HL Deb 15 June 1999 vol 602 cc180-99

6.17 p.m.

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed.

[Amendments Nos. 3 to 5 not moved.]

Clause 1 [Exclusion of hereditary peers]:

Lord Randall of St Budeaux moved Amendment No. 6:

Page 1, line 5, at beginning insert ("Subject to subsection (2)")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 6 I will speak also to Amendments Nos. 9, 59 and 62.

Perhaps I may first give a brief overview of the effect of the amendments and then explain my rationale for bringing them forward. I will give then a brief description of each amendment.

The principle upon which this group of amendments is based is that the heirs of hereditary Peers would lose their automatic right of becoming Members of the House of Lords. It means that all hereditary Peers would remain in the House until they die but they will not be succeeded by their heirs. In other words, after the Bill receives Royal Assent, the House will remain exactly as it is now. This approach does not countenance an instantaneous and arbitrary removal of a large proportion of the membership of the House.

However, to remain consistent with the Labour Party manifesto, it is necessary to introduce immediately fairer voting arrangements in the House of Lords. I believe it is unreasonable and not at all sensible that the Conservative Party should have in perpetuity a large, overwhelming majority over the Government, in this case the Labour Party. In my view, there is not a sound case for retaining this voting imbalance. My proposal therefore introduces a weighted voting system which puts the Conservative and Labour Parties, to all intents and purposes, on an equal footing, the independence of the House being maintained through the votes of all other Peers. To put it simply, all Peers would have the right to vote. Under the current membership figures of the House, the weighting would result in Government votes being multiplied by 2.7. That is all we need to do. Implementation is simple.

The principle on which my proposals are based is, first, to leave the membership of the House as it is at the moment but not to allow Peers who die to be succeeded by their heirs and, secondly, to multiply Labour votes, as Contents and Not-Contents, by 2.7. That is all that needs to be done for phase one reform of the House of Lords. What I have said is utterly consistent with the manifesto. Nothing more needs to be done.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I am intrigued by my noble friend's assertion that everything he says is consistent with the Labour manifesto. I do not know how hard he fought before 1st May 1997. I know how hard I did. I know the belief that after 90 years of travail a Labour government would immediately remove the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in the House. My noble friend's proposition allows hereditary Peers to continue to sit and vote in the House but the imbalance in voting strength is dealt with by increasing the value of a Labour vote. That may be an ingenious idea. but I should like my noble friend to explain a little further how he sees that to be consistent with the Labour manifesto and also to explain what he thinks the rest of us were fighting the election for.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux

My Lords, I shall try to give my noble friend what I think is a fair answer. All along we have been discussing the removal of hereditary Peers, but we have not had one debate in the House on how we should go about it. Furthermore, there is nothing in the manifesto about the speed with which hereditary Peers should be removed. So there is consistency with the manifesto. The principle on which my proposals are based is not to replace hereditary Peers with their heirs and then to multiply the Labour vote by 2.7.

Perhaps I may explain why I have submitted these amendments. I shall do so by referring to two points of relevant Labour Party history, the party of which I have been a member for 35 years, and the party for which I have great affection. The first major reason for Lords reform arises from the poll tax defeat. I was in the House of Commons at the time and everyone was furious, including me. It was a huge public relations disaster for the House of Lords. As a consequence there is overwhelming support for properly balancing the voting in this House so that the Government can get their business through on a fair basis. The Labour Party felt that the only way to get that balance right was immediately to get rid of hereditary Peers, because hereditary Peers are predominantly Conservative. I believe that that view was erroneous.

My second point about Labour Party history—and we should be open about it—is that there is still in the Labour Party a tumbrel mentality. The Labour manifesto was written when Labour were in opposition, and there were, and still are, people in the Labour Party who, like Madame Defarge, wanted to see the elimination of hereditary Peers at all costs and as quickly as possible. Those elements of Labour Party history are at the heart of the Bill and will be seen as part of Labour's constitutional—

Noble Lords


Baroness Gould of Potternewton

My Lords, will my noble friend give way?

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux

My Lords, I am not giving way. There is no "Order" at all. I will give way when I am ready.

Noble Lords


Lord Randall of St. Budeaux

My Lords, I am told that it is a custom of the House that I should give way. It is at my discretion when to give way and I will give way. However, that does not mean to say that one has to finish in the middle of one's sentence. I will be courteous and give way in a moment.

Those elements of Labour Party history are at the heart of the Bill and they will also be seen as part of Labour's constitutional reform package, which so far has been highly commendable. I give way.

Baroness Gould of Potternewton

My Lords, I thank my noble friend most sincerely. My noble friend gave two reasons for his proposal. I was waiting for the issue of democracy to arise. One of the reasons that the Labour Party wrote this into the manifesto concerned the position of the hereditary principle in a modern democracy. I was puzzled not to hear my noble friend say that because that is at the heart of what we are discussing.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that intervention. I do believe that we live in a democracy and we have to respond to that. That is why everything I am saying is utterly consistent with the Labour Party manifesto.

