the House of Commons supports the Government. Therefore, the Government must have their way, as they must in this House also.
I hope that the composition and the powers that are finally agreed for this House will enable the second Chamber to have the legitimacy and the authority to oppose measures which come from the House of 906 Commons, which is heavily Whipped. This House as presently constituted is very good at revising legislation, especially on small, detailed measures, but it has neither the legitimacy nor the authority to oppose the Government on major measures. If necessary, the Parliament Acts could be invoked to overturn the situation.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, the attractive layout and mainly moderate language of the White Paper conceal a number of arguable propositions. Foremost among them is the assertion on page 5 of the document that there is in this country now,a clear appetite for change",by which is meant an appetite for radical constitutional change. That may be true for Scotland, but I submit that it is not true for Great Britain as a whole. Here I strongly agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Young.
Our tradition is one of gradual change—evolution not revolution. Indeed, the White Paper itself concedes (in the last paragraph of Chapter 3) that the House of Lords has already "changed significantly" in the course of this century, to the extent that many of the criticisms justifiably levelled at it in earlier years are no longer valid. Because of our tradition of gradualism, it is by no means impossible that the Royal Commission could decide that the nation would be best served by a slightly modified version of the status quo.
Therefore, to proceed with stage one in the manner proposed could, effectively, pre-empt the commission's findings. This, together with the fact that stage two is now scheduled to come into effect much sooner than appeared to be the case when we last debated the matter, is another reason for having second thoughts about stage one. "But what about Labour's manifesto commitment?", someone may demand—to which I would reply that no one with a shred of intellectual honesty could seriously contend that more than a tiny fraction of the very small proportion of the electorate who ever read party manifestos from cover to cover voted Labour purely because of the promise to abolish the voting and speaking rights of the hereditary Peers as soon as possible.
However, that is not to argue against some interim changes pending the report of the Royal Commission. A great many hereditary Peers in all quarters of the House, most notably and recently the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, speaking earlier this afternoon, have for long expressed disquiet about the "backwoodsmen" having the right to vote, as distinct from the right to speak. In addition, I have for long felt that Back-Bench hereditary Peers should be strongly discouraged from taking any party Whip, unless they happen to be strongly committed already to any one or other political party. If changes in those two spheres alone had been implemented 20-odd years ago, we should have been spared the appalling spectacle of dozens of backwoodsmen being dragooned in to vote, for the most part reluctantly, for contentious legislation introduced by the previous administration—episodes which did so 907 much harm to the reputation of the House of Lords in general and to the reputation of the hereditary peerage in particular.
However, culling the backwoodsmen, metaphorically speaking of course, and depoliticising the bulk of the remainder of the hereditary peerage, would not be quite sufficient. Although a Labour Government's defeats by the inbuilt Conservative majority in this House are almost invariably quickly reversed and rarely delay Bills for more than a fortnight, they are undoubtedly an irritant: they offend Labour's amour proper, and I can well understand why the Government demand changes. But I submit that this problem could be tackled in one of three ways, without throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
The first option is to limit the voting rights of hereditaries to the 160-odd who are regular attenders. The second option would be to adopt the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, in a very well-thought-out submission, whereby all hereditaries would be debarred from voting on the later stages of government Bills. No doubt we will hear something about this from the noble Lord later this evening. The third option would be to adopt essentially the proposal of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, to remove voting but not speaking rights from all hereditary Peers. The first option probably does not go far enough; the third would seem to go needlessly far. However, the proposal from the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine—or some variation of it—would surely meet all Labour's legitimate grievances, pending the implementation of stage two.
Why do I suggest that the Royal Commission might recommend some variation of the status quo, as opposed to radical reform? First, because reading through the White Paper one is struck by the fact that this House, as at present constituted, does just what the Government expect of it in terms of thoroughly scrutinising legislation, and so on, at least 90 per cent. of the time. However illogical its composition may be, the place works.
Secondly, let us consider the alternatives. An all-nominated House. consisting mainly of "the great and the good" would be excessively elitist. Conversely, a directly-elected House would be subject to the same tabloid pressures as the House of Commons, with all that that entails in terms of hastily-introduced panic legislation. Clashes between the directly-elected Lords and the directly-elected Commons would replicate clashes between the United States Senate and the House of Representatives.
What about a House that is half directly elected and half nominated? That would evoke the same sort of response from this Government as we have had where hereditary Peers are concerned; for example, statements to the effect that, "The Government would have won such and such a Division by 29 votes had it not been for the wretched undemocratically nominated Peers".
As for indirect elections, here I have to disagree most strongly with my noble friend Lord Walton. Indirect elections would be dangerously corporatist and liable to produce the same sort of result as we saw in Wales the day before yesterday, where the will of the individual voter was overridden by the will of the institutions.
908 I turn finally to the amendment tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde; that is to say, the 30-something Lord Strathclyde to whom I, too, offer my congratulations today. As my noble friend Lord Weatherill, with his enormous experience in both Houses, has often reminded us: the House of Commons needs reforming far more than the House of Lords. One of the main problems in the other place is that there are far too many office-holders—paid and unpaid, actual and aspiring. Only two or three dozen individualists from both major parties who are content to remain Back Benchers almost in perpetuity can afford to be mavericks, or thorns in the flesh of authority. Therefore, much of the burden of challenging the executive must continue to be borne by this House, which, for obvious reasons, contains far fewer politically ambitious individuals than the House of Commons. For that reason alone, I believe that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, should be supported tomorrow.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ The Earl of Liverpool
My Lords, I should like to begin my remarks by joining with other noble Lords in wishing my noble friend Lord Strathclyde a very happy birthday. I should also like to assure him that, if he presses his amendment tomorrow, I shall join him in the Lobby.
The timing of the debate is a little unusual--as, indeed, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, pointed out—in that it has already reached the Committee stage in the other place, while we are still considering the White Paper. However, in some ways that is an advantage because it gives us an insight into how the other place views the landscape. If I may, that is a subject to which I shall return a little later.
The fact that our constitution is unwritten is its enduring strength; but in times of a mad dash for change or, to use the current spin word, "modernisation", it is also its weakness. I say this because the sum of our constitutional elements intertwine in ways which cannot always be foreseen. If change is embarked upon with all the enthusiasm that those opposite would wish, there is little doubt that it will take us in unpredictable directions. Constitutional changes already enacted by this Government bear witness to that fact.
I am one of those who believe that the removal of the hereditary Peers will undoubtedly weaken the position of our sovereign and once that delicate balance has been removed, or tinkered with, who can predict what an over-mighty executive with a tendency to bypass Parliament might take it upon itself to do? We should be under no illusion that the monarchy is under very real threat. We cannot, and indeed should not, anticipate the outcome of the Royal Commission, but one proposal gaining ground is a part elected, or even a fully elected Upper House. It is suggested that we might have regionally elected Members of your Lordships' House and that this would include representatives possibly from Scotland and Wales. I find this somewhat confusing because the Government are embarking on a policy of ceding power to the regions by setting up unicameral parliaments and assemblies and then apparently hoping for elections to take place in those 909 very same regions for membership to this House which is part of a bicameral system. I find the logic of this slightly difficult to follow.
I do not think there is much doubt that the majority of the public favour the retention of a bicameral system at Westminster but getting rid of the hereditary Peers without knowing what you are eventually going to land up with is the first step along a road which, in my view, jeopardises the very future of this system. If any of your Lordships doubt what I am saying, I pray in aid a speech made in another place when the Bill received its Second Reading. I quote from the speech of the honourable Member for Medway, Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews, who stated,My reservation about the Bill is that it is far too long. The single important clause reads:'No one shall be a Member of the House of Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage'.I should prefer a shorter Bill, which would read:'No one shall be a Member of the House of Lords'.If that is felt to be too succinct I would be prepared to widen it so that it read:'No one shall be a Member of the House of Lords or anything remotely like it".—[Official Report, Commons, 2/2/99; col. 777.]I hope that I do not test the patience of your Lordships too long. However, I wish to quote further. At col. 777 he went on to say,Hon. Members will understand that I wish to come out and reveal myself to be an unashamed, intractable, practising unicameralist. I suspect that when the second Great Reform Bill comes to be debated... the Government will discover that many others will come out and reveal themselves to be intractable and practising unicameralists".I think that noble Lords will have got the general flavour of those remarks. They are views which all Members of your Lordships' House should take careful note of because they do not seem to accord with the White Paper which states on the first page,The Government is committed to improving the effectiveness and balance of the House of Lords, with the aim of it playing a full and proper part in Parliament".The noble Baroness the Leader of the House said today that we should not give ground to unicameralists. I entirely agree with her, but can she control her party? When I first came to your Lordships' House 30 years ago at the age of 24 I was quite possibly the youngest Peer to sit and I was in much need of wise counsel from my elders and betters. There is one anecdote which stands out in my mind at that time. It was the occasion when the Chief Whip of my party, the late lamented Lord St. Aldwyn, spoke to me about what "taking the Whip" entailed in your Lordships' House. His words to me went roughly like this, "If you come to this House because of a party Whip and you do not sit in the Chamber and listen to the debate, then we would expect you to vote with the party. But if you listen to the arguments in the Chamber and, in all conscience, you do not feel able to vote with the party, then you should vote with your conscience". I tell that anecdote simply because I believe that this great privilege which fell by accident of birth upon my shoulders carries with it some responsibilities and duties. The advice I received at that time has, I believe, helped me to discharge those.
910 Having the luxury of being true to oneself is a rare commodity in politics. I only hope that I have not tested the patience of my Front Bench too much at times when my conscience has parted with that of my party. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, who is not present, can accept what I say because I know that it runs somewhat counter to the remarks he made during the humble Address last year. I tell this story simply because I fear that if the future membership of your Lordships' House goes down the electoral route, the power of the party Whips will increase, to say nothing of the pressures which might come from certain powerful minorities in the electorate, which those elected are serving, and the conscience vote will become a rare thing indeed. This House will be in danger of becoming simply a shadow of the other place.
On the subject of an elected, or part elected, upper House, I have another fear and that is election fatigue of the electorate. The British public currently have to—or perhaps I should say are invited—turn out for general elections, county council elections, local parish elections and European elections. In the future they are apparently to be asked to turn out for House of Lords or senate elections. We already know that the turnout for European elections is around 30 per cent. or less and may well fall further this year as a result of the ill-advised closed list system. Voter fatigue is a very real possibility.
I should now like to turn to the value-for-money question. Despite the relatively large numbers in our House, compared with any other upper house around the world, it provides extraordinarily good value. We operate at one-tenth of the cost of the House of Commons which costs in the region of £200 million per year. This will change if and when elected members arrive here. Salaries and not just expenses will be demanded, if not offered. Better office accommodation will be needed together with facilities for research workers, secretaries, etc. How long will it be before another ludicrously expensive office building similar to that over Westminster underground station is being built at a cost of over £250 million? I believe many people in our country care very much about these things and question whether we either need or want this added cost of government. But we are told that reform is coming and that a Royal Commission has been set up to report by the end of the year. That being the case, why on earth cannot the British people have the opportunity of examining the findings of that Royal Commission before the hereditary Peers have been removed? This is an action like joining the euro—there will be no turning back—so let us be sure that we fully understand the consequences of our actions.
