§ 3.3 p.m.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington)
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Jay of Paddington.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]
§ Lord Weatherill moved Amendment No.31:
§ After Clause 1, insert the following new clause—
§ EXCEPTION FROM SECTION 1
§ (".—(1) Section 1 shall not apply in relation to anyone excepted from it by or in accordance with Standing Orders of the House.
§ (2) At any one time no more than 90 people shall be excepted from section 1; but anyone excepted as holder of the office of Earl Marshal, or as performing the office of Lord Great Chamberlain, shall not count towards that limit.
§ (3) Once excepted from section 1, a person shall continue to be so throughout his life (until an Act of Parliament provides to the contrary).
§ (4) A person may be excepted from section 1 by or in accordance with Standing Orders made in anticipation of the enactment or commencement of this section.
§ (5) Any question whether a person is excepted from section 1 shall he decided by the Clerk of the Parliaments, whose certificate shall be conclusive.")
§ The noble Lord said: Amendment No.31 stands in my name and that of my noble friends Lord Marsh, Lord Carnarvon and Lord Tenby. I confess that it is over 30 years since I last moved an amendment. In 1966 I moved an amendment to the selective employment tax legislation. It was the only amendment to be accepted by the government on that occasion. I hope that the amendment I propose this afternoon will meet with similar approval.
§ I intend to err on the side of brevity, which is normally a safe course of action in this Chamber. The amendment has already featured prominently in our discussions and we shall have further opportunities to debate the detail of it later. At one stage I thought it would be appropriate for me simply to get up and say,"I beg to move". However, I must go into rather more detail this afternoon.
§ Our purpose is to provide a means of easing the transition from the present Chamber to a fully reformed second Chamber by providing for 92 of your Lordships who at present sit in the Chamber by virtue of a hereditary peerage and who would otherwise be covered by the provisions of Clause 1 to be excluded from those provisions and so continue to sit in this Chamber until it is fully reformed.
§ My task now is to describe how the amendment will work. I shall not go into all the detail of the scheme behind it as that is to be provided for by Standing Order. The Committee will be aware that the Clerk of the Parliaments has produced a paper with proposals for that. Our amendment should be read in conjunction with that paper. The details of the full scheme will be decided 1089 only after consideration by the Procedure Committee and a report from that committee. I am of course happy to discuss how it is envisaged that the system will work but it is an important detail that arises at a later stage.
§ The Committee will be aware that it has been agreed that the Bill should be recommitted, if this amendment is accepted, to allow for consideration of amendments to the amendment. Subsection (1) of the proposed new clause provides for exclusion from the provisions of Clause 1 of the Bill to which I have already referred. Subsection (2) sets the number to be excluded. The Committee will see that the amendment specifies the figure of 90, excluding the holders of the offices of Earl Marshal and Lord Great Chamberlain: hence the overall figure of 92. How did we arrive at this figure? First, we believed that it would be appropriate if the hereditary Peers of each of the main political parties, and of the Cross-Benchers, were able to elect a proportion of their number who would continue to sit. The proportion is fixed at 10 per cent of the whole. That seemed appropriate given that by no means all hereditary Peers attend the Chamber on a regular basis.
§ The total number of hereditary Peers is 750: therefore the total to be elected under this heading would be 75. We suggest that the Labour Party elect two, the Conservative Party, 42, the Liberal Democrats, three and the Cross-Benchers, 28. These figures reflect the proportions of the hereditary Peers who support each party or sit on the Cross Benches at present.
§ Secondly, as the Committee knows, some hereditary Peers serve the Chamber as Deputy Speakers or Chairmen. At present the number of hereditary Peers who are Deputy Speakers is 15. We believe therefore that that would be an appropriate number to add to the 75—hence the 90 specified in subsection (2). With the Earl Marshal and the Lord Great Chamberlain added the number becomes 92.
§ Subsection (3) provides that all those excepted from subsection (1) shall sit for life or until a further Act reforming the House removes that right. Any proposal for retirement for any reason would change the very nature of the peerage, and that is beyond the scope of the Bill.
§ Subsection (4) provides for the new clause to operate by means of Standing Orders which may be made before the Act receives Royal Assent or comes into force so that we can get on with the process in the meantime.
§ Subsection (5) gives the Clerk of the Parliaments the power to make the necessary certificate and for that power to be conclusive. The proposed Standing Order would provide for the Clerk of the Parliaments to refer any question relating to the propriety of the process of election to the Committee for Privileges. The subsection therefore simply gives the Clerk of the Parliaments the necessary powers to act as the returning officer for us.
§ I hope that that is clear. Some Members of the Committee will no doubt wish to ask questions during the course of the debate.
§ I can perhaps deal with three further points. First, why have we left so much to Standing Orders? We did so because we envisaged that the arrangements would be 1090 temporary and that this would be the most convenient way of making provision. This method has the advantage that more detailed provision on the face of the Bill would have to be agreed by another place, which would therefore have as great a say in determining the process as the House of Lords. Of course, another place could be trusted but in this way we order our own affairs in the matter.
§ I hope that the Committee will agree with me that the system of election set out in the papers of the Clerk of the Parliaments is transparent and appropriately dignified. We are, after all, disposing of seats in Parliament. That is why we felt there should be one system by which all parties and the Cross-Benchers elect their respective hereditary representative Peers, the system to be supervised by the Clerk of the Parliaments and through him by the House as a whole.
§ Secondly, the Committee will note that subsection (2) specifies a maximum, not an absolute, number of hereditary Peers who would continue to sit in the House under the provisions of the new clause. There is nothing sinister about that. Our intention is that there should always be 92 while the system lasts. That is, I think, everyone's intention, but I would be grateful if the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor would confirm it on behalf of the Government. The maximum is there because we wished to avoid any danger of doubts arising as to the validity of proceedings in the House if the number of excepted Peers fell temporarily because one of them had recently died.
§ That brings me to my third point. If the number of 92 is to be maintained, we clearly need a method of replacing any of the original 92 if one dies. The proposal embodied in the papers of the Clerk of the Parliaments and the draft Standing Order is that the replacement should be the nearest runner-up in the relevant category in the original election. That is undoubtedly the simplest solution, and that is why it is proposed. It is a robust solution for a few years at least, and everything we are discussing in relation to the Bill is predicated on that timescale. If other provisions needed to be made, the Standing Order could be amended to that end.
§ One other point remains. The Committee will have noted Amendment No.152 in my name and in the names of some of my noble friends, which is an amendment to the Long Title. If the Committee agrees to Amendment No.31 today that technical amendment will be necessary.
§ I commend Amendment No.31 to the Committee. We hope that it will provide a means by which the Bill, which the Government assure us is itself a stage towards a wider reform of the House, may be amended in such a way that it commands wider support among the Members of the House of Lords and in the country and thus provides a better first stage of a promised reform. I beg to move.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg)
I hope it will be of assistance to the Committee if at the outset of what I am sure will be a long and interesting debate I state the Government's position on the amendment. It is the 1091 most significant amendment to the Bill, significant because it represents an inspired way forward by consensus towards major constitutional change.
The possibility of consensus arose last December when the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, and others put forward the proposal to which the amendment and the accompanying draft Standing Order would now give effect. This debate will, I hope, confirm that there is widespread acceptance of that proposal among many Members of the Committee on all sides.
I first thank all noble Lords who have agreed to withdraw amendments they had tabled to this amendment on the basis that they will table them again for future debate if, as a result of today's proceedings, the amendment is accepted and recommitted to the Committee as a clause in the Bill itself. Their co-operation is responsible, well-judged and much appreciated. It has enabled a full and detailed examination of the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, without the distraction and possible confusion that might have been caused by attempting to debate the 26 amendments so far tabled to it.
I am also grateful, as, I am sure, is the whole Committee, to the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, for his lucid exposition of the purpose and effect of his amendment, to which the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, and the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, have also put their names. This has set today's debate off on a firm footing. No Member of the Committee, having heard the noble Lord's speech, can be in any doubt as to what the amendment is intended to achieve. Some may disagree with that intention. No doubt, if the amendment is agreed, they will seek to return to their criticisms on recommittal, but at least today's debate will have been informed by absolute clarity.
I explained at a little length on Second Reading why the Government had said they were attracted by the scheme to which Amendment No.31 would give effect. As the noble Lord said, we considered that it offered a way to achieve the Government's policy, but in stages and by consensus. We know that it is a compromise, and none the worse, for that. It does not give perfect satisfaction to my party. It is not the complete fulfilment of our manifesto commitment, on which the Government are entitled to insist. But the best compromises often do not give complete satisfaction to anyone. That is the nature of compromise.
What the Government seek from this compromise is that the progress of the Bill, as amended by the "Weatherill amendment", will not be unreasonably impeded and that the rest of their legislative programme will not be unreasonably impeded.
Members of the Committee will well understand that the Government cannot both agree a compromise which amounts to a material reduction of its manifesto commitment that the right of hereditary Peers—that is, all hereditary Peers—to sit and vote in the House of Lords will be ended by statute and at the same time accept unreasonable' obstruction in the delivery of their legislative programme.
1092 A great deal of work has been done on the detail of the amendment and the accompanying Standing Order. They fit together as a coherent policy which I am satisfied is technically deliverable. Many Members of the Committee may wish today to focus on the detailed mechanics for how the scheme for identifying hereditary Peers to be excepted from the general exclusion from the House will work in practice. The clause proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, makes no mention of the system for identifying excepted Peers beyond pointing us in the direction of the Standing Orders. The detail is contained in the draft Standing Orders. The noble Lord explained clearly why he had decided to adopt that approach and why it would not be appropriate to set out the mechanics in the statute itself.
The transitional House which will be created as a result of the Bill will be exactly that: transitional and not permanent. The Government are absolutely committed to moving to stage two in the reform process. Press speculation that that may not be so is fanciful and without any foundation at all. The notion that the Government would even contemplate the notion of the Weatherill amendment becoming a permanent settlement, as distinct from a short-term compromise, is fanciful. I make it absolutely plain that stage two reform will take place and when it does the hereditary Peers who remain, if the Weatherill amendment passes, will cease to be Members of this House. Then and only then will the Government have delivered 100 per cent on their manifesto commitment.
It really is to stand logic and experience on its head to imagine that this Government, with their great popular majority and their manifesto pledge, would tolerate 10 per cent of the hereditary peerage remaining for long. The 10 per cent will go when stage two has taken place and their presence is a guarantee that stage two will take place. Also, the hereditary Peers who remain temporarily will be here not just because they are hereditaries but because they have been elected by their fellow hereditaries. Therefore, they will have greater authority.
Not only have I made plain the Government's intention to secure 100 per cent delivery of their manifesto commitment but it is, incidentally, reflected in the Weatherill amendment, which provides in subsection (3) that:Once excepted from section 1, a person shall continue to be so throughout his life (until an Act of Parliament provides to the contrary".Nothing could make plainer the intent of further reform.
From a drafting point of view, there is no need to include those words on the face of the Bill. An Act of Parliament can always override preceding legislation. But the words reflect the message which I sought to convey unequivocally; namely, the Government's absolute determination to deliver on the entirety of their manifesto commitment.
If this amendment is accepted, we shall no doubt discuss the arrangements for the proposed scheme currently set out in the draft Standing Order in the context of Amendments Nos.61A and 144A and on the subsequent occasion, when the 26 amendments which 1093 have been tabled to this amendment come to be considered. I do not propose to go into such detail now other than to endorse the view of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, and say that we too believe firmly that such detail is a matter for the Standing Order and not for the face of the Bill.
If the amendment is accepted, I should point out that the mechanics of the scheme will be subject to the most rigorous scrutiny by the Procedure Committee and brought back to the House for final decision.
I do not underestimate the significance of the operational detail of the scheme and I appreciate the sensitivities about the distribution of the hereditary Peers who will remain in the transitional House among the four groupings in the House about the electorates and the electoral arrangements. But I believe that it is important at this stage to focus the debate on the fundamental point of policy and principle at the heart of the amendment itself; that is, that 90 hereditary Peers will be allowed to stay on in the transitional House in accordance with whatever mechanism for their identification is set out in the Standing Order; that the two hereditary officeholders—the Earl Marshal and the Lord Great Chamberlain—will also remain; and that excepted Peers will remain Members for life or until stage two of the reform of the House takes effect; that it will be possible to have the elections before the Bill itself is enacted to allow a seamless transition to the next Session; and that the outcome of those elections will be certified by the Clerk of the Parliaments.
Before concluding, I address one specific point in relation to subsection (2) of the amendment which provides that no more than 90 people shall be excepted from Clause 1. I am aware of the general concern on the Benches opposite about there being a ceiling of 90 rather than a fixed number. As the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, explained earlier, there is nothing sinister—I use his word—about that provision. It does not break faith with the terms of the agreement. There is a perfectly straightforward and rational explanation for drafting the amendment in terms of a maximum; that is, the practical and legal complexity of providing for an absolute number.
The obviously practical difficulty is that an absolute number would not take account of the fact that any excepted Peer may die. For purely administrative reasons, there may well be a short gap in time before the number could be brought back up from 89 to 90 to allow the necessary arrangements to be made to fill the vacancy. If the number 90 were fixed in the Bill, what would be the consequence of there being fewer than 90 if the statute provided that there had to be 90?
Amendment No.45 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, proposes a time limit for filling the vacancy. But even that has its practical difficulties as we shall see when we come to the debate on his amendment on recommittal. So to provide a maximum of 90 and to rely on the settled intentions of the House to make the necessary arrangements in Standing Orders, as well as on the parties to fulfil them, is the best way 1094 to deliver the policy. The draft Standing Order makes it quite clear that should a vacancy arise due to the death of an excepted Peer, that place will be filled.
I respond to the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, by saying quite unequivocally to the House that that figure of 90 will be honoured by the Government throughout the period of the transitional House.
So I recap. As I announced on Second Reading, the Government would be prepared to accept the inclusion of this amendment in the Bill. Acceptance of the proposal is an earnest of our good intention. It is a guarantee to those who fear that we shall not press ahead with stage two that we shall do so. It is a guarantee also that we shall press ahead to full delivery of our manifesto commitment to remove all hereditary Peers. It gives the 90 excepted Peers, whose election will have given them greater authority and shows that they have the confidence of their colleagues, a say in the deliberations of this House about its long-term future.
What the Government expect in return is that there will be no unreasonable obstruction of the progress of the Bill or the rest of the legislative programme beyond proper scrutiny of legislation in accordance with the conventions of the House. On that basis I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, that the Government will support him if the Committee divides on the amendment.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Lord Strathclyde
At the outset I join the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, and others who have proposed the amendment. I also congratulate the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on the tone in which he accepted the principle behind the amendment. If I may say so, it makes a stark contrast to the "Irvine the Terrible" that we have heard in the past; it makes way for something entirely different and is very welcome.
Let me say at the very start that it is a pleasure to be allowed to debate the Bill that has been in being since last November—in being but not in Parliament—and today is the first time that the Government have begun to accept that their Bill is flawed. Perhaps it is here that the real debate about the future begins. After all, there was something rather odd about taking through another place a Bill which everyone knew was not the Bill the Government intended to pass. But then there has been something odd about the whole process. We are still being compelled forcibly forward on a journey to an undeclared destination; the train rattles on and behind us the wrecker gangs move in to jemmy up the railway tracks, leaving nothing in their place. This has the authentic ring of the Blair government; a restless, headstrong rush into new projects without any clear view of what the outcome will be. Time after time we have seen the castles built of rhetoric, and time and time again they are found to be just castles in the air.
The Government are good at starting things—I give them that—but not so good at finishing them. We have always suspected that, but now we have the proof. Let us take devolution. The confusion and in-fighting in 1095 Government ranks that is already following the creation of the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly show how thoroughly the party opposite have failed to think those policies through. Who now, for example, in the light of last Thursday, thinks that the House of Lords was wrong to take the stand that we did on tuition fees in Scotland? Who now thinks in the light of Falkirk and Carmarthen that the House was wrong to take the stand it did on the issue of handing down to the people candidates in closed lists from on high. The Government would not listen; they had not thought it through. It is exactly the same in the case of the future of the House.
If we turn to the Labour evidence to the Royal Commission, what do we find? Once I had gone beyond the cover, with its yellow star floating over a new millennium like something out of Mao's millennialist New China 1949, I was struck by the air-brushing out of the word "democratic"; the word "democratic", which had figured so prominently in the manifesto, had disappeared. I was also struck at how significantly the report failed to engage at any point with the authoritative report of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern. When it came to a conclusion, what did I find? The press statement said:It would not be right for the party of Government to make detailed, specific recommendations".Does that not defy belief? First, the Government are driven to set up a Royal Commission they never wanted; then they use the Royal Commission they never wanted as a cop out for stating they must not reveal a policy they have not decided. They say that it would not right for the Government yet to express a specific detailed view, and meanwhile the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor makes a commitment to stage two.
Last week the Government had the best possible opportunity to lay out their thoughts for the future and they ducked it. How can it be right for the Government to present the Bill, a blueprint for the demolition of half of Parliament, without even a back-of-the-manifesto pencil sketch of what will be put in its place? If it is not yet right to express a view on the future, is it not then the time to stop the Bill, to set it aside until a proper consensus for reform can be built? Consensus is required and, I have always believed, is achievable.
The Labour Party evidence declares that the Bill before your Lordships today is,a source of genuine pride and pleasure".It goes on:It is a matter of particular pleasure that the Bill should be in Parliament this year, as we celebrate our 100th anniversary".So that is it: the Bill we are debating today is the centenary gift for the members of the new model Labour Party.
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
I ask in a spirit of inquiry whether the noble Lord has given thought to page 65 of the Companion which refers to Standing Orders. They say that the debate must be relevant to the Question before the House.
§ Lord Strathclyde
As is well known, I always accept the advice of the Leader of the House on House matters. 1096 I will not disagree with her but, if she cannot understand the relevance that this has to the Bill we are currently debating, when the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has accepted an amendment which drives a coach and horses through the principles that underline the Bill, then I am staggered. I am particularly staggered because so many members of the Labour Party will be disappointed. In the evidence an AEEU member from Yorkshire said:The last thing we want is a constitutional mess".Poor AEEU member from Yorkshire: the last thing he wants is alive and well and coming his way.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has come to us today to assure us that the Government will support the amendment put so ably from the Cross-Benches by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill. As I have said, I welcome that assurance. Let me also make it clear that I, too, welcome the amendment. I welcome the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, with the support of his noble friends, and I look forward to joining them in the Lobby at the end of the debate. I urge my noble friends to do likewise. The amendment will keep in the House 92 hereditary Peers, 92 people who owe no place to present patronage and who owe no favour to any political party. I am grateful that the Government have recognised that the House will be better for keeping those independent and experienced voices in its ranks.
I do not want to get into the issue of how the proposal might be improved. We will have an opportunity to debate that when the Bill is recommitted on the constructive suggestion put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, the Government Chief Whip. However, I wish to be clear about one thing. We welcome the amendment as making a bad Bill better; we welcome it for avoiding for the time being the nightmare of a wholly appointed House; we welcome it as keeping in the House a few of those who we all know have given, and can continue to give, irreplaceable service. That wish has come out time and time again in our debates, not least in the statesmanlike ideas of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux, and the noble Earl, Lord Longford. The amendment before us is a benefit to the House.
We still believe that it is a thoroughly bad Bill built on party prejudice, advanced through opportunism and destined for who knows what. I do not know what we are destined for in the House—no one knows—and those in the Government who should know do not know or will not say. Because we believe this to be a bad Bill we will not exchange silence on the other demerits of the Bill—or defects in any other part of the Government's programme—for the 92 seats that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor offers us today. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, is in the spirit of a compromise. I welcome that. It may not be built to last but it may have to. In our scrutiny of the Bill we will have to see whether this compromise can stand the test of time. if it has to. Therefore, I am grateful also for the words of the noble and learned Lord regarding subsection (2) of the proposed new clause and the reason why the number 1097 90 has been used in that manner. His words will certainly reduce the amount of time that we spend on that issue on re-commitment.
We shall want to return to some of the workings of the proposal. I give the Government notice, as I have done privately, without wishing to cause any concern, that when we discuss the issue further we shall want to debate in particular the issue of the replacement of the 90 hereditary Peers through by-elections. The Government will also have noted that Amendment No.144A gives the House the opportunity to debate the Standing Orders.
Those matters will fall to be debated on another day. Today, we decide on this amendment. Earlier, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor called the amendment "inspirational". In his famous advice to the House at Second Reading, the noble and learned Lord described the amendment as a "statesmanlike endeavour". It is either a statesmanlike endeavour or a piece of opportunism masquerading as statesmanship. Either way, we wish it success. Whether the Government's acceptance of the amendment is part of a statesmanlike endeavour, or merely a narrow expedient, will be judged not in the Lobbies tonight but in the weeks and months that remain for the consideration of this Bill and the long-term proposals for the future of this House. From these Benches, we support the amendment.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
During the first day in Committee, my noble friend Lord Goodhart said:we want the Bill, the whole Bill and nothing but the Bill".—[Official Report, 20/4/99; col.1051.]That was the view from these Benches when the Bill was published, and it remains our view. It follows that, despite my strong personal prejudice in favour of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, and the elegance with which he moved the amendment, we do not like Amendment No.31, nor the agreement negotiated between the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and the Government that it embodies. We do not like the amendment in principle, because it maintains a specifically hereditary presence in the House; nor do we like the detail.
When the first opportunity occurred to scrutinise the proposal—I refer to our debate on 22nd February to take note of the White Paper—I called it a "dog's breakfast". Afterwards, I wondered whether I had been less than generous towards its progenitors; but I do not believe that I was. I listened respectfully to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor today. But I believe that, last December, he either paid an unnecessarily high price for a deal—and given the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, I am not sure how far it will stick—or he put his name to an agreement without first looking at the small print. There may have been a case for a deal—we were not party to any negotiations—but this was not it. So much for the consensus which is the claim and best wish of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor.
1098 We have said many times from these Benches that there are hereditary Peers in all parts of the House who, on merit, deserve a place in the transitional House for which this Bill makes provision. That has never been in dispute. I go further. There are many noble Lords who could make a valuable contribution to a post-Royal Commission House, if that turns out to be not wholly elected. But their future should be as life Peers, not as residual elected representatives of the hereditary peerage.
It was widely understood before the Weatherill agreement emerged that a number of hereditary Peers of all parties and on the Cross-Benches would be offered life peerages, so that they could stay in the House as long as existing life Peers. Numbers were not mentioned, but there would have been no difficulty in identifying, say, up to 75 candidates. The arrangements would have been simple and the details could have been negotiated without any change on the face of the Bill. Instead, for all the Government's talk of a manifesto pledge, which is a matter for them and not for us, the principle of the Bill is now to be breached and a complicated series of provisions is to be introduced.
First, under subsection (1) of the new clause which is Amendment No.31, the Standing Orders are to be used to implement the bare bones of the agreement set out in the text of the amendment. If I were a Member of another place, I should take the gravest objection to this House reserving to itself the right to decide such matters. Reference was made to, "ordering our own affairs in this matter", and to seats in Parliament. I say respectfully that I do not believe that, as long as we are a Chamber of this Parliament, it is for us to order who should or should not be Members of this House under our own Standing Orders. It is a distortion of the legislative process to use Standing Orders for a matter of such importance which, if it can be justified, should be on the face of the Bill.
Then there is the provision, not in the amendment but again in the Standing Orders, that the accepted hereditary Peers should be chosen not in the way each party and those on the-Cross-Benches might prefer, but only by hereditary Peers. Why should the parties be dictated to in that way? Why deny the choice of this election being either by other hereditary Peers or by their colleagues, life Peers included? I have not heard the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor give an explanation.
After all, the whole House—hereditary and life Peers—is to choose, again under the proposed Standing Orders, the 15 hereditary Peers who are to serve as Deputy Chairmen. Why are life Peers to be allowed to vote in that case but be denied a vote in choosing their political colleagues? The argument I have heard so far, though very little today, is extremely thin.
The provision relating to Deputy Chairmen is the most surprising of all. Why do we suddenly need 15 hereditary Peers to become Deputy Chairmen? To my knowledge there has not been an unsuccessful roll-call of life Peers to find volunteers. I can find no rationale for what remains an extraordinary proposal.
1099 If the Bill goes through and the Standing Orders are agreed, some of these who are elected will fall ill, grow old, become bored with the job or not do it very well. What will happen then? Will they leave this House, having ceased to perform the duties for which they were chosen? No, they will not lease the House; they will sit on the Back Benches. They will apparently retire there while the House chooses others to take their place. It is, as I say, a very strange proposal. I look forward at some future date to hearing the proper case for it.
It also seems, under Paragraph (7)(i) of the proposed Standing Order, which must be referred to in this debate, that the vacancy I have described will be filled by the runner-up when the 15 were elected, provided he is "available". That is the word that occurs in the Standing Order. But what does it mean: available in this House, or available outside this House? It refers to someone who is to be summoned back to take the place that is now vacant while the individual chosen by the House has retired to the Back Benches. That is also the proposal in the Standing Orders in the event of a vacancy occurring following the death of any of the lucky 75. The runner-up will be summoned back from retirement. Indeed, under an amendment to Amendment No.31 which stood on the Marshalled List last night, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and others, and which we expect to see again, beyond this Parliament—after the next election—such vacancies would be filled through by-elections. As I understand it, the whole of the United Kingdom hereditary peerage would go to the polls to provide the unique spectacle of electing a hereditary representative to this House. That is the way to ensure that there are always 92 hereditary Peers in the House while the legislation lasts.
It is nonsense, but the nonsense is at the heart of the matter. It is the theme that inspires Amendment No.31 and measures the deal done between the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and the Government. We are not being asked to choose 75, least of all 90 or 92, outstanding hereditary Peers to sit here on merit. The House is being asked to perpetuate the role of the hereditary peerage as such by making 75 or 92 Peers the representative hereditary Peers in this House. They will be self-selecting and renewable, ensuring that the hereditary principle is still enshrined here.
I fully understand that this is very welcome to all those Members of the House who believe that the hereditary peerage as such has a special and particular contribution to make to Parliament and who are opposed to the whole principle of the Bill. Their position is consistent and plain. But I do not understand how those who believe that the hereditary principle has had its time can be remotely comfortable with the proposition.
There is no case on merit for Amendment No.31. It is the product of a hasty deal which the Government do not appear properly to have considered. The outcome will further distort the disparity between the representation of parties in this House, plainly contrary to the balancing principles referred to in the White Paper.
The noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, referred to them as "temporary provisions". The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor made it plain today, using strong 1100 words, that this would last only through the transitional House and that the transitional House would be brought to an end in the next Parliament. However, if I were a betting man I would lay long odds that if Amendment No.31 is carried, there will still be hereditary Peers in this House in 10 years' time and possibly for much longer.
The debate today is the consequence of the Motion we agreed last Thursday. I do not complain about it, but the debate has effectively become a Second Reading debate on Amendment No.31. Following the conventions of the House, we on our Benches do not intend to vote tonight.
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
Please wait. Noble Lords do not have to do so, but if they wait they will hear where the future lies. If the amendment is lost, good riddance. I say plainly, good riddance. I believe that I say it on behalf of some Members of your Lordships' House who will vote for it out of party loyalty. That would be the end of the matter. But if it is carried, we shall wait until the Motion that the clause stand part, after the clause has been re-committed, meanwhile tabling our own amendments to the new clause proposed in Amendment No.31.
§ 3.45 p.m.
Before the noble Lord sits down, he said that if the amendment is passed there will still be hereditary Peers here in 10 years' time. Does he say it because he does not expect stage two to happen for 10 years or because he expects the Royal Commission to recommend that some hereditary Peers should be retained?
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
At this time of considering deals, I am looking forward neither to the future of the Government nor the recommendations of the Royal Commission. The noble Viscount will remember why we are debating what has happened. The Government wanted to get the Bill through, so they decided to make a deal. The deal breaches the principle of the Bill. As I understand it, the Labour Party recommends to the Royal Commission not an elected nor even a partially elected second Chamber, let alone a predominantly elected second Chamber. If at that stage it is to be a non-elected Chamber, then all my political instincts tell me that when the moment comes there will be a proposition that will prove acceptable to the government of the day whereby those 92 hereditary Peers will stay on as a hereditary element, self-contained in the long term. I may be wrong, I hope so, but that is my prediction.
§ The Earl of Carnarvon
In the late autumn of 1994, I went to see the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, to ascertain whether he would consider setting up a study of the second Chamber. At that time, he thought that it was for the Opposition to come forward with then ideas. I asked: "Would you mind if I set up a study?" He said: "No, I should like it very much and look forward to its recommendations".
1101 On 1st February 1995, a group of us got together: the late Lord Bancroft, sadly missed by all of us, the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, and Mr. Douglas Slater. We met on 1st February 1995. Our paper discussed the history of your Lordships' House, the practice and the possible future. We made no recommendations, but in our paper we intensely disliked two bites at the cherry.
