HL Deb 18 May 1999 vol 601 cc215-37

(" .—(1) There shall be a Commission on the Voting System in the House of Lords.

(2) The Commission shall make recommendations on a system of weighted voting to be introduced into the House to ensure that the total number of votes eligible to be cast by members of that House belonging to the party or parties forming the Government shall be greater than the total number of votes eligible to be cast by members of that House belonging to the official opposition party.

(3) The Commission shall report its recommendations before the start of the session of Parliament in which this Act is passed.

(4) Standing Orders of the House shall be made to give effect to the Commission's recommendations, and may provide that any vote cast by a member belonging to the party or parties forming the Government shall have a greater value than any vote cast by another member.")

The noble Lord said: The amendment stands in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook.

I appreciate that we are under pressure to get the business through tonight, so I shall be as brief as possible.

My purpose in moving the amendment is to inform the Committee that at Report stage I shall move an additional amendment calling for the establishment of a commission on weighted voting. This amendment will support the other two amendments which have already been debated in principle but not in detail. Briefly, they were, first, that the House of Lords should remain the same but on death hereditaries would not be succeeded by their heirs, and, secondly, that there should be a weighted voting system. All that one would need to do in this whole business of Lords reform would be to multiply the number of Labour Peers voting by 2.7. That would meet all the strategic objectives of reform. I will not go into the details any further; they are in the Library.

I should like to explain the rationale for introducing this new amendment. It is based on the fact that I have serious reservations about the reform process that we are going through. I believe that there has not been the openness that there should have been. Certainly, there has not been a consensus, which I believe could have been achieved. The timetabling has caused difficulties; we have only just learnt that there will be no elected Members, according to my party's submission. We have also learnt only recently that there will be a retention of hereditaries. The main cause of confusion is that there have been no strategic objectives. Reading last Tuesday's Hansard shows that there is a considerable level of disillusionment about the reform process.

How might we proceed with this reform? Because of the flaws in the reform procedure that I have described, I strongly believe that the House of Lords should be presented with more than one option, and the other options should be sensible and practical. The Committee has already approved the Weatherill proposal, with a huge majority. That was the will of the Committee, and I have no intention of challenging the will of the Committee.

However, my view is that we can have other options too. To me, that seems very reasonable. I have sought advice from the authorities of the House, and I have been told that this would be perfectly in order. I also believe that to have one option presented as a fait accompli is not acceptable, particularly when there is not the confidence of the Committee in that proposal.

I hope to be able to present at the Report stage a realistic alternative to the Weatherill proposal. If my alternative was supported, we should have two proposals in the Bill, and therefore the Bill would be in a mess. Therefore I propose—and I think there are precedents—that at Third Reading the House would make its own choice as to how it should proceed. This is a fair and reasonable approach to reform and is in the interests of the House. In particular, it would show that there was a consensus in the House for the reform chosen, because there would be choice. The Bill would then proceed to the House of Commons in the usual way.

I return to the details of the amendment. Why do we need the proposed commission? First, the complete package suggests that we have a weighted voting system. The concept is new. For the House to have confidence in something new like that we need to move away from the idea of one Peer making a proposal as an individual. I do not think that that is acceptable, so, for the sake of the confidence of the House, there should be an independent assessment. That is what the proposed commission is all about.

The commission would be established by the Government. It would have to be politically independent, and the Standing Orders of the House of Lords would have to be adapted to give effect to recommendations made by the commission.

That is the essence of my case. I would appreciate it very much if my noble friend would accept in principle, in the interests of the House of Lords, the notion of having a multi-option approach to the reform process.

Lord Northbrook

I am extremely glad to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux. In the rising temperature of the Committee stage in recent days, I am very glad that two Peers on opposite sides of the Committee are putting forward the amendment.

It may appear surprising to the Committee that the amendment is tabled by a Labour life Peer and a Conservative hereditary Peer. I believe that it is a great virtue of the House of Lords that that sort of thing can happen here, compared with the other place.

I came across the noble Lord's paper in the Library, and I met him shortly afterwards. I had been very impressed by the paper, and decided to give the amendment my support. The appointment of an independent commission to study the mechanics of the weighted voting system would be useful, and I hope that the Committee finds the timescale of its reporting acceptable.

As the noble Lord states, to have an alternative to the Weatherill amendment considered before the Bill comes back on recommitment is important. I shall not discuss the mechanics of the amendment on weighted voting, which can be easily understood from reading the paper of the noble Lord, Lord Randall, in the Library. Suffice it to say that the improvements that he has made since he originally conceived the scheme are substantial, because the weighted voting system gives the Cross-Benchers a crucial say in determining the result of a Division.

Furthermore, it is highly likely that under the Weatherill amendment we shall have a caucus of hereditary Peers for many years to come. I believe that an alternative amendment, which also allows some hereditary Peers to remain in this House for a limited period, is not incompatible with what the Government have conceded under the Weatherill amendment.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Davies of Coity

If I were to stretch my generosity considerably, I could say that my noble friend's amendment is well meaning. However, the consequences of the amendment have not been thoroughly thought out. Its first subsection calls for a commission to examine a voting system for the House of Lords. Even if I were persuaded to support the establishment of such a commission—that is very unlikely—that provision is undone by the second subsection where the devil is concealed—or perhaps not really concealed—in the detail. I need. not go into the question of any possible criticism for reintroducing a novel form of block voting. However, the amendment could also be criticised because it does not refer to the means of weighting the voting of Cross-Bench Members. Even more importantly, if we were to have a weighted system which produced fewer votes for members of the Opposition than for members of the Government, we must ask how such a system could be regulated when Members from either side of the House break ranks with their Whips and vote on certain matters in opposition to their own party. It would be an absolutely horrendous system. Consequently, it seems to me that the amendment should be opposed.