I, like many of my noble friends, plead for nothing more than the chance to see what the Royal Commission proposes, and provided that it can be seen to be a sound method of good governance in a bicameral system, pass muster with the Select Committee, and avoid the political long grass—that is an important factor—I shall walk away from this House without a backward glance. It is simply that I see it as my duty not to walk away with the job unfinished. That would seem to me to be nothing less than irresponsible behaviour.
911 I support my noble friend Lord Strathclyde in asking even at this late stage for no stage one without stage two. I hope that the Royal Commission can manage the near impossible task of reporting by the end of the year because that might, just might, make it possible for that to happen. A system which has lasted for over 700 years and which by and large has served this country well should not be torn apart without seeing what will follow in its place.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Lord Norrie
My Lords, there are few Members of your Lordships' House who would still champion the right of hereditary Peers to block, change and approve the passage of Bills into law. Such arrangement is no longer acceptable in democratic society. Yet democracy itself ensures the sanctity of individual and personal rights.
My circumstance as a hereditary Peer is not based on any social or political view, but as a claimant of those individual and personal rights under law, in this House and Parliament, granted by Letters Patent.
I stand in this Chamber because I have sworn the Oath of Allegiance and because I have a right to a seat, a place and a voice in the parliaments and assemblies in the United Kingdom, according to Letters Patent, which are not revocable by Parliament or any other authority in this state. There are other solutions to reform than that which the House of Lords Bill proposes. In considering that Bill I ask, with respect, that this House and the Government look most carefully at the origins of Parliament's legislative authority and that of the Crown. Parliament's power lies in those twin pillars which uphold the British constitution called custom and convention, the greatest and most powerful example of which exists in the very process by which Parliament passes Bills into laws. Parliament's power to do this is founded entirely on the authority of customary practice. There is no statute of parliament that enacts this power. It is a power derived from custom and convention in our constitution, and conventions are law.
The rights of hereditary Peers are created by Letters Patent, which confer upon them the right to "hold and possess a seat, place and voice" in Parliament. At the time of its creation, this right is personal to the appointed. Peer. Constitutionally, the Royal prerogative cannot be waived.
But all Peers also have rights acquired by custom. By denying the hereditary Peers their customary rights the Government deny the validity of customary law. A Government can do this only by using the same customary power that they use to create statutes which authority they now deny with this Bill. To remove rights acquired by custom--even using a customary power—is not lawful.
All Peers have property rights in this House. These rights have been established over the centuries—certainly from before legal memory. Such rights are firmly established in the common laws of England, and I refer the House to them. As a Peer, I have the customary personal right to enter this palace, enter this Chamber, to sit and speak in it. this is a custom that has existed 912 from time immemorial, without interruption, within this place, and has the force of law. This right by custom is a principle of English property law. To abolish this right is to attack custom in our laws, and particularly in our laws of property. A Government who claim that they have a mandate to abolish customary property laws, under a cloak of greater democracy, are as despotic as the one that imposed, without consent, a tax on windows, and so should be opposed.
Each Peer can pursue and protect his personal right to attend this place. Each is entitled to use whatever lawful means he has, with the same vigour as he would to preserve his customary right to walk across his neighbour's field to attend church, or to land his fishing nets on another's beach, where that has been done by custom from time immemorial. This is established law.
I draw your Lordships' attention also to the human rights issues presented by the Government's Bill. The Government have stated their purpose as being a constitutional and a democratic reform. However, the Government also clearly state a political motive; that is, "to remove an embedded Conservative majority." That is a political objective, not a constitutional reform. In that context, may I draw your Lordships' interest to the case of the Turkish Communist Party, decided in 1996 by the European Court of Human Rights? This decision protects a political group (even an embedded one) from exclusion, even if its "activities" are regarded by national authorities as undermining constitutional structures of the state. Such law protects the rights of all, regardless of their politics.
Would the exclusion of a so-called embedded Conservative majority from the parliamentary process be lawful under the human rights treaty and laws? It has yet to be explained why the Bill states that it complies with human rights laws. The legality of statutes passed in such circumstances may be questioned.
As with many features of our constitution, there is a compromise between defending democratic rights and individual property and other rights. Thus, I claim my right to attend and sit in this House, a right established by Letters Patent and by custom according to the laws of property of this state. I have this customary right under the same custom and practice as does Parliament to pass laws by three readings in each House and with the Royal Assent.
I propose a compromise—that is, not to claim my right to have my vote counted. May I also propose that the Government agree to a constitutional convention with hereditary Peers? As an interim measure, at least, the hereditary Peers would continue to vote, but agree that their votes would not he counted in the process of determining the passage of Bills or the procedures of this House. Their property rights to attend, sit and debate would remain intact under customary law.
Finally, some questions need to be answered. Is not the Government's proposal for reform of this House—being an attempt to abrogate laws established by custom and enforced by the courts—also a denial of the very basis of Parliament's power? By what other authority does Parliament enact laws, other than by the practice 913 of customary law and convention? Does not this Westminster Parliament undermine its own sovereign powers by abrogating customary laws and rights?
I propose that it would be far better to agree a convention of our constitution by which hereditary Peers accept that their votes are not counted in the making of Parliamentary rules and laws. Do not conventions have the power and effect of law in our constitution? This issue is a matter of the state, the Crown, the constitution and its customary laws. Must it be set about by politics and partisan vengeance? It is best resolved by convention and not by statute, the authority of which would be questionable and challenged. Our individual and personal rights are the basis not the result of our democracy and constitution.
§ 7.37 p.m.
§ Lord Rowallan
My Lords, this is the last legitimate chance that I as an hereditary Peer will have to talk about the future of your Lordships' House. Once we start discussing the Bill, then that will be the remit, not the long-term future of the Upper House within the government of Great Britain.
It seems very sad to me that this is happening at all. We are, after all, only law revisers; we are the insurance policy that the law being introduced by the other place will work. Nearly all of the amendments passed in this House are accepted in the other place. Surely we have proved ourselves over the years as both reliable and sensible. But it is very important that we, the hereditary Peers, must not be seen to be fighting for our future and our future alone. We must be seen to be fighting for the good governance of this country.
As I see it, there are only two options for the second Chamber in a modern Britain: keep it the same or change it entirely and elect it. Any mix, as has been suggested, of elected and appointed leads to two classes of Peer. We have never had that in your Lordships' House up until now, and a very good thing too.
The Government seem to prefer a selected House. The reasons for that are fairly obvious: first, the strength of the Lords increases proportionately with the demise of each hereditary Peer or with the election of any new Peer; secondly, as a consequence of that increase in power, the power of the other place diminishes. So the Government seem to favour a selected House, over which control can be kept as its Members will be beholden to the patronage of someone—not necessarily the Prime Minister, but someone.
Patronage must be unhealthy; it must lead to the stifling of personal thought and to consideration of things other than good, conscientious governance. Although it could be said that the first hereditary Peer received his title as a result of patronage, this cannot be said of any of the inheritors; they are not beholden to anyone but themselves. Packing the House with party friendly Lords can never be considered to be correct form nor to provide good governance in this day and age.
The White Paper reviles the hereditary principle. As I have said before in this House, it is practised the world over in every walk of life—by the unions, by the 914 workers and by everybody. There is nothing that says that your children will be a clone of yourself. We all think for ourselves and vote accordingly.
I would venture to say that if this Government were to stay in power for 10 to 15 years many of the next generation of hereditary Peers would support them. I may take the Conservative Whip, but the records will show that I have often voted against that Whip or abstained on a matter of principle. I am proud to be independent of mind in my dealings in your Lordships' House.
It is this one subject of getting rid of the hereditary peerage that shows this Government as being biased, bigoted and old Labour in thinking. That is shown in capital letters by the insistence that the hereditary Peer, once ousted, will lose his "club" rights. All former MPs enjoy those rights and I fail to see why the hereditary Peer who has served his or her country very well over the years for little or no pay should have those privileges removed as well. It is spiteful and vindictive and, frankly, not worthy of the many noble Lords I have come to know and like on the Government Benches. I hope that the Government will think again on this issue.
So strong is the determination to get rid of the hereditary Peers from the Upper House that we are to be unceremoniously dispatched within a few weeks of the Royal Commission reporting. Surely, when we are trying to ensure good governance and the sensible study of all the alternatives for a second Chamber for this country in the 21st century, we should not do the job piecemeal and within small parameters, which might suit the government of the day of any political persuasion but not the future superlative government of Britain. This Royal Commission is being asked to do a rushed job on a vital subject, with the status quo not being an option. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House stated in an answer to my noble friend Lord Chesham that there was no need for an hereditary Peer to be on the commission as the idea was to get rid of them. That begs two questions.
First, even if we accept the premise, it does not answer why, with all the experience of Parliament at its feet, an hereditary was not asked to give his or her views from inside the commission rather than from the outside. Secondly, who is to say that the commission will not decide to go for an elected House as its preferred option, in which case, working on the same principle, why are there only life Peers on the commission?
Unless the commission is thought to be a stitch up, we must be careful to allow it to consider all the options available, not just those which suit the Government. How can it report sensibly until such time as it sees the results of the Government's devolution plans? That is yet another issue where I, as a devolutionist, do not sit necessarily very comfortably within the Conservative Party of old. The devolution settlement will change the whole governance of this country. How can we change the upper House's constitution at a time when the whole governance of the country is changing more radically than in any period before? We will probably have representatives from the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the European Parliament in a new upper 915 House. What will be the role of this new House; and, very importantly, how will it fit into a workable balance with the other place? We do not know. We are charging on with the bigoted first stage when we should be considering the vital second or third stages at the same time.
I do not like the Weatherill agreement. I do not like it because it has to a large extent removed the fight of the hereditary Peer to ensure the future good governance of our country into a concentration on which of us is going to stay in your Lordships' House. We hear rumours that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, the Government Chief Whip, who I am pleased to see in his place, has a wish list of preferred hereditary Peers. We hear rumours that the 91 will be selected by each party machine. We hear rumours of elections by everyone from each party or just by the hereditary Peers themselves, but we do not know. Who will decide who the replacements will be should any of those elected—or, even more frighteningly, selected—unfortunately die in the intervening period between stages one and two? Will those 91 hereditary Peers be made life Peers after stage two? All noble Lords in this House are equal and yet now we have a division of life Peer and hereditary Peer.
Many government supporters will vote for the Weatherill amendment as they have begun to think about their own position once the reform process is started and gets into gear, while many of my party will vote against the amendment for the reasons I have outlined. I think the vote will be very close. If the Government are to create sufficient Peers to counter the increased number of Conservative hereditary Peers under the agreement, then surely they will inherit a large majority when stage two arrives and the 91 are thanked for their help in the transitional House and patted on the back as they leave. But I say, "Beware life Peers", because it is as obvious as the nose on my face—and that is very obvious—that we are moving to an elected second Chamber long term or a unicameral system. Either way the end is nigh for the tried and tested system that has been in place for centuries. And what about the much vaunted and rumoured upper age limit? There are too many questions and not enough answers.