Perhaps I may deal with the way in which the voting system will work. As a result of the Labour Party's submissions on this issue, I have swung away from the idea of having an elected House—I made that point at earlier stages of the Bill—towards the idea of the strong independence of the House.

Lord Davies of Coity

My Lords, perhaps I may—

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux

My Lords, I should now like to deal briefly with how this manifesto commitment was taken forward.

Noble Lords


Lord Davies of Coity

My Lords, I am most grateful. My noble friend said that what he is advocating is not inconsistent with the Labour Party's manifesto pledge in as much as the manifesto did not mention timing. The manifesto pledge to which the Labour Government are committed is to remove the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in the House. I understood my noble friend to say that he supports the views that the heirs and successors of hereditary Peers would not be allowed to sit and vote in the House. Does he not agree that there is some degree of inconsistency in that view? If the manifesto commitment had been, as my noble friend believes, that the heirs and successors of hereditary Peers should sit in the House, then the manifesto would have been framed in that way. But it was not framed in that way. It was precisely framed to say that the existing hereditary Peers could not sit and vote in this House.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux

My Lords, there is no mention in the manifesto of the rate at which one should get rid of hereditary Peers. It does not state that at all. However, with the passage of this Bill the process of removing hereditary Peers from this House will have started. I support the notion of the removal of hereditary Peers. There is no disagreement between my noble friend and myself on that point. All we are talking about is how we go about it. I propose that we go about it in a way that is in the interests of the House. That is the essence of my case.

Perhaps I may now examine briefly how the manifesto commitment was taken forward. There have been a number of serious deficiencies. At this stage I shall mention just two. I do not want merely to be negative, but, first, there has been no strategy on how the question of reform should be conducted. That is very serious. As a consequence, we have come up with a solution which—I believe the House will agree—is far from optimal. That invariably happens when there is not a strategy and agreed assumptions. Secondly, there has not been a working partnership between the House and the Government on reform. Therefore, there is no consensus across the House. I have always believed that the House had sufficient power to work in partnership.

Perhaps I may summarise my remarks in Committee on strategic objectives. They are central points and I want to place them on the record. In order to arrive at a sensible and acceptable solution for phase-one reform, it was necessary to take account of the various conflicting interests; for example, the interests of the Government—first, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons if necessary—in drawing up a set of agreed objectives. I believe that they should take the following form. These are the seven strategic principles on which reform should be based.

First, the hereditary principle is not sustainable as a mechanism for automatically gaining membership of the House of Lords. Secondly, the passage of phase one of the legislation must not weaken the House of Lords by a large and arbitrary reduction in the number of Peers at a time when the House of Commons is weak and is failing to bring the executive to account. Thirdly, neither the Government nor the House of Lords should take an absolutist or rigid approach regarding the speed at which hereditary Peers leave the House of Lords. Instead, we should go for consensus. That means accepting that there are conflicting interests and that there must be compromise on all sides.

The fourth strategic point is that it is not sensible for one party to have a large overall majority in this House. That must be dealt with immediately by the Bill. The fifth point is that we must minimise the risks of reform by avoiding at all cost a Big Bang approach in removing hereditary Peers. Point six is that the Government, in formulating reform policy, should not treat our hereditary colleagues as if the Government were a bad Victorian employer. A number of hereditary Peers are hurting as a result of the way they have been treated. Finally, a solution to reform should be simple. Complexity does not help at all. That strategic approach results in the decision not to replace hereditary Peers, and the weighted voting solution emerges.

In taking forward the reforms, where do these amendments fit into phase one? First, there is the Weatherill amendment. The House voted for it. It is the will of the House and the details of the amendment are therefore not challengeable. But since there is no consensus, there is a case for adding an alternative solution to the Weatherill proposals in order to provide the House with a choice.

If there were, say, one or two proposals in addition to the Weatherill proposals, they should be considered at Third Reading and the preferred solution should be chosen by the House. There would then be a consensus in favour of a particular solution and that would then be respected. That would provide a basis for some kind of consensus across the House.

Perhaps I may conclude by speaking to the amendments that are before the House—

Lord Elton

My Lords, will the noble Lord explain one point? He thought that an alternative ought to be presented to the House. It was not clear whether he thought that it ought to be included in the Bill so that it can be presented to the other House, or considered at Third Reading and decided by this House. It would be helpful if he would explain.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux

My Lords, we could vote on these matters tonight but, if they were defeated, that would be the end of the proposal. I have not yet decided how to react; I have not yet heard the debate. My inclination is to take the matter through to Third Reading, but I shall have to see how matters work out. I hope that that answers the question.

Perhaps I may speak briefly to Amendments Nos. 6 and 9. They are very simple. They propose merely that hereditary Peers remain Members of this House until they die and that they will not be succeeded by their heirs—

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, perhaps I may point out to my noble friend the statement in the Companion to the Standing Orders that noble Lords opening should keep within the 20 minutes normally allowed.

Noble Lords


Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, speaking as a senior Back-Bencher on this side of the House, I have some sympathy for the noble Lord, Lord Randall, as he has been interrupted on so many occasions. That is not the custom of this House.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux

My Lords, there seems to be a consensus in the House that I should continue and ignore that stifling of debate.

