§ Debate resumed.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Lord Chalfont
My Lords, I hope that with a modest mental leap we can return to the subject that we were discussing before we were so rudely interrupted.
We shall have an opportunity when the House of Lords Bill comes to your Lordships' House to consider its proposals in detail, not only at Second Reading but, if it survives that, at the Committee stage. In due course we shall have the long-term recommendations of the 993 Royal Commission. I therefore want to concentrate entirely on the White Paper which is the subject of the Government's Motion and the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. (I need hardly say that I speak only for myself—as a Cross-Bench Peer I can speak for no one else.) Several noble Lords have criticised the quality and intellectual validity of the White Paper; but at least it has provided the opportunity for this valuable debate. And, for the connoisseur, it provides one or two interesting insights into the Government's ideological leanings.
I turn first to the claim in the White Paper, summarised on page 5, that the Government's proposals for constitutional change rest on the assent of the people. The Government state that,People across the country have made clear what they want",and they go on to speak of the referendums and subsequent developments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and of the referendum on the governance of London. However, when they come to the reform of the House of Lords, there is no such claim. Indeed, there could not be because there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever of a popular demand for such reform. As the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, said yesterday, the indications are that probably no more than 2 per cent. of the people of this country are actively in favour of the proposals which the Government are now putting forward. Indeed, when it comes to justifying their approach, the wishes and will of the people play no part, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, observed yesterday.
Incidentally, those of us who listened carefully to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway— which means, I hope most of us—may have noted that one important point in his speech was not clearly reflected in Hansard at col. 895. There seems to be a very important "not" missing from the text. I have discussed the matter with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, and am assured that what he was saying was that a special enabling Bill which was not hybrid could be introduced, thus giving effect to the substance. I hope that that puts the record straight.
So, instead of the will of the people, the Government put forward (Chapter 5, page 27) under the interesting heading, 'Why Reform is Necessary", a quotation from Thomas Paine, who said, some 200 years ago,The idea of hereditary legislators is as inconsistent as that of hereditary judges, as hereditary juries; and as absurd as an hereditary mathematician, or an hereditary wise man; as absurd as an hereditary Poet Laureate.This is, as political historians will be aware, a typical example of Paine's familiar dialectical method of reducing to absurdity views which differ from his own. But, more interestingly, the quotation is taken from The Rights of Man; and anyone who has had the excruciating experience of reading that monumental work will know that it is an unashamed polemical tract which advocates, among other things, the establishment of a republican constitution in this country. I hope that there is no hidden significance in this. Thomas Paine seems to me to be a most unfortunate choice as a role model for new Labour and, if those who drafted the White Paper were looking for a catchy quotation, I might have suggested to them what Paine's 994 contemporary, Edmund Burke, wrote in his Reflections on the Revolution in France some years before Paine wrote The Rights of Man:People will not look forward to posterity who never look backward to their ancestors.But perhaps that would not have fitted comfortably into the general ideology of the White Paper. The first point I make, therefore, is that there is, so far, no identifiable public desire for the kind of reform which the Government are now putting forward.
I now come to the claim that the Government are entitled to go ahead unhindered with their proposals because they were contained in their election manifesto. We all know about the Salisbury convention and, it is, indeed, referred to at some length in the White Paper on Page 17 of Chapter 3. I respectfully point out—and especially respectfully in the presence of the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne—that that convention is based upon nothing more constitutionally binding than an opinion advanced by Lord Salisbury in a debate in your Lordships' House in 1945. I venture with some temerity to advance the proposition that in a matter of this constitutional importance (by the Government's own admission one of the most radical constitutional changes to be made for many years) this House is not obliged to bow too obsequiously before the Salisbury convention. The very idea that by inserting a proposal for radical constitutional change in their election manifesto a subsequent government can avoid scrutiny and even outright opposition in the upper Chamber is leading us along a very dangerous path.
As I have said before in your Lordships' House—and it is a statement of the obvious—the present Government were not elected with a large majority because they promised to abolish the hereditary peerage. Nor, I suggest, would the majority have been any smaller had that undertaking not been in the manifesto. I believe, therefore, that this House may have a perfect right, even a duty, to ask the Government to think again about the proposal.
My third and final observation concerns the degree of haste with which the proposals are being pushed forward. The Royal Commission set up under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, has been asked to report by the end of this year so that the Government can respond to its recommendations in advance of the next general election. The Royal Commission will not even have its first meeting until 1st March.
Surely, before the Royal Commission can make recommendations about the composition of the upper House, it will have to consider in great detail the functions and powers of a future second Chamber. It seems to me almost incredible, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, indicated earlier, that we should expect a constitutional change of this depth and magnitude to be examined, debated and implemented within that time frame. Would it not be wise to provide more time for reflection and public debate, to assess the impact of the Government's other constitutional changes, all of which have an internal dynamic of their own but which are intimately linked with the future of Parliament? Would it not be logical to await the 995 recommendations of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham's commission before embarking on this piecemeal slice of reform which seems to pre-empt some of the Royal Commission's options? As the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, said in his remarkable speech yesterday, there seems to be no coherent intellectual framework to the Government's constitutional policies.
I have now been fortunate enough to spend 35 years in your Lordships' House. During that fascinating time I have never got any impression that this House does not function effectively. In my experience, hereditary Peers have made and continue to make an important contribution to its success. I have had occasion to say before in your Lordships' House that no one, least of all I, would deny the need for change; but change must be evolutionary, orderly and regulated. I conclude by asking Her Majesty's Government, even at this late stage—but without much hope of success—to think again about the ill thought out and precipitous legislation foreshadowed by this White Paper.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Lord Belstead
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, expressed some fundamental doubts about government policy towards your Lordships' House which the Government Chief Whip may wish to answer when he winds up later this evening. For myself, I simply make the point that this debate enables us to have a wide-ranging discussion of the Government's plans for reform of your Lordships' House. But I have to say that for me the White Paper does little to allay the suspicion that although Ministers are determined to remove hereditary Peers from the House as a result of the stage one reform, what stage two will consist of no one, including Ministers, yet knows.
That is clearly demonstrated by reading Chapter 7, entitled rather grandiloquently, "Modernising the Lords". That, however, rather surprisingly embarks on rehearsing what are referred to in the text as "guiding principles", but which are nothing more than well worn and accepted conventions and understandings about the supremacy of the House of Commons.
Certainly the White Paper then discusses some options and suggestions for the future. I join my noble friend Lord Cranborne in having high hopes for the fruitful work of the Royal Commission, but until it reports it will be necessary to achieve a wide area of agreement at the end of the day, including the agreement of Members of another place. But we shall have to wait until that report arrives.
Although one might not think so from the statistics and pie charts in the White Paper relating to the composition of your Lordships' House, a simple fact which is well understood in this House is that without Cross-Bench support the government of the day will usually be in jeopardy in this House. That is not only because of the number of Cross-Bench votes which can be cast on any particular issue but also because, more often than not, movement against the Government on the Cross-Benches, whoever the government may be, is 996 often the signal that Peers, including the Government's own supporters, have doubts which they are about to register on a specific issue.
This House—thank goodness—is still capable of demonstrating independence of mind and spirit. So one of the few welcomes that I can give to the White Paper is its recognition of the value of the Cross-Benches, which are important in that respect.
There are three aspects of the White Paper which I wish to mention—not, I hope, in order to take minor and fiddling points, but to echo the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, which I so much enjoyed, and perhaps to emphasise the fact that we are setting off on a complex path.
First, as I read Chapter 8 which deals with theAdvantages and disadvantages of the elected options",I could not help wondering just how expensive the second Chamber will be. Then, rather like meeting an old friend in the street, I came across a paragraph which could only have been written by the familiar hand of the Treasury which states:Higher costs. The costs of both the elections themselves and the need to provide proper salaries and research facilities for elected members would considerably increase the costs of the second chamber".I found it hardly surprising that with this warning ringing in their ears, the authors of the White Paper recommend some, but not too much, elected membership. In other words, a "Mixed House", as the White Paper calls it, for the future.
That sounds a safe compromise, but if the elected element were to be accorded separate and privileged treatment of that kind, then I believe that a mixed House would start to throw up some real problems even before it had ever met.
Secondly, I wish to ask what the Government envisage is the right role for a reformed second Chamber in relation to the devolved institutions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The White Paper suggests that a reformed House could have some "overt" role as the representative of the regions and the regional bodies. Along with other noble Lords, I find this an interesting possibility. But it raises two issues. If some Members were to attend the second Chamber in a representative role, mandated, as it were, from their devolved assemblies, it could mark a sharp departure for a House where noble Lords speak entirely on their own behalf and where presumably that would remain the case for nominated life Peers. It is an important matter when we are talking about a revising Chamber which is supposed to be as independent in mind and spirit as it is possible to be. Also, I regret to say that I can see little real progress being made in that area while the Government remain unwilling to address the West Lothian question. If nothing is done, it will threaten to sour relations at least between England and Scotland for some years to come.
Finally, I join many other noble Lords in believing that the White Paper has made a grave error in rather lamely recommending a reduction in the powers of the House. It is as though the authors of the White Paper had temporarily forgotten that they are supposed to be 997 ushering in an exciting reform for a modernised second Chamber. Or is there possibly a touch of duplicity here? It is easy to see that one method of balancing the increase in the so-called legitimacy of the House by the stage one reform could then be balanced by reducing the powers of the House at stage 2. That very neat equation might be appealing to Members of another place.
Whatever the reasons for this particular recommendation, it runs entirely counter to the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde which I believe is rightly protective of the independence of Parliament and of the scrutinising function of the House of Lords. I also wonder what kind of message the recommendation to reduce the powers of the second Chamber would send to busy people who might be deciding whether or not to stand for some kind of election to the second House of Parliament.
If enacted, the Cranborne-Weatherill proposal (to use that shorthand) will go some way towards hereditary Peers being able to contribute to the work of a transitional House and to agreement on stage two reform. I welcome that and take great comfort from it. But my abiding reservation, which I share with countless other noble Lords, is that it is a serious matter for the Government to be determined to proceed without having a thoroughly considered plan for House of Lords reform. There is no such plan. We must be realistic and face the fact that in the end much will depend upon both the wisdom and good common sense of the Royal Commission and what agreement can be reached with Members of another place.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Lord Waddington
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Belstead, whom I was proud to follow as Leader of this place some years ago. I greatly admired the skill, tact and charm that he brought to the discharge of his duties. I was unable to emulate those qualities. I shall not follow his speech today, not because I disagree with what he said but because I believe that there are some very important points to draw to the attention of the Royal Commission that so far have not been made. We are debating the White Paper and not the House of Lords Bill, but some words spoken during the recent Second Reading debate on that Bill by the redoubtable parliamentarian, Mr. Benn, appear to me to be very relevant. Mr. Benn did not argue, as he might have done, that temporary Bills like the Parliament Act 1911 have a habit of becoming permanent because no one can agree on what should be its replacement, but that permanency would be the lot of the House of Lords Bill because it will suit everyone at the top.
I am not sure that Mr. Benn got it quite right. I am more inclined to the view, shaped by the contents of the White Paper and the composition of the Royal Commission, that Mr. Blair is confident that everyone at the top will be well and truly suited when the Royal Commission reports because he believes that the Royal Commission will gratify the Government's clearly expressed wish that the House should not be wholly elected. or even have a very substantial elected element, 998 and that the powers of the House should even be reduced. In short, Mr. Blair believes that he will win both ways. He will get a report that recommends a House that will not be a nuisance—pa report that is entirely in tune with his own idea that Parliament is a good thing provided it does not get in the way of the project—and he will then be able to take credit for its speedy implementation.
The kind of anodyne report that the Government expect the Royal Commission to produce may not be as easy to translate into legislation as the Government believe. The Second Reading debate in another place showed that there is not the beginnings of a consensus in the Labour Party as to what form stage two should take. Of course the lesson of 1968 is not that hereditary Peers wrecked Labour's plans for reform but that politicians in the other place, on the right and the left, were not prepared to support the Parliament Bill.
The position is that the present House of Lords Bill, when it becomes an Act, may never be replaced, and for that reason we may be left with a wholly nominated House. If, on the other hand, the Government get through a second stage Bill it is very likely to be a measure that gives us anyhow a wholly or largely nominated House. We had better face up to it. It is a dismal prospect, for the reason that those noble Lords who embark on constitutional change must look not just at the mundane, workaday duties of the House but at the powers that it can use if necessary in wholly abnormal circumstances, for example in times of national crisis. We should look at those powers of the Lords that are most essential to the preservation of our freedom. The most obvious one is the power preserved by the 1911 Act to deny to a government a Bill to extend the life of a Parliament. We should ask ourselves what kind of House can be most trusted to exercise that power and stand in the way of dictatorial government. Certainly, it is not a nominated House that the government of the day can pack with their own supporters in order to secure a majority.
No doubt the Government will continue to stress that there will be safeguards to prevent the nominated provisional House, and by implication any nominated, or largely nominated, second stage House, becoming a mere rubber stamp of government. I am sorry to say that that is simply not the case. Neither in the House of Lords Bill nor in the White Paper is there any assurance that there will be put in place arrangements to prevent a Prime Minister being able to advise the Queen to create enough Peers to ensure the passage of any legislation. There is nothing in the Bill, and no legislation promised in the White Paper, to bar a Prime Minister from flooding the House with his own nominees. Pious declarations that no one political party should seek a majority in the Lords do not alter the constitutional and legal position. The position is that it will remain open to the Prime Minister, and for that matter any future Prime Minister, to secure for himself an absolute majority in this place and to render the House completely ineffective as a check on the Executive.
I identify the real weaknesses in the constitutional arrangements that have existed for a long time but have not mattered very greatly because of the strong 999 independent element in the House of Lords which the hereditary Peers have constituted. But now that sweeping change is to take place the Royal Commission would surely be failing in its duty if it did not take this opportunity to address these weaknesses. I assert that the present House of Lords Bill and any successor that allows for nominated Peers should contain provisions that prevent any flooding of the House with supporters of the Government. One way would be to put a statutory limit on the number of Peers who could be created in any year and charge a statutory appointments committee with the task of recommending appointments from the various parties in numbers which ensured that, as nearly as possible, the government of the day had a small majority over the other parties but not in the House as a whole.
But I believe we should go further than that. The Royal Commission simply must not miss this opportunity to address real weaknesses that have existed for a long time. It must recognise that, in the absence of a written constitution that is amendable only by special procedures, there are few safeguards in this country against a government, supported by a hefty but perhaps very temporary majority in the House of Commons, destroying our most precious institutions, including the monarchy itself, that have grown up over the centuries. Most people recognise that these institutions are not the playthings of politicians to be tampered with at the whim of a temporary majority in the House of Commons, but are held in trust by us for our children and our children's children. It is difficult to see how vandalism of this sort can be checked and averted other than by a second Chamber so constituted that it is genuinely independent of the government of the day.
But I am not sure that even this is enough. I have become more and more convinced that there should also be a special procedure for Bills of constitutional significance, and in particular Bills touching on the powers of the monarch. In my view, legislation should provide that a Bill, certified by the Speaker as coming within this category, should, after rejection by the second Chamber, only become law if endorsed by the electorate in a referendum. Alternatively, in the case of constitutional Bills alone, the delaying power of the second Chamber should be restored to the 1911 Act position, and it should be provided that there could be no further changes in the second Chamber's powers without such Chamber's consent.
The Royal Commission has an awesome task. At a time when the House of Commons has proved itself almost entirely ineffective as a check on the executive; at a time when, according to Mr. Tam Dalyell, the House of Commons, which the Prime Minister rarely troubles to attend, is "atrophying"; and when, according to Mr. Benn,democracy is being squeezed out of the system";at this time of all times the Government have, with amazing effrontery, told the Royal Commission that they want fewer powers for the second Chamber and would not countenance an elected House or even a House with a substantial elected element.
1000 I beg the Royal Commission to surprise us all by ignoring this Government's instructions, and recognising that this is an opportunity which will not recur for years to provide safeguards in our constitution against an elective dictatorship; an opportunity to be master builders of a very much more comprehensive constitutional settlement than that envisaged by the noble Lord, Lord Richard.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Lord Desai
My Lords, I welcome the White Paper, but I do not believe that it goes far enough. As some noble Lords will know, I wrote a pamphlet about reform of the House of Lords for the Fabian Society two years ago. In it I laid out the logic of that reform, which is quite clear. The problem with the British constitution is not that there are hereditary Peers. As my noble friend Lord Richard and the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, said, it is a question of the power of the Executive. Because we have an unwritten constitution the provisions are not laid out. The power of the Executive has become what it is because of the nature of the House of Commons.
Therefore, an important part of the reform of the second Chamber is to have a chamber which will sometimes challenge the House of Commons. I see no problem with that. The House of Commons is pre-eminent and will remain so. We also know that any Prime Minister with a majority can do what he or she likes. It is very interesting that in British politics it is only when parties are in opposition that the danger of the power of the Executive is discovered. As the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, said, it is only when the party is in power that it forgets that homely truth. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, is not here. That truth has been known since Tom Paine first pointed it out. I prefer him to Edmund Burke because at least Tom Paine did not praise Marie Antoinette and become a fan of Louis XVI, as Burke did.
Therefore, we need a second Chamber with legitimacy, as many noble Lords have said. That requires not just the removal of hereditary Peers but of most life Peers. If legitimacy is lacking in this Chamber because the hereditary Peers are unelected, so are we. At the second stage of any reform of the House—if we ever get to that stage—we should have only the Cross-Bench life Peers with, perhaps, the Bishops for the religiously-minded, which I am not. About 145 Members would form the rump of the House of Lords, if I may so call it. Then, according to my calculations, working on the two-thirds principle we should have 290 elected Members. That would represent a Chamber with two-thirds of its membership elected and one-third nominated.
One of the defects of the White Paper is that it does not contain a comprehensive survey of second chambers across the world. If other western-style constitutions had been considered, especially that of India, it would have been realised that there are other ways of electing a second chamber, which would have both an appointed and an elected element. It does not matter if an element is indirectly elected, but direct election would be easier and probably cheaper.
1001 In reform at the second stage we should aim for a House with between 345 and 350 Members, which I believe is about the normal size of the active House at present. At the moment the active part of this House contains no more than 350 to 400 people. Therefore, the business that the House does today can easily be done by 350 people who will have to be paid. I am sorry to say that people are not going to do the kind of work that this House does if they are stripped of dignity and it is made just an ordinary second Chamber. Therefore, the Members of the House will be paid. It would be a properly serviced and, I am sure, an efficient House.
I was intrigued by the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, yesterday. He is one of the few people who has spoken about the functions of the House, apart from my noble friend Lord Richard. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, proposed that the reformed House should become a Committee, as it were, of the House of Commons so that any Bill introduced in the other place, and after Second Reading, would come straight here. Such a Bill would go through a Second Reading and Committee stage in this House. Either before or after Report stage the Bill will return to the other place. That would save a great deal of time and the House would he doing what it does best; namely, scrutinising a Bill, giving a great deal of expert advice, and investing much time in careful examination of it for which the other place does not have the time.
We could have a House with 350 Members. We could have a Committee, Select Committees and other specialist committees. A House with 350 Members would be appropriate. I look forward to the Royal Commission recommending that and I look forward to free afternoons and evenings for myself.
The Cranborne-Weatherill compromise fills me with foreboding. I am worried that we shall stop there. I am genuinely worried that it represents the perfect English compromise which never solves a problem. However, it makes it very difficult for anyone to insist that there is still a problem to be solved. If one believes that the real reason for wishing to reform this House is because of its Conservative majority, as do some Members of another place, that objection is removed by the compromise. If that occurs, what Government would be eager to reform the House of Lords two or three years later? It would be too close to the next election and after that who would care? I am very fearful of the compromise. I shall have to think very carefully whether I vote for it. I might vote against it.
Finally, wish to say a few words about faith. Many people have said that we could use the opportunity of reforming the House of Lords to include many members who are "professional" representatives of different faiths. I am against that. The bishops are here and good luck to them, but it is a mistake to believe that all other religions consist of a priesthood or Church like the Christian Church. For example, the Hindus in this country do not have a Church and a defined priesthood. No one can be called a representative Hindu priest. It would be a nightmare. Of course, there are many sects in Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism and Buddhism—heaven knows! Of course, there will have to be atheist representatives and I offer myself for that. I believe that 1002 if we want the faiths to be represented we should take the same stance as the Catholic Church; that faiths should be represented by the lay people who believe in them and not by the "professionals".
§ 6.11 p.m.
My Lords, I enjoyed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Desai, for the amusement he gave us, most of it on purpose. I noted that he is the only person on the other side of the House who has had the courage, or perhaps the intellectual discipline, to work out and propose a reform for the House. It is clear that the Government have not made up their mind and I do not believe that they back his idea. However, when he dealt with the Cranborne-Weatherill, Prime Minister-Lord Chancellor, agreement he showed a delightful ambivalence. I hope that in debates on the forthcoming Bill I shall be one of those who can persuade him that it is a good idea.
However, today's debate is about the White Paper and not about that Bill. I find part of the White Paper generally acceptable in describing the history and the present state of the House of Lords and many of the available options for changes. I say "generally" because I have noted a number of errors and ambiguities. The reason that I so strongly support the amendment, moved so well on his birthday by my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition, is because the White Paper is unclear about the future powers of the House, the importance of it, and of its individual Members being independent in mind, spirit and voice.
The White Paper sets out the options for the future. The noble Lord, Lord Richard. made a splendid speech following the equally, if not more, splendid speech of my noble friend Lord Cranborne. I noted that the noble Lord had not interpreted the White Paper in the sense that I had. I had believed that the White Paper was advising in favour of the hybrid House; two-thirds/one-third. He seemed to believe that it was advising in favour of a wholly nominated House. I rather wish that it were because I believe that there are substantial dangers in introducing into this House an elected element. If there are not dangers there are great differences. As in all constitutional matters I believe in evolution rather than revolution and building on what we have. I believe that we should be careful before making a fundamental change in the way that this House looks at things.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. The point that I was making, obviously not very successfully, was that there is precious little difference between a House which has a wholly nominated element and a House which has an indirectly elected element. In other words, the difference between nomination and indirect election seems to me to be paper thin and, frankly, not worth the paper it is written on.
My Lords, I take the noble Lord's point, but I shall not come back on it.
When one moves up to this Chamber from down the corridor, as I did 37 years ago in 1962, one remembers that in this House each of us is solely responsible for and 1003 to himself. Down the corridor, each honourable Member is responsible to those who elected him. They can sack him. Nobody can sack us, other than the Lord God. However, I hope that my noble friend Lord Wakeham will consider the possibility of life Peers being able to resign for whatever reason. There is that fundamental difference; and whether hybrid or wholly elected, do we want to have that difference? My noble friend Lord Belstead made a point about there being a mixture of salaried and non-salaried people. I question whether a mixture in this House of those wholly responsible for themselves and those responsible to outsiders is a good way of establishing a durable second Chamber.
The point has been made that the White Paper seeks to strengthen Parliament. I believe that we all agree with that aim. However, I agree with my noble Leader that it is odd that in seeking to strengthen this House and Parliament one should consider reducing its powers. I believe that this House will be strengthened when its legitimacy, in the broad sense of that word, is understood better by and is acceptable to the public and Members of the other place.
It is sometimes thought that our legitimacy is not acceptable solely because of the antiquity or peculiarity of hereditary peerages. I do not believe that that is the sole or even the dominant reason. I believe that the dominant reason for the failure to accept this House as a credible part of Parliament today is the political imbalance. That was the comment that I took from the debate in the other place. I shall not follow my noble friend Lord Waddington in disobeying what I believe to be the rules of the House by quoting the Member who said it. However, it was said in the other place that the Government and the Opposition have no plans for the reform of the House of Lords. It is generally agreed that the House of Lords has a political imbalance which must be changed. I believe that that is right. It is one of the reasons why I welcome the transitional arrangements which have been agreed. It is also one of the reasons why I believe that all parties to the agreement were typically wise and pragmatic in making the evolutionary arrangements on which we depend.
Finally, I issue a word of warning to my noble friend on the Royal Commission about innovations and alterations. I hope that he will remember what scientists do with new drugs. They look extremely carefully at the side effects. I believe that the side effects of the removal of the hereditary Peerage, and the alteration of some of our rules which has been proposed, need examination. I do not ask the commission to reject those proposals but I ask it to examine the side effects very carefully. I wish it well and I have the greatest confidence that my noble friend and the Royal Commission will produce a set of proposals which will enable a sensible and durable reform of Parliament to take place.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Lord Lamont of Lerwick
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Aldington. We have heard some remarkable speeches in this debate. If I single out in particular those of the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, and my noble friends Lord Denham and Lord Cranborne, it is because they are all hereditary Peers.
1004 Indeed, they are the embodiment of the hereditary principle. Few people could have listened to those speeches and doubted that, however difficult it is to justify or rationalise, after the hereditaries have gone from this House something of value will have disappeared from our national life.
Everyone who has spoken knows much more than I about the House of Lords. But I know a little about the House of Commons. My great fear is that the Government propose to make this Chamber much more like the House of Commons. By saying that, I intend no disrespect to the House of Commons. Indeed, I tried my hardest to stay there. But this country does not need another highly political Chamber. After reform, this place will inevitably be much more political.
What is valuable here, and what strikes those of us who come from the other place, is not just the value of the Cross-Bench element but the atmosphere of quiet reflectiveness and detachment on all sides of the House.
I add my voice to those speaking against a wholly elected Chamber. I am slightly surprised at the emergence of some Tory Jacobins wanting to go down that road. If we have a wholly directly-elected second Chamber, why should it have any less legitimacy than the House of Commons? Why should it be bound by any Salisbury rules? A continuation of the Salisbury convention would make no sense. A second Chamber would be just as legitimate as the first Chamber. Every elected member would have his own mandate.
Whatever the starting rules may be, a wholly elected second Chamber would fight for, and in the end would acquire, more powers. The settlement of 1688 meant that a veto of a Bill by either House caused it to be defeated. That arrangement did not work then; it would not work now; and to go anywhere near that sort of conflict of interest would be disastrous.
The Government have decided to alter the composition of this House, conveniently leaving its powers unaltered for the moment. But when one brick is removed from a wall, the rest of the wall tends to shift. It is not possible to separate composition and powers. If we are going back to first principles—and the Government are forcing us to do precisely that—powers should come first and composition second, as my noble friend Lord Norton said yesterday. We should surely ask first what is the House of Lords is for and then we should decide the question of composition.
It is said that history sometimes repeats itself. In 1968 the Labour government put forward proposals for a stage one and a stage two reform together. Then, as now, Labour claimed to be strengthening the second Chamber but, at the same time, it proposed to lessen the time that the Lords could delay legislation approved by the House of Commons. The then government proposed to remove the right of this House to reject secondary legislation. Today—surprise, surprise—on page 40 of the White Paper, the Government float precisely the same proposals; namely, to reduce the length of time that legislation can be delayed and to remove the right to vote against secondary legislation. Perhaps these proposals, 30 years on, were written by the same civil servant sitting at the same desk.
1005 There seems to be a fundamental contradiction in the Government's attitude. On the one hand, they say that those powers are theoretically available, implying that they are never used. On the other hand, their whole case for reform is that this House uses its powers too often. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Carter, will explain that to me. 1 was not entirely convinced by the noble Baroness's attempts to do so yesterday. To tell us that the Royal Commission will consider the question of powers is not to answer the question as to why there should be any reduction whatever in the powers of this Chamber.
I do not see a ease for reducing the powers of this House. The Government say that they are making this House more legitimate. If it is more legitimate, there is surely a stronger case for increasing its powers rather than reducing them. I could have mentioned also the proposal being considered in the House of Commons by the Modernisation Committee that a Bill not completed in one Session should be carried over to the next Session. If that proposal were implemented, that would drive a coach and horses through the powers of this House to delay legislation.
This House is seen as a revising Chamber, a modest and valuable role. But another important function surely is that this House should also act as a constitutional long stop and as an ultimate guardian of people's liberties. That is why, in many countries, there are second chambers—to be that ultimate safeguard. That, perhaps, is why a newly reformed, more legitimate House of Lords could have new reserve powers and be able to challenge the House of Commons.
Why should the House of Lords, if it is made more legitimate, not have the right to defeat legislation passed by the House of Commons if two-thirds of the Members of the House of Lords so decided? On constitutional Bills, why should the House of Lords, if it is more legitimate, not have the right to insist, again with a qualified majority, that constitutional Bills be considered by a referendum? Why should the House of Lords, if it is more legitimate, not have similar powers in relation to Money Bills and budgets, as the Bundesrat has in Germany? I agree with my noble and learned friend Lord Howe that our finance Bills and our tax legislation are not so perfect that they would not be capable of further improvement.
The House of Lords should bow to the nation but it is entitled to hold in check the tendency of elected representatives to go on frolics of their own. The other day I listened to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor casting. doubt on the phrase "elective dictatorship" coined by my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham. But elective dictatorships can be a real danger, whether a minority government or a very popular government deciding to abuse their powers, although the latter is more difficult to define and identify.
To my mind, the Salisbury doctrine is not entirely convincing. Manifestos are extremely long documents these days, usually only read by one's political opponents. No one can say which part of any manifesto 1006 the electorate has endorsed. The third Marquess of Salisbury himself said of the last Gladstone administration:No person can tell … on what question the present Government was electedThe Salisbury doctrine has become a cloak for unicameral government.
