§ 3.8 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 Strathclyde moved Amendment No. 110B:
§ After Clause 3, insert the following new clause—
§ EXCEPTION FROM SECTION 1: FURTHER PROVISIONS
(". Schedule (Exception from section 1: further provisions) (which makes further provision relating to the exception of hereditary peers from section 1) shall have effect.")
§ The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 110B I shall speak also to Amendment No. 144A which is grouped with it and which runs to several pages.
§ I am putting forward the amendment in order to provide the Committee with an opportunity to debate some of the procedures that will surround the operation of the Weatherill amendment which, on a vote, the Committee passed with an overwhelming majority last week. I am doing so because a very large number of Peers—not only in my own party—have said that your Lordships should have an opportunity for debate before any firm proposals are carried forward by the Procedure Committee. Having the debate today will facilitate the debates that we will have on the recomittal of the new clause, which was so constructively suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, the Government Chief Whip.
§ Perhaps I may also say at the outset that I have no intention of pressing the amendment to a Division. But I hope that it will provide the occasion for those noble Lords who may have misgivings about the planned system to make those concerns clear. Then the Committee may seek to address them and to accommodate them as best it may.
§ It may be said that this matter should first be discussed by the Procedure Committee and then come to the Floor of the House. With respect, in the face of such a momentous amendment as the Weatherill amendment, which may, despite all the good intentions of the Front Benches on all sides of the House, govern the composition of the House for a generation or more, I do not think that it can be kept off the Floor during the debates on the Bill. Furthermore, I am not convinced that, on a matter that will determine who has a right to sit in this House, the Procedure Committee is the right forum for ultimately deciding these questions.
§ It may be said that we are discussing Standing Orders and that Standing Orders are the province of the Procedure Committee. But, to my way of thinking, that is putting the cart before the horse. If Standing Orders require that such matters must be determined by the Procedure Committee, we have two possible alternative approaches. Either we should put more of these matters on the face of the Bill in a schedule, so that who sits 13 here cannot be altered quietly off the Floor of the House in the future by the recommendation of a majority in a committee and without primary legislation, or, as an alternative, we should give supervision of this process or a lock on it to the Committee for Privileges, which has been, and must always remain, the ultimate authority over who is entitled to take a seat in this House.
§ I say at this stage that I am not certain which is the right course. I shall be interested in the views of the Committee. I find the second option of using the Committee for Privileges marginally more attractive. The Committee for Privileges determines claims to sit in the House. It will be called on to decide any challenge to the removal of rights under the Bill. It is a distinguished committee, containing a number of Law Lords. It may need further strengthening beyond even its current distinguished membership. But I think that it could be the right forum. It is above party politics and it has the authority to make its views well known to the House. If we go down the route of a schedule, I do not propose a schedule as detailed as that in Amendment No. 144A. But I am convinced that one or other of these courses—a schedule or the lock of the Committee for Privileges—must be taken.
§ The whole House should be indebted to the Clerk of the Parliaments, whose paper on the mechanism for operating the Weatherill system lies in the Library. The draft schedule in Amendment No. 144A broadly follows the procedure proposed in the Clerk of the Parliaments' paper, although it does not seek to determine the method of election, on which the paper itself said that further advice would be sought. On the other hand, it does suggest that a system of by-elections should be enacted. The Clerk of the Parliaments was a member of an informal group involving the Front Benches of all parties, including the Liberal Democrats and the Cross-Benches, to look at how Weatherill might operate in practice. That group did not have the power to negotiate changes in the proposition put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, in December last year; nor did it have the authority to usurp the decisions of the House. These matters have always been seen by all those involved as matters for the House itself. But it identified areas of agreement and of disagreement and it carried us towards the point where we now are. I am grateful for the work that the group did.
§ In that group the Conservative Party made clear our misgivings about certain key aspects of the Bill and the associated draft Standing Orders as they are. We made it clear that we could not agree to legislate for membership of a House of Parliament on the basis that we were enacting an expedient short-term deal. Instead, we must legislate in a form that would provide for a stable and lasting means of establishing the membership of this House should stage two not swiftly be reached. That system should be open. It must be provided for in statute and it must grow out of the traditions and practices of this House. In that way we could do two things: we could provide a bridge between the past and the future and ensure, so far as possible, that genuine long-term reform would take place. We said, therefore, that we could not accept that a top-up procedure, choosing candidates indefinitely from party lists in a 14 once-off election held in 1999, was a suitable form of replacement of the 90 representative Peers after the end of this Parliament. Nor can we accept the absence of statutory provision for by-elections to replenish the representative peerage.
§ The concept of a representative peerage is not new to the House. An analogous system to that proposed operated for the Irish representative peerage and was enacted in detail in statute. What was possible to draft in 1800 should not be impossible to draft in 2000. There can be no presumption of a stage two reform in the foreseeable future. That point has been made time and again by the Government. Although it is the stated intention of all political parties that at some point it should happen, it cannot be taken for certain that it will. Legislation must travel in pessimism as well as in optimism.
§ The Weatherill amendment leaves a number of things unsaid which should be explicit. First, it does not put a floor under the number of hereditary Peers. It sets a maximum of 90, but it has no minimum. I have heard and welcomed the assurances given last week by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on this matter. I am still reflecting on what he said. I know that they will remain assurances. But even the noble and learned Lord cannot bind his successor. As the Bill is drafted, it would be open for the number to be allowed to atrophy over time. Mere suspicion that this may happen would make a settlement less stable. lnclusion of a floor would reassure us that there was good faith in the proposal and it would create an obstacle to bad faith.
§ Secondly, neither the Bill nor the draft Standing Orders include a specific mechanism for the continuation of the representative peerage now established by the Bill. Yet there is ample precedent for such provision on the face of legislation. The consequential matters of qualification to belong to or vote for membership of another place, which must be addressed in a substantial redrafting of Clause 2, have also been addressed in statute in the context of the Irish representative peerage. I ask the Government whether they believe that we should discuss the consequential redrafting of Clause 2 following Weatherill in the freedom of Committee stage on recommital. Am I right in thinking that consequential amendments will be needed? I ask that purely in the spirit of helpfulness, as I do in so many of the amendments that I move from this Dispatch Box.
§ I also believe that there is an overwhelming case for by-elections and for the spelling out of how they will be conducted. It is right that the rules governing entitlement to sit in a House of Parliament should exist with clarity in primary legislation. There is past precedent for it. The best candidates are likely to be those most recently judged in an election, not those whose claim to a seat may rest years in the past, when their character, commitment and allegiance may have been different. The hereditary peerage can accept this arrangement on the basis that it introduces a representative peerage that will endure until reform. There will also be a stimulus to progress to future reform. If there is to be a representative hereditary peerage for any length of time, there will have to be by-elections. The rights of people 15 outside the House to elect to the House have to be accorded by statute. They cannot be accorded by Standing Orders. For the avoidance of doubt, I must tell the Committee that, as is clear from paragraph 17 of Amendment No. 144A, this Front Bench would accept the use of top-ups until the end of the Parliament provided that by-election provision and a floor under the numbers are on the face of the Bill for future Parliaments.
§ Nothing here compromises the Government's ideology if they proceed in due order to reform the House, but it does engage with a fundamental point of principle and the practical issues of handling matters in the long term.
§ There may be other issues—I shall not delve into them at this stage—that the Committee will wish to discuss; for example, the rationale for two electoral elements; the question of whether representative Peers are chosen by hereditary Peers alone or by the whole House; or the question of the initial distribution of numbers between parties.
§ There is also the question of how elections will be conducted. My clear view—and, as I understand it, that of most of the other parties and groups—is that there should be a consistent approach across all individual groups within this House. That must be right. After all, we shall be electing Members of a House of Parliament. It follows that there should also be genuinely free elections, not the emergence of preferred candidates on closed lists from party Whips' offices. I should prefer the simple marking of a cross by the names of the preferred candidates up to the maximum number in each party group; then, the ones with a simple majority would prevail.
§ For the rest, we are content to stand by the core of the arrangements proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill; namely, that the 75 are a representative hereditary peerage chosen from among the remaining hereditary Peers. But the whole House at the outset should choose the 15 from whom Officers of the House might be selected.
§ In that spirit and with those main reservations, which I have every confidence can be settled before the Bill completes its passage, I commend the amendments to the Committee and look forward to debate on them. I beg to move.
§ Viscount Cranborne
The whole Committee should be grateful to my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition for tabling these amendments and for the constructive way in which he proposed them.
On the central question of whether we should include detailed arrangements for the election of the 92 on the face of Bill, I was enormously struck by the power of the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, in introducing Amendment No. 31. As with many powerful arguments, the noble Lord was able to encapsulate in a very small number of words the essence of the question; namely, his suggestion that it would be sensible to incorporate the details, the mechanics, of Amendment No. 31 in Standing Orders rather than on the face of the 16 Bill. The grounds for that argument, which I am sure will appeal to all sides of the Committee, are that it is much better for these matters to be dealt with by your Lordships alone rather than being opened up for discussion by Members of another place. As I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, particularly in view of his experience as Speaker of another place, I found that a fairly compelling argument. I hope, therefore, that the Committee might feel inclined, for that reason alone, not to incorporate either the amendment as proposed by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde or a modified version of it on the face of the Bill when eventually it is passed. Nevertheless, it is helpful to discuss these amendments.
Noble Lords are rightly not only in favour of the principle of Amendment No. 31, the Weatherill amendment, so overwhelmingly voted for last Tuesday, but also noble Lords will wish to discuss in considerable detail on the Floor of this House in Committee the mechanics of how the proposal might work. The amendments set out reasonably clearly our understanding of how they will work. They reflect pretty accurately what the committee of officials has produced as a result of its work under the guidance of the Clerk of the Parliaments. But there are a couple of matters which, with the leave of the Committee, I should like your Lordships to consider.
The first matter has not been made as clear as one would have wished. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, has repeatedly alluded to it during the course of our debates. My understanding, following conversations with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on the position of the supplementary 15 Deputy Chairmen, was not that they would be elected directly to the office of Deputy Chairman, but that they would be elected as a pool of people available to be selected as Deputy Chairmen in the normal way that office holders of this House have traditionally been selected. I hope that it may be possible for the noble and learned Lord to confirm that.
I also understand that the 15 will, if elected, undertake to sit on the Cross Benches rather than take any of the three party Whips on grounds which, from the point of view of my own party, have the advantage of requiring the nomination of rather fewer Labour Party life Peers in order to achieve the broad parity which the Government feel is so important. In addition, the essential neutrality of Peers who occupy positions such as Deputy Chairman should be emphasised—although, no matter what may be the party allegiance of individual Peers who occupy those positions, they invariably discharge their duties with complete impartiality. Therefore I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will be able to confirm that the 15, if elected, will not be directly selected as Deputy Chairmen but will merely act as a pool available from the Cross Benches from which nominations might, but not necessarily would, be taken.
There is the allied question of who would vote for those 15. I suggested previously that it would be unwise to follow the arguments, however seductive, presented by a number of noble Lords that the 75 should be elected by the entire House rather than merely the entire hereditary peerage. The reason I suggested that that 17 might be an unwise move was merely that no representative assembly could in all seriousness elect its own membership, and that there was a difference between an outside constituency electing membership of a deliberative House of Parliament and Members of a House of Parliament electing their own membership. If noble Lords will allow me to draw the comparison, it is the difference between a St. James's Street club and a House of Parliament. The crucial difference is that, while this House has many of the agreeable features of the St. James's Street club, its functions are rather more important.
Although the Government deplore that any outside body should have the power of nomination to your Lordships' House which is not modern or democratic, nevertheless it is an important principle that some outside authority should have the power to nominate and select rather than a membership which is already here. It is the essence of the Bill before us that the Government believe that the power of nomination by virtue of a hereditary peerage is unacceptable; it is certainly not by virtue of the existing membership of this House that nomination is given. As regards the 75, I hope that will not be an issue between us. If Members of this House were to accept that argument it raises with some urgency the question whether it is right for the Deputy Chairman category to be selected by the entire House.
There is a certain difference between people who are to sit in your Lordships' House by virtue of the service they are to give as Deputy Chairmen and other Members of this House. I wonder whether that distinction is sufficient to undermine the argument that I have put before the Committee for 75. I shall be very interested to hear the noble and learned Lord's reaction to the objections that the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, put to the Committee on this matter in previous debates.
I am partly responsible for the confusion. In earlier negotiations I had said to the noble and learned Lord that I did not believe that it mattered very much. He was kind enough to say that he would not mind too much either. But it is incumbent on the Committee to think carefully on these matters. I shall be interested to hear what the Committee as a whole believes about what I suspect is an important matter of principle.
I now turn to by-elections. During the course of our debates in Committee I have tried to make it clear that I believed that the real reason for the Weatherill amendment and the agreement which the Government and I came to during the course of last year was that it was an incentive for the Government not to stick at stage one, which constituted an entirely nominated House. It has been said almost to the point of tedium during the course of our debates that events make it all too possible that the stage one House, as amended by Amendment No. 31, might last longer than any of us might like. Were that unfortunate eventuality to occur in the years ahead, as the Bill stands and as the recommendations of the official committee appear at the moment, we would find ourselves with a self-elected hereditary element of your Lordships' House, which over the years, would increasingly reduce in number. That of itself may not be a bad thing. But if it reduces in number so that 18 eventually your Lordships' House becomes a 100 per cent nominated House without any further legislation, then the whole point of the Weatherill amendment becomes otiose. I fear that the Government's objective, which is an entirely nominated Chamber, will come to pass not immediately but over a period of years and the Government will have achieved their objective nonetheless.
Therefore it seems to me that the proposals put by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde would be very helpful as a further incentive to the Government. It would ensure that the figure would remain at 92 until stage two is achieved rather than gradually evaporating so that eventually a stage one House becomes no more than an entirely nominated Chamber.
For that reason, when the noble and learned Lord replies, I hope that he will be able to reassure us that he can accept the provisions in this amendment which envisage by-elections under paragraph 17 beginning in the course of the next Parliament should a full stage two reform not have taken place by then. At least it would be some further incentive to make sure that events do not have their own way completely and allow the Government to produce an entirely nominated House by effluxion of time rather than by statutory and immediate fiat.
For all those reasons we should be grateful to my noble friend Lord Strathclyde for introducing his amendment in the way that he did. I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will be able to reply sympathetically to the various points made so far in this debate.
§ 3.30 p.m.
Viscount St. Davids
Before my noble friend sits down perhaps I may ask him one question. In proposing that the 15 Officers of the House sit on the Cross Benches, would it not also be logical that they cease to be voting Members of the House as well? If they wish to sit on the Cross Benches surely that is where they would be sitting now.
§ Viscount Cranborne
I hope that: I have already made it clear to my noble friend that I find it extremely difficult to justify two classes of Member in your Lordships' House. It seems to me that there is a very important distinction between Members who arrive in this House via different routes as they do at the moment; namely the hereditary route and the life peerage route. Giving them different rights and privileges once they are here would be invidious and dangerous, leading to difficult rivalries in the conduct of business, which I would deplore.
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
I hesitate to intervene because I would very much like to hear the reply of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to the very interesting question asked by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. Indeed, his assumption, which will be examined further, confirms my view that when the agreement was reached no one looked closely at the small print. If the noble Viscount's interpretation is his and he is sticking by it, I hope that the noble and 19 learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will put forward his understanding of the matter and will not argue that the agreement cannot unravel in detail.
We on this side of the House have been deeply concerned about what we believe is a flawed agreement. We have been told at every stage by the Government that there was no possibility of amending it because it would be honoured by the Government. I understand that because it is a perfectly reasonable position to adopt, however difficult that may be for many of us. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, was partly responsible for negotiating the agreement. If he takes a different view then the agreement needs to be examined very carefully.
His argument as regards Deputy Chairmen has not previously been brought to the attention of the House; namely, that we should elect 15 more hereditary Peers, not in order to sit on the Woolsack or perform a particular duty, but to provide a pool of 15 from which a Deputy Chairman may or may not be drawn. I have always assumed that 75 hereditary Peers, which is the larger number to be elected by hereditary Peers, would itself be a pool which can be drawn on from time to time, if any one of that number was thought to be a fit and suitable person to serve. The effect of what the noble Viscount proposes is simply to increase the number of 75 by 15. In his view there will be 90 hereditary Peers to be elected.
I turn to the very clear expression of view by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. He said that this was not an expedient, short-term deal—which I had always assumed to be its justification—but that it introduced the concept of the representative hereditary peerage now established by the Bill, to use his phrase. That was what I had always assumed to be the case. As far as concerned the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, this was not a deal done for the purpose of getting the Bill through. It is a very clever device by which the whole idea of a representative hereditary peerage is perpetuated into the transitional stage, with the very real prospect that whatever happens thereafter it may be carried on.
I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will confirm to the Committee his understanding of the matter and that in turn the noble Viscount will recognise that perhaps there is a misunderstanding and defer to the noble and learned Lord. If not, the Weatherill agreement will unravel. I am not against that, but it would no longer be possible for the Government, the Opposition or the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, to argue that it was set in stone and there was no possibility of the House modifying it, as the House would plainly choose to do.
I am puzzled as to why we are debating Amendment No. 144A. Last Tuesday we discussed the Weatherill amendment very fully. There was no Division because it was recognised that we would return to the matter when it came to stand part on recommittal of the Bill. Tomorrow week we shall debate amendments. I fail to see how this amendment fits in between those two stages. I hesitate to describe it as time-wasting because the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, raises very important 20 points, but if we are to discuss it very fully today we shall repeat that discussion, as we have repeated our Second Reading debate on every possible occasion until the Bill leaves Committee.
I believe that in the debate last week I was a lone voice in saying that if I were a Member of another place I should take the gravest objection to the House reserving to itself the right to decide the matters to be incorporated in the Standing Order, in particular those determining the number of hereditary Peers of whatever political persuasion to sit in this House. Prima facie I understand the argument for putting some matters on the face of the Bill and not relying on an uncertain procedure in a meeting of a committee yet to take place that may or may not agree with whatever proposition is put before it.
However, I do not believe that this is the proper time to debate these matters; that time is tomorrow week. I hope that the noble and learned Lord will reply in detail to what he believes to be the understanding; and I am sure that the Committee will be pleased if he chooses to go wider than the particular point raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. These details are important. There is now as much doubt about them as there is about the details of the Anglo-Irish agreement. We must not go down this path unless there is a clear understanding by the House of what the Weatherill agreement means and what the Government understand it to be.
§ Lord Elton
Before the noble Lord sits down can he, or perhaps the usual channels, explain one matter? When we come to the recommittal, which he suggests should be the subject of debate, is the Bill recommitted only on the basis of the new clause in the Weatherill amendment, in which case this matter falls outside it, or is it the whole of the Bill, in which case there will be a very much longer proceeding than some of us hope for?
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
I understand that it will be recommitted on the basis of the Weatherill amendment but that that provides every opportunity for further amendment. The noble Lord has been here a great deal longer than I have and understands the procedure. The object of the exercise was to have a clear debate on Weatherill, which we had last week, and for all noble Lords to withdraw their amendments so that they would be dealt with on the recommittal of Weatherill tomorrow week. Looking at Amendment No. 144A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and others, there is nothing in it which ought not to be, if they so wish, the subject of an appropriate amendment to be considered tomorrow week on the recommittal of the Weatherill agreement already agreed by the House.
§ 3.45 p.m.
I too am surprised and somewhat disappointed that this matter is being raised today, not only for the reasons so cogently put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, but also because the recommendation of the all-party wise men who considered how the Weatherill 21 amendment should proceed was that it should be dealt with initially by the Procedure Committee. The noble Lord. Lord Strathclyde, spoke as though the Procedure Committee would sit in an ivory tower and its recommendations would be absolute and final. Both are entirely unrealistic. First, it is obvious that any Member of your Lordships' House who has an interest in this topic will be able to make suggestions to the Procedure Committee by writing to it. Secondly, the report of the Procedure Committee, with or without any specific recommendation on various topics, will come before your Lordships' House for debate. As we have seen recently in the case of Wednesdays and Thursdays, that can he fully debated and decided at that stage as your Lordships' House sees fit. I hope very much that the Committee will regard that as the right way to go about it and will cut the matter short at this stage.