During 1996, we met quite frequently. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, is always extremely courteous; he was very poker-faced. When the election took place, the Cross-Bench Peers elected the noble Lords, Lord Weatherill and Lord Marsh, as well as myself to continue discussions with the then Leader of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and, later, with the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, as well as the Chief Whip, the noble Lord, Lord Carter. We met on many occasions. On 19th November last year, I received a call from the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, asking whether he could see me urgently. The next day he came to Highclere, and explained the discussions and arrangements which he proposed and which he put to the Government. As they were considerably better than anything my colleagues or I had produced, I thought it was an excellent idea. It was put into an amendment which we believe is extremely good.
On 2nd December last year, we introduced the whole idea to the media. Noble Lords know the result.
I believe that the amendment before the Committee today should be supported, as it will maintain a group of Peers who are well versed in the running of your Lordships' House and will be of great help to the country in debating the Royal Commission's report when it is presented. For those reasons, I very much hope that your Lordships will support the amendment.
§ Viscount Cranborne
As the substantial number of your Lordships still in the Chamber mutely—or mostly mutely—seem to represent, we have come to a crucial moment in the consideration of the Bill in your Lordships' House. Members of the Committee know that we must now take an important decision in principle: do we effectively throw this legislation out as a matter of principle, knowing full well that the Government have the majority in another place to force it through under the Parliament Act? Alternatively, do we accept a compromise proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, with his usual elegance, which will give at least an incentive (which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, again elegantly, acknowledged this afternoon) for the Government to proceed to stage two of reform of your Lordships' House as quickly as possible? That seems to be the simple essence of the question which lies before the Committee this afternoon.
With the Committee's permission, before I add my two-pennyworth to this debate, I would like to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, and his colleagues—a formidable triumvirate if ever there was one—for the extraordinarily dispassionate way in which they have discharged what I know has been a delicate 1102 and difficult task. If it does not strain the day-to-day exigencies of party politics, perhaps I may also say to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that, although he may feel that I unnecessarily took exception to the tone which he adopted the last time we considered these matters at Second Reading, I have always found our conversations not only hospitably conducted but most agreeable occasions on which he has always matched what he had undertaken in private with what he said in public. I pay tribute to him for that, particularly in the light of what I thought was the extremely helpful way—I agree with my noble friend Lord Strathclyde—in which he introduced his remarks this afternoon. The Committee knows full well that I shall do my full best to persuade the Committee to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill. I shall not try to indulge in a "false" on the one hand or the other about this.
I take this view with something of a heavy heart. As my noble friend Lord Strathclyde has said, and as so many of my other noble friends have pointed out consistently in these debates, this is an extremely bad Bill. The press know that. I do not believe that there is any serious journalist outside the Daily Mirror and occasional parts of the Guardian, but not wholly, who supports the idea of a two-stage reform. My party knows that it is a bad Bill and Members of the Committee know that, on the whole, it is a bad Bill, with the exception of those whose party loyalty makes them deny that proposition. I suspect that, in the deep watches of the night from time to time when all of us have some kind of confrontation with reality, even the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor might just for a second wonder whether that is the right approach.
If the Government had been interested in a reform which produced a genuinely independent House, as has so often been pointed out by everyone who has become interested in these matters, they would have proceeded very differently. The Government know that any reformer of this Chamber—and I, like the noble Lord, Lord Richard, count myself among such people—has to face two questions: how should the House be reformed and how does one build a consensus behind the first question? It is clear to me that, having lived with the question of the reform of your Lordships' House ever since I had the honour to become Leader of the House in what seems aeons ago, the answer to question two in practical terms is just as important as the answer to question one. That is simply because, in our experience, everyone has a completely different answer to the first question and simply cannot understand why their answer does not command universal support.
An honourable and sensible course, as my noble friend Lord Strathclyde so eloquently set out today, would have been to set up a Royal Commission in 1997. It would have reported by now, even if it had taken twice as long as the Royal Commission proposed and commissioned by the Government and chaired by my noble friend Lord Wakeham. It would then have been possible to build a national consensus behind a piece of legislation which, if the Government were wise, would have been submitted to a referendum for approval or disapproval as a post-legislative referendum conducted, 1103 I hope, under the Neill committee rules. I hope that from now on we shall always seek referendums under those rules. I hope that the Government will not have the nerve or the impudence to use pre-legislative referendums as they have in the past. Instead they adopted the two-stage approach.
With the greatest respect to the noble and learned Lord and his colleagues, this is where I am tempted to be more than a little insulting to the Government. It seems to me that the two-stage approach is the only way in which a Prime Minister (who is clearly uncomfortable with an independent Parliament) can establish control over the one House of Parliament which he does not dominate. He is aware, as we all are, that the route to control is through a nominated Chamber—not, I hasten to add, that life Peers are not independent. Everyday we see in this House that that is not a sustainable proposition.
As I have tried to make out in previous debates during the Committee stage, a nominated Chamber is open to manipulation by an unscrupulous Prime Minister.
§ Lord Carter
I am extremely grateful to the noble Viscount for giving way. In the process of insulting the Government, will he also return to the amendment?
§ Viscount Cranborne
Of course. With the greatest respect to the Government Chief Whip, I thought that I was dealing with the amendment. Of the many fair people on the Government Front Bench he is the very fairest. I believe that he will very rapidly come to see why what I am saying is directly relevant to the amendment. I also believe that he knows the answer to that even before he receives it.
We know that the Government refused to incorporate broad parity—an undertaking which is so important—into the Bill. We know that the Appointments Commission, which is a device which sounds good but about which some of us are doubtful, will apply only to the appointment of Cross-Bench Peers. Equally important, there is no cap on the number of Peers. We shall come to that later during the Committee's deliberations.
I believe it is clear that the Prime Minister wants a nominated Chamber. He thought that he could get it at the beginning by sticking at stage one. That was very much reflected by some of the pronouncements that we heard the noble Baroness make when she first became Leader of this House. She will well remember that she spoke about this being a stand-alone reform. In the newspapers she was quoted as saying that we should wait for the other constitutional reforms—I believe I quote her accurately—"to bed down" before we proceeded to stage two. That added to the conviction.
It was for those reasons, as a convinced reformer of this Chamber, that I felt it absolutely essential to see whether there was a practical way in which we could find an agreement incorporating a device which would shame the Government into reversing what was increasingly clearly an intention to stick at stage one. After all, with the incorporation of a number of hereditary Peers—in my case I would argue the larger, 1104 the better—it is very difficult, in the light of the Government's method on this matter, which they have employed with obvious relish and enjoyment, to allow some hereditaries to stay forever. It would make the Government look even more ridiculous than they have been made to look during the course of the war in Kosovo.
In the light of the agreement, there must be a powerful incentive for the Government not to stick at stage one, but to progress to stage two as rapidly as possible. That does not mean that for stage two they will not make another attempt to have a nominated House after they have failed to reach that objective on stage one. We shall come to that problem later. Above all, it is the incentive to which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor so elegantly referred and the reassurance that it gives us in a bad Bill. It is for that reason that I support this amendment. It will give us at least a less bad interim House because it would ensure or at least encourage that interim House to remain interim rather than stay for another 90 years.
Setting aside the arguments as to whether the Salisbury convention applies to this legislation, certainly the Government could force through this Bill under the Parliament Acts, were we to reject it. Clearly, that is how the British constitution works. There is no doubt that the Government have a sufficient majority in another place and sufficient time before the next general election to do that, were they so inclined. Noble Lords could opt to die gloriously like the Scots on Flodden field, but I suggest that even then they would risk forfeiting the goodwill that your Lordships' good sense and the Government's own foolishness has built up in this House over the past two years.
I am the first to admit that this agreement is far from perfect but, in addition to it being an inducement to the Government to go on to stage two, if the amendment is accepted in principle and the plan to recommit is followed through—I pay tribute to the usual channels for their perspicacity in producing this plan—I hope that we can examine why it was not possible to have a larger number of hereditary Peers. The larger the number, the greater the inducement.
§ Lord Shepherd
Since the noble Viscount makes repeated references to an "incentive", how does he reconcile that with the group of hereditary Peers who will remain Members of this House as long as stage one is in existence? Knowing the reluctance of hereditary Peers at present to give up their seats, where lies the incentive to bring about change? I do not recognise it.
§ Viscount Cranborne
I apologise to the noble Lord the former Leader of the House for being less than clear than I should have been. I am afraid that that is one of my weaknesses. I thought I had made clear that the incentive applied not to your Lordships' House but to the Government. The Government have said repeatedly that it is unacceptable to have any hereditary Peers sitting in Parliament. Here we have an agreement that allows them provisionally to sit as Members of Parliament. So long as they are there as a standing reproach to the Government, surely it becomes an incentive for the Government to get on with stage two.
1105 One of the weaknesses of the plan is that the number is not large enough, but I accept that this is as much as the Government can offer us. I agree with my noble friend Lord Strathclyde that if this turns out to be a longer interim period than the Government have promised—events may easily dictate such an event; we do not know—we shall have to consider the question of by-elections. I hope that we can return to that. There are other matters that need not detain us at this stage, but to which we can return later.
I add one further matter which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers. It has been suggested that it would be very much better if the whole House played a part in electing the first tranche of 75. That is superficially an attractive argument. However, a moment's thought shows that it is perhaps not as sensible as the noble Lord suggested. Surely no deliberative assembly should select its own members. As has been said frequently by someone on the other side of the House, this is not a club. We are not White's, selecting our own members. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, that we may question the authority by which we arrive here—indeed, that led the Government to produce the Bill in the first place—but that is different from saying that a group of people outside this Chamber, as they will be by the time the Bill comes into force, has a right to send some of its number here. That is different from saying that people who are already Members of this House should select who will come and join them.
I accept that that poses questions for the 15, although perhaps my argument is not as strong in their case. I readily agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, that for those reasons we should return to the question of how they are elected. As for the remainder, for the reasons that I have endeavoured to explain—no doubt I have failed to explain them adequately to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd—I believe that the amendment is an inducement. It will not save us from the Prime Minister's attempt to have a wholly nominated Chamber by manipulating stage two. The by now notorious paragraph 5.4 of the Labour Party's evidence to the Royal Commission confirms that, if confirmation were needed. But, fortunately, we have the assurance of my noble friend Lord Wakeham, delivered with his usual authority in debates in this Chamber, that we can rely on him not only to look at the question in as broad as sphere as is his wont, but to do so transparently enough for us to be able to see the rationale that leads him to whatever recommendation can be made.
I conclude by suggesting that this is the least bad solution open to your Lordships. I would not dream of suggesting that it is a foregone conclusion. This is a matter that noble Lords must and will decide for themselves this afternoon. I only hope that before noble Lords cast their votes they will think very carefully about the alternatives to accepting this amendment. In the end, I suspect that the alternative is a stage-one Chamber, which is wholly nominated and with no incentive whatever for this Prime Minister to do anything about proceeding to stage two.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Richard
At the outset of my comments, I point out that I did not intend to speak in this debate. I imposed upon myself a vow of silence and intended to sit here quietly unless provoked. The noble Viscount has provoked me. To put it mildly, it is a bit rich to be lectured from that side of the House about the kind of democratic and constitutional innovation that we should make on this side of the House. For 18 years the party opposite sat on those Benches and did nothing. It made no proposal for reform or for the creation of any kind of democratic element in your Lordships' House. The party opposite had a massive majority of Conservative hereditary Peers. If perchance it had won the previous election, I have no doubt that it would still be there with a very large majority of hereditary Peers and that we would hear nothing whatever about reform of the House of Lords.
I approach this amendment from an entirely opposite direction to that adopted by the noble Viscount. He said that this was an amendment that made a bad Bill better. I believe that it is an amendment that makes a good Bill a bit worse, for the reason that it eats into the general principle set out clearly in our manifesto; namely, that the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in your Lordships' House should be abolished.
This amendment is not a matter of principle, however much people try to wrap it up; it is a matter of convenience. It is therefore important that the House recognises it for what it is. This amendment is a compromise. The essence of a compromise is that everybody goes away equally dissatisfied with the result that is on the table. It appears from the observations of the noble Viscount that the Conservative Party will go away extremely dissatisfied with the result that is on the table. I shall go away from the table dissatisfied with the compromise, but I recognise that it is purely a matter of convenience. This is a somewhat grubby compromise designed for the convenience of all the parties in your Lordships' House and, on that basis but on no other, I support it.
§ Lord Hooson
The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said that the presence of the hereditary Peers was not due to patronage. Perhaps I may respectfully say to him that patronage was exercised in favour of his and their forebears. It may be a lesser distinction.
§ Lord Strathclyde
Perhaps I may correct the noble Lord. I said that it was not due to existing patronage. I agree with the point the noble Lord makes.
§ Lord Hooson
I did not hear the word "existing" when the noble Lord uttered the words. However, what he said will be in Hansard without doubt.
I am against the amendment in principle. This is the sorriest day for the Government in this Parliament so far as concerns this House. The consequential amendment, Amendment No.152, would amend the Bill to,Restrict membership of the House of Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage".1107 Was that what the Government fought the last election on? Was that what they had in mind? No rational case can be made for an amendment which aims to perpetuate the right of certain selected hereditary Peers to continue to sit in this House by virtue only of being hereditaries. Why? The sole justification for the Government's acceptance of this skilfully negotiated and entirely unjustified deal is to help the smooth passage of government business in this House by avoiding a threatened and prolonged campaign of obstruction on the Bill. I should have thought more of the Government had they proceeded under the Parliament Act.
The Government are giving way to what might be called constitutional blackmail. The price is a perpetuation of the hereditary principle for a selected 92, not apparently based on ability, talent, wisdom, experience and dedication but primarily on whether they are from a certain Conservative section of hereditary Peers and, to a lesser extent, from the Cross-Bench section.
§ Lord Hooson
It does not matter whether there were one or 100. The principle is wrong.
How does that square up with the Government's undertakings and manifesto? Why should a democratic country accept a deal such as this? I wish to make my position clear. Like my noble friend, I agree that over the years I greatly admired the dedication, ability and skill of many hereditary Peers. I am all for rewarding such talents by seeing many appointed life Peers on the completion of the Bill into law. There is everything to be said for preserving proven abilities in the selection of life Peers; but there is nothing to be said for the perpetuation of the hereditary principle as a qualification in itself for sitting in this Chamber.
This was referred to by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor as an agreement to ease the transition. Perhaps I may remind him that the Parliament Act 1911 was the last transitional Act in this sphere. It clearly established the supremacy of the elected House of Commons. No longer was it possible for this House to reject the Budget, as it had done; or to throw out the Irish Home Rule Bill, as it had done. It confined this House to a delaying power and to its useful and valuable roles in scrutinising and improving legislation and, as has often been pointed out, providing useful and beautifully conducted debates on a variety of interesting subjects.
But let us not forget that the Parliament Act 1911 is unfinished business. Many attempts were made to change the preamble and the other House resisted them always. It states clearly,And whereas 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 immediately be brought into operation".It was to be a transitory thing. That was 88 years ago.
1108 I do not believe that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor can really believe that he will have the Royal Commission's report and an Act brought into being perhaps in the next Parliament which will complete this process. There will be a great deal more debate when the Royal Commission's report is produced. In the meantime, one asks oneself: what contribution does this amendment make to the process of having an acceptable second Chamber in a democracy, whether it is a nominated one or, as I believe that it should be, an elected one?
It is a pity that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, is not in the Chamber, because of ill health. He made such a great contribution to our thinking on constitutional reform, especially, or almost solely, when he was in opposition. I refer to his Reith lectures and the books he wrote on the subject. Last evening I read his essay on the future of the House of Lords, in his book on The Constitution. I quote the words he there used:The only question is not whether the second chamber does a useful job of work, but whether an elective second chamber with increased powers is not desirable in order to save our liberties from the perils of elective dictatorship".We have seen more evidence of an elective dictatorship in the course of the past 20 years than ever before. I believe that we have seen it under the present Prime Minister. We saw it also in particular under the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher. There are perils to that. At present devolution is taking place, and changes are taking place in Europe.
§ The Earl of Longford
Who would these elected Members be? Would they be people who could not get into the House of Commons?
§ Lord Hooson
I do not have to go into that question at present. Various schemes have been put forward for an elected House. An elected House would need to have greater powers than this Chamber has at present. It may be necessary for a second Chamber to have those powers.
§ Lord Hooson
I have no doubt whatsoever, as the noble Earl knows, that this is a most agreeable House to be in. It is very civilised, and one may prefer it. But there is a serious point at issue. It seems to me that the Government have been derailed. They have achieved a consensus on the terms dictated by the Conservative Party, and have accepted it. It is a sorry day in the history of this Government. I think that they will live to regret it.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lord Barnett
My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor was right when he said that not everyone will like a compromise of this kind. I find myself in that position. I do not like what is being called the "Weatherill amendment", although it should have 1109 been, as we know, the "Cranborne amendment". After all, the noble Viscount was sacked for dealing with it in the way he did.
The Bill itself is simple and straightforward. As my noble friend Lord Richard said, what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said about making a bad Bill better is, frankly, totally untrue. It makes a simple Bill much worse. No one can doubt that it is a simple Bill: it simply gets rid of all the hereditary Peers. That is not making it complex, but I understand why my noble friend has felt it right to have a compromise. However, the amendment is complex and ill-thought through. Frankly, it is something of a shambles, as I hope to explain.
It is based on one major false assumption: let me refer to it briefly. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor said—and I believe him—that the Government will press ahead strongly for a second Chamber: that is, a different second Chamber. The major assumption that there will be a short transitional period is wrong, for a number of reasons. Let me just explain why I think the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, was rather cleverer than many thought—not me—because with his pedigree there was never a chance of there being an ill-trained spaniel. He was a very well-trained spaniel indeed! He knew that the hereditary Peers he was going to keep in this second Chamber would be lasting for rather a long time.
Let me just explain briefly why. Let us assume that the Royal Commission agree—which is a bit of an assumption, even under the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham—and let us assume that the joint committee of both Houses agrees—and they will have to be chosen rather carefully by the Chief Whips for that to happen—and let us assume that the House of Commons itself agrees, which is rather a rash assumption. Let us assume that the Cabinet agrees. After all, we have seen in paragraph 5, Chapter 7 of the White Paper that the only Government commitment is "to respond to the proposals". Let us assume that everyone agrees and we are now approximately in the middle of the year 2000. They then proceed to draft legislation in three or four months, ready for the last Session of this Parliament.
Can anyone seriously believe that that is what is going to be done? Of course not. That is just one reason why it will not happen in this Parliament. In the next Parliament, assuming that we still have the same size majority in another place, although it may not be quite as big, it is possible that there will be other priorities. So in my view there will be no rush, despite my believing that the Government and my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor want to honour the commitment they genuinely went into. There will be some 600 noble Lords left in this House and there will be 600 in another place. There will be 1,200 different views of what kind of second Chamber there should be.
The idea that we will get all that in the next Parliament in the first few Sessions frankly, beggars belief. So in practice it will be deferral, deferral, deferral. I hope I am wrong—I see that the noble 1110 Viscount wants to intervene; I am happy to let him do so in a moment—but I fear that I am right and there will not be a proper second Chamber very quickly.
§ Viscount Cranborne
I am very grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. He has intervened so many times in my speeches that I was dying for a chance to intervene in one of his. I just want to ask, in a spirit of pure inquiry, how it is that he is opposed to the hereditary principle but at the same time attributes cleverness, which I certainly do not possess, to me, because of my inbreeding.
§ Lord Barnett
If the noble Viscount took my remark as an insult, it was not intended as one, I promise him. I do believe that he has a great pedigree. I believe that I have one, but it is from a different source. I was not insulting him. I do believe that he is not the kind of man, or kind of noble Lord, who would lightly agree to something without good reason. He did not allow himself to be sacked as leader of his party here just for some simple reason. He obviously did it because he hoped to retain a fair number of hereditary Peers in your Lordships' House for a long time. That is why he did it. He can get up and disclaim that if he wishes: I see he is shaking his head.
However, in my view it is vital that the transitional House should be a sensible one. I have always assumed myself that some hardworking, able hereditary Peers—and we all know many of them, including the noble Viscount—who would be made life Peers. That is what should have been done and that might even have been a good compromise. We could even have given them more than 92. That is the way I always assumed we would deal with this matter.
As I have said, I recognise occasionally the need for compromise: indeed, it is inevitable if we are not to have elective dictatorships. I strongly support the idea in other cases such as the United Nations, NATO and elsewhere, that there is a recognised need for compromise. This one has been made, as has been said, on Privy Council terms. I understand that. I was not involved personally and it was not practicable that I should have been involved; but I know, because of that, that my noble friends will try very hard to make this deal stick and to make a second Chamber a reality.
However, I believe that this compromise goes much too far. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor would like me to support this amendment and I know that my noble friend the Chief Whip would also like me to support it, for obvious reasons. I want briefly to explain why I cannot support it and why I think it is a shambles. Even if I could agree with 10 per cent—and I believe that is too many—and if I could agree with the election procedures—which I frankly do not because they are far too complex—I think it is far too complex. Why do we need to have 15 deputy chairmen elected from the hereditary Peers? Is it being suggested that out of the 75 that we are going to have from all the life peerages there would not be 15 sensible chairmen? I am simply unable to understand that. I know the noble Viscount wanted about 100 1111 altogether, so he got 92 and he got eight Peers automatically, Peers of first creation. That was at the forefront of his mind: 100, and he got that figure.
Who decides what happens when those 15 deputy chairmen die or, to make things even worse, if they do not die? If they are unable to serve we will then have more than 92 because presumably we will then elect—the noble and learned Lord can correct me—another hereditary Peer while the previous deputy chairman is still there. So we will have more than 92. I see the noble Viscount is smiling: of course he would be delighted. However, as just one of the major problems, who will decide when a deputy chairman or one of the hereditary Peers becomes unfit or unable to serve? I assume—
§ Lord Elton
Would the noble Lord tell us whether he is going to return to this matter on recommitment or whether he is going to thrash it out entirely now?
§ Lord Barnett
I will thrash it out later, in the interests of my chief Whip. I shall be moving one or two amendments which I will refer to on another occasion, but I really must continue with a few questions that have been raised already. I assume the deputy chairmen will continue to take their party whip. In other words, they will nix be just deputy chairmen but party speakers and voters as well: or will they not? Perhaps my noble and learned friend will tell me.
The plain fact is that the election procedures are matters which should concern every noble Lord. They are not set out in the Bill. They are set out in a Standing Order, which does not exist. There is no Standing Order yet. We have a draft memorandum. We are proposing to put in that draft memorandum huge new burdens and powers on the Clerk of the Parliaments. I am sorry that he is not here, but perhaps his friend will tell him that I have enormous regard for the Clerk of the Parliament. We should not be placing those burdens and powers on his shoulders. If we are going to do something like this then it should be this House that should do it, not the Clerk of the Parliaments. We are Members: we should decide how to do it.
We are told by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, who knows that I have enormous respect for him—indeed I told him in advance that I was going to speak against this amendment—that this is a "detail". We are dealing with a draft Standing Order; presumably we shall see the final Standing Order when the Bill has completed its stages through both Houses. Therefore, we are asked to support an amendment which refers to a Standing Order which does not exist. I assume that when the Standing Order comes to this House we shall have an opportunity to debate and amend it. Perhaps my noble and learned friend will be able to explain.
However, other questions arise and I wish to deal with a few, the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, having dealt with others. Why are 75 hereditary Peers to be elected by the parties and not the whole House, as are the other 15? Why are there vacancies only when there is a death? And there will be many vacancies because some noble Lords will not be capable of serving—I hasten to add no one present in your Lordships' House today. We are told that when Members die their places will be filled 1112 by the runners-up. What happens if a runner-up has left a party, or has died, or, in the case of the Labour Party, been made a life Peer? We are told that the House will then decide.
We are then told—this is the important point—that if this scheme lasts for more than five years, which it almost certainly will, there will be an alternative. But the draft memorandum did not mention an alternative. The proposal is nonsensical because we are also told that the 15 deputy chairmen will be appointed to other duties, too. I should be interested to know what other appointments they could have. What is even worse is that the draft memorandum explains that if there is a tie we shall elect Members of Parliament by drawing lots. It really is coming to something when Members of a legislature of this Parliament are elected by drawing lots.
§ The Earl of Onslow
Perhaps I may inform the noble Lord that a local authority election only last Thursday was decided by the toss of a coin or by drawing lots.
§ Lord Barnett
I hope that the noble Earl will be able to stay in your Lordships' House under the arrangement. His noble friends will be able to vote for him to stay and he can make such points on a regular basis. I shall not have the opportunity to vote for or against him, unless he stands as one of the 15 deputy chairmen.
The memorandum is only a draft—we do not yet have the Standing Order—but we are informed that expert advice will be sought on elections. I should be interested to know where the Clerks or anyone else will find experts on such an election. With great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, he is asking us and we are being advised to buy a pig in a poke depending on Standing Orders which do not exist and will not exist until the Bill has gone through both Houses. Although I have great respect for the Clerk of the Parliaments, I believe that it is wrong to give him such powers.
My noble friend Lord Peston is unable to he in the Committee as he is chairing a Select Committee upstairs, where I should be. He and I have tabled an amendment which seeks to make the Bill slightly better by dispensing with by-elections and the complex procedures contained in the draft Standing Order.
I shall conclude with a small and simple point. Our amendment proposes that when a Peer who is accepted dies he should not be replaced. In any event, we are assured that the transitional House will exist for only a short time, so why bother with by-elections? If, as I fear, the transitional House will exist for a long time. hereditary Peers will be maintained for a long time. But that is not the proposal of my noble friends.
What is the defence put forward by my noble and learned friend? The only one he can put forward is that the deal was struck by him and other Privy Counsellors in all honour and the Standing Order could not have been included in the deal because it did not exist. It still does not exist, so I hope that I am not being told that it is part of what we are voting for. I understand and appreciate the fact that the Government wish to honour the deal that they struck, but it is not something that I have to like.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
I oppose this amendment in principle—and we are dealing with the principles and not the details. Many of the reasons I oppose it have been given by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, on careful analysis. Other aspects of my opposition in principle were covered by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers—but not all of them. I say with respect to my noble friend Lord Cranborne that I cannot accept that there is any effective incentive to the Government to go to stage two if we give them the amendment. I see the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, in his place. On a previous occasion, he dealt with this aspect in a way which I believe is right and I find wholly acceptable. I have always adhered to it since.
I do not take the view that we trouble ourselves over-much on this debate in principle about the Parliament Acts. Let us be frank; they dangle over our wretched heads like the sword of Damocles. Any amendment—for example, my referendum amendment or an amendment to increase the numbers—will be overturned by the Parliament Acts if the Government do not like it. Therefore, it is a little premature to worry too much about the Parliament Acts in relation to this amendment. If the Government do not get what they want, sooner or later they will invoke the Parliament Acts. That is the fact of the matter.
Therefore, when we are considering in principle, which is a logical and should be an objective analysis, whether we shall support the amendment, the question of the Parliament Acts is utterly erroneous.
I wish to say at the outset that the integrity of purpose of the noble Lords who made this imperfect arrangement some time ago, and as now presented in the amendment to be implemented by the proposals contained in the Clerk of the Parliaments' 13th draft, is not to be called in question. It is well understood and well respected. The log-jam over "no stage one before stage two" could be shifted only by compromise. That compromise, made so long ago, was made in good faith, but made without the authority of the people or the rank and file of either House of Parliament. It has not been ratified by the people or, as yet, by either House of Parliament. The purpose of this debate is quite simple; that is, to seek ratification of your Lordships' House in principle tonight. I suggest that we should not give it.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
The noble Lord says he hopes we will. There are many Lords who hope we will and many who hope we will not, so that is not a very constructive contribution to an objective debate. I apologise—I should not have said that. When this arrangement was made, the vast majority of the people—I am sure this is what matters to every noble Lord wherever he sits; the view of the people, the state of current opinion—were of the opinion that this House should remain as constituted with the hereditary Peers until a successor House has been set up. That is the current state of public opinion which was reflected in the "no stage one before stage two" approach which, if 1114 noble Lords remember, commended it to the majority of your Lordships' House for month after month after month. The only side to which it did not commend itself was the Government.
Also, when this arrangement was made so long ago in good faith, there were no preconditions. Now, Amendment No.31 is presented as "take it or leave it". I use the words of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, repeated more than once, "take it or leave it without amendment". What will happen? Is that relaxed or is it not? Is the 90 a maximum? If an amendment says 100, do we get the Parliament Acts? Where do we stand? I do not believe anybody knows. That matter has not been made plain. If it is plain to anyone, I hope that some noble Lord later in the debate will explain the position.
Quite apart from that amendment, the condition is also that the Bill is not otherwise amended. What about the other amendments, such as the referendum amendment to which I shall return on Report, and that this Bill passes your Lordships' House by consensus? This amendment and the implementing provisions, the Clerks' proposals, were drafted on the instructions of Government in a form acceptable to Government for the convenience of Government. We may call it the Weatherill, Carnarvon, Tenby amendment or anything we like, but it is a government amendment. It is a massive U-turn on their own manifesto commitment beggaring political probity which no doubt will find its own way into the Guinness Book of Records.
Yet, by some arcane arrangement between the leaders of the parties and, I am told, three Members of the Cross Benches over the past few days (as will be apparent from the voting list at the conclusion of the debate) the whole of my Front Bench have made common cause with the Government Benches. There will be a full-fig turnout of a sort of Vatican guard for the mandarins on the Cross Benches.