I regret the passing of the hereditary element. But the hereditary principle has been an inhibiting influence on this House. If this House is to be liberated from its inhibitions, it should not be afraid to demand more powers.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Lord Dean of Harptree
My Lords, I am delighted to follow my noble friend Lord Lamont. I agree with most of the points he made so I need not refer further to his speech.
I welcome the terms of reference of the Royal Commission and, in particular, that they include the role, functions and powers of your Lordships' House. Many of us have said over the years that to consider composition before functions is to put the cart before the horse.
It would be unrealistic to expect great increases in the powers of your Lordships' House. But I suggest that three points require specific consideration. The first is constitutional Bills, which were mentioned by my noble friends Lord Cranborne and Lord Waddington. They are of special importance. I refer to the constitutional Bills which were pushed through another place in the last Session of Parliament under a guillotine. I regard that as wholly unacceptable. They were not fully discussed, and in such circumstances your Lordships need greater powers. I suggest that if the Speaker of the House of Commons certifies a Bill as being a constitutional Bill, then your Lordships' House should have the 1911 powers of delay restored to it.
My second point concerns secondary legislation. I do not believe that this will be controversial in any part of the House. The amount of secondary legislation both in number and in importance has grown enormously over the years and will not diminish in the future. But we have quite inadequate powers to scrutinise such legislation effectively. I suggest that the time has come when this House should have the right to delay or to amend secondary legislation if that is felt to be appropriate. I realise that that proposal also has implications for another place.
My third proposal concerns pre-legislation procedures. I give the Government great credit for now introducing some Bills in draft 'so that they can be discussed both inside and outside Parliament before they are set in concrete. Your Lordships' House is well suited to consider those draft Bills. There are experts on every subject under the sun in this Chamber. I realise that a suggestion has been put forward that there might be a joint committee of the two Houses to consider draft Bills. I would prefer a Select Committee of your Lordships' House to consider them and to carry out the usual procedure—to take evidence from Ministers and officials and to produce a report which could then be 1007 debated in the House. That would produce better Bills with the rough edges removed—and we badly need to improve the quality of legislation.
Those three proposals would improve the effectiveness of your Lordships' House without in any way threatening the pre-eminence of the House of Commons. A further point I should like to make briefly is that reform of this House should be considered in conjunction with reform of the other place. The two interact on each other. It is not generally realised that another place will be a very different place after devolution. At the moment it spends most of its time on domestic issues, and virtually all government Bills involve domestic issues. Indeed, domestic issues dominate the workload of Members of Parliament—a workload which increased enormously in my time in another place.
When those domestic issues are removed from Westminster and are decided elsewhere, what are Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland MPs at Westminster going to do? I hope that they will not interfere in English domestic issues. There is an unanswered question here which could build up great trouble and great resentment. Of course it concerns your Lordships' House as well. Whatever the House of Commons decides about the number of MPs there should be from the other three countries of the United Kingdom will have relevance as to how your Lordships' House decides to deal with those issues. That question should be decided before and not after the next general election.
Another unanswered question mentioned by my noble friend Lord Belstead is the so-called "West Lothian question"; I prefer to call it the "English question" because it concerns England. Unless this problem is tackled and resolved, we shall have a situation in which Members of Parliament in Westminster from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, will have a say in English domestic issues whereas English MPs will have no say in the domestic issues of other countries. That is asking for trouble; it is asking for an English backlash. That is also directly connected with your Lordships' House because the way in which the other place decides to handle English domestic issues will have great relevance for the way in which they should be handled here.
The third unanswered question concerns the financial relationships; the amount of money which should go from the Treasury to the other countries of the kingdom—the Barnett formula. We are now in a position where the Barnett formula is being discussed. It is no good the Government saying, "Tuck it under the carpet; we will deal with it later". It will be a burning issue and your Lordships' House will wish to have a say in those matters also.
As a result of the actions that the Government have taken, both Houses of Parliament are now in a state of flux. This is bad for Parliament though it may be convenient for the Government. In his foreword to the White Paper the Prime Minister referred seven times to "modernisation". But modernisation is not necessarily to improve; it can unsettle; it can weaken established institutions and it can destroy continuity. The 1008 Government, in their haste for constitutional reform, have left too many loose ends and too many unanswered questions. That uncertainty will inevitably weaken rather than strengthen the Mother of Parliaments. If the Government wish to convince us that they want to strengthen Parliament, they can start to mend their ways tonight by accepting the amendment moved so eloquently by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Lord Howell of Guildford
My Lords, it is a pleasure to listen to the wise and measured words of my noble friend Lord Dean of Harptree. I propose to focus on two aspects of the task set out for us by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde in his excellent opening speech to this debate. That task is: what kind of strengthening do we plan of a Parliament that is weak, poorly regarded and struggling (both Houses) to adjust to a totally transformed pattern of world conditions and a society which is taking shape outside these Chambers and outside the traditional apparatus of legislation which we inherited from the previous century?
I believe it was the late Lord Iddesleigh—the former Sir Stafford Northcote—who said in conversation with Lord Salisbury 120 years ago when they were discussing the eternal problem of Lords' reform, "You must understand that the strength of the House of Lords lies in its weakness." That was a profound statement. What he meant—this was touched on by my noble friend Lord Cranborne in his excellent speech—was that the hereditary element which was then totally dominant in the House of Lords has always held back; except on one or two occasions, it has never pressed all of its powers. For the most part it has always operated with one foot on the brake. As a result of that restraint it has enabled the second Chamber to proceed in an influential and effective way over the years.
Having read the White Paper from cover to cover, I still do not believe that the Government have grasped the central point of what they are now proposing when they talk about a "legitimised" Lords, a Lords without hereditary Members. That legitimised Lords will inevitably be more assertive, more self-confident, more busybody (dare I use that word), and, in the language of the media which dominates all—I shall come to that shortly—more high profiled. Of course it will be. Even if the Government were so unwise as to go against my noble friend's amendment and try, as in section 7 of the White Paper, to reduce the legislative, formal powers of how we handle and deal with legislation, I venture to assert that the reformed, legitimised House of Lords will be a noisier and more influential place. Influence will merge with power in the modern sense.
I believe that what is not understood by everybody, and maybe was not known to our forebears such as Sir Stafford Northcote and others, is that when we talk about power we are dealing not with the old-fashioned hierarchical power that could be governed and called to account by Parliament over the executive and handled through the due process procedures of law making, but with a new distribution of power which is flowing away from the other place.
1009 We all know—it is the commonest of common knowledge—that the House of Commons is rapidly losing its power and the respect which it has. We all know that the power is moving away from the Chamber, which is empty most of the time. Yet we continue to talk as though there was this "lump" of power that somehow needs to be curbed by the appropriate traditional accountability. Where has that power gone? Some has gone to supranational levels, as we know, and to the international agencies which now govern and restrain the actions of every government and every national legislature. Some has been devolved. However, much the most part has gone, not to the identifiable institutions, but into the network of communications by which the world is now governed.
We no longer live in a world of hierarchies but in a modern world almost entirely governed by a network of new power centres which are not in the traditional, hierarchical pattern. They are, of course, the media barons who have a power of life and death; the great regulators of markets who can make and break and crush lives; the rating agencies which can wipe out a government—indeed, they can destroy a nation in a morning just by re-rating its credit—and the Internet servers, the lords of cyberspace, who can cut off the communications of nations. All those colossal powers have grown up in the past 10 years. They are all potentially—sometimes for good reasons but often for more sinister reasons—curbs on our liberties. People expect parliamentary institutions to be able to call those to account, not just the executive and its traditional law-making powers. They expect the institutions of their parliament to be able to call to account those bodies, those great powers of today. They carry power far in excess of anything imagined by our forebears or even by Members of the two Houses 10 or 15 years ago.
The Commons has not been idle in the face of all that. There has been a real attempt over the years, and during the years when I was a Member of that House, to respond to this development. I was proud to be involved in the Select Committee system. There has been an attempt to develop, certainly through that system, a way of trying to interface with powers outside Parliament and the executive, which need to be called to account.
What will a reformed House of Lords do? Of course, it will do the same thing. We are already very good and up and running at European committees; we perform that function excellently. Such committees will probably be conducted in an even more powerful and influential way. The cameras may be brought in, linking up to the network of communication and the media. I have never understood why—and I would welcome this—we do not have a Select Committee on Foreign Affairs in your Lordships' House. I speak from experience when I say that the whole system in the Commons there is hopelessly overloaded. The load has grown like a mushroom over the past 10 years. The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs comes to grips with about one in 10 of the major issues which intimately affect the lives of the citizens of this country. I do not refer to vague foreign policy but to intimate developments around the world which affect the way in which we live and work.
1010 I believe that that will happen in this House; it is bound to. It probably would have happened whether or not a decision had been made to remove the hereditary Peers. As noble Lords have said, the die is cast. A legitimised House of Lords will develop additional power whether or not the executive wants it to. 'We have no idea what the executive really wants from the House of Lords.
That is my warning, if I may put it that way, to my noble friends. We face a much more active and visible House of Lords which has an opportunity of influencing and calling to account power in a way that neither House has been able to do and which, as a result, excites ridicule and contempt by the general public who see power being exercised without any control at all by any of the people they elected or appointed.
I shall quite enjoy seeing the fact dawn on an unsuspecting government that they have set in motion all sorts of things which will produce all sorts of developments that they perhaps did not intend. In short, we are about to see the law of unintended consequences have one of its most spectacular manifestations of modern times.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Lord Naseby
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Howell has made a typically intellectually robust speech and one to which all noble Lords listened with great attention.
I wish to concentrate on the future powers of your Lordships' House. However, before I do so I must take issue with the noble Baroness the Leader of the House and her obsession with the word "time". She seems to have difficulty in understanding the importance of time: time to think and time to reflect. After all, what we are about with this White Paper and subsequent Bills is matters which have not changed much in decades. Indeed, if one does one's analysis, one could argue that very little has changed since the Reform Act 1832.
It is surely not acceptable to this House to be told that the Government have set a demanding time schedule. Indeed, it is so demanding that the chairman of the Royal Commission indicated in his speech that he found it to be "equally demanding".
Col. 845 of yesterday's speech by the noble Baroness states,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".She went on to say,The Royal Commission, we feel, can move almost immediately to its analysis and recommendations".—[Official Report, 22/2/99; col. 845.]I submit to your Lordships' House that that is a very cavalier approach to the most significant reform of our parliamentary democracy that there is ever likely to be. If we are to change the role and functions of the key elements of Parliament, our duty is to ensure that we debate them fully and get them right. I believe that too little time has been given to the Royal Commission. The issues are not already fully explored. The noble Lord, 1011 Lord Norton of Louth, emphasised that in his eloquent speech yesterday. To suggest that a Royal Commission on social policy is more challenging than one on parliamentary democracy is, frankly, unreal.
So often this Government, in their haste to be seen to be modern and to want to change things, forget about the lessons of history. However, I suspect that your Lordships do not forget about history and I hope that many of us learn from it.
In thinking about Chapter 7 and the longer term reforms, I went back to Walter Bagehot's English Constitution. He highlights the fact that it was really since the Reform Act 1832 that your Lordships' House has been a revising, or what he calls a "suspending" House; that is, it could alter or reject Bills for a period. Indeed, it almost had a theoretical veto—a veto of delay.
Bagehot went on to analyse why two Chambers were necessary. First, he saw it as a safeguard to democracy. He stated:So long as many old leaves linger on the November trees, you know that there has been little frost and no wind; just so while the House of Lords retains much power, you may know that there is no desperate discontent in the country, no wild agency likely to cause a great demolition".Secondly, Bagehot's analysis suggested that if there were such a thing as a perfect elected Chamber, an upper House would scarcely be of any value at all. However, as that is totally unachievable, a revising and more legislative second Chamber is extremely useful.
Furthermore, Bagehot went on to say that the validity of that Chamber would be enhanced if it were a Chamber of an opposite sort, differently composed, and with a clear mandate to revise, regulate and delay. We should reflect seriously on the words "opposite sort". I think that that remains a key element. Without such a Chamber, the Executive Government, with a strong majority such as we see today in the Commons, could virtually do what it liked, particularly in the area of minor legislation which may well slip by the media and the public. I listened with considerable attention to the remarks made on that point by my noble friend Lord Dean.
So, the lessons are there. Our UK Parliament needs a second Chamber. When I read paragraph 26 of chapter 7, I begin to shake my head. The Government suggest a reduction of the theoretical available powers with a trade-off that they may be used more frequently. That is a temptation that should be resisted. As we know, delay has two or three effects: time for reflection; time for consultation, something in which we all believe today, and time to decide priorities. Shorten it and the pressure is off.
Secondary legislation—so much a feature of present-day government, which is rarely, if ever, mentioned in any party's manifesto—presents a real problem of a lack of democratic legitimacy. It is vital to keep and use our powers to reject. Indeed, in that area of work, we need to have a long, hard look at the way in which we handle such legislation at the moment. I do not believe that either House is doing an adequate job 1012 and, frankly, cannot do so when hundreds upon hundreds of statutory instruments are processed week after week.
A more insidious element has crept in, even in the past few weeks. A number of statutory instruments have changed the emphasis from a situation whereby a party that is affected is assumed to be innocent unless taken to task or taken to court by the Executive. That emphasis is now changing to a situation whereby a party has to prove its innocence or that it is within the powers of that statutory instrument, rather than the other way round. That is an area of considerable work for the future.
The next paragraph, paragraph 27, suggests that the Royal Commission might consider procedures as well as powers. The time has surely come when the control and chairing of debates should pass to a team of our Members, elected by us. There is no greater democratic deficit than having a member of the Government, the Lord Chancellor, as the arbiter of our proceedings. Indeed, that point is raised at paragraph 9 of chapter 3. It is my belief that whoever presides over us in this Chamber must be independent, be seen to be independent, and have his or her legitimacy sanctioned by being elected from among the membership of this House.
Finally, this debate is not really about our future membership, but chapter 8 asks the Royal Commission to think about it. I conclude by suggesting that we should not forget the dependent territories. As matters stand, some thousands of British subjects, scattered around the world, have absolutely no representation other than through the Foreign Office. I believe that your Lordships' House would be greatly enhanced if we could hear the voice of the Falklands, Gibraltar, St. Helena and the myriad of tiny islands in the Pacific. Such a move would be a real step forward in democratic legitimacy.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Lord Moran
My Lords, it is odd that in the face of a constitutional change as sweeping as that described in the White Paper there has been so little fuss—nothing like the upheavals of 1911. We hereditary Peers look set to depart, "not with a bang but a whimper". Perhaps that is because our Parliament now has less and less power and authority. We have handed over to Brussels control of our trade, agriculture and fisheries. If the Government have their way, we shall before long give up our own currency. More and more powers are moving from Westminster to Brussels. Meanwhile, we are devolving other powers to new assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Westminster Parliament, like an old oak, is losing limb after limb. I fear that it is, in fact, slowly dying. But while it still exists, we must consider the Government's proposals for this House, which bring to mind the saying,Seeking to betterOft we mar what's well".Does the present House of Lords work well? I think it does. At a time when many of our great institutions have, sadly, lost much of the esteem that they once had, this House seems to me, ever since it was first televised, to have gained in public standing. The work of its Select 1013 Committees, largely anonymous and wholly non-political, is generally acknowledged to be useful. Even the Government acknowledge in the White Paper that our role in scrutiny is valuable. We are not too partisan and we cost relatively little.
When we do oppose and delay proposals that have come to us from the other place and are not being called for by the public—as over closed voting lists for the election of MEPs, discrimination against students from England and Wales going to Scottish universities, or the lowering of the age of consent for homosexuals—it is sometimes argued that we ought not to go on asking the Commons to think again, as they are the elected representatives of the people and we are not.
But our differences are not really with the Commons, but with the Government. They have complete control over the present House of Commons. Some of the Members of that House notoriously respond to pagers, through which they are told by Labour headquarters at Millhank not only what to do, but even what to say and what to ask. The trouble lies with the overmighty Executive. Where decisions still remain within our national competence. the Government have too much unfettered power and seem to seek even more.
I welcome the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. When I spoke in our debate on 14th October, I said that the Government's proposals were bound to reduce the independence of this House and to increase the party political element. I am against that. A reduction in the powers of the second Chamber, a possibility suggested on page 40 of the White Paper, would increase the already excessive powers of the Executive.
Perhaps the greatest power that this House still has is our unrestricted ability to veto a Bill extending the life of a Parliament. This is a safeguard against the assumption by any government of dictatorial powers. I should like to ask the Government Chief Whip whether he will confirm that, as I hope, the wording on page 24 of the White Paper means that the Government have no intention of tampering with that power.
The Government's main objection to the present House is the presence of the hereditary element. We all know that hereditary peerages are today intellectually indefensible. but I still believe that there is a good deal to be said for heredity; and there are dangers in arguing that the hereditary principle is always wrong, as Mrs. Beckett came near to doing when she opened the debate in the other place. Like a latter-day tricoteuse, she mocked us while the tumbrils roll. Her speech tended to confirm the suspicion that the real objective of this measure is to give a sop to the unhappy ranks of old Labour.
My noble friend Lord Charteris also warned us in the earlier debate that,If we take away the right of all hereditary peers to sit and vote … we endanger the monarchy".—[Official Report, 14/10/98; col. 973.]When we take the Oath, we do so to the Queen, Her Heirs and Successors. The Government's proposals will leave the monarchy isolated in its dependence on heredity.
1014 The White Paper proposes a transitional House which will be a rump, no longer a true House of Lords, enjoying less credibility and standing than the present House. The historic precedent for a rump Chamber is not encouraging. After the transition, we may move to some form of senate, the composition and powers of which are still unknown to us, and perhaps to the Government as well.
The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, suggested in an admirable lecture this month that the reformed House should have power to order a referendum on constitutional issues—a good idea, I think, but it comes a little surprisingly from a Conservative who spoke against the 1993 amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Blake, proposing a referendum on the Maastricht Treaty and from one of the 445 Peers who voted it down. I continue to believe that that vote sounded the death knell of the existing House of Lords.
I should say something about what has variously been described as the Weatherill or Cranborne, or even the Alistair Campbell, amendment. Though it was, I know, promoted with the very best intentions, I have reservations about it, which I have expressed to our Convenor and to some of my colleagues. First, I think it is wrong to describe it as a Cross-Bench initiative; it is no such thing. Cross-Bench Peers were not consulted—I certainly was not. The initiative was taken by three individuals whom I greatly respect; namely, my noble friends Lord Weatherill, Lord Marsh and Lord Carnarvon. They were perfectly entitled to do this., but they are not entitled to expect their Cross-Bench colleagues to support them, nor can they speak for the Cross-Benches as a whole. We all speak and vote purely as individuals.
It was excusable for the media to describe what happened as a Cross-Bench initiative, since the three Peers were all distinguished Cross-Benchers and one was our Convenor; but the Government know perfectly well how Cross-Benchers operate. It seems to me misleading for them to talk, as they do in paragraph 11 of Chapter 5 of the White Paper, of the "cross-bench peers" promoting an amendment. The Cross-Bench Peers as such can do nothing of the sort. 1 am not happy about the way in which collectively we have been associated with this initiative without our views having been sought. Incidentally, it is bizarre that an amendment on precisely these lines, moved in the other place by Conservatives, has already been defeated on the instructions of the Government Whips, while MPs are expected to vote for the amendment if it comes back to them from this House. It is also rather odd that the plan involves non-elected Peers electing some of our own number to remain in the House.
Secondly, I think that my three noble friends and the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, after their secret negotiations with Ministers, came out with a poor bargain. What they got is described accurately on page four of the White Paper as an agreement,to allow a small number of hereditary peers to sit temporarily in the transitional House".It seems to me a minimal concession. The price to be paid for this is to abandon the threat of strong and determined opposition and to allow the Bill through 1015 without too much trouble. To adopt the spaniel analogy, which was mentioned at the time, it means that those who do not like the Bill should roll over and lift their paws in the air while the deed is done. I cannot think that a huge concession for a minimal gain is a result to be applauded. It offers notable gains to the Government. As Mr. Peter Mandelson advised the other place on 2nd February: if the Government could get the Bill and the rest of their programme through the Lords with minimum delay and damage, they should grasp the opportunity.
Finally, one of the most unfortunate results of the deal that the four Peers made with the Government was the effect it had on the public standing of hereditary Peers. Before the deal, we were seen as having, mostly, a respectable position. In general, we thought that hereditary Peers would, sadly, have to go, but that they should do so only as part of a single, coherent reform when the Government have made up their minds—as they still have to do—on what they propose for a new second Chamber. But when the deal was disclosed, we were made to appear as if we were all of us scrabbling selfishly to preserve our membership of the House for a little longer. As a result, many people said: "Let them go and good riddance".
The future of the Weatherill/Cranborne amendment appears to rest, first, on whether it is generally supported in this House; and, secondly, on how the House treats the Bill. If we behave nicely and let it through with only a few token amendments, then we shall be tossed our bone as a reward; namely, a small number of hereditaries temporarily preserved with government agreement. If we give the Bill a rough passage, what Mrs. Beckett has described as,the possibility of organised disruption and hooliganism"—which may be one way of describing opposition to radical government proposals—the Government will withdraw their support for the amendment and, if necessary, use the Parliament Act to force the Bill through.
Both those possibilities seem to me to be unfortunate. I should much prefer that the Government should seek a genuine consensus on the way forward, as they say they wish to do. But to do that they would, in my view, need to make a much more substantial concession. I believe that the best move that they could make would be to accept that hereditary Peers, while losing their right to vote (thereby meeting the Labour Party's legitimate concern about the political imbalance of the House) might still attend, speak and serve on committees. After all, this was proposed some time ago from the Labour Benches by a former leader of the House, the noble Earl, Lord Longford. Somewhat similar proposals were made in the cross-party plan of 1967 which, again, came primarily from a Labour source; the late Richard Crossman.
I know that the other place has defeated an amendment on these lines, but if they could be made to change their minds on the Weatherill amendment they can do so on this one. I would gladly support a consensus solution along these lines which might well 1016 secure wide cross-party support. Failing that, I do not think that we should tamely acquiesce in what is being done, to go quietly like those once described by T. S. Eliot:They all go into the dark…The captains, merchant bankers, eminent men of letters …Distinguished civil servants, chairmen of many committees …And cold the sense and lost the motive of action".Better surely to stand up, send the Bill back, amended in a measured way, and ask the other place and the Government to think again as most of us must surely wish.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Viscount Weir
My Lords, I am afraid that I find this White Paper—apart from its nicely coloured cover and charming photograph of the Prime Minister—a document of indifferent and depressing quality. For a start, it is constructed so as to give the impression that—taking them together—the Bill to abolish the hereditaries, the Royal Commission, the Prime Minister's noble self-denying ordinance on patronage, the suggested transitional arrangements, the Joint Committee of both Houses, and indeed the White Paper itself, all form some carefully thought-out constitutional master plan. I think that is nonsense; half these elements were simply imposed on the Government by reality. To pretend otherwise is just humbug or worse.
Then there is the endless repetition of the words "modern" and "modernise", which several speakers have already remarked upon. This is presumably supposed to give some sort of general justification and attraction to the proposals, but I find it tedious and misleading. Surely the word "modern" properly relates to time and history rather than to quality. Is modern architecture automatically better than Robert Adam, and Hymns Ancient and Modern surely suggest no differentiation on quality? But let these comments pass, perhaps I am over-sensitive to the importance of truth and meaning.
Then we come to the mild insults with which the document is so liberally peppered—unresponsive to political and social change, lacking legitimacy, anachronistic, unrepresentative. So it goes on. Only "antediluvian" was omitted. My goodness, after such a barrage, how little self-esteem can any of us have left. But I will let all that pass, except to pick up one remark in the Prime Minister's introduction: that the role of hereditary Peers is based on birth rather than on merit. Of course he is half right as, by obvious definition, a hereditary Peer sits here through birth—a situation, incidentally, which I do not support.
But when it comes to merit in the context of our role, then surely the remark comes close to implying that the life Peers have all the merit and the hereditaries do not. For example—and I hope I am not seeming immodest—after 43 years in manufacturing and being chairman of engineering companies with £5 billion of turnover, my own views on industrial matters might just conceivably have as much merit as those of trade unionist life Peer. But let those remarks pass. I am probably being over-sensitive again.
1017 I turn now to the membership of the Royal Commission. One journal irreverently described them as the "usual suspects". To be kinder, and to use cricket parlance, if Alec Stewart led the Royal Commission out to take the field he would be comforted to be surrounded by so many pairs of safe hands. But I do hope those hands are not too safe. Logically, a better House can only be achieved by either or both improving its membership and improving its powers and way of doing business. Quite radical proposals may indeed be needed to do either, so I hope we do not just have safety first.
Before the Royal Commission is tempted to propose reducing the powers of this House, it really must consider the overall political background. Much has rightly been said about the growth in the power of the executive. In the 17th century parliamentarians—like the ancestor of my noble friend Lord Clitheroe—literally fought to establish the superiority of Parliament over the executive in the shape of the king. In the 20th century, in another place, their successors have just rolled over and acquiesced. So without legislation, without any great debate, and with little public understanding of what has happened, our Prime Minister today has for all effective purposes more power than the directly elected presidents of many countries.
Others have already mentioned symptoms of this process: bending news; closed lists; and the general diminishment of Parliament. I do not need to repeat the whole sorry list, one that is so offensive to democracy. The Royal Commission therefore must certainly keep all those considerations in mind. Indeed the true democracy deficit surely lies in those directions, rather than in the deficiencies of your Lordships' House. Yet it is towards this House that the priority of reform is being directed, and how strange and irrational some of us find that.
As to the future membership of this House, I first remind the Royal Commission that the public hold politicians in rather lower esteem than politicians often hold themselves. In opinion polls, in the bottom places in the league of admired occupations and deep in the relegation zone lie lawyers, estate agents and politicians. So whatever system of selection is proposed, let us hope that perhaps the number of politicians is rather limited. Nor should any future system give us mere delegates, or produce a new class of professional, full-time Members of this House.
Finally, I was much struck by some remarks regarding legitimacy. While I do not defend hereditary membership as legitimate, it is hard to argue that appointment of political friends is wholly legitimate either. I hope that the Royal Commission will have the courage to consider the issue. Indeed I conclude with the unpopular suggestion that when the day comes for most hereditary Peers to leave this House, those life Peers who are political appointees might care to offer themselves for reselection. That would indeed be a truly noble gesture.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Baroness Hooper
My Lords, in a significant and important debate such as this it is inevitable that many issues are raised and ideas put forward. I am tempted to 1018 follow many avenues of thought further. However, there will be other opportunities and so today I shall endeavour to confine my remarks under the twin headings of speed and style.
First, in opening the debate the noble Baroness the Leader of the House dismissed any suggestion that the Government were moving too far and too fast in eliminating hereditary Peers before full consideration had been given to what might succeed them. She said that reform of the House of Lords had been under discussion for some 100 years. As the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, said—this has been echoed by many who have spoken since, but bears underlining yet again—in the first place we are talking about 700 years of history and development. Secondly, we are going through a period of considerable constitutional upheaval with devolved parliaments in Scotland and Wales, increased powers for the European Parliament and, let us not forget, the proposals for a mayor of London.
My own preferred option would have been for the Government to announce their intentions clearly and then to set up a Royal Commission to look at the whole of Parliament and its role in the 21st century. I believe that this would have been welcomed on all sides. Only once the role and functions of both Houses have been considered and all the necessary checks and balances built in, should we consider the composition. Therefore like many others who have spoken I condemn the piecemeal approach of the Government as outlined in the White Paper. However, in the absence of what I would call a full and appropriate mandate for a Royal Commission on the whole of Parliament, I hope that my noble friend Lord Wakeham and his team will do their best to act upon all the helpful suggestions that have been made in the course of this debate. I add my own by asking my noble friend to endeavour in his difficult task to safeguard the good points of your Lordships' House, as we were urged to do by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, in his remarks yesterday. I refer him also to the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, not only of today but those made in the debate last October when he said that it would be a tragedy if the new Chamber lost the essential values of the old one. These he enumerated as an involvement in the culture, beliefs and charitable work of the nation and in the spiritual arid ethical qualities which your Lordships bring to bear on legislation and policy debates.
I draw my noble friend's attention to the other way in which the present composition of your Lordships' House has been both beneficial and effective: namely, that its membership represents a pool of talent and expertise which will be hard to replicate. That pooling system results in Members tending to speak only on those subjects of which they have knowledge and in which they have interest. This ensures the high level of debate which is generally acknowledged. Indeed, the Government have acknowledged the principle of a pool of talent in their references to the bishops and their function in the House in Chapter 7 of the White Paper.
By and large we have few generalists here. This is why many noble Lords do not appear here every day. The jibes in this respect made at the opening of this debate show a lack of understanding of how this House 1019 works. I need hardly say that as well as providing an effective way of scrutinising legislation and ensuring intelligent and well informed debate, your Lordships' House is also extremely cost effective. This again has been referred to by other speakers and, interestingly enough, by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon this afternoon. Therefore I urge the Government, the Royal Commission and everyone else involved in moving this process forward not to insist that speed is the essence, and to consider again whether rushing this major constitutional reform through before the end of this millennium is the best way of ensuring that our Parliament is still regarded with respect and even envy throughout the world.