I make one other suggestion to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. He suggested that this matter would be more suitably dealt with by the Committee for Privileges rather than the Procedure Committee. I suggest to him and the whole Committee that the Committee for Privileges is there to decide legal rights that are already in existence. The Procedure Committee will be devising appropriate mechanisms to carry out a form of election. The very fact that the Committee for Privileges is dominated largely by lawyers and Law Lords demonstrates that they are there to decide existing rights rather than to evolve procedures and effect political compromises.
The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, frequently referred to the 75 as representative Peers. They are not people designed to represent the specific interests of hereditary Peers but are the most suitable persons to remain as Members of your Lordships' House for a short while, one hopes. Therefore, when we come to that stage that seems to me a cogent argument for those individuals being selected by the whole House, or each group of the whole House, including the life Peers, who will know their worth, rather than by the hereditary Peers. I am now trespassing into the matter which in my view should be dealt with at the stage suggested by the wise men; namely, after the Procedure Committee has had time to consider the matter in detail.
§ The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg)
I have listened with attention to the arguments made by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, in his attempt to justify the inclusion on the face of the Bill of the operational measures required to give effect to the Weatherill amendment. I am not persuaded. On the other hand, since the noble Lord told us that his purpose in tabling the amendments was to give noble Lords the opportunity to discuss the draft paper to be put before the Procedure Committee he has succeeded admirably in that purpose. What has been said will be of great assistance to the Procedure Committee when it comes to consider the paper. I understand the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, that to keep the arrangements off the face of the Bill allows them to remain exclusively for your Lordships' House in matters concerning its internal affairs.
22 The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, made an interesting suggestion in relation to the Committee for Privileges. I would not seek to close the door on that suggestion but would be willing to consider it. At first blush my reaction is that the Committee for Privileges is not the right body to consider the mechanics of the Weatherill amendment. The functions of that committee are, for example, to consider any breach of the privilege of the House. I believe that that has happened only once in recent years, perhaps because the House is so relaxed about its privileges. That case concerned the detention of a Peer under the Mental Health Act, which was a matter of interpretation of privilege against arrest. Claims of peerage on petition are classic matters for the Committee for Privileges, as is a new function—the registration of interests.
Although I have signalled that we do not have closed minds, my reaction is that the Procedure Committee is responsible for Standing Orders and rules, and the only way that the matter could be transferred to the Committee for Privileges would be by a Motion in the House. An alternative that perhaps we ought co-operatively to consider is to create a small sub-committee of the Procedure Committee for that purpose. As I say, the Government do not have a closed mind on any of those points.
Let me make one point clear at the outset. We do not quarrel with much of the detail in the proposed schedule. Indeed, in all but two important respects, to which I will return later, the schedule is reasonably faithful to the provisions set out in the draft Standing Order and accompanying electoral arrangements in the draft paper for the Procedure Committee, which has been placed in the Library. The respective parties worked closely together, with a representative of the Cross-Bench group, on the development of those details. For our part, we are satisfied that the measures set out in the draft Standing Order represent the most effective way of delivering the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill.
Let me remind the Committee once again of why the Government, as a matter of principle, do not believe that the Bill is the appropriate vehicle for setting out this level of detail. As I said earlier when 1 spoke in support of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, the arrangements are intended to last only for the transitional phase between the two stages of reform. We have made it perfectly clear at every opportunity, in the White Paper itself and in all our pronouncements, that the Second Chamber that will be created by this Bill will be a transitional one. Our manifesto promised a first self-contained step, the removal of the hereditary Peers, to be followed by a second step, further change after a wide-ranging review. We have already set up that review in the form of a Royal Commission, independent from the Government, with a free hand to undertake its task as it thinks fit and to bring forward recommendations for a fully reformed House.
The presumption of further reform is spelt out too in the terms of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, which the Committee has now accepted. Consistent with that overall approach, the aim has been to leave as much as possible of the detailed transitional 23 arrangements to the House and to the Standing Order. It would not be appropriate to have this type of detail in the Bill.
It has been suggested that so serious a matter as the method for identifying members of your Lordships' House should not be left entirely to Standing Orders, as those do not have the same force as legislation, and they can of course be more readily altered and without as full a discussion of the House. We believe that those concerns are addressed most clearly and helpfully by the Clerk of the Parliaments in his draft paper for the Procedure Committee. That paper notes that the one essential provision at the core of the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill—that there should be a maximum of 90 excepted Peers—will be on the face of the Bill. That can be altered only by further primary legislation. The paper goes on to say that a Standing Order and the accompanying electoral arrangements are enough to deliver the purpose envisaged by the proposal, of a one-off election to identify those 90.
The Government completely subscribe to that view. We believe that after the one-off election the method for filling vacancies should be in the hands of the House and that there should be room for flexibility. To quote the relevant passage of the draft paper:The extent of the need for a new Standing Order covering the filling of future vacancies will depend on the time which elapses before the House of Lords Act 1999 is replaced. Paragraph (7) of the draft Standing Order should provide sufficient replacements until the next stage of reform or for a period of five years, whichever is the earlier-.It may be that those who oppose the amendments desire to entrench the arrangements in legislation, believing that the arrangements are not merely the operational measures necessary to deliver the agreed policy but are intended to give effect to some principle about the continued right of the hereditary peerage to be associated with your Lordships' House. Hence the provision for by-elections in paragraph 17 of the schedule. Hence the desire for the arrangements to appear on the face of the Bill.
I repeat that the Government are clear that the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, is a purely transitional measure. It was on that basis only that we indicated we were prepared to accept it. As we have said frequently, our interest in it was two-fold. First, it offered the prospect of the orderly passage for this Bill, without unreasonable obstruction of the Government's legislative programme. Secondly, it provided a means of identifying which of the present hereditary Members of the House should remain during the transitional period.
It is not for the Government to guess at the motives that encouraged others to support the proposals from the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill. I can only say that if, for the Official Opposition, one of their motives was that it kept open the principle of hereditary membership of your Lordships' House, that was not revealed at the time the compromise was made. The noble Lord's proposal deals with a transitional stage only. It is simply intended to allow the most effective hereditary Peers to continue their work in the transitional House. It is not intended to secure the continuing participation of the excluded 24 hereditary peerage in selecting future representatives to be Members of the House—although of course it takes account of, and allows for, the possibility that different provision might be required if, contrary to our expectations, as many as five years were to pass.
I do not entirely understand the logic of the argument that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has adduced in support of by-elections, in reliance of the election of representative Peers from the peerages of Scotland and Ireland to this House. I could go into greater detail but it is not necessary for me to do so.
§ 4 p.m.
§ Viscount Cranborne
I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord. I apologise for interrupting his flow. I wonder whether he can humour me a little.
Of course, I accept his oft-repeated assurance, and indeed the assurance of his colleagues on the Front Bench, that these arrangements will apply only to a transitional House. I wholly accept that the House that emerges as a result of the Bill as amended by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, will be a transitional House. If I accept that, would he also admit that there is at least a remote possibility that that transitional House might exist for rather longer than he and I would like; and that it might be expedient for he and I, and more importantly this Committee, to envisage that possibility and therefore to embody in the arrangements consequent upon the Bill some provisions which will encourage the transitional nature to be transitional rather than permanent?
If that is so, would the noble and learned Lord also accept that a provision for by-elections would ensure the permanent size over a period of years, as he says, of the hereditary element of the transitional House, but that the very existence of that permanent 90 would be a standing reproach to those who had failed to proceed to stage two; and that under those circumstances by-elections would be an important inducement for us to proceed to stage two and to abolish the stage-one House altogether?
§ The Lord Chancellor
The noble Viscount puts his suggestion and argument in a beguiling way as usual. I imagine he will not be surprised that I do not accept it.
The party that I represent requires no further incentive to move to stage two than the existence of the 92 Peers who will remain. We do not in addition need by-elections to operate as an incentive upon us.
§ Lord Marsh
I apologise for interrupting the noble and learned Lord. It is all getting terribly complicated. Can we be absolutely clear that if the House agrees that in the interim stage the hereditary Peers who stay are selected by hereditary Peers, whatever happens—if this unlikely scenario emerges where the interim stage continues indefinitely—there will only ever be one election of hereditary Peers by hereditary Peers?
§ The Lord Chancellor
The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, would be the first, I am sure, to agree that this was intended to be an arrangement for the hereditary Peers, leading to elections in the several 25 constituencies by hereditary Peers for hereditary Peers. For my part, I envisage, and the Government envisage, because of our confidence that we shall move speedily to a stage two, that this undoubtedly will be the last election of this unusual character.
The proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, are intended to find a means of identifying by election by hereditaries those who deserve to remain as hereditaries, no doubt on the basis that they have made a considerable contribution to the work of the House. In particular, there would be no point in setting up a system to recruit members of the hereditary peerage in the future from outside the House specifically to serve as Deputy Speakers or other Officers of the House. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, nods in assent.
As regards the 15 who are to be elected by the whole House since they will be Officers serving the whole House, if any Peer, having assumed that office, ceases to occupy it, he would remain in the transitional House. However, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, that no question arises of replacing him with another hereditary Peer who has been excluded from the House. The 90 settled by the compromise is both a ceiling and a floor.
We agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, when he said that the 15 will be elected to be ready to serve as Deputy Speakers or Committee Chairmen. They will not, however, be required to renounce their party identity, nor to sit on the Cross Benches. Noble Lords will recall that the Deputy Chairmen in your Lordships' House have a vote because they deputise for the Lord Chancellor who, unlike the Speaker in the Commons, has a vote and exercises that right.
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
I am sorry to interrupt the noble and learned Lord. The question of the 15 Peers continues to puzzle me. The noble and learned Lord said that if they cease to sit on the Woolsack acting as Deputy Chairmen, they will remain in the House. I assume therefore, that in the event of one no longer being a Member of your Lordships' House for good and sufficient reasons, that vacancy will be filled. The 90 will be maintained; they will be part of the 90. They cease to be Deputy Chairmen; they go on to the Back Benches. In the event of one of them dying, that vacancy will be filled. If that is the case, what is the difference between the 15 and the 75?
The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, talked about a pool. With great respect to the noble and learned Lord, he has not dealt with the question of the pool. Surely this is all nonsense. It would be much easier to say, "Let us elect 90" and leave it like that. Why bother with the 15? How are the 15 distinct if they do not even have to perform the duties for which they are elected, and can then sit on the Back Benches as long as they like? If they are part of a pool, they may not even be called upon to carry out the duties for which they have been elected. The whole thing is nonsense.
§ The Lord Chancellor
The noble Lord has expressed his puzzlement on the subject on a number of occasions. I seek to relieve his puzzlement. The noble Lord was of 26 the view originally that if any of the 90 ceased to occupy such an office, the number of 90 would be increased. The noble Lord expressed himself in time past in a way which conveyed to me that that was his understanding. If it was not so, let it be. But the 90 will remain as both a ceiling and a floor.
All that is contemplated is that they will no doubt in the first instance take up their positions as Officers of the House. The question then is what happens if any of them ceases to be an Officer. The answer is that they will remain as Members of the transitional House. There will be no increase on the number of 90, and the House itself will elect replacements from within its own existing membership; and excluded hereditaries will not participate in that process.
I make the position as clear as I can. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, nods his head in assent.
§ Lord Peston
If I may interrupt my noble and learned friend, I, too, have difficulty with the arithmetic. I understand that if one of the Deputy Chairmen ceases to act as a Deputy Chairman, he will remain a Member of the House. However, I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, asked us to suppose that something dreadful happened; namely, that a Deputy Chairman died. Would he be replaced? I did not hear the answer. There is a difference between saying that we drop therefore from 90 to 89, or that he would be replaced. In the latter case I am not clear from where he would be replaced. It is most important for me to know the correct answer to that question.
§ The Lord Chancellor
The answer is that if one of the 90 were to die, he would be replaced. That is what has been agreed both for the 75 and the 15. It has been agreed thus far that the replacement would come from the fastest losers. That is the agreement so that the 90 remains 90. No more and no less.
The noble and learned Lord says that if perchance somebody dies he will be replaced by the person who was, as it were, 12th man. But let us suppose that that person has suffered an indisposition—he may be entering an advanced state of senility, like me—will there nevertheless be a replacement?
§ The Lord Chancellor
Those problems would be addressed by common sense, but if the fastest loser were not available, obviously, it would be the next in line. To make such arrangements stick we have to approach them with good will and common sense.
I shall sum up where we stand on by-elections. The Government do not accept any interpretation which seeks to maintain the link between the hereditary peerage in its own right and Members of your Lordships' House. Our view, which I believe is shared by the Official Opposition, is that the arrangements spelt out in the standing order will work well certainly for the rest of this Parliament.
We believe that it will also work well for any part of the next Parliament for which it might prove to be necessary. Having to put into place an elaborate 27 by-election scheme before stage two is enacted, but so that it is available to operate from the beginning of the next Parliament, is in our view needlessly cumbersome. If eventually some system other than that of fastest losers were to be needed, it would be far preferable for the House to devise it in the circumstances faced at that time rather than try now to speculate what the circumstances might prove to be.
I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, will be reassured to learn that we have no doubt that the hereditary Peers who triumph in these elections will prove to be a hardy lot. For all I know, they may be chosen in part for their potential in the House of Lords' annual tug of war with the other place, where I must acknowledge they have delivered the goods satisfactorily over the years. More seriously, we can be confident that a system of replacement by fastest losers will work well in practice over a period of a few years.
I turn to a point of detail and shall take it lightly. We would also have difficulty in principle with the reference in paragraph 17 to disqualification. Our clear understanding of the Weatherill amendment is that it would identify the 90 hereditary Peers who would remain in the transitional House. The amendment provides in subsection (3) that once accepted, a Peer remains so for life until implementation of the stage-two reform. If an accepted Peer dies, a vacancy will arise and he will have to be replaced by a fastest loser in order to keep the number of accepted Peers up to 90. That is precisely what paragraph (7)(1) of the draft standing order provides. In the event, no doubt unlikely, that an accepted Peer is disqualified, we believe that it would not be appropriate or fair to replace him. For example, if an accepted Peer were to be excluded from the House due to bankruptcy, he might later purge his bankruptcy. If he managed to do so, it ought to be open to him to resume his seat in the House, just as it is now. But under the amendment tabled by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, his place would have been filled upon his becoming bankrupt. Would he then have to wait until a further vacancy occurred before he could resume his seat, or would his substitute have to retire? We believe that the correct view is that no vacancy should arise if and when a Peer is disqualified, which is an unlikely event indeed.
I repeat to the Committee that we cannot accept the amendment. We do not believe that it is appropriate for the detailed arrangements for the transitional House to be enshrined in primary legislation. We do not accept the principle underlying the proposal for by-elections; nor do we accept that the disqualification of an accepted Peer creates a vacancy to be filled. I hope that the noble Lord, having aired his concerns, will agree that we have had a useful and fruitful debate. I am grateful for his advance intimation that he will not press the amendment to a vote.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Northbrook
Did I hear the noble and learned Lord correctly when I understood him to say that a transitional House might last for up to five years?
§ The Lord Chancellor
No, I certainly did not say that in my view the transitional House might last for up to five years.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
Is it right that we shall come back to this with the other amendments on recommittal? There is no question that we cannot discuss the matter further. I found grave difficulty with the logic of my noble friend Lord Cranborne and believe that the way the issue was put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, had a certain merit. I am approaching the issue with good will, and I hope with a modicum of common sense, but there is an argument that it has not been resolved today.
§ The Lord Chancellor
I am always willing to be corrected by the Government Chief Whip, if he is in his place, but my understanding is clear. The Weatherill amendment is being recommitted and that occasion will be the forum for consideration of any amendments to it which any of your Lordships choose to table.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
Of course we understand that the noble and learned Lord does not believe, and does not hope, that the interim House will last for five years or more. However, is he aware and does he admit that the draft paper for the Procedure Committee provides at page two that:This provision should provide suitable candidates until Stage II reform is effective or until the expiry of five years, whichever is the earlier"?The paper goes on to state:If the scheme exists for such a length of time that the Standing Order provision becomes unworkable, the House will be able to continue alternative methods of filling vacancies and amend the standing order if necessary".So there are others of some eminence who believe that the interim House may last longer than five years.
§ The Lord Chancellor
There is a distinction between catering for an eventuality and believing that the eventuality will occur. I do not believe that this eventuality will occur, but the authors of the paper have expressed themselves prudently.
§ Lord Strathclyde
I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I regret that some are disappointed that we are considering the issue in advance of the recommitment. As I said at the outset, my intention primarily was to reduce the amount of time we would need to debate some of the side issues when we reached the recommitment and to provide a service to the House. I am glad that the noble and learned Lord recognised that.
It has been helpful in demonstrating that most of the amendment or Standing Order is broadly acceptable to this Committee and, by implication, to the House. There are some small but important issues of detail which will 29 still need to be resolved. No doubt they will be resolved not just by the Procedure Committee or another committee of the House but also in further discussions in the House.
I am glad that the noble and learned Lord said that he was—and I do not use his words—leaving a chink of light open in relation to the Committee for Privileges. I agree with what the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe said; namely, that the Committee for Privileges is to deal with issues of legal rights.
My intention is not that the Committee for Privileges should be the committee which deals with that detail. That could well be done by the Procedure Committee. But there should be some sort of constitutional lock so that a Procedure Committee which, for example, fell into the hands of one party or another would not be able to "muck around" with the system. I want to be certain that there is a sufficiently authoritative group in the House able to be the guardian of those procedures. That is my intention. It is nothing more than that.
As to what should be on the face of the Bill, there was an interesting disagreement with the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, on one side and my noble friend Lord Cranborne and others on the other. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, felt that the House of Commons should have a say in how Members of this House are created. There are two ways in which that can be provided: either by primary legislation incorporating aspects of the amendment on the face of the Bill; or by secondary legislation. Both those methods would give the other place a veto.
Having listened to the debate, I take the view—and more strongly than I did before—that primary or secondary legislation would not be the right way forward. Therefore, I agree with the noble and learned Lord about that in relation to the majority of the detail. But there is one important issue with which I shall deal in a moment about which I feel marginally differently.
I turn now to the question of the Deputy Chairmen and whether they should sit on the Cross Benches. I can say that that is desirable for reasons explained by my noble friend. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor suggested that that is not such a good idea. Perhaps that is something to which we shall return in the debate next week when the Bill is recommitted.
As regards what happens with regard to those who are members of the pool—which is the description that I take from the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank—there is no presumption that those who are elected in the 15 should necessarily silt on the Woolsack. They are part of a pool who would be asked to join the Deputy Chairmen. When they ceased to become Deputy Chairmen, they would simply return to the Back Benches, in the same way that Peers currently sit on the Back Benches, having sat for a period on the Woolsack. There is no great problem there.
However, that leaves the question of replenishment. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, felt that that question had not been entirely answered. He felt that there is now an area of doubt. It was precisely to alleviate that area of doubt that I proposed by-elections. I suggested that that may take place after a certain period has passed, when 30 the topping-up process would take place. That is another reason that I can demonstrate that I have no desire for cumbersome rules in the Bill or as part of the way that the new hereditary Peers would replace those who had died.
I am perfectly prepared that for a period of time, hereditary Peers should be replaced by topping-up by—in the words of the noble and learned Lord—the "fastest losers" to replace those who have died. But surely that cannot be the best system after a number of years have gone by. It is the wish of all parties that there should be a stage two and, therefore, there is every incentive for that to be created. Like my noble friend Lord Cranborne, I take the word of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor entirely at face value and I recognise his commitment and that of his party to stage two.
