§ 3.33 p.m.
§ Debate resumed on the Motion moved yesterday by the Lord Chancellor—namely, That this House take note of the United Kingdom's existing constitutional settlement, and of the implications of proposals for change.
The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne)
My Lords, it is surely right that in two days of debate on the 1582 constitution a whole day should be devoted to Parliament. Much of our debate will concern itself with the future of your Lordships' House. There will be disagreement about our composition and perhaps even about our powers. However, on one thing I venture to suggest we will all agree; Parliament is and will continue to be the fount of authority and political cockpit of our nation. Of course there can be no doubt whence that authority flows. It flows from the consent of the electorate. Without that consent Parliament's authority would evaporate.
In a Parliament that consists of three parts—Monarch, Peers and Commons—ultimate authority can only rest with an elected chamber. I also suggest that the beauty of our present arrangements lies above all in their clarity—a clarity that arises from their fundamental simplicity. After all, there is but one elected element in Parliament. There can therefore be no doubt about where the victory should be in any dispute between the two Houses. It is a clarity that extends to the way the government themselves are chosen. Our present first-past-the-post electoral system nearly always ensures that the electorate chooses the government, not parliamentary factions hammering out deals in bars or in what has become the cliché of the smoke-filled room. It has ensured that rule by faction has become a folk memory and that governments stay or change as soon as the results of the election become clear.
That clarity is an asset of immense value. It gives our constitution a certainty in the way it works which is a source of political stability. As I shall try to make clear during the course of my remarks, stability is something we should prize above all else.
I do not propose to say much more about another place this afternoon except in so far as it affects your Lordships' House. I shall return to that in a minute. However, I would like, if I may, to draw your Lordships' attention to a passage in a speech made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister last week in which he suggested that Parliament might like to look at ways to improve its scrutiny of legislation. This is a subject that I know is dear to your Lordships' hearts. Indeed, I seem to remember that one of the first debates I answered in this House as Leader considered a recent report on the subject by the Hansard Society. I know many Members of this place, for example, my noble friend Lord Renton, have long advocated a number of the measures trailed by my right honourable friend last week, such as publishing more Bills in draft in advance and greater scrutiny of policy, whether in draft Bills or in White Paper form. I hope that in due course this House will begin to consider how we might build on some of the changes we have introduced of late—thanks to the initiatives of such eminent noble Lords as my noble friends Lord Jellicoe and Lord Rippon—to mirror some of the ideas my right honourable friend the Prime Minister is asking another place to discuss.
My right honourable friend's proposal that Parliament should consider changing the dates of the start of the parliamentary year and that the Government should look forward each year on the occasion of the Queen's Speech to a draft programme for the following year will make introducing these changes, which merely build on 1583 what is already beginning to happen, much easier. If those proposals were to be introduced and were to prove successful, I hope they would begin to deliver what has proved an elusive prize to date; namely, better prepared, better scrutinised legislation, and less of it. I hope we would as a result focus more attention on Parliament than on the television studio and that we could enhance Parliament's legislative role and the respect in which it is held.
I hope, too, that success would have a beneficial effect on this House's role as a revising chamber. We spend about 30 per cent. of our time revising legislation. It is one of our most important functions, but I wonder whether more careful preparation of legislation would not enable us to spend more of our time on debating important matters like our Select Committee reports, which too often are squeezed out by pressure of other business. Indeed, it seems curious that we should base some of the justification for our existence on the implied weakness of another place in sending us Bills which so often we feel the need to improve, sometimes substantially.
Experience shows that enthusiasm for such changes has up to now been the preserve, if I may put it this way, of the congenital optimist. I hope that this does not prove once again to be the case in the wake of my right honourable friend's proposals. But I make no apology for emphasising this aspect of our aspirations at the outset of my remarks, however unglamorous it may seem to some outside observers.
Like the clarity in our basic constitutional arrangements that I extolled a moment ago, I think that the quality of Parliament's legislative work is a great source of stability in our political system; and like, I think, every other Member of your Lordships' House, I find it distressing that another place seems to have fallen so low in public esteem. Over time the cumulative effects of such measures as my right honourable friend has advocated could make a significant contribution to restoring some of its standing. Indeed, stability—I emphasise that in my view it certainly does not mean rigidity—would be substantially enhanced.
What I am certain will not make such a contribution is a reform of your Lordships' House that undermines the authority of another place. And that, of course, as we all know from experience is the difficulty. By definition every reform of our House short of abolition would give more authority to the second chamber. It is, I seem to remember, what scuppered Mr. Crossman in 1968, and perhaps it will be what scuppers Mr. Blair if he ever wins a general election.
I suppose that one option could be abolition of our House. It is an idea that once enjoyed a certain vogue in the Labour Party. I am interested to see that the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, is so far out of step with his own Front Bench that he approves of the suggestion. I confess—I am sure that your Lordships will not be surprised by this—that I am not attracted by it. It is really because I am persuaded, above all, by the strictures of my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham in his celebrated lecture in which he warned of the dangers of an elective dictatorship.
1584 It is, I suppose, possible to envisage a constitutional court providing the necessary check on another place. However, like my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, I find a Bill of Rights and a constitutional court not only alien to our tradition but less practical, less flexible and, above all, less defensible in democratic terms than a parliamentary check on another place. Like the noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg—I hope that I do not misrepresent him; it would be the last thing I wish to do—I feel happier with the idea of Parliament enjoying supreme constitutional and legislative authority rather than the judges, except in so far, of course, as they are Members of your Lordships' House. I am, therefore, relieved that the Labour Party now seems to accept that it is desirable to keep a second chamber.
Nevertheless, I confess to being more than a little mystified about their plans for reform. Of course, the justification for continuing the present arrangements is that they work. Again my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham, if he will allow me to say so, has rested his case on that fact. Despite the ribaldry that I begin to see rising predictably on the Opposition Front Bench, I assert that this House works, and works well. You only have to experience a week in this place to feel that that is so. Our role as a check on another place, as a revising chamber, as the highest court in the land, and as a forum for informed debate is a formidable one, and if any more evidence is needed one has only to turn to the annual report of your Lordships' House to find a comprehensive account of our activities, carried out, I may say, for the modest price to the taxpayer of £24 million per annum.
Indeed, someone the other day told me that this House was,the only effective House of Parliament".Of course I regard that as an outrageous and impertinent slur on another place, and I reject it, as I am sure all noble Lords would. But the underlying compliment to this House is, I feel, richly deserved.
It was not always so. A distinguished former Leader of this House once told me in his old age that before the introduction of life Peers and women this House was, as he put it, "dying on its feet". As a result of the 1958 reforms, no one could say that of your Lordships' House today.
Nevertheless—and this is, I know, where I shall fail to take members of the party opposite with me—the longer I spend here the more I feel that the hereditary element in your Lordships' House is an important ingredient in our success.
My Lords, I always find it so extraordinarily gratifying that members of the party opposite react in so predictable a way. It is like pressing a button, and they react just as required.
If your Lordships will allow me a little trip into perhaps over-elliptical history, I remember that Mr. Enoch Powell has reminded us in his scholarly study of the medieval House of Lords that it was convenient for the monarch to separate those who 1585 wielded disproportionate power from the House of Commons. Since power in those days was concentrated in the hands of landowners, it is hardly surprising that the lay members became hereditary and that the other great landowner, the Church, also sent representatives to the House of Lords. Although almost at once other interests began to challenge the power of the landowner, rather sadly some of us might feel, it was not until 1846 and the subsequent agricultural depressions that the power of the landowner was finally broken. Indeed, I suspect that had it still existed in 1911, Mr. Lloyd George would hardly have dared attack it—with the greatest deference to the Liberal Benches.
Now the number of traditional hereditary Peers—I use "traditional" in the nature of hereditary Peers, if my noble friends and others will forgive me for describing them in this way—diminishes year by year. I think that as time goes on the hereditary element of this House has become something rather different and altogether more disparate from what it used to be. It is well on the way to becoming—and will so become if allowed to develop—a cross-section of society chosen by lot.
Of course, the Athenians, I seem to remember, thought that election by lot was the only truly democratic method. It is a tempting thought, and as a potential hereditary Peer, one I find strangely attractive. However, perhaps to apply that argument to the modern age may be going a little too far.
On a more serious note, we should be careful about accepting the myth of the built-in Tory majority in this House, with which I know the noble Lord, Lord Richard, will shortly regale us. My noble friend the Government Chief Whip certainly finds that majority from time to time, and even this week, a depressingly elusive beast. Members of the party opposite have by implication accepted the accuracy of my noble friend's experience and say—I think that we have heard some such talk this week—that it is a lack of majority by absenteeism, and that this is outrageous. But actually self-selection seems to work rather well, like the rest of this House, because of the absence of rules. I know that when my noble friend the Chief Whip winds up, he will address himself in a little more detail to this important question.
In an age when politics have become the preserve of professional politicians, the leavening that the hereditary peerage provides is valuable—so much so, and I say this particularly to hereditary Peers who seem sometimes to feel that they should forsake our Benches for the Cross Benches, that any feelings of guilt seem to me to be dangerously misplaced.
After all, those who demand that all parliamentarians be full-time professionals never explain how hired guns can be true representatives. Every body politic needs its full-time pros—the Tory Party needed Disraeli at one stage—but a parliament entirely composed of hired guns loses an essential citizen element.
There is another reason, too, why the hereditary element is valuable in an era of professional politicians. It underlines the fact that politically at least your 1586 Lordships' House is essentially an amateur House, even though many of your Lordships are highly professional in your chosen callings.
I believe that that amateur status reflects the national attitude to politics. For the overwhelming majority of the population, politics is only a part-time preoccupation, and I thank God for it. Rightly, people do not choose where they work for political reasons or their companions in their leisure pursuits simply because they agree with them politically. This seems to me a great national strength, a source of stability. It is reflected in the nature of your Lordships' House and the manner in which it conducts its proceedings. If the Labour Party ever succeeds in establishing its devolved assemblies in Wales, Scotland and, on a voluntary basis, in the regions of England, the immediate effect will be a huge increase in the number of professional politicians. Indeed, perhaps under that rule politics will be the only profession where employment will rise, particularly if the Labour Party signs the social chapter and introduces a minimum wage as well.
But perhaps the hereditary Peers' most valuable contribution of all is that a House composed as ours is cannot legitimately challenge the ultimate authority of the elected chamber. Paradoxically, therefore, our very weakness contributes to the organic strength of Parliament.
Now the Labour Party wants to reform the composition, but as I understand it—and I am open to correction—not the powers of this place. Despite what I have said in defence of our present arrangements, I am not in any way in principle opposed to reform, even radical reform, and I assure the party opposite of that. The more frivolous part of me recognises that any reform would increase the authority of this place and therefore welcomes the prospect. More seriously, it seems to me obvious that if anyone can devise a scheme of reform that self-evidently would deliver a more effective second chamber, we would welcome it with open arms.
What mystifies me is, first, why there is such urgency since our House works so well; and, secondly, the nature of the Labour Party's proposals. So urgent is the need for reform, apparently, that it will be one of the first tasks to be undertaken by an incoming Labour government. We constantly hear from noble Lords opposite and their honourable friends in another place that in their view there is an enormous amount wrong with Tory-run Britain (I note the silence from the Benches opposite): unemployment, the health service, no minimum wage, no social chapter, no devolved assemblies to satisfy Brussels' craving for a Europe of the regions and therefore evade the clutches of the only power that controls Brussels, national governments and so on. But all that which, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, they claim to be so urgent must yield its place in the queue to a proposal to remove the right of hereditary Peers to sit in this House. The Labour Party affects at times to be frightened of the power of the House of Lords to derail its legislative programmes in government. Perhaps that is it. Yet this House has never blocked the will of the House of Commons under a Labour government. We may have asked them to think 1587 again but, since 1950, only a Conservative government, I think I am right in saying, have been obliged to use the Parliament Act in order to secure a piece of legislation.
Where are the examples that will no doubt be trailed for us under a Labour government? Would it be the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill? We stood on the principle of hybridity there. It was not a technical device but a constitutional principle designed to ensure equal treatment for all in the legislative process. Although there were contentious issues in the public part of the Bill the mere existence of the Parliament Act was enough, as it was with the Trades Union and Labour Relations Bill, to secure the Labour Government's business. No, my Lords. Your Lordships' habited deference, if I may call it that, would, I am sure, be even-handed, were Labour to be in power, as it has been in the past.
We must look elsewhere, therefore, for the reason for this headlong rush to reform. So morally outrageous, clearly, is the existence of hereditary Peers that here above all pragmatism must yield to moral imperatives. Here, as so often, sanctimoniousness cloaks party political necessity. The secret, of course, is that the leadership of the Labour Party has slipped a gag into the mouth of its left wing. That gag is beginning to work loose. It needs to find a bit of sticking plaster to slap across its mouth. Reform of this House is, the leadership hopes, that sticking plaster. That is why they are in such a hurry. They are using this House and mucking around with the constitution to keep their own party quiet. I have already said that if we can find a way of reforming this House which we could be reasonably certain would improve our constitutional arrangements, we should and we will welcome it.
I had hoped, when I heard that the party opposite wished to reform this place, that it would at least have found a proposal for reform that, whether one agreed with it or not, had intellectual coherence—a peach of an idea that compelled serious consideration. The party signally failed in all the policy pronouncements to adapt Mr. Blair's memorable phrase in his recent John Smith Memorial Lecture:to justify in the thickets of detail".In this case, Labour Party leaders have gone even further and freely admit that they have not the faintest idea how this House will be composed once they have implemented phase two of their brilliant scheme. We are told that this House will probably contain "an elected element", but that phrase is the only trailer that we have been vouchsafed. I have already suggested that "an elected element" would challenge the supremacy of another place, so even this modest lifting of its skirts by the party opposite is something I greet with modified rapture. Surely a party that aspires to form the next government will have to do better than that if it wants the electorate and other parties to take it seriously.
Nevertheless, it is in the best traditions of this House to be constructive and it is in that spirit that I have a suggestion to make to the party opposite. It seems to me that the decision as to whether and how to reform the House will in the end be taken by another place—and it is right that that should be so. The Labour Party wishes 1588 to reform us and apparently does not know what it ultimately wants to achieve. So why not, in the unlikely event of its winning the next general election, suggest to another place that it establish a Select Committee to look into the question as to both means and ends? In the end, this really is Parliament's business and not a matter for some committee of the great and good. After all, it is Parliament which must make the judgment as to any scheme's fundamental soundness and as to the practicality of its detail.
I should be happy under those circumstances to recommend to your Lordships that we co-operate fully with another place to the extent necessary to allow the Select Committee to do its work. Any report from such a Select Committee would, I am sure, have benefited from evidence of Members of your Lordships' House and any subsequent legislation would he scrutinised with your Lordships' usual rigour.
Not the least of the advantages that would flow from such a proceeding would be that it would enable the Labour Party to ditch, without too much embarrassment, the rather curious half-way house it has proposed as a way of appeasing the gagged ones on the left of the party—the sticking plaster. It is clearly beginning to embarrass Mr. Blair in the same way as he is embarrassed by his devolution proposals.
I am not surprised that he is embarrassed. I am, of course, flattered that Clause 2 of the draft Bill that he supplied to the Constitution Unit and which it published in an appendix to its report should make an exception in favour of those Peers already sitting by virtue of a writ in acceleration. However, my deep personal gratitude for that kindness is, I fear, tempered by puzzlement as to why Mr. Blair should wish to transform one House of Parliament into the biggest quango in the land.
The device is dangerous. The swings of the political pendulum will ensure that its temporary nature will become permanent, particularly since it is not at all clear that we will ever be able to agree as to what the composition and powers of a fully reformed House of Lords will be. It will meanwhile deliver powers of patronage into the hands of party leaders unprecedented since the days of Newcastle and Rockingham. I have observed that the right honourable gentleman the Leader of the Opposition in another place rather enjoys stealing other people's political clothes—notably those worn by the increasingly outmoded Social Democrats of continental Europe. Perhaps now he rather fancies himself in a short wig and knee-breeches instead. All he would then lack is a Palladian mansion and a park but I am sure that they will arrive in due course.
I have spoken for long enough and there is a gratifyingly long and distinguished list of speakers who will, I know, make today's proceedings as much of an advertisement for your Lordships' House as did those who spoke yesterday. I believe that our debate over these two days will mark an important stage in the wider public debate over our institutions which has now been joined. If I were asked to give an interim judgment on that debate, I should have to say that so far none of the 1589 plans for constitutional reform mooted has as much merit as the constitutional settlement that we at present enjoy and that continues to evolve.
The world has always lived in a state of transition, driven above all by technological innovation. The late Lord Stockton once memorably said that Adam observed as much to Eve as they were expelled from the Garden of Eden. However, today's world is seeing a transformation more radical and more swift than any previous age of change. If we are to survive and prosper in this changing world we cannot ignore its challenges and hope that they will go away. If this country is not to become a poverty-stricken backwater, if we are to deliver the jobs and prosperity we all want, we have no alternative but to build on the economic transformation we have begun to bring about in this country since 1979. Economic change that embraces free trade and the economics of the market is not change driven by ideology, but by necessity and by opportunity.
Nevertheless, much as we may agree with that analysis—and it seems to me that this country as a whole does now agree with it—times of change stir another and conflicting emotion in all our minds. It is an emotion above all born of fear, a feeling of uncertainty, of wondering who we are and where we belong. It is in such times that the virtues of political stability become overwhelmingly apparent. Constitutional evolution, rather than constitutional revolution, becomes as much a necessary prerequisite for economic prosperity as economic change.
Our constitution is not—your Lordships' House is not— some ancient monument. It is a living being which responds to the challenge of changing times.
I look round this House today and see many leaders of change, as well as many whose wisdom is born of long experience. Some are life Peers; some are hereditary Peers. In this House, with its unique tradition of self-government which, I believe, mirrors our wider constitution, we come together to deliberate and advise.
I do not rest my case on raising faces of change. I rest it on the virtues of stability. This Government stand for both those things in tandem: economic change and political stability. The party opposite is offering us exactly the opposite: economic reaction and political revolution.
Our present dangers are the chattering voices who offer the Opposition economic reaction and political revolution. They could undermine irretrievably the settlement which tells our people where they belong and who they are.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, perhaps I may say to the noble Viscount the Leader of the House that I enjoyed about 20 of the last 27 minutes. It is a change for me in the Labour Party to be called a revolutionary. I am very grateful to him indeed. It is not very often that my credentials are so easily established. I hope the noble Viscount will forgive me if I do not follow him through the tortuous path that he seemed to me to be following; namely, that in order to preserve democracy in the other 1590 House, we have to safeguard the undemocratic element in this House. That seemed somewhat contradictory, and also slightly at variance with his later remarks. I understood him to say that he would co-operate with a Select Committee of the House of Commons in doing what seemed to be necessary to remove the undemocratic element from this House. I shall read his remarks with attention.
I hope that I shall not take as long as the noble Viscount in opening the debate from this side of the House. I regard this debate as an opportunity to do two things: first, to make the position of the Labour Party clear; and, secondly, to listen to the views of Members of the House. Judging by the number of speakers on the list, there will be no shortage of views to be listened to.
However, I cannot help but observe that rarely can a government have tabled a Motion to take note of a series of propositions advanced not by themselves but by the Opposition. Indeed, I congratulate the Government on the care and attention that they have given to this debate so far. It is clear that they are hard at work preparing for opposition. We wish them all success.
The House will, I know, expect me to deal with the proposals for reform of this House which the Labour Party is to put to the people of this country at the next general election. I shall be perfectly, and I hope unmistakably, clear right at the outset. It is our intention, if elected, to remove the right of Peers by succession to sit and vote in this House. That is the proposition. It is clear; it is simple, it is unambiguous; and it will be put to the country.
I start however by paying tribute to the role that the hereditary peerage has played in British history over the years. Some of the noble families of this country represented today in this House have had a major role in British history, government and public life. Some of them go back a very long way. Lord Bryce in his famous report on the House of Lords referred to this House as:The oldest and most memorable of all British Institutions reaching back beyond the Norman Conquest and beyond King Alfred into the shadowy regions of teutonic antiquity".I would not seek to question such a profound historic judgment. But dare I say even in this House that antiquity is not necessarily a justification for continued support?
The noble Lord the Leader of the House has a proud and rightly honoured name. His family has given service to the nation not merely for generations but for centuries. It is right that we should acknowledge that, and I do so willingly and freely.
But at the end of the 20th century the accident of birth on its own cannot justify a legislative seat. And the fact that one particular family, however distinguished, may, over the generations, have produced men of consequence—men of consequence, my Lords, for the lineage has been irredeemably male—does not and cannot justify the existing system. If there are people of exceptional ability, they will no doubt prosper by their own efforts. After all, the rest of us have to try to do that.
1591 So I do not denigrate the history or the past work of the hereditary peerage. It has had its place. It is part of the rich and continuous history of the United Kingdom. What I do say, however, is that its time is now past.
What can one say of this House as it is at present constituted? There are some very strange, even bizarre, somewhat rosy views. I came across a speech given in 1982 by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, to a conference of European speakers. Dealing with his then fiefdom, he said:I have no disciplinary powers at all over my fellow peers: aware of my wolf-like character, they prefer to enforce their rules of order and conduct on one another rather than to submit themselves to my authority. Thus they dwell in a sort of Arcadia, a kind of Quaker meeting in which they speak as the spirit moves them. The result is peculiar".I would certainly agree with that.
Instead of producing chaos, our Arcadia is almost perfect order. We treat each other with respect. There is no tumult. There is a complete absence of insult, fisticuffs, and duels. Because there is no one to enforce the law, no gavel or bell to ensure compliance with it, no one dares to disobey it. The House of Lords is the complete denial of the doctrine of original sin".I am not sure whether I agree with quite such an idealised view of this House. But, speaking for myself, I am very grateful to the noble and learned Lord for the absolution contained in the final sentence.
Last week the Prime Minister made a speech, too, in which he meditated aloud about the nature of your Lordships' House. He said:If you actually look at what the House of Lords does in its Parliamentary role, it is hard to cast it convincingly as the villain. Has the House of Lords been overstepping the mark with the House of Commons? Of course not. Has it been showing bias over the years, dispensing favour to one political party in Government and refusing it to another?Asking the question of himself, he replies:Not at all".One would hardly expect him, or the Leader of the House, to say otherwise. He continued:So what precisely is broken, that needs to be fixed? I find no convincing answers to these questions. To people who say that a House of Lords with a strong hereditary element is an anomaly, I say that it works".A little later he said:I don't make an apology for defending what works",and, with a boldness perhaps uncharacteristic of him recently:I'm a Conservative and I reject change for change's sake. That doesn't mean I avoid change when it is needed".That is the Prime Minister's view of your Lordships' House. He says that all seems to be well and that it works. He wishes to defend the House of Lords and keep it as it is. He is against any proposal to do anything about it.
Whatever else this place is it is not democratic. None of us has been elected. There are at least 372 of us who are here because of what we are supposed to have done, and not because of what an ancestor of ours is supposed to have done or did.
The noble Viscount who opened the debate gave us no figures of any kind, so let us look at the composition of this House. At the end of the 1994–95 Session there were 1592 1190 eligible Members of the House of Lords. This total includes 755 Peers by succession, 15 hereditary Peers of first creation, 372 life Peers, 24 Lords Spiritual, 24 Law Lords, and of that 1190 only 79 were women. Therefore, 770 Members of your Lordships' House are hereditary Peers.
I ask myself the next question: what is the party affiliation of those Peers? There are 476 who take the Conservative Whip, 109 take the Whip of my party, 52 take the Whip of the Liberal Democrats, and there are 289 Cross-Benchers, 23 Bishops and 88 others.
This House is not only not democratic, it is also overwhelmingly Conservative. Few who approach this problem objectively and dispassionately would dispute that. I shall take three examples which I put before your Lordships' House to illustrate the effect of this imbalance.
In the 1988–89 Session, under a Conservative Government, there were 172 government victories and 12 defeats. If the votes of hereditary Peers had been excluded, and all the other votes had remained the same, there would have been 21 victories for the Government, 159 defeats and a draw on four occasions. In other words, the votes of the hereditary Peers guaranteed 172 victories, and if they had not been present there would have been 159 defeats. In the 15½ years between 1979 and 1995 under a Conservative Government, this House defeated the Government on an average of 10 to 12 times a year. For the five years from 1974 to 1979, under a Labour Government, the figure was not 10 or 12 times a year, but the average was between 70 and 80 times a year. In the vote last Monday on the Asylum and Immigration Bill, the Government won a crucial Division by 153 votes to 140. Without the votes of the hereditary Peers the figures would have been 66 to 108, and the result would have been different.
Let us get away from the idea that the votes of hereditary Peers in this House do not matter when it comes to legislation. They do matter and that can be proved by the figures. We have carried out a detailed analysis of the Division lists of this House and the pattern is the same. This situation repeats itself issue by issue, Session by Session, and year by year. Is it broke? As far as fairness is concerned, in this House it is in fragments.
We then have to ask ourselves the question: does this situation matter? The answer is clearly yes, if we are to take this House seriously. It is meant to be a legislative Chamber, not a club. I do not want to see the Upper House of the British Parliament, my Parliament, reduced to a quaint assembly, eccentric in a rather British way, good for the tourist trade and embodying along with warm beer, village cricket and ladies cycling home from church, the characteristics so beloved of the Prime Minister. The idea that into 21st century Britain should continue to be partly governed by legislators whose sole legitimacy is birth is frankly absurd.
What is the Government's position on this question? It is simple. They do not advocate change. They see no need for change. The Prime Minister's speech set out a very clear and unequivocal position: the Government will go into the next election defending the institution 1593 of the hereditary peerage. On this side of the House we are grateful for the clarity with which that has recently been expressed. The issue is not even one of gradual change, or evolving change; it is one of no change in relation to the composition of the House of Lords. Your Lordships will not be surprised to hear that this is a view which we do not share.
There is no lack of precedent for attempting to do something about this situation. I remind the House that the preamble to the Parliament Act 1911 stated:And whereas it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot be immediately brought into operation".After 85 years, and heaven knows how many years of Conservative Administration, it still has not been brought into operation. Various attempts have been made since that date. Indeed the noble Viscount's great grandfather in 1934 proposed that the hereditary peerage should be reduced, by election within the hereditary peerage, to 150, and that the House should consist only of 150 hereditary Peers and 150 Lords of Parliament from outside. I presume that the Government and the Prime Minister would oppose this too on the basis of no change.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham—I have not finished with him yet—in the speech from which I have already quoted went on to say:Ideally however, I would emphasise the need for a predominantly or complete elected assembly, elected from constituencies geographically different from those in the lower House, and by a method of voting also different to the voting system in operation for the lower House".That was the then Conservative Lord Chancellor in 1982. Things do seem to have changed rather radically in the past 14 years. I quote also to the House some wise sentences written 20 years ago:we feel hound to observe that the House of Lords as now constituted reveals a certain remoteness from the prevailing ideas of our age about the conditions qualifying people to exercise political functions. The majority of the population may express approval of the House in general terms, but they would almost certainly react differently to more specific questions about its present composition and legitimacy. Without doubt few would seriously defend the hereditary principle as a basis for a seat in the legislature; and finally, for all its virtues the House of Lords maintains something of the style and atmosphere of a club for distinguished amateurs, people who intervene in politics occasionally when public duty calls. This reputation is at once endearing and yet a precarious basis for survival in a society facing such problems as beset us today. Thus on balance we feel that to leave the House of Lords unchanged would be to leave it with a composition which, should a political attack on it be mounted, would be virtually impossible to defend".That was the report of the Conservative Review Committee on the House of Lords chaired by the late Lord Home and dated March 1978. He was quite right. Lord Home recommended a House two-thirds of which should be elected by PR and one-third of which should be nominated. I wonder what happened to those suggestions after 1979. I do not know, but I assume on the basis of what the Prime Minister said last week that he would oppose that too.
Where, then, do we go from here? The noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, and the group that he chaired, took the view—I read his report with great attention and detail— 1594 that of course the hereditary principle is indefensible and that the group would be quite prepared for that to go provided that a better alternative were proposed. That is not exactly a humble approach, if I may say so respectfully. It is rather like a condemned man saying to his executioner, "Of course I am guilty and of course the sentence is just, but you should carry it out only when I am satisfied that the world without me in it will be an improvement on the present state of affairs."
If the issue is put clearly to the country, as it will be, and if the country accepts it, as I believe it will, is there not perhaps just a tinge of aristocratic superiority in the assumption that he and his group know better than the people? That attitude seems to me to be a recipe for almost indefinite further delay, and I have to say to the House that we shall not accept it.
I agree with the Prime Minister that these are great constitutional issues. That is why the final resolution will take time, as it should. It is precisely for this reason that the Labour Party is proposing reform in two stages: the first is the removal of the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in this House; the second is a major exercise in public consultation. We want to ensure that so far as possible the whole country should be involved in the consideration and determination of the precise nature and form that our second Chamber should finally take. That is our long-term aim. That is what we shall put to the country and advocate at the next election.
Let us not forget that from 1911 onwards everyone who has looked at the problem has agreed on one thing; and in 1968 this House by a very large majority agreed on it too: that the right to sit in Parliament by virtue of hereditary advantage has to go. It is time that that was grasped. The time has come to begin the process of bringing this Chamber up to date and that is exactly what we propose to do.
The Earl of Dudley
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down perhaps I may ask him why he believes that a vote won by a majority of life Peers in a House deprived of hereditary Peers would be any more democratic than a vote won by a majority in a House that includes hereditary Peers?
§ Lord Richard
I have a very basic view about that. If people are elected, on the whole that is a more democratic process than selection by birth.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount the Lord Privy Seal for an entertaining though thoroughly reactionary speech. But for the first time I find myself among those whom I believe he described as "hired guns". As a hired gun, which in this case I regard as a compliment, I want to turn shortly to the central question which I know your Lordships wish to debate today; namely, the future of this House. Before doing so, let me say a few words about what I take for granted about our constitution and our system of government; what it is and what it might become.