The position of the Liberals is always somewhat dodgy but I think it has been explained fairly plainly by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, that they will not do anything tonight but will do something later on. As to the spiritual Benches, with long memories of transitional arrangements, perhaps some right reverend Prelate may care to remind Members of the Committee that at one time Purgatory, as depicted by Dante, was but a transitional arrangement. Even if there was to have been no free vote—and there is not a free vote—is this order of ordained exhortation confined by this unholy alliance under a joint command in deprivation of our ethos of independence, wherever we sit in this House?
Has not this formidable muster somewhat overstepped the mark and sorely abused and pre-empted fair consideration of the merits of the argument on this matter of principle; arguments which, until this debate, have not as yet been heard? Some of the questions of principle arising are whether a lifeboat should be made ready—I am not giving numbers but dealing with principle; numbers will come back on re-committal—to receive self-appointed, self-selected hereditary Peers, deputy chairmen and others, the Earl Marshall and the Lord Great Chamberlain and, if so, whether the 1115 proposed system of self-selection and self-appointment is acceptable. Those are clear matters of principle which are for noble Lords' decision today.
There are many ways in which to retain an hereditary element in a successor Chamber by appointment without derogation to Clause 1 of the Bill, such as would be the wish of many noble Lords, not all, but assuredly myself. Representations to such effect have been made to the Royal Commission and are under consideration. It would be wrong, in my submission, to seek to pre-empt in any way the work of the Royal Commission.
There is a clear division of opinion in your Lordships' House on the proposed system of self-appointed self-selection which, if I may say with respect to my hereditary friends, has a semblance of being slightly elitist and would not be readily understood by the people.
In any event, the setting up of a transitional House lacks the broad assent of the people. People—I say this meaning what I say, not to cause offence—could well look askance at this as an in-house stitch-up with the Government for some ulterior purpose which, indeed, to some extent it is. If so regarded, it could render Amendment No.31 unacceptable in principle.
Another question of principle arises. The noble Lord, Lord Barnett, touched upon this matter. An imperfect arrangement has been sought to he reflected in an imperfect amendment, sought to be implemented by wholly imperfect proposals as yet, as the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, stated, not in final form.
This Bill was presented on 17th May. The 13th draft of the proposals was made on 25th March. We await the final draft, be it the 14th or the umpteenth. That final draft has to be considered by the Procedure Committee, and the report of the Procedure Committee then has to be approved by your Lordships.
This is a matter for Members of the Committee. But is it an appropriate or acceptable manner in which Members of this Chamber should be invited to discharge their legislative role on a constitutional provision of some importance? In those circumstances, subsection (4) of the new clause is wholly unacceptable. Is this yet another objection in principle?
One may ask: why this laboured resort to Standing Orders? It is said that it gives a greater say; that it is convenient. With respect, I do not accept that. It is a device to avoid hybridity of a legislative provision for disparity of treatment of private interests of hereditary Peers as a class or category. Let us not bother with what is said; that is essentially why it had to be done. But is this not a pre-emption of the work of the Royal Commission? Could not the efficiency of the amendment be neutralised by resort to patronage?
I come back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. Can any assurance possibly be given that the setting up of this transitional House will ensure enactment of stage two? No guarantee could possibly be given. As Members of the Committee appreciate, it is a matter for Parliament, not for an undertaking from the Front Bench opposite. Will not the setting up of this transitional House be but a stepping stone to nowhere?
1116 The scale of criticism of this amendment is on record. It is not acceptable to many Members of this House; it is not acceptable to many honourable Members of another place; it is not acceptable to the Liberal Democrats; it is not acceptable to many members of the Labour Party who object to derogation from the principle of Clause 1 of the Bill as confirmed by Clause 152 which cracked the mould of the Title for this purpose.
We who oppose operate under no exhortation and under no command. We are an assorted body of opinion on the Back Benches and on the Cross Benches. We shall be counted on the merits of the argument in the Division tonight. We maintain that, on objective examination, the amendment should he rejected in principle on the basis of the reasoning deployed not just by myself, but also by the noble Lords, Lord Barnett and Lord Rodgers. And we expect no response. We shall defer to the composite wisdom of your Lordships' Chamber. All I can say is: we know not today, as we stand rope in hand in this place, for whose neck it is intended. But on the morrow the people shall decide.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
As the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, has his name to the amendment, we should perhaps hear next from him.
§ Viscount Tenby
I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House. As one of the mandarins whose name is attached to this amendment, I should like to speak briefly to it.
It may be thought ironic by those who study the political scene that someone with my name and background should be supporting an amendment to get hereditary Peers into the Chamber. I remind Members of the Committee that there are family precedents for that too. Whether or not the wheel has turned full circle, it is an amendment to which I am pleased and honoured to put my name.
The reason, to paraphrase 1066 and All That, is because it is a thoroughly good thing, combining, as it does, the British spirit of compromise with the pragmatism which is necessary to ensure that this Chamber operates efficiently and with as little disruption as possible during the interim stage of reform. As an American politician once famously remarked,someone must fill the gap between platitudes and bayonets".Although I would not attempt to claim that the so-called "Weatherill amendment" answers to such colourful imagery, the fact remains that on an issue where feelings run high and are deep seated, a little constructive adjustment may provide a breathing space and bridges and rescue something from what might otherwise be a fatally damaging engagement.
1117 The Government are to be congratulated on responding so positively to the terms of the amendment. I remind Members of the Committee on all sides of the Chamber that it is the only amendment of substance on the table. It is there to be picked up and run with; but it will not survive either adjustment or mutilation. If it fails, all hereditary Peers will vanish with the passage of the Bill. That is the bottom line. No "ifs" or "buts" or legal wheezes from suddenly eminent and authoritative constitutional lawyers will change that stark fact of life.
Once, as I fervently hope, this amendment is on the face of the Bill—thanks to the commonsense of Members of the Committee—I would ask for a similar awareness on the part of the Committee in not trying to tack on to it consequential administrative arrangements which are the subject of future amendments to be discussed on recommittal. It is proposed at present that these should be the subject of Standing Orders, as my noble friend Lord Weatherill and others have said. These are decisions which should be taken by us and are not, surely, the concern of another place. It is with great respect that I differ in that regard from the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, who made exactly the opposite point.
Hereditary Peers are already Members of your Lordships' Chamber. We are debating the removal of that right. Therefore it must be right that under the Standing Orders of this Chamber your Lordships should have the determining say in the arrangements by which we agree to reduce the number of hereditary Peers by as much as 90 per cent. I have to add that in view of recent examples from another place of Members' knowledge of and sympathy with this Chamber, the case for keeping these matters as part of a Standing Order seemed to me absolutely irrefutable.
I am pleased that my noble friend Lord Carnarvon put the record straight about the involvement over some years of Cross-Benchers in the matter of Lords reform. As a member of his group in 1995 1 recall the feeling I had at the time that we were ploughing a lonely furrow. Few appeared interested in what we were doing with the honourable exception of those expert witnesses from all parties who gave evidence to us. It is also true to say that certain distinguished bodies, like, for example, the Constitution Unit, were giving much expert thought to the problem. But of real interest from any of the main parties there was not much sign.
Listening at Second Reading and in Committee to successive opposition speakers declaring their undying commitment to reform of this place, together with the desirability of not starting the process of reform before the report of the Royal Commission—a position with which, in the best of all possible worlds, I agree—I was struck by a doubtless unworthy and cynical thought, heightened by "the best form of defence is attack" strategy exhibited by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. Why, given this commitment, did not the then Conservative government embark on such a course themselves when they had the opportunity to do so? The report of such a 1118 commission would now be safe in our hands and I am sure that we would have been happy to provide it with our findings, such as they were.
However, that is not the point today. Nor is it, in my view, appropriate in any way to discuss the second stage of reform during this debate, unless it unavoidably relates to the Bill. There will be plenty of time to do that in the future and to deal with this monumental problem. For the present, let us concentrate on the interim arrangements, and let us by our actions today in supporting this amendment—whether or not we agree with the Government's strategy—show that we are responsible and anxious to continue the good work for which this Chamber is rightly commended. I ask Members of the Committee, with all the fervour that I command, to support the amendment.
§ The Earl of Longford
I rise to offer strong support for the amendment. No one could be more suited to move it than the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, as a distinguished former Speaker of the House of Commons. I am glad to think that on this occasion I am a loyal and even docile supporter of the Government. That is not always the case but today I grovel before them, up to a point!
I ask myself three questions as we listen to these fruitful discussions. Does the House of Lords, not only in the past but today, render an invaluable service to the country? Are we therefore in a place to be proud of or a place to be ashamed of, from which we wish to escape? But, funnily enough, many people have come here despite being critical of it. I have only heard of two people, possibly three, who have not accepted peerages. Therefore it is not such a contemptible place as might be supposed from some of the discussions.
First, is this a place which renders invaluable service to the country? Secondly, do the hereditary Peers play a large part in rendering that invaluable service? I refer in particular to the Christian influence exerted here which I hope will he sustained—there are dangers here—in the new Chamber. Thirdly, can anything be done if, as we know, this reform has to come about? Of 750 hereditary Peers, I believe that two-thirds come here seldom. That is an unjustifiable situation and something drastic has to be done. Therefore I loyally support the Government on this measure.
With the help of the much revered Chief Whip and the wonderful staff here, I stayed up until three o'clock in the morning to vote for the Second Reading. Therefore I agree with the principle of reforming the Chamber. But that being said, can anything be done to carry on the hereditary influence? There are hereditary Peers—if I may put this crudely—who are at least the equals of any life Peers whom I have ever met. I happen to be both, but that is another matter. In my eyes there is no difference between a hereditary Peer and a life Peer. Those who come here mean well, whether they are hereditary Peers or life Peers. If they do not do any good, they do not come here as they are frozen out. The people here all mean well, whether they are hereditary or so-called life Peers. Therefore we need not bother with that distinction.
1119 I refer to the tradition which has undoubtedly helped to make this Chamber great. Why do people like to come to the House of Lords? Why do they like to be addressed as "Lord"? Why do they want their daughters to marry Lords? Why is that, unless there is something in this hereditary idea? There must be something behind it. Some of the political youngsters may pick up on that idea and after a few years they will be proud to be Members of this Chamber. Long after I have gone, in years to come I want them still to be proud of the new Chamber. I also hope that what is most valuable in the present Chamber will be maintained.
As I say, there is to be drastic reform. As Members of the Committee may know—if they have been here 30 years, they will know this—when I was Leader of the House 30 years ago there was a proposal which was accepted by the leaders of all the parties that hereditary Peers in their first generation should attend this Chamber and speak here but not vote. That concept has been supported recently by such eminent Conservatives as the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young. However, it has been rejected by the Chamber and I have to accept that it is unlikely to be adopted and to pass into law. That being so, the next best thing is the Weatherill proposal which I strongly support.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Lord Cobbold
When I first learnt of the arrangement struck by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and others, which is now embodied in the amendment of my noble friend Lord Weatherill, I must say I was highly sceptical. It seemed to me like a smokescreen to persuade those who were against the Bill in principle that it was not really so bad as it seemed. It also looked like an effort to preserve the jobs of those currently running the business of your Lordships' House with a feel of, perhaps, après nous le déluge.
However, the issue today is not whether the Bill itself is, or is not, a bad Bill, or is, or is not, acceptable in principle to your Lordships' House. My views on that question are well known to the Committee. The question today is: will this Bill become law, and if it becomes law, is it improved by this amendment? My answer to that question is emphatically yes. I think that it is an improvement for three reasons.
First, it preserves continuity and some representation of the hereditary peerage in the transitional Chamber. Secondly, because we may have difficulty in reaching agreement on the stage-two provisions for a reformed Chamber, the transitional Chamber may survive for a considerable time. Thirdly, in those stage-two negotiations, and debates on the Royal Commission's recommendations, the hereditary voice will be heard. Indeed I hope it will also be heard within the proposed Joint Committee of both Houses. I am one of those who think that this amendment will make a bad Bill better. I have no hesitation in strongly supporting the amendment.
To hear the noble Earl, Lord Longford, say what he did this afternoon was a great pleasure. 1120 I have had the impertinence not always to take the same view as the noble Earl on some matters. However, on this matter he mentioned in detail the past existence of your Lordships' House and its future. As I say, it was a pleasure not only to hear the noble Earl speak on this matter but also to agree with him.
I happen not to be greatly enamoured of the Weatherill amendment simply because I am not enamoured of the Bill. I believe it is a perfectly horrible Bill. Its whole purpose is to do one simple thing; namely, to get rid of all hereditary Peers. In another context one might call that hereditary cleansing; in other words, get rid of everyone irrespective of what they are. I do not take to that too much. In so far as that is what the Bill states, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, is agreeable because at least it goes some way to stop that happening.
When we debated House of Lords reform last October, and when we debated the White Paper and the House of Lords Bill, a tremendous amount was said about the manifesto. The manifesto has been mentioned a number of times. It was mentioned twice by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, twice by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, twice by the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms, nine times by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor—it felt like 19 times, although it was only nine—and 43 times by the noble Baroness, Lady Jay. That was quite a few times. They must set great store by what is in the manifesto. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that,the Labour Party…had a clear and unequivocal commitment to remove the hereditary peerage". —[Official Report, 29/3/99; col.170.]The noble Baroness, Lady Jay, said on 29th March at col.16,that is the approach on which we have a mandate from the country".I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, is not present at the moment although he was earlier. I do not like quoting his remarks in his absence. However, he said,That is what the manifesto said and that is what we are delivering. It is in the manifesto and it is transposed almost literally into the Bill".The noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, had the kindness to remind us on 27th April of exactly what the manifesto stated. She said, quoting from the manifesto,As an initial, self-contained reform, not dependent on further reform in the future, the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote…will be ended by statute".—[0fficial Report, 27/4/99; col.201.]That was the manifesto and that is what is being transposed almost literally into the Bill.
We have heard about this the whole way through Second Reading and now the Committee stage. All of a sudden we come to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, and the Government now say that they go along with it too. So instead of it being a Bill to remove the hereditary Peers it will be a Bill to retain hereditary Peers. That is a colossal about-turn, a total volte face. Never since Mother Goose was first printed have the Government more resembled both Mother Goose and the Grand Old Duke of York, who had 1121 10,000 men. He marched them up to the top of the hill and he marched them down again. And when they were at the top they were at the top, and when they were at the bottom they were at the bottom, and when they were only half way up they were neither up nor down. The fact is that the Labour Party is neither up nor down; it does not know where it is.
We were all told earlier that this was a Bill to get rid of hereditary Peers. Now the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor comes with gracious words, saying "Do vote for this amendment, because I really think that it is the best amendment to go for. We will retain a hundred hereditary Peers." If ever there was an example of a government going completely about on their own words, we have had it in this Bill.
The trouble is that the Government do not know what they want, and the trouble with that is that we do not know what the Government want and nobody else knows what they want. I can only assume that they are playing for time and that that is why we should vote for the amendment. That is what the Government want us to do, and that is what I am happy to do.
But it would be terribly helpful if we could know what the Government are really trying to do, because they are playing ducks and drakes with the constitution, removing all of the hereditary Peers. They say, "No, we are going to keep some of them. Never worry. We will remove the whole lot later." We do not know what is wanted. It is not the right way to go about altering the constitution. If the amendment will help put the brakes on just a little bit, it will be worth while.
§ Lord Shepherd
When my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor winds up, will he confirm the statement of the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, that if an amendment is passed changing what is called the Weatherill amendment, then that is a dead duck as regards the proposals before the Committee today? I must tell my Chief Whip that it is quite clear, not only from the course of the debate but also from conversations with fellow Members, that there is much concern on our side of the Chamber about the Weatherill proposals. I certainly do not approve of those proposals.
Having persuaded my grandson that it is right and proper that hereditary Peers have no place in a parliamentary assembly as we enter the year 2000, I am now expected to support an amendment that will keep some of them in the House of Lords. I will not say that they will be in the House on a nearly permanent basis, but I share the view of my noble friend Lord Barnett that they will be here for some considerable time unless, regrettably, they pass away.
I will support the Government tonight, because, unlike the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, I do not know who was behind this or who may have given support to the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, in his efforts to find a solution acceptable to the Committee. My own opinion, having been a Chief Whip, is that this is the sort of agreement that Chief Whips would enter into and then perhaps find their leader equally eager to accept, solely for the purpose of expediting legislation. Noble Lords 1122 opposite made it very clear that if there was no bending in regard to this Bill they would obstruct not just the Bill but the whole field of legislation. If we have to have 90 hereditary Peers in the House of Lords merely to get the Bill through and make most people reasonably happy, that is perhaps small beer, with the situation as it is.
Therefore, being a former Chief Whip, I will support the Government. But it is very important, before we go into a long Committee stage, to know the Government's position in regard to the suggestion of the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, that if any efforts to amend the Weatherill amendment were successful, then the amendment would fall and there would be no hereditary Peers in the House of Lords. I suspect that some of my noble friends—I mean my real friends—in the Committee think that that would be a very good idea.
I have no intention of standing for election. With the prospect of my standing for one of two seats, the chances are not very great. Of course, if one is a Cross-Bencher the chances are marvellous. But then we shall see whether or not the Cross-Benchers have a Whip.
I support the Bill. I believe it should be passed. I tell my noble friends who think like me that this is a bad amendment, but if it is a price worth paying to get the Bill through, so be it. Therefore, I suggest that if there is a vote tonight we vote for the Government and see the Bill through to its conclusion.
§ Lord Marsh
The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, is a very much respected member of the "Chief Whips' Association", whose ramifications would put the mafia to shame.
The noble Lord said that the Committee would discover whether the Cross-Benchers had a Whip of any sort. That is something that has always intrigued people who do not sit on these Benches. I have to say that throughout the discussions we—the three of us—guaranteed three votes. Nothing else. We have never taken a vote on this issue on the Cross-Benches; the Cross-Benchers will make up their own minds and I know for a fact that a number of them are strongly opposed to the amendment. The great thing to be borne in mind about the Cross-Benchers and the possibility of their voting together is that we do not know which way we will vote before we get here, so nobody else does.
Underlying this there has been a constant theme ever since the beginning of the debate about the possibility that the amendment was part of a plot to lock in, in perpetuity, an element of the hereditary peerage. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, referred to that. I do not know what the rules are about conducting a little private business on the Floor of the Committee. He said that he would guarantee that the hereditary Peers would still be here in 10 years' time. I will take a bet with him and anybody else in this Chamber who takes that view, and I would like to get it recorded and sealed at the earliest possible opportunity.
Anyone who believes—and the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has demonstrated the point—that any Labour Government at this stage could retain for any length of 1123 time the hereditary Peers, as such, does not understand how deep is the feeling of the wrongness of having hereditary Peers in a Second Chamber. It has been a feature of the debate that Committee Members have never understood this. It is not a question of class war. It is a deep—
The Earl of Dudley
Is the noble Lord predicting that if the Royal Commission were to recommend the retention of 92 hereditary Peers the Government would reject that recommendation?
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord Marsh
The Committee is entitled—the Houses of Parliament and the Government are entitled—at the end of the day to call for a vote, and the Government can use the democratic majority to decide what they will do next. The whole point of the myth of the judiciary riding to the rescue like the United States cavalry in a bad B-movie is that it overlooks the fact that Parliament can do what it wishes. If the Government wished not to take notice of a Royal Commission, they could do so. I simply make the point that, in my view, there is no possibility of any Labour government continuing the hereditary peerage. Indeed, I expect that would be the case also in relation to the Conservative Party.
However, what I find rather depressing is the realisation that in a year's time, whether it is in White's or the Bishops Bar, we shall still be arguing about House of Lords reform. The debate will have moved on. The future of the hereditary Peers will no longer be an issue. But, controversial though that is, this time next year it will be seen as the easy bit. It is highly controversial and emotive and one understands that, but it is the relatively easy part of the reform of the House of Lords because it is a clear issue.
In a year's time, we shall face a multitude of complex issues which will determine whether future generations will consider the reformed Chamber a tribute to our collective skill, foresight and wisdom or a tragic waste of a unique opportunity to take an objective look at that part of the parliamentary legislative machine and see how we can improve it.
The two key issues are the composition and powers of the Chamber. They are extremely easy to define but they are infinitely more complex than the matters which we have debated at great length in recent months. Should the new Chamber be directly elected? The noble Lord, Lord Richard, and I have been discussing that for some years now. He is strongly in favour of a directly-elected element. I believe that that will have a deleterious effect. The more Members who are elected, the worse the effect will be. I support the view that any ambitious young politician, given a choice, will want to be a Member of the House of Commons. If he cannot get in there, he will want to be a Member of the Scottish Parliament. If he cannot get in either of those and he has children, with school fees and a mortgage, he will want to be a Member of the European Parliament. Therefore, there is a fundamental clash.
It has been suggested that there should be an indirectly-elected element. Others, like myself, believe that the vast majority of Peers should be appointed. That 1124 gives rise to a series of arguments, not for tonight but which will take place in the future. It may be that there should be a mixture of two of those three or a mixture of all three. That is just the composition. If there is an appointed element, who will appoint the appointees? What will be their terms of reference?
The powers of the new Chamber open up a major issue as we move towards what is, in my view, a quasi-presidential system. People on all sides of the House are uneasy about that. The issue of powers could justify a Royal Commission on its own. That is the size of the problem which we must address once the fundamental question of the hereditary peerage has been settled one way or the other.
What motivated the coming together of our disparate group—apart from the charm, and elegance of its members—was a belief that a formula which could provide the basis for a consensual approach to the interim stage was crucial. Many noble Lords have argued passionately about how many hereditary Peers should remain and the logic behind the amendment. It is quite right that it is a deal which was done to determine whether the people concerned were able—and this did not include the Cross-Benches—to find a sufficient commonality of purpose at least to get started. We agreed that it did not make a great deal of sense to throw out in one go a number of hereditary Peers who play a major role in and are respected Members of this House. To go into the complex negotiations for stage two, having deliberately deprived ourselves of the assistance of some of those people, seemed absurd. That was accepted eventually by the Government, as part of the deal.
I do not see anything wrong with the objective, which was to achieve some sort of basis for a consensual approach, or with what was done, given what we were seeking to achieve.
What is the realistic alternative? We have heard that various Acts were not right; that the Bill would be abandoned at the last minute; that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and the Chief Whip were terrified of the Parliament Act and so on. The Government will have their Bill. In this country it is good that not one of us has any doubt that a government with a clear majority, come what may, will achieve their will, unless it is an issue which strikes at fundamental values.
The only issue before us is how the Government will get their way and how this will be proceeded with. We are moving now to the major issue, which is what sort of second Chamber we bequeath to future generations. In my view, it is as grand and as awe-inspiring as that.
If the amendment is carried, the Government will not have a free ride throughout the interim period. The issues are too important for that. There will be major and justifiable disagreements. But I hope that they will take place against a background of rational discussion and a consensual atmosphere.
I do not believe that, on the evidence of the past few months, we ever stood a chance of rational consideration of stage two without having first got stage one out of the way. It was always unreal to believe otherwise, and nothing that has happened since has changed my mind.
1125 What is the alternative to the amendment? It is the Parliament Act. That is what it is there for. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, asked whether the Government will use it. The Parliament Act exists because, at the end of the day, we all agree that, unless it is absolutely monstrous, the Government should be able to put through their business. What then will be the result of that? We shall go into those negotiations and discussions with a bitterness and an anger which, in my experience, is almost unprecedented in this House in modern times. There will be no consensus because both sides will be locked in an unedifying party political fight which they will know one side will lose in the end, but they will carry on the fight simply because of the emotions involved. If that happened, we should have missed a great opportunity. None of us would have had much cause to be proud of the result. I believe that this place deserves more than that.
§ Lord Mishcon
I know that my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, will accept a sentence of mine as merely meant in jovial banter and nothing else, but I could not resist the thought, when he said that Dante had made purgatory transitional, that Dante had not been informed that the noble Lord was speaking.
I find myself in agreement with so much of what the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, has just said that I can cut my speech, your Lordships will be relieved to know, to a matter of a minute or two—it may be three. I believe that today's debate recorded in Hansard will be read with great interest by future generations and scholars of politics and that posterity will decide whether speeches were made by politicians or by statesmen. I believe that in this House the majority have the minds of statesmen and not of politicians. In that sense we believe in a spirit of compromise when that is for good, instead of enmity and controversy when they can be avoided. I believe that we are indeed fortunate—not unfortunate—that the two Front Benches (as a speaker said) actually talked and agreed on something—that is a blessing, not a curse—and that some wise men got together in order to think of a way in which there might be a meeting of the ways. That was a blessing for which we ought to be thankful and in regard to which we ought not to complain.
The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, is always great fun when he gets up to speak. I rush in when I hear that he is about to address the House because, although I know that I may not agree with what he says, he says it so charmingly. He said that the Government have turned full circle. Never has there been such a U-turn. All I can say is that I could not see much revolving myself when I heard that there was going to be no doubt about a commission which was already set up and which has to report by the end of this year. Following upon that report, which would be considered with as much speed as possible by the Government, the Bill would carry out a principle with which the noble Lord, very properly, might not agree, but which was the end of hereditary peerage representation in this House. If the full circle has operated by a move of a couple of degrees in order that centuries of our history may end in a civilized 1126 debate and agreement, all I have to say is that I am thankful for the couple of degrees that have been moved, but personally I do not happen to detect them.
I look with obvious affection at the Opposition Benches. I see that they too have reacted, in spite of an over-political speech that the Leader of the Opposition could not resist making, by saying, "We know the end of the day. We appreciate what is going to happen. Let us approach the end of this long era (a fine era, there is no doubt about that) in a spirit of getting as much sense as we can in the House of Lords when that Chamber is debating its own future". The amendment is a sensible amendment. I hope it will be passed.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Lord Rochester
I should first apologise to the Committee for intervening for I could not be here for the Second Reading of the Bill and this is the first time that I have taken leave to speak in Committee. I do so now, having been a Member of your Lordships' House for 44 years, and I speak as the heir of my father who, as a Liberal MP for Rochester, voted in favour of the Parliament Act 1911. Like him, I am a supporter of the principle that the right of hereditary Peers to be Members of this House should be brought to an end and I am thankful that I have lived long enough to play a small part in bringing nearer to completion the process of reform that he helped to begin.
In the debate on the constitution in July 1996 I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, that as far as possible reform should be on the basis of consent. At that time I thought that the best hope of finding consensus was some arrangement on the lines of the 1968 proposal to which the noble Earl, Lord Longford, referred earlier. Under that proposal, as he said, existing hereditary Peers were to lose their right to vote but retain the right to sit and to speak. I therefore have some residual sympathy with the noble Earls, Lord Longford and Lord Ferrers, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall, who earlier moved amendments on those lines. However, on at least two occasions the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, made it plain that amendments of that kind were unacceptable in principle to the Government.
Clause 1 now stands part of the Bill and we are left with the Weatherill amendment. What concerns me about that amendment is that, so far from there being a consensus, as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said earlier, the leaders of my party were not even consulted. I used to work in industry and there I learnt that if you want to gain acceptance of change it is best that you first consult those who will be affected by the change. This has not happened on this occasion. If it had, I suggest that the solution put forward earlier by my noble friend Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank might have been accepted. That was the proposal that all hereditary Peers should go, but that those making a significant contribution to your Lordships' proceedings should become life Peers. At the very least I suggest that the distribution between the parties and the Cross-Benches of the hereditary Peers who are to remain in the House during the transitional period might be different from those who are to appear 1127 in the Standing Order referred to in the proposed new clause. For example, there are in that order, or those orders, to be only three Liberal Democrat Peers.
I have no personal interest to declare in this. By the time those elections are held I shall be 83 years old and certainly shall not stand for election. For my part, if this amendment is agreed, I will favour a distribution more in keeping with the Cook-Maclennan agreement: that over the course of the present Parliament there should be movement to a House of Lords where those Peers taking a party Whip should more accurately reflect the number of votes cast at the previous general election.
Whatever your Lordships' views may be on that point, it is clearly only now that, for the first time, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, is being debated. I am glad that we are to have a further chance to debate it in detail. That will give all of us the opportunity to consider what has been said today. I venture to suggest that before we next debate it there should be consultation through the usual channels aimed at achieving a measure of consensus on its detail.
After all, it was the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, who in the debate in 1996, to which I referred earlier, ended his speech on the reform of the House—I have informed the noble Lord that I would quote and echo what he said—by saying:I very much hope that it will be done in the true spirit of the usual channels by consensus and not imposed upon us".—[0fficial Report, 4/7/96: col.1608.]I cannot improve on those words.