Your Lordships' House was set up by the hereditary peerage and it was not until the late 1950s that the life Peers were invented. It has taken a very short time historically for them to Veni, vidi, vici— I came, I saw, I conquered. We are living in changing times. Before the hereditary Peers go—I feel that the country will regret that decision before we are too much older—we should do two things. First, we should change the name of your Lordships' House to something less evocative of times gone by. We should change it to the Senate or something similar. Secondly, we should insist that the ultimate right of appeal in law is to the Law Lords and not to the House of Lords.
Since coming to your Lordships' House I have seen how it works and have been very impressed. I have met many wonderful people and I have many new interests. It does not matter what specialised knowledge you have. There are at least six other noble Lords who know as 916 much or more about the subject than you do. What other system could possibly fill this upper Chamber with so much expertise?
If I do not make the cut. I will miss this place. I will miss it for its wisdom, its grandeur and its good governance. I have come to admire it for its cheapness to run in comparison with the other place or the European Parliament. I will ponder whether a system that has served this country so well really deserves to be finished and cast to one side in such a cavalier fashion.
More and more the country is becoming aware of the good job done in this House. A good, sound. cheap, albeit anachronistic, upper House it is defendable on its own record of being a standard bearer of good governance. I will continue to fight for that good and informed governance with every breath left in my body for as long as I am allowed into this august Chamber. That is what we should all be seeking to ensure for the people of this country. Yes, change your Lordships' House, but let us do it correctly when we do it and let us do it in a structured and thoughtful way.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ The Earl of Sandwich
My Lords, to use a seasonal metaphor, if our constitution took the form of an apple tree, the Government would be stuck in its branches with pruning saw and secateurs. The proposed reforms would be like removing one of the principal boughs and grafting on a completely new variety. f accept that the bough may be unsteady and ultimately has to go, but not before the alternative growth has been fully planned and nurtured. I do not accept the assumption that all the canker is on only one side of the tree. It all needs pruning. There is plenty of opportunity for new growth if, as in the case of this House, the Government resist its root and branch critics and continue to preserve what is good and take great care not to lose the tree altogether.
I am another of those who cannot understand why the Government could not bring forward their options at the very beginning. I regret that a misreading of the manifesto—a false assumption that the people of this country wanted to do away with part of our constitution before the whole had even been discussed—has brought us to the position we are in today. I nevertheless welcome the White Paper even though it is thin on policy. It is long overdue. At last we have the promised options paper which looks forward to stage two and provides a clear set of guidelines for the Royal Commission. I am relieved., perhaps with the right reverend Prelate, that the Bishops are secure and that along with other Cross-Benchers they will represent other faiths. I am surprised that there is not more attention to gender balance in the House, particularly in view of the comment of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that we are going to see an emasculated House—perhaps she did not mean that. I am sorry that the previous government in 18 years did not make more effort to prepare for change—which was inevitable because of their majority—because it would have ensured greater 917 consensus today. The removal of the hereditary Peers is nevertheless a clear manifesto pledge, although no one would have voted for limbo or an interim House.
This should be an historic time, yet there is a lot of confusion here and in another place. If you listen to debates there, as I have, you have the feeling that there is no real heart in it or understanding of the value of this House or of the longer-term issues involved. That is a real disappointment to those like myself who are in principle in favour of reform beyond the abolition stage. We expected something better, and in the end perhaps we got no more than could be expected of the ordinary mortals that parliamentarians are.
Some Members of Parliament and some areas of the media have rubbished hereditary Peers during the recent debates. That is to be expected, but it is worth restating to them that those who have survived years of uncertainty have performed a valuable service over many years and, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, generously said, in some cases they have made an outstanding contribution to this House without either public recognition or reward.
We have heard a lot of complaints from hereditary Peers already. I shall try to turn my own into more positive suggestions. I would personally apply a test of attendance to the present list of hereditary Peers rather than retain a strict 10 per cent. quota, because under the amendment we should lose a number of valuable Members who have done service for 10 or more years and it is folly to sacrifice them in advance of any serious proposals by the Royal Commission. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, was hinting at that.
I also recognise the realpolitik behind the amendment that the Government are impatient to get something done. I should make it clear that while I am not committed to the Cross-Bench amendment, I very reluctantly support the ultimate demise of the hereditary element to which I belong.
I am conscious that at least 11 generations of my family have been in this House, and I feel fortunate—especially as my father was a reluctant MP turned Peer who decided to give up his seat here (mistakenly) in 1964—to have been present up to the final moment of execution.
As a Cross-Bencher I have come to value the role of independent Peers, who not only hold the balance but are now the obvious way out of the Government's impasse. I should like to make only three points. First, I am pleased to see in the White Paper that there will be a strong guarantee of an independent group in a reformed House, as was stated in the manifesto, and that that will in future come through the new appointments commission. Paragraph 6.9 states that,Cross Benchers will become more important".With that phrase, have the Government not decided to anticipate the decision of the Royal Commission in favouring a mixed or largely unelected Chamber? I feel rather sorry for the Government. They need more encouragement in their battle over patronage, and I suggest to them that they should make even more of the 918 independent element than they have as a means of resisting party patronage and of representing a wider section of society. Why not enlarge the proportion of independents among the life Peers? That would be an ideal way of preserving the best of this House and resisting any pretence of democracy in competition with the other place. This is a revising Chamber, not a people's Chamber. If we want more genuine democracy let us try and reform the House of Commons, as others have said, to check the executive rather than create a monster to compete with it, as the noble Lord, Lord Norton, ably put it.
This is where I part company with the Liberals and some Conservatives (who have made an elected Chamber a ploy) and others who seem to think that we could imitate the US system. I am certain that we should aim for continuity, as the noble Lord, Lord Eden of Winton, wisely said, and the preservation of the best that this House can already offer. I do not, by the way, think that quotas of MEPs and regional Peers will work very well in practice.
Secondly, one consequence of removing hereditary Peers may be the loss of a wide range of interests, including significant minority interests and, along with that, a degree of voluntary commitment. Is it possible to retain the spirit of personal commitment in a reformed House? I put that question to the Chief Whip. The range of non-political interests is another strength of the present House, recognised in the "mixed Chamber" in chapter 8 of the White Paper.
I suggest that more formal consultation of interest groups is a safer way than the Irish model of indirect election through "functional constituencies"—a phrase I have never heard before—referred to in paragraph 8.10 on page 44.
I support this modified version of a nominated chamber, but it will only be easily understood by the country at large if there are more established procedures before consultation. The new commission should be able to make these more transparent in possibly an extended version of the present Honours List.
Finally, I hope that the Royal Commission will consider the question of compensation very carefully. To some people, "working Peers" means full-time, paid professional working Peers. Is it necessary to see the revising Chamber as a full-time fully paid professional House? It has been said many times that Peers' outside interests lend this House its distinctive non-party political character. I hope that the commission will do everything to maintain these interests and the quality of debate in which both hereditary and life Peers currently share their individual and personal experience without becoming a "House of brains".
W. S. Gilbert, appropriately enough, had something to say about this in "Iolanthe":I don't want to say a word against brains. I have a great respect for brains. But with the House of Peers composed exclusively o people of intellect, what's to become of the House of Commons?".What indeed!
919 While respecting the will of the electorate, I hope that we shall not pander to any false sense of democracy in this House which will compete with another place and, worst of all, sacrifice the advantages and standards that have been developed in this place over centuries.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ The Duke of Montrose
My Lords, the Government have taken upon themselves a daunting task: to reform one of the most historic and stable political institutions that the world has known. There are many on this side of the House who could echo the Prime Minister's words in his introduction to the White Paper when he calls this House,a secondary Parliamentary chamber which is less good than It could be".The problem is that the initial stage of the route that he has chosen will not really make it any better, and might possibly make it worse.
My noble friend. Lord Wakeham, and the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, described the Government's programme as one leading to the most radical constitutional change known this century. In a recent publication by Professor Robert Hazell of London University on the future of the constitution, he isolates five separate constitutional initiatives by this Government. From those have emanated 16 constitutional Bills since the Government have been in power. The Government may have an idea of what they intend with each one, but each change will have repercussions on the others, as was mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Liverpool. I do not see how the Government can maintain that this is a step-by-step approach. So far as I can understand it, this is the "Big Bang.' approach, but somewhat lacking in the omniscient mind which we trust accompanied the first Big Bang which brought the world into being.
If there are any noble Lords present who feel themselves at war with history—there is perhaps a slight emptiness on the other side of the Chamber—I crave their indulgence for a moment as I try to enlarge the historical perspective in which we are considering this change.
As mentioned in the White Paper, our present institution can be traced back to the Saxon witenagemot. The names of some of those who are still represented here by their English titles echo down the centuries. But entwined with this whole institution at Westminster are also the successors of Scotland's Three Estates, the Parliament of Scotland, which was joined with it in 1707. It was as representing one of those three estates that my family first came into your Lordships' House. In my family's achievements we can only claim to have become Lords of the Scottish Parliament in 1445, which was when the title was inaugurated, although we can measure our involvement in the affairs of Scotland for some 300 years before that. Even so, when it comes to titles of antiquity there cannot be many in your Lordships' House who can claim the antiquity of the title of the noble Countess, Lady Mar, which again is a Scottish title. The original Earldom was granted to the 13 Celtic rulers or mormaors at the introduction of 920 feudalism to Scotland. The first appears in a charter of 1115, but that was merely as a substitute for their more antique titles.
Only recently the uniqueness of the element was somewhat lost by the removal of the need for the election of Scottish representative Peers by the 1963 Act. The present Bill not only removes the right of all hereditary Peers to be represented in this House, but it also removes the present claim by which representatives of Scotland can sit in your Lordships' House as of right.
I note that in their considerations for the further reform of this House, at paragraph 7.22, the Government are suggesting re-introducing the representatives of one other Estate of the old Scottish parliament, and that is the Church of Scotland. I heard that this was proposed under the original settlement in 1707, but it was turned down by the churchmen as they were to be few in number and a Church which prided itself in equality could not countenance such preferment. I hope that the Government have thought of an answer and that a more satisfactory outcome will be found to the present suggestion.
On the winding up of the Scottish Parliament Lord Seafield bewailed it as, "ane end of ane auld sang". It seems to me that what we are now looking at is the end of the final reprise. I am interested to see that in paragraph 5.16 the Government, after consultation, propose that the Royal Peers should surrender their hereditary rights to sit and vote in this House. I wonder how much consideration has been given to the fact, with which some of your Lordships are probably very familiar, that there is a pair of titles which are in use by the Royal Family created by letters patent which are life peerages; namely, the Prince of Wales and the noble Earl, Lord Chester. Of course, these are not life peerages created under the 1958 Act, like those of a great many noble Lords sitting in the Chamber here. But if it was so desired it would surely be perfectly just and possible that the rights of such titles could remain as long as they do for the rest of the life Peers.