Amendments Nos. 6 and 9 propose that hereditary Peers remain Members of this House until they die and that they will not be succeeded by their heirs. From the report that I produced for Members of this House, a copy of which has been placed in the Library, it can he seen that after three Parliaments 50 per cent of hereditary Peers will have died. That amounts to about 400 Peers. The retention of a few hereditary Peers in this House has no strategic significance whatsoever. Perhaps the Front Bench can tell me now—I am prepared to give way—what strategic significance there would be in having a few remaining hereditary Peers. I give way now. There is no response—a Mme Defarge factor only perhaps.

I now turn to Amendment No. 59, which introduces the concept of weighted voting. Were we to keep the House as it is and not allow the heirs of hereditary Peers to succeed their fathers, it is vital to recognise that there must be a weighted voting system. The arithmetic of that voting system is shown on pages five and six of my report in the Library. Therefore, the essence is to have balanced voting which is fair so that the Government get their business and to retain the sense of independence of this House. I give way.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, I hope that my intervention does not count as my contribution to the debate. I believe that the noble Lord is referring to Amendment No. 58, not Amendment No. 59.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux

My Lords, I appreciate the advice. I am sure that the Clerk will confirm that. I see him nodding. The noble Lord is quite right.

What does it mean to have a fair balance of voting and to retain the sense of independence? It means that in practice the Tories and Labour would have equal numbers of votes. All one must do is multiply the Contents and Not-Contents on the Labour side by 2.7. The independence of the House would be maintained via the Cross-Benchers, Liberal Democrats and others.

Finally, in relation to Amendment No. 62, I accept that weighted voting is a new concept. However, it is a vital part of these proposals. Accordingly, Amendment No. 62 proposes the establishment of a commission to verify the weighting factors and assumptions that I have made. I do not think that it is right that one individual should do that; there should be verification. My purpose in introducing the commission is solely to enhance the confidence of your Lordships' House in the overall principle. I beg to move.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, I rise very briefly to support the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux, as the amendment stands also in my name. When I came into this House I found it perfect. I liked and admired all the hereditary Peers and life Peers—Conservative Peers, Labour Peers, Cross-Bench Peers and even the Liberal Democrat Peers. It was a very happy place. With the introduction of this Bill, it has changed. I believe that if we support the noble Lord, who is also my noble friend, we can go back to that golden age. Of course, if we all lived for ever, it would be even nicer.

Lord Northbrook

My Lords, I am extremely glad to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Randall. I have some admiration for him as he battled against constant interruptions, particularly from his own side. He is a great friend of the House. I am also glad to be part of the cross-party support for Amendments Nos. 6 and 9. As the noble Lord, Lord Randall, stated, it is important that the House should have an alternative to the Weatherill amendment to consider, as many like myself who supported it did so based on the view that there was nothing else on offer. Now there is. Overall, the great advantage of the noble Lord's proposal is that, in spite of worries by some Peers that it must be very complicated, it involves only a very simple piece of mathematics for it to be understood; and it is also easy to execute in the. Voting Lobbies.

I should like to address other concerns expressed in Committee. First, it is said that it departs from the principle of one man, one vote. The very reason it departs from that principle is to create greater balance in the voting strengths of the main parties. Although it leads to our party giving up its natural majority here, that cannot be a bad thing, especially when it gives the Cross-Benchers such an important role.

Secondly, some have criticised the weighted voting system because the weighted votes of the government party are now only just superior to those of the main opposition party. My noble friend Lord Jopling believed that the Government should have parity with all opposition parties. He was also worried that the Government's business might be overturned by the votes of the Cross Benches. This shows the impartiality of the voting system.

It is highly likely that under the Weatherill amendment there will be a caucus of hereditary Peers for some years to come. I believe that an alternative amendment which also allows some hereditary Peers to remain in this House for a limited period is not incompatible with what the Government have conceded under the Weatherill amendment.

6.45 p.m.

Baroness Gould of Potternewton

My Lords, I oppose these amendments partly for the reason of consistency. My noble friend said that his arguments were fully consistent with the Labour Party manifesto. I remind him of two specific commitments in that manifesto: first, that the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords would be ended by statute; and, secondly, that that would be the first stage in a process of reform. For my noble friend's amendment to come to fruition, something like 50 years would have to elapse. I do not believe that when the Labour Party wrote its manifesto it contemplated starting the second stage 50 years from now. I fail to understand how there can be any consistency in that. My noble friend said that it had nothing to do with speed. We are talking not about speed, but about a very extended timetable which was not part of the Labour Party's thinking when it put those two commitments in the manifesto. I should like my noble friend to answer the specific question: when will the second stage begin—I understand that it will be in about 50 years—and finish?

I also have a problem with the weighted voting system. I understand that my noble friend's motive in moving the amendment is to attempt to redress the political balance. How does his proposal to make this House a carbon copy of the House of Commons—he said that the government party should have a greater number—relate to another manifesto commitment that no political party should seek a majority in the House of Lords? That is another inconsistency.