§ Lady Saltoun of Abernethy
There is one small matter that your Lordships may wish to keep in mind. Every one of us here knows very well the entirely honourable and, on the face of it, eminently sensible reasons for which the amendment was cooked up. As a cook myself, I have a very great respect for that profession; I an-L not trying to denigrate it. The amendment was cooked up by the noble Lords in front of me—perhaps I might say the noble mandarins in front of me—and every one in the House knows why it was done and why the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, took the action that he lid last December. But I do not think that the country in general has any idea of that. The publicity which the noble Viscount's action received at the time was such as to make the people of this country think that it was entirely a ploy by some of the hereditary Peers to save their own skins. That is perhaps something we should keep in mind.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
The noble Lord, Lord Barnett, gave a very clear account to your Lordships of why he felt the amendment was not acceptable. He referred to his "Chief Whip", which I found a little strange coming from the Cross-Benches. I understood that the Cross-Benches do not have a Chief Whip, but perhaps that was a slip of the tongue. We know that the amendment is the only amendment the Government will accept which will keep hereditary Peers in the House. It is likely to be the only amendment which will enable a number of our highly-skilled, energetic, experienced colleagues to remain Members of the House while important decisions are taken in the 1128 future. I shall support the amendment, flawed though it is. The amendment is flawed—I am sorry that we could not do better—but it is the only way to keep people we know in the House. I believe that a number of them will be young people, who we will very much need when making the decisions that are ahead of us.
Perhaps I may ask the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor a question, which he can answer when he comes to reply to the debate. I understood him to say in the course of his remarks that the hereditary Peers who would remain in the House as a result of the amendment would have more authority because they were elected. Perhaps he will explain to the Committee what on earth he meant by that. Whether or not the amendment is accepted, surely the House of Lords will remain a House of peers and we will all have equal authority. It may not be much authority—just the authority of our argument—but what did the Lord Chancellor mean by saying that? Does he think that hereditary Peers in general will suddenly become a group and that the elected hereditary Peers will consult before they vote hereditary Peers who are no longer here and thus will be representing a whole lot of people who are not in the Chamber? I cannot believe that he meant that. Why did the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor say that they would have more authority? Perhaps he might care to answer now. I found his remarks rather strange.
§ The Lord Chancellor
I meant only that, because they would be the choice after an election of their fellow Peers, they would be held in higher regard.
The Earl of Dartmouth
Does the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor mean that he is in favour of an election for Members of the House of Lords which has a rather wider franchise than just the House itself?
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
I thank the noble and learned Lord for his reply. It seems quite strange and does nothing, one way or the other, to commend the amendment to me. However, I reiterate that we need in the House the people the Government want to turn out because they have the disease of being hereditary, but who will be allowed to stay. That seems a reason for accepting the amendment. Ever since I came here, my view about the future of the House of Lords is that it should be an elected House.
§ 6 p.m.
Lord Bruce of Donington
Inevitably, some part of our debate today has involved speculation as to what is likely to happen as a result of the appointment of the Royal Commission. I suggest to your Lordships that we are perhaps in danger of giving undue consideration to the composition of this place rather than the functions it performs and its position vis-ávis the other place. I was a Member of the other place for five years and a Member of the European Parliament for four years and I have been a Member of your Lordships' House for 1129 about a quarter of a century. I have formed the view that there is too much danger in concentrating on our composition rather than on the things we do and the functions we are supposed to perform.
I shall not enlarge further on that point except to say that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, in all the circumstances, is the only possible course of action to take for purely practical reasons. Sometimes we tend to forget altogether the activities which take place outside Westminster. I expect a loud guffaw from the Committee when I say that we have also to regard what happens in Brussels. Day by day and week by week legislation coming from Brussels is going into our law without any scrutiny; it goes straight onto the statute book. Therefore there is a progressive diminution in the area in which Parliament as a whole can operate for the benefit of our people here. The role of the British Parliament is shrinking, day by day, and week by week.
In those circumstances, I am sure noble Lords will agree that we must have some regard to the contribution made by this House towards the effective scrutiny of much of the legislation, draft legislation or regulations that come out of Brussels. That is accomplished by the Select Committees.
The Government assure us that the Bill will come into operation by the end of this Session. I gather that there is some dispute between the Government and the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, on that point. On that assumption and on the basis of these proposals, it will mean a complete rupture in the work of all the Select Committees of this House. The committees do an enormous amount of work, largely unknown, and often in conditions that are not ideal for the detailed consideration of the Bills or regulations that come before them for scrutiny. I refer not only to the Select Committee on European matters and its five or six sub-committees. This legislation will also affect the Science and Technology Committee and its sub-committees. On those committees there are a considerable number of hereditary Peers who, on the assumption that the Bill will go through, will no longer sit after the end of this Session. That does not take into account the numbers that it is proposed to retain, allegedly temporarily, under the arrangements of the amendment.
For example, on the committee dealing with consolidation Bills there are no fewer than six hereditary Peers. On the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee there is at least one, and the most important one at that. On the European Communities Committee there are nine hereditary Peers, some of whom are very distinguished. All of them are known to me personally.
And there are hereditary Peers on the various sub-committees. For example, on Sub-Committee A dealing with the question of proposed taxation and various other financial matters there are three hereditary Peers; on Sub-Committee B, dealing with energy, industry and transport, there are five; on Sub-Committee C, dealing with the environment, there are four; on Sub-Committee D, dealing with agriculture and fisheries, there are seven; on Sub-Committee E on law and institutions there are two; on Sub-Committee F on 1130 social affairs, there are five. Most of those Peers are known to me personally. I have the utmost admiration for the work that they do. They do not belong to the same party as mine, but once Members sit on the committees and perform these functions, they tend to become one's personal friends. As a result of my own personal experience, I can testify to the valuable work that they do, under terms of great courtesy and consideration. Their work on these committees is not always thoroughly appreciated. This Chamber is not the only place in which it is possible to declaim on vital national affairs. Very often it is the committees that do the important work.
So let us imagine what will happen at the end of this Session, when each of the committees and their sub-committees will still have one further Session to run. We shall be faced with the necessity of electing new members to the various committees in place of those who will disappear. I very much doubt whether they can all be satisfied out of the numbers that are proposed in this amendment. It will certainly produce a certain amount of economic chaos.
It may well be that the matters that I have ventured to lay before your Lordships, and which are now purely technical, are not of great importance. My experience in political life is that one of the necessities of participating in a parliamentary democracy is to be able to devote the time and energy to research, to the ascertainment and verification of facts, as well as all the other work that must be done in drafting. I trust that I have not in any way over-dramatised them; it would not be my purpose to do so. The amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, is vital for the continuation of the ordinary business of this House, which is in support of the democratically elected Government in another place.
It should never be a function of this House to challenge the authority of the other place. Our function is to assist the other place and to participate in the total democracy which is the envy of most of the civilised world. We may not always realise that when we adopt a suppliant attitude to being at the heart of Europe, or the heart of anywhere else except the United Kingdom. I hope that we shall abandon that and in future, particularly after the publication of the Royal Commission's report, we shall aim to strengthen British parliamentary democracy and restore the pride that most of us have always had in it.
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
We have had an interesting and authoritative debate. I wonder whether the Committee now feels it appropriate to listen to the noble Earl, Lord Dartmouth, who has sought to intervene for some time. Then perhaps we can ask the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, to respond.
The Earl of Dartmouth
I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for her gracious comments. They are all the more gracious in view of the fact that I shall speak against the amendment.
I have spoken several times in this Chamber as a selected Conservative Party candidate for the European Parliament. There is as yet no formal, public Conservative Party submission to the Royal 1131 Commission, so on this occasion I speak primarily as the inheritor of a peerage which dates back to the creation of the first Baron Dartmouth in 1682, over 300 years ago. At that time my forebears, along with those of other hereditary Peers, gave significant service to this House. Indeed, my grandfather's brother, the 7th Earl of Dartmouth, was Lord Great Chamberlain in the 1920s, having previously been Conservative MP for West Bromwich.
I have deliberately taken no part in any of the previous debates or informal party discussions relating to House of Lords reform. That was because, having taken the Writ of Summons only in March last year, I wanted to understand more about the issues.
The most important issue underlying our consideration of House of Lords reform is that the present composition of this House inhibits it from carrying out its revising and scrutinising function as effectively as it could, it should, and it must, given the complexities of the modern world. There should be more votes, more government defeats and more amendments—and in consequence much less ill thought-out and badly drafted legislation coming into law.
I agree fully with the statement of the Constitutional Commission chaired by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, who is not in his place, that the House of Lords should have,the muscle needed to ensure that its advice is taken seriously".I have come reluctantly to the conclusion, in my year or so here, that this cannot be the case, this muscle and credibility will not be the case with the House as it is currently composed. Sadly, the time has come for the hereditary peerage to depart and when we go we must go with dignity and with honour.
Dignity means that we do not seek to perpetuate the presence of the chosen few for what may well and in all likelihood will only be a brief 18 months or so before the Royal Commission reports. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor made the point crystal clear in his opening remarks. Honour means that we are under an obligation fully to scrutinise the Bill on Second Reading, Report stage, Third Reading and so on, so that when we, the hereditary Peers, depart, we depart in the full knowledge that we have done our utmost to ensure that what follows us is and will be superior to the House we leave behind.
The amendment put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, is no free lunch for hereditary Peers. The Government have made it clear—and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor confirmed it in his opening remarks—that the Government's support for the amendment is fully conditional on Peers letting the Bill through the House before stage two and letting other legislation through the House without full or adequate scrutiny. I use the phrase of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, "unimpeded".
It is clearly relevant, therefore, to establish exactly what the Government are pressing ahead towards in stage two. Like some but perhaps not all of us, I have read the principal part of the Labour Party's submission to the Royal Commission on House of 1132 Lords reform. It is a document which, if I may say so, is in its small way a masterpiece of opaque obscurity. But it is clear to anyone reading it that the Government's intentions on stage two absolutely do not encompass the kind of effective advisory Chamber with muscle and credibility which is the clear and principal recommendation of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay.
Should hereditary Peers support the amendment, the hereditary peerage as a group will be perceived in the country—and rightly in my view—to have endorsed the Government's scheme for a supine, ineffectual chamber of nominees and to have endorsed what the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, earlier described as a bad Bill. Such a course of action by hereditary Peers would have neither dignity nor honour.
§ Baroness Park of Monmouth
Will the noble Earl give way? I strongly support the comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, that in agreeing to the amendment we are striking an important blow to maintain the continuity of the work of the House. It is not a matter of honour or dishonour, it is a matter of practical common sense. We need to work and in order to work we need some hereditary Peers.
The Earl of Dartmouth
I think I put my arguments with some clarity, precision and fluency. I am sorry that I could not get the noble Baroness to agree with them. My closing point is this. In view of the remarks by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, the amendment can be fairly characterised as a bribe, and a very inadequate bribe at that. The Committee, especially the hereditary Peers, should oppose the amendment.
§ Lord Elton
Does the noble Earl accept that there is no criticism of the clarity with which he put forward his arguments? The only trouble is that they are wrong.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Lord Weatherill
We have had a long, interesting and fruitful debate. I am sorry if other Members of the Committee have not been able to speak, but I sense that the feeling of the Committee is that we should proceed to a Division on the matter.
I start by saying how grateful I am to all Members of the Committee who have spoken in the debate. I am particularly grateful to the Chief Whip, for having put to the Committee last week the suggestion that this amendment should be taken on its own. If it is agreed, it should be incorporated into the Bill. I express my gratitude to those noble Lords who withdrew their amendments and will re-submit them later.
I wish to thank the three other Cross-Bench Peers who signed the amendment. The noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, explained in detail how some of the 1133 Cross-Benchers became involved in the matter. Then I express my gratitude to the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, and the noble Lord, Lord Marsh. They both answered many of the points which I would have had to answer if they had not spoken in the debate.
It is only right and fair to commend the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, for the part which he played in making the arrangement. I pay tribute to him. As the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, said, this was an arrangement, a compromise, which was arrived at through the usual channels, with the exception of the Liberals. It never occurred to me that the Liberals were not being consulted because, as I understand it, they sit on a number of government committees, one of them being the constitutional committee. It surprised me that they did not know about the matter.
Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, that one of the reasons I was concerned about coming to an arrangement was the point he and the noble Baroness made about the Select Committees of the House. When I, as the Convenor, had to appoint members to Select Committees, 75 per cent. of the Cross-Benchers were from the hereditary peerage. That was because the life Peers on the Cross-Benches were far too busy carrying out operations and going about their business in the real world outside. It is an important point that the Select Committees of the House should be carried on in the interim period in a proper way. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, for what he said about it.
I say to the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, that this was not a cooked-up deal; it was an arrangement made through the usual channels.
Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, that I did not go in detail through the method of election because, as I indicated, the matter would arise later in our deliberations. It is an important point and I hope I did not give him the impression that it was not. He has given notice that he will put down an amendment on re-committal and we shall have an opportunity to debate it then.
The Earl of Caithness
In view of the rather extraordinary circumstances in this House where we do not seem to be able to continue a Committee stage in the usual fashion, I should like to ask this. In his discussions with the Government, was the noble Lord given any indication whether they would accept any amendments to his amendment when it is re-committed? If any amendments are accepted, will it break the noble Lord's understanding with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor?
§ Lord Weatherill
I am not a member of the Government, so I could not possibly answer the question. I negotiated the amendment which we are debating today with the Government in good faith. Whether they will accept further amendments to it is not a matter for me.
Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, that the points he made were more than adequately dealt with by the noble Lord, 1134 Lord Marsh. If he has any doubt about whether the people have been consulted, I ask him to re-read the speech which the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, made on Second Reading. The noble Lord, Lord Marsh, made it perfectly plain that abolition of the hereditary peerage has been on the Labour Party's manifesto at least since the beginning of the century. Thus it should not be a surprise that we have the Bill before us today.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
I thank the noble Lord for giving way. It is the same question in a sense and it is a crucial one which has been put to my noble friend Lord Caithness. The noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, was there. Quite recently, in the negotiations, did the noble Lord receive any form of commitment from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House or the Government Chief Whip to the effect that any amendment to this amendment would be accepted? Did he receive any form of commitment as regards not amending the Bill otherwise?
§ Lord Weatherill
I have to say no to both those questions. It was not a matter for me at the discussions to ask the Lord Chancellor or the Government whether they were going to accept amendments or not. I am content that they are very happy to accept this one.
Perhaps I may come to a conclusion. I began by saying that my expertise in moving amendments is somewhat rusty. In my closing remarks I draw attention to Amendment No.152. I should have made it clear that it is a consequential amendment dependent on Amendment No.31 on which we are about to seek an opinion. With those remarks I would like to test the opinion of the House on the amendment.
§ The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Lockwood)
The Question is that Amendment No.31—
§ Lord Rowallan
Surely it is the convention of this House that we can continue at Committee stage without a guillotine. Are we reverting to what is becoming an often recurring procedure in the other place of suddenly not being allowed to debate matters? This is a very serious issue. Before we have a vote on the Weatherill amendment we should find out whether the House is in agreement to the debate being curtailed.
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
In my earlier intervention I formed the impression that it was the view of the majority of the Members of the Committee that we should invite the noble Earl, Lord Dartmouth, to speak and then invite the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, to conclude this part of the debate.
In that case the Question should be that the Motion is now put. This is Committee stage. We should be allowed to respond to what has been said and continue the discussion, perhaps not for long. But there is absolutely no reason for curtailing the debate just because the other side of the House has finished giving 1135 its points of view. In particular, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has been asked several very pertinent questions, which go to the heart of whether we should support the amendment. We should not be seduced by him into going to sea in a sieve on the basis that he will turn up a few minutes later in a rescue craft mark two. There are many reasons to believe that we shall be at sea a long time in this particular craft. The amendment will have to last a long time. If the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is not prepared to consider serious amendments to it to make it more seaworthy for a long time, then this is not an amendment that the House should support. It deserves answers to the questions which he has been asked.
§ Lord Coleraine
I respectfully submit to the Leader of the House that many of us who withdrew our amendments to enable the debate to continue in this way this afternoon did so in the reasonable expectation that it would not be curtailed.
§ Lord Elton
Surely the purpose of withdrawing amendments was to allow us to discuss the main principle of the Weatherill amendment, which is what we must now decide. The purpose of having a recommittal Committee is to have the debate which the noble Lord is presently denied. As regards curtailment of the debate, I, for one, would be perfectly satisfied if the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor alone wished to intervene now and we were to listen to his answers. Otherwise, we need to decide the matter in the Lobby, get on with it and continue with this argument in the recommitted Committee.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No.31) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 352; Not-Contents, 32.1138
|Aberdare, L.||Baker of Dorking, L.|
|Ackner, L.||Baldwin of Bewdley, E.|
|Acton, L.||Banbury of Southam, L|
|Addison, V.||Barber, L.|
|Ahmed, L.||Barnard, L.|
|Aldington, L.||Bathurst, E.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Bell, L.|
|Allenby of Megiddo, V.||Belstead, L.|
|Alli, L.||Berkeley, L.|
|Alton of Liverpool, L.||Berners, B.|
|Amherst of Hackney, L.||Biddulph, L.|
|Amos, B.||Biffen, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Birdwood, L.|
|Anelay of St. Johns, B.||Blackstone, B.|
|Annaly, L.||Blackwell, L.|
|Archer of Sandwell, L.||Blaker, L.|
|Ashley of Stoke, L.||Blatch, B.|
|Astor of Hever, L.||Blease, L.|
|Attlee, E.||Bledisloe, V.|
|Bach. L.||Boardman, L.|
|Borrie, L.||Effingham, E.|
|Bowness, L.||Elibank, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Elliott of Morpeth, L.|
|Bragg, L.||Elton, L.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Erne, E.|
|Bridges, L.||Erroll, E.|
|Brightman, L.||Evans of Parkside, L.|
|Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.||Evans of Watford, L.|
|Brookman, L.||Ewing of Kirkford, L.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Falconer of Thoroton, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Farrington of Ribbleton, B.|
|Bruntisfield, L.||Feldman, L.|
|Burlison, L.||Ferrers, E.|
|Burnham, L.||Fookes, B.|
|Butterworth, L.||Gainford, L.|
|Byford, B.||Geddes, L.|
|Callaghan of Cardiff, L.||Gilmour of Craigmillar, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Gisborough, L.|
|Carlisle of Bucklow, L.||Gladwin of Clee, L.|
|Carnarvon, E.||Gladwyn, L.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Glanusk, L.|
|Carnock, L.||Goudie, B.|
|Carr of Hadley, L.||Gould of Potternewton, B.|
|Carrick, E.||Graham of Edmonton, L.|
|Carter, L.||Grantchester, L.|
|Chalker of Wallasey, B.||Gray of Contin, L.|
|Chandos, V.||Gregson, L.|
|Chorley, L.||Grenfell, L.|
|Christopher, L.||Habgood, L.|
|Clanwilliam, E.||Hacking, L.|
|Clarke of Hampstead, L.||Halsbury, E.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Hanworth, V.|
|Clinton-Davis, L.||Hardie, L.|
|Clwyd, L.||Hardy of Wath, L.|
|Cobbold, L.||Harmar-Nicholls, L.|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||Harris of Haringey, L.|
|Coleridge, L.||Haskel, L.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Haslam, L.|
|Colwyn, L.||Hastings, L.|
|Congleton, L.||Hattersley, L.|
|Cope of Berkeley, L.||Hayhoe, L.|
|Courtown, E.||Hayman, B.|
|Cowdrey of Tonbridge, L.||Henley, L.|
|Cranborne, V.||Holderness, L.|
|Crawley, B.||Hollick, L.|
|Crickhowell, L.||Hollis of Heigham, B.|
|Crook, L.||HolmPatrick, L.|
|Cross, V.||Hope of Craighead, L.|
|Cumberlege, B.||Howe, E.|
|Currie of Marylebone, L.||Howell of Guildford, L.|
|Dacre, B.||Howie of Troon. L.|
|Dacre of Glanton, L.||Hoyle, L.|
|David, B.||Hughes, L.|
|Davies of Coity, L.||Hughes of Woodside, L.|
|Davies of Oldham, L.||Hunt of Kings Heath, L.|
|De L'Isle, V.||Hunt of Wirral, L.|
|Dean of Harptree, L.||Hussey of North Bradley, L.|
|Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.||Hylton-Foster, B.|
|Deedes, L.||Inchyra, L.|
|Denham, L.||Inglewood, L.|
|Diamond, L.||Ironside, L.|
|Dinevor, L.||Irvine of Lairg, L.|
|Dixon, L.||[Lord Chancellor.]|
|Dixon-Smith, L.||Janner of Braunstone, L.|
|Donoughue, L.||Jay of Paddington, B.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||[Lord Privy Seal.]|
|Downshire, M.||Jenkin of Roding, L.|
|Drogheda, E.||Jenkins of Putney, L.|
|Dubs, L.||Kelvedon, L.|
|Dudley, E.||Kennet, L.|
|Dulverton, L.||Kenyon, L.|
|Dundee, E.||Kindersley, L.|
|Dundonald, E.||Kingsdown, L.|
|Dunleath, L.||Kingsland, L.|
|Eatwell, L.||Kinloss, Ly.|
|Eden of Winton, L.||Kinnoull, E.|
|Kintore, E.||Rawlings, B.|
|Kirkhill, L.||Rawlinson of Ewell, L.|
|Kitchener, E.||Reay, L.|
|Knight of Collingtree, B.||Rees-Mogg, L.|
|Lane of Horsell, L.||Rendell of Babergh, B.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, L.|
|Leathers, V.||Renton, L.|
|Listowel, E.||Renwick of Clifton, L.|
|Lockwood, B.||Richard, L.|
|Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.||Richmond, Lennox and|
|Luke, L.||Gordon, D.|
|Lyell, L.||Roberts of Conwy, L.|
|Macclesfield, E.||Rogers of Riverside, L.|
|McColl of Dulwich, L.||Romney, E.|
|McConnell, L.||Rotherwick, L.|
|Macdonald of Tradeston, L.||Ryder of Warsaw, B.|
|McIntosh of Haringey, L.||Saatchi, L.|
|Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.||St Davids, V.|
|Mackay of Drumadoon, L.||St John of Bletso, L.|
|Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.||St. John of Fawsley, L.|
|Mackintosh of Halifax, V.||Sandwich, E.|
|Mallalieu, B.||Sawyer, L.|
|Malmesbury, E.||Scotland of Asthal, B.|
|Mancroft, L.||Seccombe, B.|
|Marlesford, L.||Sefton of Garston, L.|
|Marsh, L.||Sempill, L.|
|Mason of Barnsley, L.||Serota, B.|
|Mayhew of Twysden, L.||Sewel, L.|
|Merlyn-Rees, L.||Shannon, E.|
|Mersey, V.||Shaughnessy, L.|
|Middleton, L.||Shaw of Northstead, L.|
|Miller of Hendon, B.||Shepherd, L.|
|Mills, V.||Sheppard of Liverpool, L.|
|Milner of Leeds, L.||Shrewsbury, E.|
|Molloy, L.||Simon, V.|
|Molyneaux of Killead, L.||Simon of Glaisdale, L.|
|Monkswell, L.||Simon of Highbury, L.|
|Montagu of Beaulieu, L.||Simpson of Dunkeld, L.|
|Montague of Oxford, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Montrose, D.||Smith of Gilmorehill, B.|
|Morris of Kenwood, L.||Stevens of Ludgate, L.|
|Morris of Manchester, L.||Stodart of Leaston, L.|
|Mountevans, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Mowbray and Stourton, L.||Strafford, E.|
|Munster, E.||Strange, B.|
|Murton of Lindisfarne, L.||Strathcarron, L.|
|Naseby, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Newall, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Newton of Braintree, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Northbourne, L.||Symons of Vernham Dean, B|
|Northbrook, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Norton of Louth, L.||Taylor of Warwick, L.|
|O'Cathain, B.||Temple of Stowe, E.|
|O'Neill of Bengarve, B.||Tenby, V.[Teller.]|
|Onslow, E.||Teynham, L.|
|Onslow of Woking, L.||Thatcher, B.|
|Oppenheim-Barnes, B.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Oxfuird, V.||Thomas of Macclesfield, L.|
|Palmer, L.||Thornton, B.|
|Park of Monmouth, B.||Thurlow, L.|
|Parry, L.||Tomlinson, L.|
|Patel, L.||Trenchard, V.|
|Patten, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Paul, L.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Pilkington of Oxenford, L.||Uddin, B.|
|Pitkeathley, B.||Varley, L.|
|Platt of Writtle, B.||Vivian, L.|
|Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.||Waddington, L.|
|Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.||Walker of Doncaster, L.|
|Prior, L.||Walpole, L.|
|Prys-Davies, L.||Walton of Detchant, L.|
|Puttnam, L.||Warner, L.|
|Quirk, L.||Warnock, B.|
|Radnor, E.||Waverley, V.|
|Ramsay of Cartvale, B.||Weatherill, L.[Teller.]|
|Rathcavan, L.||Wedderburn of Charlton, L.|
|Weir, V.||Williams of Mostyn, L.|
|Wharton, B.||Willoughby de Broke, L.|
|Whitty, L.||Wilson of Tillyorn, L.|
|Wilberforce, L.||Wright of Richmond, L.|
|Wilcox, B.||Young, B.|
|Alanbrooke, V.||Hemphill, L.|
|Balfour of Inchrye, L.||Hooson, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Iddesleigh, E.|
|Blyth, L.||Long, V.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L. [Teller.]||Mackie of Benshie, L.|
|Clinton, L.||Milverton, L.|
|Coleraine, L.||Monckton of Brenchley, V|
|Davidson, V.||Nelson, E.|
|De Freyne, L.||Northesk, E.[Teller.]|
|Devonport, V.||Nunburnholme, L.|
|Donegall, M.||Rennell, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.|
|Gainsborough, E.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Gray, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Haddington, E.||Waterford, M.|
|Hampden, V.||Westbury, L.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ [Amendments Nos.32 to 49 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
§ [Amendments Nos.50 and 51 not moved.]
§ Lord Rowallan moved Amendment No.52:
§ After Clause 1, insert the following new clause—
§ EXCEPTION FROM SECTION 1 (NO.2)
§ (" —(1) Section 1 does not apply to any person who, on the day on which this Act is passed—
- (a)is a member of the House of Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage, and
- (b)in the Session of Parliament preceding the Session in which this Act is passed, attended that House or a committee of that House for at least one third of the total number of days on which the House sat,
§ (2) The Clerk of the Parliaments shall certify—
- (a)the total number of days on which the House sat,
- (b)the total number of days required to fulfil subsection (l)(b), and
- (c)the total number of days of attendance of each member.")
§ The noble Lord said: I am concerned about the performance we have just witnessed. I believe that the House has been treated in a rather cavalier fashion. The same happened when I wished to speak to an amendment on the first day in Committee, at eleven o'clock. If noble Lords read col.1149 of the Official Report of 20th April, it quite clearly states that fact. Unfortunately the noble and learned Lord Falconer of Thoroton spoke and that was the end of that.
The subject was raised again by my noble friend Lord Caithness the following Committee day and was debated. Although much of what I wish to say has already been debated, I still want to get my points over to the Committee of this House.
On 20th April, at col.1145 of the Official Report, the noble Lord, Lord Sawyer, said:
People in the wider society do not expect to advance themselves, to get a job or to make their way in society on the basis of the merits of their father, their grandfather or their great grandfather … Fundamentally, I believe that that is extremely simple and I think it is on that simple basis that this Bill should proceed".
§ Society has worked well, both in the trade union world and the business world, on the basis of inheritance. We have seen it happen in so many industries when father hands over his job to son. It is nonsense to say otherwise.
§ My amendment is simple. It states that hereditary Peers should be allowed to die out. The reference is to working hereditary Peers, although I prefer to refer to active hereditary Peers. It is interesting that the word "active" reduces at a stroke the number of hereditary Peers to 225 from the 750 who are entitled to attend this House. So immediately we reduce the number enormously. It does not take long to get down to the numbers of which we talked in the debate on the previous amendment which have now been agreed by the Government and the Whole House as acceptable. The figure reduces to below that number very quickly indeed.
§ I could have supported the Weatherill agreement if the second stage was not taking place. But I find it difficult to support the proposal—I did not vote—when it refers only to a limited period. In this Chamber, which works so well with all Peers being equal, we should all be in the same boat. At present I believe that we are heading for a crisis. To have two tiers of Peers will be very difficult indeed.
§ My proposal cuts out all the aggravation which seems to be creeping in. I believe that that is commendable. Two large government tomes will be before us shortly: the Greater London Authority Bill and the Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill. Both have about 200 clauses. The Government have many measures to bring forward. Most are extremely laudable. But we seem to be spending an inordinate amount of time discussing reform of the House of Lords. I was happy to agree with the noble Lord Bruce of Donington that we should concentrate on what this House does rather than its composition. We have spent many days in Committee already, and have hardly progressed through the Bill. We still have Report stage and Third Reading.
§ Even in the debate on the Weatherill amendment no specific course for reform of the House had universal popularity. Let us get on with governing and stop tinkering with the constitution. With my amendment, the hereditary Peers die out quickly without the aggravation and I commend it to the House. I beg to move.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My noble friend's amendment is designed to keep a substantial number of hereditary Peers into the foreseeable future. He says that the amendment states that they should be allowed to die out. I have to say that the words of the amendment are not quite so brutal, but that would indeed be the consequence of his amendment.
1140 I think all your Lordships know the amount of work our hereditary colleagues do day by day. That, I am sure, was one of the motives behind the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, which your Lordships have just passed with a modest majority. It is true that before that amendment was passed this afternoon the result of the Government Bill, as it then stood, would have been to throw out all the hereditaries, good ones and bad ones, and we would lose some very good Members of this House. I have to say that the electorate can do that as well, so it is not something that is quite unique to this particular Bill.