I turn now to the style in which these proposals have been introduced. The failure on the part of the Government Front Bench to acknowledge the role played by hereditary Peers in helping Parliament to survive and evolve, and in ensuring that legislation is effectively and thoroughly reviewed, is reprehensible to say the least. There is failure, too, to acknowledge that hereditaries have been the first to admit the need for reform and indeed were the first to welcome the Life Peerages Act which, after all, reformed this House more than anything up until then. Happily this failure on the part of the Government Front Bench has been somewhat rectified by two of the rare Government Back-Bench contributions to this debate on the Government's Motion. I refer to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, who spoke yesterday and the noble Lord, Lord Richard, who spoke today.
The suggestion that hereditary Peers and therefore this House do not have democratic legitimacy is, I believe, to misunderstand the definition of democracy. I have had many discussions on this matter with those involved in setting up the new democratic systems in central and eastern Europe after the demise of the Soviet system during my years on the Council of Europe delegation. Democracy is about freedom of speech, openness and transparency of government, accountability of government, guardianship of human rights and having elected representatives. The House of Lords represents all of those elements except the last one. The Government have, so far, not suggested replacing hereditaries with elected members. So I feel that there is absolutely no reason why the House of Lords should be ashamed of its democratic credentials.
During the 14 years I have served in various capacities as a life Peer in your Lordships' House, I have come to realise that in the House of Lords we have a unique resource. Genetic research is a very modern thing. The importance of genes, and the gene bank which the House of Lords represents, was referred to as an important element of this House some months ago by the noble Lord, Lord Winston, and yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, and the noble Baroness, Lady Strange—all of them experts in this area.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, I believe that we should ask the Government to think again. I shall certainly support my noble friend Lord Strathclyde in 1020 his amendment. I wish the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip good luck in his very difficult task of winding up.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Lord Harris of High Cross
My Lords, my own considered view on the White Paper was well anticipated by the courteous dismissal of my noble friend Lord Chalfont. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, during my 20 years' membership of your Lordships' House, I, too, have tried to respect the established convention by sticking to economic affairs, in which I might claim some professional competence. But I have most assiduously followed Hansard, and particularly Select Committee reports, on a very much wider range of topics. I have been repeatedly impressed—even astonished—by the remarkable, consistently high contribution of working Peers, not least the hereditaries, performed without publicity and without payment.
The problem remains: what exactly have the Lords done wrong? What have we done wrong, especially when compared with the misdeeds of another place? I join others in saying that, if reform is required, a good start could be made along the passage by culling about half of the teeming total of 659 paid and whipped MPs.
Now that I have retired, I can whisper that economic problems are often much exaggerated, especially by economists. As we saw after 1979, a free economy has almost spontaneous powers of recovery so long as politicians do not muck it up. But the constitutional upheaval that is now threatened is altogether more serious. No one can foretell the results of disrupting the delicate balance of a sophisticated political system. And no one can doubt that Britain's envied stability—unique in Europe since 1688—owes everything to the evolving checks and balances of the British constitution, with this historic House somewhere near the centre.
Like the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, as a devoted Savoyard I often take refuge from present troubles in the wisdom and wit of W. S. Gilbert. I never did agree with the Earl of Mount Ararat in Iolanthe, who said that:If there is an institution in Great Britain which is not susceptible of any improvement at all, it is the House of Peers".That cannot be true because it was written before 1958, when we had the leavening of life Peers here.
But Gilbert got it exactly right about the Commons when he put into the mouth of Private Willis the following words:When in that House MPs divideIf they've a brain and cerebellum too,They've got to leave that brain outside,And vote just as their leaders tell 'em to".It is in that fact that the critical superiority of this House lies.
As the noble Lords, Lord Eden and Lord Trefgarne, and others, have wondered, how can any process of popular election or appointment guarantee such independence? It is not only independence, but independence buttressed by the confidence which comes either from heredity or from wide experience, variously in law, economics, banking, business, technology, 1021 medicine. the arts, the countryside, charitable activities, voluntary action, the trade unions, the armed forces, education, public administration, foreign affairs, Europe and much more—including what the noble Lord, Lord Richard, once called the rough old trade of party politics.
I regret very much that the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, shows so little respect for this unique assembly—so rich in talents and characters, not least on the Labour Benches. If this House ceases to exist, it could certainly never be reinvented. Yet it is to be casually dismantled and a successor House conjured up—just like that. Here we see old Labour reverting to its primitive shibboleth that a new institution is always better than an old one. We should beware of the same empty slogans—modern, progressive, democratic, comprehensive—that we heard in the 1960s and 1970s when old Labour destroyed proven grammar schools and undermined state education in the space of a single generation.
The country is endlessly told that there are 750 wicked hereditary Peers. Yet only 300 are Tories. Two hundred are independents and most of the rest never attend. Is it not sensible that the role of a checking and revising Chamber, acting on the periodic excesses of raw "democracy", is best performed by more mature senators of a traditional, even conservative inclination? We have learned to defer, mostly gracefully, to the tyranny of the manifesto. Yet new Labour, in 1997, was supported by only 31 per cent. of the electorate—and most of its footling pledges would separately command even fewer votes. It is time that we pricked the absurdly inflated pretensions of so-called "representative democracy", with its focus groups, single-issue lobbies and media management.
So where is the popular mandate? Where is the public clamour for abolition? Despite all the manipulation of opinion, the latest ICM poll in December confirmed a rump of around 25 per cent. of the population as abolitionists, leaving the vast majority of 75 per cent. divided between keeping the status quo permanently or allowing hereditaries to stay until their long-term future has been decided.
Let me briefly touch upon the approach of the two Houses on three recent issues. I need hardly mention the shabby question of the closed list for the European elections, a system which, in the 1930s, might have excluded Churchill from Parliament at the behest of the Tory toffs of the time and which was steamrollered through against our principled objections. Second, on fees for Scottish universities, we had an absurdly Scots-dominated administration overruling us to favour Scottish and continental students against those from England, Wales and Ulster. My third example is more down to earth. On the repeal of restrictions on Sunday shopping., this House led the way with a Private Member's Bill by the then obscure, independent, Conservative Back Bencher, the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington. Yet when a Bill to repeal the Shops Act was first moved in the other place, it was voted down on Second Reading in craven response to lobbying by USDAW and other vulgar pressure groups from which this splendidly undemocratic House was and remains gloriously immune.
1022 I fear that the Royal Commission is not constituted to resist the trendy clamour by the political elite for a fudged compromise. I despair of the studied absence on that commission of a single hereditary Peer; I resent that absence. I worry a little at the chairman's reputation as a fixer. I recall A. P. Herbert—a splendidly independent university MP, before Labour abolished such valuable anomalies. In an IEA Hobart Paper back in 1960, APH warned against the temptation for Royal Commissions to fall for what he called,the nonsense of unanimity".Dare we hope that at least one of the members of the Royal Commission will read these debates and stick out for a continued, major, independent element of heredity in the House, a practice not unknown in religion.. nor in trade unions, nor in most other aspects of real life? I earnestly urge commissioners to ponder deeply that fruitful debate would be better stimulated by a report which acknowledged a robust clash of principles rather than contrived consensus and conformity born of expediency and compromise.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Lord Blaker
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross. I much enjoyed his speech and I agreed with almost all he had to say.
What struck me about the White Paper was its internal contradictions. It starts by listing all the roles that the House of Lords plays. It says that those are all important jobs for a second Chamber. It points out that the workload is increasing and that the contribution of the House to the legislative process is greater than it has been in the past. The White Paper goes on to praise our specialist expertise and independent perspective and the valuable function of scrutiny which we conduct and makes the point that there is a likelihood that real expertise will be available in the House of Lords, which is an important factor in giving its debates authority.
After all that praise, it is something of a surprise to read that we lack political effectiveness. One might have expected that the conclusion of the praise would be a recommendation that we should at least retain our present powers. But in Chapter 7 we see the Government's proposal that our powers should be reduced. That is in spite of all the praise which we receive earlier in the report and in spite of the Labour manifesto which said:The legislative powers of the Lords will remain unaltered".The noble Baroness the Leader of the House said yesterday that the Government's position remains unchanged since before the general election. I do not know how she can sustain that claim in view of the proposal that our powers should be reduced. Perhaps she would like to think again about what she said on that point.
I have a second point. There has been much puzzlement about the fact that the Government propose no stage two. There is puzzlement about the reason for their failure to do so. The reason is probably that they could not be confident of proposing a stage two which would be acceptable both to the public and to the Labour Party in another place. To be acceptable to the public, 1023 any stage two would have to contain a significant element of election. However, the greater the elected element, the more unacceptable it becomes to Labour Back-Benchers in another place. The Government perhaps said to themselves, "If we put stage two in the same Bill as stage one we might lose the whole Bill". That has happened before. It happened in 1968. And, of course, at the time the manifesto was drawn up the Prime Minister did not know that he would have in another place a docile majority of 179.
The Labour Government are acting like the Liberal Government of 1911. The preamble to the Parliament Act 1911 states that,it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot be immediately brought into operation".When questions were asked and suspicions raised about the delay which might ensue in bringing forward stage two as foreshadowed in that preamble, Mr. Asquith indignantly and vehemently denied that there would be any unacceptable delay. What happened? The matter was referred to a Cabinet Committee and that committee did not even report back to the whole Cabinet.
I make the point that, like the Liberal Government of 1911, the present Government could perfectly well have put forward proposals for stage two with stage one if they had wished to do so. The point has been made several times, but it is worth making it again, that if they had brought forward even the Royal Commission proposal 18 months ago, we would now be in a much better situation than we are today.
The suspicion must be that what the Prime Minister wanted was a House composed exclusively of life Peers. Fortunately, he and the Labour Government have been driven off that position and into accepting a proposal for a Royal Commission by the opinion polls, which of course they follow closely, and by the appointment of the committee under the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. We know of the Prime Minister's enthusiasm for the appointment of life Peers. He has appointed 101 since the general election, of whom 55 are Labour. According to the White Paper, he intends to appoint another 15 to bring parity between the Labour life Peers and the Conservative life Peers.
If the Weatherill amendment is accepted, according to the White Paper he will appoint about another 40 Labour life Peers to match the Conservative hereditary Peers who will be able to continue during the transitional period. One wonders, incidentally, whether those appointed for the transitional period under the Weatherill proposal will be happy to disappear after the transition when the permanent arrangements come into force, a point touched on by my noble friend Lord Jopling when he spoke yesterday. If they do not leave the House at the end of the transitional period, the Prime Minister will have a majority over the Conservative Peers.
I have a third point. Numerous noble Lords have referred to the increasing tendency for more power to be taken by the Executive, mostly at the expense of Parliament. That tendency has accelerated under the 1024 present Government. I shall not go into the many examples of it—they have already been mentioned—but the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said, as I followed him, that in the United Kingdom the Executive exercises greater control over the principal parliamentary Chamber than in any comparable country. To adapt a famous parliamentary Motion, I believe that the power of the Executive has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished; and to reduce the powers of your Lordships' House in that situation would be folly.
§ 7.38 p.m.
The Viscount of Oxfuird
My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, because what he has said epitomises the wisdom that exists in your Lordships' House. When I was due to take my seat in 1987 I read Dod. If anyone who has not been involved in Parliament or administration takes Dod as a first sup, he is bound to feel inadequate. Looking at the qualities, the education and the service of Members of this House produces a severe effect. However, I managed to get over that. I took heart in the fact that one of my ancestors apparently split the atom and that another two were, by marriage, American Presidents. So whether blood has anything to do with it, we wait to see. I do not know.
I am in complete agreement with many earlier speakers. This is one of the most important debates we have had for many years. The White Paper, Modernising Parliament, which was presented to us in January, contains a variety of interesting facts. But it is unlikely to go down in history as one of the great pillars of the constitution. I shall restrict my remarks entirely to the contents of the White Paper.
A major concern, as a number of noble Lords have already indicated, is that implicitly within the White Paper we are stepping into the unknown by tinkering with only one part of the constitutional arrangements without properly considering what the impact of those changes will be on the overall governance of this country.
Over a long period of time we have evolved a system which provides a real and tangible role for this House. We are a revising Chamber with a clear duty to scrutinise, amend and approve legislation initiated in another place. We have another important role; namely, to ask the elected politicians from time to time to think again, particularly when their proposals have a moral dimension which is out of sympathy with the will of the electorate. Given that role, what should the composition of this House be? I submit that we need to be widely representative in a sense that professional politicians can never be.
I have friends of all political persuasions in another place, but it is clear from the manner of their debates that they are unable to shake off the ideological and party-political baggage that put them there in the first place. The present Parliament is probably worse in that respect than any Parliament has ever been. That makes it doubly important that this House should draw from a far wider representation. The method we have chosen to 1025 achieve that for hundreds of years has been to utilise the principle of heredity. That is not the only method that might be used. Indeed, it has been mentioned that in ancient Greece senators were chosen by drawing lots. I am certainly not saying that the hereditary system is the only system that should be considered to achieve the job. What I would suggest, however, is that it is a system that has stood the test of time and which has certain advantages.
If we look around the world we see many forms of government—military dictatorships, unelected commissions, anarchy and what we choose to call democracy. It is fascinating that each of these systems throws up an element of the hereditary. If we look at the United States, which prides itself on the purity of its democracy, we find that some names, Roosevelt, Kennedy, Rockefeller and now, of course, Bush, seem to pop up again and again. As my noble friend Lord Cranborne observed when the present Leader of the House was appointed it is very reassuring that she is the daughter of such a distinguished and noble father.
I would therefore urge the Royal Commission when it reviews these matters widely, not to reject absolutely the hereditary principle, at least in part, when defining the composition of a second Chamber.
The present proposal, as framed, carries great dangers since it tinkers with a well-established protocol of checks and balances. I believe that the simple removal of the sitting and voting rights of all hereditary Members of this House, without defining clearly what will replace them, is a dangerous step which will be both destructive and divisive. It will further tilt the balance in the direction of the overwhelming power that the Prime Minister and his executive Cabinet already wield.
This country does not understand the way in which your Lordship's House as it is currently composed carries out its duties. Sadly, our education curriculum no longer teaches the importance of our constitution to the ranks of students and citizens of this country. As a result, the so-called modernisers are able to pursue a path of radical and ill-conceived change without a full understanding by the public at large of what is going on.
A difficulty is that your Lordship's House, irrespective of its composition, must depend upon the public understanding of its role within our constitution if it is to have a credible future. I believe that we must fight to maintain a second Chamber with the widest possible representation and with a degree of dignity and wisdom that is above the hubbub of the daily political cut and thrust.
By all means let us have change. But I urge that it be a well-considered, steady and incremental change, which, I submit, the present proposal is not.
§ 7.46 p.m.
My Lords, as with previous debates on reform of this House, we tend to create more questions than answers and are accused of debating at length rather than in depth. Yesterday, it was suggested that the time would be better spent discussing health, education and welfare rather than the future functions and powers of this House. That so few Labour Peers are speaking in this debate does not surprise me. If, as 1026 suggested by the Government Front Bench, the debate is time-wasting, the Labour Back-Benchers will not want to be seen adding to the waste of time.
Sadly, what the Government have failed to realise is just how much time and effort, for no financial reward, many regularly attending hereditary Peers put in to trusts, charities and other organisations outside this House which need, and often deserve, a voice in Parliament. Those organisations could well be connected to the three topics that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House mentioned yesterday: health, education and welfare. For my part, as an example, I visit and speak for the National Parks of England and Wales; and on behalf of the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, to name but two interests. I act as a rural voice in policy and legislative scrutiny--an angle not guaranteed in the other place. The White Paper does not come near to touching the ramifications involved in what so many of those organisations require; namely, to lodge a voice in Parliament.
Just like the farmer and the hereditary Peer—I have been privileged to be both—we are not all tarred with the same brush. A farmer's financial position can vary widely, from wealthy landowner to tenant farmer with farming sons whose land is financed by the collateral of the father's land, to farmers who have only family as staff to work the land and eke out a living. So we hereditaries are diverse. The Oath of Allegiance has given many of us the chance to put something back through this Chamber. My past efforts have, given me the opportunity to afford the time to be involved in this place and to put time in, for want of a better expression, to good works in which I believe. Does the noble Lord the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms believe that the action the Government propose to take can be lawfully entered into when our Letters Patent conferred on our ancestors, giving them, their heirs and successors rights which include a seat in Parliament, and given by a deceased sovereign, could be said to be a binding contract in perpetuity? I do not mean our Writ of Summons.
I cannot believe that the Government appreciate the diversity and value for money offered by the present make up of this Chamber. The only imbalance in this House has been the over-weighted vote of Conservatives in a rare and heavy Whip which has not been democratic in my view. Democracy should have sorted that imbalance many years ago. However, we are a revising Chamber and should be able to press the Government hard without having to hear so much spin on so-called defeats.
Both my grandfathers sat in this place. I must be a rare breed. The noble Lord the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms—I am sorry he is not in his seat--will know, as a fellow agriculturalist, that there is an interest in the revival of rare breeds. My father's father was in Attlee's Government and became Leader of this House. (How often are we reminded of the Salisbury-Addison convention). My mother's father was a Lord Spiritual in the true sense of the word, a Bishop of London. If I learnt anything from them it was this: if you sit anywhere in the House of Lords, except on occasions on the Government Front Benches, you may 1027 speak from the heart. In the other place, you toe the party line or the wrath of the party Whips will be upon you.
It is the honesty and true feeling that exude from this place that must be preserved. So-called modernising will lose that identity, just as modern buildings thrown up with little thought will destroy the identity of an historic town or city.
Around the world we are seen as the Chamber of common sense. Are we shortly to be seen as an impotent second Chamber? In this debate I have listened to many adjectives describing which way this House should be reformed: strengthening, not modernising; it is hard to build but easy to destroy; underpin not undermine; reforming, not replacing; evolution, not revolution.
During reform it must be right to retain those who understand the workings of this House. A full-time, paid up Chamber is far less likely to take up the needs and fears of outside organisations. This country should have no illusions. At present, there will be a Member of this House who will have knowledge on virtually any subject you care to mention. There must be technical expertise in agricultural, environmental and financial matters in government legislation, and experience from the real world outside politics and from beyond the M.25.
This House already has the letters QBE after its name. This House is already Qualified by Experience. I support much of what many speakers have already said: the noble Lords, Lord Trefgarne, Lord Norrie and Lord Norton, spoke of the consequences of government actions; that there should be reform of the House of Commons before the House of Lords; that our costs are one-tenth those of the House of Commons; and that we should remain as we are until the country, through the Royal Commission, knows the outcome of stage two. We have heard so often the phrase: do not embark on the journey unless you know the destination of the train. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said that we should look more in depth at attendance figures. We should be seen for what we have done, not for what we are.
We have the chance to continue to evolve. If hereditary Peers are to die out and their sons and daughters not to take their place, then so be it. A cull is no better than the horrific BSE cull. A cull of QBE, a cull of many qualified by experience, makes no sense. I support the call to wait for the Royal Commission to report and I shall support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Lord Hankey
My Lords, I am sad that there are so few representatives on the Government Benches. I sincerely hope that that does not reflect a lack of enthusiasm or commitment to what I believe is an extraordinarily important White Paper.
I wish to talk for a moment about the manifesto and consensus. I am concerned at the sequence of events that the present Government have contrived to bring about. Their manifesto states that:the right of the hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords will be ended by statute".1028 The present Government presume correctly that through the Salisbury doctrine they have the right to enact primary legislation for the matters that are their concern on health, education and welfare et cetera, but they presume, incorrectly in my opinion, that under the same doctrine they can also introduce fundamental modifications to the constitutional arrangements for governing the country. Their presumption is on the basis of support achieved at a general election for constitutional change set out in their manifesto, but among a wide range of other non-constitutional proposals.
Yet even now the Government have little idea of the role to be played by your Lordships' House, the composition of membership or the means of selection that is appropriate. So should we not ask how much less can the public have been aware of the consequences of their policies for constitutional change that were outlined in their manifesto? The Government will, I believe inappropriately, argue that they have the right to carry out all or any of their election manifesto pledges; and because we have no written constitution in this country there is no rule setting out whether or not their present actions in introducing fundamental constitutional change are legitimate.
I believe that their actions are neither appropriate nor legitimate when they concern the variation of constitutional arrangements of this country without a specific referendum. Let us take their own example. In the case of devolution they have been scrupulous in demanding referenda, but they have failed, I submit, in their haste, to allow adequate time for the development of consensus and popular support for measures that are often quite reasonable. The result is indifference, and at times alienation, in the public's mind. That worries me.
I want most earnestly to draw the attention of noble Lords to the dangerous precedent set by any tacit acceptance that a manifesto pledge can or should be allowed, alone, to alter constitutional arrangements. We know well that in our legal system the setting of precedent prevents or at least undermines the prevention of similar and subsequent action or policy. So I beg noble Lords to consider what future constitutional change might be introduced on the basis of a manifesto and whether it is desirable to permit such methods of introducing constitutional change on the basis of the Salisbury doctrine alone.
In the debates leading to the Parliament Bill of 1910–11 Lord Lansdowne stated, in referring to the possible slender majority of the Commons and the patchwork of causes upon which the majority might have been returned, that the most fundamental issues are to be at the mercy of the House of Commons:It may insist upon the passage of measures inflicting irreparable injury upon our most cherished institutions. The Crown is not safe, the Constitution is not safe, the Union is not safe, the Church is not safe, our political liberties are not safe, literally no institution, however much revered and respected in this country, is beyond the reach of a majority of the kind which I described just now".I believe that there is much sympathy for many of the principles of change and legislation outlined in the Labour Party's manifesto. But I do not believe that 1029 every policy outlined in the manifesto is either correct or desirable. Indeed, the Government have not attempted, as yet, to introduce all items of the manifesto and do not feel obliged to do so, I believe, in spite of the supposed obligation to the voter and legitimacy of their election mandate.
I take most seriously the fact that there is deception, in my opinion, in the manner in which the Government have succeeded in bringing us to the point of altering the constitutional arrangements. They have done so without making any clear assessment of the long-term nature of the constitutional arrangements that the country might enjoy, without holding a referendum on the basis of the changes to the constitution, as they have seen fit to do on other constitutional measures that they have developed, and without a reasoned, specific and unique mandate from the people. Quite obviously, the Government do not care adequately about voters—the primary stakeholders—since they have made little attempt outside the general election to obtain their support or build a consensus as to how they might benefit from any new arrangements.
Such is the Government's confidence in their power and majority that they do not adequately promote their often very good policies and manage their implementation. I have watched with great interest the development of the policies of the present Administration, in particular the proposed arrangements for the devolution of power through the regional development agencies, the Greater London Authority and the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly. The introduction of these devolutionary policies has been accomplished with great urgency and not too much concern for the legitimacy given to those policies by a sufficient turnout at referendas. The turnout in the GLA referendum was particularly poor; only some 34 per cent. of the electorate voted. I felt strongly that the timing of the referendum was related to the timetable of the Government and not to generating the support of the people.
I believe that the Government did little to develop consensus and enhance the participation, sense of ownership and involvement of people in the policies supposedly being developed for their benefit. Yet I know from my experience in the planning of institutional and development policies in countries around the world on behalf of the World Bank and other international agencies that the support of the primary stakeholder—the voter—is critical for the implementation of reform policies. It is not the Government who carry through reform but the people, and their support can be achieved only if there is adequate time given to developing the policy and planning its implementation and integration into the particular social, economic, institutional and political environment. Policy must be given legitimacy through the adequate building of consensus and approval and, thereafter, continuous adjustment in the light of people's changing needs.
I wonder whether we see these correct principles being followed in the White Paper. We see a pattern of laudable government objectives as expressed in the manifesto. The enormous good will shown by the people 1030 of the United Kingdom at the last General Election towards the new Labour Party was very positive, but I fear that that can be eroded if the political leadership insists on irreverent haste, gives insufficient time for the building of consensus and has inadequate patience to promote its policies.
I believe that the lessons of what I have mentioned apply very much to the present debate. The people of the United Kingdom face the added danger that there is no guarantee that the Government will succeed in achieving a positive and beneficial outcome through the deliberations of the Royal Commission. That possibility was not put to the people at the last general election. Are we not witnessing in the White Paper, sadly, a deception of the British people, not because of poor intentions—for reform is undoubtedly necessary for the whole of Parliament—but because of the Government's illogical means of implementation, lack of analysis before synthesis and inability to analyse appropriate functions before giving form to the policies for change?
These failings, especially on matters of great national importance, do not respect the increasing power of discernment and reason of the people of the United Kingdom. Cannot the Government find a more consensual way of instigating a constitutional change, perhaps through the holding of a referendum, that would follow the sound precedent of their other devolution policies, before carrying out the irreversible action that is proposed in the Bill for the abolition of the hereditary Peers that is now before the House of Commons?
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Lord Geddes
My Lords, this is not the occasion for a Second Reading speech nor given the time and the fact that there are 27 speakers to come, do I believe that there should be repetition of the extremely good points that have been raised in noble Lords' speeches to date. I shall concentrate, therefore, on seven specific extracts from the White Paper. I start with Chapter 7, paragraphs 15 and 17. This is the one occasion on which 1 believe I can agree with the White Paper. It lauds the work of the Select Committees of the House and in paragraph 17 it states specifically that in regard to EU policies,the present House of Lords has made a well-regarded contribution in this area, and this scrutiny function is one which the Government thinks could usefully be retained and expanded in the reformed House".I therefore find it very interesting to go back to Chapter 2 where in paragraph 5 the White Paper speaks of the reform of the House of Commons and states that,a significant programme to modernise the procedures has already been agreed. This has included changes to strengthen the scrutiny of European legislation".Hooray, my Lords! The other place is learning something from this House.
I turn next to Chapter 2. paragraph 15:The continuing right of the whole"—I emphasise that wordhereditary peerage to sit and vote has been accepted as an anomaly for most of this century, even by the House of Lords itself'.I fully concur with that and have done so fir many years. I do not believe that I have ever been so embarrassed as I was by the turn-out of the 1031 back-woodsmen of my party at the time of the vote on Maastricht. Frankly, that was a disgrace. But I ask the Government why there should be reverse discrimination. Why should the 200 hereditary Peers—I do not stick specifically to that number—who have really put their backs into the work of this House be subject to reverse discrimination? Why should they be washed down the plughole with the rest of the bathwater?
Referring to Chapter 3, paragraph 9, the White Paper contains a most interesting statement on which I should be grateful if the Government Chief Whip could comment in due course. It states:The House of Lords functions in a different way from the Commons. Government business has no priority".For the past three for four weeks I have been battling to get a slot for a debate on an EU report by a sub-committee which I had the honour to chair. I had a tremendous battle, rightly so, with the Clerk concerned who told me that on one day there was one Government Bill and on another day there were two Government Bills. I should very much appreciate the noble Lord's comment on that matter.
As to paragraphs 18 and 19 of Chapter 3 one must seriously query the statement that the Conservatives havea clear majority over the other parties overall",and an overwhelming majority over other Peers. If one looks at paragraph 18 the arithmetic simply does not add up. I do not take the matter any further. All one has to do is look at those two paragraphs. Even I, a not wildly intelligent mathematician, can work out that that statement by the Government is not true.
I turn to Chapter 4, paragraph 4, which makes reference to the interests of Members of this House. It states:In the case of the hereditary peers, the selection of interests which are covered is purely random".I cannot argue with that; that is absolutely true. However, to use an expression which has become very out of date, outmoded and almost rejected at large, "it works". The selection of interests is in this House as it stands. In the 24 years that I have had the privilege to attend this House I have been constantly staggered by the different interests shown by Members of your Lordships' House. Whether they are hereditary or life Peers is quite irrelevant. They are here. Why throw them away?
Finally I turn to Chapter 8, paragraph 3. I believe that this is a point which the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, raised. It states,The United Kingdom has been able, at least on the mainland of Great Britain, to avoid violent constitutional convulsions for three centuries".How lucky we are that we have done just that! I submit that that might just have had to do with the hereditary system keeping control of this House and therefore, it is hoped, of at least influencing another place.
We have to go through five chapters out of the eight in the White Paper to get even to a transitional House. It seems that the Government are trying desperately to justify themselves in Chapters 1 to 5. Increasingly, the 1032 other place does not know—and frankly does not want to know—how this House works or what its value is. I make no apologies for marginal repetition. Surely, parliamentary democracy is the key. With its massive majority in another place the present Government are—and therefore this country has at present—an executive dictatorship. As Lord Acton wrote 110 years ago almost to the day,Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely".In the current situation I submit that the onus on this House is very considerable in that context. Change in and to this House must take place only if it is for the better. I take no comfort at all from Footnote 5 of the House of Commons Research Paper 99/6 on the House of Lords Bill Options for "Stage Two". It reads:Reform denotes change generally, not necessarily for the better".Assuming as I must that the Government concur with that definition I urge all noble Lords to support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde.
§ 8.12 p.m.
The Earl of Dudley
My Lords, it is an honour and a challenge to follow the authoritative and thoughtful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, and to have heard the good points that he made.
The White Paper sets out New Labour's plan to modify genetically the structure of this House by replacing the hereditaries with mutants, likely to be neither fish nor fowl. Whoever the authors—possibly Mandelson, probably not Monsanto—they lack manners and style by dumping us hereditaries so brusquely and unceremoniously before the end of the lifetime of the present Parliament for which we have unexpired warrants; or before some of us of long standing had time to die in harness; and before the geneticists had time to consider the biological make-up of our mutants.