1595 First, the distribution of seats in any elected chamber should roughly reflect the division of political opinion in the country. Forty years ago—I take the convenient year of 1955, a year in which there was a General Election—it was possible to argue that it did so, when over 96 per cent. of voters chose either of the two largest parties. But, if it was acceptable then, it is certainly not acceptable today. Taking the last election in 1992, only a little over 76 per cent. of those who voted voted for the two main parties and many fewer would have done so had they not believed that otherwise theirs would be wasted votes. There is an overwhelming case for electoral reform, however much we argue about the most appropriate system. We should bear that in mind, whatever other matters we discuss today.
Secondly, I believe that the long dominance of a single party in Westminster or in local government is not a formula for good government or public faith in our institutions. One noble Lord in yesterday's debate referred to "monolithic, selfish superiority". That is so often the characteristic of any party which becomes so used to power that it becomes indifferent to its wider responsibilities.
Thirdly, there is today an excessive attachment to party, which is inappropriate to the need to find lasting solutions to our economic, social and political problems. It is within the capacity of Parliament to change that if we choose to be less adversarial in our procedures and the government of the day set the tone. On a day-to-day level, there could be fewer whipped votes in either House. There could be a greater willingness of governments to lose with grace and of oppositions to claim that not every vote is a vote of confidence. There could be a larger role for pre-legislative committees, even on controversial Bills. There could be recognition that some matters, apart from matters of conscience, are not party matters at all. Those are all issues which are within the competence of Parliament. Were there to be a change of government after the next election, a new government could set a new tone which could be much less adversarial than we have known in recent years.
I illustrate that point with one matter that is currently before your Lordships' House. Noble Lords will remember that on 8th March the House voted overwhelmingly by 124 votes to 64 votes against the privatisation of the Recruitment and Assessment Services Agency. Subsequently, the noble Viscount the Lord Privy Seal enabled the House to set up a Select Committee on the matter. But on Tuesday of this week, when the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael Heseltine, gave evidence before that committee and was asked how that committee's views would be taken account of and whether the Government had in mind to modify their view on privatisation, he said, "We intend to proceed".
That is the kind of contempt of Parliament which is a very serious matter and an illustration of the adversarial nature of so much that we do. The Civil Service is not the property of this Government or of any government; it is the property of all governments, of Parliament and of our very constitution. How much better it would have been had the Government decided to seek agreement across all parties after, say, a proper examination by a Select Committee of both Houses. As I said, that is 1596 within the competence of government and Parliament to determine. It requires no major constitutional change. It does not require us to upset the stability to which the noble Viscount attaches great importance. It is something which we could do but have not done and which this Government in particular have not led us into.
We have indeed very little on which to congratulate ourselves in the way that Parliament has conducted its affairs in recent years. Reference was made earlier to Bills which were so poorly drafted when brought to your Lordships' Chamber as to suggest that the legislative process was itself deficient. It is not only a matter of Bills brought to this House from another place when the other place may not have given them proper treatment. It applied to the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Bill which was brought direct to this House by Her Majesty's Government in a totally inadequate form for proper discussion and decision.
As for the establishment of executive agencies, there are now 110 of them, employing nearly 300,000 civil servants. Far too little thought has been given to the consequences for accountability and the division of responsibility between Ministers and the agencies in proceeding in that way.
In this House on several occasions we discussed the Prison Service and, for example, the circumstances surrounding the dismissal of Mr. Derek Lewis. At every stage, your Lordships on all sides of the House recognised that the present arrangements are too uncertain. They remove accountability and raise a great question about when Ministers can be responsible for policy and at the same time allow officials to be responsible for its execution in the new agencies.
It is sometimes said that the development of Select Committees, particularly in another place, is an exception to the gloomy record. They have certainly worked tolerably well in your Lordships' House. I pay tribute to the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, and the noble Lord, St. John of Fawsley, who respectively in 1971 and 10 years later gave them a significant role in another place. But in another place they are often more theatre than substance. The reports are rarely debated on the Floor of the House. For the most part, governments take little notice of their conclusions and too often—this is a very important point—the committees are divided along party lines. So I hope that in any forthcoming debate or in changes that may occur, it is not assumed that the development of Select Committees represents a parallel authority to that of the Chamber and provides an adequate check on the executive and effective parliamentary scrutiny. Whatever their merits, they do not go that far.
I deal next with the reform of your Lordships' House. Whatever may be said in this debate—and despite the entertaining debating speech of the Lord Privy Seal—I do not believe that the present composition of this Chamber can be justified. We would not seek to create it in this way if it did not exist. Reform of the Lords is right and, were there to be a change of government, I hope that it would prove inevitable.
1597 But there are two hard facts that all reformers—I include myself—must face. The first is that in the short term there is no easy formula by which to create an elected second chamber. We do not have a federal system of government in this country. Whatever the merits of such a system—there is much in the idea—we could hardly create one simply to enable us to have a second chamber elected on a different basis. I would not like to have a kind of bisexual second chamber which was part elected and part appointed. I believe that if there is to be a short-term reform of this place, it must remain a quango of a kind, little as we may like that description.
Secondly, I am in agreement with the Lord Privy Seal and the noble Lord, Lord Richard, that, even with reform, your Lordships' House will not be able to take back powers that it has lost to the House of Commons because the latter will not surrender them. Whatever the government of the day may say, the outcome in effect will be a free vote in another place, with no majority for a transfer of power back to your Lordships' Chamber.
I believe that for any future government concerned to reform your Lordships' House the right way to proceed is to announce in the Queen's Speech the principles that they intend to embody in legislation for reform and then allow your Lordships' House, perhaps within a period of three months, to come up with cross-party proposals for implementation through legislation. I do not believe that a Select Committee would be the right way to proceed. A much larger measure of consent would be achieved, and it would be a departure from the adversarial approach to these matters, if the government of the day, having first made up their minds about the principles—one might argue about them or vote upon them but it would be for the government to make their own decision—then allowed this House to reflect upon what best should be done.
As for the principles—noble Lords will have their own views on how to proceed—I believe that, first, there should be a new class of parliamentary Peers, making up a House of perhaps between 450 to 500 Members. All hereditary Members would be eligible to become parliamentary Peers. Secondly, there should be space for Cross-Bench parliamentary Peers roughly in the proportion of active Cross-Bench Peers today, making up perhaps 20 per cent. or a quarter of the new House. I believe that those two essential principles ought to be part of any change.
As to the hitherto unanswered question of political balance and the method of selecting parliamentary Peers, I make the following suggestions for consideration by your Lordships. First, in each Parliament the political allegiance of parliamentary Peers should broadly reflect the proportion of votes cast for each party. In this way, there would be a degree of political legitimacy in the composition of the House because it would be a fair reflection of opinion in the country. However, there would be no challenge of the kind which both sides of the House are anxious to avoid.
Secondly, I believe it is unacceptable that the choice of parliamentary Peers, including parliamentary Peers of other parties, should ultimately be the choice of the 1598 Prime Minister of the day. It would be far better to establish an independent commission on representation which would, first, decide the balance of the House in the light of the principles embodied in legislation; secondly, receive nominations from party leaders, which would be accepted subject to appropriate scrutiny; and, thirdly, make nominations for Cross-Bench Peers on the basis of openly declared principles which would broadly embody current practice. Since the public are invited to express their views about honours, I see no reason why they should not be invited to express their views about the composition of your Lordships' House. I hope that none of your Lordships rejects such a formula, although I note that noble Lords on both Cross Benches have been shaking their heads in disapproval. Within that framework I believe that there could be room for the Lords Spiritual. I would hope that the Law Lords would remain as well.
I agree with a comment made yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft. He was wise to warn the House that constitutional reform was the greatest absorbent of parliamentary time known to man. In that context, constitutional change in the next Parliament must not displace urgent steps to deal with unemployment, poverty, housing, education and health. Nevertheless, it is a central and urgent issue from which much good could flow.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Chichester
My Lords, I begin with an apology. I may not be able to stay until the end of the debate. I have to be back in Chichester tonight for an engagement early tomorrow morning. Noble Lords will expect me to speak about the position of the bishops in this House of which they have been an integral part since its origins as the King's Council. I am sure that many bishops who are or have been Members of this House—and a substantial number of other Church members—will affirm the importance of a second House as a valuable chamber of deliberation and revision in our constitution. I hope that its Members will continue to be chosen largely for their personal contributions to the varied aspects of the life of the nation and that a number of bishops will always be found to fall into that category.
We and other representatives of the Church of England have for long welcomed the appointment to this House of prominent members of other Churches and faiths. There are some practical difficulties. For example, most leaders of the Free Churches are elected for one year only. I am sure, however, that those difficulties can be overcome.
The position of the bishops in this House raises the question of the establishment of the Church of England. It is not easy to define simply of what that consists, or what disestablishment would involve. In principle, establishment means that the state looks to a particular Church to act for it in religious matters and on religious occasions. But the terms on which a Church is established vary a great deal in different countries. One has only to look north of the Border to see a Church that is established on very different terms from those which establish the Church of England.
1599 The English establishment has developed over many centuries; no one Act has brought it about. In recent years it has been modified by the passing of the Worship and Doctrine Measure, which gives the Church greater flexibility in the control of worship, and the setting up of the Crown Appointments Commission, following an agreement with the leaders of the three political parties during the premiership of the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan. It could continue to be modified in various other ways. The presence of the bishops in this House is not a necessary part of the establishment. But the removal of the bishops from the House would certainly be seen by many as a step towards the dissociation of the state from its present recognition of the Christian religion. Many temporal Peers have expressed the view that this House might be the poorer without the distinctive experience, moral and spiritual contribution of the bishops however far that contribution may fall short of what we ourselves would wish it to be.
The bishops are the top of a pyramid of service of which the bottom is the parish. The parish clergy have responsibilities to all who live in their parish and all parishioners have certain legal rights in relation to the parish church. That is an expression of the commitment of the Church of England to the people of England as a whole and the presence of the bishops here is a sign of it.
We welcome our role in this House and would not welcome its substantial reduction or removal. But if the size of the membership of the House as a whole were to be reduced, we would expect to take our share. I repeat that we are not exclusive; we would welcome a more broadly representative spread of spiritual Peers through the creation of appropriate life Peers and indeed of more Peers from other faiths.
During the 17 years I have been a Member of this House I have valued especially two things about it. The first is the breadth of knowledge and experience represented here. I know of no other institution in which, whatever subject may arise, there will be one or more persons who can speak with knowledge and authority. The second is the atmosphere of mutual respect, good temper and friendship which prevails despite the rare occasions on which the style of the other place begins to intrude. Although there are obviously many differences of belief in the House, I believe that there is basically a truly Christian atmosphere here. I hope that whatever changes may take place, that will not be lost. In the way in which it behaves the House sets an example of right conduct to the nation; of proper relationships and behaviour to one another. That is an example which is never more needed than at the present time. I would regret any changes that made a profound alteration to that.
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ Baroness Young
My Lords, I start by thanking my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal very much not only for his most interesting and important speech this afternoon, but for giving us two days to debate these constitutional issues.
1600 It is almost 25 years to the day since I made my maiden speech in your Lordships' House. On that occasion a constitutional issue was for debate; namely, the principle of Britain's entry into the European Economic Community, which I supported. Today we are in the midst of another constitutional debate. Its importance is that, when all the debating points have been aired, should the proposed constitutional changes take place they will to a very large extent be irreversible. We can no more renege on our international treaty obligations freely entered into than chop and change about the constitution. The issues are not those of nationalisation or privatisation; armament or disarmament; high or low taxes; selective or non-selective education. They affect the balance of our constitution and the relationship of this House with the House of Commons. Any proposed reform must satisfy the test that it will be an improvement on what we have at the present time.
As the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, said in his report, the House of Lords represents several hundred years of development. Indeed, the same might he said of the House of Commons. I was interested in the remarks of my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal on what further constitutional developments are proposed for that House. In our House we have seen continuous developments. When I look back on the 25 years I have been in this House, I see, first, the enormous increase in the number of women Peers and the enormous increase in the number of life Peers, so that the balance between hereditary Peers and life Peers has altered. There has been a great increase in the number of Cross-Benchers. There has been the development of the Select Committees, arising out of our membership of the European Union, whose reports are now widely read outside your Lordships' House and, I believe, are widely respected.
We have the expertise of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, based very largely on the extensive experience of a number of your Lordships. Those of us who regularly take part in legislative debates—I believe that this must be true of Members in all parts of your Lordships' House—have noticed a growing interest and, dare I say it, respect from professional organisations of one sort or another which seek to amend legislation. Outsiders recognise that it is frequently in the House of Lords that changes can be made. The House as a revising Chamber is effective.
Perhaps I may give three illustrations. I believe it to be true that we would not have achieved split pensions on divorce but for the House of Lords. In the great educational debates the issue of academic freedom was upheld by the House of Lords; and there are many in the university world who share that opinion.
If the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and his colleagues really believe that Conservative Governments think that the House of Lords is a push-over, let me tell them of my experience in achieving the largest ever defeat for the Government when I was in the Department of Education and Science. The issue before the House was to give a power, not a duty, to local authorities—which is something that I am sure New Labour would support—to allow them, if they so wished, to charge for 1601 school transport. When the matter came to your Lordships' House, it was defeated by an unexpected combination of the Roman Catholic Church and the National Farmers Union. What academic would ever assume that that could happen? When I come to write my memoirs I shall go into it in some detail.
Perhaps on a more serious note, what Chamber in the world would have a debate such as we are to have tomorrow, introduced by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury on morality? No one has suggested so far in the course of this debate that these functions—revising legislation, the work of expert committees and the judicial function of the House as the supreme court of the United Kingdom—should in any way be changed.
I listened with great care to what the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said, but I do not entirely follow his argument. He said that the criticism of the House of Lords is that it is not democratic and that therefore the hereditary Peers should go. He and I share the distinction—if that is the word to use—of both being life Peers, but are we democratic? The short answer is no, we are not. If we want a democratic House we should have an all-elected Chamber. That is the logical consequence. We should have either an all-elected Chamber or we should be abolished. That is the logic of the argument. It has been suggested that it should be an all-nominated Chamber, which is very strange, particularly in the light of the remark made by his noble friend Lord Irvine of Lairg in yesterday's debate. He said at col. 1461 of Hansard,Quangos are a travesty of democracy".Perhaps that is his considered opinion.
But let us consider a nominated Chamber. It would give unbelievable powers to political parties. For the first time in this country we shall have a party list system, and what a lot of competition there will be to get on that. Anybody who has been in politics knows the difficulties. I believe that I quote the noble Lord, Lord Richard, correctly. He said that once we have an all-nominated Chamber, we should then have a major exercise of public consultation. But I am afraid that I do not understand on what precisely we would be consulting. Would we be consulting on having an elected Chamber; would we be consulting on ending the House of Lords; or would we be consulting on a mixture of all sorts of things? I do not think that that is quite good enough to put before the public.
There have been a great many suggestions about reforms of the House of Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, referred to the working party under the late Lord Home. I must say at once that I was a member of it. I have looked carefully at the question of reforming your Lordships' House. Indeed, when I was Leader of your Lordships' House I made a number of suggestions which I put to the Cabinet, but I came to the conclusion—this is a serious point—that a major reform of the House of Lords would not be possible and would not work. If it strengthened the House of Lords, it would inevitably weaken the House of Commons—and that would not be acceptable in another place. I do not 1602 believe that it would be acceptable irrespective of whether the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats or the Conservative Party formed the majority. And if such a reform weakened the House of Lords, what purpose would it serve?
In fact, if one looks at the history of reforms of the House of Lords since 1945, one sees that they were all regarded as relatively small reforms. I refer to the reform of 1949 which shortened the time for delay and to the reform of life peerages, which at the time was introduced as a small reform but which has had a profound effect on the House. That reform has been very effective. Of course, a great many other reforms could be considered and if the time were available today, I would make a number of suggestions. However, from my own experience I suggest that real consideration should be given to both Houses of Parliament having the opportunity to meet together on certain occasions. I have never forgotten the special summoning of both Houses of Parliament on a Saturday at the outbreak of the conflict over the Falklands. There was no possibility of us discussing things together and it was very difficult for my noble friend Lord Carrington, who was then the Foreign Secretary, to make his position clear to another place.
We do things in a rather curious way in this country. I believe that there are many small reforms worth considering which would make this House still more effective than it is. Will a nominated Chamber perform better? I do not believe that it would; nor do I think that it would have the effect which has been suggested. Anybody who has been a government Minister knows that once people are Members of your Lordships' House, they are very unreliable. If it is any consolation, the figures that have been given about defeats and other votes do not take account of the many instances when settlements are made outside the House and when amendments are agreed to because the Government have accepted the point and because they have listened. It is quite wrong to suggest that the Government do not listen.
I was interested to see a number of criticisms of nominated Chambers in the report from the Constitution Unit, including of the Canadian Senate, which, after all, is an example of a nominated Chamber. I shall not go into all of that this afternoon, but before we change anything it is necessary to consider all the arguments.
No one who has been a Member of your Lordships' House can possibly believe that it is somehow perfect. Like any human institution, it is not. However, I believe that it works well and gives an opportunity for revision and consideration. It allows one to hear experts in a Chamber the like of which one would not find anywhere else. It is perfectly true that if we were starting all over again we would not make a House of Lords; but if we were starting all over again, would we have a Commonwealth—that too is a rather curious institution—or a great many other British institutions which I could name but shall not? I have seen some constitutional changes in the past 25 years and I cannot say that I think that they have all been 1603 for the best. Before we attempt any more, we should carefully consider what the end result may be and whether it will be better than what we have now.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Lord Shepherd
My Lords, I am sure that the Leader of the House will confirm that tomorrow's business could well be lost if we do not complete today's debate by 11 o'clock this evening and I shall therefore deny myself the joy of speaking to the amusing and highly provocative speech that he delivered. It had very much the hallmarks of the press conference on Wednesday, but I presume that that is why we have had two days for debate, Wednesday and today.
I should like to explain to the House. my experiences as Government Chief Whip in 1964 and as Leader of the House in 1974. They were periods of very great anxiety. I felt anxiety about the burdens that I could place upon the Back Benchers in my own party who were small in number and, in many cases, quite elderly; yet a quorum was necessary if the House was to complete its business. Equally, I was frustrated because I was highly conscious that I had survived in both capacities by grace and favour. It was only with the agreement and the consent of the Conservative Party that I could get agreement to any business procedures. Those circumstances still dwell with me.
I freely acknowledge the co-operation and agreement that I enjoyed with the then Leader of the Opposition, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and particularly with the late Lord St. Aldwyn, because, once made, promises of consent and agreement were fulfilled impeccably. However, there was always the potential threat that some Members of the House might not follow the advice or the leadership of the Conservative Party.
As a consequence of that, in 1968 we had informal discussions about the possible reform of our composition. We began on the basis of an agreed statement by the three major political parties in 1948. I shall read it to your Lordships because it shows that the question of hereditary Peers and their place in the constitution is not new today; it has been around for a long time. Those who took part in the conference stated:The revised constitution of the House … should be such as to secure as far as practicable that a permanent majority is not assured for any one political party".If we retain the present situation that will continue. The statement added:The present right to attend and vote based solely on heredity should not by itself constitute a qualification for admission to a reformed second chamber".That is 1948 agreed policy—an agreed statement by the three political parties.
In 1968 we had informal discussions among the party leaders here and made sufficient progress to be able to inform Dick Crossman, then Leader of the House of Commons, of what we had achieved. As a consequence we were able to have a more formal all-party discussion and a White Paper was issued in 1968. It was agreed that there would be a House of about 250 voting Peers. Hereditary Peers within the House could attend, could speak and could even move amendments; the one thing 1604 they would not have was the right to vote. Those having the right to vote would be agreed on the basis of nominations by the respective parties. The fundamental thing was this: the government of the day—not the Conservative Party or the Labour Party—should have a bare majority over the other two political parties, and all three parties, if necessary, would have to fight for the Cross-Bench vote. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, referred to the wonderful defeats she achieved. But she knows that that would not have happened without the votes of some dissidents and a large number of Cross-Benchers who had been influenced by the argument. We have to take that into account.
We reached that agreement and it was brought to the House. It produced one of the largest majorities that this House had ever seen up to that moment; it was supported in the Division Lobby by the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party, the Labour Party and the Cross-Benchers. There were some dissidents but the leadership of the Conservative Party was in support.
The year 1968 is a long time ago. I have to say to my noble friend that, in the practicalities, I still support those proposals. They suggest ways whereby one can overcome some of the potential constitutional difficulties. However, times have changed. The pressures within our composition have altered quite dramatically. In 1968 the number of Members of this House was 1,062, of whom 373 never showed any interest in attending. Approximately 291 failed to get expenses because they did not fulfil the 33 per cent. requirement. In those days, the Conservative Party had 351 Members. Today it has 477, an increase of 126. The Labour Party had 116; today it has 114, a fall of two. The Liberals—the Liberal Democrats, as I must now call them—had a membership of 41. The number is now 55, an increase of 14. Therefore, the disparity between the parties has increased and, I suspect, is still increasing, despite what the parties agreed to in 1948.
A reason will no doubt be supplied as to why that has happened. But we have to envisage—do we not?—that if there is a Labour Government next Session, our composition in the very early days will be broadly what it is today. The Conservative Party will be in a position to dominate, whatever the government of the day, elected by the people, may have decided in respect of our proceedings.
I now feel, regrettably, that the hereditary right to attend and speak is perhaps no longer tenable. I recognise, as all of us do, the major contribution that certain hereditary Members make. This House would indeed be poorer as a consequence of their loss. But that does not necessarily cover the entirety of the hereditary membership. The matter could well be resolved by the abolition of the hereditary principle from this House while retaining, through the Life Peerage Act and by agreement among the parties, those hereditary Peers of value whose presence would be missed in this place.
I accept that there is one slight difficulty to be overcome. That difficulty exists not so much within the parties—it is the parties, in a sense, who would be nominating their life Peers—but in the element from the Cross-Benchers. Their role is of great importance. We 1605 shall have to devise ways and means by which the Cross-Bench element could make its contribution. I do not believe that that could not be achieved.
To revert to what was agreed in 1968, I suggest that this House would be richer, would have more influence and would be more respected if its composition were to be as I described earlier, with the government of the day having to fight for votes and unable to depend upon its bare majority over the two organised political parties. I believe that would be right. We need to agree on the number of Members of the House, but, again, that can be done through all-party discussions. Those proposals, until such time as we get a full reform—perhaps at present a bridge too far in terms of an elected second Chamber—would, I believe, achieve what is our objective; namely, greater respect from the Commons, greater understanding by the Commons of what we do and, perhaps, greater credibility among the general public. Above all, I believe that we could perform the role of a revising Chamber and, as the noble Viscount the Leader of the House said, perform a greater service in the fields both of scrutiny and of being complementary to the House of Commons.
§ Lord Elton
Can the noble Lord clarify what he would do about securing an element from the hereditary peerage when the first batch of hereditaries who had been made life Peers had to be replaced?
§ Lord Shepherd
My Lords, I suggest that until there is a major reform, that would be a matter for consultation between the party leaders here.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ Lord Weatherill
My Lords, when I succeeded to the speakership from the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, the very first thing I did was to send for the biographies of all my predecessors in the expectation that what had happened to them might well happen to me. One of them was Mr. Speaker Brand. His portrait is in the Dining Room and some of your Lordships may have seen it. In the coercion Bill in the 1880s, when the House was in absolute uproar—and I should say to your Lordships that the behaviour in those days was infinitely worse than it is today—he just had time to lean forward and whisper to his learned Clerk: "What do I do next?" The learned Clerk gave him some very wise advice, which was: "Sir, I should be very cautious". It is in that spirit that I approach this debate.
In my 28 years in the other place, I was for 12 years in the Whips Office—for six of them, the Deputy Chief Whip. I had a great deal to do with the usual channels. They are one of the most precious of our parliamentary traditions, because without them the place would grind to a halt. I believe in consensus. For four years I was Chairman of Ways and Means and had a great deal to do with Private Bills; and for 10 years I was the Speaker. In all those years I saw a great many "reforms". Every one of them cured one problem and created others, frequently worse. I came to call that the law of unintended consequences.
1606 In view of the constraints on time, I shall not go into too many examples. I shall mention just two: first, the so-called "St. John-Stevas reforms"—the setting up of the departmental committees. In themselves they were undoubtedly good. I was interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, had to say yesterday about the importance of the Chairmen of the Select Committees. The role of chairman should be an important one.
What was the unintended consequence of those reforms? They absolutely emptied the Chamber. Members would come to me in the Chair inquiring when I was going to call them. What it came down to was: do they give precedence to their Select Committee or a debate in the Chamber? The average Member of Parliament will be called four times a year to speak in a major debate. They have no choice. Of course they should go to their Select Committees, put questions to the witnesses and be televised doing so. So there is no wonder that the Chamber these days is empty. It is an embarrassment when we turn on the television to find so few Members there.
Then there are the so-called "Jopling reforms". They have undoubtedly made life much more tolerable for Members of the other place, but the unintended consequence of that has been to add to our workload in this House through the number of Bills with which we have to deal and the increasingly late hours that we have to sit. We sit frequently up to midnight, and regularly now on Fridays.
When John Adams arrived in London as the first American ambassador to the Court of St. James, he went to the other place to hear Dunning move his famous Motion:That the influence of the Crown has increased—is increasing and ought to be diminished".That is the Motion that we should debate in terms of the role and structure of Parliament.
During my time in Parliament there has been a steady—I would even say dangerous—concentration of power in Whitehall. The powers of local government have been virtually neutered. How can local government really be called "local" when about 82 per cent. of its finance is controlled by Whitehall? The payroll vote in the other place has become, in my judgment, almost a scandal. When I first entered the other place—the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and I were talking about this earlier today—only very senior Ministers had PPSs; today very, very junior Ministers have PPSs. The payroll is used to secure a majority in the Division Lobbies.
So there is no wonder that with the neutering of local government, Members of Parliament have virtually become welfare officers. They all have surgeries. I had a surgery. I began increasingly to wonder whether it was the job of a Member of Parliament to deal with those matters. I well remember when I sought to explain to one of my constituents who wanted a council house that I was not a councillor, he said that he knew that I was not. I said, "If it were called parliamentary housing, I would be able to help you. But actually it is called council housing, and in the next room there is a councillor and if you go to see her, I am sure that she 1607 will do what she can to help you". He looked at me as if I were absolutely mad and said, "Look here, mate, you are paid to do it". I am afraid that we are.
There is no country in the world where people are more personally represented than by the dedicated Members of Parliament in the other place. They sit in their offices dealing with all these problems which are not really their responsibility. I checked again with the Postmaster about the post coming in here. When I arrived in 1964, there were about 7,000 letters in and out a week. Today he confirmed that 40,000 letters come every day into the parliamentary building, and 20,000 letters go out. Is it small wonder now that with the feed from the Chamber into offices that Members of Parliament will sit there getting on with their constituency workload?
So the first reform that I should like to see is the repatriation of powers back to local authorities. That would, to a large extent, free Members of Parliament to get on with their proper job, which is to hold the Government to account. It was, I think, Mr. Gladstone who said to his own supporters:It is not your job to run the country. It is your duty to hold to account those who do".In carrying out those responsibilities, I should like to see much more detailed scrutiny of legislation. We have already had mentioned the pre-legislation committees—the use of the Special Standing Committee procedure (half Select Committee and half Standing Committee)—and they would achieve better legislation.
I again did a check today. Since 1979 we have had 21 local government Acts, 16 education Acts, and one recent example from your Lordships' House: during Committee stage of the Reserve Forces Bill, the Government withdrew six clauses, replaced them with three more, and then added three further clauses. Such a row then ensued that the Bill was recommitted in its entirety. That is a terrible, terrible waste of time.
What I am trying to say in respect of reform of this place is that I think that the reform of the whole parliamentary system needs to be looked at, not least the European directives. I lost count of the number of times that Members would come to me when I was in the Chair saying, "What is the point of discussing this at this time of night? It has already been decided in Brussels. We cannot influence it in any way". I am afraid that that is the truth. In a world in which we are part of Europe, we must take account of that.
I should like to see the Chamber once again become, as it traditionally was, the forum of the nation. I should like to see the tradition that ministerial Statements are made to Members of Parliament and not to that nice Mr. Naughtie on his "Today" programme. I do not think that the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, will ever forgive me for insisting that she come to the Chamber one day and repeat a Statement that I had heard on the "News" earlier in the day. The proper place to make Statements is to Parliament and not to the unelected press.
Then there is the parliamentary year. If, as it seems, Members of Parliament are to be properly paid they should be properly paid in my judgment and become 1608 full-time MPs. There is not much case for having a summer holiday of two and a half months. Parliament could well reconvene, say, at the beginning of September and spread the workload.
I have not had time to mention the reform of your Lordships' House. I shall leave that to others who know very much more about it than I do. But I confess that I am a convert to this place, and converts are always stronger in their faith.
I believe that the hereditary principle is difficult to defend. Nevertheless, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, reminded us, it works very well and very cheaply too. For the benefit of those who may read the debate in Hansard, it is worth repeating the figures. They were elucidated from the Government by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon. Every MEP costs this country £919,000 per member; every Member of the other place, £261,000; and every active Peer in the House of Lords, £38,000. That is very cheap. Under the reforms about which we are hearing, will it be more expensive and will it be better done?
A fortnight ago the Cross-Bench Peers invited Mr. Robert Hazell and Miss Nicole Smith of the Constitution Unit to speak to us about the reform of your Lordships' House. I will not go into that in detail, other than to say that I wholly agree with their analysis that before dealing with the composition of this House it will be necessary to decide whether its membership should constitute a job or an honour. Unless that issue is addressed, the law of unintended consequences will come into operation in a major way in terms of powers, costs and accommodation.
I am in favour of parliamentary reform and I am in favour of changes in this House too. Above all, I am in favour of freeing Members of the other place to carry out their proper responsibility, their historic role, in holding the Government to account. I believe that membership of your Lordships' should be an honour and not a job. My perception is that because we are able to go into the real world we are rather more in touch than would be the case with so-called full-time politicians.