It is perhaps understandable that the Government have proposed that hereditary Peers be removed from this Chamber, but I am interested to know whether the even more radical reform is envisaged which removes all the rights of the Monarchy to attend this House on anything other than the most formal occasion. In this most civilised age no one here is approaching the prospect of being hung, drawn and quartered, but as there is such determination in the Government to see this as the end of an era, I am reminded of the last lines penned by my ancestor the first Marquis of Montrose as he contemplated his execution. They conclude:Scatter my ashes, throw them in the air.Lord since thou knowest where all these atoms areI'm hopeful, once thou'lt recollect my dustAnd confident thou'lt raise me with the just".
§ 8.3 p.m.
Lord Belhaven and Stenton
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose. His name certainly echoes down the centuries in Scottish history. I am very glad to be following him.
921 I may be wrong, but I seem to remember that some time ago White Papers were white. This one is not white at all and resembles a travel brochure. When one opens it one finds that, instead of an attractively posed lady in a bikini next to a swimming pool, one is faced with a photograph of the Prime Minister in his shirt sleeves. In fact, most of the White Paper resembles a travel firm's brochure. It is mainly waffle interspersed with some useful information to which I shall come later.
I have thought a great deal about the subject of this White Paper over the years. I have concluded as a first principle that nothing that can be suggested in the matter of the radical reform of this House—and it is that with which we are faced—will be better than the present situation. The non-radical reforms that suggest themselves to me are simple and would effectively rid us of the phenomenon of one party having an unassailable majority on certain occasions, as has happened in the past. One such reform would be to deprive noble Lords of the vote unless they had attended some proportion—one-third, one-half or whatever—of the sittings in the previous Sessions. They could come to speak, because one does not have to come here continuously to make a valuable contribution on something about which one knows.
When I consider the situation of the hereditary peerage at the present time I am struck by the fact, as was my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, that we are condemned by many, including Her Majesty's Government, not for what we have done, but for who we are. There have been unpleasant precedents in the past over that. The position of the Jews in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s comes to mind and, of course, some people in Ulster think it is all right to condemn a man or woman on the grounds of his or her religion. We also have ethnic cleansing taking place at present. I realise that these are extreme examples, but I believe that they are relevant to some extent.
I refer your Lordships to the concluding remarks of Mrs. Beckett, the Leader of the House of Commons, in her speech of 1st February. She said,Almost all those peoplethat is the hereditary Peers—are men; almost all are white; most have little, if any, experience of school, health care or housing in common with most of their fellow countrymen and countrywomen. Like everyone else, they have a place in our national life, but it is not in our Parliament".—[Official Report, Commons, 1/2/99; col. 616.]How kind of her! What an extraordinary statement for the Leader of the House of Commons to make! Where does she think that most of us have been these past many years—in my case 72 years? Does she believe that we have been living on the moon or perhaps in some great country house or palace shielded by hordes of retainers and servants? If this is government thinking, I can tell them who needs to be modernised. Have not government Ministers heard about death duties—those penal taxes so merrily exacted by previous Labour and, I have to say, Conservative governments? Do they think that the past 50 to 60 years have changed nothing?
922 And, of course, we are mostly white, but that is hardly surprising. Most Members of the present South African Parliament are black, which is something that the Labour Party has long striven to achieve and which, no doubt, is correct. I know of none of my ancestors who came from anywhere but these islands, but does that really disqualify me? If there are not enough representatives of ethnic minorities in this House—and that may or may not be the case—the Government have the simple remedy of appointing them. I certainly would not object. But to suggest that being white and male is a disqualification for sitting in this House is certainly objectionable.
I can tell your Lordships about health, schools and housing, which the right honourable Member of another place imagines the hereditary Peers know nothing about, but in a long debate I do not wish to weary your Lordships except to say that I know as much or as little about these subjects as anyone else who has had the privilege of living in this country for most of his or her working life.
I return to the White Paper. It is difficult to read as most of it, as I say, is waffle. So I shall skip that and come to the actual information it contains. On page 14 is set out the numbers of Peers. It gives the number of hereditary Peers as 750. Of that number nearly 200 have never attended the House and 56 are on leave of absence, which, according to my arithmetic, which is not very good, leaves 504 which is fewer than the 510 life Peers. Of the hereditary Peers, 67 per cent. attended for less than one-third of the sittings. That leaves 168 hereditary Peers as regular attenders as against 150 life Peers who attended for more than one-third of the sittings. Incidentally, where are the famous Labour working Peers? I see two of them here this evening. I do not know where the rest of them are. After all, the reform of this House is their idea. I would have thought that more of them would be here to support the thesis of the Government which they themselves support.
The White Paper continues by saying that nearly 40 per cent. of the Members of the House, excluding those without writs of summons and those on leave of absence, were born before 1930. I plead guilty. I hope it is not suggested that to be born before 1930 means that one has become incompetent or gaga. It does mean, however, that in the nature of things one is unlikely to be around for very much longer.
There follows a chapter on second chambers overseas. We have already dealt with this. Reference is made to Canada. As far as I am aware that is not a very good example of a nominated upper House. I do not believe that we should take into account most of our continental neighbours or partners (which is the fashionable term). As my noble friend Lord Marlesford said, France has had 12 constitutions since 1789 and, as far as I can see, is capable of a few more even in what is left of my lifetime. Germany has had three rich and is now a republic; Spain had a bloody civil war not so long ago and has not completely recovered from it; and Italy went from a kingdom to a republic in 1947, since when she has been governed by a process of spectacular corruption. The less said about Greece the better. Therefore, we do not need to look for guidance to any 923 of those countries or to Canada. The USA has also been mentioned. Certainly, it has had a relatively stable constitution interrupted only by the civil war which took place a long time ago. We could look to the US, but the differences between our two countries in size and composition are enormous. Possibly a reformed House on the lines of the US Senate which is elected and representative is about the only alternative to what we have now—and it is a pretty poor one.
At all events, the new House should and, as my noble friend Lord Strathclyde said, must have power to challenge the House of Commons and effectively end the elected dictatorship under which we now live, whichever party is in power. Only such a reform is worth bothering about. I have believed for many years that the only way seriously to achieve this is to make the new House elected.
Finally, I should like to say a word about the hereditary principle. It is widely condemned by all major parties as being unacceptable. That is why I want to talk about it. Our forebears would have been puzzled by this as until the 19th century Europe was almost exclusively governed under the hereditary principle. My noble friend Lord Beloff in a previous debate drew attention to the hereditary nature of the Jewish priesthood and the Jewish polity in general. That has certainly stood the test of time. The late and much-lamented King Hussein of Jordan was descended from the prophet Mohammed and derived his legitimacy from that fact. The Hindu caste system is hereditary and has survived the British raj and the imposition by Congress of a secular state. One may not like it but it is there. Hindus also believe in reincarnation, as do Buddhists—a fact that appears to have escaped most of our press, the football establishment and seemingly Her Majesty's Government.
Most if not all noble Lords care deeply about their children and children's children and hope—dare I say it—that they will do better than other people's children. That is human and natural and has been so throughout history. When we engage in all this grand talk of the hereditary principle being unacceptable let us bear in mind one fact: democracy is new and comparatively untried. We do not know what will come of it over the decades arid centuries to come. The hereditary principle has ruled mankind for the greater part of man's history. Let us not be too ready to dismiss it out of hand.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ Lord Hardinge of Penshurst
My Lords, at the beginning of the great political adventure of the British aristocracy in its first manifesto there was written:To none will we sell, refuse, or delay right or justice.That sentence, the 40th of the Great Charter, has proved easier to enunciate than to implement, partly because the idea of "right" has changed and grown over the years. But we should still try to ensure that this reform advances the process of promoting rights. Clearly I have at present a right, in a purely legal sense, to be standing here making this speech, but I cannot see any philosophical or moral underpinning of that right or any reason why it should exist. The idea of society which 924 previously underpinned it—a medieval concept—is defunct, and I would find it hard to subscribe to it even if it were not. Stage one of the process envisaged by the White Paper is therefore really just housekeeping, recognising a reality which has long existed. Even at that it is fairly minimal. No reform which leaves untouched the ex officio right of Anglican bishops to sit in the United Kingdom Parliament can possibly be described as radical. In discussing stage one, the White Paper presents a sociological analysis of hereditary Peers and concludes, in summary, that they consist of too many farmers and too few women. I do riot argue with that, but I am not sure how it came to be accepted that Anglican bishops are in terms of occupation, geographical base, background, colour, race or sex an exact microcosm of society at large.
The White Paper points to the value of their perspective and, presumably, advice. I am delighted to accept the advice of bishops or farmers, but I do not think that that is the point. The issue is not whether bishops and farmers can give good advice, but whether they should be allowed to decide for the rest of us on matters like the age of gay consent. The Government's answer is that farmers should not but bishops should and that the anachronistic nature of the latter arrangement should be addressed by appointing some rabbis, mullahs and moderators to your Lordships' House. What is to be done particularly to represent the consciences of those with no religion who are also mentioned in the White Paper is, perhaps understandably, unspecified. This is symptomatic of the central problem. The Government seem far clearer about what they do not want than about what they do; otherwise they would not need a Royal Commission at all. For instance, in the case of Scottish devolution—a more limited but not in principle simpler matter than reform of your Lordships' House—serviceable legislation appeared in a few weeks.
What the Government do not want is a perfectly reasonable thing not to want but it turns out to be no substitute for a complete and positive vision. The alternatives proposed for stage two—appointment by quango, nomination by party, representation of special interests, democracy—are not a cocktail to be mixed according to taste. They are expressions of fundamentally different views about how a nation should be managed. Perhaps I can help by saying something that is too simple for your Lordships' House. The essential rights over legislation belong to the people. The whole process, not just part of it, belongs to the people. It has therefore been in essence stolen from them—from us—and we should have it back. The first Chamber should account to the people and so should the second. Neither accountability replaces the other. That notion, embodied in every tiny American town that elects a sheriff, seems to me to be the only basic and fundamental principle engaged in this entire process. If it is a true principle, which I think it is, its consequences need to be accepted and managed, not fudged.
Many noble Lords have put forward various contrary arguments today. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, has put it quite neatly on several occasions, pointing out that he is here because of what he is supposed to have done 925 rather than because of what someone else is supposed to have done. That is true. But the right to legislate for others does not derive from eminence. I should like to be precise here. The right to give advice may very well derive from eminence; it is the right to insist that others take this advice that does not. It is when the eminent pass through the Division Lobby that they appropriate something that is not theirs.