Having said that, there must remain an element of doubt. We are legislating for that element of doubt. There should be no issue of principle between us because this is not a matter of principle. We are trying to legislate for good order. What happens if, after, for example, five years, there is no stage two arid no sight of stage two? As my noble friend Lord Ferrers indicated, the topping-up procedure may not be working very well. But what better solution can there be than providing by-elections? That should work rather well and would be a constant reminder that the hereditary Peers are here and are being replenished. If noble Lords opposite found that so abhorrent, they could come forward with a stage-two Bill. Therefore, there is no issue of principle between us. I moved the amendment in a spirit of helpfulness and I hope that the noble and learned Lord may consider it at a later stage.
In order to continue in my helpful manner. I shall discuss, perhaps with the officials of the House. whether or not I can bring forward a specific by-elections amendment for debate at another date or even on recommitment of the Bill to take into account some of the suggestions which have been made during the course of the debate.
In the light of the amount of time that we have spent on this issue and in the light of my earlier commitment, I have no desire to take this amendment any further and I beg leave to withdraw it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Gray moved Amendment No. 110C:
After Clause 3, insert the following new clause—
§ HOUSE OF LORDS: NAME (NO. 4)
(" . On the coming into force of this Act the House of Lords shall cease to be so known.")
§ The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 110D which is also in my name.
§ The fundamental objection to the Government's proposed reform is its two-stage nature and that there is to be a transitional House. Who knows how long that will last? It may be for years. It is of the utmost importance that those outwith Parliament should be brought to the realisation of what has been done if this Bill is enacted. They must realise the change of 31 character of the House and that their expectations of it should not necessarily be the same after all but 90 hereditary Peers have gone. That is no reflection on the 90 hereditary Peers who are to stay nor on the many worthy life Peers. It simply recognises that the voices and votes of many who have often been wise and influential will be gone. Others will have arrived. The make-up of the House will have been completely altered. Talents will be different and the balance will be different. The consequence is unpredictable.
§ If we do not change the name and omit "Lords" from the descriptive title of the House, the electorate will be misled. If we do not change the name, the electorate will not be reminded regularly that reform is incomplete; and reminded they should be.
§ My Amendment No. 110D suggests "Senate" may be adopted. That is probably premature and more suited to stage two. However, as an aside, judging from the Government's submission to the Royal Commission, "supreme quango" may be a better description of that stage.
§ It is important that the name changes at the end of stage one, regardless of what happens. Noble Lords will still be noble Lords. Nothing will affect that. In view of the reported views of the Leader of the House, I hope that she will find one or other of the groups of amendments attractive.
§ I imagine, under my proposals, that it would be open to anyone to discard their in-front titles. I emphasise that none of my amendments would necessitate anything like that. Noble Lords will still be here and will probably still call themselves "noble Lords", but at least the public, who do not perhaps realise what is happening and by and large do not know the difference between a hereditary Peer and a life Peer, will not be misled. I am simply attempting to remove the word "Lords" from the description of the House. I beg to move.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lord Eden of Winton
With respect to my noble friend, perhaps I can explain why I do not agree with his proposition. As the nature of the House will change due to the passage of the Bill, it is interesting to put forward a variety of suggested names. None the less, I believe that bringing forward a new name for an interim House and another name for the House at the end of stage two would lead to some confusion in the minds of the general public. I believe that it would be better to proceed with the name "House of Lords" during the interim period. During the course of debates on stage two, no doubt the fundamental argument about a change of name will arise.
I suspect that many noble Lords will have views of their own as to what would be an appropriate title for the second Chamber in Parliament. No doubt there will be as many different opinions on how Members of this House should be identified in the future after the enactment of stage two.
Perhaps I may interpose my own preference, for what it is worth, which is of no greater or lesser importance than that of any other Member of this House. From my 32 point of view, it would be quite acceptable that this House should continue to be called the "House of Lords", whatever changes take place, and that Members should be known as "Members of the House of Lords", taking the letters "MHL" after their names, just as Members of the other Chamber take the letters "MP" after their names. I believe that that would distinguish Members of the peerage who are serving Members of this House from Members of the peerage who are not serving Members because they will have been disqualified by virtue of the passage of this Bill.
I understand the substantial point being put forward in the amendment moved by my noble friend; namely, that the House is to become different from that which we know today. I hope that that difference is to be of a temporary nature only. Therefore, I believe that it would be wholly appropriate that we should maintain the name and maintain in the public eye the fact that it still is a House of Parliament, known as the "House of Lords", which comprises some hereditary Peers, and that it will continue to debate and discuss the nature of the substantial changes to be comprised in stage two. For that reason, I would find it difficult to support my noble friend.
§ Lord Elton
My noble friend may find it easier to support me in my amendments. I ask the Committee's permission to speak to Amendments Nos. 131, 132 and 133. It is apposite that I should ask such permission now, because my noble friend Lord Eden has laid such weight upon the temporary nature of the arrangements that will follow the departure of most of your Lordships from this House.
Noble Lords will see that precisely that feature is drawn attention to in Amendment 131, which states:From the end of the Session of Parliament in which this Act is passed the House of Lords shall cease to he known as the House of Lords and shall instead be known as the Temporary House of Parliament".It is exactly that House of Parliament which my noble friend has so succinctly described, so it does not seem to be open to that objection.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Gray that it is proper that this organisation should change its name when it changes its nature. Indeed, it would be possible to call it the House of Lords, or approximately half the House of Lords. However, that is not what it will be. It will be either "temporary", or in the language of the Government "interim", or, to use the phrase frequently used by the noble and learned Lord, the "transitional House of Parliament". I regret that I had not included that in my list of alternatives as I had not considered the use of the phrase used by the noble and learned Lord. I hope that it will commend itself more strongly to him at the next stage.
The third alternative is to use the title, "Appointed House of Parliament". In one sense or another, every Member hereafter will have been appointed and that will draw the attention of the public to the nature of this House as distinct from the elected House of Parliament, which is the House of Commons.
33 It seems to me sensible to give the new arrangement a descriptive name that will have the effect of focusing the attention of the Government and the public either on its transitory nature or on its appointed nature and its difference from the House of Commons.
I do not propose to press any of my three amendments but I give notice that I am minded to return with the word "transitional" rather than any that are on the Marshalled List at the moment.
§ Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare
Before my noble friend sits down, perhaps I may ask him whether he will be known as the "temporary Lord Elton" or the "interim Lord Elton" if he were lucky enough to be one of the 75?
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
An encouraging feature of the submission of the Labour Party to the Royal Commission was that it quoted, with approval, a Member who said that there should be an element of continuity. I venture to endorse that strongly. It would be entirely consonant with our constitutional procedures. There have always been Peers who have not been Lords of Parliament; there have also been Members of Parliament who have not been Peers, so there is nothing strange in what is proposed for the interim House.
So far as concerns that House, to my mind what is proposed is a very valuable element of continuity in that a number of hereditary Peers are continuing to be Members of your Lordships' House. All of us who have been life Peers would, I think, admit that we have learnt a great deal in our time from our colleagues who are hereditary Peers. All those reasons seem to me to speak against the amendments, however attractively they may have been presented.
The Earl of Caithness
I am always concerned when I rise to challenge the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. I have done this on regular occasions in the past and each time it is with some trepidation, because he is so well versed in these matters. But I would take issue with him on one point. When he said that there have always been Peers who were not Lords and Lords who were not Peers he was of course talking of very small minorities—
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
If the noble Earl is challenging me on that, perhaps I might mention two classes: one is minor Peers and the other is Scottish and Irish Peers, who are not representative but who are nevertheless Peers though not Lords of Parliament.
The Earl of Caithness
I totally agree with the noble and learned Lord on those points and I am grateful for that clarification, but I think it adds strength to my argument that they are minorities. There are a very small number of people who fit into those categories.
What will happen here is a mass exodus of a great number of hereditary Peers, the majority of this House. That is why I support the amendments of my noble 34 friend Lord Gray. I was sad that my noble friend Lord Eden was not with us when we discussed Amendment No. 74, the very amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, spent five days waiting to debate because it was such an important amendment. As regards that amendment we discussed whether the names of the people who sit in the interim House should in fact be changed. I believe that if we are to change the names of the people wile sit in the interim House, the name of the interim House ought to be changed as well. It is for that reason that I believe that these two changes ought to take place.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Lord Monson
This is a very interesting and worthwhile group of amendments. I think that "senate" would be an appropriate designation after stage two has been agreed to, depending on just how senatorial the finished product turns out to be. It is a little premature for an interim House, I would suggest. For that reason I would gladly support Amendment No. 132 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Elton. I hope that he might consider reintroducing it at a later stage.
§ Baroness Castle of Blackburn
I can well understand the male Members of this House wishing to retain the title, the "House of Lords". It has been so satisfying to their subconscious sexism all these years. I have raised these matters before. I urge all Members of the House to put themselves in the place of the female Members. We are Peers of equal status and yet we have to be subsumed in the title "my Lords". Of course I shall be told, "That does not mean anything: it has always been done and it has always been recognised that the male embraces the female".
I ask Members to consider this quite seriously. What would they feel like if it was called the House of Ladies and if every time anyone got up to address the House they were expected to say "my Ladies"? They would feel a diminution of their sexuality: there is no doubt at all about it. So the sooner we can move to a "neuter" title the better. It is surely part of the first stage of the cleansing of anachronisms on which the Government have embarked. The title does matter. The form of address does matter. If we are to become part of a modern parliament and a modern country, for heaven's sake let us bury this historical nonsense as soon as possible.
If we look at it from that point of view, we might think, OK, perhaps the Government do not like the word "senator" because they might think that would commit them to an elected second Chamber —I happen to believe in that, incidentally—when I understand they prefer to have an appointed Chamber. So let us find a title which does not commit anybody. Surely if we set our minds to it, it would be easy to find the right word. For example, for the time being, what about adopting the term "the upper House" or "the second Chamber" or something of that kind? But for heaven's sake let. us bury the word "Lordships" as soon as possible.
§ Lady Saltoun of Abernethy
I cannot resist! First, I would like to support very warmly both the 35 amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Gray. That will not come as any surprise to those who heard my views last Thursday evening. I cannot resist telling your Lordships, in the wake of the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, a tiny brief anecdote. Many years ago my father referred to the late Lady Summerskill as "the noble Lord". She protested vigorously and my father replied that he was very sorry but that this was a House of Lords and not a "House of Ladies".
§ Viscount Cranborne
I have to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, that she has quite a strong point in view, in my experience, of the disproportionate effect exercised by the power and vigour of the women Members of your Lordships' House. I suspect that it would be no more than an accurate reflection of their disproportionate influence if we were to call ourselves a House of Ladies. I think your Lordships might feel that the male Members of us would benefit from association with what is clearly becoming the stronger sex.
We have had debates, as my noble friend Lord Caithness has pointed out, on what Members of your Lordships' House should be called during the transitional phase to stage two. It seems at least logical that we should go on to debate what this place itself is called, as well as its Members. It has been said in other contexts that a genius of this country is to pretend that everything is the same while, under cover of that pretence, changing everything so that nothing is the same. It may well be that if your Lordships' House were to continue to call itself the "House of Lords" that rather agreeable and self-deceptive habit would be continuing.
I have always felt that in a period of change there was an argument for pretending that everything is the same while in fact changing the reality is a way of ensuring continuity and that the body politic evolves rather than being subject to revolution. However, I wonder whether that applies under present circumstances. After all, we are undergoing a constitutional revolution and the Government glory in that fact. They do not pretend for a second that we are indulging in evolution. They regard change and modernisation as the very essence of their new regime and therefore it seems to me rather perverse if your Lordships' House should decide during the course of debates on this Bill that it should continue to call itself the "House of Lords"—not only for that reason, but also for the reasons that my noble friend Lord Elton adduced when he suggested that it might be sensible for a constant reminder to be available to the country at large that this House is intended to be a transitional House rather than a permanent stage-one House. After all, the transitional nature of the existing House was buried in the preamble to the 1911 Act. Although it is the daily reading of all Members of the Committee,
I suspect that the remainder of the body politic and those who sup in the "Dog and Duck" do not spend their days and nights reading the preamble to the 1911 Act and have therefore forgotten the transitional nature of the 1911 House, with the consequences of which we are all aware.
36 I suspect that there is a great deal to be said for changing the name of this place as well as the names of the people who inhabit it. It will be a standing reminder of the need to proceed to stage two in exactly the same way as I suspect the existence of the 92 hereditary Peers in the transitional House will also be a standing reminder—and the more standing reminders we can have under the circumstances, the better, particularly in view of my suspicions that the stage-one House may prove to be rather more long-lasting than many of us would like.
A change of name, therefore, would be a good idea, just as my noble friend Lord Ferrers thought that changing the title of those who sit here would be a good idea after this Bill has passed. In spite of my attraction to the suggestion of the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, which I do not withdraw in any way, it may be more equitable for us to call ourselves something which we are already called; indeed, something which Gilbert and Sullivan called us in the 19th century—the "House of Peers". Everybody would know what that was referring to and it has all the merits of continuity as well as innovation.
The Earl of Errol
It occurred to me briefly when the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, spoke that there is a problem in relation to gender. If we were to adopt Amendment No. 110D, the male version would be "Senator" but the female version would be "Senatrix", which may have tricky connotations.
§ Lord Newby
I begin by agreeing with the sentiments expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Castle. When we reach the stage of a reformed House of Lords, whatever we decide to call ourselves will shed both the sense of privilege and the sexist nature of our current title. As to what our title should be at that stage, I can envisage many debates in this Chamber and much will depend on the functions and size of the new House.
It would seem sensible in some circumstances to call ourselves a "Senate", but if we had a House as large as the interim House, with 625 or more Members, that is a lot of people to call "Senators" and I am not sure that it would work. Equally, while having the initials "ML" after our names may be sensible, I hope that we do not go as far as the noble Lord, Lord Eden, suggested and have "MHL" after our names. That sounds too much like a second class or a car number plate. I hope that we can restrict it.
In the interim phase we are not going to change the functions of this Chamber, and it is perhaps premature to be changing the title. Whatever signals we send out will almost certainly be misleading. In relation to the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, both temporary and interim ought to concern him in that nothing endures like the temporary and we know that that is not what he has in mind. Equally, after the passage of the Weatherill amendment, there will be a category of people in your Lordships' House who will not be appointed; they will be both hereditary and elected. Therefore, that argument fails also.
37 On balance, we should stick with the current title in the interim and resist a suggestion from one of my colleagues that we might call ourselves "Members of the Chamber of Peers"—or MCPs for short.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
I listened with great interest to the debate and to hereditary Peers saying that the name should be changed; that after we have gone Lords must not call themselves "Lords".
§ Lord Elton
That is precisely what I was not saying. I cannot answer for my noble friend Lord Gray; I was suggesting what we should be called when there are still 90 of us here. What happens after that can be decided in that Chamber which will be hugely dominated by those who will be named afterwards.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
I was not referring to the noble Lord, Lord Elton; I was referring to others. The fact is that the House is largely composed of, and the work is largely done by. Peers appointed by Her Majesty so there is no reason why the name should not continue.
We ought to admit that people like being Lords. I was appointed by Jeremy Thorpe and Mr. Wilson 25 years ago and think I am a real Lord. It is extraordinary. The House of Lords has changed enormously from the days when the Lords in this Chamber exerted enormous power through their personal wealth and their ownership of land to now, when we have the appointment of admirable people from science and the professions.
The "House of Lords" is a good name and one that people like abroad. I went to China many years ago with a delegation from Parliament, including a number of MPs and two or three Lords. In China we were given "priesthoods", but they preferred "Lords". The House of Lords is known and appreciated. It does no harm and people like it. Therefore, we might as well continue with the name.
If I might say so, that is about the most reactionary speech that we have heard for a long time. The noble Lord is saying, "I love being a Lord. It is so nice and we get wonderful treatment". But it reflects exactly what noble Lords on the Benches opposite feel too; that is the reason they came here. They are happy to call themselves Lords, other than the noble Baroness, Lady Jay.
I referred to this the other day and cannot help but refer to it again. The noble Baroness wrote an article in the Daily Telegraph a little while ago saying that everyone should give up their titles and be called Mr. and Mrs.: but they could have the initials "ML" after their name. I suggested "LP" which would at least keep the name of Lord, but the noble Baroness wanted "Member of the Lords". The noble Baroness did not reply to that debate—I do not blame her—but her deputy, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, did. He disagreed totally with his noble friend and I felt that he was lucky still to be sitting on the Front Bench today.
The noble Lord said that the noble Baroness was, as we used to say at school, talking a lot of, "All my eye and Betty Martin". I do not know whether they do Latin 38 in South Wales, but that is the vulgarised form of Ah! mihi, bea'te Martine. It does not mean, "Let us go and have a drink"; it means that it is a whole lot of codswallop. So, the noble Baroness said that we have to do away with all this and the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, said that we cannot possibly do that and that we must keep it.
Oddly enough, the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, strikes a chord here. She said that she does not like being called a "Lord", although that did not stop her from coming here and enjoying the House of Lords. I can understand that. No doubt the noble Baroness will be happy to endorse the later amendment which suggests that the House should be called the ''Appointed Chamber". That is what it will be. It will be appointed either by the life Peers who are here or the hereditary Peers who are left. The Bill says that we should appoint 90 people. How we should appoint them is another matter; but it will be an appointed Chamber and there is no reason why we should not call it such.
The noble Baroness, Lady Castle, need not worry too much about being referred to as a "Member of the House of Lords"; after all, for a long time we have used the expression, "Madam Chairman". That may be a complete juxtaposition of the genders, but it works quite well. However, some people get touchy and would call themselves, "Chair", which is absurd and does not refer with courtesy to either gender.
Of the various amendments put forward, I support my noble friend Lord Elton in Amendment No. 133, which refers to it being an "Appointed House''. That is all very fine. However, my noble friend Lord Eden said that the public would not understand that there had been any change. I should not think that they would understand; indeed, they do not understand what is going on. Of course, it is a mini-revolution—a constitutional revolution.
This place will not be the same as it was, as I ventured to suggest the other day. Therefore, I am probably repeating myself, but no doubt noble Lords will not remember so it does not really matter. What I actually said was that before, when people were Trade Peers, they automatically became Members of the House of Lords. But nowadays you are asked if you would like to go to the second Chamber and, providing that you agree to carry out certain functions, you are allowed to call yourself a Lord. So it is a different system. It is not a bad idea, as we are to have a change, for us also to have a change in name.
I have no doubt that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, will respond to the amendment. It will be interesting to see whose side he falls on; for example, whether he will fall on the side of the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, or on that of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn. I should have thought that it is time for a change. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord would like to consider it.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Lady Saltoun of Abernethy
Before the noble Earl sits down, perhaps I might add that what he said about the public is absolutely true; indeed, they do not have 39 the foggiest idea of what is going on. The public think that hereditary Peers will merely lose their voting rights. That is what they have been told in press reports and by the BBC continually for the past two or three years.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
Perhaps I may say a few words on this issue, if that is all right by your Lordships, and any others who are listening who would like to be called something other than "your Lordships". We have had an interesting debate. I am a little torn between my noble friend Lord Gray, who is partly a Campbell—and, if you are a Scot, you make it one of your principles not to get on the wrong side of the Campbells if you can possibly help it—and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. I have to say that I think I will come down on the side of the latter. As I have explained before, when I served on the Government Front Benches and the noble and learned Lord got to his feet my little mind went suddenly into red alert. Indeed, I knew that whatever he said would be very serious and, if it was criticism, I knew that I had to be extremely careful. I probably went off and told my officials to be absolutely sure that we were right and the noble and learned Lord was wrong. However, today, I am going to say that I concur completely with the noble and learned Lord.
People in this country do not have any great trouble with Lords who are not Members of your Lordships' House. After all, judges are Lords and most of them are not in your Lordships' House. In Scotland we have some very eminent judges who have to take territorial names because their surnames are already being used by other members of the Scottish Bench. They are not considered to be Members of your Lordships' House despite the fact that a few, like my noble and learned friend Lord Cameron of Lochbroom, and indeed another whose name will come to me in a second, hold other offices. My noble and learned friend Lord Rodger, for example, is a Member of your Lordships' House as well as being the senior judge in Scotland.