Earl Ferrers

I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Randall, speak to his amendment because he tabled it as an alternative way of trying to think through this matter. I was interested in what he said almost sotto voce. I do not know whether his Front Bench heard him say that some noble Lords on his side of the House were disillusioned with the reform process—

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux

On both sides!

Earl Ferrers

Yes, on both sides. I was anxious to ensure that the noble Lord's Front Bench heard that. I was seeking to remind the noble Lord's noble friends of what he had said. Some noble Lords are, indeed, disillusioned.

I should be interested to hear again how the noble Lord proposes that his system should work. However, he is a mathematician and finds all these things dead easy. I had the privilege outside the Chamber of the noble Lord explaining to me how his system would work. It was so unbelievably complicated that I could not understand it at all. I am quite prepared to accept that my IQ is very much lower than that of most people, but once one starts in the Division Lobby clocking in 1.5 votes for one Peer and 2.3 votes for another, that seems to make an absolute mockery of the whole thing. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, asked what happens when a Peer votes in the wrong Lobby, as happens periodically on both sides of the Chamber. Would such a Peer carry with him a 1.5 weighting or a 2.3 weighting? It really is too complicated.

We have had many electoral changes in the country from a first-past-the-post system to proportional representation and even to the curious system in Scotland where the two systems are used at once. We are now suggesting that your Lordships' House should have weighted voting. The whole thing would be unbelievably complicated.

Lord Crickhowell

I am sorry to have to disagree with the proposition put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Randall, because I greatly respect the stand that he has bravely taken on this Bill. In addition, I share many of his reservations and concerns, particularly in the light of the notable contribution last night from the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, who made it absolutely and unmistakably clear that there can be no certainty of a second stage and who said that there are huge problems in getting to that stage. Indeed, last night we had an acknowledgement from the Government Front Bench—from the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn—that the Government were coming forward only with proposals and not with a guarantee that they would be carried through. We are dealing with a proposal for an interim House that may last a long time.

My objections to the proposal are not simply those of complication, as voiced by my noble friend Lord Ferrers, but also of principle. First, one of the great strengths of our parliamentary democracy is that individual votes and the decisions of individuals actually count. I see my noble friend Lord Jopling on the Benches behind me. As a former Chief Whip of my party, he will recall some crucial votes when we were deciding questions relating to Europe. He will remember, as I do, the agonising decisions that had to be taken by individual Members in deciding whether to break with their own party on a great decision of principle which was of immense importance for the country. Their votes were important because they were taken individually. However, they were also important because the vote of any one Member was equal to the vote of any other, whatever their position in government. That must be right. It is an extraordinary concept that, for example, apparently because one is a member of the governing party, one's votes might weigh more heavily irrespective of whether one is in the "Content" or "Not-content" Lobby, or for or against the Government. That is implicit in the wording of the amendment.

That brings me to my second objection to the amendment. It seems extraordinary that if it is proposed that there should be a commission on the voting system in the House of Lords, so many of the apparent decisions of the commission should have been pre-empted in the wording of the amendment. I see no purpose in, for example, the provision relating to the Standing Orders—partly because they clearly pre-empt the decision of the commission, but also because, as we have heard on previous occasions, there is no need to include in the Bill provisions relating to the Standing Orders of the House.

Although no doubt moved for all sorts of good intentions, this new clause must be objected to. I hope that we shall not, in last night's memorable phrase from the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, turn this House into a "genetically modified House of Commons". The noble Lord suggested that that might happen if we had an elected rather than a nominated House. I have considerable sympathy with those arguments.

There is a great danger in the noble Lord's amendment in that we would, indeed, be turning this House into a genetically modified House of Commons because we would be making it a House in which membership of a political party weighed more heavily than the judgment of an individual. That is a wholly unacceptable proposition and I hope that the Committee will have nothing at all to do with it.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

I think that my noble friends Lord Crickhowell and Lord Ferrers are being a little hard on the amendment, which I find refreshing, if only because it liberates us from the almost blind commitment which many Members feel that they have to the Weatherill amendment. It was certainly supported by a very large majority, but a number of us felt that it was only one solution and perhaps only one step on the way to a final solution. As I understand Amendment No. 135E, the commission would report to the House and the House would be required to agree Standing Orders. That might easily overcome many of the difficulties raised by my noble friends.

Another attractive feature of the amendment is that its intention is to ensure that the government of the day—or the governing parties of the day in the other place—can outvote the party of the Official Opposition. I am now seeking clarification from the noble Lord, Lord Randall. Under the present circumstances that would mean that the Labour votes would be weighted in such a way as to outweigh the Conservative votes on this side of the House. The Government of the day could easily lose an amendment to votes cast by the Liberal Democrats and, most important of all, by the Cross Benches. I certainly would not want to be as negative at this stage as regards this amendment as my noble friends. I would like to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Randall, has to say. I repeat that the great attraction of the amendment is that it liberates us from the Weatherill amendment which has many defects, as we witnessed yesterday.

Lord Jopling

I was half-tempted to make a contribution to this debate before my noble friend Lord Crickhowell referred to my previous incarnation as a Chief Whip in another place. I dislike this amendment for two reasons. One has already been explained by my noble friends Lord Crickhowell and Lord Ferrers. It is much too complicated. I do not believe that it is within the traditions of our parliamentary democracy. All kinds of strange anomalies could arise.

My noble Friend Lord Ferrers referred to the possibility of someone voting in another Lobby. I vividly remember an occasion in the other place when one of my honourable friends, who had done himself rather well during the evening, voted in the Opposition Lobby by mistake in a very difficult vote for the Government. He went to cancel his vote in the Government Lobby, which one is entitled to do. He came to apologise to me. I was extremely angry and used words which I shall not repeat to the Committee tonight. As a consequence he wrote me a letter which was on my desk when I returned to my room. It is framed in my lavatory at home to this day. It concludes with the immortal phrase, "If you wish for my support in future you had better mind your manners." That is the kind of situation which one could get into with this type of weighted voting.