The White Paper airs Labour's prejudice against the hereditary principle; ventilates the Government's grievance about the inbuilt Tory majority; panders to prejudice; and seeks to remedy the grievance and redress the balance by getting rid of the hereditaries. The Government have given little thought to the consequences of their reforming zeal. That is left to the Appointments Commission, the Royal Commission and the Joint Committee.
I do not propose to waste your Lordships' time especially at this time of night in defence of the hereditary peerage. I could say more, but much would be repetitious; and all would fall on deaf ears. On this point Labour have been consistent for many years. However, I do not share the optimism which seems to prevail on all sides of the House, including from some unexpected quarters, that all will proceed merrily as before without the hereditaries. Our defenestration is a profound constitutional change, which may well have unexpected and unforeseen consequences. For instance, until now, no one needed to concern themselves unduly as to whence much of the membership of this House would come, and who, or how many they would be. Now this has become highly controversial, with calls for deliberations by a Royal Commission, and a large 1033 expenditure of taxpayers' money. It will now be a matter for the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his colleagues to consider the outcome of the constitutional change and its impact on this House.
I am happy to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, although its signal, and the Government's reaction to it, are largely of academic interest as far as I am concerned, since I am unlikely to be affected by its repercussions. I support it because, like the noble Viscount, Lord Oxford, I was brought up to believe in the efficacy of constitutional checks and balances; and because I see this House as the only counterweight to the power of the other place, which is still powerful enough to kick me out of this House despite the technological advances to which the noble Lord, Lord Howell, referred and which he considers circumscribes the power of that House.
Whatever the constitutional future of this House, the White Paper makes two important declarations about its powers which seem to me to reflect their qualified acceptance by the Government. The first, on page 40 is as follows:In other respects, the powers are theoretically the same as those of the Commons and spring from the House's character of a chamber of Parliament".In this day and age when parliamentary powers in a democracy are a mandate of the people, this admission about the derived powers of a parliamentary chamber so remote from the electorate is remarkable. No doubt the same thought occurred to the authors of Chapter 7 paragraph 26, which is the subject of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. It should also be a source of satisfaction to those noble Lords who prefer their future to be in a cosy and minimally reformed Chamber, where the life Peers, responsible to no one but themselves, and secure from the disturbance of the hustings, can continue to enjoy the perks, pomp and circumstance bequeathed to them by the hereditaries.
The second declaration, on the same page, is that,The powers of the House of Lords, as normally exercised in practice observing the conventions, have most often produced a workable relationship between the two Houses of Parliament".How does that statement equate to that on page 28? It states:The dominance of hereditary peers in the House of Lords … produces undemocratic results. It gives a huge in-built advantage to one … party",which, on the evidence of the White Paper, has not generally taken advantage of that huge in-built majority. And if the relationship between the Houses has been workable, why does over 50 per cent. of the Membership of one House of Parliament need to be evicted like squatters at the behest of the other House?
I ask myself how the House will fare without the hereditaries—a thought doubtless shared by other noble Lords, A great deal has been said about the amendment to be moved by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, when the Lords reform Bill comes to the Committee stage of this House. It is supposedly in conformity with the Cranborne agreement, now apparently restyled the Weatherill amendment, perhaps to spare the susceptibilities of Mr. William Hague. No doubt when the time comes the noble Lord will reveal his reasons 1034 for moving the amendment. Meanwhile the White Paper has this to say on the subject. I believe that it has been quoted before but I need to repeat it.
If the cross-bench peers promote an amendment for the interim retention of 1 in 10 of the hereditary peers, plus some hereditary office holders, until the second stage of House of Lords reform has taken place, the Government is minded to accept this amendment as a prudent and sensible route towards the early termination of the right of all hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House".This so called concession, allowing dead men to walk for one year, has been cobbled as a short-term stay of execution for the hereditary elite. I for one shall, when the time comes, be unwilling to accept a Trojan horse and shall expect powerful persuasion from those supporting the amendment, and greater flexibility from the Government Front Bench, not to vote against it.
So how will the House fare? In Chapter 6, paragraph 5, the White Paper makes a commitment to the life Peers as follows:New Members of the House of Lords will continue to be appointed in accordance with the Life Peerages Act 1958. There will be for the time being"—I hope noble Lords take note of that qualification—no changes to the conditions attached to life peerages".That is to state the obvious. The Government, having put retribution before reform, are left without a choice. When we hereditaries go we leave behind us only the 500 or so life Peers, plus the bishops—or should l say the right reverend Prelates? Without the life Peers there would be no House of Lords, especially as the bishops alone would not constitute a quorum of 30 for Divisions on legislation. But, as several speakers, led by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, have pointed out, the life Peers have no greater legitimacy than the hereditaries. They are neither representative nor democratic. I hold them in high regard as meritocrats for their proven wide experience and ability. But the Life Peerages Act had consequences unforeseen and unintended by the Macmillan government, of which the noble and learned Lord, (then Viscount), Lord Hailsham, was a Member.
The aim was to recruit for the Lords those eminent persons, especially the Labour elite, whose consciences did not permit them to accept hereditary peerages. Lord Brand, in a prophetic speech, foresaw the day when as a result no Prime Minister of whatever political complexion would want to create further hereditary peerages. But no one imagined the flood of life Peers which would erupt into this House from the other place, from the Civil Service, from the Armed Services, from local authorities, from industry, from the City, from the teaching profession, the media and the arts. They are now, we are told, to be followed by chefs, bus conductors, taxi drivers—an excellent source of good debating material—and, it is to be hoped for noble Lords, a few air hostesses.
How long will this continue? How long will it be before a majority of the British people as taxpayers, as voters, even as lovers of the Lords, say, "This is enough! Why a House of Lords? Let's have done with all this pomp and ceremony". I myself, unlike many noble Lords, favour an elected second Chamber, perhaps of senators from different counties or whatever it takes to fill the need of a revising Chamber. But I have not time 1035 for that today, except to say that I reject the title of Tory Jacobin, as bestowed by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, on those of us who feel that a second elected Chamber is desirable.
Of course, the Government could still save time, money and endless confusion by swallowing their prejudices and leaving this House of Parliament well alone.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ Lord Tanlaw
My Lords, I enjoyed very much the words of the noble Earl, especially those which related to the role of the life Peers in the transitional House. I shall take that up in a moment, but in the meantime I wish to take up two points made in this debate and in the previous debate. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, mentioned that he could not think of a way whereby a younger element could come into the Lords through the hereditary system. As I said in the previous debate, I am the younger son of an hereditary Peer. It is possible to enter this House at the age of 37, as I did, and I do not see why other sons or grandsons of the hereditary Peers who will be leaving us cannot return if they so wish. It is quite possible and thoroughly desirable.
I would like also to expand briefly on the point about the hereditary principle which the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, made on 15th October when winding up our previous debate on the future of this House. If we go further back in time than the noble Lord did—beyond the feudal system, the last vestiges of which will disappear in the modernised House—we will discover, as did the noble Lord, Lord Williams, our real heritage and thereby perhaps gain a more accurate perspective of our true ancestry. Let us hear what Sir Fred Hoyle, the great cosmologist, wrote in his autobiography while tracing his ancestry back through the mists of time. He wrote:Mankind has not changed much since the days of Cro-Magnon man, days separated from our own times by a thousand generations … Every one of us has an immense line that would sweep even the greatest dynasties of recorded history into affairs of minor consequence.And before Cro-Magnon man there were upwards of ten thousand generations, so many that the imagination is too staggered to conceive of what happened to them all … What we actually see are nothing but bits of foam at the surface of the vast ocean of prehistory".The latest information from the palaeontologists is that the ancestry of humanity might go back more than 5 million years. However, it is only in the past 50 years that mankind has developed the resources which, unless properly monitored and controlled, may harbour the seeds of our own destruction by the end of the third millennium. Is it not a fact that the responsibility for monitoring and controlling forces capable of endangering global society must ultimately rest with legislative chambers around the world—including our own, which is the subject of our debate? The question I am endeavouring to ask is: should not a modern second Chamber have adequate facilities, human or otherwise, to monitor all technical legislation effectively in order to help prevent a major global catastrophe, such 1036 as global warming, or unprincipled commercial interests profiteering from shoddy legislation? That was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, as was the power and the force of the commercial world in which we live today.
How can parliamentarians in the transitional House be alert to these threats to future society if they are not technically or scientifically competent to do so? Can a democratically elected Chamber provide all the necessary expertise to achieve this end? I doubt it. How well qualified are the existing life Peers? For example, what percentage of life Peers in the modernised transitional Chamber will be computer literate? And I also wonder whether even more can be done to assist noble Lords who might want to prepare for their work in the new House by either updating their existing computer skills or learning them from the beginning. If a modernised and reformed second Chamber is to do its job of scrutinising technical legislation properly, surely it should have modern facilities and procedures to allow it to do so. For instance, there is nowhere to put a laptop, to plug it in, or to receive e-mail within miles of the Chamber.
The question now is: what are the terms and conditions of the 500 life Peers in the transitional House? Will those terms be adequate to persuade the new life Peers selected by the independent appointments commission to give up time from their otherwise profitable and more remunerative activities in order to scrutinise and vote on in Committee the type of technical Bills mentioned? And on the question of time available, will not the reduction in the number of days spent on Bills by the honourable and right honourable gentlemen in another place put even more pressure on the reformed second Chamber and on its old and new life Peers?
Therefore, what incentives, if any, in the form of improved facilities and communications will be made available to life Peers in the modernised version of your Lordships' House? And will the transitional House agree to set times for votes in the evening? That point was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Desai. When there is a key evening vote, why should the unpaid and so-called "amateur" legislators of the modernised second Chamber not be able to enjoy quality time with their families or attend evening engagements? Their counterparts in the other place can do this on Opposition days when votes are taken only at 7 and 10 p.m. Surely it should not be beyond the capabilities of the usual channels in a modernised transitional House to devise an agreed evening voting procedure which takes place, not just on Opposition days but at all times, at 7 or 10 p.m.?
Does not the passage of the House of Lords reform Bill offer the only opportunity for life Peers in the ranks, so to speak, to obtain better terms and facilities for themselves in this modernised, transitional Chamber? Therefore, I suggest to all the 500 life Peers who will be in the transitional House, regardless of where they may sit in the Chamber, that they abstain on any vote which may take place between the hours of 7 and 10.30 p.m. I mentioned that in the Tea Room and the effect on the Government Benches seems to have been electric. I am greatly encouraged by that response.
1037 Seriously, that is the only way that we shall achieve proper terms and conditions under which to work in a so-called modern House. There will be a heavier workload. Pressure will be put upon us to sit on committees because the hereditary Peers will no longer be available to do so. What are we to do? That has not been considered. I suggest that life Peers should continue to be as obstructive and difficult as possible with this Bill until we obtain a proper, sensible and detailed statement from the Government as to what those terms and conditions will be. What changes will be made to those conditions when the new House is formed?
In order to challenge the Executive and to question and scrutinise technical Bills which threaten not only society in this country but beyond, we need people in this House with a scientific background who are articulate and competent to explain the dangers of such Bills. If there is sloppy legislation, there will be unscrupulous organisations which will be only too delighted to take advantage of it.
However, if the terms and conditions for new life Peers in this House are difficult, noble Lords will simply not attend. They all have other and—I do not wish to disrespectful—better jobs to do rather than sit in this House and wait for five or six hours for a vote at some unknown time in the middle of the night. I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that I am afraid that I shall take my own advice. It seems that the vote will take place after 10.30, and I shall not vote in this House between the hours of seven o'clock and 10.30 or at any time after 10.30. I strongly recommend that all life Peers should tell their Whips that they intend to have that time as their own during the course of the Bill until we are told exactly what our conditions are to be; otherwise, we shall riot be present. I shall be a permanent abstainer until that information is made clear.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ Lord Glenarthur
My Lords, I begin by apologising to the House for not being in my place yesterday but I have returned early from a business visit abroad because I believe that this is one of the most important debates that this House has had and is ever likely to have.
I am afraid that what is being foisted upon this House, upon Parliament and upon the British people is nothing less than an alarming confidence trick. It is dressed up in a number of ways: that this House is undemocratic as it is presently structured; that hereditary Peers are unrepresentative; that this House has too much power; and that, because superficially it seems out of date, bringing it more up to date will make it more efficient and, as a result, the public will have more confidence in it and, therefore, it will serve the totality of Parliament better and so serve the country better.
Beguiling though some of those arguments may be to some people, when looked at objectively I believe that the Government's proposals and those arguments are at best cynical but at worst, a highly dangerous tampering with the constitution which has evolved over hundreds of years, more especially as they do not address the concept of Parliament as a whole.
1038 I have always tried to characterise the constitution—probably over-simplifying it—as a five-legged stool: the monarchy, the Lords, the Commons, the judiciary and the Church. Each is more or less in balance with the other. Cut off any part of any leg of that stool or change the composition of that leg and the whole stool will begin to rock.
Change to any one part of the constitution is certain in time to affect the rest. In the 22 years or so that I have been in your Lordships' House, I have seen it change enormously. I have also seen its relationship with another place change fairly markedly. The increase in the numbers of life Peers and the roles of Select and European Communities Committees are two obvious elements of change. I have seen the need to scrutinise major Bills, not only from a political point of view but most particularly, as my noble friend Lord Cranborne said, from a practical and legislative view as the other place becomes unwilling or unable to attend to the necessary detail emerging from overworked parliamentary counsel and draftsmen.
On no occasion whatever have I heard it claimed seriously that this House as presently composed is not effective; that it does not do its job; has not proved itself a thoroughly responsible revising and, I should add, advising Chamber. The only charge seems to be that by virtue of its constitution it is unable to exercise sufficient power in Parliament.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, asked whether there is any real public clamour to change the composition of this House. Can the party opposite seriously claim that its manifesto commitment to throw out hereditary Peers was the fundamental reason for its success at the 1997 general election? If it does, why is this debate on reformation so poorly attended by the Labour Party? When the noble Lord, Lord Carter, winds up the debate, perhaps he will explain why his noble friends are unable to support the proposals which those on his side of the House are making.
§ Lord Glenarthur
My Lords, I explained why I was not and the noble Lord has not answered the question I posed. However, he has time enough to answer it in his wind-up speech.
I too believe that the whole concept—and I am sorry to say it but I believe it to be true—arises from prejudice stoked up by good, or rather, bad old-fashioned socialism. None of us can easily justify history. The history and evolution of this House are of the past arid of the present. It has given us a House which does its job fairly well. No one has fundamentally argued otherwise. The combination of hereditary and life Peers seems to have been an extraordinary success.
Other than for reasons of dogma, there can be no enthusiasm to embark upon such a perilously complex change, more especially when it is back to front and supported by an exceedingly thin White Paper suggesting models for its replacement which the Royal Commission must take as the basis for its work.
1039 I have become rather sick of saying half-heartedly that I cannot defend why I am here; that change is inevitable; and that my own party has somehow shrunk from tackling this issue in the past, as though I am embarrassed to be here. I know I am lucky to be here and I am certainly proud to have played a part over the years. Governments of all hues may feel uncomfortable with a second Chamber which exerts its views from time to time. That cannot be construed as an unelected Chamber riding roughshod over another place. This House may well discuss abstract matters. It certainly debates all manner of issues. But fundamentally, it examines legislation in detail—legislation often stemming from the loose words of party manifestos but legislation which must stand the full scrutiny and application of law and the test of time. Even then its purpose is to examine detail, not to throw out principle.
This House is broadly representative and is made so not just by life Peers, Law Lords and Bishops but by what amounts to the random selection, which was referred to earlier, from every walk of life represented by hereditary Peers. Hereditary Peers have no political ambition and no serious axe to grind. They bring their various experiences to bear freely and willingly. And their determination to uphold what is right and best for the country as a whole is enormously more important to them than blind loyalty to party politics.
I believe that the Bill to eject hereditary Peers is bad enough but to do so in the light of this woolly White Paper and without stating clearly what is to replace them is nothing short of preposterous. It emasculates part of Parliament; it ignores the balance which exists between both Houses; and it offers absolutely no solution as to how it can be recreated. It invites the country to take a very dangerous step into the unknown. Most important, to suggest that this House should have less power when it is already able to exercise very little is positively horrifying. Therefore, I most strongly support my noble friend's amendment.
But I go one step further in my criticism. As the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, seemed to suggest in his speech, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Government respect no view other than their own. They want to have their way at any cost whatever the damage to the constitution—and all in the name of so-called "modernisation".
This House currently has one absolute power; that is, enforcing the quinquennial Act. The White Paper pays but lip service to that; it gives no explanation as to how the absolute independence of this House might be maintained or recreated so as to ensure that the governing party goes to the country every five years. What a positively alarming prospect and what a daunting task for my noble friend Lord Wakeham and his commission to sort out.
The whole concept of restructuring this House as the White Paper foreshadows is based on dogma. It has no foundation on practical grounds or properly considered constitutional theory. It rides roughshod over historical evolution and precedent. By throwing out hereditary Peers the Government are at a stroke cutting away one 1040 pillar of the constitution with no idea of what is to replace it, thereby jeopardising the rest. I believe strongly that it is a recipe for parliamentary and possibly wider strife. The sooner that Parliament as a whole and the country at large wakes up to what is at stake, the better.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Lord Forbes
My Lords, I am delighted to follow my noble friend Lord Glenarthur, who speaks with such great authority. Let me say straight away that I am amazed that this White Paper suggests that the powers of this House might be significantly reduced. To do that would be a disaster. This House has got to hold the Executive to account and it cannot do that without independence and authority. That point has been made already by many other Peers, so I shall now pass to more positive matters.
Having been a Member of your Lordships' House for a considerable number of years, I venture to suggest that this House works well. It is respected by the people of this country, among other things for keeping the balance of power but also for the way in which it scrutinises much hasty legislation as well as, from time to time, asking another place to think again. I believe that the great majority of your Lordships would agree with me that this House is effective and does an excellent job in the interests of our country.
However, it must be acknowledged that the Government have made it abundantly clear that they object to the present large and disproportionate number of Conservative hereditary Peers who can pass through the Division Lobbies. The Government have a case. In view of that I want to suggest what I hope will be taken as a constructive solution to this problem. It has already been touched on by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, towards the end of her excellent speech.
Like the noble Earl, Lord Perth, who is not present today, I am one of the few who did not come to your Lordships' House as of right, or by birth, or by appointment; I was elected. I was elected as a Scottish representative Peer by my fellow Scottish Peers to become a Member of your Lordships' House in 1955. After that, I came up for election and was re-elected each time there was a new Parliament. That went on until 1963, when all Scottish Peers were given the same rights as United Kingdom Peers.
I suggest that if there is a desire to cut down the number of Conservative hereditary Peers who can vote, then a certain number should be elected by their fellow Conservative Peers—something similar to the way in which Scottish representative Peers were elected. It should not be outwith the wit of the various Leaders in this House to agree on what that number should be. The Conservative hereditary Peers elected would sit and vote in your Lordships' House until such time as there was a new Parliament, and then another election would be held. Those Conservative hereditary Peers who were not elected and were thus denied the vote, could still sit and speak. That is crucial; that would be important as, with the election of Conservative hereditary Peers each new Parliament, it would give the electors a chance to judge the merit of those standing for election.
1041 To begin with only Conservative hereditary Peers would have to stand for election. But if other parties increased their numbers of hereditary Peers, they too would have to hold elections to decide who should have voting rights. By that method a certain number of hereditary Peers would be elected and given voting rights, making the House more democratic while at the same time involving the minimum constitutional upheaval. That aspect is of considerable importance.
The working of this House has evolved over a great many years. It is respected for doing an excellent job. It would be an act of extreme folly to reform this House under the guise of modernisation and run the risk of ending up with a House that does not work so well. I trust that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, when he comes to speak for Her Majesty's Government, will look on my suggestion as being constructive and thereby accord it due consideration.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Lord Gisborough
My Lords, I have said it once, I have said it twice, and,What I tell you three times is true".The White Paper appears to be very short of argument. It says everything three times, just as the Bellman did, who was as likely to find the snark as the Government are to reach a successful and agreed reform.
We are told that the new Chamber will be more democratic and effective when reformed. Yet that surely implies that it will be more powerful. That is something that will certainly be unacceptable to another place. As my noble and learned friend Lord Howe said, at the moment our lack of power is our strength. Having almost no power we can speak and vote as we deem right regardless of our party. The Government will be well aware of the number of times that the Tory dominated House voted against the last government.
If the House were to be more powerful, paradoxically it would make it a weaker Chamber for then there would be a duty on every Peer to toe the line of the Whip rather than speak his mind and vote accordingly. It is precisely because we cannot claim democratic and selective legitimacy that we are free to vote as our consciences dictate. There are many occasions when Members of the other place vote against their personal inclinations in order to obey the Whip. But in this House that does not happen if people feel strongly about a matter.
Once the hereditaries have gone, the country will be scoured for people to fill the Benches. Many will be appointed as an honour for the success of their career or public work. But for many others it will simply be a matter of filling the Benches and the highest honour of the country—elevation to the peerage—may be earned by no more than standing unopposed in an election. That surely debases the honour of the peerage for those who achieved it through a lifetime of service. Without the hereditary Peers it would be wrong to call the new Chamber the "House of Lords"; it would create confusion. Lords without seats would continue to be briefed by petitioners, for how would the public know who had and who had not got a seat?
1042 Therefore, the new House should be called the Senate and new Members called senators. Life Peers would be automatic Members and maintain their titles as well as being senators. But senators would only be elevated to become Peers, as opposed to senators. if they deserved the honour. The new Chamber should also lose all the trappings of the Lords. It is sad to lose 1,000 years' history of tradition, but, as we saw at the opening of Parliament, tradition seems a dirty word.
There is no proposal by the Government on what is to replace the Lords. It has to be a Chamber based either on selection or election. The Royal Commission is meant to report by December. It is unlikely to do so, if it ever does produce an agreed report. The problem with any form of election is that politics would immediately rear its head and very soon the House would become a sort of political bear garden, which characterises the other place and many local authority chambers. The traditional calm, objective debate of the Lords will have been lost. Mature statesmen would be increasingly disenchanted to attend the shouting match.
Once the new House has a legitimacy by election or appointment, the Commons know jolly well that their own supremacy will be challenged. That was ably set out by the noble Lord, Lord Harris. That will make stage two impossible. That is why stage one has to come before stage two; namely, stage two will never happen. Just as past efforts have failed, so will this one. On the one hand the Government want a more effective Chamber; on the other hand, they want one with no more power. Those are two conflicting requirements.
If there was an adequate solution, the Government would have had no fear in having the two stages together. As much as the other place wants to get rid of the hereditaries, there is almost no alternative that they would accept. If there was, they would have suggested it already.
There is only one way round this. That is to have the "sunset clause". If stage two is not agreed by a certain date, the hereditaries should resume their seats. That is the only threat that would galvanise the other place to agree a stage two. Such a clause would help the Government achieve their aim.
There is then the question of whether Members should be full-time or part-time. One of the accepted great strengths of the present House is the number of experts on almost any subject who come when they can give invaluable and first-hand advice to the House. To have a fund of experts on whom to call yet who cannot interfere on political balance is an almost ideal system and should be preserved, as recommended in countless letters to The Times, including one from the noble Earl., Lord Longford. It would be much better if they were allowed to speak, if not to vote. The country will be a loser without them. Full-time Members would be far more inclined gradually to demand power from the other place. It would be a great disservice to the country to make it a full-time job.
I turn to the proposal for an age limit. One of the greatest strengths of the House is that so many Members have lost the political fire of their youth and have settled down to more mature and pragmatic political views; 1043 hence the lack of shouting at each other, and the more mature debate. Are the Government really saying that once over the age of 75, Peers are past it? It is well known that some of the wisest and greatest contributors to the House are not only those Peers over the age of 75 but those over the age of 85. We can all think of names to prove that fact. Those Peers who are beyond making sense just stay away.
It would also be wrong to have Members for set terms of years as they would always be looking over their shoulders to ensure reappointment or re-election. At present we can say what we believe to be right, regardless of how popular that may be. We may be ignored or have to answer an interjection from another Peer or to our national or local press. We would look pretty silly if we got it wrong. We try to take care not to, but we can fight for our views to the death without fear of being ousted from the House. People who work hard until retirement can only then spare the time to attend. But then they have a huge resource of knowledge to give to the country well beyond their 75th birthday.
Regional representation is another matter raised in the White Paper. The appointment of a regional representative would bring in a lot of Bugginses from the councils. These political animals are not the people to fill the second Chamber. Far better are those who can speak with little political axe to grind and with a lifetime of experience of the subject on which they are speaking. Selection, however, must take account of the need for Members from across the country.
Few people outside the House criticise or give a fig either way for the hereditaries. The postbags of Members of Parliament show little public interest in reform. However, 68 per cent. of people polled want to leave things as they are until details of a new House are known. Many commentators say that it is the Commons that should be reformed, at least as well as the Lords.
It is essential that any reform should be for the better. It seems that change is being made for change's sake. What comes out, in poll after poll, is that the electorate want to know what they are getting before they see the present system dissolved. It is quite extraordinary and thoroughly irresponsible that a constitution should be destroyed before a replacement is planned.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ The Earl of Lauderdale
My Lords, at the age of 87, I may have been caught napping if I have only heard four or five of my noble friends make points which I want to stress. I refer to the speeches of my noble friends Lord Waddington, Lord Lamont, Lord Moran, Lord Naseby and Lord Glenarthur.
I make no apology for referring to the point to which they alluded. It is that your Lordships enjoy one particular power—and only one—in this House. That is to decide whether or not to veto—I stress the word "veto"—any proposal from the other place to delay the forthcoming general election; in other words, to suspend the quinquennial Act which can only be amended for a year at a time.
1044 Although we meet tonight under the chairmanship of an unelected Peer on the Woolsack, we are discussing a White Paper which, at heart, is about the processes and procedures of democracy. The Salisbury convention is strictly irrelevant, if only because the Labour manifesto promised that the legislative power of the House of Lords would remain unaltered. That is, directly and by implication, just what the White Paper proposes. We are told in it that it might be reasonable to reduce the theoretically available powers of this House rather than leave them as they stand. Although under the quinquennial Act delays could only be for a year at a time, the fact is that your Lordships can block any endeavour to amend that Act and have an absolute veto. In other words, this House is the sole and absolute guarantee of general elections being held every five years. So far, the question has only arisen twice—in wartime—and on both those occasions your Lordships concurred with the other place.
This White Paper is a loose and disparate collection of rather undergraduate essays strung together without much of a coherent theme. It even goes so far as to contradict itself. In the middle of page 36 we read that,the Government must ultimately have the right to secure any of its legislation... with the consent of the Commons alone"—but, wait for it—except for a Bill to extend the life of a Parliament".However, having made that genuflection, if I can put it in that way, to constitutional decency, the reservation is firmly negatived in paragraph 7(26) to which tonight's amendment wisely refers. That paragraph states that the available powers of this House might, if the Wakeham Commission says so, be significantly reduced.
The point to which the amendment specifically refers is the power of this House. We are told that "independence" is the character most eagerly sought among the Peers of tomorrow who are to be chosen by an appointments commission, itself "independent". But by whom would they be named? Who else but by the Prime Minister? The same applies to the commission's nominees.
Total disregard for the constitution, as we know it, is clear. I cite two points. First, the Commons, according to paragraph 5 on page 24, is to have the "final say" on any Bill. The phrasing omits any qualifying exclusion about amendments of the quinquennial Act. Secondly, we are told that hereditary Peers are invariably Conservative. That is sheer nonsense. For example, three out of every four Cross-Bench Peers are hereditary Peers but they sit as independents, free from any party ties. The noble Lord, Lord Richard. said at col. 1804 on 19th May 1993 that the Lords is,effectively the only place in which the legislature can curb the power of the executive".Most damning are the Wakeham commission's terms of reference: to consider both the role and the function of the second Chamber. In other words, the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, may well review one guarantee. I refer to the fact that there will be an election every five years. So, we are offered a second Chamber, gathered by an appointments commission, itself chosen by the Prime Minister, yet still labelled as "politically independent".
1045 The noble Baroness, Lady Jay, told the Dimbleby programme on 24th January that a referendum had not been ruled out, nor, in view of the Welsh referendum turnout, were we told what majority would be needed if there were a referendum. The noble Baroness also left two points unanswered the other day. The noble Viscount., Lord Cranborne, had asked about the "pivotal" question of relations between the two Houses. The noble Baroness ducked that issue when, on 24th January, she told the Dimbleby programme that the,Government were not to open up the rather difficult area of `powers' because that might lead to a free-flowing discussion"—that is the last thing they want—about the powers of Parliament which are not established anywhere in our unwritten constitution".The ambiguity of that answer is frightening and, of itself, is an argument in support of my noble friend's amendment.
Your Lordships have a duty to scrutinise the Government on every detail of this matter and must expose any evasion of the charge that they, as a government, seek and mean to keep the power that they already enjoy.
I do not know whether it is proper to repeat the quotation given earlier by my noble friend Lord Glenarthur:Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely".I hope that my noble friends on this side of the House and those on the Cross-Benches will rally to support my noble friend's amendment.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ Baroness Buscombe
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity, as a new life Peer, to contribute to the debate on the future of this House. In the short time that I have been a Member of this House, it has become clear to me that, as presently constituted, an extraordinary breadth of talent, skills and experience resonates in this House; a powerful resource which I defy any Chamber in any legislature anywhere to match. Indeed, I have noticed that your Lordships make little distinction between those who have been here JO minutes and those who have been here 200 years—
§ Baroness Buscombe
My Lords, I pay tribute to all those here who happen to have hereditary titles for their enormous and largely unsung contribution to our great debates and to the stability of our parliamentary process.