What is clear, as my noble friend Lord Strathclyde said earlier, is that we are embarked on something and we do not really know where we are going to end up. That is not the wisest position to be in. But in Scotland they are currently embarked on trying to form a government and they are not sure where they are going to end up, other than in the confused situation which PR inevitably brings about. I did a little check on just who would pass the "Rowallan" test. There were 76 days in the last session and on that basis some 228 hereditary Peers would have passed; 130 Conservatives, 62 Cross-Benchers, 17 Liberals and 16 Labour. My noble friend Lord Rowallan would pass with flying colours, which will not surprise your Lordships: otherwise he might have put the gateway at a slightly lower level!
In terms of his amendment, when I studied the list of your Lordships who have an excellent attendance record, it showed the good contribution that many of my noble friends make. It also shows the great contribution made by the hereditary Peers on other Benches. The House will be sad to lose them. Nearly all the hereditary Peers on the Government Benches actually passed the Rowallan test, which is more than can be said for a few of the new creations of the present Prime Minister—but that is entirely another matter.
I think there is merit in looking at hardworking Peers, and I am sure that in fact the amendment that your Lordships have just passed will take on board, so to speak, almost all the hardest working Peers, although I suspect that the gateway will be just a little tougher than my noble friend would like. So I must say to him that, while I understand his point and appreciate the hard work that many hereditaries have done, I think that your Lordships' House has, so to speak, "done its business by the hereditaries" in passing the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill. I am afraid I would not be able to support my noble friend's amendment if he were to press it to a Division.
§ Lord Goodhart
I shall intervene only very briefly. Your Lordships' Committee, like it or not, has just passed the Weatherill amendment by an enormous majority, which I have to say would still have been quite a large majority if my noble friends and I had chosen to vote against it. That undoubtedly can be taken as an expression of the will of the House. I was therefore somewhat sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, chose to move an amendment which creates an alternative suggestion to the Weatherill proposal. In view of the size of the majority in favour of that 1141 amendment, I hope that other amendments which propose alternatives to the Weatherill amendment will not be moved.
§ Lord Monson
I wonder why the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, has set the threshold as low as he has. Would it not be much easier to support the principle of this amendment if the threshold were set at, say one half? As this is a committee stage, the noble Lord has the right to rise to his feet on more than one or two occasions, and so I wonder if he could say whether he has worked out how many hereditary Peers would remain if the gateway were to be set at one half.
§ Lord Randall of St. Budeaux
I should like to say just a few words on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan. The principle seems to be to retain people of skill, of experience and of good attendance to contribute to the wellbeing of this House, and I think the principle is a good one. This is why I believe we need to have a system of gradually removing hereditary Peers, rather than have the "big bang" approach that has been followed so far. The principle of protecting the interests of this House I find commendable and therefore I support what the noble Lord is saying. Also, I support the idea of not allowing hereditary heirs to enter this House automatically on succession: I find that is very reasonable. However, I have difficulty with the balanced voting arrangements.
My own view on this is that this House will do very well with a weighted voting system, which is incredibly simple. 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! We could then keep all the hereditaries here, let them fade away and the Government get their business done. However, that is to come later. I believe that there is a very simple and very workable system available which I think will start emerging in the later stages of the business of this House.
I think that this particular amendment would still leave us in a very difficult position where we would not get the right balance as between Conservative and Labour; and then there are the votes of the Liberals, the Cross-Benchers and others. That has to be organised in some way that enables there to be equity in the voting system and which would enable the Government to get their business through, which it cannot reasonably do now, with the current structure. However, the principle there of protecting the interests of the House by ensuring that we just do not get rid of, in a great big lump, a lot of people arbitrarily without taking into account their skills, knowledge and so on, which is what will happen now. We are going to be dumping these people in a way which in business would never ever happen. I very much regret that this is a solution which emanated from a wrong approach in all this. We should have laid down, and got agreement on, strategic objectives in regard to the legislation. The solution would then, in the end, have come out very easily; but we have never had those 1142 strategic objectives and therefore there was no basis for a consensus. Unfortunately we are still running around trying to find solutions.
Although in principle I think it is fine to protect the House by keeping good experienced Peers working here, I regret that the voting arrangements proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, would not be acceptable, because they would not be equitable.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
It seems to me that the noble Lord has said a number of very wise things on this Bill already, and what he has just said is wise. May I ask my noble friend why he thinks that actually just "coming along" should be a qualification. It does not seem to me that just coining to the House should be a qualification: it should be what noble Lords do when they get here, and the work they do. The noble Lord mentions committees, and it is difficult to be on a committee without contributing although it is perhaps possible; but just coming and sitting does not seem to me to be a qualification. I wonder whether he could explain why he chose that particular criterion.
§ Lord Desai
Very briefly, I did not like the earlier amendment, although I did not vote against it. I do not like this amendment either. I do not think there should be any question of the cleverness or quality of the hereditary peerage; for me it is a question of principle. As my noble friend has said, no business would behave like this. A business has to get itself into proper shape. We live in the 1990s and unless we do that we shall not be a properly functioning Chamber. So I await the day when the Weatherill amendment has a sunset and we get a proper Chamber. If the noble Lord divides the Committee, I shall vote against the amendment.
§ 7 p.m.
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Rowallan and Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, in recognising the contribution of a number of "active" Peers; that is, those among the hereditary peerage who participate. But, like many other of the ingenious alternatives which have been offered for our consideration, I am afraid that the Government cannot look favourably upon the amendment. That was the case even before the Committee agreed to Amendment No.31, which we believe has met some of the concerns of the retention of those hereditary Peers who might make an effective contribution for slightly longer.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, I am anxious that we should get on as far as we can and as fast as we can with the business of government. I believe that by accepting Amendment No.31, the Committee has agreed to precisely the kind of process which we hope can achieve that.
The basic reason why the Government do not wish to accept Amendment No.52 is that it effectively continues, on a basis which even after the noble Lord had spoken I was not entirely sure was temporary or permanent, the automatic right conferred by birth alone. He stated that 225 Peers would survive in what he 1143 described as the "gateway" principle, but my figure is 229. Whatever it is, many more will survive temporarily than would do so under Amendment No.31.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, that the amendment confuses quantity of attendance with quality of contribution. During deliberations on the Bill, there have been frequent calls for a scheme for selecting the "best" or "most active" hereditary Peers to remain in the House. The Committee may accept that to make the assessment of "best" hereditary Peers dependent on attendance might completely distort the type of qualities for which one would be looking. On the basis of the current figures I have been given, 24 Conservative hereditary Peers who would qualify under the noble Lord's "gateway" neither spoke in Grand Committee nor in the Chamber during the previous Session, and neither did 10 Cross-Benchers nor two Liberal Democrats. It has also been pointed out to me that one hereditary Peer who attended 100 times has yet to make his maiden speech, even though he has been a hereditary Peer for 40 years. So that possible gateway is not altogether helpful, even if the Government were prepared to consider it.
I am anxious to respond appropriately to the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan. I understand his frustration at the previous response, which was indeed made late at night in a general grouping. One of the inspirations on which he may have drawn in making the proposal was the then Government's proposals in 1968, and perhaps I may take a couple of minutes to explain why we believe that it is different. Under those proposals, there were two qualifications for holding a voting writ. One was being a created Peer, and his amendment does not include that, and the other was having attended at least one third of the Sittings of the previous Session. Therefore, there was a difference between the created Peers and those who were Peers by succession. Of course, that is not explicitly the case in the noble Lord's amendment.
Under the 1968 proposals, a voting writ which was once lost could not be recovered in the same Parliament. In other words, if a noble Lord failed to attend during a particular Session, under those proposals he would lose that right. The proposed new clause contains no such safeguards. So even if the clause were acceptable in principle, it contains no guarantees that it would achieve its intended effect of selecting the most valuable hereditary Peers. Furthermore, it is unacceptable in principle. If we had intended to phase out the hereditary presence in Parliament, either by reducing their numbers or functions, we might have suggested that at an earlier stage.
We believe that the proposed new clause would muddy the effect that has been achieved by the original Bill and by the insertion of Amendment No.31, and I would advise the Committee to reject it.
§ Lord Rowallan
I am pleased that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House replied to the amendment in such detail and I thank her. I accept everything that she and my noble friend Lady Carnegy have said. One has to have a starting point somewhere. I should have preferred my amendment to have been dealt with before Amendment No.31, as was intended, but I wished to 1144 put across my point about spending a great deal of time when we could shorten the proceedings considerably by being a little more "user friendly".
This was a probing amendment and I never intended to divide the Committee on it. I shall watch with interest what happens to Amendment No.31 when the Bill has been recommitted and it is subject to amendments. In the light of everything that has been said in Committee, I might return to the matter on Report, but in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ The Earl of Mar and Kellie moved Amendment No.53:
§ After Clause 1, insert the following new clause—
§ REPRESENTATION (SCOTLAND)
§ (".—(1) During the period in which this Act remains in force, the Prime Minister shall ensure that at any one time the number of members of the House of Lords whose primary residence is in Scotland shall be no less than 40.
§ (2) If at any time the requirement in subsection (1) is not fulfilled, the Prime Minister shall recommend to Her Majesty that additional persons whose primary residence is in Scotland are recommended to Her Majesty for conferment of life peerages under the Life Peerages Act 1958.")
§ The noble Earl said: I believe that this is the first amendment to be moved which does not attempt to save the hereditary peerage in any form. I believe that I have found an unintended consequence of the Bill and I humbly submit that it is the classic work of a second Chamber to look for unintended consequences in legislation.
§ Amendment No.53 is primarily a probing amendment, but that is not to say that it is not a significant issue. The amendment requires the Prime Minister to ensure that throughout the whole of the indefinite stage one there will always be a minimum of 40 Peers domiciled in Scotland. The Scots law concept of "domicile" has been translated by the Public Bill Office into "has his primary residence in". I regret the need for the translation.
§ The purpose of the amendment is two-fold. The first is to ensure that United Kingdom Bills with Scottish content, and often Scots law content, are liable to scrutiny by Peers from Scotland. That I consider to be one of the higher measures of commitment: liability to the Scottish provisions. Secondly, there is a constitutional issue capable of exploitation by those who recommend that Scotland should leave the United Kingdom. Articles 22 and 23 of the Treaty of Union established statutorily guaranteed representation from Scotland in both Houses of the Union Parliament: 45 in the Commons and 16 representative Peers in the Lords. Both of those numbers have been increased by statute and by the creation of Great Britain and United Kingdom peerages and life peerages.
§ The statutorily guaranteed representation from Scotland is about to come to an end with the unamended passage of this Bill. History will recall that Scotland was deprived of its 292 year-long statutory representation in the Upper Chamber in 1999. What is more, it will be the result of constitutional carelessness rather than design. 1145 I am working on the assumption that the Government remain committed to Scotland's inclusion in the British Union.
§ I am mindful of the debacle over the Peers of Ireland who were ultimately excluded from this House by accident. I refer to the disappearance of the post of Lord Chancellor of Ireland, the returning officer for the Irish representative Peers elections. The Lord Chancellor of Ireland disappeared amidst the fraught negotiations over the Irish Free State Treaty in 1921. The subsequent constitutional and illogical exclusion of Irish Peers who live in Northern Ireland sums up the error.
§ I fully accept that the inevitably hereditary peerage of Scotland is being sent home by this Bill. I believe that a new statutorily guaranteed group of life Peers from Scotland should be identified and that the constitutional position be maintained; that is, Scotland's position as a sovereign partner in a reformed British Union.
§ That will be easy to do. There are just over 40 life Peers and Law Lords who qualify. They are domiciled in Scotland. Adopting the amendment will not create a difficult task for the Government. Failing to adopt the amendment will create resentment in Scotland. It will certainly be difficult to explain why there is a virtue in depriving Scotland of a guaranteed opportunity to scrutinise reserved powers legislation. What will be the merit of doing that? I will find it more than difficult to explain this loss of opportunity for legislative scrutiny.
§ Forty Peers from Scotland in the interim House represents 8 per cent of the membership. Scotland has 8 per cent of the United Kingdom population. The constitution of the United Kingdom should not be put into unnecessary jeopardy. I beg to move.
The noble Earl is to be congratulated on tabling an amendment which addresses the question of Scottish representation in your Lordships' House during the interim period, the more so perhaps when one bears in mind the dictum from his Front Bench that they want the Bill, the whole Bill and nothing but the Bill.
Some noble Lords may recollect that I moved amendments earlier in Committee which sought to preserve Scottish representation, especially at a time when the Union may well come under great strain. Unlike the noble Earl, I took a hereditary route. It is perhaps interesting, purely as an aside, that my Amendment No.50, which still stands on the Marshalled List although we did not debate it this afternoon, would have produced 41 peers at this time.
Obviously one hopes that the Government will address this question, and I hope that we may hear something from them this evening in response to the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie. Certainly, when we have devolution in Scotland and the opportunity for problems arising is great, we must take care about how we proceed. I do not know quite how—within the constrictions imposed by the scheme of things for the interim House in view of the debates we had this 1146 afternoon—the noble Earl will manage to achieve a balanced representation from his 40. I shall be interested to hear what the Government have to say.
§ Lord Sempill
I stand to support my noble friend Lord Mar and Kellie. As I am sure some noble Lords are aware, we have both just returned from fighting in the Scottish elections. Unfortunately, neither of us was successful. However, we learnt some interesting things on the doorsteps. In supporting my noble friend, it is perhaps worth mentioning some of the issues I picked up on the doorsteps, primarily in Edinburgh North and Leith. I believe we have to accept that the Government's constitutional programme has already created a distancing in the attitude of many Scots in their relationship to Westminster. That is an area of concern.
Noble Lords will not be surprised that one issue which did not arise on the doorsteps was the reform of your Lordships' House. Having said that, equally concerning—I have to be honest, primarily among the supporters of our party, as in the Scottish Conservative Party—was a strong feeling over the potential or possible break up of the Union. The reason I am happy to support my noble friend in the amendment, which is a paving amendment, is because I feel that a Scottish contingent within this House should be kept up to maximum strength.
I draw to the attention of noble Lords a series of newspaper articles which were printed, probably in the last two to three weeks of the election. They highlighted the fact that the Government may he faced with a situation where they might have to drop the Scottish presence in their Cabinet because of the reality of Scotland having its own Parliament and also the reality of having a further 72 MPs at Westminster.
Therefore, I maintain that at the moment we are in the process of substantial constitutional change. As I have mentioned, the Scots are already beginning to distance themselves in their relationship to Westminster. I believe that retaining a strength in this House would be of benefit to the future of the Union.
§ 7.15 p.m.
The Earl of Erroll
I rise briefly to say that I believe it is important that there should be a minimum representation, not just a maximum one. The strength of the amendment is that it guarantees one that is proportionate to the populations in the two countries. That is not the case in another place, which is probably why it will come under review there at some time.
Many people tend to forget that Scotland's devolved Parliament is a subsidiary legislative body and that the Parliament at Westminster is not just a Parliament for England; it is also the sovereign Parliament for Scotland. It can take back any powers at any time it wants. I notice, for instance, that the papers are already saying that there may be some conflict of interest between Scotland and England over tuition fees and therefore there might be a case for repatriating that in order to solve the problem. That highlights the fact that this is still the sovereign Parliament of Scotland as well as England. We forget that at our peril. There must 1147 therefore be some entrenched constitutional protection for the Scottish people here in the second, revising Chamber as well as in another place.
§ Lord Monson
I wonder whether the noble Earl will agree that, if his amendment is accepted—I certainly have no objection to it—for the sake of fairness it should be balanced with a speedy reduction in the number of Scottish MPs in the House of Commons to English levels, coupled with a speedy resolution of the West Lothian question.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
It is interesting to hear the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Sempill, hot foot from the hustings. That was his first experience of standing for election. He has picked up one or two extremely true points. I was on the hustings myself, though not standing for election, and I quite agree with him. The subject of the reform of your Lordships' House was never mentioned. It simply did not arise.
The question of how to ensure a proper geographical spread in your Lordships' House during stage one seems to me to be important. I shall listen carefully to what the Government say about this. Of course the case for a proper representation of noble Lords from Wales is even more important because noble Lords will be legislating for Wales more than they will for Scotland.
Nevertheless, at present the Tax Credits Bill applies to Scotland because social security is not devolved. The Employment Relations Bill applies to Scotland and I imagine that virtually all that is happening in the European Communities Committee applies to Scotland. It is extremely important that noble Lords with an insight into Scottish affairs should be present.
It is also important, when legislating for England and Wales, for this House to be very aware all the time of the extent to which it might conflict with that which the Scottish Parliament is doing. It will be easy inadvertently to tread on the toes of the Scottish Parliament if there are not enough people here with a current understanding of what is going on north of the Border. We know from experience that it is much easier to know if one is travelling up and down all the time, rather than simply reading the newspapers. An important point is made by the amendment, even if this is not necessarily the correct solution.
§ Lord Newby
As pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Gray, this is one of a number of amendments we have discussed in Committee which has looked to entrench provisions in the interim House for Peers based in or of Scotland. As pointed out by the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, and everybody else, the amendment has the great advantage for our Benches in that it seeks to do it not through an hereditary route.
However, I am afraid I cannot agree that the amendment should De supported, for two reasons. First, we do not believe it is necessary. In previous debates there was a discussion about how many Scottish Peers were Members of your Lordships' House and how active they were. I believe there was a consensus that 1148 they were both well represented and extremely active. If we look at the Front Benches this evening, we can see that demonstrated.
The second point relates more widely to the representation in your Lordships' Chamber of the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. If we were to institute such a provision for Scotland, it would be logical to entrench a similar provision certainly for Wales and Northern Ireland, but also for the regions of England. That may be overprescriptive at this stage given that, even in the view of my noble friend Lord Mar and Kellie, there is a strong representation of Scottish Peers in your Lordships' Chamber at the moment.
I was on the hustings in Wales and was involved in a discussion in relation to your Lordships' House. Why the issue about the relationship between this place and the nations and regions of the United Kingdom was not on everyone's lips in Scotland, Wales and elsewhere is that, as currently constituted, this House is seen as completely irrelevant to the politics of those places. One of the challenges of the Royal Commission will be to look at ways in which your Lordships' Chamber can have a more relevant role in relation to the nations and regions of the United Kingdom.
Amendment No.53 does not address that question. It is not necessary to achieve the requirements of my noble friend, and therefore we are not proposing to support it.
§ Baroness Park of Monmouth
I do not know whether I am discussing the right amendment. However, I do know that the European committees, which we all agree are an important part of the contribution of this House, have hitherto been dealing with the whole of the United Kingdom. When I sat on Sub-Committee C examining the poverty programme, we considered Scotland and Northern Ireland as well as England.
I believe that there will be a period of settling down of at least two years, and possibly longer, while we all work out how aware, for instance, Scotland is of what is happening in Europe if it is not part of the process of scrutiny of legislation and developments carried on in this Chamber. While the whole constitutional situation and the relationships between the four parts of the United Kingdom, let alone the regions, are settling down, it is vital that there should be continuity of some sort. There are many subjects—not defence and not reserve subjects—which are of common interest to all four countries but where the scrutiny, the serious practical professional scrutiny including travelling and talking to Brussels, is still being done in this House. Scotland, and probably the others, will be setting up their own offices in Brussels. It will be extraordinarily difficult to be a Minister in Brussels representing the United Kingdom on any issue if there is not some location where all these matters come together. This House and its committees seem to be a non-controversial and practical answer. There is therefore a strong argument for some kind of Scottish continuity in this House.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
I agree with my noble friend Lord Mar and Kellie that this matter needs to be 1149 looked at with great care. My young and noble friend on the Front Bench is entirely wrong to say that we do not need to take special cognisance of it.
There will be a number of changes when we no longer have hereditary Peers. I am all for abolishing the hereditary Peers and taking back all the good ones, of whom there are many, as life Peers. But most of the people who know about and speak about agriculture are hereditary Peers. We will have to ensure that that industry is properly represented in this Chamber.
The same is true about all the arguments in relation to Scotland. It is necessary that the people of Scotland and the Scottish Parliament feel that they are properly represented in the subjects which are not devolved to Scotland. The Government must think about this and I look forward to their reply. Of course, they may feel that there are too many Scots already. I have heard that argument before. All I can say is that we need proper representation—but do not let us have too many Mackays!
§ Lord Acton
On the second day of Committee the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, told us, as the former secretary of the Scottish Peers Association, that there were 60 life Peer Members and 87 hereditary Members.
I do not want to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Mackie—I would not dream of doing so—but given the splendour of the speeches we have heard from the hereditary Scottish Peers this evening, several of them are bound to get elected under Weatherill. They already have 60. Are they not asking for rather a lot?
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
Perhaps I may briefly intervene. I was agreeing almost entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, until his penultimate sentence. My view is that there are not nearly enough of us here. After all, "Mackie" is simply a bad spelling that arose somewhere in the past.
I note in passing the exhibition of a little split on the Liberal Democrat Benches. I suppose that that is par for the course. I understand there is quite a big split north of the Border as they try to decide whether or not they wish to cut a deal with the party opposite in order to get some government Mondeos to help them on their way to Holyrood.
I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, on his outing on the hustings. He was a little unfortunate in the seat he chose to fight, though I understand it was his family seat. It was also the constituency of Ochil, the one where the Scottish nationalists were putting the Labour Party under the greatest pressure. I suspect that the noble Earl and indeed the Conservative candidate in that seat suffered a considerable squeeze as people decided, I suspect, to vote for the Labour Party as the lesser of two evils to prevent the Scottish National Party winning the seat.
However, I am glad the noble Earl enjoyed his experience, as did my noble friend who fought Edinburgh North and Leith. It is not an area, I suspect, accustomed to being canvassed by Members of your 1150 Lordships' Chamber. I am sure that the electorate were impressed. Perhaps, as I have mentioned two noble Lords who did not succeed, I should express congratulations on an all-party basis to my noble friend Lord Selkirk of Douglas, the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, and the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, all of whom succeeded in being elected to the Scottish Parliament, either by the first-past-the-post method or through the top-up system. Whatever route they took they are Members of the Scottish Parliament. I am sure that the Committee offers them congratulations. I hope that we have not heard the last of them in your Lordships' Chamber. I hope that they will pay the odd visit, as and when they can, to give us the benefit of their experience in the Parliament.
Amendment No.53 is interesting. It comes one week after the elections to the Scottish Parliament and, as we predicted, the net result of PR—the last time I looked at Ceefax—is that we still do not have any idea who will be in the government of Scotland. We are sure that there will be a Labour component, but we are not entirely sure what the other components will be. Goodness knows how many more days it will be before we do know.
It was an interesting election. As one noble Lord said to me outside the Chamber, it has opened up quite a "Canavan" of worms for everybody. We understand that the telephone line between Downing Street and Mr. Dewar is hot as the Prime Minister tries to control Scotland, despite the fact that he has given it devolution. I feel that there is a slight misunderstanding as to what devolution is about.
As my noble friend Lord Gray mentioned, we have been over this ground before. My noble friend raised points about the position of Scotland and the Treaty of Union, the guaranteed places for the Scottish peerage, 16 of whom were elected to your Lordships' Chamber before the 1963 Act, and so forth. The Government argued against my noble friend on the basis that these were arcane points of ancient peerage law which we should not be too bothered about at this stage.
However, the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, has raised a different issue which I do not believe is arcane. It is quite modern and it arises from the position we are in; namely, however you look at the position, there is to be a certain detachment of Scotland from the Palace of Westminster. Issues which were once determined here by UK governments will no longer be determined here by UK governments. I refer—dare I say it?—to tuition fees and beef on the bone. I do not know why those two issues come to mind first, but they do. Other issues such as education and health will all be decided elsewhere than in the Parliament of the United Kingdom and by the government of the United Kingdom. The world has changed and we have certainly seen that in Scotland.
The noble Earl asked that 40 people from Scotland should always sit in this Chamber. I shall not get into the business of numbers and I am not terribly attracted by quotas. However, it must be up to the Government to try to make sure that the Scottish National Party, which rightly or wrongly—in my view, wrongly—has been given about 30 per cent of the vote by the Scottish people and has 36 seats in the new Scottish Parliament, 1151 is represented in this Chamber. The Government must try to find one or two of them who are acceptable—that may be difficult—to this Chamber where we may be able to civilise them and convince them of the merits of unionism. However, in that case, they may no longer be supporters of the Scottish National Party, which would undermine my argument. We shall have to make sure that in future we address the matter of resident Peers in Scotland. The noble Lord, Lord Acton, may find that some of the 60 he mentioned are not resident in Scotland. Their titles may be Scottish and they may have been resident in Scotland at one time. However, whether one counts them as Scottish is quite another matter. I can think of two of the noble Lord's noble friends who may look Scottish and may have Scottish titles but who are not resident in Scotland in the way that, for example, I and the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, are.
As I say, I am not greatly in favour of quotas nor of all the other concepts that the Government are in favour of. However, if the Government are in favour of them, they should address the position of Scottish Peers in the Chamber. I understand that the Government want to achieve gender balance, ethnicity balance, and regional interest balance, but Scotland does not come into any of those categories. Scotland is the twin component of the Union—although there may be fewer of us—which formed the United Kingdom. In the future we must make sure that there is a proper number of people from north of the Bordet in your Lordships' House. Do the Government have any sympathy with this general proposition—not the quota idea—that we have a responsibility (and will have in the future) to ensure that Scotland is properly represented? Would the same apply as regards Wales? Would that be a matter for the appointments commission, for example? How would the links be determined? Who would determine who was a Scot or had links with Scotland? These are important matters.
As I say, I do not expect the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, to put his amendment to a Division. In fact I do not think I could vote for it if he did. However, he has raised an important matter. I am glad to note that one of the category of people who might be construed and defined easily as a Scotsman, but now resident in England, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, is to reply to the debate.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton)
The noble Earl's amendment raises a new issue. The amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Gray, which we debated on a previous occasion, concerned preserving special rights for the hereditary peerage of Scotland, whereas the noble Earl's amendment in effect raises questions about whether or not there should be special representation for Scotland in relation to the interim Chamber. Obviously, his amendment, if passed, would raise the question of whether there should be special rights for other parts of the country. Should there, for example, be special rights for Wales? Should there be special rights for Northern Ireland or for the various regions in England?
1152 While we accept that there should be a proper geographical spread in this Chamber, we as a government are against the idea of sectional constituencies. We are against the idea of quotas for particular parts of the country. This Chamber has in the past always conducted business on the basis that it acts on behalf of the whole of the United Kingdom. That is the case whether or not a particular Peer comes from Scotland, England, Northern Ireland or Yorkshire. It seems to us that the correct approach is to continue on that basis and not to seek to preserve particular quotas or establish particular quotas in the way the noble Earl suggests.
As a matter of practicality I believe there will be no difficulty in ensuring that Scotland has an adequate voice in the interim Chamber. I look around the Benches at the moment and see the noble Lords, Lord Mackie of Benshie, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, Lord Gray of Contin, and the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour. I am happy to say that they will all be present in the interim Chamber. There is absolutely no necessity for any special favours to ensure that Scotland is adequately protected. As a matter of principle we do not think the approach that underlies the noble Earl's amendment is either necessary or appropriate for the interim Chamber.
As regards the second stage, we have asked the Royal Commission to have special regard to the impact of devolution in drawing up its recommendations. However, that is in the context of a fully reformed Chamber. With regard to the noble Earl's proposed amendment, there would he unforeseen problems in determining who had fulfilled his criterion. Must primary residence continue to apply after someone has become a Member of the Chamber, even though the requirement to be in London during the Session might lead to a considerable change in residency patterns? Would potential Peers have to certify for themselves which address they were resident at? Would it be taken off the electoral register? Or by reference to what was declared to be the principal residence for council tax? Problems of that kind would arise. If the criterion was not based on actual residence, would it be based—as the noble Earl suggested—on some concept of domicile? In that case, the problems mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, in describing my situation, would arise. What would happen with regard to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, if a similar amendment were proposed with regard to Wales? We believe as a matter of principle that the amendment is wrong. As a matter of necessity the need does not exist and as a matter of practicality it will not work. With the greatest of respect to the noble Earl, I suggest that he withdraws his amendment.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
Before the noble and learned Lord sits down, will he not admit that in establishing what criteria apply to Scottish Peers it is necessary to consider representation—at least in an unofficial way—to ensure that the various interests are 1153 represented in this Chamber, whether those are national interests or, as I mentioned before, the interests of industry?
§ Lord Falconer of Thoroton
As regards the first stage of reform and the interim Chamber, I think one can be moderately satisfied that the voice of Scotland will be represented adequately by most able Scots. As regards the second stage, the question of regional balance is a matter that no doubt the Royal Commission will address.
§ The Earl of Mar and Kellie
This is only the second time that any amendment I have proposed has been debated for more than half an hour. Therefore, there must be some merit in it somewhere. I thank all those Members of the Committee who have spoken in favour of it or spoken about it. It was an interesting experience to be a parliamentary candidate in the first Scottish parliamentary elections since 6th May 1703. I came to realise that this was the first time since 1426 that anyone with my name had submitted himself to any electorate before enjoying a seat in the Parliament of either Scotland or the United Kingdom.