I hope that in approaching these matters we shall be able to do so by consensus. I agree with the noble Viscount the Lord Privy Seal on the question of a Select Committee. I know no one who did not disagree that the old rating system had virtually had it. Instead of imposing the poll tax, which cost thousands of millions of pounds in the end, how sensible it would have been to have sent the problem to a Select Committee. We had all the information and it could have designed a fair local taxation system and put it to Parliament. I believe that that would have been the right way to proceed and I believe that it is the right way to proceed in dealing with the reform of the House of Lords. I very much hope that it will be done in the true spirit of the usual channels by consensus and not imposed upon us.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ Lord Denham
My Lords, I believe that the motivation behind the proposals of noble Lords opposite is that they have genuine fears as to how the present House would behave when there is next a Labour 1609 Government. That was apparent in the speech of the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition. That is perhaps understandable, because after 17 years no member of their Front Bench has had practical experience of it. But I also believe that such fears are unjustified.
One of the principal obligations for an Opposition in this House is to enable the Government to get their programme through. That in my time has always been adhered to, even on the occasion when five major Bills were brought up from another place after the Spring Bank Holiday Recess. That, incidentally, resulted in a Select Committee of the House imposing minimum intervals between stages of Bills so that your Lordships should never be put under such pressure again. I must tell the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that a Conservative Government Chief Whip in this House must also rely on the good will of his opposite number to get his business through.
Also in opposition we gave considerable thought as to just how many government defeats in this House the market could properly bear, in view of the relative compositions of the two Houses. In fact, while a Conservative Government usually suffer between 15 and 25 defeats a year, a Labour Government might have two or three times that number. But a significantly higher proportion of those are reversed in another place and the net result on the Act as it appears in the statute book is about the same. And, in any case, it is not amendments won by a vote in the Division Lobby that are important; it is the many times that number that are won by argument on the Floor of the House. And the two are linked. Ministers and civil servants alike have lived with their Bill for years before it gets here and are reluctant to see a single word of it altered. Without the threat of a Division in the background, far fewer amendments would be accepted from the Dispatch Box and the Government's legislation would undoubtedly be the poorer for it.
There is one other factor that noble Lords opposite have not perhaps taken into account and that is the role of the Cross-Benchers. It is my experience that when they are undecided over any particular issue they are inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to the government of the day and that not even a Conservative Opposition can rely on their support to defeat them.
While I would defend the existing House and the way in which it carries out the role that has evolved for it to the utmost, I would not stand blindly against any reform. If, for example—and here I differ slightly with my noble friend the Leader of the House—another place were prepared to accept an all-elected second Chamber, I would not feel able to oppose it, and it is my belief that, provided it were given adequate functions and powers to carry them out, your Lordships would pass it, perhaps without a Division.
But what I cannot accept is the proposal for a two-phase reform. To pass the first phase, eliminating the hereditary element from your Lordships' House, and only then to set up some form of inquiry as to what the second phase should be, would be to deprive that inquiry of one of the options available; that of retaining the status quo. I am not naïve enough to think that a Royal 1610 Commission or a Speaker's Conference would find the present House so perfect that they would call for no change in it whatever. But what they might well do is to make a recommendation, or possibly alternative recommendations, for reform, adding the rider that if Parliament were not prepared to accept that, or one of those, it would do better to leave things as they are.
Two questions need to be answered about the two-phase plan. The first is, if we pass the first phase, will we ever get the substantive reform that is promised for the second? It is not the abolition of hereditary Peers that has been holding up the reform of the House for 85 years. That was implicit in the 1911 Parliament Act, as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said. It is what to put in their place. Why then should the absence of hereditary Peers bring us any nearer to solving the main problem now?
The second is rather more important. Just how effective will the interim caretaker House be in the meantime, for however long that may, in the event, turn out to be? Since 1958 Life Peers have been selected for three reasons: for their general quality; for a particular expertise that fills a gap in the corporate knowledge of the House as a whole or of the party they belong to; and not least because their circumstances are such as to enable them to attend a part-time, unpaid House. How then can they be expected to become the sole ingredient of the full-time professional House that the semi-reformed Chamber will inevitably be?
What about the relative numbers between the various parties and the Cross-Benchers in the interim House? Will they be frozen for all time at whatever figures happen to exist at the moment the hereditary element is removed; or will they be added to in some way? If so, who is to decide the appropriate balance between the various sections of the House? The Prime Minister of the day? What if he gets it wrong and finds himself being defeated even more often than he would have been in the existing House? Would he feel free to adjust those numbers with yet more creations; or, if it goes the other way and he gets no defeats at all, would he adjust the numbers then?
The relative numbers do not matter so much in the existing House because they are so far apart anyway that the House has adapted to them with irregular attendance and cross-party voting. It always amazed me since I first became a Whip that, although the total attendance, as well as the personnel involved, vary according to the day of the week and the importance of the business, the mix between each of the political parties and those of no party remains broadly the same. But the closer the numbers between the Government and their Opposition are, the more party political the House will become and, for it to be effective as a revising Chamber, the more scrupulously fair will the balance have to be.
And what about those life Peers who for reasons of age or infirmity, or because their outside duties—which will often have been the reason for their selection in the first place—keep them elsewhere, are able to attend only at rare intervals? How will they fit into the equation? There are always plenty of them and they will still be Members of the House. Will they count towards their 1611 party's allocation—that seems hardly fair to the party—or will they be left free-ranging as a new breed of backwoodsmen, to be the last resort of some desperate Chief Whip?
Whenever there is a landslide victory of one party or the other in another place, your Lordships' House provides the only effective opposition. I am not suggesting that the next Labour victory, whenever that may be, is likely to be of such proportions, but when the electorate want a change they sometimes do not do things by halves. Just how effective as a sole opposition to what my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham referred to as an "elective dictatorship" is this interim House likely to be? Even if all those questions can be satisfactorily answered, by replacing heredity with yet more patronage, will we not just be changing from one form of unacceptability to another?
I believe that when the Writ of Summons calls on your Lordships,to be personally present at our aforesaid Parliament, to treat and give your counsel",it is imposing a duty rather than granting a right. I have done my best to live my parliamentary life in accordance with that belief, as I know have most other noble Lords in all parts of the House. But I believe further that I would be failing to comply with that writ were I to stand idly by and watch the House vote itself out of existence in its present form without knowing what is to be put in its place, and that it would be wholly wrong for one political party, acting on its own and without consultation, to ask your Lordships to do so.
In a similar debate to this one back in 1968, I told a probably apocryphal story about Sir Isaac Newton's mathematical bridge at Cambridge. At the risk of wearying your Lordships by repetition, I am going to tell it now. Newton, so the fable goes, designed his wooden bridge with such ingenuity and mathematical precision that its component parts held together without the aid of nails, bolts or any other form of fastening. This confounded all the greatest intellects in the Cambridge of the day. They could think of no reason why it should work. Constructed as it was, they could think of any number of reasons why it should not work. But the one thing that was clear for everyone to see was that it did work—and admirably carried out the functions for which it was intended.
Such was Newton's prestige that, while he lived, no one dared tamper with his bridge. But as soon as the old man died, their curiosity got the better of them and they took it to pieces to find out how it worked. From this piece of vandalism they learnt only two things. The first was that they were no further forward in finding out how the bridge had worked. The second was—they could not put it together again!
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Lord Desai
My Lords, can one follow that?
The major problem with reforming your Lordships' House is not this House but the other place. That has become quite clear right from the start with the speech of the noble Viscount the Lord Privy Seal and the much quoted remarks from the noble and learned Lord, 1612 Lord Hailsham. The problem of reforming the House of Lords is that any reform which would make this Chamber effective would not be tolerated by another place. Therefore, we can reform this Chamber only to the extent that we do not improve its efficiency. Any reform of the House of Lords must have the supreme objective of making it either less effective or no more effective than it is already.
Given that premise, I should like to spend a little time challenging a major proposition. That major proposition is that another place, by virtue of its election, must be sovereign in all matters. It is not so much the fact that it is an elected Chamber and that it is representative and democratic, but that the peculiar constitution and the sovereignty of the Crown in Parliament have meant, as has been pointed out, that we have lost the separation of powers.
The Executive, which commands a majority in the House of Commons, has powers which exceed those of any comparable executive in any other constitution. To the extent that the majority party in the other place commands that majority, it can put through its legislation and, given the 1911 and 1949 Acts, there is nothing that we can do which would ever be effective no matter what our composition should be. If noble Lords consider, as I do, that that is a more major problem with our constitution than the composition of this Chamber, they must ask the question: how do we correct it? If one wants to correct that situation, the only way to do so is to have a second Chamber which has power; in other words, we would have to change the composition in such a way that it would have legitimate power.
That point leads me not to the abolition of the House of Lords and leaving just one Chamber—indeed, that would only compound the difficulty; I am not a unicameralist in that respect—but to the fact that we must have a Chamber which would have legitimacy from another source. There is not just one way of having democratic electability as per the territorial principle. There are other ways of being representative. I would say that one only needs to study previous reform proposals on how to give legitimacy to a second Chamber.
However, as that is not going to happen—as an academic I may as well put it forward as my prime proposal—I believe that we should have a second Chamber which is indirectly elected by having one person from each local authority. Indeed, the poll tax would never have been introduced if that system had been in place. I have in mind a ready system of elected people who could then indirectly elect one of their members to this Chamber. Those people would be temporary and representative, but in a different way. The party composition would be different in the two Chambers.
We must come to terms with the fact that in the nation opinion differs and does not reflect the opinion of the party which happens to have the majority, not just in one election but in successive elections. It is the diversity of opinion that we have not been able to capture. That is why I believe that the reputation of Parliament has gone down. Although elections are won, they do not always reflect that diversity.
1613 I have put that forward as my first proposition because I believe that it would be most difficult to accomplish; and, indeed, it would not happen so easily. However, if we were to reform the constitution and not just the House of Lords, that would be a better way to go forward. Then, whether or not we add to that an appointed element is a matter of secondary importance. In that case, I believe that we could have a second elected Chamber.
However, as that is not going to happen, I shall move on to slightly more feasible issues. One very interesting fact which has emerged in our debate is the dominance of one party in this House. That is something which has been accepted for a long time by previous Conservative party leaders; and, indeed, it is a matter of fact. As my noble friend Lord Shepherd pointed out, it is interesting to note that in the past 17 years it has become worse, not better. That could easily be corrected without any reform. Those numbers can be corrected, but they are not corrected because it is a matter of convention. The question is: how much accommodation should be given to other parties?
We have not done justice to the Opposition parties as regards the creation of Peers. Therefore the Conservatives' strength has become greater but the strength of Labour and the Liberals has become less. Even if all the hereditary Peers were to be abolished, the Conservative Peers would still have a majority over the combined numbers of Labour and Liberal Peers. That is the situation. The mere abolition of hereditary Peers will not give the Labour Party a majority in this Chamber. It will have to resort to the creation of additional Peers.
One of the matters that we should agree while we are looking for an appropriate scheme for reform—which will no doubt take a long time, as all these things do—is a measure which will correct that anomaly. We do not even need to wait for a general election to do that; it simply requires all-party agreement as regards the creation of additional Peers to correct the imbalance. That would be a good step towards correcting one of the major anomalies of the constitution. I urge that step upon the usual channels.
Given that we are in this situation, I believe that the proposals put forward by my party need careful consideration. I say to my leader that if we are to have reform in two stages, we ought to make the second stage clear when the first stage is proposed, perhaps through a White Paper. I speak only for myself but I would not regard a solely appointed Chamber as any more democratic than the present Chamber. It would certainly be less independent, if anything. Unless one is sure that either the appointed element will be removed in the second stage or will be overwhelmed by an elective element, it would be difficult for me to support a reform of this House. I have always believed that this House should be replaced by a Chamber which is substantially elective. Despite coming to this House, I have not been converted, as the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, has been.
1614 We need to make clear the outlines of the full proposals. If this is to be solely an appointed Chamber—I agree in this respect with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, said—it will be a quango. I do not think it does any good to say that appointments will be made by a neutral, all-party, official or non-official body. The principle in the constitution is that the Prime Minister has to recommend to the Monarch who comes to this place. There is no other way to create Peers under this constitution. Therefore, no matter how many appointed, neutral bodies one has, the Prime Minister will be the filter. No one's neutrality can be guaranteed if the Prime Minister proposes that those on the lavender list be appointed. I do not think that any neutral body could disagree with that; and why should it? The Prime Minister represents the legitimate fount of power in our constitution.
There are many obstacles to be overcome. However, if previous experience is anything to go by, the reform of the House of Lords may yet be blocked in another place. This House has never been an obstacle to its own reform. I turn therefore to the reform of parliamentary procedure. The noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, referred to that. I have always thought that if our votes on matters are not to count because they can be reversed in another place—much heartache is caused as a result of the disproportionality of party representation—it is not so important that we divide on issues.
However, our most valuable procedure is the consideration of the Committee stage of Bills. I suggest that we should become, as it were, the Committee of both Houses of Parliament. I suggest that all Bills should only be considered in Committee in this House. Those in another place have no time to consider Bills in detail, whereas we have. Our votes do not count, but theirs do. Therefore, let us have a division of labour. We should only debate amendments and recommend them to another place. We should tell them that X is good and Y is bad. They will not take any account of our votes, but they may take account of our advice. If we followed that procedure, it would save time in both Houses and improve efficiency. If we are to retain the Chamber as it is at present, we should at least reform procedure.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ The Earl of Carnarvon
My Lords, I welcome this debate and in particular the fact that the question of parliamentary reform—and therefore reform of the House of Lords—is being seen as part of the wider picture, as it has to be. I am aware that the structure of our debate means that this day of our two-day debate concerns parliamentary matters. However, because of that wider picture, I hope that noble Lords will forgive one or two references to other topics.
When, over 18 months ago, I convened an informal group to look at the future of the Lords, it was not with any intention of finding the perfect solution. It would have been good if we had, but I think all your Lordships will agree that it is not as easy as that. The intention of my colleagues was to inform and stimulate debate. I like to think that we succeeded in a small way. Since then 1615 the Constitutional Unit established by the Nuffield Foundation under Robert Hazell has published a further study reviewing much of the literature. The director has been so kind as to say our work was useful in that study. Indeed I was interested to note that a quotation from the second Chamber was used as an epigraph to one of the chapters. I hope noble Lords will allow me to quote it accurately. It states:Hereditary members of the present House of Lords—who are well aware of its shortcomings—would vote themselves into history with barely a backward glance in favour of a reformed House which was more effective, and whose composition commended wider acceptance, than the present one".I think that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, in pointing a finger at me, was indicating that that was an arrogant statement. I think it is a humble one. I am aware that this statement—with which some of your Lordships may disagree—begs more questions than it answers. Nevertheless, I venture to say that it identifies the right questions. First, it is the hereditary Peers who are the single big issue. Secondly, the House as a whole, and the hereditary Peers in particular, wish to find a solution based on public acceptance and political effectiveness. Here I think the Cross-Benchers have a significant contribution to make to the debate.
Many of those involved in the debate outside this place have said that they value the independent Peers. The Leader of the Opposition in another place said as much himself when addressing us. Yet, in a reconstituted House, how is that contribution to be maintained? Any form of election would involve party political considerations. That is my principal misgiving about a wholly elected chamber. It is also, I believe, a compelling reason why the idea of a system of representative hereditary Peers simply will not work. If hereditary Peers of other parties were to vote for an independent, how, after a few years, would an independent hereditary Peer show his worthiness to be elected? He or she would have no forum in which to do so.
Here a parallel with local government occurs to me. I have, as an Independent, had the honour to be the chairman of Hampshire County Council and of its Policy and Resources Committee from 1974 to 1977. When I first joined Hampshire in 1954 many people stood as Independents. Many noble Lords may agree that one of the effects of the 1972 Act, although unintended I am sure, was to make local government a matter of party politics to a far greater extent. I do not think that that improved it. I believe that that will happen with any reform of the House of Lords, be it elected or appointed.
I hope that noble Lords will allow me to make another point about local government. Something else has occurred in recent years. As we have heard, local government is now 82 per cent. funded by central government. Again, that has led to a deterioration in public confidence and local government's independence. I believe that people must take responsibility for raising the money they spend. More than anything else, I want to see the business rate returned to local government.
1616 In this House we do not raise money, but we have responsibility for our actions, however we come to sit here. I know that many noble Lords who sit as members of a political party do not always conceive of themselves primarily as party politicians. We Peers, and not only the Cross-Benchers, feel free to vote according to our consciences and sometimes even listen to debates. I recall a distinguished former Leader of the House agreeing with a distinguished former Chief Whip that one of the biggest problems they faced as business managers was when members of their parties listened to a debate before voting. It is that independence that I would wish to preserve.
We all know that the question will be decided ultimately in another place. However, I hope that before political parties become too entrenched in their positions, we can go on debating and enlightening the general public as to what we do and do not do. We do not thwart the House of Commons. We act as a check on government, not by exercising naked power but by wielding influence which is beyond the grip of party managers. As a Cross-Bencher, and having seen what has happened in local government, I believe that that is almost beyond price. I do not, therefore, have any answer as to how the House might be improved or how the "problem" of the hereditary Peers is to be "solved". Clearly, if there is to be reform, the debate must result in proposals from the Government in a Parliament Bill. Working back from that, we need some consultative process which will involve all sides, including the Cross-Benches. Might a party leaders' conference fit this bill?
I have a great belief in the value to the nation of what we now have. If that is to be changed, then we must all work together until we find a solution for a second Chamber which is better than the present one.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, I welcome the proposal of the noble Earl that there should be full consultation before any change is made in the composition of your Lordships' House. I hope that my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal—whose speech we all so much admired and enjoyed this afternoon—will feel that that would not be inconsistent with the views that he put forward about possible future changes.
The noble Earl referred to the need for political effectiveness. Therefore, I wonder whether I may stress the quality and achievements of your Lordships' House, and then consider whether any changes in its composition should be made in the light of them. Before I go any further, I should say that I have been a life Peer for 17 years, and before that was MP for Huntingdonshire. Then we got a much better Member, who became Prime Minister within 12 years, and that is a record in this century.
Your Lordships' qualifications are very considerable and could never be found in any kind of elected Chamber. Besides the Lord Bishops, the Law Lords, Cabinet Ministers and two former Speakers of the House of Commons, we have Peers who have risen to the top of almost every profession, of the Armed Forces, the 1617 public service, including the foreign service, commerce and industry, the trade unions, broadcasting and the academic world. We have among us landowners, farmers, explorers and others who have much to contribute. All that experience, expertise and talent are reflected, I suggest, in the quality of our debates, the work of our committees and the results of our efforts. No democratically-elected second Chamber could possibly produce such a highly efficient gathering as your Lordships. If we had an elected Chamber, I am afraid that it would become a mere microcosm of another place; and it is arguable that we would become its lackeys.
Having helped to pilot the Life Peerages Act 1958, when I was just Under-Secretary at the Home Office, with my late friend Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, I am glad to say that since that Act was passed 701 life peerages have been created, of whom 378 life Peers and Peeresses are still with us. Of those, 66 are Peeresses and they play a great part. Only about half of the life Peers attend fairly regularly. Clearly we could not now do without them.
The hereditary Peers too make a valuable contribution to our work. Many of them have to exercise responsibility in the world outside. They cannot always be here. But they have responsibility and experience, not only in the management of estates but in many other ways. Some of them inherited their peerages at an early age; and so we also have the advantage of youth among us, as was mentioned yesterday by a noble Lord. I venture to suggest that there is such a thing as inherited ability. Indeed, we see that every day in their work among us.
So much for your Lordships' qualities, my Lords. What about your achievements? Our necessary work as a revising Chamber has been mentioned. We make a vast number of amendments to government Bills which come to us from the Commons, often in a somewhat undigested state, as we all know. But it might interest your Lordships to know that in the last Session we made 1,291 amendments to government Bills alone. To those and other Bills we made altogether about 1,500 amendments. A much stronger effort is made in your Lordships' House to improve drafting than there is these days in another place. That is partly because in another place—I have some responsibility because I was acting chairman of the Select Committee which suggested it to the then Mr. St. John Stevas and others—Members' time is very much taken up in departmentally related Select Committees, as the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, mentioned; and because the Members have such a vast amount of correspondence. My successor, the Prime Minister, receives 200 letters a week from his constituents, in addition to a far greater number which he receives as Prime Minister. I used to receive about 50 constituency letters a week and felt myself hard done by. Things have changed and perhaps that is why Members of the other place are not able to give the attention to legislation that they should and why it is a necessary task for your Lordships.
1618 I was glad that my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal referred to the Prime Minister's efforts to get drafting improved. I hope I may be allowed to mention that 23 years ago I was appointed chairman of the first committee for 100 years for examining our methods of legislation. Our report has been quoted more often than any other official report in both Houses in the past 21 years. But alas, although our report has been mentioned so often, in Whitehall our recommendations have not been as well accepted as is usual with official reports. They have been accepted in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and other parts of the Commonwealth, and in parts of the European Community. The report was translated into Italian. I wish that it could have been implemented more in Whitehall and perhaps now, with the Prime Minister's help, it will be.
I turn to another great achievement of your Lordships' House. That is our European Communities Committee and its specialist sub-committees. They do extremely valuable work in examining the whole range of activities of the European Union. The committee is unique in that there is no other parliament chamber in the whole of Europe which does work like that of your Lordships' committee. Our Science and Technology Committee has been mentioned. It does valuable work, as do many other worthwhile committees, including the consolidation Committee.
So much for some of your Lordships' achievements. What about our composition? If no changes at all were made, we would simply continue to do well the vital work that we carry out, whatever party is in power. It has been said that perhaps there are more hereditary Peers than are needed. It is a fair comment on their part when noble Lords opposite say that, although on paper the Government do not have an overall majority, from their point of view there are too many Conservatives among us in this Chamber. We are the largest party, but we have no overall majority. However, of course, in this House we do not play the party game to the same extent as it is played elsewhere. I speak from experience. It is interesting to note that since the 1979 election our Conservative Governments have been defeated only 228 times. That is over a period of 17 years, but it shows a degree of independence by your Lordships. I sometimes think that public opinion is sometimes rather more on our side than it is with the other place. It was certainly the case over the War Crimes Act when the other place had to use the Parliament Act. It was entitled to do so. But there have been other occasions when we have been more on the side of public opinion, paradoxical though that may seem in our democracy. It can happen, particularly in local government matters to which the noble Earl. Lord Carnarvon, referred.
I believe that having so large a number of Conservative Peers makes little difference. However, perhaps I should borrow the analogy of the old tag used in the courts: it is important not only that justice should be done but that it should manifestly be seen to be done. Therefore, this House should not only work but should appear to be composed in the right way, without great advantage to any party.
1619 If we are to consider what might be done, there is an argument for having an electoral college to choose, say, 150 or 200 hereditary Peers from all parties and from the Cross Benches. Those noble Lords who have considered the possibility of an electoral college must have realised that it is full of snags, whichever solution is put forward. It would not be easy to make it work and it might be better to leave well alone.
I conclude by repeating the suggestion of the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, that early in the next Parliament there should be consultation between the three parties and the Cross Benches. But let us not throw away the well-established advantages which this House provides for our constitution.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Lord Rochester
My Lords, I wish to advocate reform of the present structure of your Lordships' House in an evolutionary way. I hope your Lordships will understand if, as a hereditary Peer, I deal with the matter subjectively to start with. I speak only for myself and not for my party, but it seems to me that that must apply to many contributions in this afternoon's debate.
When, on 1st January 1931, my father told me that he had been created a Peer in the New Year Honours List, my first reaction was to burst into tears as I realised that one day I might have to succeed to the title. That is what happened when he died in 1955 since it was not then possible for me to renounce the peerage, had I wished.
The change in status was a pretty traumatic experience for me, though it had its lighter side. I went home to comfort my mother and to start winding up my father's affairs. At the time I was personnel manager in a large factory in one of ICI's major divisions. I wrote to my boss to say that it would help me if he would arrange for a note to be circulated to works managers and heads of departments stating: "On the death of his father, Mr. Foster Lamb will in future be known as Lord Rochester". Unfortunately, the message did not in every case reach the shopfloor. I had determined that from the start I would make use of my new name. Among other things, I was responsible to my works manager for the arrangements in connection with consulting employees. The first person to telephone me was an employee representative on the works council. We knew each other very well. I picked up the phone and said: "Rochester here"; he said: "Who?" I replied: "Lord Rochester". There was a pause and then he said: "If you are Lord Rochester, I am Lord Nelson".
The opportunity to renounce my peerage arose in 1963. I thought hard as to whether I should take it, but I had already changed my name once and was reluctant to do so again. In the end, I concluded that there were already more than enough Conservative hereditary Peers and it would do no harm if there continued to be a Liberal one. Besides, by then I had acquired considerable experience of manufacturing industry, particularly in the field of industrial relations. I thought that when the time came for me to retire I might be able to contribute more frequently to parliamentary debate on such matters. For the past 23 years I have had the great privilege of doing so in this House.
1620 Many people think that reform of the composition of the House of Lords should take place only as part of a wider parliamentary settlement. That view was expressed today. I do not agree. I see no chance of such an accommodation being reached with a sufficient measure of agreement in the near future. However, I do think that speedy reform of the composition of the House is a realistic proposition.
As a Liberal MP, my father voted for the Parliament Act of 1911. The provisions were obviously meant only as a temporary expedient and, as already stated, the preamble to that Act made clear the intention that a thorough reform of the second Chamber should take place before long. I see no reason why I should be here simply because I was born the son of my father. Eighty-five years since 1911 seems quite long enough to wait for the more comprehensive reform of the House that was then envisaged. I do not wish to be party to its postponement into the next century.
I therefore find myself in agreement in principle with the intention of the Labour Party, if it is in a position to command an overall majority in another place after the forthcoming general election, to eliminate the right of hereditary Peers to vote and sit in this House.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, I should very much like to see that done so far as possible on the basis of consent. I hope I am right in thinking that Members on the Labour Front Bench feel the same. If that is so, I trust that in winding up, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, will make that plain.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, I have been a Member of this place long enough to recall the acute disappointment I felt when the proposals of the Labour Government in 1968 to reform the House were endorsed by the Front Benches of all three parties in both Houses but frustrated by a combination of extreme Right and Left led by Enoch Powell and Michael Foot in another place. As my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead reminded us yesterday, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, were then respectively Leader and Deputy Leader of the Conservative Opposition. What was good enough for them, and indeed for my own leader then, the late Lord Byers, is good enough for me now. In my view, the Government formed after the next general election, whatever their political complexion, should immediately try to take forward what was so nearly achieved in 1968 by convening a conference of representatives of the three main parties with the aim of seeking a solution to the problem of the composition of the House on the lines proposed in 1968.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, he is no doubt aware that in 1968 the proposal was that hereditary Peers should be allowed to speak here but not to vote.
§ Lord Rochester
My Lords, I was coming to that point. I have been re-reading the White Paper outlining the proposals at that time, and I take leave to commend it to the House. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, referred to this point earlier but perhaps it bears repetition. Basically the idea was that existing hereditary Peers 1621 would immediately lose their right to vote, but retain the right to sit and to speak in this House. Their successors would lose the right to sit. Voting Members would be exclusively created Peers; but some of the most active and experienced of the Peers by succession would be created life Peers and would therefore be qualified to vote. Change would thus be gradual and contain an element of continuity. The voting House was to consist of some 230 Peers—I fancy it would have to be more now—distributed between the parties in such a way that the Government of the day would have a small majority over the Opposition parties, but not a majority over the House as a whole when those without party allegiance, the Cross-Benchers and others, were included. Among other proposals, there was to be a place for the Law Lords and the Bishops. I will not weary the House by rehearsing the detail now.
I very much hope that as an interim measure a solution can be found with all-party agreement on some such basis. In my experience, in general problems are best solved by building constructively on what is already there rather than tearing things up by the roots and starting again.
I refrain from expressing any view on how the role, functions and powers of the House should be reviewed and reformed in the longer term, save to say that I welcome the assurance given earlier this afternoon by the Leader of the Labour Peers that there would be full consultation on these matters.
In the same subjective way as I began, I end by saying that my own son and heir fully supports the view that, when I die, he should not have a seat in this House; and his heir, my grandson, now old enough at 25 to know his own mind, agrees.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ Viscount Tenby
My Lords, first, I declare an interest in the subject of this debate in so far as it relates to this place. The admission of such an interest is perhaps not entirely unexpected in someone of my particular background. I must also say that I had the privilege of serving on the small informal group already referred to, established by my noble friend Lord Carnarvon during the first half of 1995, to study the problem of reform. May I atone for my part in the arrogance with which the noble Lord, Lord Richard, so entertainingly charged me by saying that when we started the process I was sure I knew the answer; after six months of listening to evidence from constitutionalists and politicians of every colour and hue, I was sure I did not.
The subject of the debate specifically relates to the role and structure of Parliament. However, it would be presumptuous, and again probably arrogant, for an amateur like myself to refer at length to another place, save to make two general observations and to say how very much I agree with the sage remarks of my noble friend Lord Weatherill, who speaks with unparalleled experience of that place.
First, it seems to me that Members are becoming increasingly like super welfare officers and, as a result, tend to be submerged in a welter of constituency 1622 minutiae. The second point is the decline of the Chamber itself as a debating forum, with Members in their rooms looking, via closed circuit television, at the handful of Ministers engaged in the immediate business in the Chamber. This, I should add, is a phenomenon not entirely unknown to this place. But if Parliament is to survive and thrive, it is a process which surely needs to be arrested and reversed.
It is, however, reform of this place which understandably preoccupies most speakers today, and not to accept the need to seek reform is, in my view, not an option. The fact that this House works well and more often than not compares favourably with another place, the fact that there would appear to be a sizeable body of opinion either indifferent to the idea of reform or even opposed to it and the fact that the present set-up costs the taxpayer considerably less than any other second chamber in the Western world, I would suggest, are irrelevant to resisting change. Whether we like it or not, any opposition party gaining power will seek to make such changes, irrespective of the many skeletons littering the past roads to reform. I shall not go over again the voting patterns, the inherent inequality to one side which the hereditary peerage makes inevitable, despite the presence of Cross-Benchers, because these facts have emerged and will emerge again and again during this debate.