I dislike the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Randall, for a rather different reason which I tried to explain when we debated the White Paper some weeks ago. I took a view with which I believe many Members of the Committee will agree; namely, that after this Bill eventually passes into law this House will become infinitely more political and far more like the other place. I speak from memory as a former Chief Whip with a duty to get government business through. I am very dubious about whether it is fair to successive governments in this House to have an arrangement whereby the votes of the government party are equal only to those of the main opposition party. It was in the White Paper. I criticised that. It is in this amendment, and I criticise it for the second time. I do not believe that that would be fair on successive government parties having to get business through the House.

Whether we begin by having parity between the Government and the main opposition party, I believe that that will have to change eventually because the Government need to have parity with all the opposition parties. Even if one does that one s still putting the Government at risk of being overturned by the votes of the Cross Benches. It would be the wild card in this House as regards voting. I strongly object to the proposal that the Government have made and which this amendment repeats; namely, to have parity only between the Government and the main opposition party. It should include all the opposition parties.

7.45 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I do not normally find myself in much agreement with my noble friend Lord Pearson, but I agree with some of what he says. The noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux, has tried to tackle the problem of the interim House by a slightly different route from the Weatherill amendment which the Committee has accepted. He looks not to the whole future, but to that of the interim House. We are continually told by the Government that that will not last very long. We should find a way to deal with the issue without the sudden death of the abolition of all but 92 of the hereditary Peers. The Government object to the hereditary principle. But, as I teased them recently, if more of the hereditary Peers were Labour Peers rather than Conservative Peers I am not quite so sure that their objection would be so deep-rooted. Their objection has a great deal to do with numbers. As my noble friend Lord Strathclyde said earlier, we understand that.

I make no complaint about the number of Labour life Peers who have come to this House since the election. I understand why that has been done. As my noble friend Lord Jopling said, I understand that the Government must get their business. By and large your Lordships' House accepts that proposition. Therefore we are sparing with our use of the sort of Gatling gun that we undoubtedly have although the other place has a form of Gatling gun by return in the form of the Parliament Act. I have to make a little caveat. By and large that is not a sensible way to do business. All of us know exactly what our position is vis-à-vis the other place.

The noble Lord, Lord Randall, has brought forward this proposal which addresses immediately the problem of the number imbalance in an interim House where the hereditary Peers remain without the Prime Minister having to create any more Peers. For the balance game he may wish to create more Peers for other reasons. But he does not have to do so just for the sake of balance. The noble Lord's amendment is ingenious and addresses at least some of the problems of the Government associated with the composition of the House. His suggestion of a commission is a way of avoiding the need to find solutions simply by sending the matter to some of the great and the good, preferably being mathematically literate.

I reminded the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, earlier that the block vote was not entirely unknown in his party. It is not much of a block vote having 1.5 votes instead of only one. The Government may not like ingenious ideas. I find that strange coming from a Government who have just inflicted on Scotland and Wales and are about to inflict on the European elections the complicated calculations of the Belgian mathematician, M. d'Hondt. I was going ':o say the famous Belgian mathematician, but in all truth he is only famous for that formula. He is only now famous because we in this country have adopted it. Unfortunately, I do not believe that he is still alive; otherwise I would nominate him immediately for the commission of the noble Lord, Lord Randall. I cannot do that. I humbly suggest that I might be a suitable replacement to M. d'Hondt as I have had to study this issue in three different Bills. I do not believe that there is a problem here as regards some form of weighted voting.

The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, seems very concerned about rebels. I risk incurring the ire of my noble friend Lord Henley and also my noble friend Lord Jopling whom I still remember for the nice, cheery way he kept us in order in the 1979 Parliament. I suggest that any Member who wishes to vote against his party should receive double points for courage. I have been the recipient of some serious rebellions. Members of this House should be just a little freer than those in the other place as regards voting.

The noble Lord's proposal deserves serious consideration. It deals with the problem of the balance of numbers immediately the Bill is passed. That should be attractive to the Government. Other issues will have to be addressed. When looking at the balance in the House there need to be some Peers representing the Scottish National Party. I am not particularly keen on the idea but, if one is having fairness, it is fair to say that that party received a few more votes in Scotland than the Conservatives. For the record, we gained a few more votes than the Liberal Democrats. The SNP got many more votes than the Liberal Democrats. It is a little unfair that the SNP is not represented at all. Perhaps I may suggest to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House that she talk to her right honourable friend the Prime Minister about the need for one or two—I would not go further—Members from the Scottish National Party. We have one Plaid Cymru Member. I am not sure that we shall see much of him; he has been elected as the Presiding Officer of the Welsh Assembly. The same argument applies.

The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux, invites serious discussion. It is a serious effort to address the problems which I know the Government see in the current composition of the House.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

First, my noble friend Lord Randall of St. Budeaux described the process in relation to Lords reform as not being sufficiently transparent. We have always made clear our position. Stage one is the removal of hereditary Peers, a Royal Commission, and then stage two. It is hard to be clearer. The chairman of the Royal Commission is a Conservative Member of this House. Anyone can submit evidence in relation to it. I cannot think of a clearer way in which to have a debate.

Secondly, my noble friend asked whether the Government thought it appropriate for a number of options to be presented to the Chamber. The Government do not think that appropriate. The Government have a clear policy in relation to reform of this House, in particular stage one. The Government also think that the composition of this Chamber is not just a matter for this House. There are wider considerations beyond the wishes of this House, in particular the wishes of another place and of the people. The future of this House is not a matter to be decided simply by the Members of this House determining a menu for the other place. We do not think that that is an appropriate way to proceed.