I have other concerns about the weighted vote. I firmly believe that every Member of the House should be treated as equal. The only way to do that is to have an equality of votes. I do not accept that a system under which one Member has 2.7 votes and another has just one vote has anything to do with equality. If I were to be mischievous—this has been suggested to me—it would be very tempting for somebody perhaps with no political affiliation to go onto the Labour Benches and then vote in the Opposition Lobby, thus giving the Opposition 2.7 votes every time. The process becomes a little farcical. It would be extremely difficult to explain the imbalance in the voting system to people outside this House.

Another concern is that if a Government Peer went into the Opposition Lobby it would have to be recorded as 2.7 votes. The Clerks would then have the responsibility of identifying the political affiliations of those who had gone into each Lobby. That is something that we have never done, and I believe that it would be very wrong. In reply to a similar question at Committee stage my noble friend said: All you would need to do is to find out how many government Peers were in the Contents Lobby and how many in the not-Contents Lobby, and multiply by 2.7. Lo and behold!"—[Official Report, 11/5/99; col. 1143.] That might be simple. I have no problem with the mathematics. I do not have the problem referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. I understand the position, but I believe that it is unfair and ludicrous and would put the Clerks of the House in the difficult position of having to identify politically who has gone through each Lobby. I think that that would be unfair.

I wish to ask my noble friend a number of questions about the commission. Who will serve on it? Who will determine who serves on it? For how long will it sit? What will be its terms of reference? I am worried about the wording of the amendment which implies to me—I may misread it—that this House will have no say on whether or not to accept the recommendations. They will go straight into Standing Orders. That is not acceptable. This House should have the right to determine what does or does not go into Standing Orders. I have a problem with that amendment, too.

Finally, although the overwhelming acceptance by this House of the Weatherill amendment creates a disparity of numbers because there are more Conservative than Labour hereditary Peers, that can be dealt with easily by creations rather than what I believe will be interpreted as a complex and farcical system. Rather than returning at Third Reading with options, we should determine the issue today.

Lord Geddes

My Lords, in general terms I supported the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux, in Committee although I advocated a system of weighted voting whereby the government of the day would always be in a minority in this House in order to provide a permanent check on the executive. I made those comments then and do so again now in a totally apolitical sense. It is nothing to do with who happens to form the government of the day; it is a general issue. However, the noble Lord has now produced a proposal which will give effectively the balance of the vote, properly—I applaud it—to the Cross-Benchers, and the Liberal Democrats. I am not quite sure about the Liberal Democrats, but I endorse the view that the Cross-Benchers in this House have given enormous benefit to the House and should and would provide a useful check and balance on the powers of the executive. The proposal of the noble Lord does that extremely effectively.

I have one quarrel only. Perhaps I misread Amendment No. 58. Subsection (1) appears to me to be effectively contradicted by subsection (2). Subsection (1) states that the total number of votes to be cast belonging to the party of the Government shall be greater than the total number of votes of the Official Opposition. I agree with that. However, subsection (2) refers to, any vote cast by a member belonging to", and so on; I shall not weary noble Lords by repeating all the amendment. That would depend on how many Members were on which side. I do not think that subsection (2) provides what the noble Lord intends.

However, that is a technicality. If the noble Lord wants to progress further with the amendment, he might want to consider subsection (2) of Amendment No. 58.

With that exception, I warmly support the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I admire the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, because she says that she understands the proposal. In Committee, I said that I did not understand it. We are now discussing the issue again on Report and I find that I understand it no better.

We have to be sensible about this. We are changing the voting systems all over the place. In the old days we had first-past-the-post and everyone knew where they were. If you got more votes than someone else, you won. Then we talked about PR. That is completely different. Everyone says that it is a system; it is not. It is an umbrella for about 12 different systems, each one of which has a different answer. Scotland apparently has a system of first-past-the-post plus PR. If anyone understands how that works, they are lucky. Then we had the European Parliament elections which were also different.

The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux, provides that we vote and then someone multiplies it by 2.7. If anyone understands how that works, why it works, or the purpose of it, they are better people than I am. I do not understand it. We keep talking about what the people of the country will think about the Bill. When they hear that certain noble Lords can go into the Lobbies and have their votes multiplied by 2.7, they will think that we have all gone barking mad—and I think that we shall have done.

Lord Desai

My Lords, there have always been two reasons for the present Bill. One is a matter of principle: that the Labour Party has been committed for 100 years to abolish the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote. There is no doubt that those hereditary Peers are nice people. fine people, wise and useful. It is not a criticism of their character, contribution, nobility or anything else. If they return to this Chamber as life Peers, they will be perfectly welcome. But the principle of sitting in a legislative Chamber in an age of democracy on the ground of being the eldest son of a Peer is not acceptable. That is the simple point.

However, if having agreed on that principle, and being committed to it in the manifesto we then said, "We are going to do this, but it may take 50 years", the public would be somewhat upset. My noble friend Lord Whitty repeated a Statement on the London Underground. He could easily have said, "My Lords, it is in a terrible state. There are many old trains, but we shall not bring in new trains until the last train currently in existence is finally defunct". If we are going to change, let us change soon—now.