However, I think that we all recognise that the time has come for reform, but not reform at any price. There has been a very obvious growth in the class of career politician in our public life. I for one would not want to see that happen here.
I welcome the establishment of the Royal Commission, to be chaired by my very distinguished noble friend Lord Wakeham, and I regret that the Government did not set it up as soon as they came to power.
1046 That said, I wish that I could say that I welcome the contents of the White Paper. Unfortunately, its title alone signals the Government's preference for masking their true purpose. I repeat the question put by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde in his address at the commencement of the debate: "Modernising Parliament"—what does "modernising" mean? Even my laptop, provided courtesy of this House, does not want to recognise the word "modernising". A red light flashes every time I attempt to type it!
Whatever it means, are the Government planning to modernise the House of Commons as well? After all, one does not have a properly balanced legislature without the other. I am aware that a committee in the House of Commons is currently reviewing the practices and procedures of that House. That must be good. However, it simply does not compare with hacking at our constitution in your Lordships' House. Can "modernising" mean anything we like as long as it sounds good and a touch newsworthy?
How can we decide who should be here (or not) before working out what a so-called "modernised" Parliament is supposed to do? To put it another way, is it not rather amateurish—indeed, entirely odd—to be considering the applicant for the job before the job description has been drafted? Is this an example of the "better government" to which the noble Baroness the Leader of the House referred in her Statement about the White Paper on 20th January? I sincerely hope not.
Clearly, the Government seem to be interested in reforming this place only in order to throw out a certain group of people. That is their prerogative, but we must guard against the effects on our relationship with the House of Commons in the so-called brave, new, modern world which this Government are creating for us.
Faced with this overtly half-baked approach to "modernising", which I presume is supposed to mean "reforming", I now return to just some of the proposals in the White Paper—proposals which I believe are fundamentally flawed. In particular, I note:Central to the future House of' Lords is its composition".The noble Baroness the Leader of the House made it clear in her Statement to which I have already referred that the Government wish to make the House of Lords more representative of today's Britain and nominations from many sources will extend the range of interests and types of people represented in the House.
The White Paper takes this further by reference to the likelihood that it will include more younger people, more women and more ethnic minorities. This all sounds very good in principle—and very newsworthy. However, while clearly favouring a largely nominated element, the White Paper also makes it very clear that elected Peers would be paid salaries and nominees would not. My response to that is: why not? As a mother with three young children to be properly cared for, I can confirm that being a Member of this House is a very expensive privilege and one which I would guess fewer than 0.1 per cent. of the population of Britain today could afford.
1047 One of the complaints of those who wish to oust the hereditary Peers is that a proportion of them do not regularly attend or only turn up to vote. The truth, if I may suggest it, is that many of them are out there earning a living in the hope that they may attend and do their duty if and when their finances and their responsibilities allow. The same would be the case for the overwhelming majority of Peers who might come to this House post reform. It is entirely unrealistic—indeed extraordinarily naïve—to expect to call upon people from all walks of life to drop everything to be here without an income. In short, my response to this so called "modernisation" to "get better government" is: "get real".
In truth, the Government cannot honestly pretend that they really want to extend the range of representation with warm words on young people, women and ethnic minorities when only a small and elite minority could afford to be here. I believe that it is reasonable to ask whether this clear inconsistency is, in fact, all part of the building blocks for the Prime Minister's loyal yes-men and women who are prepared to pay up and shut up.
That question brings me to another related aspect of the White Paper. We do not know what role this House will play in the governing of Britain for the medium to long term. What we do know, by their actions, is that this Government are increasingly ignoring, indeed bypassing, Parliament in favour of the Executive and the media. Even our Prime Minister treats Parliament as an irritant. It is rather telling that the "Brit Awards" ceremony last week was of more importance to our Ministers than the future of this House. This blatant trend tells me that, whatever the future holds, it is the Government's intention to diminish the powers and standing of this House. What then?
The White Paper talks, almost excitedly, about developing the role of the working Peer. Men and women of calibre who are succeeding in their chosen path in the world outside are not going to compromise their lives to come to a House which is left with no teeth and no standing. What would be the point? It is also notable that, in the Statement which I mentioned earlier, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House said that while hereditary Peers will be given the right to stand as candidates for election to the House of Commons, there will be no change in the position of life Peers. Life Peers will be unable to disclaim their titles. Why? Do this Government fear a mass exodus of life Peers to the House of Commons, once all the teeth of this House have been removed? I think we should be told.
It is abundantly clear, upon even a cursory reading of the White Paper, that this Government's intentions are, at best, ill thought through and, at worst, poorly disguised—and that the White Paper's content bears little relation to the practicalities of reforming so important an institution as this House. More than that, it highlights the very real dangers which the Royal Commission faces in its remit to change for ever an institution which plays a fundamental part in our United Kingdom, an institution which is a much loved part of our heritage.
1048 Reform cannot be properly considered in isolation. It begs the question: does modernisation mean fundamental change to the workings of this House? The whole process thus far, with its often casual references to reform with words like "radical" and "modern", has created a profound and uncomfortable climate of uncertainty for all who work in the House, in whatever capacity. I believe that it is now time for this Government to assure them that their future here is secure.
I wish the members of the Royal Commission well in their unenviable task and simply urge them to consider the future of this House in the context of its effects upon Parliament as a whole.
In conclusion, a hitherto inviolate cornerstone of our democracy—the check upon an elective dictatorship—is now at risk. It is our paramount duty to protect that element through this period of reform. That fundamental change to the British constitution should be taking place first by piecemeal devolution and now by piecemeal reform of our legislature is lamentable. We accept change that destabilises and diminishes for ever our United Kingdom at our peril.
§ Lord Hacking
My Lords, the noble Baroness used my name during the course of her speech. Would she be kind enough to tell the House whether she believes the House of Lords should be reformed at all?
§ Baroness Buscombe
My Lords, I think I made it clear that now is the time for reform and that we must have reform. However, I do not believe that it has been properly considered in the White Paper. I believe that the composition of this House is absolutely crucial, but you cannot decide upon the composition until you have decided what the people here are supposed to be doing. That was the main point of my speech.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Lord Selsdon
My Lords, lest we forget some of the more spiritual matters of this House, I remind your Lordships that today is the feast of St. Polycarp, one of the oldest saints of all. If I recall, he was burned, but the fire would not consume him because his belief was so strong. He had to be put down by the executioner with a knife. Today is also the feast of St. Lazarus, who I believe tried hard to restore religious artefacts and works of art, for which he was condemned to death by heretics. But he was saved and honoured.
The only reason I know this is because 36 years ago today I received a formal telegram confirming the death of my father at sea. Therefore I have been a Peer for some 36 years. But that was not something I wanted to be; it occurred not by accident of birth, but by accident of death. Had my father survived, he would have been like the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, who was head of house at Winchester a year after my father, and I would never have come here and probably would never have had to suffer as I did in the beginning.
I have believed in reform from the moment I had to come here. I did not know that I had to come here. I did not want to change my name from Malcom 1049 Mitchell-Thomson. I was frightened. I did not know how to get here. Then I was told that you turned up. I turned up at what I now know is St. Stephens. I told a nice man that I wanted to go to the House of Lords. He said, "If you wait a moment, there will be a group going round shortly". I went on a tour and thank goodness I did because the staff were helpful. The Palace servants explained what I should do. They said, "Surely you must know someone". I replied, "No, actually I do not know any Peers, and anyway I am too young". I was 25 years old. A nice person I thought I had seen or knew sat me down and said, "Don't worry. You have the experience of youth". Immediately I felt important. He continued, "We are a bunch of old geriatrics and we need someone young. Please come".
I went back to my job with Universal Asbestos at Watford. My boss there said, "I expect you will not come here any more. You will go to the House of Lords and manage your estates". I did not like to tell him that we did not have any estates. I said I thought that I would have to attend the House of Lords sometimes. He replied, "Bear in mind we do not carry passengers here". I felt very put out indeed. I wanted this place to be reformed. I came and sat on the Back Benches. I was terrified at the prospect of taking my seat. I discovered that I did not have a Writ because I am one of those strange people who has an English barony registered in Scotland. When I went to the College of Arms they said, "You are not with us. You are with the Lyon". I had never heard of the Lyon but I had to go to Edinburgh and find right reverend Prelates to prove that my mother and father were bachelor and spinster at the time of their marriage and that I was therefore legitimate. When you are young this causes you angst. It makes me feel anxious now even to think about it.
However, the people here were so nice to me. They told me to speak only on a subject I knew about. They told me to be careful of the people called Whips. They said that the Whips would try to make me do things that I probably should not do. They also said, "You should be independent. You probably are Conservative although your uncle was Stafford Cripps and your father was on the other side". I could go to any side of the House. However, I was told that it was my duty to come to the House to contribute as I had sworn an oath.
I did not know much about anything but I am grateful to this House for what it has taught me through coming to listen to people. I have learnt more here than throughout the rest of my life, and I appreciate that. I am not a hereditary Peer; I am a Baron. There are Marquesses, Dukes and Earls. I do not like the term "hereditary Peer", but I like the idea of reform.
I suppose that I have to declare an interest—and I did not want to do this. Unfortunately I then became a director of a research company. Back in those early days, we did the research for the Prime Minister, Mr. Harold Wilson, on the reform of the House of Lords. As your Lordships know, his government were a little worried. They said, "We need to get rid of them because they are blocking everything on Zimbabwe"— Rhodesia. So the Bill was introduced. There was a White Paper, and, if I recall correctly, there was a 1050 majority of 195 in the debate on the Motion in the House of Lords in favour of reform, and a majority of 111 in the House of Commons.
The interesting thing about doing research for political parties is that if they do not pay you the research belongs to you. So I scratched through my files, through all the Hollerith cards, and I have revitalised it all. As it is beyond the 30-year rule, I would like to publish it. I have given it an appropriate title—Towards a Peerless Future. I reactivated many of my research colleagues because I believe that one of the problem. s we are facing is lack of knowledge and information.
Are the 94 people speaking in the debate representative of the House of Lords? Your Lordships may be interested to know that the average age of those who have spoken or will speak is exactly 64. It upsets me; I have been trying to get up to the average age for 36 years, and I cannot make it. About 16 per cent. of Peers have been here for less than five years; 50 per cent. have been here for between five and 20 years; the remainder have been here for more than 20 years. I belong to one of that happy gang of about 16 per cent.—the same percentage as those who have been here for less than five years—who have been here for 36 years. I still wonder why. I did not want to come here in the first place, but now I do not really want to go.
I was taught that it was my duty to attend. I actually swore an oath. I was more frightened of that oath than of the Official Secrets Act when, over 20 years, I held unpaid Government appointments—because socialist governments always appoint chinless wonders, hereditary, merchant banking Peers, to useless bodies, where you are unpaid.
I also suffered because I did not like to do what the Whips told me to do. I do not like the idea of two-line Whips and things like that, and so I would never accept them. I invented the "Selsdon Convention". When my noble friend Lord Denham sent me something with two black lines, I used to "Snowpake" one line out and say that I have only ever taken a one-line Whip. I have voted against governments. When I find that I do not want to be Whipped, I am conveniently absent.
At the moment I am conveniently absent for five days a week because I have a job. As my noble friend Lady Buscombe has just pointed out, one of the problems of having a job is that you have to balance everything. Your bosses say, "It is us or the House of Lords, or the Government". They think that we are all wealthy here, but those of us who work in the sort of job I had have to come to an agreement with our employers. We work a 40-hour week for them and the rest of the time is free. It is quite difficult to create a balance. It is difficult to gain expertise solely within the House, so we have to gain it from outside.
As I see the noble Lord, Lord Desai, I cannot resist saying something about his students. When he came here, they did not see quite so much of him. I thought it was rather charming when they used to say "Yes, we see him at the beginning of the term and the end of term, and quite a lot on television". I have learned a lot from him, and I respected his speech today.
As part of my plan, over the past few years I have talked to 53 foreign governments, including some Commonwealth governments, although I have not got round to them all yet. We have not consulted with many Commonwealth countries, but they feel very strongly about the Queen and about this House. Most of their governments feel that this is one of the bodies that can stop the overturn of democracy. I say no more, but watch this space. I am also trying to produce a CD-Rom and I am being trained by PVDN so that I can communicate with all our constituents worldwide. Twenty-five per cent. of the population of the world are members of the British Commonwealth. I am too.
I hope that we will enjoy the next few months. I wanted to sit on the Labour Benches today because I thought they were so under-supported; they have no one speaking.
§ Lord Selsdon
My Lords, we could all go over and then we would not have a problem of division—but we would not vote for them.
I leave it at that. It has been a pleasure to be here today.
§ 9.24 p.m.
§ Lord Nunburnholme
My Lords, that is a hard act to follow! Everyone in the Chamber knows exactly what is going on so I will not elucidate further. The previous four speakers were excellent examples of knowing what is going on.
Not so long ago I wrote a short tome on the three-pronged attack on democracy; the closed list, which has now been effected; hereditary Peers, which we are discussing today; and the single currency, which we shall discuss a great deal more in the future—you can bet on that! It is happening every week. There were the Wool reforms on civil litigation and the 1995 practice direction. There is the business about Wales and All Michael. The Brown shirts came out for that one!
Perhaps I may remind your Lordships—I am sure I do not need to—that the monarch does not rule by divine right. Neither do the Commons rule by divine right. Nor does No. 10 Downing Street rule by divine right. There is only one institution that does rule by divine right. That is common law and the will of the people. If the present Government press on with the single currency, the people of this nation will never forgive them or never forget.
I played backgammon in Turkey for a full month. On one occasion I actually lifted a game off a Turkish gentleman who spoke good English. He reached back for his glass of tea and said, "Ah, do you know that in Turkey we have a saying about the English? If you spit in an Englishman's eye, he will smile; if you spit in his eye a second time, he will say thank-you; if you spit in 1052 his eye a third time, he will kill you". With a very large majority and the arrogance of the present Government, we are seeing the demise of the socialist party.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ Lord Inglewood
My Lords, the evening is drawing on and I hope it will encourage your Lordships to know that if anyone is interested in my thoughts on the way to take forward reform of the second Chamber, I shared them with your Lordships in the autumn of last year. I have no intention of re-visiting them this evening.
Any parliamentary Chamber's activities are determined by its composition, its powers and its functions, and their inter-relationship. A great deal of the debate over the past two days has focused on composition. I wish to comment mostly on functions and powers. In particular, I want to juxtapose some of the contents of the White Paper with the Prime Minister's comment in his introduction that what the White Paper proposes is a "radical and historic task". I do not doubt its historic significance. It is the epithet "radical" I question.
At page 3 of the White Paper it is stated that the removal of hereditary Peers is,a real change in the way Britain is governed".That, my Lords, is an ambitious claim which I suggest is not fully supported by the facts.
Not only is Britain not governed by the hereditary peerage; it is not even governed by the House of Lords, which contains, of course, a large number of hereditary Peers. It is governed by Parliament as a whole. As those of us who were involved in the debates and votes on the European Parliamentary Elections Bill know, it is the other place which governs this country. It did so before the tabling of the Bill that is currently before the other place, and it will do so after that Bill is on the statute book.
No change is being made to the way in which the powers and functions of this House work; merely its composition is to be changed, which will of course affect the way in which it operates. But something similar happens in the other place at every general election. On those occasions the Government may change, but the way of government is unchanging.
The composition of this House is being treated like the workforce of a business that has been newly taken over. The new boss has decided to get rid of many of the workers on what might be described as a "first in, first out" basis. Apart from that, there is to be no change to the system. Things will go on in much the same way as before. Whether the composition, and for that matter the functions and purposes, of the second Chamber of Parliament should be changed in such a manner by those who for the time being are in control of the first Chamber is a matter which might be for consideration by the Royal Commission. Should the composition of a House of Parliament, its functions and powers be constitutionally entrenched against change by simple majority of another place?
1053 The Government have decided that they want the so-and-so's out. I almost used another, vernacular word in this context but then realised that it would be technically inaccurate in the case of hereditary Peers. It is hardly very noble, but it is a recognisable and precedented exercise of naked power. We have seen it before and we shall no doubt see it plenty of times again. I am not only talking about this country.
There is a whole range of political consequences. The Government know that and appreciate that they must deal with them ex post facto. That is why phase two has been put in place, to address those problems. But the problem about phase two is that the Government do not know what they want to do. It is clearly true that they wish to see minimal change to the way in which Parliament as a whole works. Hence they have established a Royal Commission to help them achieve just that. After all, why are the terms of reference of the Royal Commission so circumscribed? It is specifically stated that there is a "need to maintain the position of the House of Commons as the pre-eminent Chamber of the realm." Why is there such a need? What is the evidence? If it is such an overridingly sensible conclusion, why cannot the Royal Commission be relied upon to reach that conclusion? If it cannot be relied upon to reach it, why are its deliberations to be relied upon in other respects?
Given that it is generally accepted on all sides that phase two is likely to set the form of the House of Lords or whatever the second Chamber may be called for many years to come, surely, as my noble friend Lord Norton pointed out yesterday, we should look at the workings of second chambers elsewhere, both inside and outside the common law tradition, to see whether there is anything useful to be learnt from them. Surely our arrangements here are not, in the words of the great Lord Brougham, the Lord Chancellor at the time of the great Reform Bill, incapable of improvement. Why is the Royal Commission expressly forbidden to seek after truth?
While I am sure that the publicly expressed wish to get phase two through expeditiously plays a part in this, surely the real reason is that the cabal which directs the party opposite and the Government is predominantly composed of Members of another place. As any Member of this House who has been a Minister knows, it is cabals in the other place that direct government policy. Obviously, those people love the pre-eminence of the other place and cherish it jealously, with all the emotional affection of the longest serving Member of this House. But surely that is a good reason in itself for asking the Royal Commission to examine the near closed shop which the House of Commons locks on government.
One of the great benefits and uses of this House is that it is a door through which any citizen can go if the government of the day wishes him or her to be part of the administration. In that context one has only to think of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and the noble Lords. Lord Simon and Lord Macdonald, each of whom could not be a member of the Government if this opening were not available.
1054 Given our system, where a member of the Government must become a Member of Parliament, if one adopts the line argued by the right honourable Member for Chesterfield and others that all members of the Government must be Members of the House of Commons, one limits the pool from which the Government can be called to something like 400 people out of a nation of more than 50 million. That I consider to be absolutely ludicrous.
It is my view that the Government might well be improved if more Members of this House were members of the Government. I suggest that the Royal Commission should consider whether Members of this place could speak for the Government on the Front Bench in the other place and vice versa.
I return to the main thrust of my remarks which is that under a description of radical modernisation the Government's plans for changes in the Parliament here at Westminster guarantee that there will be no discussion of the merits or disadvantages of radical change. In many ways they will deliberately ensure a minimum of substantive change in the future functions and powers of Parliament.
In both phase one and phase two we see no genuine radicalism, despite the brave words of the White Paper. The real question for the Government is not to criticise their radical plans, it is to question their self-proclaimed radical credentials. The question is: if the Government's plans are so radical, why are they so timid in their thoughts and intentions? In short, why are they so conservative?
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ Lord Willoughby de Broke
My Lords, as the 80th speaker in the debate, I do not intend to weary your Lordships with my own views on the details of the White Paper. Its inconsistencies have already been well exposed by previous speakers. However, I add my voice to the many others before me who found it bizarre that the Government's White Paper stated its intention to increase the legitimacy of a reformed Chamber, but then went on to suggest reducing its powers. A so-called more legitimate House should surely have more powers, not fewer. I would also not be alone in saying that if I hear the word "modernisation" again I think I shall scream.
I have three specific points to raise which flow from the White Paper and its consequences. When the Government get their way and the hereditary Peers are kicked out—the "affronts to democracy", as the Prime Minister calls us—there will remain a House of about 482 life Peers. According to the figures produced by the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, last year during the debate in this House in October, over half those Peers are aged 70 or more. Further, of those 482 Peers only about half turn up.
We do not yet know whether the mooted 91 affronts to democracy, as proposed by the Weatherill amendment, will be part of the interim Chamber. Are the Government satisfied that the business of the House will be able to be carried out effectively during the period between stages one and two? I am thinking of 1055 the Deputy Chairmen of Committees, the European Communities Committee and its sub-committees and several other committees of your Lordships' House. For example, the European Select Committee on which I have the honour to serve has eight hereditary Peers among its members. The agriculture and fisheries sub-committee has seven hereditaries out of its 11 members. At my count—and I stand to be corrected—the various committees of this House are well served by 67 of those affronts to democracy.
Are the Government able to give the House the assurance that the work done by the committees which is widely acknowledged to be of some value will be carried out to the same standards by a House much reduced in numbers and which may last for much longer than the Government envisage at the moment?
I mentioned agriculture and fisheries. It brings me to the second point I wish to raise. When the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, introduced the White Paper on 20th January this year—and it is repeated in the White Paper—she said that 60 per cent. of hereditary Peers have some connection with the land. It follows, therefore, that when they go that interest will go with them. Twenty-three per cent. of the population live and work in rural areas, 30 per cent. of the national gross domestic product is produced in those areas and a large number of jobs depend on them. I hope that the Royal Commission will put the necessary pressure on the Government to ensure that the rural constituency in the United Kingdom will be properly represented in this House, whatever its eventual composition. This cannot be left to another place which is predominantly urban in outlook. The countryside and the rural economy are under pressure as never before and their voice must be heard.
Finally, I should like to suggest to my noble friend Lord Wakeham and his Royal Commission that they examine a system of party Whips. Yesterday I was encouraged by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, and today by the speech of my noble friend Lord Selsdon who shares some reservations on this matter. At this point I part company with my noble friend Lord Jopling who dealt with this matter yesterday. He prefaced his remarks by saying: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'."— [Official Report, 22/2/99; col. 872.]He then went on to make a case for serial flagellation. I speak as a victim of whipping during the debate on the Maastricht Treaty. I was pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Moran, reminded us of those events, in particular the question of a referendum on that unfortunate treaty. Those of us who supported a referendum were opposed most effectively not so much by reasoned debate as by ruthless whipping by both the Labour Party and by my noble friend Lord Hesketh on behalf of the then government. His final duty was to make sure that the whipped ones went into the voting Lobby of his choice rather than one of your Lordships' cloakrooms. The vote on this matter was lost but I believe that the argument 1056 was won, as some months later both the Conservative and Labour Parties found that they would after all have a referendum on economic and monetary union.
As a "whipee" (if that is the correct word to use) my experience was no happier. I expected to be telephoned at any moment by the Whips Office. It never happened. I waited for the call and it never came. However, one day I received a fax headed, "Top Priority. Urgent. Your immediate attendance is required in the House of Lords without failure". I ignored this and carried on castrating pigs, filling in my IACS forms, or whatever else I was doing at the time. I later telephoned that day to find out whether the Government had fallen or some other calamity had occurred only to be told by an uninterested voice on the other end of the telephone that there had been no vote on the matter at all.
I believe that whipping diminishes Parliament in the eyes of the public. If this reformed House is to be a real and legitimate check on the Executive, of whatever political hue, then the party Whip should have no place in it. Measures that are proposed in Bills should stand or fall on their merits. Both my noble friend Lord Cranborne and the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said that this House would become more party political after the reforms proposed in the White Paper. If so, the Royal Commission should be aware of the dangers and will, I hope, guarantee that the second Chamber will be both legitimate and independent. The amendment of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde is a first step towards this desired goal and I support it. If it comes to a vote I shall vote for it.
§ 9.43 p.m.
§ Lord Gladwyn
My Lords, the White Paper, although very repetitive, makes a convincing case for ending the hereditary principle in Parliament though a bad case for splitting House of Lords reform into two steps. As one of the most junior of the hereditary Peers—I am No. 729 out of the 759—whose peerage dates from the twilight period of 1960, and as only a later arrival in your Lordships' House, I am particularly aware of my good fortune at being here, but I cannot in truth justify it. However hard the present House of Lords may seek to fulfill its functions, however high the standards of debate, however conscientious its membership and however admirable its amateur unpaid status, it is inherently impeded by its preservation of the historical anachronism of hereditary legislators.
In respect of stage one, I should like to make one point that was touched upon yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Denham. The Government could have confined their measure to all Peers who sit by virtue of inheritance. It is not necessary for this purpose to extrude also hereditary Peers of first creation. Earlier proposals for House of Lords reform did not go so far.
The White Paper does not propose the abolition of that part of the peerage which is hereditary. It is perfectly possible, although unlikely, that hereditary peerages might still be created in the future. I do not see why anyone so honoured should not sit with life Peers in the House of Lords. Why is that being prevented? Perhaps because it was tempting to cut the link now that 1057 there are so few living hereditary Peers of first creation, or perhaps it was to prevent future Royal Peers from sitting. If the latter, it is superfluous since, as I see it, the monarchy is already sufficiently distanced from the peerage riot to be affected simply by the exclusion of hereditary Peers. It stands by itself, as do the seven other constitutional monarchies of Europe. Paradoxically, one of its most enduring strengths is that it is not so rigidly bound to the strict rules of heredity, since the Royal succession ultimately depends on acceptance of the Sovereign by Parliament, as has been made clear on several famous occasions in our history, most recently in our own times in 1936.
This debate provides a welcome opportunity for those of us who may not be here after the end of the present Session to speak about what the White Paper suggests beyond stage one. It contains several encouraging features. First, and most basically, the Government firmly endorse the need for a bicameral Parliament, something about which the Labour Party used to waver in the wobbly days of Michael Foot. Secondly, in the face of public concern about their commitment to further reform, a Royal Commission will produce proposals and an ambitious timetable is set for the Government to declare their policy before the next general election. Thirdly, the scandal of Prime Ministerial patronage, which has continued seamlessly from the era of hereditary peerages into the era of life peerages, is to be significantly mitigated in the transitional House by the Appointments Commission and the Scrutiny Committee.
And yet, despite these assurances, doubts must remain about what will actually happen, given the entrenched interests of the House of Commons and of the Crown-in-Parliament in confining the status and powers of the second Chamber. A stage two reform might simply prove too contentious or be set aside in the face of unforeseeable political events. Anyway, the timetable seems impossibly tight. The transitional House might become the permanent House, always susceptible to being packed in the final resort, as the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, has so eloquently reminded us. Alternatively, and at the other extreme, if the Government attempt to rush through stage two, it might not last long during the impending century, in which there might be stages three, four and five as the unwritten British constitution is still further manipulated.
It is most regrettable that the Government are pushing forward their reform in this way when they could well have done so by consensus, finding, as they have, an easier quarry in the ermine-mantled Peers than they did in the pink-coated fox-hunters. Today's hereditary Peers are no diehards. They are altogether different from the proud aristocrats of past centuries. This was proved in the events of 1968 when the House of Lords voted five to one in favour of the White Paper on reform. At that time the hereditary Peers far outnumbered the life Peers and yet they voted for the end of the hereditary principle in Parliament even though the two-Writ system provided some temporary relief.
It is, of course, true that the 1968 White Paper proposed significant reductions in the powers of the House of Lords. The reformed House would have been 1058 confined to only a six-month delay in the passage of an ordinary Bill and the power of final rejection of subordinate legislation was removed. However, many things have changed in the past 30 years and in particular the powers of the Executive have been greatly enhanced—a tendency which is as much Thatcherite as it is Blairite. The weakness of the House of Commons is obvious with the control by the party machines of their candidates as well as the dominance of the fourth estate in all aspects of public life.
Therefore, I applaud the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition for having tabled tabling his amendment which, if he moves it, I shall certainly support. The powers of this House, though they must remain subordinate to the other place, should be strong and meaningful and, whatever they are, they should be used.
§ 9.50 p.m.
Many noble Lords here tonight may believe that after 80 Members have spoken there must be little left of the White Paper to debate. That is true, not least because my noble friend Lord Norton of south and many others quite brilliantly shredded the White Paper with the skill of a Chinese chef shredding a cabbage. There is nothing left of it.
I have listened to every speech I possibly could and I have read all the speeches which were made yesterday and I am provoked into speaking by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. I was reminded of a saying of Somerset Maugham, to the effect that just because a man is inarticulate it does not mean to say that he is stupid. The corollary interests me more: that just because a man is articulate does not mean to say that he is intelligent. I was not too pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and other noble Lords continually refer to this Chamber as the second House. Noble Lords will know that in Tudor times in the ceremony of prorogation, it was referred to as the Higher House. In more modern times it was referred to as the Upper House. If anything, it is the first House of Parliament.
The noble Lord, Lord Richard, also suggested that if the House of Lords were to be properly reformed it might be the second most important institution in the realm. I would have thought. that he, as a lawyer, would know that the first estate of the realm is the Crown, the second is the Church, the third is Parliament — which means both Houses of Parliament — and the fourth estate is the free press.
I shall leave your Lordships with a quotation from the same period of history as the quotation made by the, noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. It is an observation in the third chapter of Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and it has high relevance to this debate. It is a fearful, fearful warning and it is worth remembering that the first democracy which the world experienced, the city state of Athens, lasted only 100 years. The warning is:The principles of a free constitution are irrevocably lost, when the legislative power is nominated by the executive".
§ 9.53 p.m.