Thirdly, my noble friend said that there were two prongs to his proposal: first, that hereditary Peers should survive until they die; and, secondly, that there should be weighted voting. He put that two-pronged proposal forward at an earlier stage of the Committee. At that stage it was not put forward for the interim House but as a long-term solution. He said fairly in the course of his speech on the previous occasion that he believed the general view in this House was that the time for a hereditary legislature was gone. With respect, we agree with him.

The proposal he makes in relation to hereditary Peers staying until they die means that after two parliaments the figure will be 50 per cent of their number. They would survive for about 60 years on the basis of actuarial tables. While I am glad that many of them will survive for a long time, that does not meet in any shape or form our manifesto commitment to remove the hereditary Peers. So we cannot accept the first part of his proposal.

The second part of the noble Lord's proposal is put forward on the basis that it helps the Government meet their proposal to have parity in relation to this House. The effect of Clause 1 to which this House has agreed is that if all hereditary Peers were removed there would be a difference of approximately 13 between the Conservative Party and the Labour Party in relation to the number of hereditary Peers. We believe that it is better to address that disparity by creations to achieve parity rather than a process of weighted voting in relation to Members of the Government and members of the Conservative Party. The way we suggest is more straightforward. It matches the tradition of Parliament in this country: that each person has one vote. It does not fall foul of the problems to which the noble Lords, Lord Crickhowell and Lord Jopling, referred; namely, what happens when advertently or inadvertently a member of one party votes in the opposite Lobby.

With the greatest respect to my noble friend, we do not think that his amendment is appropriate as regards the whole scheme, or is the right solution.

The effect of the Weatherill amendment is that there will be a slightly greater disparity because there are more Conservative than Labour hereditary Peers. But it does not make the disparity so great that it cannot appropriately be dealt with by the direct method that I suggest. We believe that there is no need for a weighted system to achieve parity between the two main parties in the House.

I turn to the detail of the amendment. There is nothing in the proposals about the composition of the commission or its status. Is it to be connected with the House, or right outside it? Nor is there anything about the considerations which the commission has to take into account in formulating its recommendations. I can see considerable dangers in a number of schemes. How does one fix the ratios to take account of the changing membership of the House? Is it to be entirely a matter for the commission to determine how great the Government's advantage over the main Opposition party should be? Is any consideration to be given as to how likely people are to vote in drawing up the weightings? What weight does a vote carry when a Peer votes against his own party?

Finally, I must point out the logical flaw in this amendment. It requires the commission to report before the Session in which the Bill is passed. As I understand it, therefore, the commission has already reported on the basis of these proposals.

The proposals do not stand up either in detail or in principle. I hope that my noble friend will note that with the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, there was essentially no support in the Chamber for his proposal. I hope that he will bear that in mind when he considers what to do at Report stage.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

Before the noble Lord, Lord Randall, replies, has the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, forgotten my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, is much too clever to support the amendment.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux

I refer to the motive underlying the proposal. It is to prevent a massive, instantaneous removal of a huge percentage of the Members of this House. In principle that is the problem. It is the Big Bang approach. I put forward the amendment independently. I have no axe to grind other than to pursue the matter as a Member of this House. If one does not want an instantaneous removal of hundreds of Members of this House one needs a system of weighting in practice.

The Minister stated that he could not support the idea of options. That is a pity. I realise that both Front Benches have made a deal. I am aware that 80 or 90 Peers will have seats. However, I still believe that the House should decide on this issue.

I refer to the point raised by my noble friend Lord Davies of Coity. The issue has nothing to do with block voting. The point was raised that someone from this side of the Chamber might vote in the other Lobby. In that case, the weighted voting goes through. The situation is very easy.

The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, mentioned the confusion. We discussed it over dinner in the Home Room one evening. Perhaps I may put it in practical terms. The position is simple. One would move the column one inch in the printed form which the Clerks fill in. Then one adds up the list in the same way as now. There is then a little "look-up table" because we do not want to do multiplication; and that is it. There is nothing complicated.

Earl Ferrers

I am grateful to the noble Lord for saying that the issue is so simple. I can only say that his idea of simplicity and mine are totally different.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux

We beg to differ on that. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said that we seek to make this Chamber like the House of Commons. That is the last thing we want to do. We are trying to get a House which is independent and has maintained its level of expertise and overall parliamentary system. As regards the "contents" or "not contents", it does not matter which Lobby one goes through because the weighted voting system is exactly the same.

8 p.m.

Lord Crickhowell

I respect the noble Lord for the argument he has advanced about the Bill, but I do not understand why, if we go into the Division Lobbies, he should have two-and-a-half times my vote on any issue about which we might happen to differ.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux

There is an arrangement in this House under which there is a much greater proportion of Conservative Peers than Labour Peers. I have been through the figures of every government defeat since 1997 and I believe that there is total inequity. I believe that the Government are having a rough deal. Therefore, the purpose of the amendment is to try to achieve equity in the voting, but, at the same time, to maintain the independence of the House.

My solution of "even Stephens" is equality for Conservative and Labour—the Government and the Opposition—and I have assumed that the independents would come from the Cross-Benchers and the Liberal Democrats and others. That means that there is a great deal of independence, but at the same time the Government would be able to get their business through in a much better way than has been the case.

These views are debatable and the whole point of the Royal Commission is to confirm that situation. 'The commission will probably need to meet only on two days in order to discuss the matter. It would he extraordinarily simple.

Lord Crickhowell

The commission can decide on the technical details, but it cannot decide on the principle. Perhaps I may give an example of a particular issue which arose under the previous Conservative Government; the War Crimes Bill. I, with a string of Cabinet colleagues in the Conservative Government, went through the Lobby against that Government and against the majority in the House of Commons. It is not the kind of issue on which the membership of a political party should decide that one vote is greater than another. That above all was the kind of issue in respect of which individual Members of this House decided on the merits. I was in the Lobby not only with a number of former Conservative Cabinet Ministers but a large number of Labour Members who took the same view. I believe that all our votes should count as equal.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux

That is the balance of argument between removing a large membership of this House instantaneously and having some other arrangement. That is the balance which must be struck. I have covered the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, in some of my other answers and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, for his kind comment. The balance is very important.