My noble friend does not like speed, efficiency or efficacy. He is sentimentally attached to these nice people. as I am, and he wants to delay the matter. I believe that that would deny fundamentally the principle of this legislation.

I have little difficulty about numbers. We could have a different number every day. We could come in in the morning and decide the appropriate number. But it would be completely wrong always to ensure that the Government had their way. That is against the spirit of this Chamber. I oppose the provision on that ground alone. I do not think that one should ever give the Government a guarantee that their legislation will go through. For that reason, let us say that the Government and the chief opposition party will not vote. That will meet my noble friend's proposal. Only the Cross-Benchers, the Liberal Democrats and the Bishops would vote. The position is absurd.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, in supporting the amendment, I point out to the noble Lord, Lord Desai, and the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, that part of the trouble with the interim House is that no one knows how long it will last. One of the advantages of the amendment is that it would last for a long time—indeed, longer than the five years which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has admitted the interim House might last.

When the noble Baroness asks how long the second stage will last, the precise answer is that no one knows. She worries about 2.7 votes being awarded to each Mumber of her own side, in case one noble Lord on the Benches opposite should be courageous enough to vote against his own side. I would say that that is a thoroughly good thing. If someone on the Benches opposite has the conviction and courage to vote against whatever the party policy of the day may be, I believe that it richly deserves a value of 2.7 votes. I see nothing wrong with that.

I am sorry to keep picking on the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, but she also says—and it is a theme which is running too widely through your Lordships' debate—that the overwhelming acceptance of the Weatherill amendment means that nothing can be done about it. At least 18 of us who had tabled amendments on this "unmarshalled" list of amendments to Weatherill were assured that if we withdrew them and Weatherill were accepted, that would be the opportunity to debate Weatherill. That was the point of doing it.

We are now told that as Weatherill has been overwhelmingly supported for all kinds of reasons which have nothing to do with the amendment, we cannot amend it. That is quite unacceptable. I ask the Minister to say that what the Government dislike in the powers of the hereditary peerage is the power to legislate. I suggest to the Minister that the power to legislate is contained almost entirely in the power to vote. That is why this amendment is so clean. It puts straight the Conservative preponderance in your Lordships' House. It puts the power to vote where it belongs, equally distributed among the political parties. As my noble friend Lord Geddes said, it leaves the Cross-Benchers with the final say in most deliberations of your Lordships' House, which is exactly where it ought to be. As I said previously, if your Lordships' House could be entirely and genuinely Cross Bench, that would be very much in the interests of the nation. I support the amendment.

7 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, only I do not believe that the noble Lord, Lord Randall, has got his amendment exactly right. However, we ought to encourage him in his work. It is meritorious, logical, effective and compassionate—all of which are good things. The noble Lord has been attacked on the grounds that what he is doing is against the principle; that is, the principle of the total removal of hereditary Peers from this House. He has been attacked on the grounds that it is not consistent with the manifesto and that it is delaying the abolition of the hereditary peerage beyond the effect of the immediate Bill. That principle, that consistency and that immediacy have all been breached with the sanction of the Government by the Weatherill amendment. Therefore, it seems to me that those arguments necessarily fall.

It has been suggested that the system is too difficult to understand—surprisingly, by my noble friend Lord Ferrers, among others. I do not doubt that in his youth my noble friend played Monopoly. If he casts his mind back he will remember that there is a great difference between the weighting of Park Lane and Fenchurch Street. What has happened is that the noble Lord, Lord Randall, is suggesting that the Government Benches should have hotels on Park Lane and that we would be lucky to have Fenchurch Street and the waterworks.

As regards the difficulty that the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, suggested the Clerks would have, the Clerks can read lists as well as we can and better—I suggest that they have had more practice—and the names of those voting would be printed in the appropriate blocks with the appropriate figure above. Therefore, there would be no difficulty with the arithmetic.

All that is academic in the present political situation. The homework which the noble Lord, Lord Randall, has to do is not merely related to redrafting his amendment but the opinions of his noble friends in this House and crucially his right honourable and honourable friends in another place. There is futility in accepting an amendment that is doomed to failure in place of one which is already agreed. That is the decision that your Lordships would be making. I am interested to see even a tumbrelist on the Back Benches opposite nodding his head in agreement.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Randall, put forward the amendment in the expectation, or at any rate the hope, that it would achieve consensus. Well, hope springs eternal in the breasts of Back-Benchers and Cross-Benchers, but whether it has survived the speeches from his side of the House I very much doubt. If it has, it is a very stout breast indeed, as we are prepared to concede.

One of the values of the amendment is that the contention between the noble Lord and those who have intervened from his side have concentrated on the manifesto. That is valuable because that difference of opinion throws light both on this Bill and on the ultimate stage. A few years ago in the 1970s, there was much talk of a manifesto mandate, which of course was nonsense. It was treating a manifesto as though it had been a series of questions put in a referendum. It was no such thing. It did not survive at that time critical scrutiny, both parliamentary and legal.

Recently one has heard instead of a manifesto commitment. That phrase is often used to describe what is really meant; a manifesto mandate. Indeed, so experienced a constitutional lawyer as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, when he first intervened on the Bill, used the expression "manifesto commitment", but then slipped easily into a "manifest mandate". We have heard that over and over again. We heard it in the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton.