Therefore, first, all parts of the legislature need to account to the electorate. Secondly, there may be a good practical case for power being divided asymmetrically between the two Chambers but this should be done directly by defining the powers of both of them, not indirectly by tinkering with the legitimacy of one of them. My main complaint about the White Paper is that it treats the relationship between branches of the legislature as primary and the rights of the electorate as contingent upon it. This is absolutely the wrong way up and represents a definite deterioration from the sentence I quoted earlier written by that collection of bandits and ecclesiastics 800 years ago. It creates a real danger that we will continue to refuse or delay right or justice to almost everyone.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Lord Coleraine
My Lords, it is good to see the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, and two of her noble friends on the Front Bench. It is difficult to know why we have so few comments from Labour Back-Benchers. Perhaps it is because, as my noble friend Lord Strathclyde suggested, it is a document that the Government never wanted published, or because they are not interested in what happens to this Chamber after the hereditaries have left.
Paragraphs 1 and 2 of chapter 5 of the White Paper contain words which set out what this is all about. They state that:the present composition of the House of Lords is not defensible",and that,it is … fundamentally wrong that membership should be dominated by people whose presence is literally a birthright".I go along with that, and most practical Conservatives have done so for 30 years and more.
It is less easy to go along with the suggestion that,the first element of reform will he significant and valuable in itself',or the thought that the illegitimacy of the hereditary peerage is such—we are all so tainted—that we should not have the opportunity to play even an advisory part in Parliament in the birth of a new second Chamber. It is with the words in mind of Mrs. Beckett at the Second Reading of the Bill in another place that I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, as Leader of the House, perhaps against her better judgment as Lord Privy Seal, for giving hereditary Peers this opportunity to speak in the debate on questions affecting the future composition, role and functions of this House.
It is said that hereditary Peers must go, and go now. Their protestations that they are ready to go when a replacement is ready to take over are travestied, their good faith impugned. They are asked, "Why now? Why not 926 during the long years of Conservative rule?" It was said by my noble friend Lord Eccles more than 30 years ago in the debate on the 1968 White Paper, on 21st November 1968 at col. 1064 of the Official Report, that:I would think it already clear that your Lordships' House has to be reformed by a Labour Government and the trade unions by a Conservative Government".How very prescient were those words, coming as they did before In Place of Strife, and well before Mrs. Thatcher's trade union reforms of the early 1980s turned round both the country and, ultimately I like to think, the Labour Party.
In the absence of Labour speakers, perhaps I may say a word about the amendment moved by my noble friend. I hope that we shall not have a Division and that, having made his very worthwhile points so cogently, he will be content to withdraw the amendment. It is a small point but it could be a mistake to suggest that this House is not prepared to consider the loss or reduction of its "theoretically available powers", where the loss is balanced, as it could be, by reforms giving a more meaningful and effective role in Parliament than this House has at present. That was indeed accepted in the consensus of 1968.
The White Paper states that a better approach might be to reduce the theoretically available powers, recognising that they might as a consequence be used more frequently. If one inverts that sentence, one gets what I believe it can mean: that a better approach might be to reduce the theoretically available powers in order to ensure that they are used more frequently.
My noble friend would have had me more clearly on board had his amendment focused on the tendentious messages about the second stage which chapter 8 of the White Paper sends to the Royal Commission. Given the long and distinguished history of the proposal for a two-writ system which began, I understand, many years ago on a golf course, it is surprising that this system is not offered to the Royal Commission as a fifth model. It is not even set up as an Aunt Sally to be shot down. Yet it is a constitutional innovation which found a wide measure of acceptance in 1968.
If, as the noble Baroness said, there has been a great deal of thought given to reform over many years, with a large existing literature, so that the Royal Commission will have an easy and quick task, why does the menu in chapter 8 of the White Paper exclude the two-writ option? It is the one constitutional reform on which there was general agreement after prolonged consensual discussion 30 years ago.
It is perfectly clear to me that Labour is sending a clear message to the Royal Commission: "You will be wasting your time if you look at any other than one of the four models we have prescribed, and of these we have a mixed Chamber in mind for your preferred choice". Why do I say that? Because the choice is put forward tendentiously in the following form. We have, first, the nominated Chamber, with its advantages and disadvantages. Then we have the elected Chamber, again with its advantages and disadvantages. Finally, it is explained that the mixed Chamber will share the advantages of the nominated 927 Chamber, with the advantages of the elected Chamber, and, hey presto, the choice can be made. What has happened to the disadvantages inherent in each method? The House must draw its own conclusions.
I am glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, has allowed us to enter into the parliamentary discussion on the shape of the second stage of reform. I should be content, if it were possible, to have an elected House. However, I sense that it is not possible, that there will not he an elected House and that the preamble to the Parliament Act will remain unconsummated. In that case, I hope that the Royal Commission will eschew the mongrel too-good-to-be-true mixed Chamber and plump for a wholly nominated Chamber, coupled with a two-writ system. I make no secret of the fact that I see advantages in the two-writ system quite outside the scope of the White Paper, and those will be discussed in due course.
For the moment, however, I merely mention some of the advantages of the two-writ system. First, it would make it possible for voting Members who found that they could not give time to the business of Parliament to disclaim their voting rights and sit as speaking Members. Secondly, it would also enable speaking Members to be appointed with special expertise. They would not be subject to any obligation, moral or otherwise, to be present to vote at all times and on all manner of subjects.
Thirdly—I hardly dare bring up the subject—paragraph 44 of the 1968 White Paper provided that voting Members would lose their voting rights at the end of the Parliament in which they reached the age of 72. Perhaps I can keep life Peers with me by pointing out that that idea was not directed at removing Members just as they began to approach the height of their powers but at keeping the number of voting Peers at a reasonable level.
Paragraph 46 of the 1968 White Paper suggested that initially a reasonable size (excluding Law Lords and Bishops) would be between 200 and 250 Peers. This assumed that existing hereditary Peers would remain in the House and continue to do much work. Today the comparable figure would have to be larger. It would be interesting to know what the Government consider would be the appropriate figure today. Perhaps the Chief Whip will be able to tell us in due course. In another place Dr. Tony Wright—I understand that last year he was the Lord Chancellor's PPS--said on 15th February that anyone looking at a mature, fully-formed House of Lords would agree that it would contain only about 300 Members. We already have 510 life Peers against Dr. Wright's 300, with apparently floods more still to come, depending upon a certain contingency.
I agree with the comment of my noble friend Lord Lucas about the possible retirement of life Peers. Life it is, and life it should remain. That is the way for an independent House. But retirement seems inevitable. The dilemma can be solved effectively only by a two-writ House, with life Peers becoming speaking Peers at an appropriate moment. I hope that that is a matter that the Royal Commission and the Government will consider seriously.
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ Lord Clifford of Chudleigh
My Lords, I am always reminded of Psalm 23 when the subject of House of Lords reform is raised. I paraphrase:The Lord's my pacemaker—I shall not rush!".Bearing in mind that any reform of one of the two Houses of legislation should comply with the elected government's wish for such changes to be radical, the changes must also be simple, fair to all political parties and equally fair and understood by the electorate, no matter their colour, class, creed or political persuasion.
Parliament has always been both a court and a legislature. It is constitutionally important to retain the High Court of Parliament. On important constitutional points, it is vital that the House of Lords retains the right to sit as a whole House, "calling the House", not only in Committee. Peers are perfectly capable of acting judicially. Sometimes they have a better understanding than the professional members of the Appellate Committee. We do not need an American-style Supreme Court, or, God forbid, a British version of the discredited European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. The House of Lords has legitimacy, whereas a new court would not. One has only to look at the European Court of Justice, many of whose judgments do not command respect and which is widely seen as a political court.
When sitting as a whole House—for example, on the trial of Lord de Clifford in 1936—the Members are under a duty to act judicially. I believe that there are few instances when the whole House has sat in judgment of a Member behaving other than judicially. An example is the Ashby v. White in 1703 when 76 Peers passed judgment on electoral rights.
The power of the House to vote as a whole House remains unaffected, save that by the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876 at least three of the Law Lords, the Lord Chancellor, the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary and Peers who have held high judicial office—for example, the noble and learned Lords, Lord Denning, Lord Ackner, Lord Lane and Lord Donaldson—must he present.
As stated in the Government's White Paper on House of Lords reform, no party should have a majority voting power, save for a group known as Cross Benchers; a group not subservient to a partisan whip and most easily identified by the country as a whole as "independent of party political pressure". The Law Lords should be included in the Cross Bench group.
A suggested number of voting Peers might be: Labour, 50; Conservative, 50; Liberal Democrats, 50; and Cross Benchers, 75. That would be a total of 225, or 17 per cent. of the total life and hereditary Peers presently permitted to vote and speak. Each of the groups represented by "voting Peers" would request from their ranks, both life and hereditary, the names of those who would be willing to stand for selection and be prepared to sit in the House of Lords for three out of the four weekly working days. "Self selection" is a system whereby the Peers within each group/party would cast votes for Peers within their group/party and thus select, through preference, the required number for their group/party.
929 Although this system may be contrary to that suggested in the White Paper of January 1999, it would avoid, first, the House of Lords being a Chamber elected by people and so in competition with the House of Commons which is elected by the same voters. Secondly, the self-selection principle would avoid further imposition and intrusion into the electorate's private time—media and television, lobbying, personal visits by potential voting Peers—which is a situation certain to arise if the White Paper's preference for "people's Peers", or regionally selected Peers, was to be adopted. An overdose of political rhetoric will encourage further disinterest and apathy from the public who are becoming increasingly removed from politics and politicians, whether national, European or local.
The self selection of voting Peers would occur on a quinquennial basis, as stated in the 1715 Act, or, should a voting Peer die or retire from politics, similar to a reselection or by-election for the House of Commons. I suggest that should the House of Commons force a government to resign, or should a general election be called before the completion of a five-year government period, the nominated voting Peers within the House of Lords who would be considered for selection every five years would not be affected. No Peers should be permitted to hold the rank of voting Peer for more than 10 years; in other words, the full lifespan of two government periods.
Again, contrary to the suggestion in the White Paper 1999, both hereditary and life Peers should be permitted to put their names forward for selection as representative voting Peers for their appropriate group/party. Such a move avoids the unnecessary and obviously false suggestion that hereditary Peers should be appointed life Peers if they are to work as voting Peers within the House of Lords.
All Peers should be permitted to speak within the House of Lords, as that would provide the broadest, most diverse opinions for consideration by the voting Peers—the jury within the House of Lords—and it would avoid any question of age restriction. The religious, cultural representation within the House of Lords could be sensibly broadened by sage appointments made by the unbiased selection committee suggested in the White Paper; the committee considering life peerage appointments.
Surely it would be financially beneficial and ensure job security for so many of the staff if all Peers be permitted to use the House of Lords facilities. That point was raised in the White Paper. The facilities are of educational and historical benefit to the many parties from abroad as well as from the United Kingdom; parties introduced to the Houses of Parliament by both life and hereditary Peers.
By retaining much of the present system within the legislature of the House of Lords the cost of an elected Chamber would not be incurred. The second Chamber would continue to act as a second outlet for public opinion and alleviate the increasing pressure applied to elected Members of Parliament by an increasingly aware and demanding public. The second Chamber, as 930 presently composed, would prevent a presidential as opposed to a parliamentary opinion from directing or dictating to the electorate.