Lord Elton

Before the noble Lord sits down, I should not like him to withdraw his amendment without realising that the work he has done on it is greatly appreciated by Members of the Committee, even though it has not been successful. It has been done with great courage because any deviation from strict protocol is obviously not welcome on his Front Bench. On this occasion, when they are anxious to move on fast, one wonders whether one hears the grinding of teeth from in front of him. He has shown great courage.

I say to my noble friend Lord Ferrers that the system is not that complicated. A minority government is being given 1.7 votes per Member and one defector is worth 1.7 defections. That seems to me to provide a certain amount of equity. I do not want to hold things up, merely to say that the noble Lord has done a good job and I hope that he will not abandon it half-way through.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for those kind words. Perhaps I may say that there has been no grinding of teeth. The Chief Whip has been marvellous to me; he has not raised the issue and has been very kind. I am an ultra Blair moderniser in a House which may be having difficulty. Change is complicated and never as simple as one wishes. I believe that the benefits which can accrue from going down this route are worthwhile and therefore it is my intention to bring an amendment before the House at Report stage. Accordingly, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 [Interpretation and short title]:

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lyell)

I must advise the Committee that if Amendment No. 136 is agreed to I shall not be able to call Amendments Nos. 137 to 139C inclusive.

The Earl of Northesk moved Amendment No. 136: Page 2, line 4, leave out subsection (1)

The noble Earl said: In addressing Amendment No. 136, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 139 to 139C.

Lord Strathclyde

I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend. I see from the groupings list that Amendment No. 137, which stands in my name, has been included. It deals with a different point and therefore we shall be removing it from the grouping and speaking to it separately.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

I am sorry to say that the same applies to Amendment No. 138, which also deals with a slightly different aspect.

The Earl of Northesk

The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is adamant that Clause 1 is wholly effective. Therefore, the purpose of the amendments is to attempt to tease out why the Government have felt it necessary to specify in the Bill any, let alone only two, of the dignities of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales on the face of the Bill. It seems to me that that creates unnecessary confusion and obscures the Government's attempts to achieve exquisite simplicity.

My preference would be the solution offered by Amendment No. 136, but the fundamental point remains. If the Bill is as watertight as the noble and learned Lord maintains, surely there is no need to make any reference to any individual titles or dignities, to whomsoever they may belong. I beg to move.

Lord Trefgarne

I wish to speak in support of my noble friend Lord Northesk and to Amendments Nos. 139 to 139C. The Government propose, as the Explanatory Memorandum makes clear, that the Royal Members of this House shall cease to be Members of this House in the same way as the other hereditary Peers. Indeed, two of the Royal titles are referred to in the Bill. However, I am not certain or clear that the Government have got it quite right. For example, as suggested in Amendment No. 139, the Dukedom of Cornwall and the Dukedom of Rothesay, both held by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, may not be hereditary peerages. Indeed, in the view of some experts they are most certainly not. For example, if His Royal Highness were to die in the lifetime of his mother his title would not necessarily descend to His Royal Highness Prince William. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, has thought this matter through and will be able to reassure us.

Similar considerations apply with regard to the Dukedom of Rothesay. I understand that it was conferred on the original holders in the 14th century and that it is roughly equivalent to the Dukedom of Cornwall. However, there is doubt about it because the Letters Patent have been lost. No doubt the researches of the noble Lord, Lord Williams, have clarified this matter and I look forward to hearing his reply in that regard. Can he also deal with the Barony of Renfrew, the Earldom of Carrick and the so-called Lordship of the Isles that are referred to in my subsequent amendments, which are also held by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales.

Lord Gray

I do not presume to know whether or not the Dukedom of Rothesay was a hereditary title, but it may be of historical interest that it once had an indirect effect upon your Lordships' House because the future King George II, when he was Duke of Rothesay, voted twice in elections for representative Peers for Scotland, and, again the future George IV similarly voted in nine elections between 1787 and 1807. Whether it is a hereditary peerage or not, it obviously held rights with regard to your Lordships' House and membership of your Lordships' House.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

I am most grateful for the courteous way in which the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, invited me to deal with his specific points, and to the noble Earl, Lord Northesk's, reference to a potential problem.

I am only dealing, because of the requests made, with Amendments Nos.136, 139, 139A, 139B and 139C.

As regards Amendment No. 136, the root of the problem is that there is some uncertainty as to whether the Principality of Wales and the Earldom of Chester are hereditary peerages. We wanted to make the position clear, and that is why those two hereditary peerages that are presently occupied by the Prince of Wales are specified.

Lord Trefgarne

Did the noble Lord say that the Principality of Wales is a hereditary peerage?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

There is some uncertainty as to whether the Principality of Wales and the Earldom of Chester are hereditary peerages. That is why I should like to remove the ambiguity.

The same point is raised in Amendments Nos. 139 and those following. The same authorities which raised questions as to the Principality of Wales and the Earldom of Chester are unanimous that the Dukedom of Cornwall, the Dukedom of Rothesay, the Earldom of Carrick and the Lordship of the Isles are to be counted as hereditary, and that is why they do not need to be specifically dealt with. The Barony of Renfrew is not a peerage dignity at all; it is a feudal or minor barony of Scotland. That is why the Bill is drafted in this way.

Lord Trefgarne

I am troubled by the noble Lord's reply in respect of the Dukedom of Cornwall. I am told that it is held by respectable opinion not to be a hereditary peerage for the reasons to which I have referred, among others. I accept that there is less certainty about the Dukedom of Rothesay.