The manifesto commitment does not bind Parliament. So long as there is parliamentary government, Parliament must counterbalance the executive. The executive may be bound by its commitment, but Parliament is not and cannot be if it is to do its job. But it will be said, and rightly, that Members of another place are bound by a manifesto commitment because in standing for election on a manifesto they have undertaken a personal commitment. That means that the Government will always get their way in the another place, provided that they can find authority in the manifesto. However, that merely accentuates the importance of your Lordships' House not being bound, as we are not bound, by any manifesto commitment. We are not bound ourselves, nor bound to concede it. Therefore, it seems to me that the argument of the manifesto commitment urges strongly the independence of your Lordships' House, even if it means that there should be a Conservative majority in your Lordships' House to counterbalance the Labour majority in the other place.

I desire to make only one other comment. The only common ground that I could discern between the noble Lord and his critics on his side is that all seem to be committed to the idea that the hereditary system of legislation cannot be justified. With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, for what he said earlier, I cannot accept that. It seems to me to be thoroughly sensible to pick from a genetic pool people who are not only born into that pool but who are brought up in an ambience of political culture. So, it is small wonder that over the years and, indeed, up to today, your Lordships' House has shown political wisdom and understanding.

The drawback, of course, is that that is not understood. There is an almost universal contempt just now for the hereditary principle; it is said that in a legislature it cannot be accepted. That means that your Lordships cannot exercise full power and conviction.

Nevertheless, I for one cannot accept a doctrine that is vindicated by the modern science of genetics and has a most distinguished philosophical background. If in no other respect your Lordships are platonic in that way. We should not be ashamed to stand for the hereditary principle and consider that it is valuable to counterbalance the democratic principle in the other place. All that one needs to say is that ultimately we are all democrats simply because those who are entrusted with power cannot be trusted not to abuse it. Therefore, the Government are, in my respectful submission, quite right to say in their submission to the Royal Commission that the House of Commons must, in the end, prevail. But, that does not mean at all that the hereditary principle and your Lordships' place in this House cannot be justified. In my respectful submission, it can.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Coleraine

My Lords, I am tempted to speak in support of the remarks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, particularly about the mandate; but I wish to offer my general support to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux. It is in our knowledge that comparatively few hereditary Peers sit on the Labour Benches. The result is that a Labour government can get their business through this House only by political conventions which have arisen over the years to the extent that Labour only governs by leave of these Benches.

This arrangement works well enough, and has worked well enough in the past. Nothing in the debates on the Bill to date leads me to think that the interim House will work more fairly, efficiently or with greater legitimacy than the present House. Nevertheless, the weighted voting provision proposed by the noble Lord is intended to redress the balance and to give to a Labour government the same power in this House as a Conservative government have here when there is a Conservative government in the other place.

Unlike my noble friend Lord Onslow, whose long record as a Jacobin is well recorded, I am not, and do not profess to be, a reformer. Nevertheless, I accept the force of the argument that something must be done about the in-built political imbalance here. Because the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Randall, achieve this, I am prepared to accept them. I would vote "Content" if he sought to divide the House on the matter.

However, the noble Lord should be aware, as I am sure he is, that these Benches are deeply divided on the basic principles behind his amendments. To realise this your Lordships have only to consider the comments of my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish (who is not in his place today) on the fourth day of Committee after the division on the Weatherill amendment. He spoke in answer to an amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Rowallan which would have excepted from Clause 1 those hereditary Peers who are regular attenders. I would remind the House that the words of my noble friend were: the amendment that your Lordships have just passed will take on board, so to speak, almost all the hardest working Peers … So I must say to him that, while I understand his point and appreciate the hard work that many hereditaries have done"— to that I say, "thank you very much"— I think that your Lordships' House has, so to speak, 'done its business' this very words] by the hereditaries in passing the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill".—[Official Report. 11/5/99; col. 1142.] It may be said that the cuckoo hatched in 1958 has well and truly landed in your Lordships' nest, at least in the form of my noble friend's remarks on that occasion.

I suspect, therefore, that in seeking to deal fairly with all and not just some hereditary Peers, the noble Lord, Lord Randall, may be trying to achieve just a little too much; but his effort and goodwill deserve much support and I offer him mine.

Lord Goodhart

My Lords, we on these Benches, agree so completely with everything said by the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, that l want to add literally just two sentences.

The first is to ask the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux, whether, when he was thinking up his ingenious idea for weighted voting, he was inspired by the famous slogan from Animal Farm that all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others. The other sentence is to endorse, as strongly as I can, the plea from the noble Baroness that the noble Lord, Lord Randall, should tonight either trove his amendment or withdraw it permanently so that we do not have to go through this argument again at Third Reading.

Lord Kingsland

My Lords, the noble Lord. Lord Randall of St. Budeaux, has returned to the question of his plan to introduce a system of voting which would allow hereditary Peers to stay in the House. He has done so with great courage and his amendment has much charm.