§ Lord Annaly
My Lords, as the 43rd speaker to rise to speak on the second day of the debate on the White Paper and at least the 80th to speak during the two days, I am sure that noble Lords will be relieved to hear that I do not intend to detain the House for more than a few minutes. The White Paper on House of Lords reform poses more questions than it answers. We are told in Chapter 1 that the Government are 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".Do the Government want to keep the present and tried balance of power and responsibility between your Lordships' House and the other place, or do they intend to reduce the powers of your Lordships' House? Perhaps the noble Lord the Chief Whip will address that issue in his reply.
I believe that the Government owe it not to this House but to the country as a whole to clarify their position regarding what appear to be contradictory statements and suggestions in the White Paper. In Chapter 7, between paragraphs 23 and 27, there are some suggestions concerning the reduction of the powers which are currently available to your Lordships' House on the basis that they might be used more frequently by a reformed House. As other noble Lords have said, any reduction in the powers of your Lordships' House would make a mockery of the Government's claim to want a more effective second Chamber.
The Royal Commission has a great burden of responsibility. While I have every confidence in my noble friend Lord Wakeham and the other members of the Royal Commission, I do not have any confidence that the Government will follow the commission's recommendations and implement an effective reformed second Chamber.
The Executive is all powerful in another place. That is the case now as it was in the past when my party was in power. Members of another place are subject to very strong and effective party whipping. One of the strengths of your Lordships' House is that the Whips do not have any sanction and, in addition, as has been acknowledged, noble Lords on the Cross-Benches play an invaluable part in our proceedings. Thus it is essential that your Lordships' House is no less powerful in its reformed state than it is now so that it is in a position to hold the other place and, more important, the executive to account. The present Government and previous governments, including those of my own party, are not capable of holding the executive to account. The country perhaps does not understand that and it may not understand that, ironically, this House, in its present, undemocratic state, is the last defence which has some form of lever—by asking questions and causing delay—with which to hold the executive to account.
I shall support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, should he press it to a Division, for the reasons that I have given.
Finally, your Lordships' House will inevitably become more political after stage one of the reform and probably even more political after stage two, if it ever 1060 happens. That is regrettable as your Lordships' House will then undoubtedly lose many of the qualities which set it head and shoulders above the other place.
§ 9.56 p.m.
§ Lord Monk Bretton
My Lords, the White Paper has already been well castigated by noble Lords in those areas about which it should have been castigated. Therefore, I hope that that shortens what I have to say.
I shall deal with one area, and one area only, which I wish to address because everything that I say hangs upon that. The White Paper mentions the Bryce Committee of both Houses in 1917–18. That studied proposals for an elected second Chamber more thoroughly than any other committee or commission has done. The Dictionary of National Biography says that in view of the many and varied views with which the chairman, Lord Bryce, was confronted, which led to difficulties in relation to agreement, he took the unusual step of reporting by letter to the Prime Minister of the day. I am afraid that that does not sound too good a precedent. After all, little was done about that report thereafter and it has gathered dust for about 80 years. Nevertheless, I believe that its proposals are worthy of note and I am glad to see them in the White Paper.
The abilities of Lord Bryce himself were also worthy of note. I should like to saw a few words about the other things that he did, which have a bearing on this. He was a Liberal. He was very well known in the United States for writing a book, The American Commonwealth, which was not read so widely in the UK but was read widely over there. It was a critique of the United States's constitution with many valuable comparisons with our own constitution. He did not express opinions himself; but he had a way of leading one to opinions that one could readily form for oneself. One got a good deal of guidance. It is interesting and important also that the book was written before 1911.
At that time we thought that the American constitution was too unwieldy; it had too many checks and balances and would therefore endanger the Executive's ability to govern. One should look back on that today. The United States' constitution has provided great stability. Their nation has grown to great prominence in the world and those impediments about which we were worried and felt might be disastrous do not seem to have mattered and perhaps were an advantage.
Their opinion of our constitution was rather like the one the noble Lord, Lord Richard, described earlier today; that is, with our Cabinet system of government, the only system. of checks and balances we had appeared to consist of the House of Lords. We otherwise had what amounted to an outright elective dictatorship. The Americans feared that the powers of the House of Lords were already too weak; that the House of Lords was vulnerable to demands for reform; and that such reforms would reduce the remaining checks and balances and render the Executive too powerful. They felt that that could disabilities the nation.
That was 100 years ago. We are still here today. Of course, the House of Lords kept going rather better than anybody, including myself, ever thought it would. At 1061 times it is true that we rushed into political actions which did us little good. Our all-important economy would have been stronger without some of those actions. We have already paid a price. My noble friend Lord Cranborne mentioned his anxieties about what was going on over constitutional matters.
The Americans would suggest that we have two options. One is to remove the Executive from the House of Commons; and the other is to move towards an elected second Chamber with more power. The first of those, it has to be said, is alien to our thinking. But the second, though many doubts have been expressed in this debate, may have to be the course we have to consider carefully and to go down. It will be a momentous change if and when we do. We may have to draw back from the brink—I do not know, we may have to draw back from several brinks!
It is a difficult matter that we have been trying to resolve for many years. That is why I suggest that the "no-stage-one-without-stage-two" proposition would be safer than stage one without stage two. Once the hereditary Peers are gone, I doubt the permanence of a nominated transitional House for long because of the need to top-up to preserve political balances. Unless and until we know, and stage two can be decided, we shall be off on a slippery slope without knowing what is at the bottom. For those reasons I support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde.
§ 10.5 p.m.
§ The Earl of Northesk
My Lords, this is not the moment to discuss the relative merits of the hereditary Peerage. The Government will get their Bill. Rather, it is a case of what comes next. As a number of noble Lords have suggested, that makes it all the more surprising that the context of our debate, the White Paper, is so obsessed with justifying stage one. Far from being a dispassionate exposition of the options for stage two, the White Paper is little more than a party political polemic.
The propriety of this is questionable. It may also be indicative of either the vacuity of the Government's case for further reform or an unwillingness to expose their real ambitions to detailed scrutiny. Peter Hennessy commented that,without doubt the twentieth [century] has belonged to the executive, not the legislature. Ours is very much the executive's Constitution".That is true. There can be few who dispute how much of a creature of the executive another place has become. That is one cause among many for public disenchantment with our governmental and political processes. It is implicit in the text of the White Paper that the aim of the Government is to turn this Chamber into an instrument of the executive; to bind the powers and functions of your Lordships' House to the whim of the party of power. It is that which makes so much of the White Paper so offensive.
1062 Despite high-minded protestation that,Parliament is the core of political accountability in Britain",the underlying thrust of the Government's case is the exact reverse; namely, that Parliament should be accountable to the executive. That is unacceptable. It also underscores a most persistent fiction of the current debate. As my noble friend Lord Inglewood pointed out, the White Paper claims that enactment of stage one proposals will represent,a real change in the way Britain is governed".It will, but what I dispute is the presumption that this House is an instrument of government. It is not, at least not yet.
As the White Paper makes abundantly clear, it is above all else part of the legislature not the executive. As such, its primary and inter-related functions are the scrutiny and revision of legislation and the holding of the executive to account; functions which, for the sake of constitutional balance and good governance, are performed from a wholly discrete perspective to that which prevails in another place. The White Paper freely admits that, even—dare I say it?—with a measure of approbation. It acknowledges:A second chamber not only provides a longer process of scrutiny of legislation, it also allows it to be examined from a different point of view".However, it singularly fails to explain the context of our bicameral arrangement, the Burkean principle of wants and needs.
This is not complicated. To use an analogy, an alcoholic wants to drink; he needs to be dried out. The one is a quick fix, the other an enduring solution. So it is with our legislative process. The other place is driven by a short-term political aspiration aimed at electoral advantage. Your Lordships' House is driven by a long-term, non-political obligation aimed at the "greater good". That is as it should be. It is an essential component of our constitutional balance.
At the moment there are few certainties attached to enactment of the Government's stage one proposals, let alone any of their further plans for reform. However, as many noble Lords have pointed out, we can be certain of at least one thing: the further politicisation of this House will be accelerated. It is implicit in the White Paper that the Government view that with approval. Of necessity, the text pays lip service to the need to maintain an independent element, but recent comments in debate from the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, from the Leader of another place, and from the Home Secretary have undermined the Government's sincerity here. The text of the White Paper is riddled with references to the Government's wish to achieve a more politically effective and balanced House—in effect, a suppression of "needs" in favour of "wants".
The Government's plans for this House do not involve any improvements to the legislative process or to the capacity of Parliament to hold the executive to account. No, I repeat that they involve,a real change in the way Britain is governed".That would break the distinction between the two Houses. It would corrupt constitutional balance. It would weaken Parliament. The underlying theme of the 1063 White Paper is further to subjugate Parliament to the will of the executive. However disingenuous their presentation, that is the sense of paragraphs 25 and 26 of Chapter 7.
The prevarication of the Government's position is contained in the observation that,the range of experience of those who enter elected politics is becoming increasingly narrow".That is a tacit admission that the other place is no longer in a position to acquit its representative duties properly. It is not the sin of omission of your Lordships' House that motivates the desire to create a more representative Parliament; it is the sin of commission of the other place. The implication is that the tradition of this House for objective and dispassionate scrutiny from the perspective of the "greater good" is to be subjugated to the politics of another place.
We are engaged in a battle—a battle for Parliament. Only last week the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, drew the attention of the House to the fact that we are reverting once again to "executive government by decree". That is not a new phenomenon per se. Noble Lords opposite, when in opposition, have been equally discomfited and equally trenchant in contesting the efforts of the party of these Benches, when in office, to increase the power of the executive. That is as it should be. But it should be said that this Government's assault on Parliament is more dangerous than most. Consciously and deliberately, they seek to unpick the constitutional balance.
In a few months' time—or whenever it is that hereditary Peers finally get their redundancy papers—those who remain behind, in both Houses, should continue to be mindful of their constitutional duty. In this House and in another place, we are all Members of this Parliament. That position will persist post enactment of the Government's stage one proposals and, as Members of this Parliament, our first duty is to the institution of this Parliament. No one disputes that one of this Parliament's primary functions is to hold the Executive to account. We should do that as the White Paper says,on a basis other than that of party allegiance.All of us, both here and in another place, should be parliamentarians before we are party hacks. Concepts of representation become meaningless if we are not.
As my noble friend Lord Denham suggested yesterday, administrations should be able to justify their decisions against a litmus test of whether they would be comfortable if they were on the receiving end of them. There will be a future Conservative administration. It may, as some believe, be a dim and distant prospect or it may be sooner than noble Lords opposite care to imagine. But do the Government and noble Lords opposite sincerely believe that their interests, let alone those of the nation, are best served by investing this degree of power in a Tory executive? I very much doubt it.
There is a more chilling aspect to the Government's ambitions. As we know only too well, far-reaching structural changes have already been made to our 1064 constitutional architecture. Despite the rhetoric, these have not—and will not—address the core reasons that contribute to,the national crisis of confidence in our political system"—the dominance of political elites, the over-weening power of the executive and the apparent failure of the representative principle. They achieve the reverse. They strengthen the power of the party political apparat and the executive at the expense of individual voters—closed lists, Rhodri Morgan in Wales, Ken Livingstone in London, and so on. Proposals for reform of this House and Parliament are of a piece with this. The net effect will be to deepen,the national crisis of confidence in our political system",and to elicit further disengagement of the public from its representatives, something that is already particularly well-entrenched so far as another place is concerned.
However, as the White Paper makes abundantly clear, Parliament's capacity to function,must rest on the assent of the people of Britain".Disengagement is but a step away from the withholding of assent. In these terms, delivery of the Government's intent is not only to diminish Parliament but also to undermine its very authority or purpose. That is akin to this Parliament signing its own death warrant.
§ 10.16 p.m.
§ Lord Balfour of Burleigh
My Lords, when I cross Parliament Square and thread my way through the crowds of people, predominantly young and many from far distant countries, gazing with awe up at the mother of parliaments, I wonder whether any of your Lordships share my feeling that many of them are thinking of their school days when they were told that this was the cockpit of democracy where legislation is formed by the influence of great debates. It produces the legislation which, as the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, reminded us earlier, has provided us in this country with centuries free of civil strife.
How far is this still the picture today? Four or five decades ago people who were busy in jobs all over the country—teaching, running companies and participating in local democracy—came to Parliament for the second half of the day, with their minds informed by the pressures of the task that they had been doing, to make the legislation in another place. No longer is it possible for people in another place to fulfil that dual role. Too often, their voting power must be met by the power to delay and frustrate. Procedural rules, introduced in the last quarter of the last century to deal with the problems of minority people, have been built upon. The result is the network of pacts and deals about which many noble Lords know much more than I do.
Most unfortunate is the power taken by those in charge of political parties to control the words and deeds of their members. Those young and idealistic Members in another place have to be so careful about expressing their independence. As many have pointed out, that process is still moving and phrases like "elected dictatorship" have been mentioned. We all have our views regarding just how dangerous that is. But the reason that I repeat what has already been referred to is 1065 that it emphasises just how important it is that the Royal Commission manages to produce recommendations which the Government can accept, and which will maintain in this House the quality of debate to which so many of your Lordships have referred.
Of course we must be clear—in case other people read Hansard—that things are not always quite so wonderful. As in all institutions, we have to sit through dull moments. Some years ago I attended a quick reading course in which we were told that we should moderate the speed at which we read in accordance with the quality of what we were reading. I hardly dare to tell your Lordships that the example given of the prose with the greatest number of words with the least meaning and substance was the Hansard columns of the House of Lords.
However, against that, we all know that the House of Lords committee on European affairs is greatly respected. The House of Lords Committee on Science and Technology occupies the same premier position. As the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, said yesterday, we must not put an age limit on participation in this House. Age limits are imposed because it is right and proper that people should not retain the leadership of great institutions—which requires great concentration over a long time—at too advanced an age. However, we shall sorely miss the contributions of people in their eighth and ninth decade who come to make a special point as a result of years of long experience.
The proposal in the White Paper which causes me great concern is the notion of balancing the numbers in the new reformed House in accordance with variations in the numbers and proportions of the political parties in another place. Page four of the Constitution Unit's report, Reforming the House of Lords Step by Step tells us that as a result of heavy computer studies it is calculated that art average of 100 new Members will be required in this House every Parliament—at least 25 a year. If we think of the swings that have occurred in the proportions of the political parties in another place in the past two or three decades, I think these averages are probably low.
How can we have an effective debating chamber with a good quality of debate with that proportion of new Members? A colossus computer will be needed. I suggest that if it comes, it should be called the Enigma Variation in memory of all those heroic people assemblies come into being. But the deserving result of that proposal would he not so much the numbers but the tendency for the retention of party driven argument to govern debate in this House. It is necessary to have a sufficient number of expert people who are Cross-Benchers or free of party attachment to produce the arguments which, when legislation is returned to another place, will be accepted because of the clarity of the thinking and the knowledge that is provided. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, earlier this evening, mentioned A. J. Balfour and said that democracy is government by explanation. That will be needed to return complicated legislation on difficult issues to another place.
1066 The Royal Commission's task will be difficult. It must perform the delicate balancing act of producing a report which ensures that another place does not feel threatened. It must be sure to retain the power to return legislation to another place and it must provide for the expertise in this House to 'which I have referred. I wish the Royal Commission the best of luck.
§ 10.24 p.m.
§ The Earl of Onslow
My Lords, I shall start with Macaulay and I shall end with Macaulay. It is interesting to note that when the 1688 rebellion took place it was the House of Lords that summoned King William to protect parliamentary liberties because the Commons was not sitting. As your Lordships will know, Macaulay was a Liberal; he was a Whig. He wrote in about one-and-a-half hours the whole of the Bengal cavil code. He was quite keen on the hereditary principle. He holds up as an example Lord Oxford of the time — who was eventually sacked by James II—and, in his great, traditional, Norman, Anglo-Saxon English, he speaks of a time,when the families of Howard and Seymour were still obscure, when the Nevilles and Percies enjoyed only a provincial celebrity, arid when even the great name of Plantaganet had not yet been heard in England. One chief of the house of De were had held high command at Hastings: another had marched, with Godfrey and Tattered, over heaps of slaughtered Moslem, to the sepulchre of Christ".I quote that, partly because it is magic English and partly to show that a progressive Whig in the 19th century could still hold heredity to be a contribution to English political society.
I completely concede that that view has now changed beyond anything. What has not changed is the necessity for Macaulay's balanced Whig constitution. Your Lordships' House arose because the king could not govern without the advice and consent of the powerful nobles. My grandfather and grandmother were quite snobbish, and my grandfather—who was the brother of the next speaker's grandmother, though that is neither here nor yon—used to say to my grandmother, "Don't get over-excited, dear, you are only middle-class peerage".
I tell this story because when we built our house in 1720 we spent 70,000 quid on that house. Twenty years before, Parliament had voted a standing army of 10 battalions of infantry and two regiments of cavalry. The cost of that standing army was £370,000 a year. So it shows how, even in my grandfather's terms, the middle-class peerage had to be consulted because we were seriously powerful.
I am not powerful. I am a small peasant farmer.
§ The Earl of Onslow
I enjoy my privileges and, above all, enjoy the contributions that I try to make to your Lordships' House.
This House must be reformed; it must be reformed so that it represents the powerful, and it is the powerful of the land who come and advise the chief executive. If they think that the chief executive is making an idiot of himself or herself—as all chief executives do with 1067 monotonous regularity—we have got to have something that checks, but checks with an authority which is less than that of the Chamber of the commonality or the community.
How do we arrive at that? I have already suggested that I do not think that I represent power, nor, frankly, do life Peers represent power. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, was an excellent deputy Chief Whip—a man of charm and ability. He arrived here because that great socialist, Ken Livingstone, stabbed him in the back. So what happens? He gets a peerage. This does not represent power; he has contributed. The father of the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, is a Labour Peer, and her ex-father-in-law was a Labour Peer. She has not defended the ridge at Mont St. Jean—she has not even slept with Charles II—but she is still a Labour Peer. She is a lady of ability and charm—we all know that—but she does not represent power. How are we going to ensure that this House represents power and can check the executive?
I could go on about the fact that any constitution that has me in it because my forebear got tight with George I, George IV, or whichever one it was that we all got tight with, deserves reform. But what I hope and pray is that when we are reformed we can act as a check and a balance. When stage one has been passed, it will be interesting: the Salisbury Convention will go out of the window because the Salisbury Convention was, "You don't muck about with our constitution and we don't muck about with your programme". You, noble Lords opposite, have now mucked about with the constitution, so it is now the turn of the House of Lords to muck about with your programme. I think that is excellent because all governments need to have their programmes mucked about with.
When we come to the chairman of the Royal Commission, no Chief Whip has ever had any morals or any sense of right and wrong. They are there as overpromoted Oberfeldwebels in the Prussian Guard to get the government business through. The noble Lord opposite agrees. All I hope of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, who is not present—it cannot be helped—is that he will cast aside the habits of either a Chief Whip or an Oberfeldwebel and take on the mantle of a rebellious, stroppy Peer who speaks to you now.
I shall end with yet another quote from Macaulay because it is a good quote and it is what I hope we shall do. He says:The main principles of our government were excellent. They were not, indeed, formally or exactly set forth in a single written instrument; but they were to be found scattered over our ancient and noble statutes; and, what was of far greater moment, they had been engraven on the hearts of Englishmen during four hundred years. That, without the consent of the representatives of the nation, no statute could be enacted, no tax imposed, no regular soldiery kept up, that no man could be imprisoned, even for a day, by the arbitrary will of the sovereign, that no tool of power could plead the royal command as a justification for violating any legal right of the humblest subject, were held, both by Whigs and Tories, to be fundamental laws of the realm".That is the constitution for which we should aim. If the Bill that is to come before us goes just a little way to that and makes this House better, then I will support it.
§ 10.33 p.m.
§ The Earl of Iveagh
My Lords, I thank my noble cousin Lord Onslow for his history lesson, I have learnt greatly in the process. I must first declare that I have no objection to losing my right to participate in the Lords as part of my inheritance. That having been said, I will be willing to go only when it is shown that the reformed House gains legitimacy in its capacity as a check and a balance on whatever government, whatever their colour.
In defence of the inheritance principle, I should like to make the perhaps quite obvious point that every one of us has characteristics that are a direct and indirect result of our family, from genetically inheritable characteristics such as eye colour and height to indirect considerations such as where we live, the values that have been nurtured in us by our family, our reaction to them, and so on.
We all inherit something. It is a universal human experience and will continue to be so long as science laboratories do not produce and nurture entirely cosmetic clones. I genuinely believe that there is a significant danger that this reform will substantially reduce the universality of this House, reducing the spectrum of its membership to the party faithful and its age range. As someone in his twenties, I must plead with the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, to consider opportunities for the young. This reform may additionally reduce its breadth of personal experience and the divergence of individual Members' ability.
On the last point, it is perhaps ironic that the Government who are challenging the principle of grammar schools on the basis of their elitist tendencies are the same Government who propose an even more elitist second Chamber by the introduction of exclusively appointed Members, at least in stage one of the reform, and possibly thereafter.
Turning to some of the points made by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House in opening the debate, I wish to challenge her assertion that:We have before us Bills which are central to the cares and concerns of most people in Britain".—[Official Report, 22/2/99; col. 847.]An ICM opinion poll as recently as 9th February this year found that only 2 per cent. of the electorate recall the manifesto promise to reform the House of Lords. Two previous polls, both in November, conducted by ICM and MORI found that over 60 per cent. of the electorate were in favour of a clear strategy before implementing change to this House. In view of those points, surely the noble Baroness's statement is at best questionable. The noble Baroness also lamented the fact that the House has spent so much parliamentary time on reform of this House. But surely the Government have more than just a little say in deciding the parliamentary timetable?
In the opening months of this Government's term I introduced a Private Member's Bill to restore full British citizenship to Saint Helenians and those in the Islands' dependencies. This House passed the measure, only to have it blocked by the Government in another place. Still, no measure to address this issue has been incorporated in the Government's programme. Delay 1069 and prevarication have been the order of the day. While we sit in our places tonight, there are British people who feel proudly patriotic but who are denied any political representation at national level. These people's freedom of movement is unnecessarily burdened by red tape and bureaucracy. Their opportunities for work are severely curtailed by cumbersome work permits and visitors' visas. The noble Lord, Lord Naseby, has already made the point that the Overseas Territories should have some representation in a reformed Parliament. I unreservedly join him in that plea. The Saint Helenians are being denied some basic human freedoms. There are presently two types. of Britishness; there are first and second-class subjects. The Government should get their priorities right and begin by giving the under-privileged a better start in life. That would be a far more laudable form of social engineering than the present measures to bar hereditary Peers from this House in the absence of any substantive outline of how this House will finally be constituted.
I conclude by wishing the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his commission every success in their Herculean task. I urge them to uphold the independence and integrity of this House and not to bow to the inevitable government pressure for reducing the powers of this House. I urge the Government to treat the constitution that they inherited with kid gloves. It is far too precious to do anything other than handle it with care.
§ 10.38 p.m.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal appeared to resent the holding of this debate. However, my noble friends Lord Strathclyde and Lord Henley are fully vindicated: first, because it has been an excellent debate; and, secondly, because this is the only opportunity to debate the White Paper ahead of receiving the narrowly focused and spiteful little Bill to remove the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in this House. The Bill owes more to prejudice, class warfare and party politics, and rather less to good governance.
I regret very much not hearing from more Members of the Government and Liberal Democrat Benches. I also regret not hearing from the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, Convenor of the Cross-Benches, whose contribution on the White Paper and the future of the second Chamber would have been much valued. This is a debate which ranges much wider than the terms of the Bill in another place. This debate is concerned not only with the consequences of stage one reform but also all further reforms to determine the future of our second Chamber.
It is unfortunate, to say the least, that the record of this House, and in particular the role of the hereditary Peers over the centuries, has been so grudgingly recorded. I wish to pay a wholehearted tribute to the work of this House, for its dedicated public service and sense of duty, for the quality of its debates, the outstanding work of the Select Committees and for the assiduous and painstaking way in which the House scrutinises and revises legislation.
1070 The set piece debates on such matters as social policy, foreign affairs and defence are read and respected widely. Many academic institutions use them to bring contemporary comment on serious issues to the notice of their students. This House harnesses the talents of the professional, the highly skilled, the highly informed, the compassionate, the enthusiastic and the occasional eccentric. It is a uniquely effective and cost-effective second Chamber, admired throughout the world. I would not have set about its destruction without the secure knowledge that something better was to replace it.
I have searched in vain for the intellectual case for the Government's proposals. The White Paper was certainly prepared in haste. It is very badly drafted, repetitious to a fault and lacks any philosophical comment. It is preoccupied with stage one reform. Reluctantly, and at the eleventh hour, the Government have put a Royal Commission in place. But they have given it an almost impossible timetable. If the Government are in such a hurry to receive the report of the Royal Commission, then why, oh why, is parliamentary time taken up with creating an unnecessary interregnum—time which would be better allocated to dealing with more pressing legislation?
As for the opening remarks of the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal, accusing my noble friends of self-indulgence by her comparison of hours spent by this House on reform of the House as opposed to education and the homeless, it was not only offensive to noble Lords on all Benches, who take those subjects extremely seriously, but it also displayed a total lack of understanding of the gravity and far-reaching effects of constitutional change. A strong, independent and effective second Chamber is an essential prerequisite for the role of holding the Executive to account.
It is a disappointment to many people inside, but more especially outside Parliament, that the tone set by the Lord Privy Seal and her right honourable friend the Leader of another place was hardly conducive to achieving a consensus on reform. Rarely have I witnessed such vitriol and hatred heaped upon the noble hereditary Peers of this House. Such an attack on hereditary Peers is an attack. on us all and it is shameful.
There would have been little resistance from my noble friends on these Benches and I suspect on other Benches too, had the Government decided, before embarking on changes, to take a root and branch look at the constitutional arrangements in the United Kingdom. It is timely to consider the workings of Parliament as a whole, to examine the role, the power and the functions of both Houses, the relationship of Parliament to the Church, to the judiciary and, most significantly, to the people of this country. Only after the most detailed analysis, examination and careful study, including the widest possible consultation and an attempt to secure the broadest possible consensus, should major constitutional reforms be undertaken.
Sadly, what we have instead is nothing less than constitutional vandalism on a massive scale, the effects of which will only become apparent some time after the damage has been done.
1071 I do not believe that many people, other than my noble friends led by my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish who deal with constitutional issues on these Benches, have even begun to contemplate the ramifications of Scottish devolution and regional government. Certainly, my right honourable friend John Major warned of the fragmentation and weakening of the United Kingdom that would result from such ill-thought-out legislation. Already we feel the tensions growing and the almost desperate attempt by the Government to create new committees to shore up the United Kingdom.
As for Wales, the arrogance and contempt shown by the Government are staggering. They were arrogant to describe a 1 per cent. majority on such a small turn-out in the referendum "as the settled will of the people" and for the cursory way in which the Welsh Bill was dealt with by another place. Then, having promoted devolution in the spirit of "let the people speak", the Welsh people did speak, only to be crushed by the might of the block vote. Such cavalier contempt for democracy is truly breathtaking as well as hypocritical. The closed list system of proportional representation for elections, so fiercely defended by the Government, will increase the gulf between the people and Parliament, give power to the party apparatchiks and remove from the people the right to select and deselect an individual Member of Parliament.
The fragmentation that will result from many of the changes will mean a loss of clout for the United Kingdom within and beyond Europe. Without any doubt this is a most dangerous government. The democratic deficit that will result from these changes will be realised only when it is too late. It is against this background that the debate we are having on the amendment of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, which I support wholeheartedly, acquires great significance.
The hallmarks of this Government are: central control; government by spin doctors and political advisers; lack of proper respect for civil servants; disregard, even contempt, for Parliament and its processes—note that they have turned government by leak into an art form—and a greater concern for the next day's headline than for the real issue. The latest autocratic phenomenon is for Ministers to refuse to answer Parliamentary Questions. The need for an authoritative second Chamber is absolutely essential.
Much has been made of the so-called massive Tory majority. I and my noble friends Lord Mackay, Lord Henley, and others who were defeated regularly as Ministers, know that in practice this House cannot, nor should it ever be, taken for granted. The strength of this House is the independence shown by Members on all Benches. By and large, in this House one must win the argument in order to receive the support of one's noble friends as well as the hearts and minds of Cross-Benchers and others. No "yah boo, sucks!" policies here. On many occasions the quality of argument used against me in debates on Bills strengthened my arm as a Minister to return to my department and fight for amendments which were then accepted by the House. It is that independence and the 1072 readiness of Members to subordinate party interest to what is perceived to be the greater good that is so precious and is at serious risk from the proposals of the Government.
The noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal cannot get away with saying that the powers of this House will not be weakened. Whatever their manifesto says, to restrict the circumstances in which a power can be used as suggested in paragraph 25 of Chapter 7 is a restriction of powers. The list contained in paragraph 26 of that chapter provides even greater proof of an intention to reduce our powers. The real agenda of this Government is to increase legitimacy but to render the House impotent to be effective in its role of holding the Executive to account. Nor can the noble Baroness claim on the one hand that the hereditary principle is fundamentally wrong in a modern society and on the other hand deny that the Royal Family will not be affected by reform. Perhaps not now, but the constitutional position of the Royal Family will become more vulnerable to reform with the passing of the Bill.