However, the noble Lord has said his piece. He has access to at least as good professional advice as the rest of us and I do not propose to pursue that point and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Strathclyde moved Amendment No. 137:

Page 2, line 4, after ("peerage"") insert— ("means members of the peerages of Scotland, England, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom other than those created under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876 or the Life Peerages Act 1958, and")

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No.137 which concerns a rather different point. The Bill presents a very odd state of affairs in which the targets of the Bill—hereditary Peers—are not defined. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor when pressed on the Lofthouse amendment, said that the man in the street would know a Lord when he saw one. I have not always noticed that, and in any event this is not a safe case for legislation.

Time and again during the passage of the Bill doubt has crept in, although during the debate on the last amendment the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, went out of his way to explain why he was taking certain actions in order to remove doubt. That is what the amendment is proposing. What could be an easier way of dispelling doubt but to include that bog-standard element of any Bill, the definition? The amendment provides such a definition and therefore should be more helpful to the Government in the face of any real challenge than the obiter dicta of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor.

I wonder whether the Government will find something attractive in the amendment. I think it would remove some of the doubt hanging over the Bill. If they cannot accept it, perhaps they can explain why. I beg to move.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

The amendment is technically defective because it would insert the words "means members of the peerages of Scotland, England, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom". A peerage cannot mean a member of the peerage. It should, if that is the desired effect, refer to the peerages themselves.

The essential point is that the amendment is not necessary. It is quite clear what a hereditary peerage is and, more importantly, for the reasons I have specified on earlier occasions, what "by virtue of a hereditary peerage" means.

The words used by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, were: "We are looking for the bog-standard element of any Bill and interpretation clause." As noble Lords who have sat here for a while will recall, many Bills do not have interpretation clauses where there is no possibility of doubt. That is why we have not thought it necessary to go down the route indicated by the noble Lord.

Lord Strathclyde

I thank the noble Lord for his reply, but there is a doubt that has crept in. For obvious reasons, that doubt is not conceded by the Government. There is a doubt about the effectiveness of the words in Clause 1, "by virtue of hereditary peerage". There is doubt about the overriding of the Writ of the Summons; there is doubt about whether all Peers are included and there is still some doubt about the position of Scottish Peers brought in in 1963, or of Peeresses in their own right.

I am certain that the amendment is technically deficient, so I will withdraw it and re-examine the position. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch moved Amendment No. 138:

Page 2, line 4, leave out from ("peerage."") to end of line 5 arid insert ("does not include any of the peers of Blood Royal")

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 138 touches upon delicate ground because it proposes that His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and their Royal Highnesses the Peers of the Blood Royal should be invited to stay on in your Lordships' House at least for the duration of the interim House.

Part of the reason for this was very well and very briefly stated by my noble kinsman Lord Charteris of Amisfield at Second Reading. He said: If all rights of hereditary peers to sit, speak and vote in the House are abolished, I believe that will expose the Monarchy. It will be the only establishment based on heredity".—[Official Report, 30/3/99; cols. 307–308.]

My noble kinsman went on to say that he was not worried for the immediate future of the monarchy with which, as noble Lords will be aware, he has a certain familiarity, but that he hoped that the Royal Commission would try to keep some element of the hereditary peerage in the long-term House so that the monarchy would be less exposed.

There has already been some discussion as to whether removing the hereditary Peers from your Lordships' House does indeed begin to undermine the Throne, but in all conscience many of us believe that it must. The principle of heredity is certainly weakened in your Lordships' Chamber, and the Throne is not very far away.

There is another reason for inviting the Peers of the Blood Royal to retain a seat and a voice in your Lordships' House, at least for the interim chamber. The reason is quite simply that although they have not been in the habit of attending much at all recently, which is perhaps a pity in itself, I cannot help feeling that were they to attend and contribute more frequently to our debates in future, those contributions would be of enormous value to the House and to Parliament as a whole. I beg to move.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

I need to take my cue from the noble Lord who moved the amendment in relation to the delicate area that we are getting to. I am grateful that he cautioned us all about that.

Perhaps I may say generally that this matter was raised on Second Reading. But on other occasions, the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Fawsley, who is not in his place at present, has urged us not to confuse the question of the hereditary monarchy with the reform of this Chamber. I believe that he was right to give us that advice. I reiterate that there is no prospect whatever of any derogation from the status of the monarchy and the Royal Family.

I repeat what other noble Lords have said on earlier occasions. We know perfectly well of examples in continental Europe where the hereditary monarchy coexists amicably, fruitfully and happily with a second Chamber which has no element of the hereditary principle about it.

As regards the particular points, and treading with extreme caution, this amendment refers to Peers of the Blood Royal only. That means, if I have it correctly, the Prince of Wales, the Duke of York, the Duke of Kent and the Duke of Gloucester. It would not include Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. That is the status of the amendment.

The best that I can do is simply to draw the attention of the Committee to the words at paragraph 5.16 on page 30 of the White Paper. Having reassured the Committee, if the noble Lord is prepared to withdraw the amendment and reconsider the matter, I suggest that he should consider with care the views of those who may be affected. I do not believe that I can go further into that rather delicate area.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

I am grateful to the noble Lord. Certainly I will take away his words and, together with others, consider them. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 139 to 140 not moved.]

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 141:

Page 2, line 6, leave out ("House of Lords") and insert ("Appointed Chamber")

The noble Earl said: This is an amendment to make clear what is being done. We all know what is happening; that is, the hereditary Peers are being removed and instead there is to be an appointed Chamber. Therefore, I suggest that the Title of the Bill should refer to the "Appointed Chamber" and not to the "House of Lords". That is the purpose of the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Strathclyde

I wish to speak to my Amendment No. 142, which is an easy and simple amendment. It follows a precedent. It draws attention to a fact which should be obvious and common ground. It is simple. We are witnessing a major change to this House. This is the most dramatic break in the continuity of this House in its history and it cannot be introduced without affecting the other place.