I was criticised for being a constituency candidate, a regional candidate and a candidate for the Clackmannanshire council. However, this was one of the strange but dangerous outbreaks of democratic advance. There were moments, certainly after the result, when I reflected on the fact that there might be some merit in the hereditary system—it is a lot easier.
I should like to give one final reminiscence about the Scottish election. In the week following the elections in the Ochil constituency all four candidates headed off to a Parliament. I was to return here for the remaining months. The other three all headed off to the Scottish Parliament. This was an election where everybody got to Parliament.
This is a probing amendment, and I will not press it; but I cannot go on too often about the fact that Scotland must have a strong place in the scrutiny of United Kingdom reserve powers legislation. The response of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, was to try to pretend that the United Kingdom is a unitary state. It is not; it is a union state, made up of sovereign partners. One of the essential differences about the United Kingdom reserve powers legislation is that some of it has to be written into Scots law, to which most Members of the House of Lords are not subject, except when they visit Scotland. That is why it is particularly important to have an identified group from Scotland.
Scots law defines what domicile means. There is another way of dealing with the matter: "Someone liable to pay the Scottish variable rate", if the Scots Parliament decides to use it, could be yet another definition of what is a Scots person for these purposes.
Having come here from Scotland for the last five years, and very much appreciating the opportunity to do so, I should like to say that it is difficult to attend and do a job. Considerable commitment is required of representatives from Scotland in the House of Lords.
1154 Alarm bells began to ring last summer, with the arrival of the last tranche of working Peers; there were 26, and they all came from England. Indeed, all but seven came from the Home Counties. There was not one from Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, and that struck me as being unreliable in a union state.
I brought forward the idea of a quota because of the indefinite nature of stage one. I know it is not the intention that it should be indefinite, but we know what happened to the Preamble to the 1911 Act. It took 88 years. Perhaps "indefinite" is coming to an end, but it ran for rather a long time.
I must tell the noble Lord, Lord Acton, that some of the Peers of Scotland would certainly not fail the domicile test. Some of them are infirm and are not available to come, so statistics provided by my noble kinswoman, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, are not reliable as regards the point he made.
It appears that both the Government and my Front Bench are happy to allow statutory representation from Scotland to lapse. I will read the report of the debate to see whether that really was the way everybody felt. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [The Sitting was suspended from 7.44 until 8.44 p.m]
§ The Earl of Northesk moved Amendment No.54:
§ After Clause 1, insert the following new clause—
§ PEERAGES CREATED BY WRIT
§ (". A person who receives a writ of summons at a time when he is not a Peer of the Realm shall not be entitled to attend, sit or vote in the House of Lords by virtue of that writ.")
The noble Earl said: In our debate last Tuesday on Clause 1 stand part, the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal summarised the Government's view of the Bill. She said:
As is explained in the Explanatory Notes to the Bill, the effect of the clause is comprehensive … I repeat that this clause applies to all hereditary Peers, whether in the Peerage of England. Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain or the United Kingdom, and whether they are male or female, Royal or non-Royal, Peers by succession or Peers of first creation, holders of Baronies by Writ or in possession of a Patent of Creation or sit by virtue of a Writ of Acceleration or by a peerage called out of abeyance". —[Official Report, 29/4/99; col.532.]
§ It is an impressive list but, to my interpretation, regrettably, it is not comprehensive.
§ As I understand it, it remains entirely possible for an individual to be issued with a Writ of Summons to this House even though he is not entitled otherwise to receive one. I am conscious in this regard that I trespass upon the knowledge and expertise of the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi. But that method of creating a peerage, a Barony by Writ or in Fee was referred to in the proceedings before the Committee for Privileges in this House as recently as the 1994–95 Session in the matter of the Barony of Farnham.
In particular, the Committee may wish to take note of the submission to Her Majesty from the then Home Secretary in which he refers to the doctrine of Lord Coke:
in that where a person who is not entitled to receive a writ of summons nevertheless receives a writ and sits in Parliament in obedience to it, he becomes a baron by writ".
§ Moreover, the Committee will be aware of the advice of the Attorney-General in that case, that a peerage so created is hereditary in character. Of course, it was held that Lord Coke's doctrine did not apply in the case of the Barony of Farnham but the possibility of peerages being created in that way, given the right circumstances, does not appear to have been called into question.
In effect, again, as I understand it, it would be exercise of the Writ, at least for the term of the first Parliament which the individual attends, which would create the hereditary peerage. What matters is that anyone elevated to the peerage via that route is not picked up by the terms of Clause 1 because it would not be until after the Writ had been responded to and obeyed that the relevant peerage could be created. Under no circumstances, certainly in the case of the first Parliament attended, could an individual in receipt of such a writ be termed—I quote from the Bill:
A member of the House of Lords by virtue bof an hereditary peerage".
Clearly, there are echoes there of the drafting difficulties exposed by the opinion of Mr. Lofthouse which were exhibiting the uncanny knack of peppering the whole construct: on of the Bill. I am sure that it will not have escaped the attention of the Committee that our amendment, in the pursuit of certainty, uses what we believe to be the more accurate terminology of an entitlement,
to attend, sit or vote in the House of Lords".
§ Having said that, I acknowledge that it is a narrow point. Indeed, it could be supposed that the prospect of the creation of any such Baronies in the future is unlikely, although we should be mindful of the recent inauguration by Nelson Mandela of an hereditary council of chiefs with legislative competence.
§ The point is that that represents a loophole in the terms of the Bill which, for the purposes of clarity and consistency, should be closed off. I beg to move.
§ Lord Strabolgi
I am grateful to the noble Earl for explaining the purpose of his amendment. I appreciate the kind remarks he made about me. As he said, the claim of Lord Farnham was that his barony had established a Barony by Writ but that was rejected by the Committee for Privileges because it was decided that those Irish Peers, after Irish independence, who had been elected had the right to sit for the rest of their lives. Indeed they did so, and the last one died some years ago. I imagine—perhaps my noble friend on the Front Bench will correct rue if I am wrong—that the Writs have to emanate from the sovereign. I cannot envisage today that a sovereign would issue a Writ on the right of the Crown to somebody who was not a Peer of the realm and who hart not already received his Letters Patent. I therefore cannot see that such a situation would arise in the days of a constitutional monarchy which we enjoy at present.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
I do not have a lot to say on this rather complex and, if I dare say to my noble friend, rather arcane point of peerage law, but it 1156 certainly appears from the Farnham case quoted by my noble friend and in fact Lord Coke's doctrine, that if such an event happened—and that is quite a big "if", I suspect—then the Peer so created would not find himself debarred by the terms of the Bill. His successor of course would because that, I presume, would be somebody who was here by heredity. In fact, the individual concerned would not—and I think this could be described as a little beyond belt-and-braces, but no doubt the noble Lord the Minister will explain it all to us in words that we can understand.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn)
I will do my very best. The noble Earl, Lord Northesk, described this as a narrow point and the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, as an arcane point. I must say that I am deeply disappointed to find those adjectival descriptions attached to a point of such importance.
This seeks to exclude new holders of Baronies by Writ from sitting in your Lordships' House in the future. I am happy to reassure your Lordships, and indeed the expectant world outside, that this amendment is not necessary. All life peerages are created by Letters Patent. In the case of Viscountess Rhondda, in 1922 it was noted that as recently as 1856 the practice of creating Baronies by Writ had ceased. If for some reason a Writ of Summons were to be issued in error (and I entirely endorse the points made by my noble friend Lord Strabolgi), as the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, said, a very large "if", to someone who was not a Peer, for instance if they shared a rather common name, like Williams, with another newly created life Peer, there are, I am happy to reassure your Lordships, at least three distinct remedies available.
The first, as noble Lords will know, is the issue of a Writ of Supersedeas which cancels the Writ issued in error. Despite the efforts of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, I do not think that the Writ of Supersedeas has actually been abolished and it certainly has not been translated into modem English. I know that he is listening with great care and therefore I may be the last person in the civilised and discovered world who is able to use that term. If that Writ is issued before the person in question even attempts to take his seat, that is the end of the matter. That is the first safeguard. Secondly, if the person in question attempted to take his seat, which would be a very ungentlemanly and ignoble thing to do, he would be stopped at the time of the Ceremony of Introduction as he would not have a Patent of Creation to present. Thirdly, if, it says here, by some miracle (though I would not myself have used that term unless so instructed) someone got as far as being introduced into the House, he would be excluded by this Bill, which illustrates its transcendental virtue because Baronies by Writ are hereditary peerages.
I think that I have dealt as comprehensively or, as the noble Earl, Lord Dartmouth, would say, as lucidly as I possibly can with this point. In the Farnham case—the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, is, as always on these 1157 matters, quite correct—it was argued by the petitioner, which was heard by the Committee for Privileges in 1995, that the 11th Baron had sat in this House by virtue of the creation of his Barony by Writ. The committee—my noble friend Lord Strabolgi is right again—dismissed that argument. The case concerned an Irish peerage. The argument of the then Attorney-General was accepted by the committee, that the 11th Baron had sat in this House in accordance with the Union with Ireland Act of 1800 until he died rather than by mistake.
§ The Earl of Northesk
I am grateful for the explanation by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn. All I sought to tease out of this issue was whether or not Baronies of Writ, if created as new, were actively covered by the Bill. I have heard what the noble Lord has said. I shall simply reflect on it and, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Trefgarne moved Amendment No.55:
§ After Clause 1, insert the following new clause—
§ COMMITTEE FOR PRIVILEGES
(". A Lord who is disqualified from attending, sitting or voting in the House of Lords by virtue of section 1 may nevertheless be a member of the Committee for Privileges, subject to and in accordance with the Standing Orders of the House, and any such Lord who is a member of that Committee shall be entitled—
- (a) to admittance to the Palace of Westminster as if he were not so disqualified, and
- (b)in the performance of his functions as a member of that Committee to all the rights and privileges of any other member of that Committee who is not so disqualified.")
§ The noble Lord said: I rise to move Amendment No.55 which stands in my name and in the name of my noble friend Lord Northesk on the Marshalled List. The Committee for Privileges has of course a pretty wide remit. It is not just concerned with those matters relating to noble Lords sitting in this House. Indeed, if the Bill is passed, as is now proposed, it will still need to be concerned with the affairs of hereditary Peers who will still exist of course but will not be able to come to this House, sit in it or vote in it. It seems to me wrong that in those circumstances that group of people, who may be the principal group of people with whom the Committee for Privileges will be concerned, do not have a right to sit on the committee which has the power of life and death over their titles and their peerages. I am therefore proposing in this amendment that hereditary Peers, although not being allowed under this Bill to come to this House, should nonetheless be able to sit on that committee and, if I may put it in this way, deal with the effects of the Bill and other matters in connection with their peers.
§ Of course the Crown is entitled to refer peerage questions to others other than the Committee for Privileges. Perhaps it is envisaged in future that there will be a committee of disqualified Peers to hear peerage cases of the kind to which I have referred. It seems to me much easier to allow hereditary Peers, although not perhaps being allowed to come, to sit and to vote in 1158 this House, to attend and serve on the Committee for Privileges and thus be able to assist in the work of that body. I beg to move.
§ Lord Strabolgi
I have the honour to be a member of the Committee for Privileges. I have much enjoyed the several years that I have been there. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, for explaining the purpose of his amendment and I must say privately that I should much like to be able to continue sitting on the committee after I have been expelled from this House. On the other hand, I do not think one can claim any particular expertise as a member of the committee which could not be shared by one's successors who are life Peers. The committee does not sit by itself round a table. The claimant's case is presented by counsel. A great deal of paperwork is given to the committee in advance. The Attorney-General appears for the Crown. Four Law Lords sit on the committee and they go into these cases in tremendous detail.
I think the noble Lord probably had in mind the question of the medieval peerages. But of course those are not the only claims that come before the committee. Mention has been made of the Farnham case, a fairly modern one, and of Grey of Codnor, on which I sat also, which was a medieval peerage claim. But with Moynihan, of course, having been created in 1929, we were dealing with a modern peerage. So we are not really concerned only with the older peerages and the Baronies by Writ.
In addition to the distinguished Law Lords who sit on the committee, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Jauncey of Tullichettle, who also sits from time to time, has an unrivalled knowledge of peerage law. I do not think that it would be necessary to bring back hereditary Peers who are former Members of the House, although, personally, I think the idea is a very attractive one.
§ 9 p.m.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
I shall not make a long speech. This is the Committee stage and I am delighted to give way to anyone at any time, but I do so with grace, not through obligation.
I have served on the committee for some 15 years, many years before the noble Lord joined us. His contribution has been terribly useful. I declare this interest: the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, and I are old friends. That does not mean to say that I would say his contribution was of great value if I did not truly think so. I have sat on that committee on occasions when the noble Lord made a very important contribution because he knows his subject.
I have no interest to declare. I can be turned off the committee by the House—the membership comes up for a vote every year—and as a life Peer I have no interest. I have come to support my noble friend Lord Trefgarne in his amendment. I think it is sensible, I think it is fair, and I think that the hereditary Peers are entitled to have people on the committee who are hereditary Peers. In a fundamental sense it is almost like King Alfred's trial 1159 by jury. Until, I think, 1936, your Lordships' House had the competence to try noble Lords because they were of the same quality, the same rank.
The amendment does not break a fundamental concept of the manifesto. I cannot see why the Committee for Privileges should not consider the amendment reasonable. I hope that my noble friend Lord Trefgarne will come back to this point because it is a fair disposal. I am sorry to have taken so long.
§ The Earl of Northesk
Perhaps I may approach the amendment from a slightly different perspective. In so far as we can we are bound to work to the Government's declared intent. Ministers have gone to great pains to explain as categorically as they may that the sole purpose of the Bill is to terminate the link between the hereditary peerage and its right to participate in the legislature. As the Lord Privy Seal emphasised in Committee last Thursday, the Bill,does not abolish the hereditary Peerage as such…All the titles, precedence and other privileges not connected with membership of this House will remain. All that we are concerned with now is the right to sit in a legislature in a House of Parliament". —[Official Report, 29/4/99; col.538.]I hope that I have summarised the position accurately, if only because on occasions this purpose has been broadened by comments from the Government Front Bench. For example, again in Committee last Thursday, the Lord Privy Seal claimed at col.537 that the basic proposal is,that all automatic connection between the hereditary peerage and this House should be severed".In the interests of consistency I should again make the point that the drafting of our amendment seeks to deliver absolute clarity on this matter by referring to attending, sitting or voting in the House of Lords rather than using the Government shorthand of "membership of the House". It creates a huge difficulty. As my noble friend Lord Trefgarne explained, the ultimate arbiter of matters relating to the peerage, of what the Lord Privy Seal described as all the titles, precedence and other privileges not connected with membership of this House, is the Committee for Privileges. Contrary to the contention of some, it is not only concerned with ruling as to the validity of claims to a right to attend or sit in the House. In fact the Lord Privy Seal conceded the point. She said, at col.534:But the arrangements for former Members might indeed become a matter on which concessions were granted, by, for example, the Committee for Privilege; or the Procedure Committee".Irrespective of the removal of the hereditary peerage from the House there is every likelihood that the Committee for Privileges will be required to deliberate on any disputes relating to any individual peerages—for example, matters of succession that may arise in the future. Like it or not, unless the Government have it in mind to establish some other mechanism to determine such issues, it is inescapable that to some extent an automatic connection between the hereditary peerage and the House will continue. What flows from this—and this is the issue that the amendment seeks to probe—is the supposition that it would be wise to have no 1160 hereditary peerage present on the Committee for Privileges in so far as its deliberations will relate to matters concerning the hereditary peerage.
Contrary to the proposition of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, there is a strong case for the committee having as much understanding of arcane questions of peerage law as it can muster. Far be it from me to place an Indian sign upon, or seek to cavass for, the noble Lords. But by way of example, the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, or my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway, whose knowledge and expertise in these matters is valued and respected by us all, would be an ideal candidate to perform such a role.
That brings me full circle. As I have mentioned, it is clear that the Government attach negligible importance to the future House having understanding of or empathy with—that is the important point rather than expertise—the hereditary peerage. Given the stated purpose of the Bill, I can see that there is a rationale for that so far as the House's legislative function is concerned. But it is more difficult to stretch that rationale, as it were. to the judicial functions of the Committee for Privileges, particularly when, on occasions, it is required to perform those functions on behalf of the hereditary peerage.
To an extent it is a matter of fairness and natural justice. After all, anyone seeking, for example, an adjudication on a matter of employment law has the right to take his or her case to an employment tribunal, secure in the knowledge that the membership of that tribunal will have an intimate understanding of the body of law relevant to the case. The concept of the membership of the Committee for Privileges being formulated along the same lines is entirely consistent with that. In those terms, and notwithstanding the Committee's acceptance earlier of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, it could be said to have made this proposal unnecessary in the short term. I nevertheless hope that the Government may have some sympathy with the underlying principle.
§ Lord Strabolgi
Perhaps I may add a few words arising out of the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Northesk. The committee does not make rulings. It establishes the facts and then reports to the House with a recommendation; then the matter goes to the sovereign. A final decision rests with Her Majesty. All the committee does is to establish the facts.
I much appreciate the kind remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. He has, as he says, been a member of the committee for a year or two longer than I have, and has played a notable part. He and I are very old friends. We knew each other long before either of us came to this House. I know that when I come to leave it, his continuation, as I hope, on the Committee for Privileges will continue to be invaluable.
There is just one point that the noble Lord did not make; namely, that the Committee for Privileges is a committee of this House. It is appointed by the House and reports back to the House. Therefore, I cannot see 1161 that it would be possible to introduce into a committee of the House people who are not Members of this House.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
That turns the whole circuitous argument on its back. With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, that committee deals with terribly difficult points of law. I concede that they could be dealt with elsewhere, but they are dealt with with expertise. Some matters are terribly arcane. We do not deal merely with fact; we deal with recommendations on points of law. It is always the Law Lord who leads, and devises the form in which the recommendations are made, which is an assessment of law against the facts as found. It is a complex, difficult, highly technical disposal. I still believe that it is right, although there have been occasions when the lay element has been, so to speak, over-ruled by the Law Lords—when they have said four and we have said five. Nonetheless, the system as it has evolved is wholly effective and well-organised. It is fair to the hereditary Peers. Having made the concession that I have made, I ask that the Government make one of those gestures. That would be appreciated. They would not be tearing up their manifesto.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
This amendment addresses an immediately more obvious problem, a real situation which may not occur very often but does occur from time to time and will probably continue to do so. It addresses the role of the Committee for Privileges in determining questions regarding the title or succession of hereditary Peers.
After the Weatherill amendment was added to the Bill this afternoon, it is possible that for the foreseeable future the Committee for Privileges will still be able to include some hereditary Peers. I hope it does not damage the chances of election of the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi. We would all applaud if the noble Lord were to continue not only in the House but also on the committee.
If we go beyond that and reach stage two, it is clear from reading the Labour Party's submission to the Royal Commission that at stage two we shall have a wholly appointed House. We shall not have an elected House or even a partly elected one; it will be a wholly appointed House. There will be no hereditary Peers sitting as hereditary Peers, although I suspect that some will be transformed into life Peers and will still be here. However, that will only be for a certain time.
There will come a day when there will be no hereditary Peers on the Committee for Privileges dealing with questions of title and succession. That seems to me to be odd, even though, as the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, explained, the Law Lords on the committee played the major part in the deliberations of the committee. It would appear odd. Therefore, my noble friend's amendment has something to commend it.
My problem is that I am not entirely sure when the Committee for Privileges deals with a case and when a case is dealt with by other bodies. For example, my noble friend Lord Selkirk of Douglas is now a Member of the Scottish Parliament. When he was Lord James 1162 Douglas-Hamilton, Member of Parliament for Edinburgh West, he was confronted with a serious problem during the weekend when our late noble friend Lord Selkirk died. I do not wish to go into the complications of the succession of the Selkirk peerage, but it was meant to be handed down, never to be held by the same person as held the dukedom of Hamilton. Therefore it was always supposed to go to the Duke of Hamilton's younger brother. It was a device by the King of Scotland who gave out the peerages in those far-off times, to ensure that the powerful Douglas-Hamilton house never obtained two of the most powerful peerages in Scotland. It was a clever divide and rule device.
The problem was that there was some doubt as to whether my noble friend, then Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, or his cousin was the rightful heir to the earldom of Selkirk. In that case, if my memory serves me rightly, it did not go to the Privileges Committee, it went to the Lyon Court—I suspect a much more fearsome body than the Privileges Committee of your Lordships' House. The case was heard, the Lyon Court determined it and my noble friend was decided to be the rightful heir. My noble friend had renounced the peerage even before he knew that the case was settled because, from rulings by Clerks in the other place, it was clear that if he did not renounce it he could no longer continue to sit and, more importantly, vote in the other place.
My secondary question, which arises out of the amendment and which I ask as a simple seeker after truth, is why some cases like that of my noble friend are dealt with by the Lyon Court and other cases dealt with here in your Lordships' House by the Committee for Privileges. I accept that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, may not be able to answer the question immediately. On the other hand he may be well enough prepared—and as he is sitting beside the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor I have no doubt that he is now well prepared if he was not before—to give me the answer. I should like to know and, in addition, the point is worth addressing when we look forward to a House when there will be no hereditary Peers left rather than the interim House with the involvement of hereditary Peers.
§ Lady Saltoun of Abernethy
Before the noble Lord sits down, surely the situation arose because two Scots peerages were involved.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
I thought that that was probably the case, but I thought I would test the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
The question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, was rightly answered, if I may say so with respect, by the noble Lady. I was surprised that it was put because I would have thought that anyone with an interest in this House and the peerage of Scotland would have known the answer automatically. As the noble Lady indicated, it is a matter of jurisdiction. I did not need to be prepared for that; I would have thought it was a matter of common knowledge.
1163 I remember the case of the noble Lord, Lord Douglas-Hamilton, because it was a fascinating topic which I followed with interest. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, correctly summarised the case, it devolved on those questions. There was a cutting of the knot because had the noble Lord not renounced, not only would he not have been able to vote in another place, but there would have been a by-election. That would not have been entirely agreeable to Mr. Major at the time. I can say openly that everyone recognised that the noble Lord was remarkably unselfish in taking the course that he did. Since one can be expansive on these occasions, further remember that not only the title devolved elsewhere but also an extremely fine family picture and a certain modest competence in terms of cash.
Turning from that particular to the more general, I understand and sympathise with the theme that has been expressed, if I can put it fairly in that way, by the noble Lords, Lord Trefgarne, Lord Campbell of Alloway, and the noble Earl, Lord Northesk. I reassure them that this Bill does not alter any of the attributes of the peerage nor its, rights and privileges except those that relate to membership of this House. I have said it before and I repeal it: we do not propose making any changes to the rules of succession and inheritance in the context of the peerage.
The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, is wholly determinative because it cannot be answered. He quite rightly said that the committee to which this amendment refers is a committee of this House. Self-evidently, those who are not Members of this House cannot be members of the committee. That is the simple, short answer, but that may not be sufficiently persuasive and therefore I shall continue.
As Members of the Committee know, the Committee for Privileges is set up under Standing Order 74. It consists of 16 Members of this House together with the addition of four law Lords who are also Members of this House. Whenever a peerage claim is heard at least three law Lords must sit. The Standing Orders specify, as the noble Lords, Lord Strabolgi and Lord Campbell of Alloway, know, that three law Lords must be sitting, but there is no reference in those orders to a requirement that an hereditary Peer has to sit.
I take up the argument put by the noble Earl, Lord Northesk. He may well have shot his own fox. He said—and I entirely and respectfully concur—that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, has unrivalled experience and expertise in this matter. Precisely. As far as I am aware, and subject to correction, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, is not an hereditary Peer.
I return again to the contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. These are essentially matters of law. There is no particular reason why hereditary Peers should have a greater understanding of peerage law than others. I say this quite seriously and not in an attempt to amuse. I have always found the hereditary peerage law of great interest. When I had no work at the Bar I iad little better to do than to read cases on it. That is why I still find it fascinating. It is very interesting and important. But the Committee will not mind my saying this about trial by one's peers. 1164 I believe the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, is quite right. I believe that the last peerage trial by Peers was a motor manslaughter case in 1936.
The Committee will not take it amiss if I put this proposition. When a burglar is tried normally he has no entitlement to a selection of burglars being on the jury. Therefore, trial by one's peers may have its limitations. The fact is that it is a committee of this House. If hereditary Peers are no longer Members of this House it is not appropriate that they should sit. The expertise will be available in such persons as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. In addition the Law Lords will be there critically and helpfully. As I understand it, there is no reason at all why hereditary Peers, who will continue in their rights and privileges with the exception that I mentioned earlier, should not give evidence. If one wants that reservoir of expertise to be tapped that is a way of doing it. As always, I have approached this matter with an open mind before saying that I cannot accept the amendment.
The Earl of Erroll
The noble Lord mentioned jurisdiction. I give an illustration of how an hereditary Peer notices these things. I raised it with the Lord Lyon King of Arms when I saw him at the weekend. He pointed out something which worried me. The Weatherill amendment mentions the Earl Marshal and the Lord Great Chamberlain. There are no such people. There is the Earl Marshal of England, where his jurisdiction extends. It does not extend to Scotland. There is also the Lord Great Chamberlain of England. That is something which hereditary Peers notice which may be missed by others.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
I take that point. However, as the noble Baroness said, it is still a question of jurisdiction. I should have said earlier that the committee specified in the amendment of the noble Lord also determines claims to Irish peerages which do not carry the right to a seat in this House. If one looks for perfect symmetry the question of the hereditary peerage will not operate.
§ Lord Nickson
Before the noble Lord sits down, with great diffidence perhaps I may question his normal infallibility. I point out that for once he has made the tiniest of errors. My noble friend on my right is a noble Lady, not a noble Baroness.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
I am properly rebuked. I am sorry that I am not infallible. In this world only one person is infallible, and I was not attempting to speak ex cathedra.
§ The Earl of Northesk
I noted that at the beginning of his remarks the noble Lord had some sympathy for the thrust of the amendment. Good advocate that the noble Lord is, he then promptly demolished the amendment. While I have no difficulty with that, 1165 I inquire very gently whether the Government have any plans to reflect their sympathy for the thrust of the amendment.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
I thought that I had dealt with it by saying that I understood the concerns and wanted to address them in the way that I did. I hope that I have done so.
§ Lord Trefgarne
I am very disappointed by the reply of the noble Lord. He said that a burglar could not expect to be tried by a jury comprised of burglars. However, no man is a burglar until he has been convicted. Therefore, he is entitled to be tried by a jury of good men and true. I believe that it is right for hereditary Peers, whose interests may well come before the Committee for Privileges despite the fact that by then they will not be Members of this House, to have proper representation on that committee. I do not believe that it is sufficient as the noble Lord suggests that they should simply attend to give evidence. No doubt that is possible. However, if it were possible for hereditary Peers who were unable to sit in this House to be co-opted on to the Committee for Privileges perhaps it would go some way towards dealing with the problem. I understand that at the moment that is not possible and only Members of this House can sit on the Committee for Privileges. That is not good enough. I commend the amendment to the House.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No.55) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 26; Not-Contents, 126.1166
|Annaly, L.||Mills, V.|
|Bell, L.||Montrose, D.|
|Blaker, L.||Newall, L.|
|Blatch, B.||Northesk, E. [Teller.]|
|Brentford, V.||Nunburnholme, L.|
|Caithness, E.||Palmer, L.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Park of Monmouth, B.|
|Chesham, L.||Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly|
|Clanwilliam, E.||Strathcarron, L.|
|Clinton, L.||Torrington, V.|
|Effingham, E.||Trefgarne, L. [Teller.]|
|Gray, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Jopling, L.||Young, B.|
|Acton, L.||Blease, L.|
|Addington, L.||Borrie, L.|
|Ahmed, L.||Bragg, L.|
|Allenby of Megiddo, V.||Brightman, L.|
|Alli, L.||Brooke of Alverthorpe, L|
|Amos, B.||Brookman, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Brooks of Tremorfa, L.|
|Archer of Sandwell, L.||Burlison, L.|
|Bach, L.||Carlisle, E.|
|Barnett, L.||Carter, L.|
|Blackstone, B.||Chandos, V.|
|Christopher, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Clarke of Hampstead, L.||[Teller.]|
|Clinton-Davis, L.||Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||McNair, L.|
|Crawley, B.||Mallalieu, B.|
|Currie of Marylebone, L.||Mar and Kellie, E.|
|David, B.||Merlyn-Rees, L.|
|Davies of Coity, L.||Milner of Leeds, L.|
|Davies of Oldham, L.||Monkswell, L.|
|Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.||Montague of Oxford, L.|
|Desai, L.||Morris of Castle Morris, L.|
|Devonport, V.||Newby, L.|
|Dixon, L.||O'Neill of Bengarve, B.|
|Donoughue, L.||Parry, L.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Paul, L.|
|Dubs, L.||Pitkeathley, B.|
|Eatwell, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Evans of Parkside, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Evans of Watford, L.||Puttnam, L.|
|Ewing of Kirkford, L.||Ramsay of Cartvale, B.|
|Falconer of Thoroton, L.||Rea, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Rendell of Babergh, B.|
|Farrington of Ribbleton, B.||Renwick of Clifton, L.|
|Gilbert, L.||Richard, L.|
|Goudie, B.||Richardson of Calow, B.|
|Gould of Potternewton, B.||Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Rogers of Riverside, L.|
|Grantchester, L.||Russell, E.|
|Grenfell, L.||Sawyer, L.|
|Scotland of Asthal, B.|
|Hacking, L.||Sefton of Garston, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Sewel, L.|
|Hardie, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Hardy of Wath, L.||Sheppard of Liverpool, L.|
|Harris of Haringey, L.||Simon, V.|
|Haskel, L.||Simon of Highbury, L.|
|Hayman, B.||Smith of Gilmorehill, B.|
|Hollis of Heigham, B.||Stone of Blackheath, L.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Hoyle, L.||Symons of Vernham Dean, B.|
|Hughes, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Hughes of Woodside, L.||Tenby, V.|
|Hunt of King's Heath, L. [Teller.]||Thomas of Macclesfield, L.|
|Irvine of Lairg, L.||Thornton, B.|
|[Lord Chancellor.]||Tomlinson, L.|
|Jay of Paddington, B.||Uddin, B|
|[Lord Privy Seal.]||Varley, L.|
|Kennet, L.||Walpole, L.|
|Kintore, E.||Warner, L.|
|Kirkhill, L.||Weatherill, L.|
|Lockwood, B.||Wedderburn of Charlton, L.|
|Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.||Whitty, L.|
|Macdonald of Tradeston, L.||Williams of Mostyn, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ Lord Henley moved Amendment No.56:
§ After Clause 1, insert the following new clause—
§ WRIT OF ACCELERATION
§ (". Nothing in this Act shall exclude a peer who is, on the day before the coming into force of this Act, a member of the House of Lords by virtue of a writ of acceleration from continuing to be a member of the House.")