Under the present Government inexorably Parliament is becoming an irrelevance. One has only to watch the serried rows of government pager-controlled Back-Benchers in another place and to witness the number of occasions when the media rather than Parliament is informed of an issue. It is obvious that the Government would like to neutralise the effect of this House. Yet meanwhile the Executive is growing more powerful and the centre of gravity for decision-making is moving to Brussels.
The Government use slick and glitzy presentations. They describe policies in warm, glowing PR-speak while at the same time they are engaged in ill-thought out and piecemeal constitutional change without any care for how it will develop. The White Paper signally fails to address comprehensively constitutional change and the effects of the interaction between one set of reforms with others within the United Kingdom.
I, too, wish the Commission well in its task. I hope that it will not be constrained by Chapter 7 of the White Paper nor intimidated by the Government and that it will take fully into account the terms of my noble friend's amendment. However, the ultimate test will be whether a stronger, more effective and independent second Chamber will result from its work. But I have to say how sad it is that this House, as presently composed, will not be here to apply that test.
I take some comfort from this two-day debate. The support for a strengthened, independent and effective House, irrespective of whether noble Lords support or do not support the continued presence of hereditary Peers, has been overwhelming. Over the centuries hereditary Peers have performed their public service duties with great distinction in a second Chamber which is admired throughout the world. Evolutionary change from time to time has been enacted only after painstaking discussion and with a broad consensus of agreement. My plea, even at this stage, is to bury prejudice and engage brain before exercising the legislative pen. I salute the hereditary Peers. I regard it as a privilege to serve with them. I believe that the country will come to regret their wholesale abolition.
§ 10.52 p.m.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, something like 100 noble Lords have taken part in this debate. It must be rare for so many estimable persons to spend so much time discussing a document so void of intellectual content and presented in such a dishonest fashion. I thought it dishonest, but it is only half dishonest. It is presented in terms of the modernisation of Parliament and reform of the House of Lords. I now understand that the computer went wrong. The original title was "The marginalisation of Parliament" and the rest follows.
One then begins to wonder why a Government which claim to have the interests of ordinary people at heart in terms of the social services, education and the usual mantras, spend most of their first two years in office putting through a number of constitutional proposals, all of them ill-conceived and most of them unnecessary.
But there is usually an answer to any question of motive. As with some other phenomena at the moment, the answer is what might be called, for shorthand purposes, the Blair/Mandelson project. It is not for me to define it. Fortunately, it has been defined by an impeccable source. A week ago on the radio I debated the question of constitutional change with a Dr. Tony Wright. The doctor is not a real doctor—there is just a D. Phil—but in new Labour circles that makes him an intellectual. This Member of Parliament, who took some notable part in the debate on the Bill which has been going through that House, used part of his time to indulge in verbal abuse at my expense. I do not object to that; good manners are not something automatically to be expected from new Labour! But he did proceed to explain the Blair/Mandelson project. I paraphrase as I do not have the transcript. He said that the intention is that the Labour Party should expand in order to include all the constructive elements in British politics and British society. It welcomes Liberal Democrats, gullible Conservatives, if they can be found, and anyone who will join in progressing towards the goals which that movement has set. Some people might say that that was the very definition of totalitarianism. So much for Dr. Tony Wright.
The noble Lords, Lord Chalfont and Lord Desai, referred to the fact that the only person quoted in the White Paper is Thomas Paine. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, was a little indulgent about his biography. He did not admit that this radical, atheistic republican was also a traitor, that he always sided with the enemies of his own country and that he would have been indicted for treason if he had not fled to France. In France he teamed up with the wrong kind of revolutionaries and only narrowly escaped the guillotine.
One may ask: why Thomas Paine? There is again an answer to that. He is the great hero—the icon, if you like—of the ci-devant Viscount Stansgate, known as Tony Benn. Therefore, one must assume that giving this prominent place to Thomas Paine was a way of bringing even Tony Benn aboard this Blair/Mandelson project.
One then begins to wonder what is the purpose of the House of Lords part of the Blair/Mandelson project. It has become abundantly clear in the course of discussion 1074 and listening to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House that the Government object to the fact that a second Chamber might, unless its powers were drastically curtailed, get in the way. It would be an irritant upon this great forward movement which we are asked to admire. The difficulty with taking that view, and intending also to change the membership, is that the White Paper takes for granted what it should prove. It takes for granted that the hereditary principle is somehow illegitimate. I find that quite extraordinary since, as I have pointed out in your Lordships' House previously, it is a principle which has had a part in the government of many countries and civilisations and appears to be a natural element in the way people perceive their rulers. But then one comes to the question: if that is not legitimate, is there a good deal to be said for the alternative method, which is elections? One might say that elections are very modern. They go back only a mere few centuries. But then one would have to look at their result. If one reads the debates on the Bill in another place or if one goes to watch its proceedings from our Gallery, it is quite obvious that the electors can get it wrong too. There are a large number of wholly uninformed but very voluble people. There are a lot of young women who flit about like a flock of demented starlings with their little microphones, enabling them to receive Mr. Alastair Campbell's instructions. The electorate is entitled to make a mistake. I have no doubt that the electorate will remedy it.
After all, we are dealing with an unnatural government and, as many examples would show, the most inefficient government, let us say, since Ethelred the Unready. Of course, as usual, I am being unfair. I mean that I am being unfair to Ethelred. Ethelred paid Danegeld but he did it in the face of massive military might. The present Government are willing to hand the country's treasure over to Frankfurt in the face of no military pressure at all, merely so that Ministers can enjoy the company—I was going to say the embraces but I thought that that is improbable—of Herr Schroeder and Mme Cresson. Who have you in mind?
Then again, Ethelred never took part, as far as we know, in any chat show. He was a relatively silent monarch. And finally, we know for certain that he never asked his monks to ghost-write articles for the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and sign them in his name.
§ 11.1 p.m.
§ Lord Dunleath
My Lords, it is a privilege and a real pleasure but also a nightmare to follow the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, who always imparts such good sense with such style. It is, indeed, a double nightmare to be the last speaker in this lengthy two-day debate when I know that most noble Lords will be awaiting the wind-up speeches with interest. I say "most noble Lords" because I suspect that I could speak all night and it would still not give the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip enough time to come up with sensible answers to the points which noble Lords have raised over the past two days.
I took my seat as an hereditary Peer a little under a year ago and can claim that, if evicted, I shall not miss your Lordships' House too much after such a short time.
1075 Equally, I cannot he accused of sour grapes through having missed the opportunity of sitting in this wonderful place. Unfortunately other commitments prevented me from attending the two-day debate on Lords reform last October. However, I have read the Hansard reports with care but am disappointed that this Government have taken so little notice of what was said during those two days. On the other hand, I gain some small crumb of comfort from the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, seems to believe that his party will not be forming the next administration, as he predicts there will be an avalanche of hereditaries elected to the House of Commons.
Now we have moved on and have a White Paper on Lords reform and a Bill to remove the right of hereditary Peers to be Members of this House. This Government and the Labour Party make much of the fact that the reform of the Lords and the removal of hereditary Peers are all to do with democracy. That is a nonsense. Much is made of the fact that the abolition of the hereditaries was contained in that Holy Grail—the Labour Party manifesto of the last election. Really one must ask just how many people other than party apparatchiks actually read the document and of those who did, how many either noticed that element of policy or felt that it was an overwhelming reason to vote Labour. Strange as it may appear, I do not believe that the Labour Party won the last election. It was the Tories who lost it, which was not too surprising, considering the mire of sleaze into which they had sunk after 18 years in government. However, it is a fact that this present Government are in exactly the same sort of sleazy mess after just 18 months in power. So much for squeaky clean New Labour!
In spite of the carefully crafted words of the White Paper and official pronouncements, the supposedly democratic intentions of Lords reform are shown to be a lie because, unfortunately for this Government, Members of the Labour Party are quite unable to resist gloating about the demise of the hereditaries. What reform is in reality all about is envy, spite and jealousy. First, we have no lesser person than the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, in a radio interview broadcast on the day that the White Paper was published, confirming that our removal means that,The patronage of vast numbers of monarchs on our history is going to disappear".I suppose that is the socialist equivalent of a right and left; a shot at the monarchy with one barrel and at the hereditaries with the other. Sadly, both missed, so there will be no certificate and no tie for the noble Baroness on this occasion.
Then we have the wonderful comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, made in the same radio broadcast, when she stated that she wanted far greater reform of the composition of your Lordships' House than just the removal of the hereditaries. She said,only if you are born great and good or wealthy do you get into the House of Lords".1076 Really! I wonder under what category the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, was eligible? At least those of us who are quite poor can take comfort from the fact that we are presumably here because we are great or good.
It is reassuring that there are elements of Old Labour still around who cannot resist having a knock at the rich. Maybe it is nostalgic to say so, but I remember the 'sixties and 'seventies when Labour was in power with some affection. Yes, the noble Lord, Lord Healey, may well have talked about taxing the rich until the pips squeaked, but there was something rather endearing about having a Prime Minister who spent his holidays in the Scilly Islands rather than, as is the case with the present premier, in the Seychelles.
Thirdly, we have the utterances of the Foreign Secretary on the subject of the removal of the so-called "club rights" from hereditaries when he said that we would no longer be able to,live like Lords at the taxpayers' expense".Poor Mr. Cook; how my heart bleeds for him having to slum it with his new wife at Chevening at the taxpayers' expense. Perhaps he should invite his colleague, Mr. Cunningham, down for a weekend to see how the other half lives and as a contrast to the jaunts on Concorde or in the private jet, the stays in Conrad Hotels and the meals in Michelin starred restaurants.
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
My Lords, perhaps I may draw the attention of the noble Lord to one of the items in the Companion, which says,It is undesirable that any Member of the House of Commons should be mentioned by name, or otherwise identified, for the purpose of criticism of a personal [rather than a political] nature".
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness will convey that point of view to her colleague, the Foreign Secretary, given his comments about Members of this House.
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
My Lords, I am sure that I do not need to draw to the attention of the Leader of the Opposition that the Foreign Secretary was not making those remarks in this House.
§ Lord Dunleath
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for those comments. Perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, "doth protest too much".
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I invite the House to hear the end of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath.
§ The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Gardner of Parkes)
My Lords, the question is that the speaker be allowed to continue his speech. All those in favour?
§ Lord Dunleath
My Lords, I suspect it is the wish of this House that I continue. I do not mind how Government Ministers choose to live, but it ill behoves them to throw stones when living in fragile glasshouses.
1077 In reality, I very much doubt whether hereditary Peers would either bother, or have the time, to use the excellent catering and other facilities in your Lordships' House if they are no longer allowed to participate in the business of this House. However, it is sad that they will no longer be able to host events in support of charity, British industry or whatever, within the Palace of Westminster, as they do so well at present.
I turn to the White Paper and the business of reform. The Government make much of the fact that stage one has to be completed before stage two can be implemented. There are no valid reasons for that argument. A Royal Commission has been set up and its members selected, to include the noble Baroness, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde. Following extended pressure on the Government, I understand that the commission is to report by the end of 1999—a very short time indeed—and that stage two will be implemented within the lifetime of this Parliament. Given that the great majority of hereditary Peers are committed to sensible reform, and that the sticking point is over the Government's intransigent attitude that the two stages have to be taken separately, why on earth can the Government not give way gracefully, taking the reforms as one package? That will mean that the hereditary Peers are gone by 2001, or, at the very latest, 2002. After all, it is surely an insult to suggest that hereditaries, many of whom have served your Lordships' House with distinction for 20, 30, even 40 years or more, do not have a worthwhile contribution to make towards the future structure of this House. The present arrangement is akin to asking us to leave home without locking the front door.
I understand that perhaps I should not speak for too long, but I have one further point to make. I turn finally to the implications these reforms will have for my own part of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland. In the Province we have nine life Peers with an average age of 71 and seven hereditary Peers with an average age of 58. If the three Irish Earls of Antrim, Belmore and Caledon were allowed to join us, the average age of the hereditaries would drop to 56. I am old-fashioned enough to subscribe to the view that age often equates with experience, but our life Peers do not represent a broad spread through the generations. Of greater concern is that, if the rumours about a retirement age for life Peers at 75 are true, we would lose five of that number immediately and another within a couple of years. With the hereditary Peers also gone, Northern Ireland would he left with just three representatives in your Lordships' House.
Noble Lords have put forward ideas—some ingenious and some well thought out—as to how the new House of Lords might operate. I, too, am disappointed that we have not heard more from the Labour Back Benches. Maybe their reluctance to speak is because they have no real idea of how to move forward. However, we have had a speech of monumental thoughtfulness and good sense from the distinguished former Leader of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, which largely mirrored in content that of the former Conservative Leader, the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. I could detect very little between them and, in truth, I would 1078 agree with most of what the noble Lord, Lord Richard said. Unfortunately, I do not think that he is an advocate of the hereditary Peers playing a part in the debate as to how stage two might be implemented after the Royal Commission has reported.
Therefore, I cannot agree with the White Paper, nor can I support the House of Lords Bill as presently constituted. For us to leave now is not democratic and is downright dangerous.
§ 11.13 p.m.
§ Lord Goodhart
My Lords, the end is at last in sight. I refer not only to the end of the hereditary Peers' membership of your Lordships' House, but also to the end of this debate. There have been times during this afternoon and evening when I felt that the two were likely to continue for about the same length of time.
We have now crossed the gap and come to the first of the wind-up speeches. My speech is to be followed by the speech from Channel 4's "Peer of the Year", the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.
§ Lord Goodhart
My Lords, as they have just demonstrated, his noble friends are waiting eagerly to hear him, as are, indeed, the rest of us. I therefore hope that. I shall not keep your Lordships too long from that treat.
§ Lord Goodhart
My Lords, this has been a very long debate. More than 90 Peers have already spoken. Indeed, it has been so long that my mind has wandered off course from time to time. At one point, I drifted off for a moment and dreamed that we were debating a moratorium on the genetic modification of the hereditary peerage. I then woke up and found that that was what we were debating! Of course, the genetic modification of the hereditary peerage has been going on for at least as long as the hereditary peerage has existed—and I shall not speculate on whether it has created an improved product!
Your Lordships' House has had a curious appearance in the past two days. The Conservatives and the Cross-Benchers have been here in force. The Government Benches have been relatively empty, and our own even more so, although I now notice some rather unfamiliar faces behind me. As far as my party is concerned, I make no apology. Of course we regard the reform of your Lordships' House as a matter of the highest constitutional importance. We, in this party, have been advocating reform for years, even when the other parties were largely silent. We had two days of debate on this subject in October and a considerable part of another day during the debate on the Queen's Speech.
The noble Baroness the Leader of the House was absolutely right in recognising the wish of the House and arranging this debate, but on these Benches we prefer to keep our powder dry for Second Reading. The result of the shortage of Back-Bench speakers on our 1079 Benches and on the Government's Benches has been that the debate has been one-sided and, to some extent, repetitive. There have been some exceptions to that. From yesterday, I note in particular an intelligent and effective speech from the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, on the Conservative Benches, and from the Cross Benches a bold and radical call for a fully elected second Chamber and for progress to that as soon as possible from the noble Lord, Lord Hemingford, who I am glad to say is my brother-in-law.
Today, the debate has been raised to very great heights by the speeches of the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and the noble Lord, Lord Richard, who were to a remarkable extent in agreement with each other. That is the only point on which I agree with the immediately preceding speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath.
Today, we have also heard a thoughtful speech from the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, about the future role of your Lordships' House; a very entertaining speech from the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon; what I would describe as a typically moderate and balanced speech.. from the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, and we have had the sight of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, wearing not only a Garrick Club tie, but also what appears from this distance to be a Garrick Club shirt!
Too many speakers have harped on the same old themes. Some have praised your Lordships' House for its independence. The alleged independence of your Lordships' House reminds me of an experience I once had when canvassing. I rang a doorbell; a woman opened the door; I asked her for her support in the forthcoming election, and she answered, "We are not interested in party politics; we are all Conservatives here". The Conservative Members of your Lordships' House are perhaps a little more independent than their honourable friends in the other place, but they are still Conservatives. Indeed, the Cross-Benchers seem to speak and vote far more with the Conservatives than against them. I note that many Cross-Bench speakers today were even more firmly opposed to reform than were most Conservative speakers.
It is a good idea that control of your Lordships' House should from time to time be in different hands from control of the other place. Speaking for myself, I would welcome a system of election to the second Chamber which would make that possible. We cannot justify a system which means that the Conservatives are always the most powerful party in your Lordships' House, whichever party has a majority in the other place.
Other speakers have proposed a continuation of the role of hereditary Peers in the second Chamber, through the conversion of the Cranborne/Weatherill amendment into a permanent arrangement, or through proposals such as those of the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, and others in various versions, that hereditary Peers should have a right to speak but not to vote.
Frankly, that is unrealistic. The principle is quite clear: no one should have rights to take part in the proceedings of Parliament simply by reason of the accident of birth. Indeed, only Glenn Hoddle could find 1080 justification for that—in his eyes, hereditary Peers must have performed extraordinary service to mankind in their previous existences in order to justify rebirth as heir to a seat in your Lordships' House.
The Cranborne/Weatherill amendment is a useful, pragmatic and ingenious agreement which, I believe, makes it virtually certain that stage two will go ahead. But there is no reason why the special rights of hereditary Peers should be continued even in vestigial form into stage two. Other speakers have emphasised the., need for more gradual reform. Gradual? Perhaps I may remind your Lordships' House that the preamble to the Parliament Act 1911 called for,a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis",and also for limiting and defining the powers of the new second Chamber. That was 88 years ago; and 88 years is surely gradual enough for anyone.
Of course I have great respect for the services to Parliament of hereditary Peers through work in your Lordships' House and its committees. I echo the tribute that was paid so eloquently yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. I recognise that it will be a matter of personal sorrow for hereditary Peers who have made valuable contributions to the work of this House to have to leave. However, hereditary Peers have been living on borrowed time for 88 years. That loan has been left outstanding far longer than anyone in 1911 could have expected; but is now, at last, being called in.
I must also say that some very effective points were made against the Government during the course of the debate—points with which I concur. First, the Royal Commission should have been appointed 18 months ago. It has been given a very tight schedule—indeed, in practice, rather less than 10 months. I hope that the Government will allow it a few months extra if the members if the commission think they need it, as well they may.
Secondly, and more importantly, like my noble friend Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, I believe that the second Chamber should be predominantly elected. In my mind, "predominantly" means at least two-thirds. I am, therefore, unhappy with the proposal in the White Paper which appears at paragraph 33 of Chapter 8, suggesting that two-thirds might be too high a proportion of elected members. In that respect, I fully support what the noble Lords, Lord Richard and Lord Desai, said on this subject. I would not go as far as some in calling for a wholly elected second Chamber; there is, indeed, a role for non-political experts in membership of a second Chamber. However, I think, as our Liberal predecessors thought in 1911, that a second Chamber should be constituted on a popular basis. In my view, a "popular basis" does not mean an appointed one.
Finally, I strongly share the view that the existing powers of your Lordships' House should not be reduced under the new regime, though, as my noble friend indicated yesterday, I do not believe that it is appropriate to direct a mandate to the Royal Commission. Therefore, we do not support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde.
1081 A predominantly elected second Chamber, with at least its present powers, is, I believe, the objective at which we should aim. When we get to stage two, I hope that that is what we shall get.
§ 11.23 p.m.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, perhaps I should start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, for his trailer. In exchange for that, I have given him some supporters on his Back-Benches which would otherwise be quite vacant. I should also apologise to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House—and, indeed, the four speakers who succeeded her yesterday—for not arriving here until my noble friend Lord Denham was reciting G. K. Chesterton. The fault was not in my stars but in my aircraft, in that British Midland let me down badly on my trip down here and the 11 o'clock plane from Glasgow did not take off until about 10 minutes to two. Your Lordships can work out that as British Midland has not reached the stage of space age travel where you just vaporise and appear at your destination a second later, it took me some time to get here. Therefore I am composing a letter of complaint to British Midland, although perhaps I should send a letter of thanks. However, I heard the two opening speeches today. I heard the one from the ill-trained spaniel. I am not sure what canine equivalent applies to the noble Lord, Lord Richard.
The noble Lord, Lord Richard, said that if he and my noble friend Lord Cranborne had been left to get on with the matter, who knows what would have happened? Having listened to both of them and agreed with much of what they both said—as I think did most of your Lordships to judge from the sounds that emanated from around the House—that prospect might have led to a better and certainly a quicker outcome than that on which we are now embarked. My noble friend described this Chamber as the repair chamber of Parliament. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, quoting Mr. Hugo Young with approval, said that we had to be meaningful actors. Both explored the simple proposition that if we are to be a meaningful, good repair chamber, we require authority and standing.
Interestingly enough, the serious changes which have been made to Parliament in my lifetime have not been made by the modernising, progressive Labour Party, but by the Conservative Party. It was the Conservative Party when in government which introduced life Peers. It was the Conservative Party which introduced lady Peers. That may not have been a good thing, but who knows? I suspect that on balance it was. After the experiences of a few moments ago one or two noble Lords might not agree with that. We also introduced the right of Peers to renounce and to stand for the Commons. Of course in the other place my noble friend Lord St. John of Fawsley introduced the important Select Committees and my noble friend Lord Jopling introduced the Jopling reforms. Therefore we have a record of reforming Parliament which can certainly stand comparison with the party opposite. Therefore the idea that we or indeed your Lordships in all parts of the House want a changeless constitution is simply not true. Indeed, when the Labour government in the late 1960s proposed 1082 reform, it was not your Lordships' House where the rebellion took place; it' was in the other place and the reform was stopped.
I think it is true to say that hardly any, if any, hereditary Peer who has spoken has argued the right of all hereditaries to sit and vote here. What my noble friends and others have said is that if they have to go, they want to be sure that the House which succeeds them is as good if not better at its job than this one. Of course I agree that some 300 hereditary Peers hardly or never attend. Clearly they will not be missed. Equally, there are a number of life Peers who hardly or never attend, and clearly they will not be missed either. I hope that one of the matters the Royal Commission will address in any newly constituted House is exactly this problem.
I return to my noble friends, the hereditary Peers, and indeed to their colleagues around the House, and specifically to those who attend. I think it is right that at the end of this debate I should underline the fact, mentioned by many Peers who have spoken, that they have played an important part in the affairs of this House and of this nation. That role is not just played out on the Floor of your Lordships' Chamber; it is also played out in particular in many of the committees in your Lordships' House. I think we should publicly thank them for their work over the years. We appreciate them and they should not listen to some of the spiteful things said about them in the other place, or even here. I refer to the tendency on the Government Benches to be pretty spiteful. Even the noble Baroness the Leader of the House—if I may say so, having read her speech—descended to that a little when she compared the length of this debate with debates on health and homelessness. I have checked the debate of 10th February. It is interesting to note—the noble Baroness did not mention this—that of the 18 Peers who spoke in that debate, one was a right reverend Prelate, three who wound up were life Peers, but of the other 14, six were life Peers and eight were hereditaries. I do not care from where they spoke in the House. I do not think it was worthy of the noble Baroness to make that jibe.
I also think it is a pity that the Labour Benches have been largely silent in this debate. Such is the control tendency that even some who are always keen to give us their views have followed the pager's instruction and taken a vow of silence. Or perhaps their almost total absence for most of the debate—although I am glad to see a few are here now—can be taken by some of us to show their lack of support for this particular government policy. Which is it? Your Lordships should be told. I thought something had gone wrong when the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, was drawn to his feet at one stage during the day, but then I realised the problem: he is so newly on the Government Benches that he has not yet been given a pager.
Despite the explanation of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, it is a pity that the Liberal Democrats have followed the pager message as slavishly as they have. But I suppose that Paddy—if I may call him that without being reprimanded—and Tony agreed on that at one of the Cabinet committees.
1083 When we were so lacking in speakers from the governing party, it is not easy to be positive and say what we can probably all agree on—but I shall try. I think we all agree with page 24, paragraph 6, in the White Paper. It states:The Government believes that there should continue to be a two stage legislative process with Bills examined by differently composed bodies. A second chamber not only provides a longer process of scrutiny of legislation, it also allows it to be examined from a different point of view. A second chamber, whose members are assembled in another way from the first, brings different knowledge and experience to bear on proposals to change the law".I do not think that any of us disagree with that; it is probably common ground.
Again on page 36, at paragraphs 7 and 8, where the role of the second chamber looking into the future is discussed, it states:The role of the second chamber should … complement rather than duplicate the role of the House of Commons. The House of Lords provides a valuable function of scrutiny, without which the burden on the House of Commons would be greater and the quality of government legislation diminished".Those of your Lordships who take part in the legislative process certainly know that from your own experience. That is something I have experienced from both this side of the House and the other side when I was a government Minister.
I shall leave out the bit about the role of the Bench of Bishops. As a Presbyterian, I was reminded earlier by my noble friend the Duke of Montrose about battles long ago. I am not sure whether I am allowed to approve of bishops. But I always listen with interest to what they say, and occasionally I had to vote against them when I was in government.
As to the Law Lords, I also agree with the point made in the White Paper, although I do not think that it is just retired Law Lords who play a distinguished part; I think all Law Lords do. It was a pity that the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, decided to have a debate the other night about the role of the Law Lords and not to subsume that debate into the one we are having today. In that debate my noble friend Lord Kingsland said:I believe that the judiciary is being asked to bear too heavy a political burden. The reason for that is the failure of the political part of our constitution to do its job in controlling the executive. One looks in vain at the programme of constitutional reform of the Government for anything which increases the power of members of the legislature to control members of the executive".—[Official Report, 17/2/99; col. 731.]I fear that my noble friend will continue to look in vain. It is no part of the Government's grand design to enhance the role of either House of Parliament. On the contrary, everything points to a diminution in the role of Parliament and an increase in the power of the executive.
It is because the question of composition and powers are inexorably linked that my noble friend Lord Strathclyde has tabled his amendment. It draws our attention in particular to paragraph 26 of chapter 7 on page 40. That paragraph—which I am not going 1084 to read out, but is well worth reading a few times—starts off by saying:a better approach might be to reduce the theoretically available powers".Five bull points are addressed in paragraph 26. I have no problem with the one which suggests that perhaps Bills which start in your Lordships' House should be treated in the same way, as far as concerns the Parliament Act, as Bills which start in the other place. I have no problems with that, but I have problems with all the others.
I agree—this is where 1 suppose the Mafia not just of the former Chief Whips, as they were described earlier by my noble friend Lord Jopling, but of former Members of the House of Commons comes out—that governments should get their business. Indeed, they do and they did. On student fees, for example, and on the European elections, they got their business. They had a bit of a struggle but they got their business. And that should be underlined. So it is ironic how on every defeat in this Parliament the Government have put out a bleating, self-pitying press release complaining about the hereditary Peers, yet when they defeated us in the last Parliament—I was certainly a recipient of a few defeats at the hands of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham—they put out boasting, gushing press releases about the wisdom of your Lordships' House, hereditary Peers and all. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, said, from the safety of the Back Benches, if I may say, that in opposition Labour described the Conservative defeats as rebuffs, yet in government it describes government defeats as outrages.
I believe that the combination we have in this House of conventions allied to the Parliament Act severely constrain, rightly, your Lordships' powers vis-a-vis the House of Commons. I hope the Royal Commission will say clearly that, until it is shown to be unworkable, any differently constituted House should continue the same mixture of convention and the Parliament Act. It is in an elected, or even in a partly elected, House that the powers of this House and the primacy of the other place would come into the clearest conflict. Absolutely no one should underestimate the problem of creating an elected second Chamber. Whatever it starts off with, it will demand more and more powers vis-à-vis the House of Commons.
I think that there are huge problems about a partly elected chamber, because half of your Lordships—the elected half—will think you are every hit as good as the Commons, and certainly a lot better than the other half. So I hope that the Royal Commission will proceed with caution and will realise that if it goes down the elected road it will have to address very seriously the way it rebalances our constitution between this House and the other place.
There are lots of variations on how you appoint a House, if that is the direction in which you go, but I have no wish to go into them in any great detail. What is true is that there is a great deal of shallow thinking on the Government's part, and nowhere more so than in the suggested relationship of Members of this House to Members of the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the European Parliament. Indeed, the 1085 existence of these new bodies inevitably means that the Royal Commission will have to look quite anew at the situation. That will make its task of reporting before the end of the year very difficult indeed because no one has had to look at these different parliaments in the United Kingdom and in Brussels before.
I want to use the Scottish Parliament as an example, if I may. What role would the Scottish Peers sent by the Scottish Parliament, especially if they were Members of the Scottish Parliament, have here? They could discuss only reserved matters. No Scottish legislation will come to this House, unless the Government have a surprise up their sleeve. So how could Scottish Peers be sent by the Scottish Parliament to take part in English legislation? They simply could not. That is but one small example of how I believe the Government have not properly thought out their constitutional changes. My noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, who knows a great deal about constitutions, made that point very succinctly in a speech which we should all read a few times over to see exactly the kind of problems we shall have if we address the constitution in a piecemeal way.
Scotland offered the Government a real warning—a warning about that well known law, the law of unintended consequences. In the words of very senior government Ministers, devolution was supposed to bury the SNP. Let us look at the facts. To date, the best result obtained by the SNP, which wants to break up the United Kingdom, was in 1974 when it won 11 out 71 seats. All the polls suggest that it is likely to get about 40 out of the 129 seats in the Scottish Parliament. That is a very considerable increase in percentage terms in the influence and impact of the SNP in the legislature.