As I understand it, his collection of amendments sets out to achieve three things. Amendment No. 9 would keep in your Lordships' House, for life, all those hereditary Peers who were Members on the day that the Bill becomes law. Amendment No. 58 would bring in a weighted voting system; the weight of votes eligible to be cast for parties supporting the Government will be more than the votes eligible to be cast for the Official Opposition. Amendment No. 62 would establish a commission to report on how such a voting system might work.

To me, this seems a logical and coherent package; so logical that I suspect it has absolutely no chance whatever of being accepted by the Government. The noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux, is being loyal to your Lordships' House and to its traditions by introducing this amendment. The Bill does so much damage to your Lordships' House. For that he should be praised, not criticised.

In Committee, in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Randall, the noble and learned Lord Falconer said, on 20th April 1999 at cols. 1149 and 1150 of Hansard, that no one could understand a weighted voting system such as he proposed. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, is unfamiliar with the range of voting systems his party has introduced over the past 18 months.

Is it not odd for a government who have brought in so many new, experimental and differing voting systems, such as those in the European elections, the elections for Wales and Scotland, and indeed in the elections for London, to stop at a weighted voting system in your Lordships' House? As I understand it, the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux, is not insisting on a specific proposal such as the one deplored by the noble and learned lord, Lord Falconer. Although he has put his ideas in the Library to show that his proposal would not be particularly complex, he has also asked for the creation of a commission to advise your Lordships' House on how his system might work.

The approach of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux— that the hereditary peerage be phased out, not forced out, while the sting of numbers is drawn by a revised voting system—goes with the grain of natural justice and, dare I say it, unfashionable though it now is in many quarters, fair play.

I do see that there are some practical difficulties with the proposal. These are not insurmountable; and his plans would prevent the upheaval and disruption to the work of your Lordships' House that the Bill will undoubtedly provoke. It may be that a specific voting system cannot be linked to the Bill at this stage; but, as your Lordships are fully aware, we are already, at the Government's insistence, putting great weight on standing orders. We have a paper on the Weatherill proposal for the Procedure Committee. Could we not invite the Clerks to look at the potential for progress on the idea of the noble Lord, Lord Randall?

Alternatively, the noble Lord's proposal of a commission would give us time to reach a consensus on the voting system. Is it too much to ask noble and noble and learned Lords on the Government Benches to engage in talks, in which we would be very happy to join, on the ideas of Lord Randall? We could give evidence constructively to a commission such as that suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Randall. Would the Government agree to do the same?

At the same time, in its present form we could not support the amendment at this stage if moved before further talks, and we would not favour exchanging the certain provision in the Weatherill amendment for this, as yet unagreed, proposal. But, no doubt, if the Government were ever to withdraw the Weatherill amendment for one reason or another, this is one of the many routes which your Lordships' House might feel could be more fully explored.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, during this evening I have to reply to a number of differently grouped sets of amendments. It may be helpful if I indicate to your Lordships the way I am intending to proceed, which is to be guided firmly by what is set out in the Companion, namely, that arguments fully deployed in Committee should not be repeated at length on report. That is a matter which I thought it might be helpful to indicate.

Certainly there have been some remarkable contributions to this debate. Your Lordships have claimed knowledge of what people think in the public houses throughout the land. Evidently your Lordships go to different public houses than I do. Perhaps it is the difference between the saloon bar and the public bar.

I find it quite extraordinary that it could be suggested that peasant caps are going to be thrown into the air on realisation that 2.7 votes will adhere and inure to particular Members of your Lordships' House. Or, if I pop into the saloon bar in the Salutation Arms in Nantgaredig and point out to them that they are really not quite full members of the genetic pool, that they are not themselves the happy blessed recipients of what they pronounce as "ambience" but what is in your Lordships' House correctly called the political ambience, I would be very promptly in receipt of a physical as well as a metaphorical thick ear.

Some of the phrases used tonight demonstrate how absolutely right we all were to get started urgently on reform of your Lordships' House. I quote two phrases almost at random: one is, "our Party's"—that is, the Conservative Party's—"natural majority". Another is, "The Government only govern by leave of these Benches". The temptation to sit down now is almost overwhelming. I have to tell your Lordships, because it was not entirely plain to me until the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, came to his last sentence, "but we shall feel unable to support it", that it seemed to me that he was in fact about to invite his colleagues on his Benches to come to a conclusion which I have to say is absolutely smack counter to the Weatherill proposals.

Your Lordships, as always, must come to your independent conclusions. But, in honour to the House, we have no doubt at all that if these amendments were passed they would be wholly opposite to the Weatherill compromise.

They split conveniently into two categories, as has rightly been indicated by the noble Lord who moved them. First, the continuation of the hereditary principle until the last hereditary Peer is dead. On our actuarial calculations, which in the nature of things must be speculative, and indeed may be unduly pessimistic, the last hereditary Peer is probably likely to die in 2068—I am not feeling too well myself. Contrary to the recent historical tour of the Labour Party by the noble Lord, Lord Randall, and why it is against the hereditary principle, I do not read the Labour Party's objection to the hereditary principle as having been entirely temporarily coincident with the row about the poll tax. It would mean that about 200 years after serious disquiet had been raised about the continuation of the hereditary principle we should all be there—I beg your Lordships' pardon: one of us would be there on his deathbed in about 2068.