Then we have the other Lords—that is to say, those with courtesy titles. My noble friend Lord Ancram, masquerades as Mr. Michael Ancram, the Member of Parliament for Devizes. There is also my noble friend Lord Selkirk of Douglas who, in the other place, masqueraded for years as Lord James Douglas-Hamilton because he was the second son of a duke. Now he is in the Scottish Parliament as Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, which does not seem to confuse anyone in Scotland—
§ Lord Elton
Perhaps I may point out to my noble friend that we are not concerned about the confusion of the public over ci-devant Peers who are not Members of this House; we are concerned about their understanding of what this House is going to be. That is something different. As my noble friend put so much importance on what was said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, when he comes to read Hansard he may, if he does not recall it, find in that 40 passage of a fine speech, in which he wished to define what he was talking about in the future, that he referred to it as the "interim Chamber".
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
I think that the world outside will have exactly the same clear idea of the functions and place of your Lordships' House after this Bill has passed as they do currently. I do not believe that there will be any great difference.
Perhaps I may suggest to the noble Baroness, Lady Castle of Blackburn, that she should not use the word "cleansing" again because the Government Front Bench has already indicated that it does not particularly like it being used in connection with this Bill. The noble Baroness does not like a few things; indeed, I have little doubt that she does not like the Bill currently having its Report stage in the other place today. However, I imagine that we will hear from her much later about some of the aspects of that legislation.
I cannot remember for the life of me who it was, but recently a mandarin in the BBC circulated an internal document advising people that they should not use the word "British" any more. I believe most noble Lords and indeed the world outside thought that was potty, even by BBC standards. I have to admit that I am a little conservative, like the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie. I do not see why we should not use the word "British". I certainly do not see why we should not, as long as the House is not elected, use the titles that we use at present. Of course, it would be quite a different game if we were to get to a position where this second Chamber was elected. In those circumstances, I think it would be right to call it a "Senate" because it would then be the kind of powerful elected Chamber that we see in some countries around the world, especially in the United States. That would probably very quickly become much more powerful than the lower House and then it would be quite right to call it a "Senate".
However, we are looking at an interim House with no election other than those for the 92 hereditary Peers by their colleagues, and I hope that the Government will not change that. Thank goodness I am not going to be given a vote in that election. I would hate to have to be subject to the kind of campaigning that will no doubt go on. Having just been subject to the campaign at home for the Scottish Parliament, I really have had enough of elections for this year. I think that we should stick as far as we possibly can to the conventions and ways of Britain which have served us well in the past. Although I accept that the Government want to change some things because they feel very deeply that they should be changed, I believe that there is some merit in trying to keep things as much the same as we can, even when we are changing.
§ Lord Monson
Is the noble Lord aware that the Irish Senate is not elected at all; indeed, it is wholly appointed? Therefore, not all senates are automatically elected and powerful.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
The noble Lord's last point is right; they are not powerful. However, if a 41 senate were to be elected in this country I think that it would be powerful. That is the point I was trying to make.
The Earl of Dudley
I should have no interest as a member of the steerage peerage who are going to drown in the near future and not leave in the single lifeboat with the captain, crew and a few first-class passengers. However, apart from the contributions of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and other noble Lords, I have to say that, considering the importance of this Bill, this has been a Committee stage of pretty fulsome dullness. I cannot influence the noble Lord, Lord Gray, on what he should do but it seems to me that it would be of considerable interest and of some entertainment—and, indeed, of no risk to the Government whatever—to put it to the vote as to whether this Chamber should continue under the title of "House of Lords".
I personally support the view that it should continue as the House of Lords. I have a deep sense of tradition, which I feel that the country shares, and I would be sorry to lose the title. Incidentally, if it is snobbish to think in terms of a Lord, I should point out to the Committee that such a title is widely held in parts of the world—for example, Agas, "Bushagars", Rajahs and Maharajahs. Indeed, it is a sign of status throughout the world to be called a Lord. I believe that the noble Lords in this House who will remain have every right to hold on to the status, which they have earned, as well as the title of "Lords of Parliament", which they well deserve.
I have to say that I shall be sorry to leave this House. Nevertheless, if that is the choice of the Government, I shall do so. I certainly will not have any hard feelings about it, nor will I hope that people will call themselves something different because I have gone.
§ Lord Milverton
Of all the names to call this House, whatever is decided in the end, the one of least attraction is that of "Senate". I believe that some of the other names that have been suggested are better. I do not see why we should, as is so often the case now, think that we have to look across to the Atlantic to a certain country—namely, the USA—and feel that we must more or less follow them. That is why I do not agree with the title "Senate". Indeed, if this House were to become a senate, I think we would have to look at the other place and consider whether it should be changed to the House of Representatives.
I do not think that adopting either the name "Senate" or "the House of Representatives" is a good idea. However, some other names which have been suggested are far better. I have never been ashamed of being a Lord. I knew that I was to be awarded a peerage but nevertheless when it happened it took me rather by surprise. The title does not worry me. It makes no difference to the attitude of friends towards me. As I say. I have never been ashamed of my title and I never shall be.
I wish shortly to put one point which I do not think has been put yet. The Committee should remember that in the transitional phase this place 42 will continue doing precisely what it has been doing for the past 50 years. Therefore, I see no reason at all why we should change our name.
§ The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton)
If this Bill is passed, the hereditary Peers will be removed, save for the 92 who will remain under the Weatherill amendment. Some 500 Lords, Spiritual and Temporal, will he left. As the noble Lord has just said, we shall continue to do precisely what we have been doing for the previous few hundred years. There seems no reason at all not to describe the Chamber accurately as the "House of Lords". That has the benefit of continuity, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, has said. As this debate has shown, there appears to be no agreement as regards what the Chamber should be called. The contenders include House of Peers, Senate, Appointed House, Interim House, Transitional House and Temporary House. I say with the greatest respect to those who have proposed the amendments that the sensible course is to continue to call ourselves the "House of Lords" and not to adopt any of the other, I suspect, rather trivial names that have been suggested by way of alternatives.
I am grateful to the many noble Lords who have contributed to the debate and for the support I have received. However, I do not think I am likely this afternoon to follow the advice of my noble friend Lord Dudley.
§ Lord Elton
Before my noble friend sits down, I wonder whether it will be possible to tempt the noble and learned Lord who spoke from the Benches opposite to give a slightly more reasoned basis for the advice he gave to the Committee not to support the amendments. I feel that there must be more to it than that.
§ Lord Falconer of Thoroton
With the greatest of respect to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, I believe that I gave my reasons moderately clearly. They do not benefit from repetition. As I said, we are still Lords. There is continuity and there is no need to change our name. There is no agreement as regards the alternatives that have been proposed which all seem inappropriate.
In that reply the noble and learned Lord does not address my fundamental point—I think this is probably also the fundamental point of my noble friend Lord Elton—namely; that we are considering the transitional stage. We are trying to put a health warning on it; namely, that the House is not what it has been and not what it will be. That is why I have tabled these amendments.
Some interesting suggestions have been made as regards what the Chamber might be called. I was tempted for a moment; I wondered whether someone might suggest the name the "Uncommons", but no one did. I tabled Amendment No. 110C deliberately as it did not suggest a name at all. The amendment states:On the coming into force of this Act the House of Lords shall cease to be so known".43 This is an invitation to the Committee and to the Government to put forward some ideas. In view of what has been said, and in view of what my noble friend Lord Elton said about his amendments, perhaps he and I should discuss this matter and decide whether we prefer the word "transitional", or "interim", or something else. However, for the time being, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 110D not moved.]
§ 5.15 p.m.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch moved Amendment No. 110E:
After Clause 3, insert the following new clause—
§ MEMBERSHIP OF THE HOUSE OF LORDS (NO. 2)
§ (".-(1) From the day on which this Act comes into force, the members of the House of Lords who shall be entitled to sit and vote in that House shall be—
- (a) the Lords Spiritual;
- (b) any holder of a peerage under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876;
- (c) not more than 700 peers who are elected in accordance with subsections (2) and (3); and
- (d) any person who became a member of the House of Lords in the Session preceding the Session in which this Act is passed.
§ (2) The members of the House under subsection (1)(c) shall be comprised of not more than—
- (a) 240 Cross Bench peers elected by Cross Bench peers;
- (b) 200 Labour peers elected by Labour peers;
- (c) 200 Conservative peers elected by Conservative peers; and
- (d) 60 Liberal Democrat peers elected by Liberal Democrat peers.
§ (3) The electors for the purposes of subsection (1)(c) and (2) shall be members of the House of Lords at the date on which the election is held who—
- (a) have attended at least 6 sitting days in each of the 2 Sessions preceding the Session in which this Act is passed, or
- (b) if they have become a member of the House in either of the 2 Sessions preceding the Session in which this Act is passed, have attended at least one third of sitting days since the day on which they were introduced.
§ (4) The Clerk of the Parliaments shall certify—
- (a) the number of days of attendance of each member, and
- (b) the total number of days on which the House sat,
§ (5) Standing Orders of the House of Lords shall make provision relating to the holding and conduct of elections under this section, and that such elections shall be held at intervals of 7 years.
§ (6) In each of the two Sessions preceding an election under subsection (5), all peers who would have been entitled to receive a writ of summons to attend the House of Lords but for the passing of this Act shall be entitled to sit, but not to vote, in that House.
§ (7) Subject to subsection (9), the Lord Chancellor may by order made by statutory instrument amend any number specified in subsection (2), but only to give effect to a resolution of the House of Lords.
§ (8) An order under subsection (7) shall be laid in draft before, and shall be subject to the affirmative resolution of, each House of Parliament.44
§ (9) The two political parties with the largest number of seats in the House of Commons shall be entitled to equal representation in the House of Lords.
§ (10) Any question whether a person is elected under this section shall be decided by the Clerk of the Parliaments.
§ (11) Any person under subsection (6) shall he entitled to continue to exercise the same rights of access to, and use of, the House of Lords and any premises occupied by that House to which he would have been entitled but for the passing of this Act.")
§ The noble Lord said: I suppose that this amendment is somewhat more radical than any which have been proposed so far because it removes all of the appointed Peers, of which I am one, as well as the hereditary Peers, and subjects us all to election by our fellow Peers. Even so, I hope that the Committee will find it worthy of serious consideration. Its origins lie in what I said on Second Reading on 30th March at cols. 256 to 259 of the Official Report. Its main purpose is to ask the Committee to stand well back from our separate interests in the detail of the present Bill and to consider how we might in the interests of the nation achieve the best possible interim Chamber—that is, as has been often said, the House which will exist until some or all of the Royal Commission's recommendations are accepted, if indeed they are.
I appreciate that the Committee may disagree as to exactly what the interests of the nation are nowadays. Therefore, it behoves me in all humility to say what I think the nation's most important interest is in any future House of Lords or second Chamber. This is quite simply that it should be able to act as an independent brake on the executive in the House of Commons and on the bureaucracies in Whitehall and in Brussels. That duty is, of course, especially important when one party holds a large majority in the other place, as the Labour Party does today. This is no criticism of the Labour Party and refers equally to the recent times when the Conservatives held a large majority in the other place. However, your Lordships' House as presently constituted has proved itself capable over the years of standing up to the executive. For instance, your Lordships' House defeated the government of my noble friend Lady Thatcher no fewer than 157 times in 12 years, and no doubt made her change her mind—no mean feat—on other occasions too, rather than face what the Whips advised was likely to be defeat at your Lordships' hands. So I imagine we all agree that any future Chamber must at least be as independent as the one we are leaving behind.
§ In that respect, I have been very impressed by the Labour Party's submission to the Royal Commission. It is perhaps a little shaky about this Chamber's future duties towards statutory instruments, the pervasive use of which has become a real threat to our democracy, but on the whole it is a refreshingly sensible document.
§ In an ideal world I have to suggest that an upper House composed entirely of genuinely independent people, or entirely of non-party Peers, would be the best solution in the interests of the British people. Consider what a pleasant prospect that would be. There would for instance be no party Whips at all. For a small fee, government and opposition spokesmen could easily be found in such a Chamber who would not necessarily believe very passionately in what they had to say from 45 the Dispatch Box. However, I imagine that that is a situation with which many noble Lords who have stood at the Dispatch Box must be familiar in any case. Consider the even more pleasant prospect of the restraint that such a Chamber might put on the vast quantity of unnecessary and interfering legislation which at present gushes forth from our over-zealous bureaucracies and power-hungry executive, for whom the people rightly show such increasing frustration and disdain.
§ But, of course, I have to admit reluctantly that such a sane and useful second Chamber is unlikely to be conceded by any of the main political parties today, and still less welcomed by the bureaucracy, much of which would soon become redundant. So it must remain a pipedream, even if it is a concept which most people in this country would probably support were it to be offered as a realistic prospect.
§ However, I submit that this amendment is indeed achievable if the Committee were to support it. It would give a large measure of the independence which is so important for our second Chamber in future. I suggest that it also has some clear advantages over Amendment No. 31, which has become known as the "Weatherill amendment", to which the Committee agreed last Tuesday. For instance, this amendment would remove the Conservative preponderance in your Lordships' House, which is really the only thing that most of us agree is wrong with its present composition. Weatherill, on the other hand, grants a minimum of 42 out of the 92 hereditary Peers who are to remain to the Conservatives while giving only 28 to the Cross Benches, three to the Liberals and a mere two to the Labour Party, thus prolonging the Conservative preponderance.
§ This amendment has another clear advantage over Weatherill in that it would prevent any political party having more Peers than any other political party, leaving much more of the balance of power with the Cross Benches, which must be healthy.
§ I submit that this amendment is more in tune with the spirit of the Government's manifesto than is Weatherill. I appreciate that this amendment would allow some hereditary Peers to stay on in the interim Chamber, which goes against the Government's manifesto, but so does Weatherill, which the Government supported in the Division Lobby. Indeed, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor was good enough to place on the record last Tuesday the fact that the Government are not standing by this particular manifesto commitment for the duration of the interim House. In agreeing that 92 hereditary Peers can stay on, the Government have therefore conceded an important principle. The amendment probes the detail and the degree of that concession in order to achieve the best possible interim House.
§ No one seems to know how the Weatherill figure of 92 was reached. It appears that someone just came up with the idea that to retain 10 per cent of hereditaries would be a reasonable compromise, plus another 15 for the Woolsack. There does not seem to have been any careful analysis as to whether the resulting House of around 600 Peers would be big enough, or suitably 46 composed, to do its job properly. I understand that we are to have a detailed debate about requisite numbers next week on recommitment and so I will say no more about that now. I would claim, however, that the House created by the amendment would be able to fulfil all its present functions and take on perhaps an increased scrutiny role.
§ I remember—as I am sure we all do—the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor's admonition at Second Reading that the Government's concession on the 92 hereditary Peers was made on a "Take it or leave it and do not mess around with it" basis. With respect, I query that attitude. It can scarcely be justified in the national interest, especially after the Government have conceded the principle that some hereditary Peers should stay on; nor have I forgotten that the Government have a large majority in the other place. But if we can accommodate as much of the manifesto as the Government themselves intend to do, and still produce the best possible interim Chamber, then surely that should be acceptable to everyone.
§ Before leaving the matter of the Labour Party manifesto at the last general election, the Government appear to be placing a reliance on it which, for an issue of such constitutional importance, is not even vaguely justified by the facts. The Labour manifesto was supported by only 31 per cent of the British electorate at the previous election; 40 per cent voted for another party and therefore, in effect, against it; and 29 per cent did not bother to vote at all. Further, according to a Written Answer recently given to me by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the commitment to abolish the hereditary Peers was only one of no fewer than 177 manifesto commitments, which of course had to be supported en bloc by that 31 per cent of the electorate which did vote Labour. It is therefore scarcely surprising that in a respectable opinion poll taken before the Bill reached your Lordships' House, only 2 per cent of those polled were aware of the commitment to remove the hereditary Peers. I hope that puts that particular manifesto commitment into perspective. It can scarcely be held to represent the settled will of the British people, and I very much hope that the Government will not go on pretending that it does.
§ I said at the start that the amendment aims to offer a radical and objective solution for the interim House. That is why it stands down not only the hereditary Peers but also all appointed Peers. It removes all Peers who have sat in the House for a year and makes us all submit ourselves to election by our fellow Peers. The reason for this radical approach is quite simply the acknowledged fact that the best of the hereditary Peers give better service to the nation than do quite a number of appointed Peers. If the Government do not agree with that statement, perhaps when he or she comes to reply, the noble Lord the Minister or the noble Baroness the Leader of the House will say so. If, in the interests of the nation, we want the best interim House, we should elect the best of all Peers and not just a handful of hereditaries. Weatherill will exclude many of our best hereditaries, from all sides of the House, and leave many of our least useful appointed Peers in place.47
§ I know that regular attendance does not necessarily denote excellence in your Lordships' House and that some of the most valuable contributions are made by Peers who seldom come here. Even so, I have been surprised by an analysis of the poor attendance record of many appointed Peers. For instance, in the 1997 Session some 40 per cent of appointed Peers attended less than one-third of the sitting days; 30 per cent attended less than one-fifth of the time; and 20 per cent attended less than one-tenth of the days available. The attendance record of many hereditary Peers, on the other hand, is very much better than that.
§ Attendance would not matter under the amendment. All that would matter would be the judgment of those of our fellow Peers who had attended at least six sitting days in each of the two Sessions preceding the election in question. The idea is to have as knowledgeable an electorate as possible, which would have some idea of the likely performance of those being elected. All Peers would be free to stand, however little they had attended.
§ As drafted, all Cross-Benchers who met the attendance criteria could elect 240 out of their present number of 334 Peers, be they hereditary or appointed. As far as concerns new Cross-Bench Peers, I was impressed by Amendment No. 86 in the name of my noble friend Lord Crickhowell for an independent appointments commission for new Cross-Bench Peers, which we debated last Thursday (at col. 1352 of the Official Report).
§ As to the Labour Party, it would in theory be able to elect up to 200 rather than its present suggested number of 176. In fact it might keep all its Peers at the first election because a number of them would not have served for one year and I understand that it has at least 24 new Peers in the pipeline.
§ I concede that the drafting may require some refinement, but whatever number the Government decide the Labour Party should have, the same number should be offered to the Conservatives. That would give a basic House of some 700 Peers, plus the Bishops and the Law Lords. I would hope, too, that the House would wish to invite their Royal Highnesses the Prince and the Peers of the Blood Royal to stay on. But I know the sensitivity of that suggestion and I have tabled it separately under Amendment No. 138 for later debate.
§ Just for the record, under the amendment the Conservatives would have 200 Peers whereas Weatherill gives them 212; Labour would have 200 whereas Weatherill gives them 159; the Liberal Democrats would have 60 whereas Weatherill gives them 47; and the Cross Benches would have 240 whereas Weatherill gives them 150. The amendment does not envisage the election of 15 hereditary Peers as Deputy Speakers, because they could continue to be appointed in the normal way from the new House.
§ Upon reflection, I fear that subsection (1)(d) and subsection (6) of the amendment may be wrong not to differentiate between newly appointed Peers and new hereditary Peers. Those subsections limit speaking and voting, especially for new Peers. The present drafting may be in order for new hereditary Peers, who would 48 have at least one year to prove themselves to their electorate before an election, but appointed Peers need the certainty of longer than that in the new House, say five years at least, if they are to accept the disruption to their lives which serious commitment to your Lordships' House requires. I apologise. The amendment could probably be much improved and simplified if all Peers were allowed to speak, but only elected Peers and those appointed Peers who had not yet been in the House for, say, five years were allowed to vote. That might mean that a newly appointed Peer could sit and vote for up to 11 years before facing an election, but the Committee may think that reasonable. New hereditary Peers would be allowed to speak but not to vote until they were elected.
§ It is important that the electorate, being those Members of the whole House with a reasonable attendance record, should have the opportunity to form an opinion of new Peers, and of those who had failed at a previous election, before each election. It is for that very good reason—not for any reasons of sympathy or plain decency—that the amendment envisages all Peers being allowed to enjoy the same rights of access to your Lordships' House as they do at the moment. Here again, subsection (11) of the amendment should probably be redrafted to reflect the granting of that privilege on a permanent basis and not just for two years before an election.