In thinking about change, however, we ought surely to ask ourselves: what is the purpose of a second Chamber? Are we in existence to compensate for the inadequacies of another place or to complement it? This House is an amending Chamber or it is nothing. Does its importance, therefore, rise in direct relation to weaker and more ill-conceived legislation coming to it from another place? These are the kind of questions, I venture to suggest, that we should be asking ourselves. This self-examination is crucial. It is quite simply unrealistic and negative to contemplate the reform of the Lords in isolation. It must be part of a package of constitutional reform—the Commons, regional assemblies and so on.
To remove a tyre and repair a puncture you must first unscrew all the studs on the wheel. You will not get very far by unscrewing only one. Even I know that, and I am not very good at that sort of thing. An inability to grasp this point, fed perhaps by an understandable but overriding passion to right what is conceived of as a past democratic affront, will most certainly end in an unsatisfactory and piecemeal solution. I need hardly add, too, that if there is uncertainty about the role of the Lords, it is difficult to evaluate whether it is discharging its duties effectively or not.
As the publication Second Chamber has it:It would be futile to attempt to defend the hereditary principle rationally".It seems to me that the watering-down of that principle, say, by reducing the numbers involved by way of an electoral college or some other device, would weaken the body while retaining the primary infection. That is not to say that as an interim measure it might not be appropriate for an incoming 1623 government which had abolished the voting rights of hereditary peers to allot some places to hereditary peers selected by their own political groupings, thereby ensuring the retention of expertise useful to the House in the proper execution of its business.
Of course, politicians and constitutionalists have sought the removal of hereditary Peers for very many years, and it is interesting to recall, as someone has already mentioned, that the preamble to the Parliamentary Bill of 1911 gave as its objective:a Second Chamber constituted on a popular, instead of hereditary, basis".Now, some 85 years later, we are still debating that objective. In Britain constitutional matters are seldom resolved precipitately, and nor should they be.
The Labour Party has said that if successful at the next election it proposes to bring in a short Bill at the beginning of the Session to remove the voting rights of hereditary Peers and that, thereafter, widespread consultations will take place to complete the second stage of the reform. There are probably three main candidates for that reform, most of which have been mentioned already: nomination only, an all-elected Chamber and a mixture of the two. We are now talking about the difficult bit of the operation and I fear that other priorities will intervene, as they invariably do where necessarily long drawn-out consultations are concerned. Inevitably, other competing demands will be made on any incoming government of whatever complexion, so we will be left, for who knows how long, with a purely nominated Chamber, carrying very little more democratic legitimacy than it has today.
May I briefly deal with the three options already mentioned, the first of which is an all-nominated Chamber. Though not entirely appropriate today, I cannot resist quoting Bagehot because there is some relevance in what he says and, delightfully, some provocation too:It is true that a completely new House of Lords, mainly composed of men of ability selected because they were able might very likely…attempt to rival if not conquer the House of Commons where the standard is not much above the common English average. But in the present English world such a House of Lords would soon lose all influence. People would say it was too clever by half"—I have often wondered where that quotation came from—and in an Englishman's mouth that means a very severe censure".I am not sure that that constitutes an overriding objection to nomination. Nomination would ensure retention of that widespread expertise for which this House is so renowned and, provided the selection authority was appointed from as eclectic a field as possible and somehow freed itself, at least partially, from ever-present political considerations, it could be made to work effectively. It should certainly guarantee the continued presence of a substantial body of independent Peers, which must be of prime importance in any revised House. I think we are all clear on that point. But, of course, such a second Chamber would again raise the ogre of democratic legitimacy.
An all-elected second Chamber, as favoured by both Opposition parties and many other noble Lords, certainly will have legitimacy.However,its 1624 unimpeachable descent will make it readier to square up to the other place. After all, if its election cycle does not coincide with the other place, it could frequently claim a better, and more recent, mandate from the electorate. Furthermore, it would almost certainly need to be paid in recognition of its greater commitment to full-time attendance. How the independent element would he retained would undoubtedly present problems, as would ensuring that the new Chamber would not be creating a whip-wielding mirror image of the other place.
All this disposes me to towards a judicious mixture of the two, a British compromise if you like, and what better place to celebrate and embody such a typical feature of British life than in the House of Lords.
It is interesting to note that the two leading statesmen of this century, Lloyd George and Churchill, both spoke of this place in highly inflammatory terms some 85 years ago. Neither entered the House as Members, although the former could have done so. Were they alive today it is doubtful whether they would have taken the same tone. Their reservations about the composition of this House would almost certainly have remained, but its decreased powers, coupled with its record over recent years of dedicated and knowledgeable debate, amendment to legislation and committee work, would certainly have made the criticism milder. Of course, there would not have been the political urgency with which they were confronted in 1911.
I submit we are not faced with such urgency today. Long-lived democratic wrongs have to he righted, it is true, but such a need, however compelling, cannot justify hasty and ill-considered change. If we are to dismantle what we have now, may I say with the greatest possible emphasis, let it be for something demonstrably better in every conceivable way.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, it is a real privilege to follow the noble Viscount, who epitomises in one speech the whole value of the Cross Benches in your Lordships' House. How right the noble Viscount is when he says that we have to know the purpose of the second Chamber and we have to consider, in detail, the proposed consequences of reform before we can start to take any steps. I wonder if the noble Viscount would agree with the conclusion at paragraph 260 of the Constitution Unit's report on the House of Lords. That independent organisation concludes that,"Whether one, two or more stages are involved in reform is less important than establishing a clear set of goals at the outset and ensuring that each stage of reform is directed towards achieving them. In developing reform proposals for the House of Lords that will secure parliamentary support, more traditional consultation fora may not be appropriate. In particular, a Royal Commission is unlikely to prove an effective mechanism for resolving the tension between political and constitutional goals that is implicit in finding a long term solution for the House of Lords. A conference of party leaders would he a more effective way to give detailed consideration to specific aspects of a reform plan; or to establish the principles of further reform where no blueprint exists and political consensus building is considered desirable".That is very much my approach.
My approach is also that our constitutional settlement is unique. It works well enough. It represents our indigenous concept of democracy under an unwritten 1625 constitution, flexible in the sense that separation of the powers is achieved by mutual respect for the boundaries. It is a constitutional monarchy of a kingdom united—"Our glory and our strength", as was said yesterday by the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy—not only in times of war or in national emergency but at all times under the Queen in Parliament at Westminster.
So why is there this sudden, volcanic urge to devolve, disunite, codify and dismember your Lordships' House and to destroy the existing structure? I have not been in the House for all that long, but your Lordships' House, as constituted as an integral element of Parliament, appears to me to be wholly defensible as an institution, not only by the manner in which it has discharged its functions and will continue to do so without confrontation with another place but also by the manner in which it is able to introduce reforms, has introduced them and constantly does so. It is unnecessary to add to the masterly exposition of my noble friend Lord Renton in defence of the value of our institutions.
On these Benches we are committed to conserving our ancient institutions by a consensual, evolutionary process of practical change as distinct from any imposed legislative reform. We welcome the creation of the intermediate institutions of democracy, such as the Grand Committees. The proposals of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister to improve the quality of legislation, which is a by-product, will tend to ease the tension between the judiciary and government over judicial review, a process which it is not always appreciated is in no way properly concerned with either morality or the merits of ministerial decisions.
As to the imposition of legislative reform, the lid of the fateful box was lifted by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, on 22nd November in his speech in the debate on the Address. Accept—they say—that by instant legislation the hereditary entitlement to sit and vote shall be abolished and accept that they will split up central government into a series of regional assemblies and create a new form of federal structure. If either of those proposals were to be implemented, they would invoke the ancient ill omens of disaster and a swarm of evils and be a prolific source of troubles.
I have attended the House throughout today and read everything that was said yesterday in the debate. As yet, I have not heard any justification for the proposed change. Of course, I accept that change must always be made. I only deal with the change proposed by the Labour Party: just to abolish the entitlement to sit and vote.
I share the sentiments of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, that this debate on the abolition of the hereditary entitlement is essentially political and polemic, and is a constitutional matter on which consensus should be sought. I may have misunderstood the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, but I do not think that he took quite the same approach.
Inevitably, at some time in the debate, someone had to say that Mr. Balfour's poodle had to become Mr. Major's poodle. But surely the worst of all worlds 1626 would be to become Mr. Blair's poodle, on a short leash, cropped short of the Parliament Acts and relegated to the doghouse. In a powerful speech, which at times bamboozled the tannoy, as certainly it seemed on these Benches, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead sounded a note of measured critical caution, with the wisdom of an elder statesman, not only on the proposal to abolish the hereditary entitlement but also on devolution. The noble Lord also accepted that blank resistance to all constitutional change had never been the hallmark of a Conservative administration.
The noble Lord, Lord Richard, fails to appreciate today, as he failed to appreciate on 22nd November, that in the wake of the conflict between the two Houses reflected by the Parliament Act a working relationship evolved, which established an entirely new dimension of constitutional amity. Your Lordships' House has introduced measures of self-restraint to curb the exercise of its powers and also abuse of the hereditary entitlement to sit and vote by a non-attender. If leave of absence had been more widely used as originally intended—there is to be a Question on this matter on 18th July—voting by non-attenders would not have afforded any pretended or legitimate concern. But this is essentially a matter for discussion, compromise and consensus on an all-party basis, not for imposed reform by legislation at the behest of any political party. In this I am in entire agreement with my noble friends Lord Cranborne and Lord Denham.
Your Lordships may think that it is in the interests of good government, the well being of the people and the avoidance of conflict with another place that such hereditary entitlement should remain in some effective form. The destruction of the identity, ethos and independence of your Lordships' House, referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, would be nothing short of incalculable folly and ill-conceived as pre-empting the working relationship. A particular concern arises lest the wealth of reason on the Cross Benches, with over 180 Peers by succession, is jettisoned and the second Chamber becomes an exclusive party political institution, save perhaps for the Spiritual Benches and the Law Lords.
The proposal to dismember your Lordships' House was first envisaged in the preamble to the Act of 1911, but it was a transitional measure pending the setting up of an appointed second Chamber. Since 1919 it has been the manifesto pledge of the Labour Party, and part and parcel of its policy, to establish unicameral government in one form or another. Lloyd George went to the country on this issue. A referendum was not needed, as would have been the case with a written constitution, since under our unwritten constitution Members of another place are elected representatives, not delegates. In a situation of conflict between the Houses Lloyd George acted constitutionally, but that battle was won and finished with some 85 years ago. Since then there has been a working relationship between the two Houses that has rendered abolition of the hereditary entitlement not only inappropriate but obsolete.
There is today no cause for conflict between the two Houses. The authority of another place is no longer in question. The elected Chamber can always have its 1627 business under the Parliament Acts and under convention, as my noble friend Lord Denham, so clearly explained. Today business is despatched by your Lordships with promptitude, efficiency and restraint. There is respect and amity as between the two Houses. Your Lordships seldom seek to insist. Another place accepts the vast majority of your Lordships' amendments.
There is no justification whatever for the abolition of the hereditary entitlement, least of all during an interim period pending establishment of a second chamber under a system, be it appointment or election, as yet unknown. Is it appropriate to embark upon a piecemeal means to an end without any assurance as to whether that end may be achieved and, if so, in what form? If, as the Labour Party suggest, it is proposed to establish an appointed or elected second chamber, why should an interim paving Bill be relevant? Why has the abolition of the hereditary entitlement become an early election pledge? Why is the identity, ethos and independence of your Lordships' House to be destroyed forthwith on a new government taking office? This is being done to ensure, without due consideration or discussion, that the proposed constitutional changes are introduced with immediate effect. The broomhead of old Labour is to be fitted with a new handle to sweep clear the path for instant and effective unicameral government free of the incidence of the Parliament Acts. This is a constitutional outrage which infects the quality of government and is worthy of your Lordships' condemnation.
The pretended justification to redress voting imbalance is but a contrived nonsense. The Government shall continue to have their business without resort to the Parliament Acts. As my noble friend Lord Denham has explained, any voting imbalance before a change of government will require further correction after a change of government. This occurs under any system, whether elected or appointed. There will always be a voting imbalance. There is no evidence of abuse on the part of hereditary Peers as compared with life Peers. This discrimination is not well conceived. The study of the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, Second Chamber, rightly finds (in paragraphs 63 and 66) that the backwoodsman of mythology is largely mythological and that the work of the House of Lords cannot be maintained at its present level without Peers by succession.
By what curious process are some 200 Peers by succession to be selected to serve only for life, or to volunteer for life Peerages, as part of a proposed process of protracted euthanasia? It is a wholly unacceptable resolution which ignores the unique value of dedicated service of hereditary Peers.
I conclude with a question: on the basis of the evidence and the speeches that we have heard over the past two days, why should we, as an interim measure with no certain end, disown our heritage, disturb the patents, sever our bond of allegiance, rubbish the Writ of Summons, disband the ceremonial and symbolism and dissipate the disciplines of convention and tradition? If these be but the trappings 1628 and the symbolism so be it, but what about the substance—the constitutional monarchy and our unwritten constitution?
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, there is no more thought-provoking a speaker in the House than the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. If I may say so, he reminds me of a passionate novice. I do not believe that he was present at the time—if he had been, I am sure he would have made it known—but in about 1968 his own leaders agreed with those on this side of the House about a Settlement. When the noble Lord has studied what happened in those years, he may speak to us in a way which to us makes a great deal more sense than the party tirade that he has just delivered. I hope that he will not mind my saying that. I have great respect for him.
I shall speak more briefly than some other speakers. I shall speak dispassionately, up to a point. I am a created Peer and inherited a Peerage. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, might argue the point, but in my eyes I am the only person in the House who possesses that combination. I am not sure that my position is absolutely safe. There may be some rule which disqualifies a person of 90 years of age but if it were an elected Chamber, such a person might not dare face the electorate. I am not absolutely secure, but more secure than some noble Lords who have spoken.
I shall speak to three propositions very briefly. We have in this House the best debates in the world. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, is a great authority on such matters and I am sure that he will agree. We have the best debates in the world, but the worst voting system. We have the best staff in the world, and I am sure that no one is going to disagree with that last statement.
Noble Lords opposite are of course at least as intelligent as I am and maybe even more so. They are younger and fresher, although they do not always appear to be so. I am surprised that people cannot see that the present voting system is ludicrous. It is incredible that any objective inquiry could arrive at a conclusion other than that it is a fantastic arrangement. There are more than 750 Peers who have inherited their titles. Of that number, I am told that 16 take the Labour Whip. I did not know that so many did, but we have had some very valuable recruits recently. How can anyone believe that such a system would be accepted in any chamber in the world which had been constituted on rational grounds? It is a ludicrous arrangement, but it has grown up and we must take things as we find them to a certain extent before we try to improve them.
I have said that our debates are the best in the world. We think they are and there is no reason to believe otherwise. No one has ever come forward and told me about debates that are better elsewhere. Therefore, I assume that our debates are the best in the world.
I pay one compliment to hereditary Peers, not in intellectual terms, but as regards civilisation. In terms of kindness and courtesy this House ranks very high indeed. That owes an incalculable amount to the hereditary position. So hereditary Peers are a very valuable element, apart from any oratorical gifts they may possess.
1629 How do we solve the problem? How do we maintain these debates which are the best in the world and provide a rational voting system? An answer has been alluded to more than once today. A plan was originated by one of the Clerks. A certain Henry Burrows, an assistant Clerk at the Table, invented a system he called the two-Writ plan. When we played golf together at Rye every weekend he used to come up to me when I had just missed a putt at the seventh green and ask, "You do believe in the two-Writ plan, don't you?". So I was thoroughly indoctrinated with the plan. When I became Leader of the House I brought it forward.
If one looks at the diaries of the late Mr. Richard Crossman, one sees that the plan was derided by him when he was the housing Minister. When he became Leader of the House of Commons he took to it vehemently and he was its most eloquent exponent. That plan would allow hereditary Peers to sit in this House and speak but not vote. That plan was agreed by the leaders of the parties of both Houses. The two-Writ plan was sabotaged by an unholy alliance between a distinguished Labour Member and a Tory Back-Bencher in another place.
The truth is simple enough. There was a solution then. I am not saying that nothing has changed since. It is slightly more awkward now because in the interval the Tory Government have increased the disparity between the number of life Peers on each side of the House. However, the principle is still there. That plan was accepted by all responsible leaders on both sides in 1968. Today I am simply saying that what was right in 1968 is right today.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, but, of course, what is proposed today by the Opposition Front Bench and the Front Bench on the other side in another place, is not what the noble Earl, Lord Longford, argued so cogently a moment ago. I remind your Lordships that what precipitated this debate, whatever its terms, was a bald statement by the party opposite that it would abolish the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote. We heard the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition in this House say so in terms again this afternoon. It is an extraordinary proposition for all the reasons which my noble friend Lord Denham mentioned a moment ago. I remind noble Lords that it is all to be done in the name of democracy.
This House is a vehicle with four wheels. It has life Peers, Law Lords, Lords Spiritual and hereditary Peers. The proposal made in all seriousness an hour or two ago—it seems rather more now—is to remove one of the wheels. The moment the party opposite has been put behind the driving wheel it will stop the vehicle, remove one of the wheels and then summon a massive public consultation in order to decide what to do next. I do not know what is to be done with the travelling public in the interim. Are they to continue on three wheels in a House which is entirely produced by non-democratic means in the name of democracy, as the noble Lord has 1630 said with such cogent force, or are they to sit still in the dust arguing until the problem is resolved? I believe that we are to have the answer.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that if the car is to run on four wheels, they have to be of the same size?
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, that weakness in my analogy had occurred to me. But I have only to ask the noble Lord to look in the driving mirror to see what a long way we have come in directions which either his party or my party desired in the past 50 years. This proposition is a ludicrous way of proceeding, however wrong one believes the present system to be. To ask the electorate after an election what it believes a government should do is itself making a mockery of election and democracy. Electorates return parties to control the other place in order to answer these questions for them. Quite clearly, the proper approach is that suggested by my noble friend the Leader of the House that if we are to broach this issue at all, which I believe to be unnecessary at this stage, then we should put it to a Select Committee of the other place which, after its deliberations, can put its report before both Houses for consideration.
Anything else that I say on this issue is by way of a preliminary to the evidence that I would give to such a committee because I am not advocating change (for reasons which have been fully given by others who can speak better and more briefly than I). I would remind that committee that two elements of your Lordships' House ought to be preserved: the breadth of its diversity and its independence. The diversity flows from number. The right reverend Prelate referred eloquently to that earlier. If you simply and crudely sweep all hereditary Peers into the dustbin of history, it may give a frisson de grandeur but it will, in fact, enormously reduce the value of this place.
It is possible to retain that value and yet at the same time address the question of imbalance which is at the heart of concerns about this place either by the method suggested by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, or by an electoral college as suggested by my noble friend Lord Renton. However, I add the proviso that having given hereditary Peers the right to elect from their number a particular contingent of this House, it should be possible to have a rule of substitution where the expertise that is required is present within the hereditary peerage but not among the elected hereditary Peers, so that the numbers available to speak and vote in that interest would not change but the expertise would remain as broad as ever.
The independence of this House is important at all times, but it is most important when a government attempt to extend the duration of their control of another place by postponing a general election. That is something that is not too evident for most of the time, but it would become very evident if it were made easy as a result of abolition of the principal independent element of this House (because it is the largest number and is not chosen by any government). I am not 1631 beholden to any Prime Minister, dead or alive, for my seat in this House and I can vote as I wish. I vote against my party when I think I should. The Chief Whip is sometimes forgiving, but is more often angry. If one throws out that entire contingent, one vastly reduces the independence of this House. If one replaces it, as it is rumoured that those opposite would replace it, with placemen appointed by politicians, one enormously reduces its independence further.
Therefore, I suggest that in addition to the dual Writ—to the two Writ system as it may be called—the electoral college or whatever other device is chosen, if ever a Bill is introduced to amend the Parliament Act 1911, in which I believe that the five-year life of a Parliament is enshrined, at First Reading the bar against the attendance, speaking and voting of otherwise excluded hereditary Peers should be lifted and at least 14 days' notice of the intention to hold that debate should be given to Peers by succession. I believe that that would restore some of the vital independence of this House at the point where it is most needed.
However, all of those points are for the Select Committee, before the establishment of which nothing should be done. I ask your Lordships not to countenance a three-wheel buggy on the Blair model, if it can be avoided.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Lord Annan
My Lords, I rise to speak on only one topic—reform of this House. The question is: how can we make it more respectable and influential and give it a more appropriate role in the constitution? I believe that reform can be done only in stages. If we try to solve all problems at once in a Speaker's Conference or in some other assembly set up ad hoc for the purpose, we shall get submerged in a Serbonian Bog, in which, as Milton reminds us, "Armies whole have sunk". All that I am concerned with today is the first stage.
The Constitution Unit said that a key question about reform was whether membership of the second chamber should be a job or an honour. The antithesis is false. It will always be an honour to be a Member of this House, but it should also be a job—although not necessarily a full-time job. Some, as now, should undoubtedly be expected to attend each day, but for others it should be a part-time affair.
I do not believe that it is credible to have even part of the House composed of hereditary Peers. Like everyone else, I have deep respect for the abilities of many of the hereditary Peers. They should be entitled, as is everyone else, to be considered for nomination to this House. Every subject of the Crown should have the right to stand for election or, in this case, for nomination to one or other of the Houses of Parliament. But if the hereditary Peers were excluded by right, they should be entitled to stand for election to the House of Commons, as many eldest sons of Peers did in the past and were successful in being elected.
I do not consider that the present nomenclature of Peers should continue. I believe that all Members of the House of Lords should be nominated and that they should be called "Lords of Parliament". I do not 1632 consider that commoners such as myself should be raised to the peerage, introduced by heralds and bear the title "Lord". Hereditary Peers should, of course, be at liberty to use their title, but for the rest of us to have the letters "L.P." after our name is surely sufficient honour and will enable us to avoid ridicule by our fellow countrymen. It could be said, of course, that there may be some ridicule at being called "L.P." because, as everybody knows, long-playing records were called "LP records". That is perhaps indicative of some Members of your Lordships' House. Nevertheless, I believe that such a reform would be a token of the fact that when we are made life Peers we do not want to have our name changed or, at any rate, to have to change the signature on our cheques. I am bound to say that the whole system makes us hostages to snobbery. Members of the House of Lords who are not of noble birth should be content to remain "Mr.".
It is essential that the present imbalance in voting be redressed. The Leader of the Opposition gave some astounding figures. However, it is also essential that a comprehensible balance be maintained between the parties. I therefore advocate that after a general election as a first stage each party which has representation in the House of Commons should be granted in the House of Lords the same proportion of seats it has in the House of Commons. The leaders of each party would nominate their members and it is certain that hereditary Peers would be among them. As has been said, the House would be much poorer if Peers such as the present Leader of the House, or the late Lord Shackleton, or the noble Earl, Lord Russell, could not be nominated. Those members would be working members, expected to attend most days. They would be the effective core of the Government and Opposition. They might number some 150 to 200 in total. The remaining members would be the present Cross Bench Peers.
I hope that in any reform the same practice would be followed whereby the Prime Minister, as advised—I am sure he would wish to consult the leaders of the opposition parties—would nominate men and women in various walks of life who could make a contribution to the affairs of the House. It is perhaps ill-becoming for a Cross-Bencher to say so, but it is something I have been told often—indeed, it was borne out by what the Leader of the House said in his opening speech—and that is that the appearance of life Peers changed this House for the better in that it brought to our debates people with experience in many spheres of life. I do not consider that this type of nominated Member of the House should be under an obligation to attend every day of a Session unless the Cross Benches are to become an institute for geriatrics. Members should be permitted to accept nomination while doing a full-time job elsewhere. I could never have guaranteed to be in my place even for a stated number of sittings when I was a member of the vice-chancellors' committee or even when I was Provost of King's. How much more so, then, for those in more exacting professions in business or in the law.
I would, however, add one important proviso to the appointment of nominated Cross-Benchers. They should not be appointed for life. The term "life Peer" should 1633 disappear. There should be a retiring age and under no circumstances should it be beyond the age of 75. Of course, we can all think of dozens of Members of the House well into their 80s who make memorable contributions. Indeed, some would say the same of nonagenarians like the late Lord Houghton. Only a moment ago we listened to another nonagenarian, the noble Earl, Lord Longford. When he rises to speak I always enjoy it because I never know what he is going to say or how far he is going to go. However, as a general rule, a decade or more after most of us retire from the position we held in our career, the law of diminishing returns sets in. We cannot be as conversant as we should be with the problems facing a new generation. If there is a retiring age for judges and a retiring age for bishops, I see no reason why there should not be a retiring age for nominated Members of this House. I add a proviso. If, at some later stage, Members of the House were to be elected, then by all means let the electorate decide. If they decide to return a man or woman aged 80, that is their choice. So long as Members are nominated, however, they should abide by a retiring age.
What of the Bishops? As long as the Church of England is the established Church by law and is subject to the Crown in Parliament, the Bishops should surely have a place in the House, although any government would be wise, I believe, to see that there was representation in the House from time to time of those belonging to other bodies of faith which have substantial numbers of adherents.
There remain the Law Lords. I say only this. I certainly wish the Law Lords to remain in the House, but I wish they could be called the Supreme Court. Members of the House of Lords are only too well aware of the difference between the Law Lords when sitting in judgment and when the House is legislating. But the general public do not understand the distinction. People imagine that when a judgment is made by a controversial judge such as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, it is in some way the whole House of Lords speaking. It may sound ludicrous to those of us who work here, but I assure the House that that is the perception when one talks to ordinary members of the public.
I do not agree, of course, that there should be any separation of powers. I follow the judgment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, that much nonsense is talked of the separation of powers. But it should be evident to the public that the final court of appeal in the land is totally distinct from the House of Lords as the legislature.
I assume that the present power of the second chamber to delay legislation for no longer than one year continues to obtain. I also assume that the House of Commons will be jealous of the power of this House and would not consent to any increase in our powers or any delegation of powers to a second chamber, certainly one which contains nominated members. However, I also assume—of course, I may be wrong—that there will be no recrudescence of the ditchers party of 1910–11. If a number of Peers decided to disrupt the 1634 business of the House because it was proposed to abolish the right of hereditary Peers to sit, there would be bound to be savage repercussions. However, having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Denham, I am sure that that would not happen. I listened with great pleasure to his speech, which seemed as good a defence of the present position as could possibly be made. I listened with pride because I remember the time when I held the post of moral tutor to the noble Lord. It was not a very distinguished post, but it was certainly no sinecure.
Should a second Chamber be elected? Certainly not in the first stage of reform. If proportional representation or some form of regional or—in the case of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—national devolution were to be adopted, then it might well be that the powers of the second chamber would change. Some believe that election to a second chamber is almost a sine qua non of its continued existence.
There is this problem, however: we already have many elections in this country, and may have more if national assemblies are to be established. It is not as if the turn-out in local government is all that high. It is not as if the turn-out for membership of the European Parliament is all that high. If we are adding to them assemblies and regional bodies which are also to be elected, I suspect that the electorate will become very tired of the process. It would, of course, be possible at a general election to combine the elections for both Houses. But what if the party forming the government in the House of Commons found itself in a minority in the second Chamber? Moreover, if the second Chamber is to be entirely elected, it will certainly lose such prestige as it has as a well-informed and, if I may say so, a very well-mannered institution.
I beg the political parties to consider that in any reform of the second Chamber a measure of nominated members should still play a part, although, having said that, I am only too well aware that I speak from exactly the same position as the hereditary Peers in the Cross-Bench interest. But I must add in my defence that it is not in self-interest. I am past the age of retirement.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ Lord Hesketh
My Lords, I propose to be brief. As some of your Lordships will be aware, I have always had a strong affection for the Clock in your Lordships' House.
It may come as no surprise that I am a supporter of the status quo. "As an ex-Chief Whip, he would say that, wouldn't he?" I am not opposed to reform or to change. I am a supporter of the existing state and shape of your Lordships' House on the basis that it works better than any alternative I have seen proposed to date.
I have to say that I would not oppose anything which was an honourable Bill that came before this House and would see your Lordships' House acting in the historical manner: in a responsible and honourable way towards that Bill from whichever party held the majority in another place. But I have to say that today and over the past few weeks I have detected the possibility that I never envisaged of the Labour Party making the case for the hereditary Peerage.
1635 The noble Lord, Lord Richard, this afternoon made a remark which made me believe that I detected the shadow of Robespierre's ghost flickering across the top of your Lordships' Chamber. So interesting was his remark, that I wrote it down. He referred to,the undemocratic element in this House".When I entered this House, the first thing that I was told in the Chief Whip's Office was that life Peers, Lords Spiritual, Law Lords and hereditary Peers were equal, and equal between and among each other as a seamless robe.
Today, the opposition Benches have defined a new form of democracy. Whether or not I am going to be one of those who is led willingly or unwillingly to the undemocratic tumbrel, I do not know, but what I must say is that if I were a life Peer or a Lord Spiritual or a Law Lord in this House, I would not sleep happy with the definition that was laid before your Lordships' House under the rather bogus guise of democracy. I do not see where the definition can enter the Oxford English Dictionary in an honourable way.
My second great concern is that we face the proposal, should a Labour government come into office, that your Lordships' House will be confronted by a three-clause Bill which will remove the hereditary Peerage and do, not only little else, but nothing else. If the hereditary Peers of this House have one duty to their fellow countrymen and countrywomen, it is that whatever Bill changes or reforms your Lordships' House, it must be one which leaves this House as an honourable estate. The proposal is a wholly dishonourable proposal.