The Government used to say that their objective was to create a more democratic House of Lords—although that has been air-brushed out of the Labour Party evidence to the Royal Commission—and to increase the power of this House relative to another place. For that reason, and for many others, I wonder why this Bill is not called a Parliament Bill and, after Royal Assent, a Parliament Act. Perhaps when he winds up the noble Lord will say why the Royal Commission is denied the right to look at the working of Parliament as a whole.

It is striking what else the Government did not call this Bill. They did not call it a House of Lords reform Bill. They know, as well as we do, that it does not begin to pass muster as a genuine reform of this House. It will do nothing to make it more democratic, more representative or more legitimate. It will do nothing to make it more modern because a Chamber of appointees is a throw-back to the selection methods of ancient times.

I see that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, is to reply. I welcome him to our debates. I hope that he will take the amendments seriously. I very much look forward to listening to his reply. I should be interested to hear also what justification the Government have for choosing such a limited and misleading name.

Viscount Trenchard

The Committee may wonder why I have introduced further amendments concerning the name of the House of Lords Act in my Amendment No. 142A. I have great sympathy with the views of my noble friend Lord Ferrers, which make perfect sense. However, in previous debates, unfortunately, I have not noticed much enthusiasm from the Benches opposite for the proposal that your Lordships' House should be renamed the "House of the Appointed". Therefore, I fear that there may not be enough support for my noble friend's Amendment No. 141.

The amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde is, at first sight, a very logical choice and I should be happy with that. I hesitate to propose a view different from that of my noble friend but there is one reason that I prefer my amendment.

The Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949 deal with the powers of your Lordships' House. This Bill purports to deal only with its composition. My noble friend may well be right that the Bill alters the composition of the House so radically that it affects the House's ability to exercise its powers, the nature of the House itself and its relationship with another place.

The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, and other noble Lords have drawn your Lordships' attention to the politicisation of the House which will result from the passage of the Bill which, it has become clear, is regretted by many noble Lords. However, this Bill is supposed to deal only with composition. "House of Lords Composition Act" sounds rather unattractive and so I propose "House of Lords Membership Act". I know that some Members of the Committee may not like it because the concept of membership of your Lordships' House has not been used much in the past. However, with the passage of the Bill, it will be altered and defined. Indeed, it is used in the Title of the Bill and in the Bill itself. I look forward to hearing the views of the noble Lord on that matter.

Lord Monson

Any of these amendments would be an improvement upon the wording of the Bill as it stands because they describe accurately what is happening. Being aware that governments of all political persuasions always opt for brevity in the Titles of Bills, I favour the amendment spoken to by the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

I calculate that I have spent 46 hours, 28 minutes happily listening to our debates in Committee. My reward is to answer this group of amendments.

The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, returns to a consistent theme of his; that is, the name of the House of Lords. In Committee we have heard different suggestions for names—Appointed Chamber, Half House of Lords, Transitional House, a Chamber of Peers, Upper House, Second Chamber, Senate and House of Peers, as the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, suggested yesterday in adding a Gilbertian touch to our proceedings. He did not get it quite right since the long title of "Iolanthe" was "The House of the Peer and Peri". As every schoolchild knows, penis appeared originally in Persian mythology and came to be used as a term for women generally. I can only suppose that W.S. Gilbert anticipated the remarks of my noble friend Lady Castle yesterday in calling for a non-sexist title for your Lordships' House.

What does that indicate? I suggest that it indicates little consensus and many different opinions about what the House should be called in its second stage. Those remaining in the transitional stage will be Lords. There will be no change in the function of the House. As the noble Lord, Lord Newby, said yesterday, it would be confusing if the House changed its name during the interim stage.

Surely, this is a matter for the Royal Commission. As I understand, the Royal Commission has said that it would welcome suggestions for a possible new name for your Lordships' House to reflect the changing role, functions and composition of the Second Chamber. I do not believe that this is a matter for us, nor should it be so.

I turn to Amendment No. 142 and the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, which seeks to change the title of the Bill to the "Parliament Act 1999". The Bill deals with the first step in a long overdue reform of your Lordships' House, the House of Lords. That is why the Bill is known as the "House of Lords Bill" and that is why we consider it more accurate to call it the "House of Lords Bill".

The noble Lord mentioned the Parliament Act. It is certainly true that the reform Bill in 1968 was called the Parliament No. 2 Bill, but the Bill dealt with the composition and the powers of the House of Lords and, in particular, replaced Section 2 of the Parliament Act 1911.

I turn to Amendment No. 142A tabled by the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard. We believe that this amendment is unnecessary. The Committee's acceptance of the Weatherill amendment ensures that alongside the substantial reduction in the number of hereditary Peers in membership of your Lordships' House in the interim phase, the broad categories of Members remain the same. We shall still have life Peers, the Bishops and the Law Lords and a proportion of hereditary Peers. However, the size of one element of the membership, the hereditary Peers, will change.

As we discussed earlier, the Bill also provides provisions about the disqualification from voting at elections to and from membership of the House of Commons. So the Bill is not just about membership of the House of Lords. I hope that I have satisfactorily answered the points raised and that noble Lords will withdraw their amendments.

8.30 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

When the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, said that he had been waiting for 48 hours and 36 seconds, or whatever, I thought that he was about to please your Lordships by accepting one amendment. Alas! that was not to be.

The noble Lord made one mistake. He said that this is a matter for the Royal Commission, but it is not. We are dealing with the interim Chamber and the Royal Commission will deal with the subsequent Chamber. Therefore, I believe it is a matter for this House to decide what it should be called. I thought 'Appointed Chamber" would be an excellent name as the Bill would read "This Act may be cited as the Appointed Chamber Act 1999". That is what it is. However, I knew I would not get very far. I am happy to withdraw the amendment, with deep gratitude to the noble Lord for having spent so much time here and for putting so much thought into answering the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 142 and 142A not moved.]

[Amendments Nos. 143 and 144 not moved.]

Clause 5 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 144A not moved.]