§ I emphasise that the House created by the amendment, like the House created by Weatherill, would endure only until Parliament accepts any of the recommendations of the Royal Commission. Stage two may be some time in coming, however, given the uncertain nature of devolution in Scotland and Wales and the difficulties of agreeing any final outcome of the Royal Commission. We must do our best to make arrangements now which may have to last for a number of years. That is why the amendment caters for a period of more than seven years if necessary.
§ The main difference between the amendment and Weatherill is that the latter fixes the number of hereditary Peers who are to stay on and does so in one election. This amendment maintains the whole pool of hereditary Peers and the whole pool of appointed Peers to be available for election from time to time as the House decides. No one can predict how many hereditary Peers might therefore stay on, but it would be a number judged by the House to be justified on merit.
§ I know that the Government may wish to dismiss the possibility that the interim House may last for as long as seven years or longer, but that is no reason why we should not cater for such an eventuality, however remote it may be. Indeed, as I said in an earlier intervention to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, I notice that the draft paper on the Weatherill amendment drawn up by the Clerk of the Parliaments for the Procedure Committee also considers the possibility that the interim House might endure for more than five years and indeed for such a length of time as to make the proposed Standing Order provision unworkable. So the suggestion that the interim House may last for quite some time is not entirely fanciful, as the noble and learned Lord the 49 Lord Chancellor admitted in his response to the first group of amendments today. If the interim House may last for more than five years, then why not seven?
§ In conclusion, I appreciate that this amendment is unlikely to win me any friends on these Benches because it is even tougher on the Conservative Party than is Weatherill. But I hope I have explained the reasons for that.
§ I am aware, too, of the acute probability that I myself would fail to stay in your Lordships' House under this amendment. The Dickens' character in A Tale of Two Cities, Sydney Carton, comes to mind here. As your Lordships will recall, Mr. Carton replaced his aristocratic friend in the tumbrel bound for the guillotine. If that happens, then at least this amendment will have proved to be a measure of the independence and objectivity which I trust your Lordships' House will bring to this hugely important Bill, in the interests of the nation as a whole. I commend the amendment to the Committee and beg to move.
§ 5.30 p.m.
The Earl of Dundee
I support my noble friend's amendment. In considering it, two general tests should be applied. First, does it promote cross-party consensus on Lords reform? Apart from that, and secondly, can it be consistent with the terms of the present Bill?
On cross-party consensus, three main issues must be addressed and accommodated. Each was successfully so by the Labour Government's 1968 Lords reform proposals. One of the architects was the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, and I am glad to see him sitting in his place. As your Lordships are aware, those proposals were forcefully backed by this House at the time. That the Bill was dropped in another place was no fault of ours. We should keep reminding ourselves of that fact and we should now seek to re-establish the level of cross-party agreement which obtained then.
The first issue is approximate voting parity between the main parties. The second is restriction of the hereditary principle so that on succession to a peerage there is no longer an automatic right to sit and vote. The third main issue is the preservation of the present high quality of the deliberative function and, within this Chamber, the continuation of the ascendancy of that function over party politics and voting.
My noble friend's amendment achieves all three of those aims. How it does so in regard to the first two may be self-evident from the subsections of the amendment. How it assists the third aim is equally clear, yet in this case the beneficial effect follows from other elements which the amendment draws together.
That effect is achieved through subsections (2), (5) and (6) of the amendment when taken together. It is proposed that an electoral college of Peers selects Members for seven years only and Then reviews their appointment; and it is provided that for a number of years, although not indefinitely, existing Peers not so selected may speak but not vote. Reselection every seven years is a useful expedient. In fact, without it, a mechanism is lacking to replace Peers who since their appointment in the first place may have ceased to 50 contribute to the work of the second Chamber. However, as my noble friend Lord Pearson has just reminded us, there is an obvious distinction between contribution, on the one hand, and attendance on the other. There is even a paradoxical relationship between the two; that is, since good attendance may often mean little contribution although much loyal party political voting; conversely, a great deal of contribution, and arguably that which is most useful to the House, comes from part-time attendance. The party political voting function may require Members to be here practically all the time; the deliberative function does not. That is so since it consists of questions and debates, the highly regarded Lords' European Communities Select Committee reports and the work of Lords' delegations overseas, including the Council of Europe.
Therefore, my noble friend's amendment, by enabling a sufficiency of numbers and a regular scrutiny of selection, protects the quality of the deliberative function. Otherwise, with an insufficiency of numbers and no mechanism for reselection, the quality of the deliberative function would be under threat. My noble friend's amendment provides a very good balance on this issue and thus on all three of the main issues of Lords' reform.
The other consideration is how far his amendment is consistent with the terms of the present Bill. As a result of the Weatherill amendment, on its recommitment next week the Bill will contain some new elements also present in my noble friend's amendment. For example, the recommitted Bill provides for an electoral college to appoint a number of Peers, and thereby it provides also a mechanism to achieve approximate voting parity between the two main parties. If the present Bill should stop there, then two things follow regarding the deliberative function of the second Chamber. First, part-time attendance becomes inconsistent with the new voting function expected of its Members. Secondly, part-time attendance would hardly be recognised as a backbone, which in fact it is, of the deliberative function. Instead it would be seen to breach the terms and trust of the appointment of a life Peer in the first place.
If we wish to bury our heads in the sands, we could seek to argue that we should leave everything to do with Lords reform, let alone its main issues to stage two. Yet why instead should we not now seek within the Bill to help the work of the Royal Commission and of my noble friend Lord Wakeham? We can do that now by building up cross-party agreement over the three main issues of Lords reform. Next week we can begin that process. We should incorporate within the Bill, once recommitted, my noble friend's amendments.
§ Viscount Trenchard
I congratulate my noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch on his inspired and sensible amendment. Many noble Lords on all sides of the Committee will agree that it represents a better way forward than does the Bill incorporating the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, with due respect to him.
51 I agree with my noble friends Lord Strathclyde and Lord Cranborne that the Weatherill amendment makes a bad Bill better. That is why I voted for it last week. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, said that it made a good Bill worse but nevertheless supported it. I find it hard to think of good reasons why any noble Lord who supported the Weatherill amendment would not prefer the rather better alternative to it of my noble friend Lord Pearson. It has in it something to appeal to all Members of the Committee and would, I believe, produce a better transitional House which would be better able to continue to discharge its constitutional responsibilities. It provides for a greater degree of continuity with the present House and is therefore more in keeping with the evolutionary nature of our constitutional arrangements.
One of the reasons I find my noble friend's amendment attractive is that it treats all Members of your Lordships' House, appointed and hereditary alike, in the same way and therefore removes any suspicion of hybridity which I believe exists in the Bill as currently drafted. The Government have claimed that the Bill will make your Lordships' House more democratic and more legitimate. Recently, the Government have tended to use the word "representative" rather than "democratic". The argument that life Peers are more democratic than Peers by succession is obviously false and I rather doubt that life Peers are any more representative than hereditary Peers.
Legitimacy is a more difficult question. It is often claimed that your Lordships' House lacks legitimacy because of the hereditary principle. I do not think that is true. I believe that the legitimacy of the House does not derive primarily from the means by which your Lordships became entitled to be Members but rather by the knowledge, ability, skills and contribution which they bring to this place. I would not like to argue that all hereditary Peers have equal legitimacy with all life Peers, although I can understand the argument that on the day of taking his seat a Peer by succession who has made no obvious contribution to public life may enjoy a lesser degree of legitimacy than the life Peer who has already made a noteworthy contribution to public life. The situation may be quite different a few years after taking their seats. The degree of legitimacy that each is accorded will then be based on an appreciation of their respective past and anticipated future contributions to the work of this House much more than on the qualification by which each was originally entitled to receive a Writ of Summons to attend this place.
Contrary to what we often hear from some noble Lords, I believe that this House as presently constituted is regarded as possessing a high degree of legitimacy both at home and abroad. My noble friend's amendment would ensure that the transitional House would retain most of its legitimacy.
I am also attracted to my noble friend's amendment in that the electorates or constituencies are not divided between Peers by succession and appointed Peers. I support the view that all Members of this House, once they have become Members, are equal and should be treated as such.
52 This amendment would guarantee the continued membership of a far larger number of Cross-Bench Peers than would be the case under the Bill as amended by the Weatherill amendment. Noble Lords are aware of the Government's determination that the House will continue to contain a significant independent element. Under this amendment, it would be the largest element. It would enable the House to continue to discharge its functions as a brake on the unfettered power of the executive and as guardian of the constitution.
My noble friend's amendment provides for the continued participation in this House of those noble Lords who are judged by their peers to have the most to contribute irrespective of whether they are life or hereditary Peers. The resulting transitional House would therefore be likely to contain a wider range and greater quantity of knowledge, experience, skills and talents than would be the case under the Bill incorporating the Weatherill amendment.
The amendment would end the right of all hereditary Peers to sit, and continue to sit, in this House by virtue of a hereditary peerage alone. In that, it meets the Government's objective as efficiently as does the Weatherill amendment. The Government seek broad parity of numbers between the two largest political parties. This amendment would immediately ensure exact parity of numbers between Labour and Conservative Peers, which will not be the case under the Bill as amended by the Weatherill amendment. That feature should commend my noble friend's amendment to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House. Assuming that the three party groups and the Cross-Benchers elected life and hereditary Peers in equal proportions to the numbers taking the various Whips, I calculate—the Committee will forgive me if my mathematics is incorrect—that 18 out of 18—that is, all Labour hereditary Peers—would continue to sit: as would 127 out of 301 Conservative hereditary Peers; 21 out of 24 Liberal Democrats; and 150 out of 209 Cross-Benchers. Of course, it would not turn out quite like that; a higher proportion of hereditary Peers than life Peers very seldom attend this House. I expect that in the event rather fewer than 127 Conservative hereditary Peers, and rather fewer than 150 Cross-Bench hereditary Peers, would be elected.
It is true that the amendment might result in the temporary retention of a larger number of hereditary Peers than under the Weatherill amendment. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor told us last week that the hereditary Peers who would remain under the Weatherill amendment would have greater authority because they would have been elected by their fellow hereditary Peers. It therefore follows that under the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Pearson, the Peers by succession, and the Life Peers who remain, would have even greater authority, because they would all have been elected by all their fellow Peers. Also, the continued presence of a larger number of Peers by succession would provide a stronger guarantee that stage two will actually happen within the reasonably near future. My noble friend's amendment is also simpler 53 than that of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, in that it dispenses with the need for a separate election for 15 Deputy Speakers.
It has been claimed, even by some of my noble friends, that hereditary Peers are more independent than life Peers. It may surprise the Committee that I do not necessarily agree. There are many life Peers who are at least as independent in their thought, speech and voting as the average hereditary Peer. I would include life Peers whose appointment was recommended by those who have long since ceased to hold political power, as well as some of those who are newcomers to this House. However, hereditary Peers self-evidently cannot be accused of being beholden to the Prime Minister or anyone else in respect of their membership of this place. I regret the emasculation of the independent element of this House that will result from enactment of the Bill. This amendment would greatly reduce that emasculation and the consequent politicisation of this House.
The transitional House as proposed by the Bill, even with the Weatherill amendment, will certainly be much more politicised than it is at present. There will be no room for the part-time politician. My noble friend's amendment would result in a House that might not be unduly politicised, because it would include a much larger independent element. There might also be some room for part-time Peers, who can bring experience gained outside the House.
The amendment meets the requirement of Amendment No. 134 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, in that it would produce a House containing a Cross-Bench proportion of some 34 per cent, leaving aside the Law Lords and the Bishops. On an all-inclusive basis, the proportion would be nearer 30 per cent, which is what my noble friend Lord Lucas had proposed in Amendment No. 81.
All Peers, hereditary and life Peers alike, who were elected to continue to sit would be subject to re-election by all Members of the House belonging to their party or group at least once every seven years in the event that the Government did not after all bring about stage two and a fully reformed House within that period. If stage two is indeed implemented within seven years, it therefore follows that there would be only one set of elections to choose the continuing Members of this House.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor stated earlier today that to include detailed provisions for by-elections under the Weatherill scheme would be needlessly cumbersome because he did not think the transitional House would last long. I 'wholly accept that that statement reflects the noble and learned Lord's belief and the Government's commitment to stage two. However, in the most unlikely event that, as a result of circumstances which even the noble and learned Lord cannot at present foresee, there is a second set of elections, I suggest that in order to make the proposal more attractive to the Government my noble friend should consider denying new hereditary Peers, both in the election itself and in the proceedings of the House generally, during the trial period, prior to their acquiring greater authority through the election. I suggest that new life Peers should not be restricted from voting in that 54 way prior to their being required to seek the endorsement of their fellow Peers for their continued membership.
All in all, the amendment has much to commend it to all sides of the Committee. I hope that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House and her noble friends will consider it seriously, particularly as it seems to possess several advantages from the Government's point of view, not least the immediate achievement of parity with the Conservative Party.
The transitional House that would result from my noble friend's amendment would be a much better one than that created by the Bill incorporating the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill. It is not too late for the Government to think again. It would not be impossible to form a consensus among all parties to proceed with stage one of reform of this House along the lines of this amendment.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Lord Peyton of Yeovil
Perhaps it will relieve the nervous tension of the Front Bench opposite, if I say, first, that it is not my intention to attempt to emulate the eloquence of my noble friends. Secondly, although I have not been a passionate, wholehearted supporter of the Bill, I nevertheless prefer it to my noble friend's amendment.
§ Lord Clifford of Chudleigh
The amendment raised by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, surprised one or two of us by the fact that it appeared today, before the review of the Weatherill amendment. We had heard about the possibility of such an amendment being brought forward in stage two.
I applaud the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, for putting forward the point that those who stay in this House will be subject to self-selection. It is absolutely vital that we do not impose on the general public once again. It is fair and just that the election of Members of this House should be appreciated by another place.
Another point which is quite interesting appears in subsection (6) with its reference to a Writ of Summons. The Committee may recall that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, had received counsel's advice from Mr. Lofthouse. That is a point that will be subject to further comment at Report or possibly before.
It is very worth while to recollect what the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, said about parity within parties; it is essential. He is not the only Peer to have mentioned that. I do not entirely agree with the figures that he put forward and I do not necessarily agree with the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, my Convenor. Nevertheless, if one can achieve an absolute and fair balance between the political parties, the general public will give a great 55 deal more credit to this revising Chamber than at present. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, on tabling this amendment.
§ Lord Haskel
I voted for the Weatherill amendment and I do not have the slightest intention of changing my mind. It is wrong for the Committee to debate something which is really a comment on the Weatherill amendment. I believe that that amendment should stand. We should debate it next Tuesday, which will be the right time to discuss any changes to it. It is quite pointless to indulge in a long debate on the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson. The Committee has given its view and voted for the Weatherill amendment by an overwhelming majority. That is the view of the Committee.
§ Baroness Park of Monmouth
I shall be very brief. I am taking my life in my hands because I differ from my noble friend Lord Peyton. That takes courage. I voted for the Weatherill amendment, which I believe is a good answer. However, this amendment contains valuable aspects. As the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, pointed out last week, no fewer than 138 hereditary Peers play an important and valued part in our Committees. The Weatherill amendment will make that impossible.
I respect the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, for his amendment. It gives a great deal of weight to the Cross Benches in which I also believe very strongly. I do not intend to vote for the amendment, but it has quality and it should have been discussed.
§ Lord Milverton
I believe the amendment has quality and points which should be noted. I did not vote for the Weatherill amendment for many reasons. The figure given is too clear-cut. My noble friend's amendment has points which should be considered. It could possibly make the Weatherill amendment better than it is.
§ Lord Strathclyde
I congratulate my noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch on bringing forward a comprehensive scheme for reforming the House. It is widely known that he has always thought constructively and deeply on these and many other matters. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, is no longer in his place as he is another Member of this House who has put a great deal of time and effort into thinking up alternative schemes. However, I recognise the difference between my noble friend's scheme and that of the noble Lord, Lord Richard. His scheme is a stage-two provision, while that of my noble friend relates to stage one. That is an alternative to the scheme approved by the Committee and known colloquially as the "Weatherill amendment".
We have had a useful debate. The only sadness is that, apart from the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, there has been no criticism at all from the Labour Party. I can only assume that it believes that this amendment has more merit than may otherwise be the case. I can understand why. My noble friend has put forward a seductive argument. It sounded like the Budgets that are 56 occasionally brought forward by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Gordon Brown, in that there appears to be something in them for everyone, apart from the party Whips. My noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch seems to have something against them, but I cannot imagine why. I hope that in the near future he will change his mind.
The main achievement of this amendment is that it meets the demand for broad parity between the parties. I know that the Government hold dear to that point of view. Indeed, many of us believe that the real motivation behind this view is just that: namely, broad parity. I fear that 240 Cross-Benchers in a House of 753 is more than I believe the Government would be prepared to accept. The "Pearson proposal", if I may call it that, means that 31.8 per cent of the House would comprise Cross-Benchers. I note that the Government found it inconvenient to accept Amendment No. 134, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, which put a floor of 30 per cent on Cross-Benchers.
The new clause that we are currently discussing means that only 23 per cent. of Members would be Cross-Benchers. With the addition of the Weatherill amendment, that would mean a total of just under 25 per cent would be Cross-Benchers. This amendment also avoids creating the kind of division between categories of Peer that the Government's legislation has injected into the House. It sets a ceiling of 700 on the size of the House. That figure is not much too large although I suspect that it is at the extreme end of what is desirable.
Another advantage is that it sets up a regular procedure for renewing the membership of the House. I welcome my noble friend's thinking and analysis. But there are also defects. It leaves too much to be determined by decisions in Standing Orders. I shall not repeat the speech that I made on that earlier this afternoon, but the same reasons apply.
The most substantive point against this amendment is that it seeks to set up an alternative arrangement to that already passed by the House last Tuesday in the Weatherill amendment. For that reason, I very much welcome the debate. This amendment is a valuable alternative. Perhaps at another time it might have been a better alternative than the one we have already approved. However, if the Government showed a willingness and an interest in reopening the issue and wanted to discuss this matter further, I am sure that we in the Conservative Party would gladly take part in that debate. My noble friend has put forward valuable ideas, but in view of the fact that the House is being driven by the Government's framework, I am sorry to say that I shall be unable to support him if he presses this amendment tonight.
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
In moving his amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, described it as both a radical proposal and a pipedream. From the Government's point of view, it falls more into the latter category than the first. I agree with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, and my noble friend Lord Haskel if the amendment is intended to be solely a proposition for the transitional House.
57 I confess that when I read it I was not clear that that was the intention because subsection (5) states that elections should be held at intervals of seven years. That goes way beyond the proposition of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor who this afternoon referred to the Procedure Committee's interim proposals which he described as catering for a proposition that might last for five years. If the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, invites us to provide in statute that elections should be held at intervals of seven years that is something more appropriately considered by the Royal Commission in the context of the long-term reform of the House.
But I am advised by what other noble Lords have just said, including the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that the amendment is intended to be solely a proposal for the transitional House. In that case I reinforce the point already made that this is an alternative to the Weatherill amendment to which the Committee has already agreed and the Government would not be prepared to support it if the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, sought the opinion of the Committee on this matter. Clearly, it will be for the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, who said he regarded some of the proposals as seductive, to decide whether or not he finds the amendment sufficiently seductive to abstain or vote against it.
§ 6 p.m.
The Earl of Caithness
Perhaps the noble Baroness can he a little more forthcoming. She will recall that the debate on the Weatherill amendment was slightly truncated and many of us who wished to speak were not allowed to do so. What would be the thoughts of the noble Baroness on my noble friend's amendment if on re-commitment the clause with the Weatherill amendment did not stand part of the Bill?