The weighting arrangements, and I am bound to say as so often in these matters that I find myself in complete agreement with the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, are opaque to the point of not being understandable. They are a device to bring about another objective which is fundamentally not what the Government are minded to do. That does not dispose of the argument. It simply restates our absolute determination that the compromise is to have a life of a relatively short period in the context of the 200 years that I earlier mentioned; that is what we are adamant about.

I do not think it is courteous to your Lordships to reiterate any further the arguments that have been already deployed either by myself, the noble and learned Lords the Lord Chancellor and Lord Falconer or the Leader of the House. Our position is quite plain. We cannot find these amendments or anything like them acceptable.

Lord Randall of St Budeaux

My Lords, first I refer to the Front Bench's comments before I go into the comments made by other Members of this House. The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, for the Front Bench on the Conservative side, said that although he found it attractive in many ways he felt that there would have to be discussions on any proposals and that there could not be any support before further talks.

We ought to make it absolutely clear that the Government have taken a position, the Front Benches on both sides have got an agreement and there is a deal. We all need to recognise that. When those deals have been made there is a degree of intransigence and therefore Members of the Front Bench particularly have to see the thing through by hook or by crook. We understand that. We understand what the position is. Any move from the current deal is always quite hard to make. Nevertheless, I believe that if something is flawed it is my duty as a Back-Bencher to point it out.

My very good and noble friend Lord Williams on the Front Bench mentioned the continuation of hereditaries; in proportional terms the very small number who could be around for some time. What he said is absolutely true, but, as I mentioned earlier, when it comes to the interest of the House, I cannot see any strategic significance for rooting out a very small number of people because they are hereditary. The question of not being able to understand the weighting has come up a few times. I am beginning to feel that just multiplying numbers together is not that difficult.

But let me go back to the beginning. First, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, and the noble Lord, Lord. Northbrook, for their kind comments. My noble friend Lady Gould made some interesting points in relation to the manifesto. I sought legal advice on the whole question of the right to sit and vote being ended. That legal advice was to the effect that the whole matter is very open. The initiation of the termination of membership of the House of Lords would be perfectly legitimate within the context of the manifesto. My noble friend also made strong comments in regard to a number of hereditaries remaining here. I cannot see the strategic significance of that.

In relation to the weighted voting and the misunderstandings that arose in that regard, my noble friend quoted out-of-date figures that were considered earlier on. Also, she implied that there may be covert Members of this House who might wish to move to the other side in order to obtain 2.7 votes. I am not sure about that. The other point made by my noble friend Lady Gould concerned the recording and the Clerks. Again, this is extremely detailed stuff but perhaps I should go through it.

Noble Lords


Lord Randall of St. Budeaux

My Lords, in that case I shall go through it. All one has is the form outside and where one is a member of the Labour Party, we move it over by about 1.5 centimetres. All that happens is that the names are ticked off in the usual way; we add up the bottom row and then look up a table which converts 322 to 256. It is as simple as that and takes around four or five seconds. So there would be no change in procedure for Peers. We would not need computers or anything. It is extremely simple to add up the figures by just shuffling around the design of the forms for both Lobbies.

My noble friend asked some interesting questions in relation to the commission. They will need answering. I did not think it would be necessary at this stage to say who sits and what the terms of reference would be. But it would be for the purposes of validation only and they would probably complete their work in around half a day. Nevertheless my noble friend made some good suggestions and I shall make sure that they are dealt with.

The noble Lord, Lord Geddes, made some good suggestions in terms of the interpretation of Clause 58. Again, I shall look at that and take advice. I did not understand the point being made by my noble friend Lord Desai. Again, I believe his concern was that he wanted to see hereditaries go in one big bang. I cannot see the justification for that. If one does a simple analysis of it, then there could be significant losses of people who are competent. I did not distinguish between hereditary and life Peers.

I thank the noble Lords, Lord Pearson and Lord Elton, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, for their comments. The point they were making was that the Front Benchers on this side have a job to do; they have to deliver Weatherill come what may, because of the agreement between the two Front Benches and the deal that was made. The probability that I will get anything through with that weight against me is highly unlikely. On the other hand, I am going to keep going until the very end, in case the Weatherill amendment is wiped out for some reason. That will leave an option open. I hope the Government will look at it and consider discussing the matter further with the other side with a view to providing more than one option, so that the House can choose. This is an opportunity, and to shut it down and say, "We are not going to have any further discussion on alternative options' would be short-sighted. My advice would be at least to give this approach fair consideration for the benefit of this House, and also for the benefit of this Government.

The Deputy Speaker (The Viscount of Oxfuird)

My Lords, the Question is that this amendment be agreed to. As many as are of that opinion will say, "Content"; to the contrary, "Not-Content''.

Noble Lords


The Deputy Speaker

My Lords, the "Not-Contents" have it.

Amendment negatived.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, I beg to move that consideration on Report be now adjourned. In moving this Motion, may I suggest that we reconvene not before 8.35 p.m?

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.