It is the duty of the Royal Commission to examine the unintended consequences of any reform of this place. I do not believe for one minute that when the Government set out on devolution for Scotland they believed that the consequence would be a more powerful Scottish National Party; they believed that it would be a weaker one. Such is the law of unintended consequences.
It simply cannot be sensible to remove the hereditaries and to make this House, in the Government's words, more legitimate, yet at the same time decrease its powers. Almost all noble Lords who have spoken, as well as outside commentators, are not worried about increasing the power of the Lords or the Commons to deal with the Executive. It is the power of the Executive to neuter both Houses of Parliament which causes concern.
However composed, what we need is a vibrant House of Lords, differently composed from the Commons, clearly not usurping the position of the elected Chamber, trusted to behave properly and to exercise its powers sensibly and, above all, with sufficient strength and independence to ask the Commons, or rather the Government, to think again.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jay, drew our attention to the concluding part of Chapter 2:A fully reformed second chamber will have a vital role in the renewed democracy of Britain1086 I could argue about the word "renewed". However, I shall not argue with the proposition that a fully reformed second Chamber will have a vital role in the democracy of Britain. I certainly hope that the Government will do nothing to bring about a Chamber here that is less effective, less powerful and less of a check on the Executive than the one that we already have.
§ 11.41 p.m.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, this has certainly been a wide-ranging debate. A number of noble Lords kindly referred to my patience in sitting through the two days of debate. It is more fun than farming is at present—just! I have to admit that at a certain point I had that familiar feeling that all that needed to be said had been said, but, as always, not every noble Lord who needed to say it had said it. It would be invidious of me to suggest when that point was reached. I shall leave it to your Lordships to make that choice.
In the time available it would be impossible to mention all the contributors by name. I therefore propose to deal with the questions raised by grouping them into broad subjects. I shall mention noble Lords where I can. I hope in that way to be able to deal with most of the issues raised.
As my noble friend the Leader of the House said in opening the debate, the Government have set out in their White Paper as much as they think it appropriate to say about the issues now being considered by the Royal Commission. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, will recognise the large number of submissions that have been made in the course of the debate. We, too, have taken note of them. However, it would not be right for the Government to respond in any detail to them as so much of the debate was, quite properly, directed towards the Royal Commission and not to the Government.
The Government entirely share the view that it is essential that Parliament should be properly equipped to scrutinise legislation and to hold the executive to account. That is precisely why we wish to reform the composition of this House. In our view its present composition means that it lacks the legitimacy to do properly, and with confidence, the tasks entrusted to it. Of course I should be the first to acknowledge that many Members of the hereditary peerage work honourably and hard in fulfilment of the duties laid upon them. Some have used their status here as a platform to draw attention to important issues which otherwise might have passed unnoticed. I freely admit that. But, as has been said so many times, we think that it is time to change, and we are convinced that the change we propose is the right one.
Turning to the debate in general. I detected what I can most politely describe as a certain lack of intellectual rigour in the Conservative Party's official view on this important subject. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, made much of the Opposition's intention to put thought before action. Having listened to the debate, I cannot help feeling that the Conservative thought process on this matter owes rather more to Rip Van Winkle than to Socrates. Indeed, a number of 1087 speeches from the Benches opposite left the strong impression that in the view of the speakers the major constitutional outrage committed by this Government was to win the last election with an overwhelming majority and with a clear mandate to reform this House.
I turn to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. My noble friend the Leader of the House has made clear that the Government agree with the first part of it. Who can be against an increase in the independence of Parliament and an enhancement of its ability to scrutinise legislation and hold the executive to account? However, in our view where the amendment falls down is by suggesting that the Government should prescribe the work of the Royal Commission. The amendment refers to Chapter 7, paragraph 26, of the White Paper regarding powers but ignores an important point made at the beginning of the White Paper in Chapter 2, paragraph 24. It clearly states:We wish it"—that is the Royal Commission—to consider all the options for reform, consistent with its terms of reference, without advance prescription".What is set out in Chapter 7, paragraph 26, concerning the powers of a reformed House of Lords is a proper matter for consideration by the Royal Commission along with all the other matters which are put forward for its consideration: for example, the arguments for and against an elected Chamber, a nominated Chamber and a mixed Chamber. These are not prescriptions by the Government. They are a description of the areas that the Royal Commission may well wish to consider, and other areas too if it so wishes. They are certainly not recommendations or proposals for policy. They are, to quote the White Paper,Areas where the powers might be looked at".No more and no less than that.
Your Lordships know very well that the formal powers of this House are those of a co-equal but not subordinate Chamber except when it becomes necessary formally to invoke the Parliament Acts. It is now universally accepted and also in this debate that in practice this House is the subordinate Chamber. The only way in which a proper balance between the two Houses respecting that agreed relationship can be achieved is for us normally not to use the powers available to us or to hedge their use around with conventions. It does not seem to the Government an effective way of proceeding for the relationship between the two Houses in the future to be left dependent upon conventions, especially as the rationale for many of the conventions will itself have disappeared with the reformation of the membership of the House.
We therefore suggest that the Royal Commission will need to address the issue. We feel that there are at least two ways of doing so. One is to codify the conventions under which we operate at present in legislation. However, those conventions spring largely from the deficiencies of the present composition of the House. We therefore suggest consideration of a different but perhaps more straightforward and honest approach. That is to look at what powers the House needs to have 1088 available to it on a day-to-day basis—not the apocalyptic powers which could be used only at the risk of a crisis between the two Houses, but real powers, directly addressed to the House's role of scrutinising, reviewing legislation and asking the Government in another place to think again. The White Paper explicitly recognises what the Opposition amendment and other Opposition comments on the passage have studiously failed to do: namely, that one of the results of this change might well be that the powers would be used more frequently. Which is better and more effective? Huge powers which cannot be used or sensible and appropriate powers which can?
So I am afraid that we cannot support the amendment as drafted, although we are in agreement with the general sentiments expressed in the first part of it. However, we do not think it right to support an amendment which suggests that the Government should attempt to prescribe the work of the Royal Commission, with a very important exception, which is set out in its terms of reference, having regard to the need to maintain the position of the House of Commons as the pre-eminent Chamber.
If the Leader of the Opposition decides to press his amendment, I shall advise my colleagues to take no part in the process. We cannot accept that this House should attempt to fetter the considerations of the Royal Commission. For us to support the amendment would he to run directly counter to our proposition that the Government should not attempt to prescribe in advance what recommendations the Royal Commission might make.
Some noble Lords commented on the provisions of the Bill at present before the other place. The Government have taken careful note of the points made in debate. However, the proper time for us to respond to them is in the debate on the Bill itself. I do not propose, therefore, to comment at this stage on detailed points about the contents or drafting of the Bill. There will be plenty of time for that when the Bill is before the House.
My noble friend the Leader of the House explained why we have decided to proceed in two stages with the reform of your Lordships' House. Whether we are right or wrong to do so is, I recognise, a question on which there is a genuine difference of view. I also recognise, however, that it is a question on which a lot of spurious political capital is being expended. The conversion of noble Lords opposite who desire full-scale reform of your Lordships' House—the so-called "big bang"—is entertaining to observe, especially in light of the statement in their own 1997 campaign guide that it was important to defend the hereditary principle in its own right. I reiterate that, based on previous experience, we are convinced that the two-stage approach is the one with the greater chance of success.
The party opposite appears to be in a muddle when it considers both the transitional and reformed House. On the one hand, we have heard about "the Prime Minister's poodle", "an ermine quango" and "Tony's cronies". We have also heard at length about the increased legitimacy of a reformed House and the terrible things that it may do to the Government. I am afraid that one cannot have it both ways. The two arguments cannot both be right.
1089 Chief Whips deal in only two commodities: time and numbers, with the necessary by-products of charm and good will. As to time, my noble friend the Leader of the House pointed out in her opening speech yesterday that by the time we finish today's debate the House will have devoted some 40 hours of its time to Lords reform since last October, before the reform Bill has even reached this House. Therefore, I do not think that anyone can claim that the House has not had sufficient time to debate this important subject.
I turn to numbers. Perhaps I may deal once and for all with the question of the independence of hereditary Peers that has been raised by many noble Lords. Your Lordships will be familiar with the figures, but they are worth repeating. In the 1974 and 1979 Wilson and Callaghan governments the House of Lords defeated the Labour government on average about 60 to 70 times per Session. During the Conservative years in government there were on average 13 defeats per Session. In the first Session of this Government (1997–98) there were 38 whipped Divisions when they were defeated. The Government would have won 35 of those Divisions on the votes of Life Peers.
But the really interesting figures arise if one looks back to the previous Conservative government. If one takes the last complete Session of that government (1995–96), excluding Divisions where there were free votes or votes without a quorum, there were 94 normal Divisions. The Conservative government were defeated 10 times, but nine of those defeats would have been greater without the votes of hereditary Peers. Of the 84 victories of the previous government, 64 would have been defeats without the votes of hereditary Peers. Under the previous Conservative government it was the life Peers who asked the other place to think again and the hereditary Peers prevented it.
Some noble Lords have commented on the power of this House to act as a brake on a government with a very large majority in another place. As Chief Whip I certainly saw that power being exercised in the first Session of this Parliament. What happened to it during the period when the then Mrs. Thatcher had a huge majority? Does anyone believe that if Mrs. Thatcher, as she then was, had faced a House of Lords with Labour vastly in the majority she would not have driven through a reform Bill to alter its composition?
Can we now recognise the inherent unfairness of the present structure of the House and stop talking about the independence of hereditary Peers? The figures clearly show that in the Division Lobbies hereditary Peers have saved Conservative legislation and savaged Labour legislation, including forcing the use of the Parliament Acts on a whipped Bill for the first time since 1949. This is not to deny for a moment the considerable public and parliamentary service that has been given by many hereditary Peers, but it underlines the manifest unfairness of the present House and the urgent need for its reform.
The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, referred disparagingly to the fact that the Government had, as he put it, sat on their hands for 21 months. The Conservative government sat on their hands for 18 years, during which 1090 time they did nothing about reform of the House of Lords. The figures that I have just quoted explain why. But since the general election and the return of a Labour government we have a considerable apparent change of heart from the Benches opposite. We have former Prime Ministers and Cabinet Ministers in another place and here suddenly alive to the merits of an elected second Chamber and the increased power of Parliament to check the Executive. Many noble Lords in this debate have asked for increased powers for the House of Lords. We have a commission set up under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. We also have pressure groups such as Commonsense for Lords Reform. The Conservative change of stance on reform since the General Election makes St. Paul on the road to Damascus look like a mere novice. After what Ernie Bevin might have described as complete "ignoral" of the subject for 18 years, we now have in the Conservative Party a veritable posse of latterday Daniels come to judgment on Lords reform.
Does anyone imagine for one moment that had the Conservative Party won the last election it would have produced proposals for the reform of the House of Lords? Of course not! We know why not. The figures that I have given illustrate why. The present structure of the House admirably suits the Conservative Party. We can be quite certain that if it had formed the Government in 1997 there would have been no question of it considering reform of the House of Lords.
My noble friend the Leader of the House asked whether the Conservative Party had resiled from its defence of the hereditary principle in this House as set out in the 1997 Conservative campaign guide:Hereditary Peers bring colour, tradition, youth and a wealth of experience to Parliament. They are links with the customs and traditions that form and shape this country. They also serve an important function in preserving the flexible balance of our constitution".Several very senior Conservatives in another place no longer seem to hold that view. I believe that the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, seems to have changed his mind from what we heard earlier. Sadly, the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition and the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, did not deal with that very important point. The simple question remains: does the Conservative Party still believe in the hereditary principle in the House of Lords as set out in its 1997 campaign guide?
A number of noble Lords commented on the tight timetable, as they put it, proposed for the Royal Commission under its terms of reference. I cannot do better than quote the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, who said yesterday,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".—(Official Report, 22/2/99; col. 870.]1091 Other noble Lords asked why we did not set up the Royal Commission after the election in 1997. As the terms of reference of the Royal Commission make clear, we wanted it to take into account the wider context of the other constitutional reforms that we have put in place such as devolution and the incorporation of human rights into our domestic legislation, and to take account also of our developing relations with the European Union. That simply would not have been possible 20 months ago when the devolution and human rights legislation was not even on the statute book.
It is, of course, for Parliament ultimately to decide on the recommendations of the Royal Commission. As your Lordships are well aware, no government is bound by the conclusions of a Royal Commission. We have deliberately not pre-empted the process of consultation and deliberation by giving an indication at this stage of our preference for the long-term House of Lords. By the same token, we cannot predict that the outcome of the commission's work will be wholly acceptable to the Government. But, obviously, we shall take extremely serious account of all its recommendations and will give careful consideration in our response. There will be no question of ignoring the work of the Royal Commission.
A number of noble Lords asked about the possibility of retaining seats, but not voting. The Government believe it wrong for anyone to be a Member of Parliament on the basis of inheritance alone. That is the principle on which our proposals are based. It may be argued that preventing hereditary Peers from voting removes their ability to defeat the government of the day. However, your Lordships well know the importance of speaking in this House as compared with simply voting. We move to a vote comparatively rarely. Most of the work of this House is done through speaking. For example, we table numerous amendments on government legislation which are never pressed to a vote so issues can be aired. That is a valuable function and I would certainly not wish to see it undermined by a presumption that everything should be pressed to a vote. But it points out how much power will be retained by the hereditary Peers if they retain their right to sit and speak even without the right to vote.
There is the question of club rights. Several noble Lords have commented that the Government are being unnecessarily harsh in proposing that hereditary Peers should lose their right to use the refreshment facilities, the Library and other facilities in the House. I ask noble Lords to look at the realities. Your Lordships' House is not a club, but a Chamber of Parliament. We are here to do a job of work. The facilities are provided to assist Members in fulfilling their functions. It would not be right to insist that hereditary Peers, no longer having any function in the House, should still have the right to the use of those facilities provided by the taxpayer to support the work of Parliament. But if the transitional House itself decided as a concession to extend the use of the facilities to non or former Members that would be entirely a matter for it. Indeed, as Chief Whip I can already detect the first request for a two-day debate in the transitional House.
1092 Are the Parliament Acts available to secure the passage of the reform Bill? The 1911 Act makes its scope very clear. There are special arrangements for money Bills. Bills to extend the life of a Parliament are outside its scope. All other public Bills introduced first in the Commons are subject to its provisions. Since the question of reform of the House of Lords was at the forefront of debate at the time the 1911 Act was passed and the Act's preamble makes explicit reference to further reform of the House of Lords, I find it inconceivable that Parliament would not have made a restriction on the use of the Act's powers for this purpose on the face of the Act if that had been its intention. Since the Act makes no specific provision of this kind, the normal rules for the construction of the Act must be followed and therefore the general provisions of the Act have to apply even to Bills reforming the House of Lords. The 1949 Act merely changed the time for which the House of Lords could delay a measure.
I turn to the question of a retirement age. I thought yesterday's suggestion that the proper retirement age should be 105 a shade ambitious. The Government are proposing no change to the life peerage in the transitional House. Neither a retirement age nor the ability to disclaim a life peerage could be introduced without legislation to amend the Life Peerages Act. The Government have made no such proposals and they could not be implemented without the consent of Parliament. Your Lordships will note that some 86 per cent. of the transitional House would be life Peers reflecting on a proposal for their own demise.
The noble Baroness, Lady Strange, kindly referred to a quotation from a great American judge which I used in a speech in this House in April 1995. I must congratulate the noble Baroness on the assiduity of her research. The quotation came from a ground-breaking speech which I made on the Poultry Meat, Farmed Game Bird Meat and Rabbit Meat (Hygiene and Inspection) Regulations 1995. And I stand by every word I said!
The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, asked what the Government mean by their reference in Chapter 7. paragraph 26, to removing artificial restraints on the management of business. As I explained, these are ideas which the Government suggest the Royal Commission would find it useful to consider. There is always a problem at the beginning of each Session in finding business for your Lordships' House. Conversely, there are frequent complaints about the logjam of legislation we face at the end of each Session. The provisions of the Parliament Act are not the only reason for that problem, but they do contribute to it. We believe that the Royal Commission could usefully look at that issue.
We heard blood-curdling speeches from the noble Lords, Lord Waddington and Lord Glenarthur, regarding safeguards to prevent the Prime Minister flooding the House of Lords and subverting it into passing an Act to extend the life of a Parliament. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, will have listened with interest to those contributions. I find the scenario which the noble Lords outlined extremely 1093 far-fetched. The presence of hereditary Peers makes no difference to the powers of the Prime Minister. With or without them, he has the power to recommend such creations. We know that Lloyd George used them long before there were life Peers. I would inquire whether the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, had the same fears when the party opposite commanded a large majority in both Houses. He was the Home Secretary responsible for constitutional matters. Did he bring his fears to the attention of the Prime Minister, Mrs. Thatcher, at the time? I am sure that unintentionally noble Lords who make that point impugn the constitutional integrity of life Peers. The only threat to flood the House came when the House consisted entirely of hereditary Peers.
There was a question about the possibility of Peers crossing the Floor or dying and thereby altering the parity intended for the transitional House. I accept that Peers may well cross the Floor or, more likely but less fortunately, may pass away. They could do both, I suppose! That is one of the reasons why we presently seek only broad as opposed to exact parity of numbers with the main Opposition party.
There was a question from the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, about what we have in mind in Chapter 7, paragraph 27, about the procedures of the House. As your Lordships' House well knows, the context in which powers are used and the way the powers are used has a significant contribution to make to their effectiveness. If the Royal Commission is making recommendations about powers, it is entirely reasonable for it to indicate how it sees those powers being used. Although I have no knowledge of this and should not wish to speculate, it may be that its proposals in relation to powers may not sit well with our existing procedures. The White Paper acknowledges that the procedures of your Lordships' House are a matter for it to determine and not a matter for the Government.
I must say a few words about the future of the monarchy. Our manifesto made it abundantly clear that we have no plans to replace the monarchy. The arguments against the hereditary principle in connection with the House of Lords simply do not apply to the monarchy. The monarch performs a completely different function in our constitution. It is essential that a monarchy remains totally unconnected with politics. The House of Lords is part of the legislature. It obviously has a relationship with the government of the day and its right and opportunity to make its public comments on the actions of the government. It is inevitably, and despite the presence of the Cross-Bench Peers, a part of the political process. The monarchy, on the other hand, is above and outside politics. It is essential for the proper function of the UK constitution that it should be so and seen to be so. Only a hereditary system will ensure that no potential monarch has a political past. It is worth pointing out that several modern democracies—for example, Japan, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Greece—continue to function with a hereditary monarchy and have no place in the legislature for an hereditary aristocracy.
There are many other points and I obviously cannot deal with them all. However, I wish to make an important point. We have made it clear that we should 1094 be minded to accept the Weatherill amendment if it enabled progress to be made by consensus and without disruption of the Government's programme.
The first threats came from the opposition side when it was suggested that opposition to this Bill could take the form of excessive opposition to other unconnected parts of the Government's programme. It was not this side of the House which coined the phrase "hooligan" in connection with reform. The House has always prided itself on being a self-regulating body. It well knows what forms of opposition are within its rules and what are not. That includes the spirit in which amendments are moved.
The noble Lord, Lord Denham, referred to that in his speech. Perhaps I may put the question back to him. During his 30 years' experience in the Whip's Office, how many times did this House insist more than twice on an amendment against the wishes of another place? As far as I know, since 1968, this House has never, until last Session, insisted more than twice on an amendment. But your Lordships all know what happened to the European Parliamentary Elections Bill.
We all have a great affection for the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish and his bravura displays at the Dispatch Box.
§ Lord Carter
However, my Lords, listening to him this evening, I did just wonder whether that Channel 4 "Peer of the Year" award had slightly got to him. Listening to him, I could not help remembering Mark Twain's remark about someone preaching like a Baptist on moonshine.
We heard a lot from the noble Lord as the constitutional spokesman. But we still do not know what is the Conservative Party's policy on reform. I have referred already to the eulogy of the hereditary principle in the 1997 campaign guide. As far as I know, there were no proposals in the Conservative manifesto to reform the Lords. We all know what the Conservative Party is against but what does it support? What are its proposals for reform? I give one example. We understand that it supports the Weatherill amendment, although I do not believe that noble Lords opposite have actually said so in this debate.
The noble Lord referred to the European Parliamentary Elections Bill as a bit of a struggle. Every defeat of the Government on that Bill was by the votes of hereditary Peers. The life Peers won every vote on that Bill in both Sessions. I have already referred to the fact that that was the only occasion since 1949 when there was the use of the Parliament Acts on a whipped Bill. We still do not know what is the Conservative Party policy on reform. We have set out our policy clearly. It is clear. We have a Bill to remove the hereditary Peers' right to sit and vote. Have your 1095 Lordships not noticed that? We then propose a transitional House. We have appointed a Royal Commission, followed by a Joint Committee.
§ Lord Carter
What is "ha, ha" about that? We have appointed a Royal Commission, followed by a Joint Committee which will produce proposals for the final stage of reform. They will be considered by Parliament and, if approved, will be put into place.
In conclusion, as I said at the start of my speech, we have had a full and wide-ranging debate and many differing views have been expressed. I have made it clear that these Benches will not take part in any Division on the Opposition amendment. But, on a positive note, I will set out again the Government's objective for the reform process and I cannot do better than quote from the White Paper. It says,The Government wants to see the House of Lords as a modem, fit and effective second Chamber of Parliament for the 21st century".We believe it can be that: it can be a fully reformed second Chamber and have a vital role in the renewed democracy of Britain.
§ 12.10 a. m.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, it is always such a pleasure to follow the Government Chief Whip—he makes the indefensible sound so reasonable. He has done it many times before and he has done it again this evening.
Anybody who came into this debate yesterday afternoon with a very fixed view as to what future shape the House of Lords should have will undoubtedly have changed that view many times during the course of what has been a fascinating and, at moments, exciting debate. I suspect that it made the job of the Royal Commission considerably more difficult, but I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Wakeham and the noble Baroness, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, who has sat through so much of this debate.
I believe that we were right to have this debate. As I said in my speech, this was the debate the Government never wanted; the White Paper they never wanted to publish; the Royal Commission they never wished to appoint. But this debate proved how right it was to do it and how right it was to table this amendment.
The amendment is a simple and broadly-based one. It is designed to appeal to as many people in the House as possible. That is why I was so delighted to have the broad support, though I suspect I shall not have the specific support this evening, of the noble Lord, Lord Richard.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, with great respect, the noble Lord either has not listened to me—perhaps I was not speaking loudly enough—or he has not understood. I never supported his amendment. Indeed, I specifically argued in my speech for a reduction in the powers of 1096 the Lords when the legitimacy of this House has been put right. How the noble Lord can convert that into what he just said I have no idea.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, that is the second time in the course of this debate that the noble Lord has put the record straight. But he did say it because I wrote it down; I thought it was important. He said that the aim of the reform should be to "strengthen the second Chamber". My amendment does not even go as far as that. It simply says that the powers of this House should not be reduced.
The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, was good enough to say that he supported the principle of my amendment but for a technical reason in relation to "take note" Motions, he did not feel able to support it in the Division Lobby. That is up to him.
One thing that I very much welcome is the sight of so many Labour Peers in the House this evening. It is sad that more of them were not around earlier during the course of the debate. They would have found it interesting and may well have learnt much as well. It is also regrettable that we did not hear from them. This was a debate on the future of the House of Lords. It is not about the Bill; it is not about hereditary Peers. It is about the kind of House which they will substantially inherit since there are so few hereditary Peers on their Benches. Yet they have shown a tremendous lack of interest.
This morning in The Times there was a report. written following a substantial survey by that newspaper, about the so-called "working Peers" of the Labour Party. Over the course of the past two days we have witnessed what is a genuine misnomer. They are not working Peers; they are shirking Peers. That is not just a contempt of this House; it is a contempt of Parliament and it is also a contempt of the people who elected the Labour Party.
My amendment is concerned with not reducing the powers of this House any further. I wish to put it to a vote. I very much hope that it will be supported widely on all sides of the House. It is important that this House's voice should be heard. I commend it to the House.
§ 12.14 a. m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided Contents, 193; Not-Contents, 2.1098
|Division No. 1|
|Addison, V.||Beloff, L.|
|Aldington, L.||Belstead, L.|
|Allenby of Megiddo, V.||Biddulph, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Biffen, L.|
|Anelay of St. Johns, B.||Birdwood, L.|
|Annaly, L.||Blackwell, L.|
|Astor of Hever, L.||Blaker, L.|
|Baker of Dorking, L.||Blatch, B.|
|Bathurst, E.||Boardman, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Boston, L.|
|Braybrooke, L.||Howell of Guildford, L.|
|Brentford, V.||lddesleigh, E.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Inglewood, L.|
|Bnrntisfield, L.||Iveagh, E.|
|Burnham, L. [Teller.]||Jenkin of Roding, L.|
|Buscombe, B.||Jopling, L.|
|Cadman, L.||Kenyon, L.|
|Caithness, E.||Killearn, L.|
|Carew, L.||Kimball, L.|
|Carlisle of Bucklow, L.||King of Wartnaby, L.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Kingsland, L.|
|Carnock, L.||Kinloss, Ly.|
|Chadlington, L||Kinnoull, E.|
|Chalfont, L.||Laing of Dunphail, L.|
|Chalker of Wallasey, B.||Lamont of Lerwick, L.|
|Charteris of Amisfield, L||Lane of Horsell, L.|
|Chilver, L.||Lauderdale, E.|
|Clanwilliam, E.||Leigh, L.|
|Clifford of Chudleigh, L.||Lindsey and Abingdon, E.|
|Clinton, L.||Liverpool, E.|
|Clitheroe, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Cobbold, L.||Luke, L.|
|Colwyn, L.||Lyell, L.|
|Cope of Berkeley, L.||Mackay of Ardbrecknish. L.|
|Cowdrey of Tonbridge, L.||Mackay of Drumadoon, L.|
|Craig of Radley, L.||Macleod of Borve, B|
|Cranborne, V.||Mancroft, L.|
|Crickhowell, L.||Marlesford, L.|
|Cross, V.||Masham of Ilton, B.|
|Dacre, B.||Mayhew of Twysden, L.|
|Dartmouth, E.||Mills, V.|
|De L'lsle, V.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Dean of Harptree, L.||Monro of Langholm, L.|
|Denbigh, E.||Monson, L.|
|Denham, L.||Moran, L.|
|Denman, L.||Morris, L.|
|Derwent, L.||Mountevans, L.|
|Dixon-Smith, L.||Moynihan, L.|
|Donegall, M.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Dudley, E.||Napier and Ettrick, L.|
|Dundee, E.||Naseby, L.|
|Dunleath, L.||Nathan, L.|
|Eden of Winton, L.||Newall, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Norrie, L.|
|Elles, B.||Norton, L.|
|Elliott of Morpeth, L.||Norton of Louth, L.|
|Exmouth, V.||Onslow, E.|
|Falmouth, V.||Onslow of Woking, L.|
|Fookes, B.||Oxfuird, V.|
|Forbes, L||Palmer, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Patten, L.|
|Gage, V.||Peel, E.|
|Gainford, L||Pender, L.|
|Gardner of Parkes, B.||Pilkington of Oxenford, L.|
|Geddes, L.||Platt of Writtle, B.|
|Gisborough, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Rawlings, B.|
|Glenarthur, L.||Reay, L.|
|Glentoran, L.||Rees, L.|
|Goschen, V.||Rennell, L.|
|Gray, L.||Renton of Mount Harry, L.|
|Greenway, L.||Renwick, L.|
|Haig, E.||Romney, E.|
|Halifax, E.||St Davids, V.|
|Hamilton of Dalzell, L.||St. Germans, E.|
|Harding of Petherton, L.||St John of Fawsley, L.|
|Harris of High Cross, L.||Seccombe, B.|
|Hemphill, L.||Selsdon, L.|
|Henley, L. [Teller.]||Shaw of Northstead, L.|
|Hesketh, L||Shrewsbury, E.|
|Higgins, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Holderness, L.||Somerset, D.|
|HolmPatrick, L.||Soulsby of Swaftham Prior, L.|
|Hooper. B.||Stewartby, L.|
|Howe of Aberavon, L.||Strange, B|
|Strathcarron, L.||Waddington, L.|
|Strathclyde, L.||Warnock, B.|
|Sudeley, L.||Weir, V.|
|Swansea, L.||Westbury, L.|
|Teviot, L.||Wharton, B.|
|Thomas of Gwydir, L.||Wilcox, B.|
|Willoughby de Broke, L.|
|Torrington, V.||Willoughby de Eresby, B.|
|Trefgarne, L.||Wise, L.|
|Trenchard, V.||Wynford, L.|
|Trumpington, B.||Young, B.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L. [Teller.]||Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly. [Teller.]|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ 12.28 a. m.
§ The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Hooper)
My Lords, the Question is that the original Motion, as amended, be agreed to. As many as are of that opinion will say "Content"; to the contrary "Not-Content". I think the "Not-Contents" have it. Clear the Bar.
§ Division called.
The Deputy Speaker
My Lords, Tellers for the "Not-Contents" have not been appointed pursuant to Standing Order No. 51. A Division therefore cannot take place, and I declare that the "Contents" have it.
§ Motion, as amended, agreed to.
§ House adjourned at twenty-eight minutes before one o'clock.