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
Since the noble Earl invites me once again to go into detail on something that 1 have described as a proposition that the Government cannot accept in principle perhaps I may simply demonstrate, using figures provided by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, how this particular amendment would be completely unworkable. I refer to the proposal related to the Labour Party. Subsection (2)(b) provides for 200 Labour Peers to be elected by the Labour Party. As the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, himself pointed out, currently the number of Peers on the Labour Benches is 176. Of those, 55 were created during the Session preceding that in which the Bill will be passed. Therefore, under the provisions of subsection (1)(d) they will automatically qualify for continuing membership without the need to be elected. That leaves 121 Labour Peers who are being asked to elect up to 200 Labour Peers.
Therefore, under this amendment when the initial election takes place there may not be even 200 voters, let alone 200 candidates. I could express detailed concerns about many other parts of the noble Lord's amendment. if the noble Earl wishes it I shall do so. However, in principle the Government do not accept this 58 as an alternative to the Weatherill proposal for the transitional House and if the noble Lord presses his amendment to a Division we shall oppose it.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have supported the amendment. I believe that my noble friend Lord Trenchard asked whether it would be better for new hereditary Peers not to have a vote in effect until elected. I agree with that, and I tried to mention it in my introductory remarks.
The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, said that there was a massive vote for Weatherill and he wanted to stay with it and support it. That is fine. However, some of us abstained and some voted against it. But, surely, the fact that the Committee has supported Weatherill in a massive vote last Tuesday does not mean that it cannot be just one step in the right direction. We are at Committee stage and that is what it is for. I do not understand the position of the noble Lord.
§ Lord Haskel
My position is very simple. That discussion is over and the Committee has made a decision.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
The Committee has not made a decision if it wants to improve upon it. That is the purpose of the Committee stage and there i s no point in arguing about that.
I believe that the speech of my noble friend Lord Peyton was the most disappointing that I have ever heard him make. I have always enjoyed his contributions but on this occasion he contented himself with agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Haskel. It was a sort of "bang, bang, you're dead and I'm not playing" speech that I do not believe contributed much. I can only leave him with my disappointment that he did not regale us at length with his reasons for disagreeing with the amendment when no doubt he listened carefully to my few words in introducing it.
§ Lord Peyton of Yeovil
In the course of 33 minutes my three noble friends made it clear to me that the amendment had very little merit. I did not propose to take up a lot of time on where the merit should have been.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
If when we are in debate we say that something does not have merit usually it behoves us to say why not. Neither the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, nor my noble friend Lord Peyton troubled himself to do that.
My noble friend Lord Strathclyde from our Front Bench felt, rightly, that the Government would find the Cross-Bench element of this amendment too high to bear—perhaps because he has himself been a Chief Whip. I do not pretend that the numbers in this amendment are necessarily right. That is what Committee is for. Those numbers can easily be adjusted on Report, to meet any of the real objections made so far.
I conclude by referring to the kind remarks of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House. She got it wrong when she reported me as saying that my 59 amendment was radical and a pipe dream. I did not say that. I admitted that my amendment was radical but submitted that it was still worth serious consideration by your Lordships. I said that a House of Lords composed entirely of truly independent, Cross-Bench people was alas a pipe dream. Such a House would be in the best interests of the British people, although I understand that it does not go down very well in the goldfish bowl of Westminster.
I made it very clear in my introduction at least twice—if not three times—that it was a proposed solution for the interim House and that I had taken the interval of seven years just in case the interim House lasted for that length of time. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor himself agreed that it might last for five years. If five, why not seven? I said that we should be prepared for seven. In further response to the Leader of the House, I also said that the Labour Party might not need to hold the very first election. It could easily have 200 Peers many of whom would qualify for the new House without an election, especially when the Labour Party might have no fewer than 43 new Peers in the pipeline. My remarks mentioned only the 24 who would be necessary to allow the 200 Labour Peers to continue without an election.
I am extremely grateful to noble Lords who have supported the amendment. I am disappointed that leading Members of your Lordships' House cannot bring to bear the flexibility which this amendment requires. Perhaps they will be good enough to read in Hansard what I have actually said. Maybe I shall bring this matter back at Report stage, but in the meantime I thank the Committee for its patience and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil moved Amendment No. 110F:
After Clause 3, insert the following new clause—
§ DURATION OF ACT
§ (" . This Act shall cease to have effect and the repeals referred to in section 3 shall be ineffective on 31st October 2001 unless, before that day, a subsequent Act has been passed by both Houses of Parliament to make new provision for membership of the House of Lords.")
§ The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, first, I should like to thank my noble friend the Chief Whip—it is unusual for me to do such a thing—for his courtesy in taking on this matter temporarily last Thursday night when matters moved at inconceivable and unprecedented speed. The amendment attempts to deal with the anxiety frequently expressed in Committee that the transitional stage will last much too long and that there will be infinite delay in establishing a second Chamber. In no bad faith or attempt to deceive anyone, I am concerned that what the Government hope will happen may not happen—and that we shall be left with the unsatisfactory interim arrangements much too long.
60 My noble friend Lord Alexander of Weedon would have seconded the amendment but he is in Ireland today for a longstanding engagement. The third name to the amendment is that of the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, who is no longer in his place, and the fourth is the noble Lord, Lord Bridges—so I can claim that the amendment has Cross-Bench support.
Four important issues have not yet been settled, which is what makes us all so anxious about the Bill. I hope that the Government have learnt that when a half-measure is opposed, that does not shorten proceedings but tends to lengthen them because it makes people curious about what has been left for the next round. The Government have suffered much from that procedure. I have the feeling that interest in this stage of the Bill is not what one would call "throbbing" and that long speeches are not the best way to endear oneself to the Committee—and I have always wanted to endear myself to your Lordships.
The four questions of serious concern are: when will a second Chamber be established; how will it be formed—by what process; who will be in it; and what powers will it possess? It is in everyone's interest to answer those four clear, simple questions as soon as possible.
The Bill concerns the whole of Parliament, yet we have never really heard any mention of the House of Commons. All we hear about is that the other place is a democratically elected assembly. That may be so, but it cannot be claimed that the House of Commons behaves in an extremely democratic way. With rare exceptions, the other place behaves with extreme docility when faced with not-all-that-ferocious Whips. That does not seem particularly appropriate in a Parliament whose duty is to fetter, control and watch the executive. Sometimes it appears that people suffer from the belief that the only duty of Parliament is to provide the executive, but there is another, ensuing duty: to watch it carefully and ensure that it does not get up to absolutely intolerable mischief.
As to the question of when the new second Chamber will be established, I will say in fairness that the Lord Chancellor's acceptance of the Weatherill amendment (and the manner in which he accepted it) did something to soften my anxiety. The noble and learned Lord gave me the impression that the Government are sincere in wanting to end the transitional stage as soon as possible. My anxiety remains because the best laid plans of mice and men often do not come to fruition.
By what constituency will the new Chamber be elected? We have been told all along—I am not a wholehearted supporter of this proposition—that the supremacy of the House of Commons is of first importance. When the other place behaves in a democratic fashion, I go along with that—but as it often fails to do so, one has to be careful. I strongly suspect that the option of an elected or partially elected second Chamber will not be followed because it could be seen as posing a future threat to the House 61 of Commons. It would be a bit odd if an attempt to make your Lordships' House more democratic produced a totally nominated Chamber. I suspect that that is what we are going to end up with, and I shall he interested to hear the Minister's reply on that point.
As to who will be in the new second Chamber, all Prime Ministers tend to have plenty of friends and one is always anxious because not all of them are terribly desirable. I am concerned that we do not have a second Chamber comprising poodles—rather tame and well-behaved poodles at that—to go along with the government of the day.
One of my objections to the Bill is that it will leave political parties with more power. I am not sure what they will do to preserve the position of Cross-Benchers, which is very important, but I fear that we shall find ourselves saddled with a second Chamber in which the political parties are more powerful and important and enjoy more prestige. They have quite enough already and ought to be shorn of some of it.
My last anxiety, on which we have received little guidance, concerns the powers that the new Chamber will have. If those four important points are left unanswered, Parliament will be in a serious state of jeopardy.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
I am following the noble Lord's argument closely. He is asking my noble friend the Minister to second-guess the recommendations of the Royal Commission. We need to wait until that commission reports and gives us the benefit of its inquiries. We need to wait until the Joint Committee of both Houses, into which the other place will make its input, has met. Then we need the Government's reaction to all that. I am puzzled that the noble Lord, who is well experienced, is inviting the Government to say in detail now what they would prefer to happen, when all they have done so far is indicate the principle.
§ Lord Peyton of Yeovil
I am deeply obliged to the noble Lord for his helpful intervention. He has drawn attention to the possible length of the interval that will ensue before any of those four questions can be answered.
The amendment makes a rather pleasant, happy proposal, which is that in the event of there being no valid second Chamber in existence—I do not mean the transitional one—by 31st October 2001, there will be the marvellous experience of seeing many of my noble friends and other noble Lords exiting the graves to which they have been confined and being restored to a new and what I hope will be a happy and fruitful existence. I realise that that is a rather far-fetched hope, but I cannot entirely curb the spirit of optimism which is inherent in my nature.
62 I hope that the noble Lord will realise that there is genuine anxiety about the length of period and the number of uncertainties there will be before the Government's plans for a second Chamber have a chance of maturing. I beg to move.
Before the noble Lord sits down, can he tell us whether he has selected 31st October on the ground that it is Hallowe'en?
§ Lord Peyton of Yeovil
I did not have that in mind, but it is not a bad idea. I shall borrow it from the noble Viscount.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
I speak to Amendments Nos. 110F to 110H, 115, 120, 135A and 135B. These are sunset amendments.
The hope is that the amendments will not he put to a Division tonight because they are inconsistent with Amendment No. 111 which has already been debated and which implements the referendum amendment which was withdrawn by leave and has now been redrafted to be tabled at Report stage, taking into account the various points made. The suggestion of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, and my noble friend Lord Cranborne who opposed it, was that we should take a rain check.
It would be premature to pre-empt the referendum amendment on which the opinion of the House shall be taken on Report. If it were not to be carried in a Division, I would support one of the amendments in the grouping under Amendment No. 110 if moved. But I would much prefer to support Amendment No. 120. I believe—it is a matter for noble Lords—that it provides an effective, well thought out and fair long stop, or safety clause, to implementation as to stage two which, quite rightly, was the concern of my noble friend Lord Peyton.
§ Lord Bridges
I put my name to the amendment first moved by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, and I speak in support of the amendment now. I am intrigued by the amendment of the noble Lord which seems to me to be typically ingenious. It was a device which first came to my attention when living in the United States. For four years I watched with some trepidation the proceedings on Capitol Hill. It frequently was the case that where the executive branch sought some special authority—let us say, to negotiate a treaty on foreign trade—Congress, while willing to give the President that authority, would seek to put a term on it because it was not altogether sure about his intentions and wanted to have a good look at the measure before it was passed into law. That was known as a sunset clause. In effect, that is the device which the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, has adopted. I think that it is ingenious and quite appropriate for the circumstances.
The amendment does something else which appeals to me. It reinforces the Weatherill amendment. It provides a means of ensuring that stage two actually happens. I hope that the amendment will find favour.
63 In listening to the lengthy debates today, my mind has brought to the surface a quotation from a famous contemporary Italian novel called The Leopard by Lampedusa. The chief character is a rather old fashioned Sicilian. He sees that times are moving against him. Towards the end of his life he has to agree to certain rearrangements in his family which he finds difficult to accept. However, he consoles himself with the thought that some things must change so that everything can stay the same. In some of the speeches today I believe that that thought has been present too. However, as regards the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, that thought is reversed: some things must stay the same so that everything can change.
§ The Earl of Northesk
Amendment No. 120 in the name of my noble friend Lord Trefgarne and myself is in the group. It offers an alternative version to the other proposals of my noble friends; namely, tying the duration of the Bill to the report of the Royal Commission. I have little to add to the general arguments of my noble friend Lord Peyton, except to raise one or two small points.
On the surface, the prospect of a hereditary peerage being reinstated after a sabbatical might appear ludicrous, but it should have the desirable effect of concentrating minds. The Government Front Bench has expressed its commitment to stage two and beyond to this Chamber in no uncertain terms. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, described convincingly in our debate on Amendment No. 31, the pressure of time and events upon the Government will be such that the potential for progressing the matter in the short term is negligible. In other words, the certitude exhibited by noble Lords on the Government Front Bench is by no means the same as actual delivery, unless the Government have in mind some strategy, perhaps by means of secondary legislation or executive decree, that they are keeping up their sleeves.
Nor do I subscribe to the view that acceptance of Amendment No. 31 on the face of the Bill will either inevitably or as a matter of course accelerate the process of further reform. It will act as a spur, a motivation. But, as we all know, that has existed since the 1911 Parliament Act, and has often been frustrated by another place. There is nothing new in our current situation, nor will there be if and when the Bill is enacted, to suppose that that impasse has been magically brushed aside.
I do not doubt the sincerity of the intent. But the reality is that however often or forcefully a promise is made it cannot be a cast iron guarantee. After all, none of us can see into the future. That being so, acceptance of any one of the mechanisms proposed in the group of amendments would act as a more compelling earnest of stage two than the Bill as it stands. That fact should commend itself to the Minister.
§ Lord Elton
I have tabled an amendment in this group. It is normal to take matters in that order. I am 64 perfectly happy to give way, if noble Lords think that is preferable. However, it is normal to introduce together the amendments which are being spoken to.
§ Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
I wish to make a brief contribution. The sunset clause is surely the Weatherill amendment itself. That provides a huge incentive to the Government to get on with stage two, a point acknowledged by the Opposition Front Bench.
§ Lord Elton
I congratulate the noble Lord on the brevity of his speech. I do not altogether agree with its content. It seems to me that a further inducement is needed. I do not say that in any provocative way. I know that it is apt to be taken by the other side of the House as though it were disagreeable or disobliging. However, it really is the case that no one is in command of events and any help they can gain in commanding those events should be welcomed.
I share the hope, but not the expectation, of my noble friend Lord Peyton that a great deal of the Government's future intentions will be revealed as a result of his amendment being tabled. I concentrate merely on the single point that if we are to give way to a genuinely transitional House, the period of transition should be defined. That would mean that further steps would have to be taken if the period were to be extended.
I have sought the best precedent and advice. A source which will commend itself to all noble Lords by the seniority of its origin, and in particular to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, is that of the noble Lord her father. I quote col. 219 of the Official Report of 30th March 1999. The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff stated:do not put forward a final view … I hope that the Government will not try to do all of that in this Parliament. If so it will he a hit of a bodged job. I cannot see a reform measure being introduced until perhaps the first Session after the general election, by which time our discussion may be complete. I hope that the Opposition regard that as a sensible way to proceed".In order to endorse its "sensibleness". I have adopted the suggestion in my Amendment No. 115. It provides that the Act,shall have effect until the last day of the first Session of the second Parliament following the Parliament in which the Act is passed".There is respectable authority for giving the Government that length of time in which to prepare their next stage and some difficulty in arguing that it ought to be longer.
§ 6.30 p.m.
The Viscount of Oxfuird
My noble friend Lord Gisborough has tabled Amendments Nos. 135A and 135B. Unfortunately, due to his duties in the lieutenancy, he is unable to be here tonight to speak to them and has asked me to do so in his stead.
Whether the Government accept it or not, the hereditary Peers who attend this House regularly have the feeling that they are in a job. That was admitted by the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal. As such, they are concerned that they do not let their organisation down, a feeling similar to any loyal member of an 65 organisation outside this place. It is not so much a matter of personal concern, but a belief that to walk out and leave a vacuum would be personally disloyal.
That is what we are being legislated to do. What will come in its place, we know not, but we know that we have a duty to guard the quinquennial Act and to ensure that no government exceed their allotted time. In order to achieve that, the Bill, and finally the Act, must be rigorous in its clarity and purpose, and it is now that these matters have to be addressed. It is obvious that a fully appointed House must be open to the abuse of patronage. Man is made thus.
In 1997, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor reminded the House that it was important to avoid the public perception that this House is the biggest quango in the nation's history. In order to achieve that, there must be an Act to back it up. Once the current Bill is passed, there will be nothing to prevent the Government changing their mind and saying that they want this Chamber to reflect the majority in another place.
It would certainly not be for the first time that a government have chosen to go back on their word. We have only to look at the beef-on-the-bone issue in order to remind ourselves of the potential for such policy changes. We must now examine most seriously the acceptance of the Weatherill amendment in relation to the Government's stated intentions in this Bill. We are a relatively stable nation without the problems caused by governments which have dogged so many other countries. By and large, our democracy has led to moderate governments, without inflicting either extreme Right or extreme Left policies on the country. But who can tell in the future? Do we just leave the matter to trust? Who foresaw the Falklands and who foresaw Kosovo? Who can foresee the effect on our country of a population swollen perhaps to 100 million? We already see road rage when people take the law into their own hands. There is such a thing as cause and effect.
Those consequences have to be thought through and it is not beyond the bounds of imagination to see in the future an extreme government with an appointed second Chamber voting to prolong Parliament. With a part elected House, that would be more difficult. Certainly, with hereditary Peers able to return for such a Bill, it would be almost impossible. I totally accept the assurance of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, that he would defend the quinquennial Act, and the same would go for every Member of this House as it is today. But if the unforeseen were ever to occur and we were to have some extreme leader, who could say then that the power of that Act could be maintained?
The report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, suggests two ways of senate composition. But will the other place agree to either? By all historical precedents, the answer is no. It is possible that the interim Chamber under the Weatherill amendment could by default become the permanent. Then again, when the 90 have faded away the Chamber becomes all appointed, leaving the Weatherill amendment with no long-term value and not guaranteeing a stage two. Hence this amendment.
66 We are on our own in this matter and the public will be badly served if we do not put forward a solution to this problem which can be accepted in another place. Otherwise, the ultimate threat must be the return of the hereditaries. We must not walk out and leave a vacuum.
§ Lord Callaghan of Cardiff
The noble Viscount raised so many hobgoblins, I am not sure I can remove them. However, as an assiduous student of everything the Labour Party says, I can say that in its evidence to the Royal Commission it made it absolutely clear that it intends to accept the quinquennial Act, as it always has done, and that it should be incorporated into the new arrangements.
I do not suppose that that reassures the noble Viscount for one moment. No, I did not think that it would. The only circumstances I can conceive of it being broken is if the Conservative Party goes even more mad than it is today—but that is unlikely, too. I cannot believe anyone else is likely to affect the situation to which the noble Viscount referred.
I turn to the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and I am obliged to him for quoting me. I wish to reinforce what has been said, but I ask a question which arises out of the amendment and in view of those associated with it. I shall not particularise, but let us suppose that we are not all reformers. Let us suppose when the Bill is passed there are little evil devils lurking in our midst who do not share our overwhelming view for reform and who might reflect on what happened in 1968. That is not unknown to the mover of the amendment. Why should they not use the passage of these amendments, in particular Amendments Nos. 110F, 110G and 110H, in order to prevent the passage of a reform Bill? Why should they not do so? We have precedents for it, as the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, knows. He not only knows but he took part in preventing the passage of a scheme which had been agreed by this House and which was wrecked by Mr. Michael Foot, Mr. Enoch Powell and the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, himself.
Old men forget, but the noble Lord is not as old as all that. I do not wish to put into his mind suggestions which do not exist, but I can imagine a new incarnation of the noble Lord in another place might well have it in its mind that the best way of ensuring that no hereditary Peer disappears finally from this place is to wreck any new arrangement. I have made the debating point and I now turn to the serious point.
The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, has given me the opportunity of reiterating my belief that securing a second stage will demand the good will of all three parties. Unless we have that we shall not have a second stage. I wish to reiterate that as firmly as I can because the responsibility rests firmly on this place. Once this Bill is passed, the Royal Commission will be valuable in clearing the ground, clearing our mends, stating what can be done and putting to us one or more propositions.
Unless there is a national referendum on this issue, to which I should be totally opposed because it is far too complicated, it will then be for all the parties to put aside all the ingenious amendments which could be 67 thought of to any scheme that is put forward. They must then settle down responsibly and place before this House and another place a scheme which is a sensible proposal for reform.