The reason it is dishonourable is easily demonstrated by the events of the past seven days. On constitutional matters, the Labour Party has been foolhardy, and certain, for a very long time, that it had a policy for the devolution of Scotland. Convenience resulted in a U-turn. It would be for the hereditary Peerage of this House a day of shame and dishonour to walk into the corridor of history having left their fellow countrymen with no choice of knowing whether that promise would be given and carried out by a Labour government. It is worth recalling that the last time a Labour government entered a horse in the eight furlong constitutional selling plate, which was called devolution, it lost its jockey and left us all in a pretty mess.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, the subject of today's debate is the role and structure of Parliament. Understandably and properly, the House has interested itself largely in the role and structure of this House. I should say at the outset that there is virtually nothing new to say on the subject. From the late 19th century, through the 1911 proposals, through the 1930s, in 1948, and in 1968, right down until today and the work of the Constitution Unit, the arguments, the principles, the possible methods of reform and the problems have been explored exhaustively. Therefore I do not propose to go over that ground again.
There is of course a view on the constitution generally and the role and performance of this House—a view expressed by the Prime Minister, and by virtually all the 1636 speakers from the Conservative Benches both yesterday and today—that apart from shipping some masonry back to Scotland, little needs to be done. Indeed, listening to noble Lords opposite, I had the feeling that Dr. Pangloss in Candide, who believed,That all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds",was alive and well and a paid-up member of the Conservative Party.
The Conservative view of the House, which has been variously expressed—the noble Viscount the Leader of the House waxed lyrical on the subject—is that the House of Lords works; or, curious institution that it is, with its manifest incongruities and eccentricities, it mysteriously provides a check and balance on the workings of government; or in some unexplained way it calls the Executive to account and stops its worst excesses.
That is all very fine and well if one sits on the Conservative Benches and there is a Conservative Government. Indeed, the Leader of the House again referred to the beauty of our constitution, and particularly of this House. In this case beauty is definitely in the eye of the Conservative beholder. The true answer was of course given by the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, in his interesting article in The Times yesterday.
I do not apologise for repeating the figures quoted earlier by my noble friend Lord Richard. During the 1974–79 Labour Government—some five years—the House of Lords defeated the Government on 355 occasions. That is about 70 times a year. That compares with 156 defeats in the 11 years from 1979 to 1990, which is about 14 times a year. It seems that the vigilance of the House of Lords over the Executive mysteriously increases some five times when Labour is in power. The noble Lord, Lord Denham, referred to the fact that defeats by the Lords are always reversed in the Commons and the Government always get through their business. It has been calculated that defeats by the House of Lords between 1974 and 1979 effectively lost that government about a year of their legislative time.
It is interesting to note that the last Labour Government, with at first a tiny majority and then no majority, were in a position similar to that of the present Government, with their current nominal majority of one. Somehow I do not believe that the House will be defeating the Conservative Government 70 times this Session.
We hear a great deal about the effectiveness of the House as a working House. I thought that I would take a slightly different approach from that which is normally adopted. That view prompted me to analyse the overall attendance record in the 1994–95 Session—the previous Session. I took as a marker an attendance of 50 per cent. or more of the maximum possible 142 attendances in that Session. It is pretty reasonable to attend for half the number of Sittings. The proportion of noble Lords in each group who attended for more than half the maximum attendance figure was as follows: Conservative life Peers 47 per cent.; Liberal Democrat life Peers 66 per cent.; Labour life Peers 70 per cent.; and the Cross-Bench life Peers 27 per cent. On the same 1637 basis—that is, attending for more than half the maximum attendance figure—the attendance figures were: Conservative hereditary Peers 37 per cent.; Liberal Democrat hereditary Peers 50 per cent.; Labour hereditary Peers 57 per cent.; and Cross-Bench hereditary Peers 21 per cent. If we put the figures together, the overall result is Conservatives 41 per cent.; Liberal Democrats 59 per cent.; Labour 68 per cent.; and the Cross Benches 23 per cent.
I am the first to recognise that attendance can be variously interpreted. As a former Whip, and Deputy Chief Whip, I recognise that being here for Questions and a companionable cup of tea is by no means the same as staying here and slogging through amendments until 11 p.m. or midnight. However, we have to face the curious fact that if we take a 50 per cent. attendance as a reasonable norm for a working House, the largest numerical group—that is, Conservative Peers—has the lowest proportional attendance rate of the three parties in the House, but somehow it wins virtually all the Divisions. Indeed, we know that it is the Conservative hereditary vote which sees the Government home every time. There is again no need to labour that point. The figures were given most effectively by my noble friend Lord Richard.
The answer of course lies in the actual active numerical strengths on the 50 per cent. basis—Conservatives 184; Liberal Democrats 32; Labour 73; and the Cross Benches 59, making a total of 348. In other words, the numerical preponderance of the Conservative vote far outweighs their much lower proportionate attendance figure.
If we approach the figures in that way, they reveal something of a weakness in the argument put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, and the academic theorists in the Constitution Unit, who base their proposals for reform on the nominal strengths in the House and not the active strengths of the three main parties and the Cross-Benchers. The figures suggest also that a reformed House could work quite well with a total membership of about 350, excluding the Law Lords and the Bishops.
In passing, I should pay tribute to my Labour colleagues—both life Peers and Peers by succession—who have the best proportional attendance figures of any group in the House, despite their much higher average age. The effect of all that can he seen if we take just one Division at random: the important vote on Monday on the asylum Bill where the Government had a majority of 13. The voting did not depend merely on the votes of hereditary Peers; it depended upon the votes of 19 hereditary Peers who did not reach the 50 per cent. attendance mark in the past Session. That would apply to almost every Division, if one analysed them. I shall spare the blushes of the Benches opposite by forbearing to analyse the notorious vote on the poll tax. But having said all that, I recognise the valuable part that is played in the work of the House by hereditary Peers on all sides. Any practical reform of this House will have to take that into account in some way. After all, the Association of Conservative Peers will have to man the Opposition Front Bench somehow.
1638 I hope that when the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, replies to the debate he will give us the Government's considered view on the obvious and glaring inequity that I have described and say whether they have any plans to deal with it. I hope that in reply he will not follow the noble Viscount the Leader of the House by quoting the random selection argument which is sometimes used to justify the present situation. It is true that, if one were selecting a group which was white, male, public-school educated, with an above-average involvement in field sports and the patronage of charities, the hereditary peerage would represent a statistically valid sample.
But I am sure that there are thoughtful Peers in all parts of the House who recognise that the present situation is indefensible. Equally, as a lifelong member of the Fabian Society, I am a great believer in federalism. An important question should be asked, and it has not been put today. There was a story in the weekend press that some of the wilder spirits on the Conservative Benches have indicated that they would not regard themselves as bound by the Salisbury Convention in the case of a Bill to reform the House of Lords brought in by a Labour Government. Will the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, say whether, if a manifesto commitment to introduce a Bill to abolish the hereditary right to sit and vote is legitimised by an election victory and such a Bill is passed in another place, the Conservative Party will observe the Salisbury Convention and not use its in-built majority in this House to kill such a Bill?
Clearly, my party has thrown down a challenge with its proposals for reform of the House of Lords. It proposes a short Bill, with wider consultation to follow. I happen to believe that there is a will to change this House for the better. There is a will to produce a House which is a genuine revising Chamber, with the power to warn and inform the Executive, whichever party is in government, which is established on a defensible and equitable basis, balancing the many interests involved, and which does not threaten the powers of the elected Chamber. We must hope that today's debate will be the beginning of that process.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Lord Boardman
My Lords, I am glad that the debate extends to the role and structure of Parliament and is not confined merely to the future reform of this House. Any decision as regards the reform of this House will depend completely on how it is met by Members of another place. Any reform of this House proposed by the Labour Party must involve the transfer of authority and power from the other place to this House. The other place would not like that and would not agree. It would never consent to transfer any of its powers to this place. The noble Lords, Lord Desai and Lord Annan, referred to that today.
I urge those on the Labour Front Bench, and Mr. Blair in particular, to read with care the debates in 1968 when Michael Foot and Enoch Powell combined the same objective with different arguments to destroy the agreement made between both Front Benches in both Houses for the reform of the House of Lords. Anyone 1639 thinking of reform today and reading those speeches will understand the difficulties which face them from the other place.
Throughout the centuries massive changes have been made in Parliament. The House of Commons has increased its powers and this House has adapted to his present role. One could properly describe this House as a forum for high quality debate on national issues. It has the role of scrutinising, amending and improving legislation. It also has the important role, which we sometimes overlook, of ensuring that Parliament does not extend its life over five years. Another important role is securing the independence of the judges—I am tempted to say judges to interpret the law and not to make it, but perhaps that strays too far.
I believe that this House carries out all its roles very well. It has in its membership experts in all aspects of life. It is something of an elder statesman or father figure. I hope that when I use the term "father figure" noble Baronesses will not think that I am in any way trying to play down their great contribution to this House. It is full of wisdom and experience which are drawn from a very wide circle. Its young hereditary Peers bring in a freshness perhaps to offset to some extent the more mature former leaders of government, the Armed Forces, industry, the Bishops and the judges who otherwise make up the majority of the membership.
The onus is upon those who want to change the House to justify doing so. As was said by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and others, the difficulty is that we have a greater number of Conservative Peers than there are Peers of the other parties. We do not have a majority but we have a larger number. They may feel that it might be right to reaffirm the Salisbury rules and perhaps to extend them in order to assure the electorate that the Conservative Party in this House would not block any measure for which they clearly voted. That would be right, and I believe that if we were not prepared to do so, the electorate would be suspicious of the role that we might otherwise exercise.
Any reform of this House would require the agreement of the other place in transferring its power. I ask Members of the Labour Party to consider making it clear in their manifesto—I have not yet had the pleasure of reading today's draft manifesto—that in fulfilling its promises it will warn Members of the other place that they will have to surrender part of their powers. They will have to transfer a part of their powers to Scotland, a part to the European Parliament or Community and a part to the reformed House of Lords. Members of the other place will not like it and I should be surprised if they agreed to it. One must anticipate that the other place will have strong views about the transfer of their powers or any reduction in them.
Finally, I was privileged to be a Member of the other place some time ago. I believe that there are now too many Members. Constituencies and membership were built up in the days when one depended on horses to get around. With modern transport and communications, I believe that we have a great surplus of Members. The result is that Members tend to get loaded with matters which are properly the responsibility of district or parish 1640 councils. Indeed, noble Lords who have served in that place, like my noble friend Lord Renton and the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, have referred to the extent to which present day Members in the other place are bogged down with matters which are really the responsibility of the other tier of government—namely, district or parish councils, or whatever. As I said, there are too many Members of the House of Commons. A reduction there would be a good thing.
Members of the other place are also under severe restraint as regards their outside occupations; indeed, that pressure has been increased. I fear that there are now many frustrated Members who feel that they are underpaid and required to work unsocial hours. Those noble Lords who have visited the other place will know that the Chamber there is nearly always empty, except for Prime Minister's Question Time. I find it a very great contrast to the House of Commons that I knew only a relatively few years ago.
Anyone who is seriously looking for reform of Parliament should, instead of concentrating on the reform of this Chamber, which would be very difficult to achieve, look at the effectiveness of both Chambers. However, in the meantime I would urge those concerned not to seek the reform of this House—certainly not in the way suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, with a two-phased arrangement taking away the right of hereditary Peers to vote and to turn up here—but while they scratch their heads, to decide what alternative they might suggest. I urge those anxious for reform to look right across the board and consider the attitude that Members of the House of Commons would take to any such changes. They should think most carefully before they try to implement any change.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, I must respond to the noble Lord before he sits down. I cannot allow what he said to appear in the Hansard report unchallenged, so to speak. The noble Lord firmly said that the Conservative Party did not have a majority in this House. However, 476 Peers take the Tory Whip. There are 286 Cross-Benchers; 109 take the Labour Whip; and 52 take the Liberal Whip. If one adds up 286, 109 and 52, one gets a total of 447. Therefore, the Conservatives do have a majority of the people who come to this House. In addition, there are approximately 150 or 160 Peers who do not come to this House. I think it is a fair bet to say that they are not natural Labour voters.
§ Lord Boardman
My Lords, I will not try to cross-check the arithmetic. However, if the other Members of this House, other than those who take the Conservative Whip, turn up to vote, I think we would find that they would always beat the Conservatives. In that I include those on the Cross Benches. I am not sure whether the noble Lord did so.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ Lord McConnell
My Lords, I should like to comment briefly on some of the suggestions that have been made for the reform of this House. First, there is the suggestion that we should have an elected second chamber. If that were to be done in the normal 1641 democratic way, it would be done on universal franchise. That would result in people being elected on party lines. There would be no possibility to have Cross-Benchers and the House would be divided into parties, with no one of independent background being able to lend a bit of levelling sometimes to the arguments, as I hope we do on the Cross Benches. It would also mean that the party Whips would have a great deal more power because the elected Members would be looking forward to being re-elected at the next election, and, if they defied their party Whips too much they might put in jeopardy their chances of being re-selected.
A mere duplication of the House of Commons would not be accepted by the other place. Moreover, it would produce conflict and would lower the standard of this House. Have we such an admiration for the other Chamber that we want to have a duplicate of Prime Minister's Question Time in this House, with Front-Benchers snarling at each other across the Dispatch Boxes? I feel that we can offer something better.
If Members of such a chamber were elected by other means—like, for example, from local authorities—again, I do not believe that that would produce a better House than the one we have at present. Indeed, my fear is that it would be much worse. If such people were nominated by professional bodies, such as trade unions and so on, that would be undemocratic. The nomination of life Peers is a much more efficient way of representing specialist interests. I am also very much against the blanket abolition of the hereditary Members of this House. We have some very good young and able hereditary Members—and, indeed, even some older and able hereditary Members—who give considerable service to the House. It would be a great loss to do away with them.
However, it might be possible to get rid of some of the dead wood. The figures available give rather a false impression of the situation. Indeed, I looked through the attendance records for the 1994–95 Session and found that nearly 350 noble Lords never attended during that time. That included 68 Peers with leave of absence, which should only be granted for a good reason—and I am not sure how good a reason one has to give in that respect. Moreover, there were over 200 Peers who had never taken the oath. Therefore, to have those people listed as Members of this House gives a false impression and does little good.
I believe that there should be some method of dealing with that situation. For example, I suggest that if a noble Lord does not attend a certain number of times during a Session he should not be entitled to attend, vote or speak in the subsequent Session. Alternatively, the suggestion has been made that hereditary Peers might do as was done with the Scottish representative Peers—and the Irish representative Peers before them—and select a goodly number of their Members who were fit to attend and anxious to do so.
One could make a similar criticism of some of the hereditary Peers. I say that because the list of Peers who do not attend to which I referred contains a number of 1642 hereditary Peers. It is an honour to be given the responsibility of becoming a Member of this House. But it is not an empty honour: it is not something that one takes just to give a handle to one's name without undertaking any responsibilities.
I believe it is wrong to have two lists: there is the Honours List and there is the list of working Peers. I consider that all people appointed as life Peers should be working Peers and that no distinction should be made between one or the other. I feel it is irresponsible to accept the honour and not carry out the responsibilities.
The great thing is that the House of Lords works. That is an important consideration without going into a lot of theory as to what is good and conforms with political theory. We should preserve what we have. There are minor amendments to be made, such as I have mentioned, which probably would improve this assembly. However, I do not think we need any root and branch amendments to this House. I support what has been said; namely, that there should be full consultation. I think that any alteration of the composition of the powers of this House should, as far as possible, be done by agreement between the different parties. One side should not impose its will on the other side. I commend to noble Lords the few matters that I have mentioned.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Lord Strabolgi
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, has had a distinguished career in Northern Ireland. Although he was too modest to say so, he came here through the Honours List and not through the working list, although he has shown since he has been here that he is also a working Peer. We are glad to see him and to hear his speech today.
I wish to say at the outset that I support my party's policy of curtailing the hereditary right to a seat in this House. This hereditary right is surely difficult to defend today and, as my noble friend Lord Carter said, it is absolutely indefensible. I accept, however, that many Peers by succession have made distinctive contributions. However, the wholesale removal of all the hereditary Peers by succession who attend regularly would not only deprive the House of many senior and distinguished Peers, but it would mean considerable disruption to parliamentary business, and a notable loss to Lords' debates.
The Labour Party, I think, recognises this problem and proposes that a number of hereditary Peers should be granted life peerages, as my right honourable friend the Leader of the Opposition in another place has said. I think that is absolutely essential, frankly, if the Chamber and the work of the Chamber are not to collapse.
But who is to decide on the quota for each party, and who are the chosen Peers to be? This will surely not be an easy task. I understand Labour says it can be left to the parties. But who is to decide among the large group of independent Cross-Benchers who are not organised in this way? Who among the parties are to decide? Will it be based on the number of useful and hard-working Peers who have made a contribution over the years? Is it to be based on party numbers so that the 1643 government of the day have a majority in the House? How is it to be done? It is an unenviable task and will lead, I am afraid, to a good deal of nepotism and unfairness. I think it is absolutely unworkable.
It is also proposed, I believe—although not by my party—as a way round this dilemma to allow the Peers by succession to elect a certain number to represent them for the duration of a Parliament. I do not think that such a solution would be acceptable in the country, which I am sure would not tolerate an aristocratic electoral college of this kind. Even if we could reach agreement on the quota system for the transfer to life peerages, the way there will not be easy. There will be a long interval between losing the right to a Writ of Summons, after the Bill has received Royal Assent, and the reintroduction to the House as a life Peer, presumably with a new title and the usual elaborate ceremony if the College of Arms has anything to do with it! Will the hereditary Peer have to give up his hereditary title if he takes a life peerage? These are all details which will have to be addressed and which I do not think have been thought through, as far as I can see. All that is said is, "Oh, well, some of the hereditaries —a good number of them—will be given life peerages". It is not made clear how this will be done and how long the interval will be after the Bill receives Royal Assent and their reintroduction under their new titles. That could take a great many months. During that time the House will he deprived of many of its key Members, who will be in temporary exile. They will indeed be some distinguished people.
I believe the best way to solve this problem with the least disruption is for the hereditary right to a seat to cease with the death of the present holder, although of course the title could continue. As about 25 hereditary Peers die every year, there would be a fairly rapid reduction in just two parliaments. If such a provision had been included in the 1958 Life Peerages Act, there would be hardly any hereditaries left in the House today, and time would have brought its own solution. It seems to have been forgotten sometimes—I think this has been so during this debate—that your Lordships' House nearly 30 years ago rejected the hereditary principle as a basis for membership. The 1968 Government White Paper stated amongst other proposals that succession to a peerage was no longer to carry the right to a seat. That proposal was approved by this House by the large majority of 251 votes to 56.
What I am suggesting therefore is not new. It is just one of the reforms that could be brought in as part of a gradual process that I have seen over the past 40 years since I have had the privilege of being a Member of this House. The House now is absolutely unrecognisable as the one that I first knew when I took my seat in 1954. It was then an all-male, all-hereditary and much smaller House. There have therefore been a good many reforms in the past 40 years. What I have suggested tonight would be a further extension of that. I am sure it is the right way to proceed and would cause the minimum of disruption, until we are ready to move to Labour's long-term proposal—as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Richard—for consultations to take place to decide the form a second Chamber should take.
§ 7.57 p.m.
§ Lord Marlesford
My Lords, I am glad that we have had this fascinating two-day debate. It is rather fascinating that the reform of the House of Lords has such a high profile since Mr. Blair became Leader of the Labour Party. However, I suppose it is not really surprising as he became Leader rather unexpectedly and in sad circumstances. He wanted to produce a fairly safe and radical-sounding policy. The Labour Party—
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, has it occurred to the noble Lord that it has become an issue not because Mr. Blair wanted it to have a high profile but rather because people think that the Labour Party will win?
§ Lord Marlesford
My Lords, with great respect, I do not think that is the case. For quite a long time when people asked what Mr. Blair believed in, one of the few things one could think of was that he had referred on numerous occasions to the abolition of the House of Lords. I am not criticising that in the least; it is a fact. The Labour Party rightly jettisoned many policies which have kept it out of office, and of course it takes a little time to find something to take their place. It seems to me relevant to the whole function of the House of Lords that Britain has, since the early 1980s, moved away from the socialist consensus—which dominated this country for four decades—to a capitalist consensus.
As Mr. Tony Benn rightly reminds us, in many ways we now live in a one party state. However, as my noble friend Lady Young pointed out, the Members of this House are remarkably independent and unpolitical in many ways. If, after 17 years of opposition, the Labour leadership is seeking a means of filling up the parliamentary timetable, constitutional reform is a most inspired choice. But politically it is a rather bizarre choice. After the first year or so, if most of the parliamentary time has been taken up with constitutional matters, what will the electorate think of it? It is not always easy to make the electorate appreciate matters. I remember that Mr. Harold Lever once pointed out to his party that it might be a little difficult to persuade the electorate that the Co-op could be made as efficient as Marks & Spencer simply by nationalising it. That was a long time ago. But I am not sure that constitutional matters have this tremendous political sex appeal.
I greatly admire Mr. Blair for his courage and the way that he gets things done. On the other hand, I am not sure that he is a good general. A good general does not select a bog or quicksand for his army. I hope that the Opposition have thought carefully about the issue. The speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, yesterday, spelt out the dangers of how easily parliamentary time—it is the fuel and ammunition of the political battle—can be dissipated in matters connected with the constitution. This issue was signalled early in the new leadership. It is clear that the plans have not really been worked out in detail. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, produced a large number of important questions that have to be settled.
1645 However, there are two important issues. I hope that the Labour Party will take careful account of them. First, let us decide whether we are aiming at a directly elected chamber in the foreseeable future, or are thinking purely in terms of limited reform. The timescale was not clear to me from the opening speech of the noble Lord, Lord Richard. We reform local government at least every 20 years, and that is probably too often. It would be intolerable if we were now to make fairly radical changes to the composition of the Chamber with the idea of moving to an elected Chamber within the next 10 to 15 years. It would be an awful waste of the country's parliamentary time.
Secondly, the Labour Party has to decide whether it wishes to proceed by confrontation or consensus. I have spent long enough as a lobby correspondent at the other end to realise that there is no limit to the period by which a parliamentary timetable can be upset if there is a confrontation on constitutional matters. I ask the noble Lord who will reply for the Opposition whether it is right to assume that the Labour Party would not propose to discuss any constitutional change off the Floor of the House in another place. I assume that, but it would be helpful to have it confirmed.
Although there is not much wrong with this House in practice, there is in perception. I am lucky enough to have been attending for five years. I am convinced that the House performs functions which have to be performed but which, for reasons of lack of expertise and pressures of time, could not be fulfilled by Members of another place. With the intrusion of the Nolan reforms, I fear there is a real danger that the quality of people in another place may well deteriorate. One of the problems in this House is that although we behave relatively well and perform useful functions, we receive little media coverage. That may be cause and effect.
I believe in reform. As the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, reminded us, my party has advocated reform of this Chamber on a number of occasions. We would be wise to face up to the issue again. My approach is to modify and build on the assets that we already have. Let me at this point comment on the repeated assertion that it is profoundly undemocratic for hereditary Peers to be allowed to be legislators but that in some way appointed Peers have a greater legitimacy. The position is no more undemocratic than that judges should be appointed from those who have been called to the Bar, or that generals are appointed from those who have joined the army. That does not mean that all lawyers are capable of being judges or that all soldiers are capable of being generals. Nor, of course, should all Peers by succession be allowed to be legislators; but some are. Any unelected legislature is undemocratic, but it is not necessarily anti-democratic. Therefore, I favour a reform which would include representative hereditary Peers as one of its components.
The theoretical membership of this House at 1,200 is much too large. There are people who consider that membership of the other place is too large. For the purpose of discussion, let us assume that the minimum number required should be 600. All these figures can be argued. If we add together the life Peers, the Law Lords, 1646 the bishops and the 11 hereditary Peers of first creation, the figure is 439. In addition, there are 19 hereditary Peers by succession who have become Privy Counsellors. I cannot believe that anyone would feel that someone who has reached that eminence should not by right have a seat in this House. Taking the figure of 600, that leaves space for 140 hereditary Peers out of 737 who are at present Members by succession; and with the Privy Counsellors that makes a total of 160. That is just over one in five.
If we consider the differential attendance figures, that is a reasonable allocation. In the last Session approximately 30 per cent. of Peers by succession attended occasionally—for between one and 39 days. A further 30 per cent. attended for more than 40 days out of 142 days. About 20 per cent. attended on more than half the number of days. Of those, about 100 can be regarded as full-time, attending more than 85 per cent. of days. I refer to the attendance of hereditary Peers.
The hereditary Peers would elect themselves. I do not believe that that can be done with any formal regard to party affiliation.
§ Lord Winston
My Lords, of those noble Lords recorded as attending, can the noble Lord tell us how long they spent in the Chamber?
§ Lord Marlesford
My Lords, I cannot, and I do not think that anyone else can. I made the point that mere attendance does not necessarily mean that people contribute. That applies to everyone. I do not believe that one can use that judgment; it is a rough and ready judgment. However, as I said, I propose that only a proportion of those who attend should be selected to be Members of the House from the peerage by succession contingent. I suggest that Peers selected by Peers would ensure that the best was achieved. The public object to the belief that there are people who do not take the place seriously, or for some reason are quite unsuited to be here. I accept and respect that point of view. It is precisely to remove that criticism that I suggest that there should be a more limited number of hereditary Peers and that they should be selected in the way that I suggest.
There would have to be space for creations during a parliament. The reaper would provide some spaces. When I arrived here I was told rather comfortingly that Members of your Lordships' House live on average a decade longer than other mortals. I was told today that the average age at death of Members of the House of Lords during 1995 was 79. Let us hope that 1996 is an even better year. The last 10 Prime Ministers on death had reached an average age of 82. They are pretty tough at the top!
The maximum size of the House could be allowed to rise to 650 during a parliament. The following parliament could then revert to the figure of 600. That could be achieved by reducing the number of hereditary Peers by 50. Thus my scheme could eliminate the hereditary component of the House at the end of three parliaments. Actually I suspect that long before that wiser thoughts might have decided otherwise.
1647 I hope very much that the Labour Party will take heed of this debate. Otherwise, if it rushes into ill-considered changes, some of us will be reminded of a remark made nearly 30 years ago by the late lain Macleod. Referring to the Labour Party of those days, he told a Tory Party conference,Let them dream their dreams. Let them scheme their schemes. We have work to do".
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Lord St. John of Bletso
My Lords, I was delighted to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, that regular membership of your Lordships' House can be a recipe for longevity. I hope that it will be true in my family; very few of us have passed the age of 60.
Today's debate has posed a personal dilemma for me, not because of my obvious concerns for the future of hereditary Peers, but because I had tickets for the Centre Court at Wimbledon today. It was difficult to give them up when I knew that I would be the 25th speaker and that whatever I had to say would have been already ably said by many noble Lords before me.
With the general election looming, it is perhaps opportune that your Lordships have spent the past two days debating key constitutional issues. My hope is that it has been an opportunity for rational discussion rather than an exercise in merely winning political brownie points. I say that, of course, as a committed Cross-Bencher. I hope that having allocated two days to constitutional issues, the Leader of the House will also allocate a full day before the Summer Recess, should time allow, for your Lordships to debate the report of EC Select Committee A, of which I am a member—I see that other members of the committee are here today—on the merits of being in or out of the European monetary union.
As a hereditary Peer and the 21st St. John of Bletso —a title which was created in 1558—can I justify my existence in your Lordships' House by birthright? Certainly, in a parliamentary democracy I cannot, nor would I wish to, attempt rationally to defend my privileged position. However, although it is an anachronism, the raw reality is that, despite its many flaws, the system has worked for many generations. It has unique qualities, with many talents. It represents all age groups and, for that matter, all interest groups. Most important, it is highly effective in many of its functions and roles.
I welcome the report of the Constitution Unit on the reform of the House of Lords and the informal study of my noble friend the Earl of Carnarvon and others on possible reforms of the second chamber. I sincerely believe that it is both instructive and essential at this time that the debate should be, and I am sure will be, fully thrashed out in the run-up to the general election.
However, what I believe falls to the root of the debate is that it should not centre entirely around the possible reform of the composition of your Lordships' House, as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. A constructive reform must start by defining the House's functions, powers and the relationships with the other place and be directed at a clear set of final goals.
1648 The briefing summary of the Constitution Unit's report aptly defined your Lordships' House as,a constitutional protector, legislative reviser, and a source of independent counsel and expertise".An additional important function is the work of Select Committees in your Lordships' House, a subject which I note was not touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. The committee reports are generally accepted as being of an extremely high quality, with a number of reports making a considerable impact outside the immediate parliamentary, European or legal areas to which they are addressed. Many committees are chaired by hereditary Peers who also make up a good number of the overall membership. Here it is worthwhile also to commend the work of the Government's Front Bench, most of whom I believe are hereditary Peers. I have had a problem as a so-called working hereditary Peer since I got married as my wife feels that being here is a complete and utter waste of time. But perhaps that is for another discussion.
While the overall figure of eligible hereditary Peers to life Peers makes startling reading, the reality is that of the 580 Peers who sat for more than 20 days last year—and I cannot answer the question from the noble Lord, Lord Winston, as to how long they sat for—49 per cent. were life Peers and the remainder hereditary.
The noble Lord, Lord Richard, in his criticism of the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in your Lordships' House, pointed out the large percentage of Conservative hereditary Peers. He explained how the results of Labour Government defeats in the Lords between 1974 and 1979 and the far fewer defeats of the Conservative Government since they have been in office could have been dramatically reversed if there were no hereditary Peers voting. Apart from the fact that defeats in your Lordships' House serve merely to persuade rather than to direct the other place, the Salisbury/Addison doctrine established the convention of restricting a party in majority in your Lordships' House from blocking manifesto commitments by a government of a different party in the other place. That is an important point in the argument.
As a committed Cross-Bencher, I also agree with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Denham, that in many cases Divisions in your Lordships' House are regularly won by the arguments on the Floor of the House rather than purely by party loyalty. It is interesting to note the point raised by many noble Lords that the Cross-Benchers make up the second largest group in your Lordships' House.