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No.56 on behalf of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, in whose name the amendment stands. Perhaps I may start by saying what a privilege it is to follow the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, particularly in the light of his interesting remarks about "a" and "an" hereditary Peer. I do not know whether he will be following me in 1167 this particular amendment, or am I to have the privilege, as I would take it, of being followed by the Leader of the House? The noble Lord, Lord Williams, said that he preferred "an". I took it to be government policy now that "a" was the accepted word but obviously I am wrong. There is some division, as always, on the Government Front Bench on these matters and I will leave it to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, to sort this out at some later stage, or perhaps the noble Baroness the Leader of the House will do that.
§ I think the intention of this amendment is fairly clear. There have been some four cases since 1896 in which Peers have come to sit in this House by virtue of a Writ of Acceleration. Two of those have belonged to what I think I can describe as the ancient House of Cecil. One of them was with us earlier today and I hope that he will still be around later in the person of my noble friend Lord Cranborne.
§ I believe everyone will agree that there can be little doubt that by any measure my noble friend is one of those whose wise counsel would be much missed by the House were he to be expelled when the tumbrels start rolling, along with myself and others. Noble Lords opposite, including the noble Baroness the Leader of the House and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, have said as much at various stages. But that is not what their Bill intended. I say "intended" because it is by no means clear to me whether my noble friend is a hereditary Peer.
§ Were my noble fiend to die—heaven forbid—his son would become Viscount Cranborne in name, but his title, Lord Cecil of Essenden, would not be inherited. In any event, there is considerable doubt because conflicting cases over the years have resulted in different findings.
§ According to my reading of the Bill, my noble friend does not sit by virtue of a hereditary peerage but by virtue of a Writ of Acceleration, which we discussed earlier. Therefore, he would not be caught by the Bill, although there is some doubt about that.
§ A number of peerage experts have taken the same view. I am sure that the noble and learned Lord has read the views of Mr. John Lofthouse and has considered them. Indeed, we discussed them on an earlier occasion. Those experts—I do not know whether they include Mr. Lofthouse—held that my noble friend is in a position akin—dare I say it?—to a life Peer and would therefore have the right to continue to sit after the passage of the Bill. I understand that that is the appropriate interpretation, but there is some doubt about it.
§ Therefore, it was somewhat surprising to turn to the Notes on Clauses prepared for the Bill presumably under the direction of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, and see that my noble friend was specifically targeted by the Bill. Indeed, in what must be a rare departure, my noble friend was specifically named in the notes as a candidate for exclusion.
§ Will the noble Baroness the Leader of the House tell the Committee whether those notes were approved by her and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor? 1168 Are they the views of the Government? Is this the wish of the Government? Do they wish my noble friend, despite his considerable services to the House, to be thrown out along with others such as myself when the tumbrels start to roll?
§ The fact that he is specifically mentioned in the notes shows that thought must have been given to the issue and therefore it is important that the Committee is given an appropriate answer by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House. Is that why the Bill has been framed in such a loose and possibly ineffective manner? Is it designed to trap my noble friend Lord Cranborne? Is that why the Government are resisting attempts to clarify the Bill to meet the doubts raised by Mr. Lofthouse? Is it all designed to keep my noble friend Lord Cranborne in the trap?
§ Another category of Peer included in the Bill is one which was not envisaged during discussions between my noble friend and the Prime Minister; these are Peers of first creation. It is extraordinary that the Bill sweeps out hereditary Peers of first creation; recipients of an honour which all of us would recognise as the highest this country can bestow and exactly equal to a life peerage.
I understand that the Government have recognised the bizarre nature of that case and as a result the Prime Minister has written to the eight Peers of first creation. The Government have quoted the letter on more than one occasion. He wrote:
The Government recognises, however, that in many important respects, the first holders of hereditary peerages are akin to life peerages and that the more controversial features of peerages by succession certainly do not apply to them. I am therefore writing to let you know that I will, if you desire it, recommend to Her Majesty that She should award you a life peerage to enable you to remain a Member of the House of Lords".
§ Those are the words of the Prime Minister.
§ Is not the honour that the previous Prime Minister, through Her Majesty, accorded to my noble friend Lord Cranborne also something akin, in the words of the Prime Minister, to life peerages? Was he not singled out for a specific and rare distinction? Has he not shown how well that distinction was noted? Again, I refer to his years both as Leader of this House and as Leader of the Opposition.
§ Can the noble Baroness the Leader of the House therefore inform the House as to whether my noble friend has received such a letter; will he be receiving such a letter or is it the intention of the Government that he should go, along with myself and others, when the tumbrels begin to roll?
§ If the Government do not want to execute quite so distinguished a former Leader of the House by way of what one might describe as a precisely targeted rifle shot, I hope they will be able to give positive consideration to the amendment. If they do wish to carry out that execution of my noble friend, perhaps I may hope that in replying the noble Baroness the Leader of the House will make it clear to the House that its former 1169 leader must go. We may then determine when and in what manner we may press the issue in the amendment. I beg to move.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
Before my noble friend sits down, perhaps I may ask a question. Leaving aside for a moment the position of my noble friend Lord Cranborne, which is a special position, can one have a Writ of Acceleration unless one is entitled to a hereditary peerage by succession?
§ Lord Henley
My understanding is that Writs of Acceleration are only available to the eldest sons of certain peerages. That is a question which the Government will no doubt answer in due course. The fact is that my noble friend was in such a position that he could be offered a Writ of Acceleration. However, I believe that many of us would argue that the honour he received was, as I put it, akin to a life peerage. That is why I raised this particular question in relation to my noble friend.
§ Lord Strabolgi
Perhaps I may say a few words about Writs of Acceleration. We must be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for tabling the amendment. It enables the House to discuss the position of these particular writs and for the Government to give their views on them.
The Writ of Acceleration is really the third way to a seat in this House, the others being by way of Writ of Summons or Letters Patent. The position is uncertain, and that is why the constitution unit, who were working on a Lords reform Bill a few years ago, had a special clause in a three-clause Bill to take care of the holders or, I should say, holder, of Writs of Acceleration.
The first writ was granted in the reign of Edward IV. As the noble Lord, Lord Henley stated, there have been 94 since. Charles I summoned eight sons of Peers in 1641 in an attempt to secure a helpful House. That is rather reminiscent. By 1900 there had been 94 cases of Writs of Acceleration. During this century there have been four cases: two being to Cecils. One was to the grandfather of the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. He came to this House in 1941 and later became the 5th Marquess and a very distinguished Leader of this House. He was always very kind to new Members such as myself, when we first came here. Then, of course, we remember the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, as a fine Leader of the House.
What is a Writ of Acceleration? I look forward to hearing the views of my noble friends on the Front Bench in that regard. It does not create a new peerage as the barony is still held by the father. As a peerage is inalienable, it cannot be transferred to a son. What a writ of this kind must be doing is granting to the son one of the attributes of a barony; that is, a seat in this House. But the right stems from a hereditary barony and is held,by virtue of a hereditary peerage",and so it must be caught by Clause 1, as explained in the Explanatory Memorandum.
1170 Another point arises in that regard. One of the consequences if this amendment were accepted would be that the father would go, but the son would remain. Also, it could lead to other claims for similar writs as a device to try and stay in. We have seen all kinds of ingenious ways of trying to get round the provisions of the Bill. But if that happened, it would be a long and lengthy process, no doubt with a reference to the Committee for Privileges, which was discussed in detail on the previous amendment, and would take a great deal of time. After the report of the committee to the House, a final decision would rest with Her Majesty, so it is not a course to be recommended.
The only holder of the peerage of a barony by Writ of Acceleration is the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. He has not been able to stay. He knows I intend to refer to him in my speech and gave me authority to do so, though he cannot be present. If it is not presumptuous of me, it would be better if the leader of the Conservative Opposition in this House proposed the noble Viscount for a life peerage. That would be the best solution. It would be well deserved and better than the solution proposed in the amendment which is not necessary and, I hope, will be either withdrawn or rejected.
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
In replying to this brief but authoritative debate I too am sorry that the noble Viscount is not present. As Members of the Committee made clear, at the moment there is potentially only one beneficiary from this amendment; that is, the noble Viscount. Indeed, it was suggested that the noble Lord, Lord Henley, might have called his amendment, "Save the Salisbury One".
As the Government have made clear on several occasions, and as I tried to do in my response to the debate on Clause 1 stand part, the wording used in Clause 1 is not, as the noble Lord, Lord Henley, described it, "loose"; it is comprehensive in that it excludes membership of the House by virtue of a Writ of Acceleration. As I said on that occasion—for the benefit, I hoped, of clarity and finality—this was because the Government intended to ensure that all the varied ways in which hereditary Peers might arrive in your Lordships' House were equally covered. And of course Amendment No.56 deals with one of the rarest. While we on the Government Benches recognise the rare contribution of the noble Viscount—the person who could be the beneficiary if this amendment were to be accepted by the Committee—we do not accept that, as the unique contemporary user of this rare procedure, he should be singled out, nor that this rare class to which he belongs should be accepted.
It was also made clear on Clause 1 stand part—and the point has been made again by my noble friend Lord Strabolgi—that there is nothing in the Bill which prevents the holder of a hereditary peerage being proposed to take a life peerage in any subsequent activity by his political friends or by others who wish to propose him or her in that way.
As the noble Lord, Lord Henley, said, it could be claimed that the Writ of Acceleration was a personal honour and therefore that the holders should be treated as contemporary life Peers. However, as has been 1171 pointed out—notably by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway—it is our advice that the holders of these Writs of Acceleration sit by virtue of a hereditary peerage. I recognise that the amendment applies only to existing Members of the Chamber and therefore is consistent with the Government's wish to ensure that this route into the House of Lords can be blocked off in the future. On the other hand, the whole point of Writs of Acceleration is that they are issued to the son in a peerage of his father.
However, in the Government's view—it is the view of our legal advisers and, although I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Henley, as regards the contradictory views held by legal advisers, we stand by the view we have received—Members of this Chamber who sit here as holders of an accelerated peerage do so as the holders of a hereditary peerage, although that peerage may be held by one of their relations. As the noble Lord, Lord Henley, pointed out, that view is reflected in paragraph 6 of the explanatory notes. As I said just a minute ago, the noble Viscount was mentioned because he is the only person at the moment who is a contemporary example of this particularly rare class.
We can always rely on my noble friend Lord Strabolgi for an authoritative opinion on the background to this matter. He mentioned a particular historical example. The fact that the holder of a peerage by virtue of acceleration is the holder of a hereditary peerage is confirmed by the case in 1689—I am sure that will attract the Committee's attention and support—of Charles Boyle, the eldest surviving son of the Earl of Burlington, who was summoned to Parliament in 1689 in his father's barony of Clifford. He died in his father's lifetime, leaving a son. On the death of the Earl's son in 1694 the grandson claimed and received a writ of summons in the barony. This illustrates that the effect of an acceleration is to hasten the descent of the dignity but not to change its nature.
The point has been well made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, and others that there is nothing—as I have said on several occasions—to prevent a holder of the hereditary peerage, or indeed someone who is in receipt of a writ of acceleration, being proposed for a life peerage. This amendment is not one that the Government are willing to accept although we of course recognise the rare and distinguished service of the one person who exists at the moment who falls into this class. However, we do not think such a measure would he an appropriate way of using the statutory powers of this Bill. I hope that the Committee will not accept this amendment.
§ Lord Trefgarne
We have listened to the noble Baroness's response to this amendment, which was not unconvincingly delivered, if I may say so. However, the fact is that, with regard to the issue that has been raised by this amendment. there is more than one respectable legal opinion. The Government rest upon theirs, as they are entitled to do. However, I submit that it is no more respectable than some of the other views that have been expressed. We have come across this problem in connection with earlier amendments where there has 1172 been more than one respectable view. Why is it that this Bill has been drafted in a way which in a number of areas leaves its provisions open to more than one respectable interpretation?
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
If you consult more than one doctor you will get more than one medical opinion and if you consult more than one lawyer you will get more than one legal opinion. In the Government's view, the legal advice that we, and in particular, my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, have taken on this Bill is sufficient for us to proceed in the confident assertion that the advice we have is correct.
§ Lord Henley
I tabled this amendment—which was described by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House as "Save the Salisbury One"—to seek clarification from the Government on the position of my noble friend as there is some considerable doubt about the status of those relatively rare Peers who come here by means of Writ of Acceleration. I presume they will become even rarer because I do not think it is a device that the Prime Minister will use much in the future, and particularly before this Bill reaches the statute book.
I was particularly seeking to discover from the noble Baroness what was my noble friend's status—whether he was a hereditary Peer or a life Peer. The noble Baroness cited a case in 1689 which seems to say that, if, heaven forbid, my noble friend died his son would immediately be able to come to the House, and in that case he is a hereditary Peer. But there are other authorities which seem to suggest that that would not be the case, that the peerage would be subsumed hack into my noble friend's father, and that therefore it would not in that sense be a hereditary peerage, other than the fact that its source originally was in the hereditary peerage.
The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, put it in simple terms when he said that the position was uncertain. He then cited the fact that there have been some 94 Writs of Acceleration since Edward IV. That was not a figure that I quoted. I knew only that there had been four over the last 100 or 105 years.
It is important that we have some clarification from the Government. It is also important that the noble Baroness deals with the questions I posed as to whether my noble friend would receive a letter similar to that which has been sent to the eight life Peers of the first creation. I understand that they have been sent a letter suggesting that they will be offered a life peerage, should they so wish. I should be very grateful if the noble Baroness could answer that and clarify my further questions, particularly in relation to the 1689 case.
§ 10 p.m.
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
As the noble Lord, Lord Henley, is, I am sure, very well aware, questions of the offer of subsequent peerages or life peerages to Peers of first creation, who have indeed received the letters that he described from my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, are matters for my right honourable friend and are not something that I can speak about at this time.
1173 I simply repeat the point which I made in very general terms, and which we have come back to on several occasions in discussion in Committee, which is that there is absolutely nothing in the Bill which prevents a hereditary Peer from being a Member of the House of Lords by virtue of a life peerage. How that life peerage is obtained obviously will be caused by the usual processes.
With regard to the broader issue that the noble Lord raises, the terminology of the Bill is,by virtue of a hereditary peerage",which expressly covers the broad class of people who have either received Writs of Acceleration or are themselves hereditary Peers in the way that I described.
The Earl of Caithness
As patronage is a matter for the Prime Minister, and will remain so, because it will be a political party that is putting forward names, would not the noble Baroness take this matter a little further and consult her right honourable friend the Prime Minister? Will she then tell us whether a letter will be written to my noble friend Lord Cranborne in the terms that my noble friend Lord Henley described?
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
I think the point the noble Earl raises is specific to one particular individual. As the noble Lord, Lord Henley, said, we could have our whole discussion in terms of "Save the Salisbury one". That is a question of individuals. The question that is the subject of the amendment is, as the noble Lord rightly pointed out, about a class of people who may be here by virtue of a Writ of Acceleration. My point on that is simply that the words in the Bill,by virtue of a hereditary peerage",cover precisely that situation.
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
No. I cannot answer the specific point about individual questions of patronage. I am simply responding to the amendment, which is about a class of people who might be affected if it were accepted.
The Earl of Caithness
I asked the noble Baroness whether she would consult her right honourable friend the Prime Minister on this point.
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
No, I will not give that undertaking. That question is about an individual and is not something that I would wish to discuss, positively or negatively, in the Committee. The question for debate is about the class of people into which this one individual falls.
§ Lord Trefgarne
I have no wish to press the noble Baroness about a specific individual case. However, throughout the Committee stage she has said, and her noble colleagues have said on a number of occasions, that hereditary Peers will be entitled to receive life 1174 peerages. As I made clear on an earlier amendment which I moved, there may be some doubt about that. Be that as it may, the Government think otherwise. Will the noble Baroness give an indication of how far the Government intend to go on that matter? How many hereditary Peers are likely to be considered for life peerages? How many life peerages will be made available to my right honourable friend the Leader of the Opposition or, for that matter, my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition in this House? Is it to be one, two, 20, 30, 50 or none at all?
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
I must say in the most friendly fashion, and even receiving the hand signals from the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition as to what he would propose, I do not believe that those are proper questions for debate on this amendment. The point that I make is that nothing in this Bill prevents a hereditary Peer from becoming a life Peer. That stands and it is on that point that I should like to rest.
§ Lord Trefgarne
It is not a question of preventing someone from becoming a life Peer; it is a question of not offering a life peerage.
§ Lord Henley
Perhaps I may return to the noble Baroness's original answer, the first part of which was deeply unsatisfactory. The unsatisfactory nature of it was exposed by my noble friends Lord Caithness and Lord Trefgarne. She implied that this is a matter on which she cannot comment because it is entirely a matter for her right honourable friend and she said that she does not speak for her right honourable friend. In this House, she is the mouthpiece for her right honourable friend and, therefore, can answer for him.
My noble friend accepted a Writ of Acceleration. He may have accepted a life peerage. But as we have all agreed, it was akin to a life peerage. It is important to know where he is likely to receive or has received such a letter as those eight hereditary Peers of first creation have received, asking them whether they would like such an offer to be made. I should be grateful for an answer to that from the noble Baroness.
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
I respond with the greatest degree of friendliness and with absolutely no criticism of the virtues or otherwise of the noble Viscount to whom all this attention is given and who is quite rightly deserving of attention, in view of the fact that he has rare qualities which I acknowledged earlier. But those questions should be addressed both to him and to those who are involved in the disposition of patronage.
I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Henley, says about being a surrogate spokesperson for my right honourable friend in certain circumstances, but I am certainly not that in relation to matters of patronage. In any event, it is entirely inappropriate to discuss the position of individuals across the Dispatch Box.
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
Perhaps I may intervene in this dialogue between Members of the two Front Benches. Not having been a party to any negotiations at any time, as I am not tired of 1175 repeating, I do not understand—and I am sure it is my fault—the logic, if indeed this has been done, of offering a life peerage to hereditary Peers of first creation and possibly, although we do not know, to Peers whose presence here has been accelerated, and not offering a life peerage to 75, 90 or 95 hereditary Peers who are to stay on.
The noble Baroness should reveal what the Prime Minister may or may not have said as—I agree entirely—his spokesperson in this House. I now look to the prospect of an amendment at some future date because logically this matter should be dealt with by the Standing Orders of the House. That has clearly been accepted by the Government as the right way in which to proceed. This matter should be dealt with by the Standing Orders of this House, to which the House will assent in further discussion of what is now the Weatherill amendment; otherwise, logically, why have Weatherill at all? Why do the Government not appoint 75, 90 or 92 hereditary Peers in the manner which we understand is being followed?
§ Lord Henley
I do not know whether the noble Baroness the Leader of the House wishes to respond to that. However, I conclude with one final question. The noble Baroness asked why we were focusing so much attention on my noble friend. She then started to imply that this amendment is about a class of Peer. I accept that. But those of us who live in the real world recognise that it is not a class which is likely to grow much beyond my noble friend because it is not a class which is likely to receive much favour from the right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister, who obviously considers that that is not a class which should be extended.
The noble Baroness says this is all about classes. It is not simply about my noble friend but it is about my noble friends. It should be a point that she should answer and say why the Government have not sent a letter to my noble friend as well as those eight Peers who are hereditary Peers of the first creation. It is quite obvious that at this time of night I am not likely to get a proper answer from the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, but this is a matter that I might be tempted to come back to at a later stage of the Bill. At this stage all I can say to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House is that I hope she will reconsider what she has had to say. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No.57 not moved.]
§ The Earl of Kinnoull had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No.58:
§ After Clause 1, insert the following new clause—
§ EXCEPTION FROM SECTION 1 (NO.3)
§ (". —(1) Section 1 shall not apply in relation to any one excepted from it ("a working hereditary peer") by or in accordance with Standing Orders of the House.
§ (2) At any one time no more than 150 working hereditary peers shall be excepted from section 1.
§ (3) A working hereditary peer shall be entitled to be a member of the House of Lords by virtue of that peerage until the day on which he attains the age of 75 years or that on which he certifies his wish to retire by notice given in writing to the Lord Chancellor.1176
§ (4) On the death, retirement or resignation of a working hereditary peer, a new member of the House of Lords shall be appointed from amongst the number of members of the hereditary peerage who had previously been entitled to sit and vote in the House of Lords for a period of at least five years, or who meet such other qualifications as may he set out in Standing Orders.")
§ Lord Trefgarne
On behalf of my noble friend Lord Kinnoull and at his request, I rise to speak to the amendment. Having studied the amendment rather more carefully now after my noble friend asked me to deal with it, it seems to be very close to those which most of us withdrew because they related to the so-called Weatherill amendment to which your Lordships agreed. I think it would be better if my noble friend moves his amendment when the so-called Weatherill amendment is recommitted. I shall therefore not move this amendment
§ [Amendment No.58 not moved.]
§ The Earl of Kinnoull had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No.59:
§ After Clause 1, insert the following new clause—
§ INDEPENDENT APPOINTMENTS COMMITTEE
§ (". —(1) There shall be an Appointments Committee whose function shall be to make recommendations to Her Majesty for the conferment of life peerages in accordance with the Life Peerages Act 1958, and for appointment of working hereditary peers to the House of Lords.
§ (2) The chairman of the Committee shall be a retired Lord of Appeal in Ordinary.
§ (3) The members of the Committee shall include the Leader of the House of Lords, the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords, the leader of the next largest party in the House of Lords, the Convenor of the Cross Bench peers in the House of Lords, the Chairman of Committees in the House of Lords, and five other external members appointed by the Privy Council.
§ (4) In considering its recommendations under subsection (1) the committee shall take account of a person's availability and willingness to serve actively as a member of the House of Lords.")
§ Lord Trefgarne
On behalf of my noble friend Lord Kinnoull, this amendment concerns a slightly different matter. It refers to the independent appointments committee. I understand that the amendment has not been linked with other amendments and, on reflection, I think it should he. But I am not certain whether other noble Lords with amendments with which this amendment might be linked are ready for that. Therefore, it might be better if I do not move the amendment provided the matter can be discussed with the subsequent amendments, Amendments Nos.79 and 80, when we reach them.
§ [Amendment No.59 not moved.]
§ [Amendments Nos.60 to 61A not moved.]
§ Clause 2 [Removal of disqualifications in relation to the House of Commons]:
§ The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham)
I should point out to the Committee that, if Amendment No.62 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos.63 to 68 inclusive.
§ [Amendments No.62 and 63 not moved.]1177
§ The Earl of Clanwilliam had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No.64:
§ Page 1, line 7, after ("peerage") insert ("who is not a member of the House of Lords by virtue of section 1(2)")
§ The noble Earl said: This is a consequential amendment to Amendment No.26, to which I have spoken previously and to which I will return at a later date.
§ [Amendment No.64 not moved.]
§ [Amendments Nos.65 to 69 not moved.]
§ Clause 2 agreed to.
§ Lord Strathclyde moved Amendment No.70:
§ After Clause 2, insert the following new clause—
§ NUMBER OF MEMBERS OF THE HOUSE OF LORDS
§ (".—(1) During the period while this Act remains in force, the number of members of the House of Lords shall be no greater than the number of members of that House on the day this Act comes into force.
§ (2) The Appointments Commission may, on the death of a member of the House of Lords, recommend to Her Majesty the appointment of a person to fill the vacancy.")
§ The noble Lord said: Since my noble friend is not here and I have discovered that we have an amendment, Amendment No.91, which is grouped with this amendment, and since it is the last grouping of the evening, so we shall have an early night when we have disposed of this matter, perhaps I may take over my noble friend's amendment and move it on his behalf and also speak briefly to mine.
§ I do not want to second guess the intentions of my noble friend Lord Rotherwick, but the thinking behind this amendment is to probe the Government's thinking as to what they feel about the total size of the transitionary House. As has been debated on earlier amendments, the Bill creates a new House, a House which will exist largely on the basis of patronage—although, I am glad to say, not entirely—and the Prime Minister of the day will be able to decide who comes to the House to sit and vote. Before noble Lords on the Government Front Bench get excited, I am aware that there is a vague idea floating around that there is to be an appointments commission. I have seen no evidence of it and I must assume that it certainly will not be in existence when the Bill comes into force. While, in theory, there is currently an ability for Prime Ministers to increase the number of Peers substantially, in practice, because of the overall number of existing Peers, it is extremely difficult to appoint enough to the House to work up a majority.
§ That situation will not apply when the Act comes into force. Some 650 Peers will be removed and, with the Weatherill amendment, we will have a House of some 550 to 600 Members. We have reached a figure of 615 as being roughly the figure that the Government will need if they are to move towards broad parity. The purpose of the amendments is to probe the Government's thinking about the size of House they want as a transitional Chamber. They are not concerned with the fully reformed House, the House post the Royal 1178 Commission. The Labour Party has given its views on that and I do not want to dwell on that territory more than I have already.
§ It is an important issue. In moving my noble friend's amendment, and in the light of our Amendment No.91, I reserve the right to consider what has been said. In the meantime, I beg to move.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Lord Rotherwick
I apologise for being late. Being rather inexperienced, I got caught on the hop.
As my noble friend Lord Strathclyde has said, the purpose of the amendment is to put a cap on the size of the House of Lords after the Bill comes into force as an Act in order that no Prime Minister of a future government can flood the House by creating an unlimited number of new Peers. As the Government have told us on numerous occasions, they have a mandate to bring forward this major constitutional change. I wish to ask the Government for some clarity about the transitional stage and why there has not been more depth of thinking about what the transitional or interim House will be.
Many people have likened this stage of the transition to a train leaving a station. We have a train leaving a station and—after Amendment No.31 was agreed to—we know that the train has 90 seats for hereditary Peers. If, for one reason or another, one of those seats is unfilled, then another hereditary Peer will fill it. But it seems extraordinary that we also have a large number of seats which are to be filled by appointed Peers, but we do not know how many of those seats there are. Here we have different rules for different passengers. One set of passengers has a set number of seats; but we simply do not know how many seats the other set will have, or, more importantly, how many seats they may need in the future. This is an extraordinary train. It does not run to a timetable. It is not like an old-fashioned train that huffs and puffs slowly along the line and tends to be reliable. This is a rather modern diesel train. It has a "smelly taste"; it makes little noise to tell us what is happening; and it could be unreliable.
We know that the Government seek broad parity in the interim transitional House. We know that if there are, let us say, 100 or so Peers on the Benches of the main opposition parties, 100 or so Peers would be sought to provide parity on the Government Benches. We also know that there will be additional Liberal Democrat Peers, Cross-Benchers and Lords Spiritual. But we do not know what the composition of the House will be.
What bothers me is a suspicion about what will happen to this House. It may not happen under this Government. But the Government may have a problem in the near future. They may lose control and a coalition may be formed. There is suspicion about what a future government might do with the interim House. Power is intoxicating, and too much will eventually lead to abuse of power. The amendment seeks to ensure that the interim House is stable and that there is no temptation for a Prime Minister of the day to produce a political poodle.
1179 The noble Lord, Lord Carter, has said that the Government have made their intentions clear. But I am a slow learner. Like many noble Lords, I am unclear as to what will happen. The noble Lord also said that the Government have given assurances regarding what will happen. Why, if the Government have said all that, can they not enshrine it in the Bill? Why can they not make matters clear and assure us regarding what will happen? It would be much easier to judge the Government by their deeds rather than their superb rhetoric.