I repeat that we shall then have to subordinate all our ingenuities and different schemes. I have a scheme in my mind and I know it is better than anybody else's. But we must put that on one side if we are serious about reform. Those of us who are serious about reform say to those from all three parties who must conduct the business here and in another place that that is the only way in which the matter should be approached.
I hope that there will not be a Division on this matter. I am not willing to support it because it would give the wreckers an opportunity to ensure that no scheme for reform which is brought forward is successful unless we apply guillotines and so on, in a way that I should not wish to see. We really should not do that.
§ Lord Marlesford
I am one of those who has always seen the need for reform of your Lordships' House. I recognise immediately that there has been a lot of steam in the Labour Party for reform and there is an electoral mandate for the reform which the Government put forward through their initial Bill.
However, I was always concerned that the Bill would damage the House greatly and make the House of Lords much less effective than it has been. That is why I welcome so strongly what I regard as the brilliant negotiation by my noble friend Lord Cranborne which has infinitely improved the Bill. It has now made it tolerable for the present.
We should be extremely careful before we rush into further changes. I must admit that I have had moments of anxiety about the apparent desire which, on occasion, my party has seemed to show for not changing anything until you change everything. That has always struck me as a rather unconservative way in which to proceed. Those anxieties were fanned by the publication of the report by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern who appears to be throwing the whole family of triplets out with the bath water.
I cannot support the amendments. In the context, first, of the Royal Commission's report and, secondly, in the context of all the other changes which have been made to the constitution of our country, we must look to see how the interim House of Lords beds down. We should not rush into further changes. I recognise that my noble friend Lord Peyton put forward the date as a debating point but the idea that, at this stage, one can include any sort of sunset clause in the legislation is not only unrealistic but undesirable.
§ 6.45 p.m.
The Earl of Erroll
I have always held the opinion that passing the stage two Bill is imperative and that we should not be left in limbo. Although various inducements, such as the Weatherill amendment, help, a sunset clause is essential.
68 When the noble Baroness the Leader of the House replied to my noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch, she stated—and I paraphrase—that a seven-year interval between elections was excessive. I gather that she does not believe that we shall even reach the first election. Therefore, I presume that the Government will support a sunset clause with a period of less than seven years.
As regards the amendments, in order to consider the Royal Commission's report, I prefer either Amendment No. 115 or Amendment No. 135B.
§ Lord Desai
My noble friend Lord Callaghan referred to ingenious amendments being proposed. They are all in line with the reluctance of noble Lords opposite to realise that change is going to happen. The noble Lord, Lord Gray, said that we need a health warning on the interim Chamber. The only health warning needed is "New, improved House of Lords". We are about to improve it.
No great vacuum will be left when the hereditary Peers leave. I know that we life Peers are not hereditary and therefore do not have the great intelligence, virtue, sagacity and valour which the hereditary Peers have. But we are as mindful of our democratic rights as they are. We are as mindful that no government should be allowed to extend their term beyond the quinquennial Act. Indeed, I am astonished by what I can only describe as the arrogance of some noble Lords opposite who believe that when they leave, anarchy will break out and that we life Peers are complete weaklings who cannot think for ourselves without their help. Therefore, unless they help us, what do we poor people do?
The sunset clause is extremely interesting. I remind Members of the Committee that one piece of manifesto-led legislation which was reversed within the same Parliament was the community charge legislation—the poll tax. The poll tax was such a disaster that it had to be reversed within the same Parliament. I may be wrong but I remember no other legislation with a sunset clause attached.
Therefore, an innovation must be made only because of the distrust with which the hereditary Peers treat this House. I do not understand why we should think that when 660 hereditary Peers leave somehow the nation will lose all guarantee of its liberties. I find that proposition astounding. These amendments must be rejected.
§ Lord Trefgarne
The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, referred to what happened in 1968 when, as he said, this House was content with what was proposed. As I recall, we agreed to a Parliament (No. 2) Act enshrining the proposals which ran into the sand in the other place. Therefore, it cannot be said that in this House we are against the concept of reform. I am certainly not against it.
However, I object to this reform, which is not a reform at all. What is proposed in this Bill makes the House of Lords worse, not better. I agree with my noble friend Lord Strathclyde that the Weatherill amendment makes a bad Bill slightly less bad. But the Government maintain that it is just a temporary measure and that in 69 one, two or at the most, three years, and certainly within this Parliament, we are to have further reforms proposed, presumably in line with the recommendations of the Royal Commission.
Of course, the Government came lately to the idea of a Royal Commission. When we started out on this road a year or so ago, there was no prospect of a Royal Commission. I believe that it was only because of pressure from many quarters that the Government agreed to set up a Royal Commission. I hope that they will take seriously the recommendations when they are made.
§ Lord Callaghan of Cardiff
We must pay very serious attention to the Royal Commission report when it is published. But I do not go so far as the noble Lord because I believe he indicated almost that we must accept it. We must not. The Royal Commission will be a very good guide for us. But the parties must decide and bring forward a scheme. I want them to bring forward a joint scheme before both Houses. I interrupt only to make that point because I have noticed that a number of noble Lords seem to think that when the Royal Commission has reported, that is signed, sealed and delivered. It is not.
§ Lord Trefgarne
I agree with the noble Lord. We should not follow the Royal Commission's recommendations hook, line and sinker. But I hope that it will be a stage in the process towards a consensus and I believe that there will be a Joint Committee of both Houses to consider the Royal Commission report in due course. I welcome that.
However, the Government ask us to agree and accept that what is contained in the Bill is something temporary. Indeed, from time to time it is not exaggerating matters to say that the Government have sought to defend some of the shortcomings in the Bill by reference to the fact that they will be in effect for a short time only. If they are to be for such a short time—many of us have doubts about how short that time will be—it is right that we should have some form of arrangement to review the situation, and perhaps to revert to the status quo ante. Perhaps other arrangements should be put in place if, in the fullness of time, the Government do not bring forward proposals for a fuller and more acceptable reform of this House.
I am sympathetic to the theme of the amendments proposed. Indeed, my name is attached to one of them. I hope that the Government will understand the difficulties that we see in this matter.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
The noble Lord has indicated that he is not opposed to reform. In this debate, reference has often been made to the Labour Party manifesto. It is quite clear and unambiguous. Perhaps I may draw the noble Lord's attention to the manifesto upon which his colleagues fought the election in 1997. It stated:An asset to democracy, hereditary peers bring colour, tradition, youth and a wealth of experience to Parliament. They are a link to the customs and traditions that formed and shaped this country…lt is important to defend the hereditary principle in its own right".70 It went on to state:Radical blueprints for reform…should be rejected…the current arrangements work extremely well in practice…fundamental changes which have not been fully thought through—such as opposition proposals on the House of Lords—would be extremely damaging. We will oppose change for change's sake".Could the noble Lord tell the House his mind? Was it on the way to the to Damascus?
§ Lord Trefgarne
The noble Lord has expressed my views precisely. I do not agree with change for the sake of change, which is what I suspect is now proposed. I do not agree with ill-thought-through reforms, which is what that manifesto specifically said was not what we proposed. That is exactly what I thought then, as now.
§ Lord Davies of Coity
I was a little surprised by the noble Lord when he said that the Bill is not a reforming Bill. I should have thought that the removal of the right of the hereditary Peers to sit and vote in the House was of itself a stand-alone reform, apart from any further changes.
Two comments made from the Opposition Benches in support of these amendments staggered me. One suggestion was that this House would be a vacuum. It cannot possibly be a vacuum. More than 500 Peers will be left in the House and its duties and responsibilities will continue until any change is proposed by the Government.
I also found strange the reference to governments changing their minds. Of course, governments change their minds. In recent years, one of the biggest changes was on the poll tax. Governments elected by the people can afford to do such things in changing circumstances.
Perhaps I may address specifically the question of Amendment No. 110F. My noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton interjected and referred to it being somewhat precipitate in view of the fact that there is to be a Royal Commission and a Joint Committee of the two Houses and that this Bill will commit the Government to taking action in advance of the conclusions of those bodies. However, I believe it goes further than that. The Bill commits the Government to an Act of Parliament before any recommendations have been produced. It may be that the new House will not require an Act of Parliament, so why, at this stage, should the Government be committed to introduce an Act of Parliament when one may or may not be necessary?
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, as ever, made a wise and thoughtful contribution, which reminded us of his long and enormous experience. He spoke of there having to be a period during which both Houses would have to attempt to reach a consensus on stage-two reform. Does the noble Lord believe—human nature being what it is and the problems that we can foresee being what they are in relation to the decision on the future House—that it may be a good idea, at some point, to have a Sword of Damocles hanging over the head of the government of the day who will have to make the decision? It may riot be the date that my noble friend is suggesting in his 71 amendments, but perhaps a Sword of Damocles would be helpful. As the noble Lord prophesied, does he believe that it would be possible to arrive at a consensus in a reasonable period of time without such a Sword of Damocles?
§ Lord Callaghan of Cardiff
I would want to think about that. I believe that we shall have great difficulty in getting this through a second stage. I keep saying that to anybody who will listen to me. That does not mean that we should not start it now, and that is why I support the Bill. I hope, when we look at it again, that there will be a coming together of the three major parties in order to achieve a second stage. Of course, my noble friend was right when he indicated that, even with the removal of the hereditary Peers, we shall carry on. There is unlikely to be a substantial revolution in the House when the hereditary Peers step down.
However, I do not think that that is sufficient. We need to have a second stage, but that will demand the utmost goodwill between the parties. We had that in 1968. The basic trouble with the 1968 situation—apart from the fact that it was wrecked—was that it was from the top down. It was started at the top by the parties, and both Houses were told what had to be done. However, one House rejected it, which it was perfectly entitled to do. This time, the process has been started in a better way.
I was very much in favour of the Royal Commission, although I have interrupted to say that we must not take that as the words of the Medes and Persians. However, I am in favour of that if it helps to begin the creation of a consensus on the issue. It will then be the responsibility of the parties to consult their members and to go as far as they can in consultation. The leaders of the parties will have to meet together in order to produce a scheme of reform. Only in that way will matters go through; otherwise we shall be left with this.
§ Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes
The noble Lord. Lord Callaghan, is at his most avuncular, pleasant and witty. If that had been the attitude of his right honourable friend the Prime Minister and others in the other place who embarked upon this legislation in a most malicious and spiteful way and who rounded on my noble friends who are hereditary Peers, dismissing them with contempt, and if the atmosphere had been one in which he was attempting to promote consensus, we might have had an opportunity to reach a consensus. However, until that attitude changes, I doubt that that will occur.
§ Lord Elton
Perhaps I may return to address the Privy Council Benches opposite, although formally I address the Government Front Bench. There was a great deal that was attractive and persuasive in what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan. We would all look forward, with great relief, to a period in which there was consensus between the different parties in another place and here, however difficult that is to achieve. To arrive at that situation, we have yet to get past the point where it is in the interests of any of them 72 to obstruct progress. Those of us who are anxious about what is proposed are not anxious about the aspirations of a Labour Prime Minister as such—or those of any Prime Minister past or present—to have undue influence in the second House of Parliament, but that point is not entirely taken on board by those who sit opposite. I see the noble Lord, Lord Acton, graciously shaking his head.
§ Lord Acton
With great respect, the Conservatives have either had an absolute majority or have dominated this House since the days of Pitt the Younger. I find the noble Lord's assertion absolutely extraordinary.
§ 7 p.m.
§ Lord Elton
I find the noble Lord's own assertion extraordinary. I am not here defending the past, as I said before. Noble Lords opposite are united in saying that the past was a very bad thing. Constitutionally, they said it was an outrage. If I agree with them, is that so horrid? It may astonish my noble friends on this side of the Chamber, but looking at it independently as an impartial legislator for a moment, it seems to me that there should be a second House of Parliament which cannot by any means, easily or indeed at all, fall into the pocket of the leader of the executive of whatever party.
I cannot really see that it befits noble Lords opposite to say that "it was a dreadful thing when you did it, so let us now be able to do it". It is either dreadful for all of us or it is dreadful for none of us. I thought that we were achieving consensus by the idea that we should go forward to a House produced on a different basis which would be secure from that abuse which, as the noble Lord has said, was an abuse.
If that is so, there will come a moment, if we do not have Weatherill, when the executive in power at the moment—of whatever party—will be able to command a majority in this House and that party will see no advantage in going forward. The others will, but they will be in a minority. Therefore it seems to me that Weatherill is essential and if we are to allow the transitional House to persist over a period during which Weatherill could be eroded, as has been pointed out, over time, then we are taking a grave risk. That is why I think that one of these amendments is attractive.
§ Lord Swinfen
I am in two minds over a "sunset" clause. It could be helpful, but the sunset should not come too soon because there must be time for Parliament as a whole to consider the recommendations of the Royal Commission on this House. We should bear in mind that if it looks as though the powers of this House that exist today will be used more fully in the future or that the powers of this House are to be increased, as against those of the House of Commons, there will be very considerable difficulty in getting a consensus, particularly in the House of Commons, and in making certain that any reforms go through.
Therefore I think that if there is a "sunset" clause it should be some time away—probably three to five years at any rate because anything shorter than that I think is too soon. We must also bear in mind that, despite the improvements being made to this Bill by the Weatherill 73 amendment, there is nothing in law which means that the Prime Minister of the day—I am not necessarily talking about Mr. Blair, because things change—and the government of the day and the Members of Parliament of the day have to accept those recommendations. There has been disagreement over the reform of this House since 1910, and I would not be surprised if it goes on for a considerable length of time yet.
§ Lord Goodhart
The lead amendment in this group, No. 110F, has been put down in the names of Members of your Lordships' House for whom I have the highest respect. This applies of course to Amendment No. 110F in its present incarnation, and perhaps to an even higher degree to those who put their names to Amendment No. 94, which is the previous incarnation of the same amendment. Unfortunately they have entirely failed to persuade me to support them.
The result of these amendments, if passed, will be that unless the stage two legislation is enacted by an early date the hereditary Peers will come back to this House, lock, stock and barrel. The time allowed is short. In the case of Amendment No. 110F it is until 31st October 2001, which is only some two-and-a-half years away. In the case of Amendment No. 110G it is the end of the present Parliament: not later than May 2002. In the case of Amendment No. 110H it is three years from the passing of this Bill, and that probably means a date not later than October 2002.
Amendment No. 120, quite astonishingly, will bring back all the hereditary Peers as soon as the Royal Commission reports. That could be as early as January next year, unless the Royal Commission has proposed an increase in the number of hereditary Peers in your Lordships' House beyond the magic figure of 92. I would say that of these amendments only Amendment No. 115 proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, could give a reasonable time for stage two to be enacted. But even in that case, to these Benches, a "sunset" clause of any kind is unacceptable. It would be wholly wrong—
The Earl of Caithness
I am grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me to interrupt him. He does not seem to have considered Amendments Nos. 135A, 135B. Amendment No. 135B gives him a lot longer.
§ Lord Goodhart
Amendment No. 135A would give a very short time and Amendment No. 135B, I agree, would give a more substantial length of time, until the end of the next parliament, although that is a little bit shorter than the provisions of Amendment No. 115.
As I was saying, we believe that a "sunset" clause of any kind is unacceptable. It would be wholly wrong, having excluded some 88 per cent of the hereditary peerage, to bring them back again in full in any circumstances. The argument has been that it is necessary to keep the pressure on the Government to complete stage two and again, if necessary, to keep a watch on the executive.
That pressure, so far as is needed, is provided by the Weatherill amendment. That, as we all know only too well, will keep 92 hereditary Peers in the transitional, interim or appointed House. Surely 92 is enough. There 74 is no need to bring back other hereditary Peers from the wilderness. I should say that the amendment would also leave hereditary Peers in a personal limbo. What about those who wish to stand for election to the House of Commons? If they do so they will risk being disqualified if the present Bill, having been enacted, then lapses under the "sunset" clause.
Let us remember that the purpose of this Bill is to get rid of an historical anomaly and in saying that I mean no disrespect whatever to individual hereditary Peers who, as we all know, have played an extremely valuable part in the workings of this House. However, the removal of the hereditary Peers is fully justified in its own right, we believe. The hereditary Peers are not gifted, in our view, with a special wisdom and experience to make them better guardians of the constitution than the rest of us. I must say that it seems odd to find hereditary Peers calling attention to the independence of the hereditary peerage while speaking from the Conservative Benches. They are failing to notice the inconsistency between what they are saying and the place from which they are speaking. I should also say, in response to a remark of the noble Lord, Lord Elton—
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
Would the noble Lord give way? Would he not admit that there are quite a lot of Peers who are appointed Peers, who take exactly that attitude towards the independence of hereditary Peers? I think his remarks perhaps need tempering slightly in that regard.
I think that perhaps the noble Lord might consider tempering his remarks a little because had he been a Member of the House when the Conservative government was in power he would then have realised there were many, many occasions when Conservatives did not vote for the government. That caused great distress to many of us who were responsible for trying to get government policies through. I could recite many occasions when Home Office matters were concerned when not all our friends, but quite a number of them, regularly went into the "wrong" Lobby. I remember reminding the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, of her name. I said, "Remember your name; it is Faithfull. You hardly ever come into the Lobby with us".
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
I wonder whether the noble Earl recalls the comparison of the periods 1974 to 1979 and from 1979 to 1992. In 1974 to 1979 there was a Labour government and that government were defeated on average 80 times a year. Yet when the independent Conservatives had the right to vote against their government between 1979 and 1992, those defeats were reduced to 15 per year.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
Before the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, rises to reply to my noble friend Lord Ferrers, is he aware of a statistic I gave this 75 afternoon, that my noble friend Lady Thatcher was defeated no fewer than 157 times in 12 years by this Chamber?
§ Lord Goodhart
We have heard that statistic a great many times. I do not dispute that there is a degree of independence from Members on the Conservative Benches, both hereditary and life. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, referred to the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull. The noble Baroness was, of course, a life Peer and not a hereditary Peer. But the argument is equally true of noble Lords on my own Benches and those on the Government Benches.
The noble Lord, Lord Elton, said that it was important to go ahead in circumstances where nobody was under an incentive to block reforms. That may be so. But I cannot think of anything that would give the Conservatives a greater incentive to delay stage two than the prospect of a sunset clause coming into effect. If the Government do not get on with stage two and come up with a proper answer, the real sanction will not be the continuing presence in your Lordships' House of 92 hereditary Peers, or even 750 of them, but the displeasure of the voters at the ballot box. If the Government drag their feet on stage two, the opposition parties should attack them, and we certainly shall. These amendments are unnecessary.
The Earl of Dartmouth
Is the noble Lord seriously of the opinion that the average voter in this country takes any great interest in matters of constitutional reform? I say that as somebody who is going to the polls on Thursday 10th June and holding myself up before the electorate.
§ Lord Goodhart
With respect, I believe there could well be a serious public backlash if the Government are seen to carry out stage two in a way that would make a second Chamber of the future an undemocratic body.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
On the question of electoral backlashes, does the noble Lord think an electoral backlash in the circumstance of the Government not proceeding to stage two is more or less likely than an electoral backlash in Scotland against his party describing its promise to abolish student fees as merely election rhetoric?
§ Lord Goodhart
That has very little to do with our debate. What is more, the agreement between the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats in Scotland will give Scotland a government based on the wishes of the majority of the population in Scotland.
The Earl of Erroll
The noble Lord stated that the backlash will come if the Government present a stage two which is totally unacceptable, to paraphrase what he said. But Amendment No. 110F relates to a situation in which the Government do not produce a stage two. As the noble Earl, Lord Dartmouth, said, the public may not notice. They might notice if the Government produce a stage two; but the danger is if they do not produce a stage two. That is the challenge.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lord Goodhart
That is quite right. There will be a backlash if the Government fail to get a move on with a proper stage two or if they come up with an unacceptable answer in the course of stage two. Therefore this group of amendments is unnecessary in intention and undesirable in its consequences.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
If the noble Lord has this great faith in the power of the people, which I share, why does his party oppose a referendum?