The House of Lords would continue to be composed of talented, by degree, life and hereditary Peers who would act as ambassadors for Great Britain and who would listen to and be heard by those involved in all walks of life, both nationally and internationally. The House of Lords would respect its responsibilities to the monarchy and to the people whose interests its Members represent and in whose areas they reside.
Contrary to what was stated by the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, on the "Today" programme on 14th October last year, the House of Lords will never believe that it has the same legislative power and is on a par with the elected Members of Parliament in the House of Commons. Parliament is not a one man band; it is a trio of the Monarch, the Commons and the Lords.
A Parliament Act 2000 should be introduced realising the 1911 Act and revising the delegated 1949 secondary legislation Act; so complying with the principle of modernisation espoused by the present Government—and I thank all the Peers who responded to my circular on the validity of the so-called 1949 Act, arguably secondary legislation. Such a revisory move is further prompted by devolutionary moves within the United Kingdom and by Parliament's increasing involvement in European Union legislation, and in the councils and committees of the European Parliament, initiating such legislation as devolution and federalisation.
Partisan differences and dislikes of privileges should not influence our considerations. We are not rewarded for the goodness of our intentions, but for the usefulness of the result.
§ 8.38 p.m.
The Earl of Dundee
My Lords, I, too, welcome the debate. In November 1968 a number of today's speakers took part in the previous White Paper debate on House of Lords reform. Given that it is sometimes alleged that this House is an undemocratic assembly, it may seem paradoxical that your Lordships gave such solid support to that White Paper, while in the following year the Bill was caused to fail by groupings and members of both the main parties in the other place. Yet it is clear that none of the blame lies here for the failure of the Labour Government's Lords reform Bill of 1969. Your Lordships were determined to make the Bill work, and in this place there was cross-party agreement in relation to its main provisions.
Conversely, since the current White Paper has not been able to emanate from all-party talks, it may not be too surprising that, unlike its predecessor, it has not managed to win a great deal of confidence. However, as your Lordships have made plain today, the resolve in this Chamber to help to devise sound legislation for Lords reform is just as firm now as it was 30 years ago.
This debate, today and tomorrow, can certainly encourage common purpose among us. That is so not least because its focus is far more the essential question of what a revised second Chamber can and should do, rather than only the narrower issue of who its Members 931 will be—for there can be no doubt that however much the two questions may be interrelated, that of quality of function is paramount, whereas that of composition and membership is secondary.
This leads to the central point of how the functions of a reformed second Chamber can further improve our parliamentary democracy. As regards the second Chamber's role to scrutinise legislation, clearly a key aspect, as has been said, is how voting rights are reformed. In the current White Paper, the Government indicate that they seek only broad parity with the Conservatives. Many of us will consider that this is a good approach. It can enable the opposition parties and the Cross-Benchers to unite when necessary to defeat the Government. In terms of something better, it would assist the relationship between the two Houses and enable the other place to be more prepared to heed the advice of this House. That is simply because it could no longer be complained that Lords advice, excellent though it was, had come from an undemocratic Chamber with an in-built majority of Conservative voting rights.
I turn now to the present White Paper's reference to this Chamber's deliberative function and its recognition of the quality of contribution. If such comes through questions and debates, not least is it also evidenced by the highly regarded Lords European Select Committee reports and by the work of Lords delegations overseas, including the Council of Europe, where I have had the honour to serve for seven years, retiring last month.
The question is what arrangements should be made as part of Lords reform to preserve and enhance the quality and effect of the deliberative function of this House. As my noble friend Lord Coleraine has just mentioned, the 1968 White Paper addressed that question by recommending a two-tier House with voting and non-voting Members. Clear advantages arise from this expedient. First, in the immediate future and in the short tern there is no threat of discontinuity to present high standards and independent-mindedness. That is because existing Peers would retain speaking and committee rights, although not necessarily voting rights.
On the other hand and secondly, since voting and non-voting Members who were Peers by succession would not be replaced when they died by their heirs but by nominated life Peers, it allowed a decision to be taken on the hereditary principle. This was to end the automatic right to sit and vote by succession.
Therefore, the formula provided within the 1968 White Paper is a constructive one. That is because the two-tier system provides continuity of independence and expertise. It addresses successfully the two main grievances, which have always been the in-built Conservative majority and the hereditary principle. As a result, it assists the working relationship between this House and another place and hence, also, it improves the scope for Parliament as a whole to influence the Executive.
We may be fortunate in this country with our system of holding government accountable to Parliament. However, Parliament should have more influence over the Executive than it does and Lords reform is a very good opportunity to achieve that.
932 In handling this year's Lords reform Bill, clearly we should not pre-empt its conclusions by acting to legislate before the commission has had time to report. Instead, in this House we should now build up consensus among ourselves. And in the wider interest we should be prepared to embrace the wise measures of the Labour government's 1968 White Paper.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ The Earl of Drogheda
My Lords, during the debate last autumn on the future of your Lordships' House, I was struck by the blueprint for a reformed House that one noble Lord proposed in which all Peers would be forcibly retired on reaching 75 years of age. That suggestion was made with a commendable display of selflessness in view of the fact that the noble Lord in question was not only a life Peer but, by his own admission, 77 years old. I am happy to say that the noble Lord has not followed his own recipe, thereby depriving your Lordships of the benefits of his wise counsel.
As is well known, the original meaning of the word senatus is an assembly of old men. In ancient Rome, age was held in great respect, as it was in China and in most ancient civilisations as well, as it was formerly in our own.
Recently in the West, with the increasing demands of today's world and the race for the new, the vigour of youth has come to assume a paramount importance, particularly in the case of those in public life. That is doubtless logical where the demands of a constituency must be combined with performing in another place. However, such is not the case in your Lordships House. Here, time is available for reflection and indeed, one could argue that reflection and mature consideration are of the essence.
The strength of youth is not an advantage here and although age does not, sadly, automatically confer wisdom, neither does youth. In fact, although there may be no fool like an old fool, yet, as Lord Chatham observed:Youth is the season of credulity".I fall somewhere in the middle stage—very late middle, unfortunately—between youth and age. I can therefore claim to speak without interest in making the following modest suggestion for the reform of the Chamber which is being foisted on us in such haste. I suggest that in it, in addition to the 91 hereditary Peers who may be suffered to remain, all those hereditary Peers who are over 75 and who are regular attenders of your Lordships' House should retain their rights to sit. Quite aside from the contribution that they offer with their long experience and the wisdom they frequently bring to debate, they will confer a dignity on the revised Chamber and will provide a note of continuity which will soften the effect of the "big bang" approach which the Government seem hell-bent on effecting. Moreover, their continued presence will make more gradual the inevitable change to the familiar landscape here.
There is in Venice a famous portrait by Giorgione of an old and haggard woman looking steadily out at the viewer and pointing to herself. Attached to her is a little scroll on which is written the chilling motto "Col Tempo—with 933 time. Perhaps the Government, many of whom are in the flush of early middle age, if not youth, should reflect on the implications of that painting as they consider the future of your Lordships' House.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Lord Teviot
My Lords, in the words of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, there are matters beyond Westminster for your Lordships to debate, to question and to legislate. She did not spell out those words exactly as I have done but I hope that that is a fair interpretation of what she said. I wholly agree with her and intend to concentrate on that aspect and leave entirely to others the question of the future make-up of this House. I hope to make a few useful comments designed to protect and safeguard what is good and what we do well already.
Therefore, I go straight to the White Paper itself. When I first read it, like all your Lordships, I perused the contents page and homed straight in upon Chapter 4, "The role of a second chamber". I felt that that chapter would give me a lead and provide me with the basis necessary for debate. Sadly, I was extremely disappointed because there is little on which one can cut one's teeth. Paragraphs 5 to 9 on pages 23 and 24, under the heading of "A representative function", contain some wide platitudes and, with respect, I cannot say that they add up to very much.
Paragraph 10, which relates to what the second Chamber should do, is largely innocuous. It outlines only cursorily the functions which a second Chamber should have. Up to now we have had a House of Peers with both a large and small "p"; surely that situation must continue. In all the years I have been here, my experience has been that there is no difference between life and hereditary Peers. Most Back-Bench Peers intervene on subjects on which they have been briefed or about which they have knowledge already, but, in the main, debate has been non-political except on certain notorious occasions. Front-Benchers cannot be expected to cover all intrinsic points of legislation; there are always other issues which it is important to debate.
I do not suggest that only hereditary Peers raise these intrinsic points; of course they do not. But this House is going to undergo major surgery in which its balance may well be altered, possibly to the House's detriment. That is why the Government should lay down certain guidelines for the balance to be maintained. I shall be grateful if the Chief Whip, when winding-up tomorrow, can give the House an assurance that the balance will be maintained—he will probably put it much more eloquently in his own words.
I feel that the commission has an impossible task in being asked to report so soon—Christmas is only 10 months away. And I am afraid I must politely disagree with the noble Baroness that there is little research to be done as compared with other Bills; I should have thought the reverse. For instance, does the commission intend to circulate a questionnaire, which I believe it should do, to all institutions—professional, trade and otherwise and certain societies which over the 934 years have found time to lobby (that may be too strong a word) or put their points to Parliament—asking them what they expect Parliament to do and to summarise what they expect a second Chamber to do? I should have thought that that was much more important than the future make-up of this House.
Over the years there have been many occasions when I have tabled amendments—sometimes probing and sometimes pressing—mainly on my own subjects. But perhaps I may be anecdotal for a moment. On another occasion the noble Baroness criticised the balance on one side or another. But during the Second Reading of the Wages Bill I felt that I had to raise a matter relating to transport. In fact the matter had been dealt with in the other place on Third Reading so I asked my Chief Whip at the time whether it was still necessary for me to speak just to say thank you. He said, "As there are very few speakers on our side, you will speak for 10 minutes on this Bill and then say thank you". That needed an awful lot of swotting. During that 10 minutes I said that I would be available to take up points in the remaining stages of the Bill. I received a letter from a trade union requesting me to table an amendment. I did and was pleased to do so. It was later fully debated.
Finally, whatever happens I wish this House well and urge this Government and successive governments to insist that this House conducts itself in a dignified and unpompous manner and with humour, as it does already; that it continues relentlessly to scrutinise legislation in the way the country, if not the world, admires; and that this Front Bench, like the Front Bench opposite, conducts itself well. I am not toadying or being sycophantic, but I pray that that continues.
A small but important point worth mentioning for instruction is that noble Lords inform the Ministers who have to answer as to the points they intend to raise. That will ensure that the best answers are given, as they are now. Also, in the new parliamentary Session without the hereditaries, I ask that a card be put in the window of the Peers' Entrance on the front door and the Peers' Lobby on the back door explaining that there have been changes but that it will be "business as usual".