Schedule [Repeals]:

The Earl of Northesk moved Amendment No. 145.

Page 3, line 3, at end insert—

("15Edw. 2. Revocation of the

New Ordinances


The word "earls" in

the last place where

it occurs.

31 Henry 8. The House of Lords

Precedence Act


In section 4 the

words from "above

all dukes " to the


section 7.")

The noble Earl said: Amendment No. 145 is intended to clarify the effect of the Bill. I hope that the Government will accept the spirit in which it is offered.

The first part of the amendment is to an ancient ordinance of Edward II and seeks to repeal the reference to "earls", appropriately, in the last section of the ordinance. The side note to the section states: Ordinances or provisions concerning the King and the realm made by subjects shall be void and none such shall be made except by the King, Lords and Commons in Parliament".

I feel that that is a fundamental constitutional document of our parliamentary democracy. It establishes for all time that the only legislative authority in the country is the sovereign in Parliament which is the Lords and Commons. In the text of the ordinance we find the words: By our Lord King and by the assent of the Prelates, Earls and Barons and the commonality of the realm".

At that time there were no Dukes, Marquesses or Viscounts, only Earls and Barons. Now we are contemplating changing the composition of the Lords Temporal who may assent to laws so as to validate them. They are no longer to include Earls, Dukes, Marquesses or Viscounts, but only Barons.

Therefore, it seems necessary to amend that ancient ordinance, to delete the reference to Earls so that it will state the position correctly for the future. I believe that there is no need to state expressly that the repeal is not to be retrospective. It is not, and Section 16 of the Interpretation Act 1978 would remove any doubts.

The second part of the amendment repeals some provisions of the Act of Henry VIII which determines the precedence in which Lords may take their places in this House. Perhaps it is not surprising that the other place has not concerned itself with this matter. The words in Section 4 of that Act which are to be repealed are those that provide that, The great office holders of state, the Lord Chancellor being the premier, shall sit and be placed as well in this present Parliament as in all other parliaments hereafter to be beholden on the left side of the said Parliament Chamber on the higher part of the form on the same side, above all Dukes, except only such as shall happen to be the King's son or the King's brother, the King's uncle, the King's nephew or the King's brothers' or sisters' sons".

As Dukes will not be allowed in the Chamber once the Bill is enacted, no matter whose son or uncle they may be, it seems appropriate that the references to Dukes and the King's relations should be repealed.

It is also proposed to repeal Section 7 of this old Act as that provides: That all Dukes not aforementioned, Marquises, Earls, Viscounts and Barons, not having any of the offices aforesaid shall sit and be placed after their ancienty as it has been the custom".

As in future there will be only Barons, this setting of precedence becomes unnecessary and accordingly needs to be repealed. I beg to move.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

The noble Earl has raised two interesting new points. To that extent, this is a refreshing amendment. I congratulate him and the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne—who is not in his place—on finding another issue for the Committee to debate. Today we are invited to consider the particular position of 168 Earls. Perhaps that is an improvement on the one or two noble Lords whom we were asked to consider in relation to by-elections which the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and others, discussed so animatedly earlier today and yesterday.

As the noble Earl has pointed out to the Committee, the amendment proposes deleting the references to "earls" in the final part of—I apologise for my inaccurate classical pronunciation, if it is so—the Revocatio Novarum Ordinationum 1322.

In considering the provision, my expert advisers, in preparing the Bill, concluded that there was no need to exclude those references from the Bill and that they took precise notice of the terms of that arrangement. They decided that was not relevant to the Bill because the Bill before your Lordships will, impliedly, amend that Act of 1322 and, therefore, it will not be open to the courts to find a construction that is inconsistent with the Bill.

My expert advisers were conscious that it may be argued that the reference to "earls" required that some Earls be Members of the House of Lords, or that it required that Earls be voting for a measure before it can be passed. However, that argument was not considered valid.

Secondly, we were supported in our approach not to amend the 1322 Act by the Parliament Act 1911 which envisages the passing of Acts of Parliament without the assent of this House at all. The Parliament Act, as perhaps the noble Earl is aware because he is well versed in these matters, did not explicitly modify the 1322 Act. Thirdly, it is worth noting that neither of the two Houses of Parliament is giving consent according to the custom existing in 1322.

The second amendment to which the noble Earl spoke proposed to repeal a large part of the House of Lords Precedence Act of 1539. We also considered that Act in preparing the Bill and decided against repealing any of it, in particular because in practice the Act only has an effect on three relatively minor aspects. The noble Earl mentioned some of them. The matters on which it has an effect are the question of the Lord Chancellor moving to the left when he speaks; that the Bishops sit on the side of the House designated for them; and that the Crown Office follows the order of precedence for officers in drawing up certain documents.

Without wishing to minimise or underrate the concerns which these matters reflect, we took the view that significant changes in these areas might be more appropriately dealt with in the long-term reform of the House. Therefore, I hope that I have convinced the noble Earl both that the Government were aware of, and also took cognisance of, the points he raised. We did not believe them to be immediately relevant and felt that those matters which might become relevant in the long term could be dealt with in the long term. I hope that the noble Earl will not seek to press his amendment.

The Earl of Northesk

I am grateful for the response of the noble Baroness. I am also gratified that she congratulated me on introducing a new, if old, topic. Nonetheless, I am happy to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 146 to 147 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 148 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.

[Amendment No. 148A not moved.]

The schedule, as amended, agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 149 and 150 not moved.]

In the Title:

[Amendment No. 151 not moved.]

Lord Weatherill moved Amendment No. 152:

Line 1, leave out ("End") and insert ("Restrict")

The noble Lord said: This amendment is consequential on the agreement of the Committee to the amendment in the name of my noble friends Lord Carnarvon and Lord Marsh and myself which was agreed on Tuesday of last week. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 153 to 160 not moved.]

House resumed; Bill reported with amendments.