Constitutional reform has among its many objectives the reduction of the power of the Executive. I was interested to read in a recent letter that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, wrote to The Times that he believes that,the hereditary peers in a small, illogical and anomalous way do check the power of the Executive.With most speakers focusing on possible reforms of this House, it was refreshing to hear my noble friend Lord Weatherill call for more reforms to the other place. The noble Viscount the Lord Privy Seal argued that your Lordships' House was an "amateur" House yet had 1649 enormous depth of experience and expertise and was extremely cost effective vis-à-vis the other place and the European Parliament. The fact that the costs of your Lordships' House, including the costs of running the judicial office, amount to less than 25 per cent. of the cost of running the other place and a staggering 8 per cent. of the overall costs of the European Parliament needs to be made more public to general voters when assessing the role and usefulness of your Lordships' House.
Traditionally, your Lordships' House has never been a party political chamber, nor do I believe it should ever become one. There has been a wide-ranging assortment of suggestions for possible gradual or sometimes more radical reform of the House: from the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, that hereditary rights should cease on the death of the present holder, to the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, in The Times yesterday for reducing the number of hereditary Conservative Peers, particularly the backwoodsmen, and increasing the number of Labour and Liberal Democrat life Peers.
While I agree with the adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it", I do believe that there should be some reform of this House. However, I do not take the purist line of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, of a democratically elected chamber. That option would mean vesting far greater power in this House and would be a recipe for disaster. I do not believe that the majority of voters in Britain consider reform of this House to be a high priority.
Finally, I am of the opinion that, while there should be reform, it should be minimalist. I hope that it will be evolutionary, with as much consensus as possible between all parties.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso. I can tell him at the outset that my wife thinks exactly as his wife does. Although I have been in this House for 30 years, she still thinks it is a waste of everybody's time. Be that as it may, I do not.
Somewhat surprisingly, I propose to concentrate on the contribution of the hereditary peerage to Parliament. Before doing so, I wish to make brief reference to the subject of yesterday's debate. My father, 100 years ago, was a Liberal Unionist. He was half Welsh and half English by birth. My mother was almost wholly Scottish, though there was a bit of French in her family back in the eighteenth century. I am married to a girl from Northern Ireland. Like very many other British citizens I am therefore a Unionist to my backbone and believe that the strength of this Kingdom rests wholly in the Union in its present form. Any plans to dilute the Union should be resisted as strongly as any of us knows how.
As to creating regions of England to compensate somehow for any other changes to the Union, I resist that equally strongly. Having lived in three counties of England as well as in the Isle of Wight, I find no wish for regions locally and I have a positive dislike for the 1650 current regions of the pompous central government departments. The smaller the population of a county, the more it resists regionalisation.
Turning to the future of hereditary Peers, in 1977 as a contribution to the committee of my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel, which was then examining the subject, I wrote what service staff officers call an "appreciation", selecting as its aim:To examine the membership and powers of the House of Lords with a view to seeing how it could contribute better to government in the United Kingdom".In considering the subject now, I still believe that any change should be made only if it ensures a better—I underline the word "better"—contribution to government by this House.
Let us look briefly at the contribution of hereditary Peers. After succeeding to the title, they can if they wish attend spasmodically as an apprenticeship. I did so for my first eight years, when earning my living was a high priority. For example, in Opposition and in supporting the Government, I learnt then, among many other things, that one can influence government spokesmen better by persuasion than by bullying. That is an understanding from which some noble Lords opposite might benefit.
Because of the uncertainties of succession, hereditary Peers provide a large proportion of the younger Members. Youth is very important in a non-elected Chamber. I emphasise, as other noble Lords have done, that any non-elected chamber is as undemocratic as any other non-elected chamber, if that is the point that is being made. In the nature of things Life Peers tend to be (not all of them) rather old, because they have to prove themselves before being selected.
The Canadian Senate, whose influence, as I discovered when serving in the UK High Commission in the 1960s, is minimal, is one example. It is significant that in the year that I spent on the staff of the High Commission, never once did I see the Senate mentioned in the newspapers; never once did I meet a senator at a diplomatic party. It would be quite remarkable in this country if Members of this House were not either quoted in the newspapers or seen at such parties.
The uncertainties of succession also make hereditary Peers a form of random selection, as my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal mentioned in his opening speech. That makes them much more representative of the country at large than is an appointed quango. The selection is also much more genuinely random these days than it was in 1911, since so many more of us have to struggle to earn a living. I have certainly had to. Hereditary Peers owe no allegiance to anyone, and attend only if they think that they can genuinely help the government of the country. If that leads to any of them acting with self-interest, the House quickly detects and squashes such a tendency. The House is good at that sort of thing.
In 1977, I also discovered that only about 300 of all Peers (about a quarter of those entitled) attend really regularly—I emphasise the word "really". Only about 250 of them usually attend on a normal day, even if both the major parties have a two-line Whip. That is supplemented by the balance of power being held by the 1651 Cross-Benchers, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Denham. Periodical checks on that balance since have shown the numbers and the balance of political power to be remarkably consistent. Remarkably, when Peers of all sorts cease to attend very regularly they seem to be automatically replaced by others of a similar persuasion. That goes for all parties and Cross-Benchers. Perhaps it has something to do with a form of random selection. It is very mysterious.
I prepared this speech on Sunday. On Monday we had a classic example of the Cross-Benches winning Divisions, and then not doing so when they wished because the Cross-Benches wanted it that way, regardless of what either of the major parties thought.
In 1977, my appreciation led me to recommend that if hereditary Peers were to be swept away they should be replaced by elected persons to balance the Life Peers—in what proportion would be for discussion: 50:50 might be one possibility, although at that stage I supported a proposal for two-thirds elected and one-third Life Peers. I saw that as the only conceivable alternative which might (though even that is rather doubtful) achieve the aim of my appreciation, for this House to contribute better (again I emphasise "better") to government.
Happily, Lord Home's committee put forward a very similar proposal. It is well worth reading for those who have not done so. Unless we can be sure that the other place would accept such a solution—and I do not believe that is as difficult as some people have suggested—I believe that, as things stand, hereditary Peers are far too valuable an element of this House for them to be deprived of any of their present rights.
As other noble Lords said, there can be no question of hereditary Peers being deprived of those rights as a first stage, with a vague promise of something better to follow. Any overall change must be considered comprehensively by the House in one stage only. It seems to me almost inevitable that, were we all persuaded to go away—and I do not believe that we should go easily—it would become too difficult to do anything more positive, and along the lines I have suggested because of the problems caused by the shortness of Parliamentary time. Therefore, matters would just drift on, to the end of the Parliament in question, then the response would be: "Oh, well we won't bother about it until the next time". And we should have a body similar to the Senate in Canada trying to help govern this country. God help us if we do.
If the noble Lords on the Opposition Front Bench are determined to sweep us away without some replacement because of the irritation that we cause mainly to them and certainly to Prime Ministers of both major parties, I hope most fervently that every effort will be made by the country to ensure that their party will never again form a government.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Lord Winston
My Lords, I was deeply sorry to hear that Lady St. John of Bletso felt that her husband was wasting his time. My wife, at least, knows where I am, and Hansard provides a written check of that. It is the best possible evidence.
1652 I must apologise for my brief absences during a short part of this debate. I hope I do not repeat anything that has been said before but, of course, in a sense this is one of the conflicts of being both a working doctor and a working life Peer. Indeed, this paradox is quite important in this debate because I believe I would he much less valuable as a Member of this House if I were not a working doctor, an academic and a scientist.
My only excuse for speaking at all in this very lengthy debate is that I am one of the most junior Members, almost the most junior Member, of this House and possibly some observations from a very green newcomer would be appropriate.
When the news of my appointment to this House was leaked to a newspaper my teenage daughter ran home to her mother in tears, saying, "Does that mean that Daddy is so old?" That is a view which is relevant because it is a view which is shared, to some extent, by the general public. Even intelligent people regard this place as outmoded, peopled, dare I say it, by a number of geriatrics or effete aristocrats who argue about hunting. There is nothing like joining a body for changing one's opinion.
Within two days, I became immensely impressed by this House as a revising chamber. That great impression has continued with me and is augmented all the time. As most people of my party would, particularly in the other place, without knowledge I had discounted the contribution and the stature of many of the hereditary Peers. I see now that that was a completely mistaken impression. One only has to look, for example, at the Government Front Bench to see the remarkable work that they do, with the great altruism and the time that they put in.
I rapidly recognised that it was rather difficult to distinguish between the hereditary Peers and the life Peers. The only evidence I could see was that the hereditary Peers were definitely fitter, in some cases younger, usually taller, and in the case of the Lord Privy Seal—who unfortunately is not in his seat at the moment—more handsome. Although, I have to say that my red carnation is bigger than his red carnation. I wonder whether I put more muck on mine.
Notwithstanding all the rather curious views represented by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, yesterday, this observation about the hereditary peerage has done something to restore my diminishing professional impression of the usefulness of genetics. Nevertheless, I have to agree with my noble friend and leader that the position of the hereditary peerage is hardly tenable in a modern legislative chamber. In spite of that tribute which we all feel, and that work which is in the greatest tradition of British freedoms, we have to accept that the precedence of the hereditary peerage, as constituted, is very difficult to defend.
The question is how should they be replaced? I am a life Peer. I am very well aware of the privilege of being here. I find that difficult to justify. I did when I heard that I might be appointed here and I still find it difficult to justify because I know that there are hundreds of doctors who are better qualified as doctors, and who are 1653 much more experienced in medicine than I am. Similarly, if you take scientists, which, I suppose, is my other line, there are so many scientists who have contributed so much more at my age and are far more innovative than I am, who could just as easily and ably sit in my place.
If we put our hands on our hearts as life Peers, many of us would have to say that there are many colleagues who could do the job which we are currently performing in this House.
Another problem of the life peerage, as it is currently constituted, is that it clearly does not reflect our society. In this House it is obvious. There are still very few women in this House as life Peers, and there are almost no Members from the ethnic minorities. The Bishops are all Anglican; there are very few Catholic of Jewish Ministers, and I believe I am right in saying that there is no Moslem cleric in the House. From direct experience the House cannot generally express the views of the more disadvantaged members of our society, and this can only be done from our indirect experience, and by the public service that so many of your Lordships carry out so well in various aspects of public life.
What about an elected chamber? I have to say that I am very fearful of that alternative. We already have an elected chamber whose decisions should remain paramount, but it has the problems of being extremely political in flavour. I cannot see that we would benefit from another chamber of that sort. This Chamber is at its best, as I have seen, and at its most effective when it is not being political.
A few months ago I went into the other place in the Peers' Gallery to listen to the opening of the Scott debate. It was remarkable and wonderful. I do not think one would have to be unpartisan, listening to Mr. Robin Cook and hearing him taunting the row of limpets stuck to the Treasury Front Bench, to recognise a great parliamentary performance. It was a truly entertaining experience. I then returned to this Chamber and heard a reasoned and carefully argued debate in all the traditions of this House.
That is a vital tradition that we have to protect because we do that so well. As we have seen in the last two days of this debate, there is an astonishingly high degree of communication, which we must maintain. We have seen it during the conduct of the Asylum and Immigration Bill when the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, was forced to stick to the Front Bench for nine hours during one of the Committee stages. I took pity on her and bought her a packet of Polos. Two hours later, she sent me, across the Chamber, a chocolate biscuit—and we are not even good friends.
What was remarkable about that debate during the Committee stage was the level of the discussion, and it was only at one o'clock in the morning when everybody was tired and starting to get angry that we fell into the trap of being political. Then the debate petered out and we saw very clearly what can happen when we get too political.
1654 There are other problems in this House. How can we justify Peers who come into the Chamber, make a speech and leave, which is against the conventions of this House? That has happened, even during this debate. Of course it must happen during a long debate but sometimes it seems not to be necessary. I find it difficult to accept that, in a Chamber which is not primarily a legislating Chamber but a revising Chamber which listens to arguments before making decisions, people can walk through a voting Lobby without having heard any part of the debate and therefore weigh in against carefully considered and important arguments. That is a great weakness of our system. It is one of the matters that we need to address.
Another problem can be well seen during Question Time. I quite understand that it is not the fault of Ministers, but very often they make little or no attempt to answer the Question which is to be addressed. The problem is that they do not have a mandate to do so. It is only Secretaries of State in the other place who can make policy on the hoof (even in the case of BSE, dare I say?) and make comments which might be contentious and which might have to be justified afterwards to their Ministry.
As the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, said, holding the Government to account is very difficult when Ministers may not have the authority to answer to us. I hope that the Questions and the Answers to them which are put in this House are listened to by the Government in the other place. Many of us wonder whether that in fact happens. It seems to me to be a very important part of the process in this Chamber.
We have to be very careful indeed to recognise on all sides of the House that in all our deliberations we must not bring Parliament lower in the estimation of the public. I am concerned that reform must therefore be taken extremely carefully and with proper consensus. We certainly need reforms, but they must not just be for political expediency. I have learnt that as a junior Member of this House. This Chamber is a vital checkpoint in our democratic processes.
With all the paradoxes that I see in the possible recomposition of this House, it worries me that we might make changes too quickly without looking carefully at alternative solutions, solutions which might, for example, include their slower evolution. It amuses me that nearly all Peers opposite say that they want to reform the House but none of them seems to want to change it. We must change but we must be sure to protect this great legislative Chamber.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Lord Hindlip
My Lords, with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, "Et in Arcadia ego". I should like to speak very briefly in defence of the hereditary peerage and its place in the constitution. I support almost everything that my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal said.
It is easy to dismiss a socially unacceptable relic of the past and consign hereditary Peers to the waste paper basket of history or to the pages of some 1655 Wodehousian novel. New political thought would like to do that. It is ironic that at the same time new research, to which the noble Lord, Lord Winston, alluded, in his witty and amusing speech, suggests that heredity has something to offer. It would seem, therefore, an odd moment to choose to dismiss for ever from your Lordships' House the descendants of the country's greatest political and military heroes. I am too sentimental and would find it sad if there were never more a Cecil or a Cavendish in this House.
But there is a simple and more immediate reason for keeping the hereditary element of your Lordships' House. Strangely, perhaps, it is about independence and freedom from patronage. In a speech on the constitution on 7th May 1782, in the other place, Edmund Burke said:To those who say it is a bad one, I answer, look to its effects. In all moral machinery the moral results are its test".With its hereditary element, this House provides an enviable way for unbiased and independent thought to go into the drafting and scrutiny of legislation.
The reason that I, one of my noble friend Lord Monson's apprentices, wish to speak in this debate is to recall a conversation that I had, shortly before I left the Army and joined the auction house whose name my noble friend Lord Gowrie forgets, with a wise and experienced Member of the other place and later of your Lordships' House, Lord Margadale of Islay, who was chairman for many years of the Conservative 1922 Committee. I asked his advice about a career in politics. "Ask me again," he said, "in 25 years' time when you have done something. Politics is becoming full of people who have done nothing else. It is bad for Parliament and sad for the country."
That conversation took place 35 years ago. The trend visible then has become the norm today. The other place is full of career politicians, reliant for their advancement on the patronage of the Prime Minister of the day and the approval of the Whips' Office. Step out of line and you will be de-selected. Many people must wonder why the target for reform is your Lordships' House. Does career politics, with jobs for life its inevitable aim, make for good government? To quote Burke again:Those who have been once intoxicated with power and have derived any kind of emolument from it, even though but for one year, can never willingly abandon it".The need to be reselected and then re-elected becomes paramount and although logic suggests that in a democracy the will of the people is where true patronage lies, the experience of press, polls and spin doctors suggests that that is not always totally true. The danger to independent thought and unbiased action becomes all the greater with the convergence of the major political parties. That may be an excellent development, suggesting that reason prevails everywhere and, as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, said in another context, all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. But woe betide all those who disagree. They will have nowhere to turn to.
They will not find what they want here if any of the currently proposed alternatives to this House, with its splendid diversity, width of experience and 1656 independence, are adopted. An elected second chamber? There would be the same press, the same polls, the same spin doctors and, I fear, public apathy to non-general elections: a selected House. Even to your Lordships I do not suggest that independence and intelligence lie only with hereditary Peers. Of course they do not. But selection still places power ultimately with the party in power. It is the same old patronage.
Reform—yes; let in some fresh air and by all means some change—the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, made some excellent points—but do not destroy the basic fabric of this House and the constitution. Do not take away the experience of generations and, more importantly, independent minds. Make it possible that decisions can still be taken with no debts to outside interests, no regard to advancement or to financial reward, only a conscience and listening to the strength of the arguments. We have a good constitution in this country. As the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, said, "If it ain't bust, don't fix it."
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, like many other noble Lords, I shall confine my remarks to the future of this House and in particular the future of the hereditary Peers, in which naturally I declare an interest. Many people, including the much quoted noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, writing in yesterday's Times, have pointed out the inappropriateness of an elected second chamber for a non-federal nation such as ours.
Perhaps I may suggest two further disadvantages, among many, not so far mentioned. First, an elected Peer sitting for a marginal constituency, however that constituency happens to be made up, would almost certainly feel just as inhibited in expressing his true feelings about such contentious issues as capital punishment or foxhunting as would his counterparts in the other place instead of being able to tell the truth as he sees it and as Peers are able to do today in a non-elected chamber. That would be a pity.
The second, and perhaps less important, disadvantage is that elected Peers, with the enormous and growing constituency obligations referred to by my noble friend Lord Weatherill, would require massive and fairly expensive secretarial assistance. That would have to be paid for by the taxpayer.
Other noble Lords—notably the Leader of the House—and some outside this House shudder at the "quango-ish" implications of an all-nominated second chamber: I shall not go further into the matter. I must be about the tenth speaker today who, with hereditary Peers in mind, has used the maxim "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." However, New Labour maintains that it is indeed broken, as opposed to slightly maladjusted, and therefore requires drastic and extensive fixing. Whether New Labour genuinely believes this or simply says it as a sop to its left wing to compensate the latter for the abandonment of red-blooded socialism is hard to say. Let us assume charitably that its concern is genuine. In his article in The Times yesterday the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, like the noble Lord, Lord Carter, today, reminded us that since 1974 Labour governments have 1657 been defeated in this House on average five times as often per annum as Conservative governments. Lack of space prevented him from breaking down those figures into temporary and permanent defeats. I would guess that when Labour was in office most of the defeats were quickly and painlessly reversed in the other place, except when drafting improvements were involved. If the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, were still in the Chamber, I am sure that he would confirm that. In contrast, a considerable proportion of the defeats suffered by Conservative governments in this House have ultimately, if reluctantly, been accepted by them. It seems that defeat in this House when Labour has been in power is more a minor irritation than a serious challenge to its legislative programme.
A minor irritation is none the less an irritation. The longer it remains unsoothed the more irritating it becomes. But why throw the baby out with the bath water? Why indulge in overkill and provoke constitutional upheaval when the problem can be dealt with in a much less radical fashion? The proposal that parties, or the Cross-Benches, should elect a small proportion of hereditary Peers to become life, or quasi-life, Peers is not a good one. The party whips would always press for regular attenders to be elected. Viewed objectively, they might not always be the best people. For example, it would exclude busy people such as the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, a most eminent biologist and chairman of English Nature. His commitments are such that he cannot attend very often, but when he does his contributions are extremely valuable.
A far better solution would be to adopt a modified version of the 1968 proposals whereby all Back Bench hereditary Peers would become non-voting Peers. Surely, that would take care of all the grumbles voiced by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, in his opening speech. Non-voting Peers would still be able to ask Starred Questions, table Questions for Written Answer and speak in Second Reading debates and what might be termed Wednesday debates, timed or otherwise. They would be able to table and speak to amendments in Committee, at Report stage and on Third Reading with a view to influencing voting Peers to vote for those amendments, provided they persuaded at least two such Peers to act as tellers. They could also serve on Select Committees. Various noble Lords have pointed out that they already serve on such committees, in particular the Select Committee on the European Communities, where their expertise is often invaluable. One has in mind hereditary Peers such as the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, who served on a Select Committee concerned with reform of the betting laws and provided expertise which would not otherwise have been available.
I suggest that most non-voting Peers would eventually become, almost by default, independents since there would be no point in the whips trying to persuade noble Lords who were unable to vote. That would be no bad thing, because it would allow an even wider variety of opinions to be expressed. If it were argued that non-voting Peers would have fewer obligations than 1658 voting Peers—for example, not having to hang around for late business—and that a small proportion of them might simply come along for the ride, as it were, that problem could be countered by requiring non-voting Peers to shoulder the first 25 or 30 per cent. of their travel and other expenses, thereby weeding out the very few who might not be seriously committed.
It would be unseemly to single out individuals on my own Benches. But unless the 1968 proposals, or some modification of them, were adopted, the House would risk losing not only the constant rejuvenating influx of younger hereditary Peers but the invaluable knowledge and experience of, for example, the noble Lords, Lord Kennet, Lord Kilbracken and Lord Strabolgi among others on the Labour Benches, and possibly the noble Earl, Lord Longford, who did not seem entirely sure of his status in this regard. I instance also the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, on the Liberal Democrat Benches, and, if he ever returned to the Back Bench, the noble Earl, Lord Russell. It would also debar former Ministers of the Crown like the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Windlesham and other Conservative Back Benchers. I take three at random who happen to have great expertise in particular fields: the noble Lords, Lord Selsdon, Lord Stanley of Alderley and Lord Swinfen. This House would be a very much less effective place without them and other hereditary Peers too numerous to mention.
To the extent that they exist, unfair voting patterns can easily be tackled without physically removing such individuals and casting them politically into outer darkness and, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, undermining the heritage, ethos and symbolism of this House.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Baroness Flather
My Lords, I once described the House of Lords to someone who happened to be English. After a few moments he said to me that in England nothing was ever as it seemed. I believe that that was a very telling statement. Certainly the House of Lords is not as it seems. I am an outsider. I have no emotional attachment to hereditary Peers, although I have formed attachments to individual ones. All of my views are based upon observations over the past six years. I have great sympathy with the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Winston, and the noble Lord, Lord Monson. This is one of the most remarkable places of which I have had the privilege of being a part. It is warm, friendly and, most remarkably, non-sexist. As a woman, I do not believe that I have ever been treated anywhere else as well as I have been in this place, as a colleague and valued friend, not as someone to be competed with, put up with or patronised. I am a great expert at being patronised by all kinds of people.
I was interested in the description of a Christian House given by the right reverend Prelate. It was a good description. There is a good, benign feeling about this place. Having extolled the virtues of this place, naturally I would be very sad to lose the best of it in any changes that took place. I should like to list some of the matters that I believe to be the greatest virtues of this House.
1659 We all know that the House is effective and that it works. We scrutinise Bills better than anyone would expect us to do. We make changes by agreement. It is very important to remember that those of us who sit on the Government Benches do our bit to make changes to Bills. We do not always divide the House, but we try, by agreement, to make changes.
This House is the cheapest, and some of us know it! The only people who do not know that and who do not care are the taxpayers. None of them ever believes me when I say that we are not paid, so we might as well be paid. This Chamber has been described as a treasure house of experience and expertise, and no one can gainsay that. The House is also independent and I rate that as one of its highest qualities. Even those who are not politically affiliated are of independent mind. That is because we are unelected Peers and here for life, which no one can take away from us. We can do what we like and we can, and do, say things to our Whips which are unrepeatable in this Chamber.
We are not in competition with the other place. That is a virtue and how it should be. Once we send a piece of legislation back to the other place and it returns to this House, not having been accepted, it is only right and proper that we should accept that.
For the sake of convenience I shall call the next section of my speech "vices". They are not exactly vices, but I use that expression for convenience only. The present composition of the House is a contradiction of democratic values. That applies equally to life Peers. Noble Lords have been talking about hereditary Peers, but it is not only they who form a contradiction to democratic values. I do, too. All life Peers form that same contradiction. If we go, then we should all go and the House of Lords should go. We cannot be the House of Lords without hereditary Peers being here.
There is a built-in Tory majority in this House. Whatever we heard from my noble friend the Leader of the House and others on the Government Front Bench, that cannot be put aside. We are delighted that so many more hereditary Peers support us than any other party. Whether all hereditary Peers come to vote, they have the right to do so. I consider that a vice as well. The reason is that so many of them come very rarely. They walk into the Lobby when they may not only be unfamiliar with what is going on in the Chamber at the time but they may not even be familiar with what goes on there, and that really worries me.
The House is too amorphous. I heard earlier that there are 755 hereditary Peers. The noble Lord, Lord Winston, said that we all speak about change, but that we do not want it. My noble friend the Leader of the House said that change should be evolutionary and not revolutionary. I entirely agree with him. Unfortunately, he went on to defend the status quo. Some evolutionary change has to take place and we must not fear it. We must retain the qualities of this House, but make certain perhaps administrative changes, not constitutional ones, to make it a better working House in order to remove this very large in-built Tory majority. If roles were reversed and the party opposite had a huge in-built majority, I am sure that I would be saying this much more loudly than I do at the moment.
1660 We have heard a great deal about service by hereditary Peers in the House through the generations. That is wonderful. I am glad that they gave service, but I believe they got something from it as well. It is always a two-way process. We must not think that the hereditary Peers who come to the House come out of a sense of altruism. They come because they like it, it is interesting and it is something that they want to do.
I feel extremely proud, for many other reasons which are obvious to everyone. We all give service here. As we all know, we do not get paid so we cannot be accused of attending the House for the money alone because the money is not there. Many noble Lords would be much better off working in their professions and jobs rather than coming to the House. We come here because we feel that we are contributing something to national life, and that applies to all of us.
I do not know whether any other Member of this House has noticed an interesting fact. On the Government Front Bench all the males are hereditary Peers; all the females on the Front Bench are life Peers. I wonder whether it is unfair to male life Peers that none of them can ever aspire to serve on the Front Bench. That is an aside.
My Lords, I hope that my noble friend will allow me to protest in the politest possible terms. I shall not enumerate the number of life Peers who make such an extraordinary contribution to the Government Front Bench. I hope that she will agree with me that she has just indulged in a gross exaggeration.
§ Baroness Flather
My Lords, I stand corrected. Perhaps I may change that to the majority. I personally subscribe to the Scottish model of representative Peers because I believe that that would tighten up the work of the House and encourage the hereditary Peers to take more interest in the work of the House. That would only be for the life of each Parliament so that others would have the opportunity of standing again for the next Parliament.
I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Monson, said, about the likelihood of excluding some special categories of Peers from speaking. I would meet that problem differently. I would suggest that, with the leave of the House, any Member should be able to speak in the Chamber. I too wondered how we could avoid excluding some of those hereditary Peers with the finest minds who might not be elected. I first read about that solution in the House Magazine in an article by my noble friend Lord Whitelaw. I was delighted to hear today that the grandfather of my noble friend the Leader of the House made that suggestion in the year of my birth. I am sure that that is significant. That solution would also deal with the criticism that too many people use this place as a club. I do not think that present hereditary Members of the House should be excluded from using it as a club 1661 if that is what they want to do. Perhaps such solutions should become effective with the next generation so that there is not a direct cut-off point.
Change will come one way or another. I just hope that change will not mean the complete disappearance of the most wonderful place that I have ever had the privilege of joining. I hope that the change will be gradual and gentle and will allow us to keep this unique and wonderful House.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Lord Holme of Cheltenham
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, with her direct and refreshing common sense. Perhaps I may say to console her that I had been a Member of this House for a full year before I realised that the noble Baroness who is just leaving the Government Front Bench was not at least the 15th holder of the proud title of "Trumpington"—
§ Lord Holme of Cheltenham
Straight out of the pages of Evelyn Waugh!
Everything that has been said about the House of Lords in the past few hours of debate leaves me feeling inadequate about being able to contribute anything further to the discussion on the composition, role and structure of your Lordships' House. It has got to a point rather like that which Senator Mo Udall once identified at an American Democratic Convention after two days when he said, "Everything that can be said has been said", and then he paused and said, "But not everybody has yet said it".
I thought that I would talk about something completely different—the basis on which we might think about these difficult matters of constitutional reform. The issue is not really constitutional conservatism versus constitutional reform, which was the great defining issue of Victorian politics. Paradoxically, there was one notion which united both Victorian reformers and Victorian constitutionalists and that was the central idea of the fundamental importance of the constitution. I refer to the debate which the noble Viscount's ancestry recalls. It gripped Victorian politics. It took place between people who felt intensely about the intrinsic importance of the constitution, whether they were for change or for maintenance. Once again, and in my view rather belatedly, there is a new debate on constitutional reform which will clearly figure largely in the coming general election. Superficially, some of the arguments advanced against change are traditionally those of conservatism (with a small "c")—and very ancestral voices sound again in the land.
The analogy with the Victorian constitutional reform debate is in some senses rather misleading. The real argument now is not between tradition and reform, between continuity and change, but between those who find themselves willy-nilly constitutional iconoclasts, indifferent to constitutional values but actually changing the constitution, and those who are in favour of rational 1662 reform of our arrangements—in other words, between those who are engaged in piecemeal change and those of us who are in favour of a new constitutional settlement.
The noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, in his most interesting speech, referred to the Government's decimation of local government. He could have mentioned the abolition of London's government; he could have mentioned the Single European Act; he could have mentioned the fundamental restructuring of the Civil Service. He did mention the failed experiment of the poll tax. The point of these references is not to get into a familiar political debate on their merits or their demerits, but to say that they all are or were constitutionally significant. Let us make no mistake: constitutional change is not something that is unfamiliar to this Government. They have been changing our arrangements in what I have referred to as a piecemeal way. In a fast changing world, I suppose that institutional change is necessary and inevitable.
The question is what principles underlie it and what values it represents. In other words, what is the whole, of which any particular institutional change is only an expression? The noble Viscount, in his very spirited introduction, advanced two propositions with which he said we would all agree. The first was that Parliament is the fount of all authority; the second was that Parliament crucially depended on the consent of the electorate. Although I do not want to be too provocative this late in the evening, let me say that I am not sure that I agree with him.