§ Lord Goodhart
A referendum is to be reserved for limited occasions. This is not an appropriate occasion.
§ Baroness Park of Monmouth
The reason I wished to intervene earlier to support the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, is precisely the same reason as that given by my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour. A sword of Damocles is not an unhealthy idea. My concern is that, as time goes on, the country is falling apart in relation to constitutional issues. New situations will arise with the creation of a Parliament in Scotland and an Assembly in Wales; new and important issues will come up. It is important for the stability of the country that there should be strong reasons for the Government to move as soon as the Royal Commission has reported and the all-party committee has discussed the matter.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
I can but worry about this group of amendments and perhaps I might be so bold as to put my concerns to my noble friend Lord Peyton in the hope that he feels in a more conversational mood. When the sun comes to set, or as the time limit approaches, the Government, in good faith, may not be ready to bring forward a sensible stage two plan which would answer the needs of the United Kingdom and its devolved parts; in other words, a plan that would meet the interests of the nation at the time. But the prospect for the Government of having to have all the hereditary Peers back might be so disagreeable to them that they may be tempted to rush through Parliament a Bill which is even worse than the Act which this Bill will create. I wonder whether my noble friend Lord Peyton has thought of such an eventuality, and perhaps he will deal with it when he comes to reply.
§ Lord Northbrook
I want to pinpoint something said by the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan. I appreciate his views on this amendment and I wonder whether he himself has thought of a timescale for this sunset clause; in other words, to which amendments, if any, he would agree in relation to the time.
§ Lord Elton
I can perhaps save everybody's time. If my noble friend refers to my speech, he will find that I quote it.
I wonder whether, when the poor noble Lord replies to this debate, he will consider the difficulty in which he finds himself. None of this would have occurred if there had been a proper Bill.
77 The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan., said in a very understandable and agreeable way that when the second stage comes he hopes that it will have the approval of all parties and that we have to try to find the right answer. If the Government had done that in the first place, we would not be in this situation. Because they did not; because they suddenly produced this Bill which the noble Lord, Lord Desai, says will be an improvement—I do not know why he considers removing 600 people will necessarily improve things; it may do, but that is only a question of opinion—we are entrenched in this difficult debate.
When the Government produce a Bill saying, "This is what is going to happen and we do not know what is going to happen afterwards", it is not surprising that awkward amendments such as this are tabled. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, is very capable of dealing with awkward amendments. But I hope that when he does so he will agree that it is a difficult situation created entirely by the Government themselves.
§ Lord Desai
I should like briefly to respond to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. I believe that this Bill will bring improvement in that it will make the House more legitimate.
§ Lord Strathclyde
Certainly the most significant speech of the day was made by the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, who brought his usual wise words to the debate. I entirely agree with the noble Lord in what he said about consensus. That is why we have consistently been opposed to the Government's approach and maintained that we should have no stage one without stage two. This whole subject needs not only consensus but also wide public debate. If there were wider public debate—and it is the responsibility of all parties to produce that—we might reach the desirable conclusion mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart.
The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, may not have said so exactly, but I believe that he said by implication—and it is a very important point—that reform of this House should not belong to any one party. Again, that is the problem about the Bill with which we are dealing. This is very much Labour Party policy. The other comment that the noble Lord made, and to which my noble friend Lord Ferrers just referred, was the fact that there will be a great deal of difficulty in reaching stage two. Indeed, that is becoming increasingly obvious on all sides of the Chamber. I believe that that is the thinking that lies behind the amendment.
I should point out at this stage that, although the amendment has been tabled in my name and in that of my noble friends on the Opposition Front Bench, this is of course a repeat of Amendment No. 94. My noble friend was unfortunately absent from the Chamber when we reached that point very late on Thursday evening. I should also point out that I am talking to all the amendments in this grouping—namely, Amendments Nos. 110F, 110G, 110H, 115, 120, 135A and 135B. All these amendments have the same intention; that is to say, to press the Government to move on to the 78 presentation of a proper reform Bill and to provide them with the added incentive to do so. However, if they do not, the great phalanx of hereditary Peers may return to torment them.
As the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, pointed out, there is a range of possible dates involved. For example, Amendment No. 120 speaks of such a date taking effect on presentation of any proposals from a Royal Commission which further affect the hereditary peerage. Amendment No. 110G talks about the sunset being the end of this Parliament, while Amendment No. 110F states the date of 31st October 2001 and Amendment No. 110H would mean autumn 2002. Amendment No. 135B speaks of the end of the next Parliament and Amendment No. 115 would mean the end of the first Session of the Parliament after next. It is for this Chamber to debate and determine which of these dates it prefers.
However, despite the fact that a range of propositions up to the autumn of 2002 stand in the name of our Front Bench, I find myself most attracted to what I envisage is the aim of Amendment No. 115, proposed by my noble friend Lord Elton. It seemed to me that the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, felt rather the same way, although he then went on to say that he did not think the Bill needed any sunset clauses at all.
The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, also made what I thought was an extremely good point and one which I had not thought of before; namely, that hereditary Peers who had been elected to the House of Commons would then find themselves in an awkward position. However, I hope that the drafters and my noble friends will be able to find a way round that problem. Nevertheless, it is an obvious flaw in the amendments that are currently before the Committee.
Amendment No. 115 works best because it proposes that legislation for proper reform of the House would have to be presented not by the end of this Parliament, nor by the end of the next Parliament, but by the end of the first Session of the Parliament after next. That means a date unlikely to be before the autumn of 2006 and perhaps even as late as the autumn of 2008. It would provide the whole of another Parliament for the party opposite, were it to win another term of office, to legislate again on this House and then for my own party to present proposals, were we to win the election after that. However, were my party to win the next election and not satisfy the House in the next Parliament with another Bill on reform, the party opposite would still have another Session of Parliament in which to act. No one could suggest that this would be to press the Government—or, indeed, any government—too hard, unless the party opposite expects to lose the next two elections.
The purpose of all these amendments is not to save the hereditary peerage; its purpose is to guarantee a real and lasting settlement of the future of this House. I agree with my noble friend Lord Ferrers that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, who is to reply to the debate, has a difficult job. But the Government's response will show whether their attitude is principled or expedient. If they truly intend to act as they profess, and as the 79 noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor reminded us this afternoon, then why need they fear the stimulus to do so? Indeed, now that the words of the manifesto have been abandoned, what better guarantee and better self-stimulus could they provide?
How the Government respond on the various questions of timing will also tell us how long term their plans are. I agree with noble Lords who have said that Amendments Nos. 110G and 110F might be too swift and pressing for the Government, but I wonder whether they can argue convincingly that the amendment of my noble friend Lord Elton would be too hasty.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
I am very fond of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, as he knows. Indeed, I believe that everyone else in the Chamber shares my admiration for him. I have always tried to follow his lead. The inclination to do so by simply saying, "The arguments that I have heard are without merit and it would take much too long for me to explain why", is quite a temptation.
The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, with a noticeable lack of conviction, put forward an amendment standing in the name of four Opposition Front-Benchers. In fact, he seemed to be running away from it faster than I was about to destroy it. That is quite surprising. He then asked me about principle or expediency. Perhaps, as they say, he misspoke.
The noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, asked four questions: when will the second stage be brought about? How will it be elected? I think he also added in parenthesis the word "selected". Who will be in it; and with what powers? The answers to all of those questions, which I readily accept are legitimate matters of concern, are those issues we have identified and to which we wish the Royal Commission to attend. The Labour Party has put forward its evidence to the Royal Commission. After all, the commission has been given a timetable which most of your Lordships regard as quite difficult. After the Royal Commission has reported, a Joint Committee of both Houses will consider the matter and, thereafter, Parliament is to have a view.
I rely on what the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, said; indeed, that is a proper way of going about the attempt to find consensus. Let us not forget that the Royal Commission is chaired by a former Leader of both Houses of Parliament, who was a senior Conservative. It has those of great independence of mind upon it. We have not attempted to pack the commission and have given it a free remit with our undertaking, which cannot be reneged upon, that the matter should go to a Joint Committee of both Houses. These are important matters of constitutional change. I revert to what the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, said: we have gone about it with a proper, considered and, I believe, fair and generous approach to constitutional change.
That being so, these amendments are simply devices. They are not workable devices; they are based on the premise that we do not mean what we say. Of course, that comes as a great shock to anyone who has ever been in a modern government. However, what we have 80 done—and I do believe that is fairly described as "generous"—is to enter into the compromise reached by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, which means the continuance of 92 hereditary Peers. We are against the very principle of the hereditary element in this House. As I have said before, I recognise the value and worth of the contribution that has been made by the hereditary Peers and I have certainly never said anything malicious or spiteful about their contribution or, indeed, about any one of them in your Lordships' House.
However, I reiterate that we regard this as a matter of principle. We have bound ourselves to the Weatherill amendment, which is expressed and described in that way but which is essentially the Government/Cranborne compromise. I believe that when the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, spoke about that, he had a good deal of objective common sense to offer this Chamber. This is not an ungenerous thing to do, particularly when one bears in mind—I am not crowing or gloating but simply pointing this out—the size of the majority in the other place. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, that political parties have too much power. That is why careful thought has to be given to opting simply for a wholly elected second Chamber as I believe that would depend entirely on party political patronage, because you cannot run elections in a modern society without that.
I believe there is a good deal of moral worth in what the noble Lord and others have said. We do not want a genetically modified House of Commons sitting as a House of Lords. I believe that we have been fair in our approach. We have given an undertaking time and time again. I have said this, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has said it, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House has said it and my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer has said this on every occasion when we have been challenged. The Committee is entitled to say this sotto voce and, with the usual seemly politeness, to demonstrate it. However, we could not have demonstrated it more clearly and more fairly. I see that the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, is present. I do not believe that any Member of your Lordships' House considers that he would have entered into the arrangement I am discussing without being satisfied that it was an honourable compromise in a difficult situation.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Viscount Cranborne
I am most grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene. In view of what he has said, I reiterate once again my gratitude to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and to his colleagues in the Government for what I have found to be the entirely honourable and straight way in which they have dealt with the negotiations and for the way in which they have honoured their commitment, as I hope I made clear earlier last week. I pay tribute to that.
However, in the light of what the noble Lord has said, I hope he will answer what I thought was the implied question from his noble friend Lord Callaghan. The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, is more than able to speak for himself, as the Committee knows. But I understood 81 him to say quite clearly that if stage two is to occur it would require the co-operation and good will of all parties. Therefore I take from that observation that it is implied by the noble Lord that a modicum of ill will for a proposed stage two could all too easily wreck it. I make no comment because I have not spoken in the debate on these amendments. However, does the noble Lord, Lord Williams, accept the implications of what his noble friend said, and whether there is a danger—as the noble Lord implied—that in politics ill will exists, and that with regard to stage two a degree of ill will on the part of people who are perhaps not yet in politics could wreck all his good intentions?
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
I cannot agree at all with the underlying thrust of what the noble Viscount has said. I listened with great care to what my noble friend Lord Callaghan of Cardiff said. I understood that he was putting forward the proposition that reform is inevitable and that we should look for the best possible outcome not only for this Chamber but also for the whole of our democracy in this country. I absolutely agree with him. Further, I understood him to say that we can get the best possible reform if we listen to other people's opinions and strive for consensus. Those are easy words but we have yoked ourselves to at least two burdens: one is the Royal Commission, which has not been "packed" and has been given a generous remit; the second is the important undertaking—as we are still a parliamentary democracy—to establish a Joint Committee of both Houses. A third measure—this is the provision that I mentioned—is the Cranborne/Government compromise. I do not think that shows any ill will at all. Of course I cannot legislate away ill will but we want to go forward in the spirit identified by the noble Lord. However, these amendments do little to nourish and encourage a spirit of consensus. It is, I think, quite—
§ Lord Elton
The noble Lord is almost there but he seems to me to leave out one link. There is no question of arguing ill will or bad faith. What is being argued is that it is quite difficult to promise that something will happen within a specific time. If that depends on obtaining the good will of all three parties in the other place, let alone here, some of us cannot see how that is in the gift of any government because it depends on the tact and diplomacy of people in three, or indeed four, parties in another place, which they cannot deliver. That being so, either we make the interim arrangement as unbounded as the present interim arrangements are—as my noble friend Lord Cranborne has pointed out, we are in fact an interim House ourselves—or there has to be a sunset clause. Perhaps the noble Lord can argue that case.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
As the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has just said, we cannot promise absolutely to deliver by a certain date. The whole point of these amendments is to require absolute delivery by a certain date. No government, whether before or after an election, with whatever size majority, will be able absolutely to ensure good will. However, the way to get good will is to say, "We shall listen to what people say. We shall not work on the basis of diktat. We shall have 82 a Royal Commission which has been fairly set up—no one has suggested anything different—we shall have a Joint Committee and we shall look for consensus".
§ Lord Peyton of Yeovil
Perhaps I can help the noble Lord. I greatly appreciate everything he has said this evening and the way in which he has said it. I never had the intention to divide the Committee on this amendment which seeks simply to explore the Government's thinking on this matter. I repeat that I immensely appreciate the way in which the Minister has expressed his points. Now I would not even consider dividing the Committee on the amendment but I would like the chance to say a few words after the Minister has sat down.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
That is a handsome response. At the risk of tedium I can spend a moment or two describing the defects of each of the amendments in the group. As regards Amendment No. 110F, the date of 2001 simply cannot be met. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, abandoned his offspring as soon as it uttered its first squawk. However, I should riot have said that bearing in mind his recent domestic experience! I use the expression figuratively. The opportunity for malice and mischief-making is encouraged by establishing a timetable of that kind.
Amendment No. 110G provides for the Act to lapse automatically at the end of the parliament in which it is passed. That would mean that hereditary Peers—the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, is quite right in this respect—would once again become Members of the House of Lords. They would lose their right to vote in Westminster elections or stand for election, although in the meantime they would properly have been put on the register and might indeed have been elected in a by-election. Again, that is a built-in incentive to delay further reform.
Amendment No. 110H has similar difficulties. This proposes that the period of grace should be three years. We simply have no detail about when it would come into effect. It might be right in the middle of a parliamentary Session because it refers to the "passing" of the present Act, not its coming into force. Where that leaves the 750 hereditary Peers I am not quite sure. I can see the attraction of having the hereditary Peers returning after a period of three years. I would be agreeable to that if calamity occurred and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, had not been elected—which I am sure he will be, as I constantly say on his behalf—as he would have to return in three or five years' time, depending on which amendment one chose. But what about the legitimate expectations of all the wives of hereditary Peers? They would have then had a legitimate expectation, properly supportable by judicial review I am sure, that they would have had their husbands home in the clay. Would it be right to snatch from them that infinite prize? That deals with Amendment No. 110H.
The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, keeps on looking at me—I cannot think why—when he makes his remarks about having to go home 83 earlier and one's wife being disappointed and so on. I can assure him that my wife is not at all disappointed when I get home.
The noble Lord has been so kind as to explain in a very courteous manner the deficiencies in the amendment. I wonder whether he will take his courtesy one step further down the road and explain to me something which I have never understood. He has repeated this evening that the party opposite has a paranoid objection to hereditary Peers—I can understand that. It has got a very substantial majority in another place and it was in its manifesto that all hereditary Peers have to go. We were told that. I have never understood why there was a change; why there was a volte face and all of a sudden we were told the Government want to keep 100 hereditary Peers. It is not a trick question; I do not understand why it was necessary. What is the reason?
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
I always look at the noble Earl because I know that he will offer a contribution of some spirited quality which then requires a determined, focused examination, which I shall now offer.
I did not say that we had a paranoid objection to hereditary Peers. I said—I repeat—that we had a principled objection to the hereditary right to sit in the House and to conduct parliamentary legislative business on the basis of the capricious donation of birth. That is not paranoia; that is reason and principle. That was put to the public at the previous election; which brings me to the manifesto, which clearly the noble Earl has read with great care. We said that this would be stage one, as a stand alone reform, to invite the hereditaries to depart. It is perfectly true that there has been a tactical device which was entered into by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, for proper purposes and agreed to by the Government. It is a device which is to last for a very brief period. The noble Earl makes my point very well: it is a device intended for a short time so that there shall be, first, the practical utility of the 15 and, secondly, the binding device which means that if we want to bring about our principled solution—and we do—we will have to get on with it.
Let me go on to Amendment No. 115. That amendment deals with what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, suggested might be the better outcome. When I am accused of paranoia and all the other agreeable characteristics, I need to go back to the two words used by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde: is it "principle" or is it "expediency". The necessary outcome of Amendment No. 115 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, gives as long as, to use the awful phrase—I am only using it because it is in the notes provided for me and it would be a shame to waste them—the window between October 2006 and October 2008. By this stage one is getting rather unrealistic. I suppose that every October we could have an anniversary dinner and wonder whether or not we might be meeting again next year and possibly asking Dame Vera Lynn to join our deliberations. That deals with Amendment No. 115.
84 Amendments Nos. 120 and 135A are not dissimilar. They have the same defects. If I understand Amendment No. 120 correctly, it says that unless the Royal Commission includes a recommendation that, at the very least, the scheme set out in earlier Amendment No. 31 is retained and expanded, the whole of the Act should lapse. In other words, if the independent Royal Commission makes a particular recommendation, this automatically leads to an event which is the direct opposite of the recommendation. I forget who it was who spoke earlier in these debates about Alice in Wonderland, but this certainly seems to be not a sunset clause but an Alice in Wonderland amendment. If the Royal Commission says that all hereditary Peers should go or stay away, that would automatically trigger the consequence that all hereditary Peers should immediately return. The amendment is well calculated in its consequences.
Amendment No. 135A is not dissimilar. Our approach is that we have set our course properly and we are entitled to look—particularly after the Weatherill compromise—to the passage of the legislation. Essentially Amendment No. 135B, which is also in the grouping, repeats the substance of old Amendment No. 94.
I hope that I have dealt with the matters raised by the Committee. The fundamental, serious point of this group of amendments is this: is there an assurance that we intend business when we say that we are intent on the serious long-term reform of the House. We do mean business. I hope that I have illustrated why. I hope that I have illustrated to the general satisfaction of the Committee why we have yoked ourselves to the particular structures.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Lord Peyton of Yeovil
I rise very briefly to repeat what I said when I intervened in the noble Lord's speech. He could not have approached the problem with more obvious sympathy, concern and with a total absence of rancour or bitterness of any kind. There was no sour reaction from him and no great disappointment that all was not reason and light on the Opposition Benches—it never is. I greatly appreciate that. I will read very carefully what the noble Lord said. I believe that it will not be necessary to come back to this point again.
My amendment was not framed with any particular date in mind. It was an idea to get the Government's reaction—and we have had it. The Government's reaction—in the form of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Williams—does them nothing but credit. I greatly appreciate that.
The intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, was highly embarrassing for me. I hope that I do not offend him too greatly when I say that the noble Lord is not only my friend but also my neighbour. If I were to say anything disagreeable now I would find myself faced with the most dreadful reprisals, which I do not care to risk. I need not say more about the noble Lord's intervention except for this single point: every Government—most of them forget—need the utmost good will. Noble Lords opposite will require that good 85 will and, as long as they strike the note struck by the noble Lord on the Front Bench, they can expect reason from these Benches. Unreason begets unreason; it is for the Government to start being a little more friendly than they were at the start. I welcome the fact that they have been.
I have nothing more to add except to say that the plea of my noble friend Lord Pearson—I hope we are friends still—for an abandonment of rigidity is fully met and perfectly reasonable. The only fear I had was when the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, was on his feet and he started his remarks about the Conservative Party with those terribly ominous words, "With greatest respect to those concerned". I wondered how whole-hearted that respect was, but I will not go into it now. As I said at the start, I am also very grateful to my noble friend the Chief Whip, who was extremely accommodating and helpful to me. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 110G and 11011 not moved.]
§ Lord Hunt of Kings Heath
This may be a convenient moment to break. In moving that the House do now resume, I suggest that the Committee stage does not begin again before 8.49 p.m.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.