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ Lord Middleton
My Lords, at this stage of the debate there is. a duty to be brief. The White Paper tells us that the Government will renew the House of Lords as a modern, effective second Chamber of Parliament, fit for the 21st century. The Royal Commission will recommend how to make it effective. As to composition, suggestions are made for recruitment to an appointed House—self-nomination—and I am glad to say that the White Paper suggests that there should be people's Peers.
Various forms of franchise are suggested for an elected House, and there may be a mixture of both. So effectiveness is to be achieved by greater legitimacy as to composition. But the White Paper shies away from the natural progression whereby a legitimate Chamber will wish to take upon itself enhanced powers. The general theme in the powers section is that they should be curtailed; hence my noble friend's amendment, 935 which I support. It is significant that in chapter 7, paragraph 25, it suggests reducing powers which remain after the last Parliament Act by institutionalising the understandings under which the present House of Lords operates. Those we know as the Salisbury Rules.
Failure by Parliament to agree about powers of a second Chamber has scuppered all attempts this century to achieve reform. Is it realistic to suppose that the proposed joint committee of both Houses of Parliament, with in front of it recommendations after a few months of deliberation by the Royal Commission, will do any better? There could well be, once again, deadlock, so that an emasculated illegitimate second Chamber will carry on indefinitely, posing no threat to a crusading, modernising New Labour.
That may well be what the Government want and the White Paper is a gesture only. If I am right, it is a very great pity. I believe strongly in the need for reform, but we have to get the new composition of powers sorted out. 1 cannot see this being done by a Royal Commission with a lifespan up to the end of this year—only 10 months. For a careful and considered reform, in the words of the White Paper, this process must have more time. Meanwhile, there will be an illegitimate interim Chamber that can be no more effective than the present one, which has the probability of an extended shelf-life.
There is a case—in part acknowledged by the suggested Cross-Bench amendment and the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine—for an interim Chamber composed as now but which has divested itself of surplus passengers. Such a culling should be fairly drastic and in my view it would not be difficult. But I fear that that will not happen.
I wish I were young enough to see a really effective reformed House of Lords. However, I do not see that being achieved by these proposals. But perhaps that is the intention.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Lord Cobbold
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for rather grudgingly giving us the opportunity to debate the White Paper, more importantly because I was out of the country in October last and was unable to participate in the two-day debate at that time.
As a hereditary Peer I stress from the first that I am not against reform of your Lordships' House in principle. indeed, I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that its powers should not be reduced. But, like many other noble Lords who have spoken today and on other occasions, I am totally opposed to the two-stage approach adopted by the Government. To echo the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, it is a case of action first, thought later.
I say now, therefore, that I shall oppose the Bill on hereditary representation when it reaches this House, and I do not think that the so-called "Weatherill amendment" makes any difference to the fundamental 936 question. I fail to see why consideration of the representation of hereditary Peers in this House should not be part of the remit of the Royal Commission.
If we were starting from scratch in a modern society, clearly, we would not select members of a second Chamber on the basis of heredity. However, we are not starting from scratch; we are dealing with an institution that has 700 years of history and tradition. This is not a trivial statement. The traditions of this House and its history are part of the mystique of this country and of our proud island race, and are admired throughout the world.
As a first generation hereditary Peer, I am proud and honoured to be able to represent my father's name in your Lordships' House. I am sure that a tradition of service is deeply ingrained in all of the hereditary Peers sitting here today, as it is, I am also sure. among the life Peers here assembled. It is not easy to argue in favour of heredity, but I believe that the record of this House speaks for itself, as many noble Lords have stated. The unique tradition of your Lordships' House is important and should not be discarded lightly.
Many noble Lords have mentioned the relationship between the current and the reformed House of Lords with the House of Commons. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, pointed out, in this House we have another important and historical relationship; that is, with the Monarch. Each one of us, at the beginning of this Parliament, or on introduction, has sworn an oath of allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen and to her heirs and successors. In so doing, we have all explicitly acknowledged the hereditary principle as it applies to the monarchy.
I have been involved in numerous conversations with people in many walks of life in recent months—as I am sure have many other noble Lords—on the subject of reform of your Lordships' House and of the abolition of the rights of hereditary Peers in particular. I have found pretty general support for reform but considerable concern as to the wisdom of doing away with the hereditary principle in toto. Many people have suggested to me that doing away with the hereditary Peers in the House of Lords is one step on the road towards doing away with an hereditary monarchy.
I know that the proposals before us were set out in general terms in the Government's election manifesto, and that reference was made by Her Majesty in the gracious Speech to the proposed ending of the rights of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in this House. What I do not know is whether that is a proposal that the Sovereign personally supports or whether she feels it to be something that she has no choice but to accept.
I believe that a common sense appraisal of the current proposals is, indeed, that they do represent a long-term threat to the hereditary principle of the monarchy. We are talking about a major constitutional change. It behaves all Peers, and hereditary Peers in particular., as guardians of the constitution, to consider carefully the wording of their Writ of Summons and decide what counsel they should give on this particular "arduous and urgent affair" concerning the Sovereign and the State.
937 I welcome many of the suggestions for reform of this House contained in the White Paper. I would not support a fully-elected second Chamber. I believe the presence in this House of leading experts and practitioners from all walks of life is of inestimable value to this House, Parliament and the country.
I am not opposed, in principle, to any reform of hereditary representation in this House. I well understand the Government's impatience with the in-built majority against them and with the Conservative Party's frequent abuse of this situation over the years. In fact, I believe that hereditary Peers should preserve their independence and should not take a party Whip at all, unless, of course, they have a Front Bench appointment.
There have been many suggestions as to how hereditary representation could be reformed without completely destroying seven centuries of tradition. Many of them I would find acceptable in principle. One suggestion that appeals to me in the reformed House is that each county council and metropolitan borough should appoint, say, two representatives for fixed terms to the reformed second Chamber, at least one of whom should be an hereditary Peer. That would guarantee regional representation and confer a degree of democratic legitimacy on those appointed.
Another suggestion, and one that preserves tradition, is that hereditary Peers might be entitled to sit in the reformed House for, say, two parliamentary Sessions following their succession. That would have the advantage of preserving the representation of youth in your Lordships' House and would enable the House to get to know new incumbents and vice versa. However, those are matters that should rightfully be considered by the Royal Commission, not ruled out of court in advance.
The only glimmer of hope I can see is that the terms of reference, as set out in the White Paper, do not appear to me to exclude consideration by the commission of continued representation by hereditary Peers in the reformed House. It is a happy but, I suppose, Alice-in-Wonderland idea, that, having been abolished by the current Bill, we might rise again via the recommendations of the Royal Commission.
§ 9.5 p.m.
My Lords, I shall not speculate as to why so many Scottish hereditary Peers have been squashed into the last quarter of today's list. I hope that it is not racist.
Prioritising the expulsion of hereditary Peers made good manifesto copy and set the scene for knockabout politicking of the type beloved of the media. A matter of such overwhelming constitutional significance as reform of this House demanded a measured and balanced approach, not one signposted by party ideology. Belief that the underlying reason for isolating the ejection of hereditary Peers was to avoid having us discuss the future House was confirmed by the Leader of the Commons when she spoke on 1st February. However, with the White Paper and the Royal 938 Commission extracted from the Government, the scenario has changed. We can debate the White Paper and talk to the Royal Commission, and, although today technically we cannot discuss the Bill to remove ourselves, we can refer to it.
Whether by design or accident, the Government seem to have got themselves into a complicated, haphazard mess. Perhaps it is not too late for the script to be rewritten. There is still time.
The White Paper is perhaps more notable for what it does not say than for what it does. Perhaps I may first address the nature of a reformed House. What needs to be decided first and foremost are size, purpose, functions and powers. Not until those fundamentals are settled can composition and membership be sensibly discussed. The order in which the terms of reference for the Royal Commission are set out tends to support that view, and yet the Government have bedevilled the issue and compromised debate by focusing attention first on composition, through their insistence on first eliminating hereditary Peers and necessitating a transitional House.
I can see no good reason why the powers of a reformed House should not mirror those that we now have. Such an arrangement would protect the position of another place. It is us wicked hereditary Peers who are the fly in New Labour's ointment, not the historically evolved relative competences of the two Chambers. The machine works—no matter what selective statistics or partisan points are advanced.
The White Paper ignores the problems of imbalance between Executive and legislature which are currently so obvious. I am certain that that needs re-ordering, which means that the powers of neither House should be reduced. That is why I wholeheartedly support my noble friend's amendment.
The prospect of relative powers being debated by a Joint Committee is troubling, to say the least. One might—or must—hope that the Royal Commission will take a firm stand on the broad status quo as a proper way forward. I have no pronounced views on size or functions, which in any case are subject to evolutionary change.
Moving from powers and companion matters, I come to membership. I advocate that the majority of Members should be elected, with only a very few places reserved for ex-officio Members over and above the inclusion of judges and Bishops. An elected House, when powers were settled, would be no threat to Commons' supremacy.
I would prefer to see election by popular ballot from regions of equal size, promoting balance between heavily and sparsely populated areas and, I hope, an electoral scheme which would secure the return of at least one independent Member and one candidate for each main political party for each region. I do not like the option of a purely nominated House. In fact, I find it almost objectionable. It would lack the teeth of popular mandate. It would be in danger of becoming a giant quango and then a very expensive talking shop, unlikely over time to attract the right calibre of Member.
939 I hope that the Royal Commission will reject election by colleges of regional worthies, which would create a House of delegates, not Parliamentarians. What we need is a proper parliamentary Chamber.
Would that a transitional House could be avoided. Other speakers have talked about the difficulties of achieving the parity which is looked for, and one worries seriously about how long it would be transitional. The manifesto uses the words "over time" when talking about parity, while the White Paper talks about "moving towards". Both those phrases suggest potential delays.
Inserting a reformed Chamber into an existing parliamentary system is more difficult than creating a new parliament or assembly. With devolution, regionalisation, changing relations with Europe and potential electoral reform, strands are being yanked from our constitutional fabric at an alarming rate. The possible consequences for our parliamentary democracy are frightening if we do not get it right. Such a dramatically important issue can provoke passionate reactions. The Government may face real difficulties with your Lordships' House. I. for one, will not be influenced by the possible offer of the 91 hereditary Peers being included in the next stage. For the sake of our nation and our parliamentary democracy, I can only pray that we do get it right.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Lord Birdwood
My Lords, at the beginning of our deliberations this afternoon, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House taunted these Benches—twicewith inferences that our numbers in the debate, the hours set aside, compared unfavourably to the weight that we gave to health and the homeless. Over the years I have become totally exasperated at this assumption that only a Labour administration, only socialism, can claim ownership of compassion. It may be difficult for an on-message New Labour apostle to take in, but the heart of a Tory. hereditary Peer can break just as readily when faced with the reality of destitution, alienation, misery and disease. Indeed, I think because my instincts are for the individual rather than the statistic that the pain may be even more immediate.