I would like to advance an alternative proposition. My assumption is a different one. It is a democratic assumption, and it is that it is the people of this country who are the fount of all authority. It is the citizens of this country who are the basic source of legitimacy in our constitutional arrangements. Sovereignty—that much abused and overused word—actually lies in the people of Britain, who choose to delegate their power upwards to various levels of government, including crucially Parliament.
Interestingly, in recent years there has begun to be discussion of this point. If one reads Article 1 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, with which the noble Viscount is very familiar, for the first time in British constitutional arrangements it makes it quite explicit that it is for the people of Northern Ireland to decide their own future. In other words, we have begun to change the terms of the debate. This is also the case with Scotland. There are many Scots; and this was reflected in the constitutional convention that came out a year ago. The Claim of Right that preceded it was on the assumption that Scotland's future lies in the hands of the people of Scotland. These are deep waters in a constitution as old as ours which, as the Government would say, has evolved over the years.
However, I believe that the principle of the democratic primacy of the people of this country begins to make sense of several of the apparently disparate proposals for constitutional reform to which, on the whole, the Government are opposed. For instance, a Bill of Rights is not so much important because Parliament does or does not will it, but because, in the words of 1663 the Declaration of Independence 220 years ago today, individuals are endowed with inalienable rights and the rights rest in and belong to each individual person. They are rights which should be inviolable against the state which the state, in the form of a temporary parliamentary majority, should not be able to encroach upon.
On the same assumption, freedom of information is important because the information of government belongs not to the state but to the citizen. It is the right of every citizen to own the information on which governments conduct policy on matters such as devolution and stronger local government, because the more frequently decisions are made closer to the citizen, the better.
There was then a further reference, if I may just come back to it, that the noble Viscount made to the consent of the electorate and to voters choosing the government. It is interesting to reflect that the majority of voters in Britain get neither the Member of Parliament nor the Government that they personally want, so there is some dislocation there in terms of people feeling that they own their system.
Your Lordships will have remarked that yesterday in Russia—and I for one am very glad about it—the Communist Party was very heavily defeated and humiliated. Some of the newspapers today are saying that it is a broken force. People have their own views on that. I believe that it is a very happy thing for the Russian people. But it is interesting to reflect on what proportion of the vote this "broken force", humiliated at the polls, achieved in Russia. It was 42 or 43 per cent.—about the same percentage on the basis of which this Government exercise what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, described as elected dictatorship, the total powers of the state.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. He feels that the Russian communists are broken and defeated as a result of achieving only 42 per cent. in the polls. Would he say the same of the Liberal Democrats as a result of achieving only 18 or 19 per cent. in the polls?
§ Lord Holme of Cheltenham
My Lords, it is very nice of the noble Lord to give us 18 or 19 per cent. I believe that the current polls are slightly lower than that. But I appreciate his intervention. We shall struggle on in our own small way, trying to advance arguments in the public interest and not simply making partisan points.
It is interesting to think that in one country 42 per cent. equals humiliation and in another it gives you the levers of power in the fairly total way that the British system works.
The point I am trying to make is this: when thinking about measures of constitutional change, what is the issue of principle? This applies particularly to electoral reform. Some noble Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, and I dare say some members of the public, will think that the Liberal Democrats want electoral reform because it will advantage their party. It 1664 would advantage a party that receives 18 or 19 per cent. of the votes but only 4 per cent. of the seats. It would make that a fairer outcome.
I wish to advance a different argument: it would make every voter equal and ensure that every vote counted equally towards the result. It would mean that people began to own the House of Commons rather than feel, as we all know, rather alienated from it; in other words, although I accept the noble Viscount's definition of consent, I do not believe that consent is enough. If we want to bridge the gap between Parliament and the people, we need participation and an equal stake in the system for everyone. We might then begin to shrink the distance between the people and their political leadership.
I shall finish by saying that the noble Viscount ended with a little summary of economic change and political stability. I dare say that that prefigures part of the basis of the election campaign. It is an interesting way of expressing it. I should like to advance a different proposition: if we want to be truly economically successful in this country, we would do better to open up our system, to treat people as having a full stake in their system of government, to think about enablement and empowerment, in every way that we can.
Looking at modern business it is interesting to discover that the very ideas which our best companies use—which do not seem to creep into the British system of government: ideas of open information, shared decision-making, participation and finding common ground—are still alien to the political process. Although on all sides of the House we would share the view that economic change is essential in an intensely competitive world, we would do a great deal better by trying to create an open system—a system of genuine political stakeholding and not just economic stakeholding; a system in which information is shared and power comes from the grass roots. Let us not be too proud to learn from business and other societies, then we might begin to make the transition, which I believe is essential, from a culture of dependence, where people are still subjects, to one in which they are fully citizens.
§ 9.22 p.m.
§ Lord Astor of Hever
My Lords, as a hereditary Peer, I consider that I am here foremost to serve the interests of the people of this nation and not just my party. I am not opposed to reform. Indeed I welcome the suggestion of my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal for a Select Committee. I would be happy to give up my place in this House, but only if I were certain that the daunting task of unravelling parts of it would not destabilise an interim chamber before the next stage of reform.
I am concerned however that with no clearly identified timetable that may never happen. We have the duty to consider alternatives to the status quo, but we are entitled to have those alternatives clarified. That leads me to ask a number of questions of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. I do not expect him to 1665 answer them all tonight, but I hope that he will undertake to respond by letter at a later date. They are all questions that will inevitably have to be addressed.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I hope that he will appreciate that the Top Salaries Review Body has just reported, and that in its report it has considered whether Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen in this House should receive extra secretarial and office assistance to enable them to perform their duties. Unfortunately it has decided that they should not. On that basis, it is rather unfortunate for a Back-Bencher on the government side to raise the question of opposition Front-Benchers writing to them in the way that Back-Benchers from this side—
§ Lord Monkswell
—ask government Ministers to write to them when government Ministers have the full panoply of the Civil Service to support them.
§ Lord Astor of Hever
My Lords, with the greatest respect, these are policies which the Opposition are putting forward and we are entitled to know what they are about.
After the first stage of reform, will there be changes to the system of nomination and who will make the appointments? Will the Prime Minister, as Head of the Executive, claim the right to choose one branch of the legislature? Who will decide the party balance? What will be the revised chamber's powers and functions? How many Peers will there be and will they be able to maintain the necessary levels of activity with a reduced membership? If there are to be many newly-appointed Life Peers how will they be formally introduced into the House? Is the Opposition Front Bench concerned that when the Tories are inevitably returned to power they will swamp the Labour majority with new creations in their term, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, suggested in a recent letter to The Times?
I turn to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill. Will membership be an honour, with no requirements to attend, or a job? If the latter is the case, will there be some form of compulsion to attend? If so will Members receive salaries, expenses and research services comparable to MPs? Would an incoming Labour Chancellor wishing to maintain tight control of public expenditure accept the increased parliamentary cost of that? What role will there be for the Cross-Benchers? What will be the voting rights of the Law Lords and Bishops? What will happen to the three Royal Peers—
§ Lord Astor of Hever
What will happen to the three Royal Peers: the Prince of Wales, the Duke of 1666 Edinburgh and the Duke of York? Are they to remain Members of the House of Lords? Most important, are proposals for reforming the Lords one step away from creating a republic, which many Labour MPs would like to see? It is true. Are Labour business managers concerned about the fate of their legislative programme at the hands of a House with increased political authority? Would an appointed House stick to the Salisbury Convention? Are the colleagues of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, happy defending an appointed Chamber, having waged such a fierce campaign against appointed quangos under the Tories?
Mr. Blair, in his speech on 7th February, admitted that some hereditary Peers participate regularly and make positive contributions and as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, also said, they could be made Life Peers. But how many and how would they be chosen? Would a new government ensure that the Opposition are involved in preliminary discussions as to the nature of the proposals?
Moving on to stage two, and Labour's goal of an elected Chamber, how and when will that be fulfilled?
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, is the noble Lord going to make a speech? He has not started making a speech so far!
§ Lord Astor of Hever
My Lords, I am asking some very pertinent questions. Would the lower House cede real power to an elected body? Many in the House of Commons resent the growing powers of the European Parliament and could have Scottish and Welsh Assemblies to contend with. When would elections take place? Would they take place at the same time as general elections? What would happen if the second Chamber were of a political colour different from the Commons? Democratically elected Opposition Members would surely have no hesitation in throwing out government legislation at every turn.
Further, under what electoral system would Members be elected and for what term? Should Members represent something? If so, would the powers of the House of Commons be reduced? All those questions must be addressed. Unless they are, I cannot see how such reforms would succeed. Constitutional questions are complex and politicians take them up at their peril.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The Earl of Kintore
My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount the Leader of the House for introducing today's debate. I fear that there may be a lack of Scottish Peers taking part, not from lack of interest but because many will be doing duty at the Royal Garden Party in Edinburgh.
I declare an interest as an hereditary Peer. The Earldom of Kintore was granted to my family by Charles II in 1677 in recognition of our role in preserving the Regalia of Scotland from falling into the hands of Oliver Cromwell. Of course, since 1707, the honours of Scotland are part of the United Kingdom's 1667 Regalia and, as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor mentioned in his opening speech yesterday, Europe's oldest Crown Jewels.
If hereditary Peers are to lose their right to sit, speak and vote in this House, I, for one, would miss my time and work here, but would hope that my experience gathered over the past five or six years could be used on Select Committees or other committees off the Floor of the House, or as a Commissioner in Scotland on inquiries under the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act 1936.
I hope to persuade the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, that I have something new to say. There is a much more urgent reform to which I hope whichever party wins the next election will attend; namely, the matter of pay. I am not thinking of the amounts that are being recommended today for the other place. I propose that the Front Bench spokesmen of all parties in this House should be paid an amount to reflect their considerable input in getting business through the House. I also propose a modest stipend for the Convenor of the Cross Bench Peers and, if it is not too administratively difficult, pay for Back-Benchers when they are speaking in a Front Bench role or in strong support of their Front-Benchers. I do not propose payment for any other Peers and hope that the attraction of membership of this House will continue to be the ability to perform public service.
However, if, at some time in the future, it is decided that all Peers should be paid, there would also have to be a compulsory retirement age which would probably be 75 as for Lord Lieutenants and, I believe, High Court judges.
§ 9.33 p.m.
Lord Belhaven and Stenton
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl on making the shortest speech today.
Lord Belhaven and Stenton
Indeed, my Lords; it somewhat took me by surprise.
In my speech, I shall take your Lordships back in time a little. I should like to begin at a point shortly before the outbreak of the civil war in 1642 when your Lordships' House was surrounded by a mob which was shouting, "No Bishops, no Popish Lords". The mob was successful and the Bishops and Popish Lords were effectively kept out. I believe that 12 or 13 Bishops—I am not quite sure how many—ended up in the Tower for sending a petition protesting against their exclusion.
Those were times of great turbulence. I do not imagine that we shall have a repetition of such furious passions—at least, I very much hope not. I do not foresee the probability of a mob surrounding this House shouting, "No hereditary Peers!" There is currently no passionate demand for our exclusion. Our constitution is flexible and yields to popular demand, but in our case there certainly does not seem to be any.
1668 This House is, I believe, the oldest parliamentary assembly in the world. It has, over the centuries, adapted itself well to current trends of opinion and political philosophy. It is still adapting and changing. Indeed it has changed a great deal since I first came here in 1964. However, I can see no obvious reason for the revolutionary changes which are at present advocated by the parties opposite, and many reasons against them. At all events it is evident to me that all the proposed alternatives are worse than the present parliamentary arrangement. As I understand it, the present Opposition policy is to get rid of the hereditary element as a first step to an elective upper House, or conference, or whatever it is. I am a little confused about that. I understood that it was a first step to an elected upper House. That would mean that at the end of the day we would have got rid of all the Bishops, the judges, and all the people here who have distinguished themselves in public life other than in politics. Also, we would no longer have the advantage of listening to former Prime Ministers, Foreign Secretaries and so on. That would include my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy who spoke so convincingly yesterday as a former Secretary of State for Scotland. Among the hereditary Peers it would exclude my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal, the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and a former Whip, the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi.
The hereditary peerage gives to this House a large number of Members whose interests are only secondarily political and whose presence is a symbol of the continuity of our national institutions. All that would go, along with the capacity for objective judgment which this House uniquely possesses. An elected upper House would be subjected to the same pressures as the other place. I wonder whether that is what we want. However, I am not saying that this House is perfect. Of course it is not. I have criticisms of the way in which our affairs are conducted but I believe those faults could be corrected.
There must be some way in which very occasional attenders could be prevented from coming here from God knows where and voting. We have all been here on certain days and seen many unfamiliar faces. In spite of all that has been said, those people do not come only from this side of the House. I, and certain noble friends on this side of the House, and noble Lords on the other side of the House, have been victims of those voters. That occurred three years ago at the time of the discussion on the referendum on Maastricht. On an ordinary day those of us who supported a referendum might just have won, but the voters came in from the highways and hedges and effectively prevented us from even looking like winning. Of course we had the three parties against us.
I believe my other criticism has already been voiced today; namely, that the Labour Party has been the other party of government for most of this century and I do not think it is sufficiently represented here. I believe the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, made that point. Most life Peers are of necessity of a certain age before they come here and cannot be expected to soldier on on the Front Bench into extreme old age. However, at present I do not see any noble Lords on the Opposition Front Bench 1669 who are of an extreme old age, but that could happen. The Labour Party ought to have more people in this House on whom it can call. That said, I believe that we have in this country the best constitution in the world. We avoid the extremes of patronage and corruption which deface most other democracies, even the most admirable such as that of the United States.
In both Houses we represent a broad spectrum of history. As has been said frequently today, it is a constitution in which reform has always succeeded in running ahead of revolution. It has its roots in the past giving us a stability which is lacking in less fortunate lands, including nearly all our European partners. I regret that we have surrendered many of our powers—I speak of Parliament as a whole—to the European Union, but that is another story. However, in my opinion it would be a catastrophe if, by destroying the balance of our Parliament, we also destroyed the sense of permanence and stability which has stood us in such good stead over many centuries.
This House and the Union of Scotland and England are under threat if the Labour Party carries out its present proposals. If we give half our powers to regional assemblies and the other half to Europe, and go further by emasculating this House, our descendants, I believe—I do not refer only to the descendants of the hereditary Peers of this House—will not thank us for it.
Mr. Attlee long ago was able to bring his very far-reaching proposals to the statute book, despite the existence of this House. I hope that in his quieter moments Mr. Blair will consider that he might be able to do the same. If the party opposite believes that we on this side have gone too far in matters like privatisation, and so on, if it is elected, it will have the power to remedy what it sees as defects in the way in which this country is currently governed.
I wish that the party opposite would concentrate on these issues rather than on destroying the constitution, for which, so far as I can see, there is no popular demand except possibly in Scotland; and I believe that my fellow Scots might change their minds when the full implications of devolution sink in.
The exclusion of all hereditary Peers would make this House almost entirely subject to political patronage. This could not be a good thing and it would go a long way towards destroying the independence of Peers to vote and speak as they please, as we have heard today.
If we exclude only some hereditary Peers, as has been suggested, and allow, or introduce, a system whereby others are chosen by self-election, as has been suggested, or by some other form of selection, we shall be guilty of the sophistry of introducing patronage by other means. I believe that any far-reaching methods of revolutionising this House will inevitably result in its destruction; and we would be doing a fatal disservice to the future of our nation if we pursue the policies at present being put forward by the parties opposite. I would ask them seriously to reconsider what they propose to do.
§ 9.41 p.m.
§ Lord Kilmarnock
My Lords, I am in full agreement with the principle enunciated by the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, and his fellow authors at the beginning of their paper on the second chamber. He read it to us earlier, and I hope that I reproduce it correctly. The principle is that,hereditary members of the present House of Lords—who are well aware of its shortcomings—would vote themselves into history with barely a backward glance in favour of a reformed House which was more effective, and whose composition commanded wider acceptance, than the present one".I believe that those are the correct words.
The problem is that that does not appear to be on offer. I do not make a mere debating point to get us—the hereditary peerage—off the hook. I am prepared to vote for my extinction as a political animal as of right, but not until I have a much clearer vision of what is to replace the Chamber to which I have been privileged to belong for 20 years.
Since the Home Report of 1978, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, was quietly shelved, which proposed a mixed elected and appointed House with the eventual elimination of the hereditary element, the government side have shown little interest in the matter until a recent flurry of activity in the face of the Labour threat. One manifestation of that was the article in The Times yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, to which various noble Lords have referred, advocating that Conservative Peers should elect 100 from among their number in order to redress the large balance in their favour vis-à-vis the other political party. The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, referred to the possibilities of an electoral college. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, pointed to some of the difficulties.
I do not think that this is the way ahead. These watered down versions of the hereditary principle have one severe defect. Hereditary Peers (or Peers by succession, as I believe we should call ourselves) have survived as an estate of the realm, albeit with diminished powers, largely through lethargy and lack of consensus for reform. It is quite a different matter to reaffirm by Act of Parliament in 1998 or 1999 the right of the hereditary peerage to a stake in the legislature by awarding it an electoral college, or party colleges, through which it will continue to send some of its members to Parliament. There is the further anomaly that all Labour and Liberal Democrat Peers by succession would qualify automatically and have to be topped up by additional life creations. So I do not believe that that is the way ahead. The analogy which was drawn by the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, and the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, with the 16 representative Scottish Peers who sat from 1707 to 1963 does not seem to me to be apt either. That arrangement was part of the Act of Union settlement and they were representing a territorial and not a party political interest. Those are some suggestions which have come from the Government's side and I do not wish to dwell on them further.
1671 I wish to turn to the Labour Party's proposal which we all know has triggered the debate and which is much more open to criticism, of which it has received quite a lot. It is a half-cock reform which could well become permanent. It would be a cheap and simple piece of legislation for the first 100 days, with possibly some populist appeal, but we do not know that yet. But there is one huge flaw in the scheme. According to Mr. Blair's speech of 7th February 1996, the debate on,how we incorporate democratic accountability",would be postponed until after the following election. There is no update or advance on that in the Labour Party's paper issued today: The Road to the Manifesto. The situation appears to be exactly the same as stated there. That would leave us, as many noble Lords have pointed out, with a wholly nominated second chamber appointed, however distinguished and meritorious its members, entirely through political patronage. That period could last for decades, if Labour failed to achieve a second term of office or for some other reason failed to achieve its long-term objective, whatever that may be.
As the Constitutional Unit pointed out in paragraph 232 of its recent publication to which noble Lords referred,The great danger of multi-stage reform is of losing momentum, or being overtaken by events that push the later stages down the list of political priorities. The conservatism of British politics is such that a second or a third stage of a reform programme may never happen".That is also endorsed by the paper of the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, which suggested, on the analogy of the Preamble to the Parliament Act 1911 (which was committed to a comprehensive reform that has yet to be implemented), that Labour's half-way house might endure for 80 years.
The problem is that if the Labour Party comes to power, we are to be confronted with a two-phase reform, of which the second stage is unknown in any detail and may never take place. This is a danger which has been adverted to by a number of noble Lords: the noble Lords, Lord Denham, Lord Desai, Lord Campbell of Alloway and Lord Mottistone. Paragraph 109 of the report of the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, states that,public attitudes will ultimately determine the future of the Lords".Paragraph 136 states that,the basic choice is simple".There I am afraid I beg to differ on one point from the noble Earl and his colleagues. I cannot see how the electorate can make up its mind until the Labour Party's whole proposal, including its preferred model of an elected chamber, is on the table. Without that, the public and your Lordships will be asked to buy a pig in a poke.
It seems to me that there are only two respectable ways of going forward. The first has been advocated by a number of noble Lords. It is to defer a reform Bill until after a party leaders' conference—I discard the alternative of a Royal Commission as too time-consuming—in an attempt to establish a 1672 consensus. If that is not reached within three or six months, the party or parties in government could then go ahead unilaterally and strive to get their Bill through Parliament.
The other way is for the Bill to be brought forward immediately covering both phases within a strict time-frame so that we can all see what is on offer from the outset. The noble Lord, Lord Hesketh, might then recognise it as an honourable Bill. The Labour Party should have the courage to unfold its whole vision to the people and seek to implement it within one Parliament.
I am not saying any of that out of veiled obstructionism or prevarication. My personal vision is clear. It is my belief that the honours system and the political system should be separated. It is the entwined and luxuriant growth of the two together that has led to the large over-supply of under-attending Peers which is simply not compatible with a modern political democracy. It came as something of a shock to learn from the 1968 White Paper that the total membership of the House was 590 in 1900. Today, just under a century later, it is almost exactly double that figure. Whatever winnowing process is adopted to sift the chaff from the grain, it is bound to be arbitrary and unsatisfactory. Therefore I support a predominantly elected chamber. However, that does not mean that I am prepared to sign up to botched surgery by the Labour Party.
One should not talk of composition without relating it to powers and functions. However, it is very late and I shall not go into that in any detail. I believe that the powers are broadly right, but need to be somewhat redesigned with particular reference to the growing volume of subordinate legislation. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, had an interesting proposal in that regard which we should perhaps explore further.
The main point I want to make is that I strongly believe that it is incumbent on the Labour Party, if it comes to power, either to try for all-party agreement, which it achieved between the Front Benches in 1968, or to present us with a Bill that not only extinguishes hereditary rights but also maps out the further stages of reform that Labour wishes to achieve. I am reliably informed that there is no reason why such a Bill should not incorporate requirements for orders to be laid, making provision for elections and appointments to this House under certain conditions and for certain tenures of office which could be spelt out in the Bill. One Parliament cannot bind its successor; but there is no inherent reason why a government with a working majority and the prospect of four or five years in office should not carry out the whole of their reform programme for this House, and for the joint working of both Houses, within that period.
The Labour Party, as the prospective party of government and the promoter of reform, owes us a comprehensive statement—I believe that was the word used by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone—of its ultimate intent, which we have not had and does not appear in its publication issued today. Therefore, one might be tempted to say: either put up, or shut up.
1673 If the Labour Party wins the next general election and produces nothing better and nothing more than a short Bill to abolish hereditary Peers, it will be doing less than justice to itself, to Parliament and to the country. I very much look forward to hearing the response of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, to that charge.
§ 9.53 p.m.
§ Viscount Mountgarret
My Lords, I am very grateful that my name was last on the list of general speakers. At the beginning of the debate one had certain ideas as to what one might contribute to it. But having had the opportunity of listening to nearly all the contributions, I find that a few points have become abundantly clear and perhaps need reiterating.
Some noble Lords may be surprised to hear that I am in favour of reform. Unless this House reforms itself or is reformed, I do not see with any great clarity what its future will be in the next century.
Having said that, this House works, not in spite of the hereditary element but, I venture to suggest, because of it. Those of us who are hereditary Peers, although we may attach to ourselves the label of Conservative, Labour or Liberal, have a freedom of mind and greater freedom of speech and thought than those who have been elected or appointed. That is common sense. The point has been mentioned already in this debate.
One area concerns me enormously. It is the nub of the argument. It was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, in his opening remarks. It is perceived, not only by noble Lords opposite but by a great many people outside this House, that from time to time we could be accused of abusing the privileges that we enjoy; namely, by being able to call upon, if so required, the inevitable large, in-built majority of Conservative Peers. That gives me concern.
The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, referred to the proposals in 1968 which went a long way to meet this problem. I should have liked to see something develop along those lines whereby those Peers who for whatever reason find that they are unable to attend your Lordships' House on a reasonably regular basis might be expected not to exercise their vote on the few occasions on which they are called to give their support.
I recognise at once that there are a number of Peers—and the noble Lord referred to his distinguished position earlier in the debate—who are extremely expert in their field but because of their commitments find it very difficult, in fact impossible, to attend your Lordships' House regularly, but without their wisdom and guidance this House would be the poorer. That is an aspect that would have to be addressed, and I am sure that it would be.
The noble Lord, Lord Richard, will correct me if I am wrong, but I was amused to hear my noble friend referring to a revolution taking place in the matter of our constitution. I feel that your Lordships' House is not dissimilar to a perfectly well patient but one who needs a very delicate and gentle operation. This matter needs the delicate handling of a surgeon's scalpel and not the 1674 heavy-handed action of the woodman's axe. The definitive way in which the noble Lord stated that the abolition of the hereditary element in this House would be in the Labour Party's manifesto, suggests to me I greatly fear, that that is the operation of the woodman's axe; and, if I may say so with respect to the noble Lord, I do not believe that that is the right way to approach the matter.
Reference has been made to the fact that we have evolved; we have a firm basis in evolution. Revolution is its opposite. There have been few revolutions in the world in past years which have succeeded or had any basis of strength for long periods, certainly not for 700 years or for however long your Lordships' House has been in existence. Therefore, it is vital that this matter is addressed carefully and deliberately, with a great deal of thought.
The essence of the situation has emerged in the observations made by many of your Lordships this evening. We are an endangered species. The evolution is already taking place. Hereditary Peers are no longer created. The custom of former Prime Ministers being offered earldoms has ceased. The Speakers of another place were traditionally offered a Viscountcy—the last was the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy—but that has gone. I suspect that it will not re-emerge. Therefore, the change in composition will evolve naturally. The hereditary element eventually will disappear. However, there are those who might think that that will take too long, as many of us have descendants, grandchildren and others.
Perhaps I may make what I hope is a constructive suggestion. Consideration might be given to the way in which the Irish Peers were treated in 1922, when it was painfully obvious that the position of the Irish Peers was such that they did not have standing in your Lordships' House at Westminster, for every obvious reason under the sun. But it was said to those 24 elected Peers, "Well, this is rather bad luck on you. But fine, you have been elected to be at Westminster. We will let you stay for the rest of your life but when you die you will not be replaced". I just wonder whether there is an element of sense in thinking that the same might apply to the existing hereditary Peers.
Finally, I refer to the extremely amusing and touching story told by my noble friend Lord Denham at the end of his speech. It reminds me of something which might be put to good use when this matter will be, as I sincerely hope, very carefully discussed in all sorts of places—in Parliament, outside Parliament, in Select Committees, in Royal Commissions and so on. I hope that all those who take part in that discussion will always bear in mind Hilaire Belloc's lines:And always keep a-hold of NurseFor fear of finding something worse".
§ 10.2 p.m.
§ Lord Wallace of Saltaire
My Lords, this has not only been a good debate; we also face the prospect of getting home a little earlier than some of us thought at half past three this afternoon. I rise with a good deal of hesitation as a very junior and new Member of the House. I echo the noble Lord, Lord Winston, in saying 1675 how much I have been impressed, in the relatively short time I have been here, by the style and character of this House. The extent to which there is quality debate, a willingness to listen to argument and a genuine sense that argument changes people's opinions is extremely valuable. Last Monday I was amused, as we came back into the Chamber after a vote, to hear two Conservative Members talking. One said to the other, "A blasted Labour amendment" and the other replied, "No, it is those blasted Cross-Benchers." It is, of course, those "blasted Cross Benchers" who carry out such an important role in this House.
This House is less partisan than the other place. It is more open to reasoned persuasion. I am conscious that there are those, some on my own Benches, who fear that any major reform will risk losing that precious quality. To follow from what the noble Lord, Lord Annan, said, I recognise in addition that those of us who also struggle to earn our living outside and who operate as part timers here sometimes find the task extremely difficult and our children regard it as an odd way to spend one's evenings.
But, even here, we should not be too congratulatory or complacent. The best debate in which I have taken part was on the proposal to privatise the recruitment and assessment services. The debate was very well attended. I think there were between 150 and 200 Members present for most of it. If I remember accurately, two Members rose in the gap to say that in view of what they had heard they would change the way in which they had intended to vote; and there was a very clear majority against the proposals.
It concerns me that the Government are still pushing on with that proposal. It does not seem to me to augur well for the future of this House if that kind of behaviour continues. I have also been worried, like many other noble Lords on this side, during discussions on the Asylum and Immigration Bill, by the sense that there were those on the Government Front Bench who sometimes were more resistant to reasoned persuasion than the traditions of this House would consider appropriate. So we should not congratulate ourselves too happily on our current state.
I suspect that the Government Front Bench has been surprised and disappointed by the tone and tenor of this debate. If I understand it correctly, the intention of the Motion that this House take note of the United Kingdom's existing constitutional settlement and of the implications of proposals for change was to assert, as the noble Viscount the Lord Privy Seal said in his opening speech, that what we want is political stability and that we are happy with the current constitutional settlement even though we accept the need for economic change.
The majority of speakers yesterday and today have accepted that we no longer have a stable constitutional settlement and that the choice is between piecemeal and ill-thought out change and carefully considered reform. As the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, said yesterday, there is no status quo. The Government's preferred position is as set out in the Prime Minister's speech last week to the Centre for Policy Studies: that the British 1676 constitution is a precious antique, carefully preserved and repaired over the past 700 or 1,000 years—one chooses one's Saxon origins or Simon de Montfort, depending on which English myth one prefers—which will break into pieces if it is handled too roughly. A number of the contributors to the debate have made clear that the piecemeal constitutional changes over the past 20 years have been radical in their impact. Many Members have referred to the radical reduction in the authority of local government and the amazing centralisation of power in the Executive.
I understand that a number of the members of the Select Committee on the Public Service have been shocked to learn of the radical reduction in the independence of the public service in the past 20 years. My noble friend Lord Rodgers reminded us that we have created 110 executive agencies whose relations with Ministers and accountability to Parliament are extremely unclear. There has been dispute between the Prison Service and the Home Secretary over the past few months. The doctrine of ministerial responsibility has become unclear, even if it still exists. The reaction to the Scott Report took the whole idea of ministerial responsibility further than many of us, who learned about the British constitution from the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, and others, would have believed.