The argument is not unreasonable. We have only to look at the recent case of beef on the bone and the question of devolution of power to the Welsh Assembly. On 2nd June 1998, the noble Lord, Lord Williams, gave the House an assurance that legislation relating to beef on the bone would not be devolved. Yet in April this year we discovered that that was wrong and that the order would be devolved. What we are seeing is a government giving assurances at one time and then saying what they want legislation to mean later.
It is therefore important to crystallise what the interim House will be. It would be terrible if the final version was the result of a metamorphosing of the interim House by the Prime Minister of the day adding more Peers to it rather than legislating properly for the final version.
That is what the amendment is about. I seek clarification from the Government as to what the interim House will be and to give assurances about it. If they cannot do that, then all I can say is that it breeds a suspicion of what will happen. I beg to move.
§ Viscount Cranborne
The Government have given unequivocal undertakings in Committee about the matter of broad parity and the fact that they do not seek more than broad parity during the time that the interim House will operate. I am pleased to see the noble Lord the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms nodding his head and once again giving that undertaking.
I have observed previously that the last thing I would dream of doing is to doubt the word of either the noble Lord or the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor who has also given an unequivocal undertaking. However, we have also heard expressed during debates a feeling that there is at least a chance—I hope not a large one—that the interim House may last longer than perhaps the noble Lord and I would like. When we legislate, it is the worst case that we have to anticipate rather than the one we would prefer to see. It is incumbent on your Lordships to legislate in this case as in all others so that people of ill will find it difficult to break the intention of the legislation we are considering, as well as people of such good will as the noble Lord.
It is for that reason that I find myself considering my noble friend's amendment, Amendment No.91, with considerable sympathy. In spite of giving the undertakings to which I referred, the Government have consistently refused to contemplate incorporating such an undertaking on the face of the Bill. I was not entirely clear from the answer given by the noble and learned Lord when he dealt with the point a few days ago what was the real reason. He may have been relying on a version of Pepper v. Hart to see him through; I do not 1180 know. But if there is that undertaking it would be reassuring if the Government could look at it again. If not, perhaps they can tell us more explicitly why it is not possible to put it on the face of the Bill.
That observation is relevant to Amendment No.91 for the reason given by my noble friends Lord Strathclyde and Lord Rotherwick. With the abolition of the hereditary Peers, or most of them, during the life of the interim House, we shall see a much smaller House by definition. Were this House to last much longer than the present Prime Minister's tenure of office in Downing Street, none can speak with greater authority than I in saying that politics is an unpredictable business. It is at least possible that an unscrupulous Prime Minister might follow the present incumbent and there could be circumstances in which it might seem convenient to such a person to flood your Lordships' House. With a smaller number of Peers, flooding becomes easier than in the present House. For that reason the Government might wish to think of the virtues of putting a maximum figure on the smaller House in the way proposed by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde. I do not have as high hopes as I would wish about the possibility of the Government looking sympathetically on my plea that they should incorporate their undertaking on broad parity on the face of the Bill. I can see from the smile playing about the cavalier lips of the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms that my suspicion may indeed be correct in that respect.
One safeguard would be ideal, but if it were to be rejected by the Government I suspect that a lesser but nevertheless effective safeguard might commend itself to the Committee as being not as good, but at least would be something to reassure us, as my noble friend Lord Rotherwick suggested. I do not know whether the number of 615 is right. My noble friend Lord Strathclyde, with his experience as the Opposition Chief Whip, is much better at these calculations than I am. For an interim House a larger rather than a smaller-number might be appropriate.
There is a very sensible reason for that. In the best sense, I suspect that the interim House will remain an amateur House rather than a professional one. I welcome that. I suspect that the ethos and practice of your Lordships' House, with all its advantages, derives to a very marked extent from the fact that it is in the best sense an amateur House. We should glory in that description while its present composition or, as a result of this evening, the new composition contemplated in this Bill, obtains.
I know that an amateur House almost by definition will encompass the useful membership of people who do not attend very often. I and a number of Members of the Committee can think of a large number of Peers on all sides of the House, but perhaps most notably represented on the Cross-Benches, who are very great experts in their particular field. That expertise is shared rarely with your Lordships, but when those Peers attend they speak with great authority on their subjects. In doing so they make a disproportionate contribution beyond the very few occasions on which they are able to come to this House because of their other activities.
1181 I believe that we are making a mistake. I sometimes believe that the Government's crude use of the broad membership figures of the various groupings within your Lordships' House results in a misjudgment when, by implication, they suggest that the frequency of attendance is necessarily the only virtue. I venture to suggest to the Committee that in an amateur House there is a quality argument rather than just one of quantity. Therefore, I suspect that if we were to impose a ceiling in an amateur House, a rather larger number would be practicable rather than a small one. If by some mischance stage two tends to produce more of a professional House in the political sense, I dare say that we would contemplate a smaller number than 615. Meanwhile, for the reasons that I have given, I certainly would be very happy to take the advice of my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition. In principle I support this amendment. I look forward greatly to hearing the Government's arguments as to why it should not be incorporated into the Bill.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Lord Carter
The noble Viscount was kind enough to refer to me in his speech. I was struck by his remark as regards the successor to Mr. Blair being an unscrupulous Prime Minister. Did the noble Viscount have in mind a Labour successor or a Conservative one?
§ Viscount Cranborne
The noble Lord knows as well as I one of the glories of this House. Whips like my noble friend Lord Henley have experience of it perhaps every day. The Whip lies lightly across the Committee's back. In the best traditions of this House I make no distinction between the amount of unscrupulousness that lies on the Leader of either party. I merely speculate that it is possible, whoever wins the next election or whoever succeeds Mr. Blair.
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
The amendment standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and others specifies that the number of Members entitled to sit in your Lordships' House should be 615. The noble Viscount said that he did not know whether or not that was the right figure. It seems to me to be very important to find out whether it is or is not the correct number. Although I admit that at half-past 10 at night my mental arithmetic is not what it should be, I cannot work out the figures. I hope that the House will bear with me for a moment if I try to make some calculations. I very much hope that the Official Report will get the figures right.
As I understand it, as of 1st April there were 170 Conservative life Peers, 157 Labour life Peers, 44 Liberal Democrat life Peers and 122 life Peers on the Cross-Benches. If the Weatherill amendment remains part of the Bill beyond its re-committal we must add 42 Conservative Peers, two Labour Peers, three Liberal Democrat Peers and 28 Cross-Benchers. If one adds in the 15 of unknown quantity one arrives at 588. My question is addressed less to the Leader of the House than to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. Given a figure of 588 on the basis that the Weatherill amendment has 1182 been carried, how is there room between that figure and 615 to ensure the broad parity between the two largest parties in this House to which the noble Lord referred? My arithmetic may be wrong, and I am very willing to give way to the noble Lord if he shows me how my figures should be corrected.
I believe that there has been great emphasis both today and on previous occasions on broad parity between the parties. However, I remind noble Lords that the White Paper, in particular that part which deals with the question of balance, looks beyond the question of broad parity between the larger parties and considers proportionality. If I am right in saying that the figure of 615 does not even give room for broad parity, then least of all does it give room for proportionality on top of that.
I agree that there is virtue in having a House that is not excessively large. When we move in due course to the question of the second stage, I shall be very much in favour of a House of 400 or 500 Members. It is quite wrong that the second Chamber of our Parliament should have more Members than the House of Commons. By common consent, the House of Commons has too many already. I would be prepared to settle at that stage for 400 or 500 noble Lords. However, we are referring to the transitional House. If that House is to fulfil the requirements set out by the Government in the White Paper and is fairly to represent the feeling in all quarters of the House as to what that House should be, I am not yet convinced that 615 is the right number. If it can be proved to be other I shall be prepared to look at this amendment at a later stage, but I need to hear convincing evidence that 615 is realistic within the criteria set by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde.
§ Lord Desai
If the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, added the Bishops the number would be nearer the 615 than he believes. With 26 Bishops one is nearly there. In principle, I oppose the amendment. Noble Lords may be aware that I am not in favour of a transitional House but a directly elected Chamber. However, while the transitional House remains it has been the privilege of the Prime Minister for centuries to flood this House. That is a democratic right. It is a paradox.
The Earl of Erroll
If the noble Lord will give way, it is the sovereign who creates Peers. For several generations the monarch has been advised by the Prime Minister. It is not a historic constitutional democratic right for the Prime Minister to create peerages willy-nilly.
§ Lord Desai
I shall continue. The revolution of 1911 would not have occurred if the Prime Minister had not insisted, with the sovereign, on his right to flood the House of Lords. I know that it is the monarch who creates the Peers, but we know that in the constitution it is the Prime Minister who de facto floods the House of Lords. The constitutional privilege is neither here nor there.
While my right honourable friend has agreed to maintain a broad parity among parties, I do not think that he or anyone else should be bound to a number. 1183 There is a difference between parity and totals, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, as a professor of mathematics would remember. It is peculiar that noble Lords opposite only come across such lovely phrases when a Labour Prime Minister is in power. They were never aware of the size of the Chamber when they were in power, when a figure of 1,250 was acceptable. Why do not the Conservatives insist on the original number of 1,250? If Amendment No.91 were to include the figure 1,250, I would vote for that.
It is insidious to say that a Labour Prime Minister, or any subsequent Prime Minister, cannot be trusted with the future of this country, but hereditary Peers can. I do not think there is any logic to that. I hope that if the Committee divides it will reject the amendment.
The Earl of Erroll
My point arises precisely from the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Desai. The Prime Minister should not be able to flood the Chamber. If we set a limit and bring it up to broad parity, that parity will be kept for a significant number of years because it will be dead men's shoes. It will be difficult for future Prime Ministers to flood an interim House. We can then have stage two and sort the situation out properly.
The Earl of Caithness
The noble Lord, Lord Desai, is right. The Prime Minister will continue to have unfettered power to appoint whatever number of Peers he likes, regardless of the Appointments Commission which we hope to investigate in a little more detail on Thursday afternoon. From the little we have been told, and from the little there is in the paper on reform of the House of Lords, it is clear, as is stated in paragraph 12, that the Prime Minister will decide the overall number of nominations to be made to Her Majesty. The Prime Minister can appoint many more of his party than another party.
I take issue with my noble friend Lord Cranborne on a number of points. Although I agree with him in principle that we should remain an amateur House, by the passage of this Bill and the hereditary cleansing that goes with it, there is no question that the Chamber will become a more professional House, whether or not we like it. The end of the part-time Peer is here.
§ Viscount Cranborne
It is only with the greatest diffidence that I venture to disagree with my noble friend, who has long experience of this place. Is what he says really so? My noble friend has only to look at the attendance record of life Peers to see that there is parity in absence as well as in presence.
The Earl of Caithness
I had intended to talk about the attendance levels. I am grateful to my noble friend for raising that point. Those Peers who do not come often, but who, when they attend, carry disproportionate weight to their arguments because they are experts in their field will be lost. I cannot envisage many hereditaries who do not turn up on a regular basis but 1184 who have taken part in debates on agriculture, environment or transport, because they know a great deal on the subject, being elected as part of the 90 who will be allowed to attend if the Weatherill amendment remains in the Bill.
However, I should like to look at the attendance records, because this is where we come to the point of broad parity. As I said at Second Reading, one gets totally different figures and a different interpretation of the House if one looks at the totals and at those who actually attend. If one looks at the attendance levels of the top 100 Peers one will find that 25 were Labour and 16 were Conservative. Yet in the top 100 there were 46 Conservatives and 30 Labour. It could be argued—and I know this is how the Government will argue—that the Conservatives have a higher attendance record overall and therefore there should be an increased number of life Peers. But when we actually look at those who do the work among the life Peers, we find that Labour Peers are already predominant. If we look at the top 200, the top 300 or the top 400, in each case there is a greater proportion and a greater number of Labour life Peers than Conservative life Peers.
That all stems from the fact that they were appointed for two very different reasons. A number of Conservative life Peers were appointed for award and a great many of the Labour life Peers were appointed as working Peers, and they have done an excellent job. It is a totally different system, but it does mean that the transitional House starts off on a very unequal basis. If the Labour Government wish to go for broad parity, they have that already in the attendance of life Peers, and the majority will be further increased should they wish to look at the overall totals.
The political landscape has now changed as a result of the elections last week. A great flirtation is now going on between the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats. Should not the parity be between Labour and Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Party because that party is as good as the Government, or as bad as the Government, whichever way you look at it? They cannot wait to get into bed with them in Scotland and Wales, and so it will not be long before they are doing the same thing down here. I hope that we will get a further elucidation of broad parity, because this is crucial to how the future House is going to work.
Without doubt there is already a majority of Labour life Peers actively working in this House. That calls for a limitation on the total number of Peers who will he able to attend the House. I would welcome a further amendment which would have the effect that life Peers who have not attended regularly, whatever that proportion is, should be disbarred from taking part in the successor Chamber. That takes me back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, as it would then allow the Prime Minister of the day to bring in a certain number of new Peers who would be working, conscientious Peers. We wish the value of this House to be increased, and that presumably is the way in which things could go.
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Lord Desai
I say to the noble Earl that Conservative life Peers may have been sent here for award; we were sent here for punishment.
§ The Earl of Northesk
The noble Lord, Lord Desai, is always a difficult act to follow! I have just one brief point to make in the particular context of Amendment No. 91 in the name of my noble friends on the Front Bench. I have been very struck by a comment in the Labour Party's submission to the Royal Commission. I quote:We should avoid the dangers of reducing the size of the House by too much: the House of Lords is already about to lose 750 Members with the removal of the hereditaries though 92 will be restored by the Weatherill amendment".That is a curious observation, bearing in mind that, as I understand it, the document was made public last week. That aside, we should definitely bear this observation in mind when considering the merits of these two amendments.
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
I am delighted to respond to the debate and delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, appeared to speak to his amendment. I am also pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was able to act as surrogate mover of both amendments on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick.
The amendments appear to suggest that only the hereditary Peers stand between the Prime Minister and unfettered executive power of patronage. However, although I do not wish to enter into the realms of the hypothetical, we are in the area of political and psychological supposition about the intentions of the Government and my right honourable friend the Prime Minister.
It is unlikely that noble Lords opposite would find Amendment No.70 acceptable because it attacks their powers to nominate their own Members of the House in exactly the same way as it does the Government. That was the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. I do not intend to enter into the discussion between the noble Lord, Lord Desai, the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, about the relative value of the amateur or the professional House. However, I would say to the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, that we had an interesting discussion about the value or otherwise of the attendance record as a recognition of a working Peer—or an active Peer, as the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, preferred—during the debate on Amendment No.52. The noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, then sought to retain hereditary Peers who had a good attendance record, and the Committee agreed that a good attendance record does not necessarily equate with playing an active role in the activities of the House.
Perhaps I may say to the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, with great courtesy, that it gives offence to Members on this side of the Committee when he describes the process of this Bill as being "hereditary cleansing" and I hope that we can seek to avoid the use of that phrase. It is worth recalling that the Crown has always had the 1186 power to create peerages, whether life or hereditary. The noble Earl, Lord Errol, rightly mentioned that this was formerly in the hands of the sovereign, but I would remind him that in 1911 the Prime Minister who, although he received only the reluctant consent of the then monarch, George V, was happy to "flood" this House in order to achieve the passage of the Parliament Bill. Nothing that Amendment No.70 seeks to achieve would prevent the Government creating large numbers of Peers in time to qualify under the wording of the amendment. I can assure the Committee that we have no intention of doing anything of the kind. I am simply pointing out to the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, that nothing in his amendment would prevent it.
We discussed the intentions of the Government—again, I am in the realms of psychological if not political supposition—on earlier amendments in this regard. I re-emphasise that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the Government Benches have reiterated on relevant occasions in Committee and tried to make plain that we do not intend to seek more than broad parity between the Labour Party in the House and the main opposition party. We will allow proportionate creations from the other parties and we intend to maintain a significant Cross-Bench presence. All of those pledges are designed to ensure that your Lordships' House becomes genuinely bipartisan and is better equipped for the primary function of taking a dispassionate look at the details of legislation.
I suggest that that is a more sensible approach than an arbitrary ceiling on numbers because they do not create the balance, or imbalance, in your Lordships' House which we experience; it is a matter of political balance.
I turn to the arithmetic included in Amendment No.91. I share with the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, a concern about adding up the figures "on the hoof". The numbers included in the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, may not be true. We can, of course, discuss that in detail if the noble Lord wishes to return to it. As I add it up, there are currently 531 life Peers, including the Law Lords and Bishops. We have just agreed this afternoon in accepting Amendment No.31, that a further 92 should be added.
To return to the amendment we have just discussed about Peers of first creation and those who have Writs of Acceleration, the Government have offered life peerages to the hereditary Peers of first creation. I believe it was accepted that that was with the approval of the House. That, perhaps, would add another four or five to the total. I stand to be corrected but, overall, that comes to a total of nearly 630, approximately 15 above the numbers included in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde.
I am not sure whether these figures would be acceptable to the House. They are the ones which have been given to me as being the most accurate and therefore the most appropriate to consider. What would happen if we took the overall ceiling figure envisaged by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde? Would we count on up to 15 vacancies occurring without any replacements being envisaged? What would happen if 1187 the vacancies did not occur? There is no way in law, short of statutory provision, that a Writ of Summons could be withdrawn from a Peer who is not disqualified. Perhaps noble Lards will be prepared to contemplate that only so many Peers as were permitted under the ceiling would be excepted from the terms of Amendment No. 31. I posit that simply to demonstrate the complications in the noble Lord's proposed amendment with the figures he gives.
On this side of the House, the Government have another objection to the amendment. It was an integral part of the compromise which we discussed at length earlier this afternoon and which has now been given expression in the acceptance of Amendment No.31 that the Government would be entitled to create as many life Peers as would be necessary to achieve our objective—that is, broad parity between the main Opposition party and ourselves. That is at least 40 on the basis of the numbers implied by Amendment No. 31. That does not take any account of the continuing present imbalance or the results of the elections for deputy speakers.
Therefore, I think noble Lords will see that the figures proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, are unacceptable, in terms both of the overall proposals of the Bill and, indeed, of the proposals which the Committee has accepted through Amendment No. 31. As the noble Lord said in proposing the amendment, it was really designed not to have the detailed discussion about these numbers which, as the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers rightly said, we can all discuss at length and in detail, but to explore the intentions of the Government about the new creations.
I can only repeat, as I did in replying to the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, that we have intended and do intend to maintain this broad parity. We do not intend to seek a majority position for this party or any other government party in this House. We are committed to maintaining and, indeed, achieving the proportionate creations from the other parties and we are committed to maintaining the significant independent Cross-Bench presence.
I suggest to the Committee that we have made far greater commitments on both these matters than any other party represented in your Lordships' House and certainly more than has ever been delivered on. As regards overall numbers, however, noble Lords opposite have already been claiming—I suggest without enormous conviction, and this has arisen on several of the amendments we have discussed today—that existing life Peers would be inadequate to keep the work of the House going. I suggest that the amendment, as it stands, would introduce an element which would make it impossible to recruit as many Peers as may be necessary, given the remarks made earlier in discussions on other amendments.
For all these detailed and, perhaps the Committee may feel, rather nit-picking points about the numbers under consideration, but also because of the broad principles, I urge noble Lords not to press their amendments. If they do, I urge the Committee to reject them.
§ 11 p.m.
The Earl of Caithness
The noble Baroness did not fully answer my question. She was obviously referring to broad parity in gross numbers and not in numbers of regular attenders. Perhaps she can clarify that point.
What happens if there is a Lib-Lab pact in Scotland and Wales? Do the Liberal Peers in Scotland and Wales vote in the same way as the Labour Party Peers? If there is a binding pact in Scotland and Wales, that alters the broad parity down here.
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
We dealt at some length in relation to another amendment with the relevance of what was happening in Scotland, what was happening to the Scottish peerage, and the representation from Scotland by life Peers in your Lordships' House. We agreed that that was not immediately relevant to the transitional House where, for example, the Scottish Peers would be more than adequately represented. As I said in response to the noble Earl earlier, proportionate creation in relation to the Liberal Democrats and other groupings in your Lordships' Chamber is one of the commitments that we have given.
We are talking about numbers. We had detailed discussion on an earlier amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, in relation to active hereditary Peers who might be included as an exclusion from Clause 1 of the Bill. The Committee in general agreed that simple attendance was not something which signified active or indeed committed membership. I cited to the Committee, and I am delighted to do so again, one noble Lord who was recorded as having attended 100 times in the last Session but has not yet made a maiden speech even though he has been a Member for 40 years. On that basis we have to deal in what the noble Earl might describe as crude numbers rather than trying to have a more subjective assessment of activity or worthwhile contribution.
We are dealing here with whether the worth of the Weatherill amendment and the worth of the transitional House as a place to work and legislate in are dependent on executive action or should have a statutory basis. The Government made some worthwhile propositions as to how the House should be balanced and how Cross-Bench Peers should be appointed. But they will not put those into statute.
That is a crucial weakness in the Bill as it stands. It would be worth sacrificing the Weatherill amendment to press that home. Weatherill is worth nothing if the Chamber that is left following the passage of this Bill is worth nothing. If we are to have broad parity and a Lib-Lab alliance which almost has a majority in this House, it requires very little extra for the Government to tip it to the point where we have the opposite of what we have at the moment. That is a position about which the Government have so rightly complained for many years; that is, one-party dominance in the House.
At a time when we are coming up to consider a major constitutional reform, reducing this House to something where legislation can be pushed through by the 1189 combined Whips of the Labour and Liberal parties is a very bad idea and something which it is worth dying in the ditch for. Under those circumstances the Weatherill amendment would be worthless. We can be washed out by additional Labour and Liberal life Peers created by the Government to overwhelm the extra Conservative bias.
The constitution of the House is important. It is the crux of this legislation and we must have something in the Bill. I do not mind what form it is in, but we must move the Government from where they are now.
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
I am grateful for the noble Lord's intervention, but somewhat confused. The noble Lord is saying that he is in doubt as to whether membership of the transitional House will be worthwhile, whereas the Committee this afternoon ensured precisely the mix for which he and other noble Lords on the Opposition Benches were arguing in the transitional House.
I accept that what he said also depends on the overall composition of the Chamber, which is not related to the Official Opposition. There is only one Official Opposition party in this Chamber at any one time. But if the government of the day—that is, the Labour Party—are to have broad parity with the Official Opposition, that means parity with the Conservative Party. I am sure the noble Lord is aware that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has already said (this is the subject of subsequent amendments which we shall no doubt discuss on Thursday) that the number of Peers who sit on the Cross-Benches, the independent Peers, should be determined by an appointments commission and not by personal patronage. I should have thought that that would be an additional guarantee to the noble Lord that there would be an additional mix to the combination which he fears.
I also point out to the noble Lord—I do this simply in the spirit of information rather than making a party political point, because it is obviously not a party political point that is on my side in this argument—that he will have noted the position which the Liberal Democrat Party took on the important decision of whether or not to support the Weatherill amendment earlier this afternoon. I do not think that suggests a group of people working in tied coalition to make any long-term changes to your Lordships' House.
Of course I acknowledge what the Government have said and what the Government intend to do. The Government promise that this will be a short-term Chamber—the transitional Chamber—that will be with us for only a couple of years. Then, surely, it cannot matter to the Government that we have something in the Bill which ties them down to particular proportions and to particular arrangements within the Chamber which guarantee some measure of balance which they have already promised. I am simply asking the Government to put in words in the Bill what they have already said that they will do. The transitional Chamber will be gone in a couple of years if they fulfil their promises to us. This cannot matter to them, but it 1190 matters a great deal to us who have reason to doubt whether a couple of years is all the transitional Chamber will last for.
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
I do not wish to prolong this debate, but is the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, seriously suggesting that he will invite the Committee to support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition which, as we have already demonstrated, does not add up arithmetically?
I was merely starting a debate which we shall continue at great length on Thursday. However, we may not need to prolong it on Thursday if we are able to get answers now to some of the crucial questions on the earlier amendments. In that case we may not need to discuss the later ones in such great detail.
§ Lord Strathclyde
I think the whole Committee will have recognised what an important issue this is. The Committee will also have noted that my noble friend Lord Rotherwick, when he eventually spoke to his amendment, was a considerably better exponent of it than I was.
I thank my noble friend Lord Cranborne for his support. I entirely agree with what he says about the obsession that so many have with statistics. One of the great arguments I had with the noble Lord, Lord Richard, when he was Leader of the Opposition, and indeed when he was Leader of the House, concerned the fact that one can prove practically whatever one wants with regard to the House of Lords by the use of statistics. However, it is only when one examines exactly what those statistics mean that one gets a clearer view of the issues we are dealing with.
I have been taken to task by a number of Members of the Committee, including the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, and the noble Baroness, on account of my mathematics. I surrender; I do not pretend that the figures were entirely correct.
§ Lord Strathclyde
I was looking for two things; first, a broad acceptance of the principle that there should be a cap on the Chamber—I shall return to that—and, secondly, to have a stab at the right figure. I mentioned a rather rough figure of about 500 life Peers. As a result of the Weatherill amendment the Conservative Party and the Labour Party would achieve roughly 50 Peers, and the Labour Party, to achieve parity with the Conservative Party, would need about 40 or 50 Peers. That left a ceiling of about 15 or 20 before we hit the magic figure of 615.
The figure of 615 is irrelevant. It could be 630, it could be 650, perhaps even 750. I am tempted to put down an amendment at a higher figure, if the Government's obsession is to get the figure absolutely right, because then I am happy to debate each individual figure.
What I really want to know is what are the principles underlying how the Government will behave in the transitional House. The noble Baroness has been 1191 helpful, because she has said that the Labour Party does not intend to have more than broad parity with the Conservative Party. I accept that at face value.
My noble friend Lord Caithness talked about the possibility of a coalition between the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party. In that event, obviously there would be a massive amount in favour of the parties of government. Would that necessitate a reduction in the number of Peers?
§ Lord Newby
I hesitate to raise the question of arithmetic again so late in the evening, but I would just point out to the noble Lord that, with the Weatherill amendment in place, the Labour Party is 53 adrift of the Conservative Party, at least. There would be 47 Liberal Democrats and 150 Cross-Benchers, so, if the official Opposition and the Cross-Benchers were to vote together. there would be, by my rough calculation, a majority against the Government of 150. I do not see that that demonstrates any sign of government domination of the House of Lords.
§ Lord Strathclyde
I entirely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Newby, has just said. That is the point. I am not trying to get broad parity between the parties. It is the Government that are trying to get broad parity. All that I am trying to do, as an extension of that principle, is to think ahead to the likely effects if there is a coalition between the Liberal Democrats and the party of government, which is a possibility. Even the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, will accept that.
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
This is a very late hour for such wise words. The idea that there is a continuing love-in between the Government and the Liberal Democrats is very far from the truth. I have known the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for a very long time, and I love her dearly, but she is a very tough cookie. Beyond that, she really is Old Labour, and she is terribly loyal to the Prime Minister, but she still believes in the two-party system. It is very difficult to get her to believe that the third party matters at all. I would much rather negotiate with, and would get a great deal more out of, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, than I shall ever get out of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House.
§ Lord Strathclyde
I am very glad to hear that. I should like now to move from the question of coalition and go back to the broader principles that have been set out.
In the new House that the Bill creates, the power of appointment will be in the hands of the Prime Minister, who will therefore be able to dictate the overall size of 1192 the House. In other words, the overall size of the House will be decided by another place. Do the Government believe that that is right? Do they not believe that there should be an overall cap to make sure that there is no abuse?
The noble Lord, Lord Desai, gets rather excited when we talk about the abuse of the power of the Prime Minister. I have no doubt that the present Prime Minister will behave very well, but there may be others. We do not know how long this stage will last. And, as my noble friend Lord Lucas put it rather elegantly at the end, it would make no difference at all to the Government to accept such an amendment, because they have made their intentions utterly clear: they will not massively increase the House. If it matters to us, why do they not accept the principle?
I am rather hoping that the noble Baroness will give a positive assurance in answer to that question. That will allow me to withdraw Amendment No.70 and perhaps the Government and the Opposition can come forward with a suitable amendment on Report. Is the noble Baroness able to give us any further thoughts?
§ 11.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
At the risk of making the Committee feel that I am guilty of tedious repetition, I simply say again that it seems to me that one must have a clear view of the arithmetic—and do not let us quibble about the number—in relation to the number of life Peers plus those who are already Members of the House on the Cross-Benches and the numbers who will be retained now under the accepted Amendment No.31. That has been confirmed by the noble Lord, Lord Newby.
Let us say that we have agreed that x will be the number. Within x, the Government will merely seek to ensure that there is almost precise parity with the Official Opposition. That is a guarantee of the overall ceiling, which is rather clear, on the size of the House.
§ Lord Strathclyde
The noble Baroness makes a good point about the detail of the amendment but says nothing about the principle. However, I shall read what the noble Baroness has said and I shall see whether I can convert her assurances into an amendment which we can bring forward at another stage of the Bill. On behalf of my noble friend, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Moved accordingly and, on Question. Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.
§ House adjourned at sixteen minutes past eleven o'clock.