This little polemic springs from one sentence in the White Paper which appears in proposal No. 16 of Chapter 2. We read:The presence in the House of this large number of hereditary peers constitutes an element of the Lords which is unresponsive to political and social change".But what are the grounds for this offensive claim? Of course, I am aware of the public perception of the Members, particularly the hereditary Members. We are perceived as senile, obstructive, reactionary retards, a mad assembly of Dornford Yates inbred simpletons. I sometimes feel sorry for life Peers, who are immediately pigeonholed by the tabloid cartoonists along with the HMS "Pinafore" caricatures embedded in the British psyche. What we have around us here is a tapestry which has been 700 years in the weaving. Our reality is a unique cultural institution, a mixture of rewarded loyalties, achievements well recognised and a word curiously absent from the White Paper—duty.
940 Perhaps I may at this late hour set a little test to the writers of the White Paper: why do those hereditary Peers, who have included the work of the House in their lives, do it? Is it for the money? I hope that this is not seriously mooted. Is it for the glory? Oh, come on! Is it for power? Well, we all know that it is not, not with the balance between the Houses set in statute as at present. Is it because of a love of Parliament? Yes, now we are getting closer. Is it because of a perception of duty? I believe it is just that. But I believe more. We are witnessing real change in the British political system. What is being sold to us is packaged in the "good", the "how-can-you-possibly-argue-with-that?" words, "modern", "evolving", and--I nearly forgot—"new". So this White Paper is presented to us as a necessary first step in the evolution of a modern, new political order.
I am afraid I have a different word. What we are seeing is not evolution but mutation—mutating with all the overtones of unknowable outcome. Under the cloak of synthetic outrage, and helped by a media agenda which would do justice to attention deficit disorder, we are being sold the circumvention of Parliament itself. If my commiseration might be for the petulant mangling of this House, it must spread to the prospects for the other place as well—the other place ambling good naturedly into uncharted, anti-libertarian territories. Power is slipping away from both Houses.
Perhaps the hanging banners of our island history are faded and threadbare. Perhaps ideas of duty and continuity have no pungency for the regimes which lie ahead in our new, modernised politics. Perhaps we have moved into a world of Rice Krispie politics, transient, air-filled, brilliantly advertised. Perhaps this is 'what we deserve and, although it hurts to say it, I cannot absolve my own party, in its recent past, from responsibility for the process. We brought it upon ourselves.
§ 9.22 p.m.
§ Lord Clinton
My Lords, on 6th February 299 the Clinton Barony was created and John De Clinton of Maxstoke was summoned to Parliament by writ, so creating the title.
It is a privilege for me as the 22nd holder of this title to sit in your Lordships' House. I have to say that I have been a backwoodsman over many years and can remember such remarks as "At this late hour" which usually meant well before midnight. Although I have sat up to well after that hour and into the morning, I shall make sure that that does not happen this evening.
We have seen changes in procedure in your Lordships' House as well as a new and more lively House. It is a different place to when I came here. However, the changes have been gradual and I believe well thought out. The proposals for the future appear to me to be as if we were a ship with no engine, sail or rudder, lost in a rather large ocean. I do not like that, and when discussing it with others outside the House they find it difficult to see the future in spite of the formation of the Royal Commission. I try to answer and say that there must be change, etc., etc.
Then I say to myself—and perhaps this is the only reason for getting on my feet this evening as one of the older titles—that there should be a place in your 941 Lordships' House for hereditary Members and the hereditary system which has served this House so well for so many generations. The hereditary Peers are to me the real guardians of our constitution and monarchy and I believe that we need them more than ever at this time. They should still remain. I know that idea is unpopular, but surely with a smaller number they could be elected among themselves to include all parties, men and women picked for their abilities as a college of working hereditary Peers on a permanent basis.
So many of your Lordships have in this long and important debate placed many ideas and points of view before your Lordships' House and I have followed them with great interest. But, in conclusion, I feel it is my duty as the present holder of this title to have stated my view, if only as a duty towards those of my Clinton ancestors who have been Members of your Lordships' House since 1299.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, it is late and I shall attempt to be brief. It is not my job on this occasion to wind up—that is a job which my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish will do from these Benches with great skill tomorrow.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, he is here behind me. I apologise to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House. I am probably obscuring him.
It will be his job to wind up on behalf of these Benches a debate in which, by then, we shall have heard from some 98 speakers. It will the job of my opposite number, the Government Chief Whip, to wind up on behalf of the Government.
My job this evening is to put the House to bed. That will be formally done by the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip, but it seems rather extraordinary that, in putting the House to bed, so many noble Lords opposite already seem to have put themselves to bed. There were many occasions when we were in government when I rose to speak at this time of night and suddenly saw a massive influx on to the Benches opposite. On those occasions—at Committee stage or whatever of various Bills—I seem to remember that I went down to defeat, after defeat, after defeat. Noble Lords opposite, or at least the few noble Lords opposite who happen to be here, should remember that, even with the so-called massive majority that we enjoyed, it was very easy, and happened with great regularity, for Conservative governments to be defeated in this House.
I do not want to go through all those who have spoken this evening. We have had many excellent speeches from my noble friends and from noble Lords on the Cross Benches. We have even had one from a noble Lord on the Liberal Democrat Benches and one from the Government Back Benches, which I heard. I greatly enjoyed those from my noble friends Lord Denham and Lady Young and from my noble friend Lord Jopling and my noble kinsman Lord Eden. I could go through the 942 whole list of my noble friends and stress how well they have spoken. All I can say is that it has been difficult to put them in the appropriate order—one of the few pieces of patronage that the Opposition Chief Whip has. I am grateful to them all for being so tolerant and for bearing with me and accepting where I put them on the list.
We have another day of debate tomorrow. We shall listen to my noble friend Lord Cranborne and the noble Lord, Lord Richard, two former Leaders of the House, opening the debate. There will be further former Leaders and further distinguished speakers from the Privy Council Benches and other parts of the House.
I start by referring to the opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Judd. He and I have been involved with many Bills together when I was in government and he was in opposition. We are friends outside this Chamber and we get on very well. I and many others on these Benches were grateful for the remarks that he made about the part that hereditary Peers have played in the proceedings of this House over the years. We are grateful that he took the trouble to stress that we have played a major part and that many of us have contributed a great deal to this House. It was encouraging to hear remarks of that kind from the Benches opposite.
They were so unlike the remarks that we heard, for example, from the Leader of another place in the debate there. I recommend to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House that the tone of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, might be more appropriate as we come to the end of hereditary peerages in this House—should the Bill, when we come to it, ever get through—than what amounts to more or less the open class warfare that we heard from some others in another place.
As I have implied, it is sad that so few of his noble friends spoke in the debate. I understand that there will be a few more tomorrow. I also understand that my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition referred to the fact that a number of noble Lords opposite—the noble Lords, Lord Graham and Lord Haskel, and others—withdrew their names from the list of speakers over the weekend. When my noble friend Lord Strathclyde made those points, the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton—who is not in his place—intervened. He said that, speaking with the years of experience that he felt he had as a Chief Whip, he recognised, as he put it, what had happened. He seemed to imply that some sort of Chief Whip's operation had been put into place by myself. I can give a categoric assurance, as was made clear by my noble friend Lord Clitheroe who spoke earlier today, that no such operation took place. At no point did I make any effort to encourage speakers individually to speak.
The list, like Topsy, simply grew, and it grew because there is a great deal of interest not so much in the future of ourselves—those of us who speak as hereditary Peers—but in the future of the House. This debate has not been a continuous whine or whinge simply for preserving the rights of hereditary Peers. Obviously some noble Lords are concerned about the rights of hereditary Peers, but what we have heard is a statement of the facts from many speakers who are concerned to 943 see that when this independent House goes it is replaced by something as good as, or better than, what they leave behind.
The noble Lord the Government Chief Whip and the noble Baroness the Leader of the House will be aware that this has been what I described as a thoughtful debate. I think that I should not use the past tense on this occasion as we are scarcely half-way through the debate. The list of speakers has been very impressive. Among those who have spoken, or are about to speak, there will be some 18 former Cabinet Ministers and some 25 Privy Counsellors and two Bishops. Yet from the Government Back Benches—I do not know whether it is due to pressure and I do not make such an allegation against the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip—we have so far heard one noble Lord and we are due to hear four more. From the Liberal Democrat Benches, we have heard just one speaker.
In opening the debate the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal implied that we have been wasting time on this matter in previous debates and are doing so in this debate, time that could have been better spent on what she considers to be the Government's priorities. She mentioned the Health Bill and the problems of the homeless. It was the Prime Minister himself who earlier this year said that the priorities of this Government are health, education and welfare. I, and I imagine many of my noble friends on these Benches, could not agree more. But perhaps I may remind the noble Baroness and the House that it is the Government, and the Government alone, who have caused this problem and it is the Government who have wasted the time.
It was only in October, some 18 months after the election, that the Government agreed to a Royal Commission. It was only this month that the chairman of the commission, my noble friend Lord Wakeham, was appointed and the other members of the commission were appointed following his appointment. As we heard from my noble friend, the commission will not now be able to meet until 1st March and it is now expected to have to report by the end of the year. Perhaps I may ask the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip, when he comes to answer, how it will be able to respond by the end of the year, bearing in mind that, of all the other Royal Commissions that have reported, very few have been able to report in the amount of time that has been allocated.
944 If the Royal Commission had been appointed back in the summer of 1997 when the present Government came to office, as my noble friend Lord Jopling suggested, it would have been able to report by now. We could now be watching another place debating not the measure it is debating but the substantive Bill itself. I have to say, therefore, that it is the Government who have been wasting time by bringing forward this White Paper as late as they have and by bringing forward a Bill which, by their own admission, is a mere temporary measure.
The Government say that there are pressing priorities. We have heard from the Prime Minister that the pressing priorities are health, education and welfare. But they have brought forward a measure which, even on their own claims, could be superseded during the lifetime of this Parliament. I put it to the House that if anyone is wasting time it is the Government.
Tomorrow we shall continue this debate on the White Paper and, as important, the debate on the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde. It is important to remind ourselves that the House is debating the future powers and functions of this House. What we are not debating at this stage is the Bill itself, which--sadly, and wrongly—looks forward only to the composition of this House. We shall have more to say about composition when we debate the Bill. I put it as a warning to the noble Lord the Chief Whip and the noble Baroness the Leader of the House that we shall look forward to considerable time at Second Reading and at later stages of the Bill to debate that adequately,
In the meantime, we look forward to further debate on the lines I have mentioned: on the functions and powers of the House as it is to be reconstituted following the Royal Commission. On another occasion, I, like others, look forward to debating the composition of the House. But sadly, it is the Government who insist that we should debate the composition at this stage. And it is the Government who are wasting our time.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, in moving the adjournment of the debate until tomorrow, perhaps I may, on behalf of the usual channels, thank your Lordships for adhering to the suggested time limit. It has enabled us to finish at more or less exactly the target time. I beg to move that the debate be adjourned until tomorrow.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House adjourned at twenty-four minutes before ten o'clock.