The degree of Executive dominance in the other place, and over government as a whole, is acute. The noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, quoted Dunning's Resolution. The number of King's friends (as Dunning would have put it) in the other place has risen to an absurd degree. We have a situation in which government responsibilities have been reduced, executive agencies have been created and the number of Ministers has risen rather than shrunk. We have had minority government resting on a vote of 42 per cent. in successive general elections. For most of the past two years the Government have enjoyed a steady 30 per cent. or less public opinion support. Nevertheless, the Government have pushed through changes, many of which were not in the manifesto, do not command public support and have not been adequately explained to the public. I read in this week's Economist—a good Conservative journal—a couple of articles which state that yet again the Government have voted to change part of the British Constitution, revoking some aspects of the Bill of Rights of 1688 and casually tossing aside in the Security Service Bill individual freedoms for which Britons have fought for centuries.
I have been struck by how few noble Lords have referred to the growing level of public disillusionment with Parliament and politics as a whole. I have just been asked to write a book for Penguin on the subject "Why vote Liberal Democrat?" I was told by a senior editor that Penguin had seriously discussed whether on this occasion there should be four volumes rather than three and that the title of the fourth volume should be "Why vote at all?" since that is a question that a large number of people and the younger generation are asking. When it is possible, with modern techniques, to focus on 100,000 voters who are the ones who matter 1677 in the key constituencies, that increases the disillusionment of the mass of the public with our electoral system and institutions as a whole.
The Leader of the House focused his attack on the Labour Party proposals and rather passed over the Liberal commitment to constitutional reform, which is a good deal older and more cut out of whole cloth than that of the Labour Party. It is a commitment to liberal democracy and citizenship rather than to subject-hood, which dates back to John Stuart Mill and W. E. Gladstone. One of the ways in which I came into politics as a student historian was by reading the debates on the Irish Home Rule Bill in the 1880s and 1890s in which the Lord Privy Seal's ancestor spoke vigorously about the qualities of the English versus the Irish and the desirability of maintaining the privileges of the imperial Parliament over those of lesser races.
The Lord Privy Seal said today that these sorts of changes were alien to our tradition and to the constitutional settlement which we enjoy. I was thinking of the echoes of those early debates because the constitutional settlement which we are thought to enjoy does indeed date from those home rule debates. A. V. Dicey gave his lectures on the constitution in the context of Irish home rule, to which he was bitterly opposed. Indeed, he ended up as a member of the Ulster Volunteers. The whole strengthening of the myth of parliamentary sovereignty, which the late Victorian English wished to stress, had very much an anti-Irish and, to a lesser extent, an anti-Scottish dimension. There is a real problem in constitutional debate of conservatives finding themselves again as the "English Party" sounding more and more anti-Scots and anti-Welsh.
As regards reform of the House of Lords, I believe that we have all accepted that there has been a great change since the Life Peerages Act; that the House has evolved over the past 40 years; and that it could not now operate without its nominated Members. What the Labour Party is proposing is the most modest further reform possible. It is a mouse; even Saatchi and Saatchi could not persuade the public that it is a tiger. It is the first step towards reform, though not a stable step in reform.
There seem to me to be three alternative models if one is looking a long way ahead. The first is an appointed House—in effect, a senate. I was very puzzled to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Young, call that absurd. There are a number of appointed senates in other democratic countries. If we were to move in that direction we would clearly need an appointment process that was a good deal more transparent than the very secretive processes whereby myself and the other life Members of this House came to join this Chamber. An appointed senate seems to me an option which would indeed preserve many of the specific characteristics of this House which we so value.
A second alternative is an elected chamber. That is not totally beyond the bounds of possibility. There are many different forms for electing a second chamber which would not interfere with the first chamber. For example, we could elect it one-third at a time every 1678 three years. After all, staggered elections are the way in which local councils are elected in this country—one-third each year. Therefore, that is not entirely foreign to the British way of life. We might wish to hold elections on a regional basis. I would be very happy to try to stand to be elected for Yorkshire under those proposals.
Thirdly, we could go for an indirectly elected chamber. I was struck by the fact that only the noble Lord, Lord Desai, proposed that today. If we were to reconstruct local government and go for the construction of regional government, indirect election is also a possibility. I suspect that the least satisfactory outcome would be a partly elected, partly appointed House in which there would be two halves who would fail to agree with each other.
It is clear, however, that the constitution must be seen as a whole and that piecemeal changes in some parts impact on others. The remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, about piecemeal reform are extremely apposite. Reform of this Chamber interacts with whatever changes are made in the other place. The reform of local government will change the way in which both Houses of Parliament operate. So we need an overall approach, a new constitutional settlement. I hope that that will move us towards a different style of government, a less adversarial style of government, in which the complexities of modern politics and the extent to which we are talking about "less and more" and not about "all or nothing" would be built into the system. That is part of the attraction of special standing committees—we need more emphasis on Select Committees and less on the Chamber—and that is part of the attraction of having a different electoral system.
If the Government's hope in launching this debate was to find an issue on which to frighten the electors and embarrass the Opposition, it has not worked so far. I hope that this is the opening of a broader constitutional debate, not just about the future of this House but about the structure of the British constitution as a whole. I look forward to that debate widening, and I am confident that the arguments for change will gain support as the debate proceeds.
§ 10.16 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I start by expressing the heartfelt thanks of the Labour Party to the Leader of the House and to the Chief Whip for finding the time for this debate. I do not say that because of the quality of the debate. We have had some of the best speeches that I have ever heard in this House—and some of the worst. I shall not cause offence by particularising. I express my thanks particularly for the Government's enormous act of sacrifice in providing two days of prime time during the high legislative season which is timed beautifully to coincide with the launch of the Labour Party's new pre-manifesto document, in order to provide assistance with that launch; to help the Labour Party to promote its ideas; and at the same time to expose the reactionary nature—"reactionary" in the full sense of that word—of the Conservative Party's attitudes towards constitutional reform. We have heard some of the classic statements 1679 of reaction in the past two days to which I shall refer later, and they have been enormously valuable to our coming election campaign. I thank both noble Lords.
Today's debate was supposed to be about Parliament, but really only the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, and to a lesser extent the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, and another Liberal Democrat, spoke about the reform of the House of Commons. It is understandable that Conservatives would not speak about the House of Commons. I too attended the Prime Minister's speech at the Centre for Policy Studies last week. He was billed as being about to make significant statements on the reform of the House of Commons. We were told that he would introduce two-year Sessions to facilitate better debate on legislation. Alas, that did not happen. Instead we had the timid mouse of the proposal that draft Bills should be published somewhat earlier and that there should be a draft Queen's Speech for the second year. In every other respect, however, the Conservative Party is clearly planning no significant reform of the work of the House of Commons.
In contrast, the Labour Party's document published today contains specific proposals about ministerial accountability, about increasing the work of Special Standing Committees and about providing fully in legislation for the Nolan recommendations, not just for MPs, but also for quangos; and the welcome indication that at last the House of Commons is to participate in the examination of European Union legislation, which has been left to us until now.
It is also significant that nobody except the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, paid any serious attention to proportional representation or to voting reform, although I should have thought that was a significant element in the consideration of the role of Parliament. I do not suppose that the noble Lord will be at all reassured to have it reaffirmed that we are proposing a referendum on voting reform. Your Lordships chose to concentrate almost entirely on the role of the House of Lords.
In asking ourselves whether any change in the role or the membership of the House of Lords is called for, perhaps I may put just one proposition to your Lordships. If we had in this Chamber 476 Labour Peers, whether they were hereditary or life Peers, and 109 Conservative Peers, do your Lordships think that the ranks of the Conservative Peers, who have been defending the current situation for the last seven hours, would have been quite so vociferous in their defence? I suspect not. I do not believe that if we had 476 Labour Peers and 109 Conservative Peers that this would have been exactly the dictatorship of the proletariat. New Labour has probably moved on in some ways—in some ways, regrettably.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, in terms of its representation of the whole range of occupations and classes in this country, yes, I do believe it is regrettable that we have become so much more a middle-class party than we were, and I believe that that is generally felt not just throughout the Labour Party but in politics generally.
1680 I come back to my question. If there had been 476 Labour Peers and 109 Conservative Peers, would the noble Lord, Lord Boardman, have argued that there was no in-built majority for the Labour Party, as he argued that there was no in-built majority for the Conservative Party? The noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, said in his article yesterday—I am very sorry that he was not able to take part in the debate today—that the nub of the practical argument for reform is that the House is dominated by Conservatives and that that has enormous effects on the representative character of this House, or the lack of representative character of this House. If there were as many miners as there are lawyers in this House, if there were as many farmworkers as there are landowners in this House, if there were as many primary schoolteachers as there are vice-chancellors in this House, then perhaps we might start to think that there was an element of representativeness.
I have always argued—not in this House—that the tenants of the allotment gardens where my wife has an allotment in Highgate are at least as well qualified as the Members of this House to carry out the functions of a second Chamber. In that allotment society there are not only doctors, publishers and lecturers, but also railwaymen, council drivers and car mechanics—people whose contribution to society is very significant and who are completely unrepresented in this House. The argument that this is in any way a representative House, whose independence reflects the views of the country as opposed to those of any political party, will not stand up for a single moment.
The sad thing is that the Conservative Party was not always like that. I have been reading with great pleasure the debates in 1910 in this House after the first 1910 election. Lord Rosebery, who was not a Conservative, but who was becoming increasingly conservative and sat on the Cross Benches, moved:(1) That a strong and efficient Second Chamber is not merely an integral part of the British Constitution, but is necessary to the well-being of the State and to the balance of Parliament.(2) That such a chamber can best be obtained by the reform and reconstitution of the House of Lords.(3) That a necessary preliminary of such reform and reconstitution is the acceptance of the principle that the possession of a peerage should no longer of itself give the right to sit and vote in the House of Lords".The first two resolutions were carried without a vote. The third was carried by 125 votes to 17, with the Conservative Front Bench being part of the majority. There were some lovely speeches in that debate. Lord Sheffield, who was the ancestor of our dear noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley, said:I feel perfectly certain that when the Labour Party and the Socialists constitute the Government … they will make very short work of your Lordships".He further said:You will not prevent this coming into power by assuming to yourselves arrogant pretensions which have not belonged to you in the past, or posing as bulwarks of society against their inroads".Lord Halsbury—I can understand that the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, is not with us at this hour—said: 1681I do not believe that it is possible to make an institution more consonant with our habits and more practically useful than the House of Lords as at present constituted".Have we not heard that repeated on many occasions in the course of this afternoon and this evening, 85 years later? Yet the Conservative Party was not always so conservative—if I may put it that way. In 1907, Lord Newton proposed to remove the voting rights of 75 per cent. of hereditaries; in 1910, the Tories voted for Lord Rosebery's resolution; in 1911, Lord Lansdowne, the Conservative Leader, proposed that there should be only 150 hereditaries in a House of 350; and Lord Salisbury, as my noble friend Lord Richard reminded us, said the same thing in 1933.
The Parliament Act 1911 referred to a second Chamber on a popular instead of a hereditary basis. In 1967–68, the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Jellicoe, as my noble friend Lord Shepherd reminded us, took part in an agreement on a radical reform of the House of Lords, to which I shall have to return in a minute. There was then the Home Report in 1978, in which the noble Baroness, Lady Young, played such a distinguished part. Finally, yesterday, there was the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, recommending that reform should take the form of reducing the number of Conservative hereditary Peers and increasing the number Labour and Liberal Democrat life Peers in order to provide:a rough balance between Tories and the two other parties".I assume that the noble Lord would agree that if there were a Labour Government, it would have to be a rough balance between the Labour Party and the two other parties. There is no other sense in what he is saying.
I have very little confidence in the consistency or continuity of thinking on those matters within the Conservative Party, but I have some confidence in now answering a considerable number of the questions put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever. What we say in our document published today is:We will reform the House of Lords. We will remove the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords as a first step towards a more democratic and representative chamber. We will consult widely on the further reforms necessary. We will open up the appointments process. One proposal we can consider is that the House of Lords has some places reserved by appointment for those who have an outstanding contribution to make".I say that with particular reference to the number of distinguished Cross-Benchers who have been seeking reassurance on that point. The document continues:The legislative powers of the House of Lords will remain unaltered. Its function will remain that of a revising chamber".I do not claim to have yet answered all the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Astor, but I have a moment or two left to me. In order to achieve all those objectives there are alternative routes. One, which has been recommended by a number of noble Lords and most recently by the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, is an all-in-one Bill—"Do it all in one go, and get it over with". The noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, and the noble Lord, Lord Denham, said that that would be hasty and ill-considered change. I rather suspect that they are right. If I have misrepresented the noble Lord, Lord Denham, I apologise to him.
1682 To do that—this is where we return to 1968—would be possible, because there are plenty of well-considered and well-documented ways of achieving it. But would it achieve what we would want, and would it achieve the consent of the British people? Would it in the end pass through the House of Commons? Although an all-in-one Bill is possible, I believe that the Labour Party is wise to do what the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, described as a mouse, but I believe that it is a mouse with descendants. At the moment, we are proposing the absolute minimum required to deal with the nonsense of the hereditary peerage, but then we have a firm commitment to later action.
The second alternative, which has been recommended by a number of noble Lords—notably the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill—is to have full consultation and consensus before proceeding to the first stage of any reform. What is the point of having a general election? A general election manifesto will clearly state that the rights of hereditary Peers to sit and vote will be removed. If I understand the Salisbury doctrine correctly, that is a proposition which, if it has achieved the support of the British people at a general election, will not be opposed by the Conservative Party in this House. For us to give up and to let down the people to whom we have committed ourselves in a general election would simply be cowardly. On the part of those who propose it, it would obviously be a delaying tactic.
The third alternative is a two-stage reform. In my view, that is right not only practically, because it is the only way of seeing that it achieves the consent of both Houses of Parliament, but it is right in principle. It is right in principle that we should be consulting through the form of a Royal Commission or a party leaders' conference or whatever; I do not believe that the detail matters that much. We should be consulting thoroughly on what form of second Chamber is acceptable in this country. I agree with those who say that it is not easy. We are not naturally a federal state. We are not like the United States of America or Germany, where Lander or states form a natural constituency. I do not find it very attractive to have a different electoral system which might result in a different balance of parties and yet give no indication of which is to be given precedence.
There is no lack of difficulty in achieving that. I am convinced that the people of this country do want a second Chamber which has a significant elected element—probably a majority elected element—but it is also likely that they will want to preserve some of the virtues of the Honours List and of the distinguished people who serve in this House. Whether they are life Peers or hereditary Peers, we will want to keep a significant number of them as Members of a second Chamber as a supplement to the elected element.
Although it is true that 85 years ago this was stated as an objective but has never been done, it is worth emphasising that the interim stage of a House which consists only of the life Peers rather than having hereditary Peers is inherently unstable. A number of noble Lords who are not sympathetic to our ideas have pointed out that, if the balance between the parties were to be corrected at each election, the numbers in the House would explode. That is absolutely true and it is 1683 a strong argument against continuing with the interim provisions. So there must be, there is and there will be a firm commitment to future change and to, as we say, a more democratic and representative Chamber.
We end up with a three-stage approach. The first is to deal with the hereditary peerage, the second is extensive and fundamental consultation and the third is with the mandate of the people, and only with the mandate of the people, to proceed to the final composition of this House. Anybody who believes that it might be better to leave the House of Lords as it is rather than have an interim Chamber really ought to think again. Yes, of course, there are some good hereditary Peers in this House. I look around me and see that there are many good hereditary Peers in this House. I look up in order not to look at anybody in particular. But we can create life Peers from the hereditary Peers. I have just worked out that my noble friend Lord Longford does not have to be created because he is already a life Peer too. Therefore, his hereditary peerage can go and he will stay in the House. Yes, of course it is true that there are a number of distinguished independent Peers, mainly on the Cross Benches. But most of them are life Peers, very few of whom would be removed by this reform. However, there could be a mechanism for replacing the more distinguished of them from the Cross Benches. But, above all, I really must resist the idea that there is something inherently offensive about the interim change of an unelected House.
The choice is between a House which is composed on the basis of merit and that which is composed on the basis of birth. Merit is a more difficult concept to assess and it is much more difficult to find ways of achieving effective choice on the basis of merit; but can there be any doubt that it is better than the basis of birth?
It is not for me to prejudge the result of the extensive consultation period. To that extent, I cannot possibly answer some of the questions posed by the noble Lord, Lord Astor. However, surely a more democratic and representative Chamber which recognised the outstanding contribution of many hereditary Peers and which contained elected Members as well as others, including Cross Benchers, is an objective worth aiming for.
§ Lord Hesketh
My Lords, can the noble Lord assure me that all life Peers have a merit which exceeds that of all hereditary Peers?
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I would not dream of assuring the noble Lord in that respect. Indeed, he knows that I would not do so. On what basis could it possibly be the case that all life Peers exceed the merits of all hereditary Peers?
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, well, for example, the Government are determined to make destitute genuine asylum seekers by making it more difficult for some of them to apply for asylum in this country.
1684 Of course, there are good hereditary Peers and there will be means of ensuring that some of them stay in the House. Indeed, the report of the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, said that the hereditary Peers would move over in favour of an effective second chamber. I do not believe it can be argued that a 100 per cent. change in the composition of the House could provide an effective second chamber. Therefore, those Peers would have to remain for the time being. I give way to the noble Lord.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, I am much obliged. The noble Lord referred to good hereditary Peers, presumably differentiating from the bad and indifferent; but who is to choose? Who is to decide who is a good hereditary Peer? Further, once that has been decided, how many of them will there be? What is to be done? Surely this is all pie in the sky.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, the questions are accumulating. The Conservative Party decides who is good in its party: and the Labour Party decides who is good in its party. As to how many there would be, that is a matter for negotiation. There is plenty to negotiate; and, indeed, we must not forget the Cross Benchers. They are perfectly capable of making choices from among their colleagues.
This debate has had the huge benefit of adding to the anthology of reactionary prose which I have been collecting for a number of years. We have a number of real jewels of reactionary prose. We have been told that this would be incalculable folly; a constitutional outrage; a hasty and ill-considered change; that it will bring shame and dishonour; and that it will destroy the constitution. In the words of Mandy Rice-Davies: "They would say that, wouldn't they?"
I conclude by expressing the wish, if my noble friend Lord Richard will forgive me, that we had had a vote on the Motion. It would have been valuable to flush out those who, in the end, would be prepared to give way to instinctive reaction rather than to constructive thought about the future of our constitution and of our country.
It is quite clear that the Conservative Party no longer has the thrust and impetus of being the radical right, as it was a few years ago. All the enthusiasm has gone; all idea of constructive contribution to politics has gone; all we have are tired reaction and tired ideas, and this debate has shown that.
§ 10.40 p.m.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, there falls to me this evening the task of making the final speech of a debate which, over two days, I believe has been of unrivalled quality. I suggest that it has shown your Lordships' House at its senatorial best—deliberative, informed, good humoured and, for the most part, non-partisan. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, questioned yesterday whether it was desirable that such a debate should be held. He said it was an unasked for debate. All I can say is that if the noble Lord had sat through as much of the proceedings as I have done he might think otherwise by now.
1685 We have had over 80 speakers and many more would have spoken but they imposed a self-denying ordinance. I submit that we are all grateful to them for doing so. I, on behalf of my noble friend the Leader of the House, accept the thanks of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, for holding this debate. I am also delighted that the timing of the debate pleased the Labour Party. Its pre-election document is so thin it needs all the help it can get.
I am not sure that I have been listening to the same debate as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. Of course many noble Lords are interested in constitutional reform—so are the Government. What has been so interesting about the past few days is not your Lordships' dissatisfaction with the Government but the wholesale incredulity at the proposals emanating from the Labour Party.
As a Scot and a hereditary Peer, it would be all too easy for me to take personally some of the proposals for constitutional change which we have been debating. As the noble Earl, Lord Longford, observed, I am insecure in my position here. After all, the party opposite plans, if it wins the next general election, to take away my right to vote in your Lordships' House and to condemn me to live in possibly the most highly taxed part of the United Kingdom. But, self-justification is rarely convincing or attractive, and I shall do my best, as other noble Lords have done, to rise above the purely personal.
It seems to me that there is a common thread running through the fabric of all the constitutional reforms which are at present a matter for debate not only in your Lordships' House but more widely also. That thread is the undermining of the power of Parliament, and in particular of the elected Chamber that is another place. As a Conservative and Unionist, I believe in the supremacy of Parliament, and that within Parliament the House of Commons is pre-eminent because of the authority granted to it by the electorate. I do not think I differ in that belief from anything the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, said.
Parliamentary supremacy is a simple concept, readily understood, and the one from which most of our other constitutional arrangements flow. My noble friend the Lord Privy Seal spoke earlier today about the clarity of our constitutional arrangements, and that is something to be treasured. Yet look what the party opposite would offer us in its place: a muddled constitutional brew which threatens the authority of Parliament, regional assemblies in England, a parliament in Scotland (with or without the tartan tax), and assembly in Wales and a Bill of Rights to be interpreted by the courts. All these would tend to reduce the authority of the House of Commons. They would conflict and compete in their exercise of power, and how would the citizen know where he stood? How would we maintain a strong voice in our international relationships if Parliament were being undermined at home by a plethora of new bodies each seeking to justify its own existence?
I should now like to turn specifically to proposed reforms of your Lordships' House. Noble Lords opposite are fervent in their desire for reform of the 1686 House. Only today—as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, reminded us—in its pre-manifesto document the Labour Party has made reform of this House a significant item. I respect the sincerity with which noble Lords opposite say what they say, but I have to confess that I am at a loss to understand it. Every day we see the Opposition operate effectively in this living, working political Chamber, criticising the Government, gaining concessions and holding Ministers to account.
As my noble friend Lady Young so rightly said, many outside organisations regard this House with increasing respect and make full use of the opportunities which its proceedings present to put forward their own points of view.
And what do noble Lords want to end up with as a second chamber? There is a dilemma at the heart of their proposals. Do they want this House to exercise more or less power? Their pre-manifesto document says that,the legislative powers of the House of Lords will remain unaltered".But that will not wash. You cannot tinker with the composition of an organism as subtle as Parliament without affecting, however unintentionally, the way in which it operates. Unless the Opposition can say what they want the second chamber to do, how do they know how it should be constituted?
The noble Lord, Lord Richard, said more than once today that the proposal of the party opposite to remove the right of hereditary Peers to speak and to vote will be put to the country. I am not quite sure whether the noble Lord meant something more than that in his speech this afternoon. Is he saying that this is a question which will be put in the same way as questions on devolution for Scotland? Is the noble Lord promising us another referendum? Is there some U-turn to which we can look forward from the Labour Party?
Advocates of change generally advance one or more of four familiar reasons.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, the noble Lord could have seen in the document today—it is the basis for the manifesto—what we say about this issue. It is there. It will be put to the country at the next general election, as I said about six times today.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, it is interesting that different constitutional proposals will be dealt with in different ways: on Scotland and Wales they will go to a referendum; electoral reform will go to a referendum; but not, I point out to your Lordships, reform of Parliament.
As I said earlier, advocates of change generally advance one or more of four familiar reasons. The first is that the House favours Conservative governments and frustrates Labour ones. The second is that the House is an insufficient check on the elected Chamber and on the intentions of government. The third is that the hereditary peerage is out of date. The fourth is that the hereditary element of Parliament is "just not fair". I intend to deal with each of those reasons in turn.
1687 The first reason, that the House is biased against Labour governments, is the one on which noble Lords opposite have concentrated today, and indeed on previous occasions. They make much of the fact that the Labour Government in the 1970s was defeated in Divisions in your Lordships' House on many more occasions than was the Conservative Government in the 1980s and 1990s. That is indeed so, but it is not the whole picture. A more thoughtful reading of the relationship between the two Houses in the past 25 years indicates that the times when your Lordships have been most ready to invite another place to "think again" have been the times when the House of Commons has itself lacked the authority to act decisively. It is worth noting, for example, that in the Parliament of 1974 to 1979 when noble Lords opposite complain that this House was showing unreasonable bias against the Labour Government, that Government was defeated on no fewer than 42 occasions in the House of Commons.
In any case, numbers of government defeats are a very blunt instrument to use in interpreting the relationship between the elected and unelected Chambers of our Parliament. I entirely agree with the points that my noble friend Lord Denham made. A glance at the number of disagreements between the two Houses shows that there is no significant difference under one government or another. It is clear, therefore, that whatever the number of defeats your Lordships may initially inflict on a government, this House does not seriously seek to frustrate the will of the elected House any more often under a Labour government than a Conservative one. Ultimately, your Lordships recognise that the government of the day have a mandate from the people and must be allowed to "get their business".
That point is the second reason often put forward for reform of the House. Some people complain that the very fact that your Lordships allow the Government to get their business demonstrates the inadequacy of the House as an effective second Chamber. But surely that is seeking to have the cake and eat it too. No less distinguished a parliamentarian than Mr. Enoch Powell said in 1968 that it was,neither desirable nor tolerable that much more than the present degree of check upon the decisions",of the first House should be exercised by the second. I entirely agree, and I think it likely that many of the current Members of another place would do so too when it came to the crunch. A more powerful second Chamber, however constituted, would detract from the authority of the House of Commons and make decisive government more difficult. Perhaps that is the Opposition's real motive.
The third reason was plainly put by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, today. He said that the hereditary peerage was past its time and could not continue in Parliament into the 21st century. The fact that it has survived so long is one of its strengths. The fact that it has survived through the social upheavals that we have witnessed in this century suggests to me that it has considerable strengths still.
The fourth reason often advanced for the reform of your Lordships' House is that it is not fair that there should be any hereditary element in Parliament. But the 1688 essence of heredity is that it is not fair. It embodies the basic human wish to ensure the well-being of future generations. In parliament the hereditary element enriches our constitution with some of the unpredictable and random nature of real life, in complement to other aspects of our institutions.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, and his colleagues may mock now, but he himself said how very impressed he was by so many hereditary Peers in this House. I can say to the Opposition Chief Whip that one of the first things I learnt is that life is not fair. The noble Lord sometimes makes that plain to me when he wins a Division.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
The Opposition Chief Whip is dedicated to ensuring that what the noble Lord has learnt will continue.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, I do not pretend for one moment that what I have said is any justification for perpetuating a real injustice; rather, that the inherent unfairness of life is something to be acknowledged. But unfairness is not in itself a reason for precipitating change without good grounds for believing that the alternative proposed would be better. I am not persuaded that the alternative, so far as your Lordships' House is concerned, would be better.
Let us look then at what the Opposition propose. The first phase of their proposal would result in a House comprised entirely of appointed Members. Where is the improvement in that? It has been said before that it would result in the biggest quango in the country. Like my noble friend Lady Young, I was interested yesterday to hear the noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, say that,quangos are a travesty of democracyBut the Opposition are keen on placemen. As my noble friend Lady Blatch noted yesterday, their proposed Scottish parliament would have nearly half its members appointed not by the electorate but from party lists—the friends of Walworth Road. Is that the future for the House of Lords? How does that square with the criticism by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, that the House of Lords is not itself democratic?
My noble friend the Lord Privy Seal spoke earlier today about how interim solutions have a tendency to become permanent. I agree that there is a danger of that happening in this case. But quite apart from that, what form would the second phase of the Opposition's proposed reform take? An elected second chamber, other than in a federal nation, would be a nonsense. I am glad to be able to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, on that point. I am sorry to quote Mr. Enoch Powell again, but he is a great authority on the subject. He said that:there is only one electorate which can be represented by an elective system",and,we would never escape from this dilemma: how can the same electorate he represented in two ways so that the two sets of representatives can conflict and disagree with one another?".1689 Even if that question could be satisfactorily answered, and I have not yet seen an answer which I find convincing—even among those put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire—what would be the result?
§ Lord Wallace of Saltaire
My Lords, will the noble Lord tell us whether he thinks that the constitution of the United States is a nonsense from start to finish? It rests utterly on the principle that the Senate and the House of Representatives are both elected.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, I made the point about any federal system. There could, of course, be different arrangements. As the noble Lord himself and the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, pointed out, we do not have such a system. There is no demand for it. There are substantial problems in having two elected Houses in this Parliament, not least the unlikelihood of another place voting for it.
What would be the result? My noble friends Lord Campbell of Alloway and Lord Hindlip gave the answer. It would be a second chamber of professional politicians. Is that really what is wanted in a world where so many people already feel that public affairs are over-politicised? The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, reminded us of the dangers of simply following the practices of the House of Commons.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester observed that your Lordships set an example of right conduct and proper relationships and behaviour to one another. How unusual that is in public life, and how much it would be undermined by greater politicisation of this House.
And for how long would such a second chamber be content with the limited powers of advice and delay which your Lordships exercise? There would no longer be justification for the constraints embodied in the Parliament Acts, and I doubt that an elected second chamber would observe the self-denying ordinances of your Lordships' House. Such a chamber would be hungry for more power. Do we really wish to set up such a rival to another place? That is what the Opposition seem to want. Would they not have confidence in their majority in the House of Commons? Seemingly not.
Some noble Lords, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Richard, suggested that the fundamental flaw of this House is its lack of democratic legitimacy. To them I say that our parliamentary system is firmly rooted in democratic principles. Power is concentrated in the House of Commons; an election must take place no later than five years after the last; and governments can be, 1690 and are, removed. Democracy in the United Kingdom is alive and well without the need to tinker with the House of Lords to no clear advantage.
I make no apology for quoting once again from Mr. Enoch Powell. He said of the House of Lords:Once we depart from the present basis of prescription, no scheme will have more authority than the authority of its makers, and its makers … will claim to unmake it and remake it and remake it again, until in the end we shall come … to single chamber government".Even the party opposite no longer holds that to be desirable.
In conclusion, one striking aspect of this two-day debate is the number of questions that have been raised and the number of questions that have been unanswered. Many of those questions were posed to the party opposite. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, did his best to answer some of them. If I may say so, impertinently, he did so with a great deal of skill. But I could not help wondering while he was making his speech whether the Opposition's original, clear plan was becoming increasingly muddled. The noble Lord raised a number of new questions that remain unanswered. Before the next general election the Labour Party will have to answer them.
Our debate has shown that our living constitution is a subject which commands passion on all sides of the House. I speak from the heart when I say that it is something too precious to be tampered with lightly.
On Question, Motion agreed to.