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House Of Lords (Abolition)

Volume 984: debated on Tuesday 6 May 1980

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

4.14 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to abolish the House of Lords.
The last time that this issue came before the House, when there was a Division, was 16 June 1976, when my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) sought leave, which was refused, to bring in a Bill for the same purpose. I believe that this Parliament should have an opportunity to express a view in principle on the issue. In addition, many of my new hon. Friends wish to place their views on record, so that back in the constituencies those who sent them here can see where they stand on this matter.

In addition, on the Labour side there is now unity on the issue, because, since my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover introduced his Bill, we have had a resolution carried at the 1977 Labour Party conference:
"This Conference declares that the House of Lords is a negation of democracy and calls upon the Government, the Parliamentary Party and the National Executive Committee to take every possible step open to them to secure the total abolition of the House of Lords, and the reform of Parliament into an efficient single chamber, legislating body without delay."
The resolution was carried—I have to say this for the benefit of those who report our proceedings—by a majority of constituency parties, as well as by the block votes. It was carried by 6¼ million votes to 91,000. Those figures clearly show that it was carried by a majority of constituency parties.

It is true that in 1979 we in the Labour Party had a slight hiccup on this issue, but the abolition of the House of Lords is clearly on the agenda for the special conference of the party organised for 31 May and, according to The Times—and I know this from my right hon. Friends—the Labour leadership is unanimous on the issue. Indeed, I suspect that the Division Lists on my Bill, which is one which the Government Chief Whip will now allow to go through unopposed, will be widely circulated to delegates to the conference.

Two red herrings have to be disposed of. I should make clear that no plan to abolish the House of Lords would affect the appeals procedure carried out by the Lords of Appeal. That is one red herring put up when the case is made for the abolition of the legislative body. The Law Lords are appointed, under a different Act from that which deals with life peers.

Secondly, it is not good enough for Labour peers to tell us that we should concentrate on the economic and social issues of the day. You, Mr. Speaker, must know, as my hon. Friends and Conservative Back Benchers know, that no radical reforming Labour Government ever stood, or will ever stand, a chance of getting to grips with those major issues unless we tackle first the constitutional issue at the other end of Parliament. Peers are still, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover said, the Tory long-stop, and that is a negation of democracy.

Of course, the abolition of the House of Lords does not mean the status quo for this place. In fact, the job—if we can call it that—done in another place could, with modifications to our procedures, easily be done here. I shall not go into detail, but some of the modifications could reduce the powers of the Whips on both sides. There may be a role for the House of Commons Commission. You preside over that body, Mr. Speaker, and you always tell us that you do not even recognise the existence of the Whips in this place. There is a case for modifying our procedures to enable us to overcome the problem that may be raised when we get rid of the so-called revising role of the House of Lords.

The House of Lords is a part of our constitutional system which democracy cannot reach. That is why I and my hon. Friends have made speeches such as this time and again. Peers have no authority and no special qualification to rule over our people. There is no reason why the children of people who were appointed under the hereditary system should make laws over the children of people outside.

I come to the question of the Duke of Norfolk. I have said both inside and outside this House that I am prepared to attack what the Lords did on 13 March. I agreed with what they did on its merits, but if we in this House stay silent when the Lords overturn the will of the elected House we are devaluing our case when later we come to abolish them. I believe that we must place that firmly on record. On that day, of course, there was a record attendance in the other place—328. That is an important figure and I will come to it later.

The Lords cannot be trusted to do a job. They cannot be trusted—and this has been seen this year on the Social Security (No. 1) Bill, which is before them—to defend the rights of pensioners. Half the members of the House of Lords are over pension age anyway and one in five of them is over 75. Yet they, with this extra qualification which I have not got, could not find it in their hearts to vote for the pensioners who are under attack by this Government, and they are likely to act similarly when the rest of the Tory Government's legislation to dismantle the Welfare State which they are bouncing through this House comes before their Lordships.

This is how we have to judge their Lordships performance—on how they look at the merits of an issue and cast their votes. We know that in all there are nearly 1,200 members of the House of Lords. I am told by the Library, which has been told by the Whips, that 436 take the Tory Whip, and that is not the real figure because the Tory Whips told the Library that they send a lot of those out for old time's sake. They are leaving that stinking and sinking ship so fast it is unbelievable. Only 164 take the Labour Whir;—and that does not square with the number of life peers made by Labour Prime Ministers either.

We would expect the life peers to be making a greater contribution. We are led to believe that they are made members of the other place for their expertise, their knowledge and not just their past but their future contributions. There are 32 life peers who have not yet made their maiden speech and 23 of them have been there for over 18 months. The showbiz gang, the Lords Grade and Delfont, have yet to make their maiden speeches. This is no criticism of their Lordships; I am just putting it on record that they have not had a chance to make the contribution for which they were appointed peers. We all know that "Lady Lilac" of note paper fame, the noble Baroness Lady Falkender, has not yet had a chance to make her maiden speech, and that is a loss that we all feel.

Not making speeches in the House of Lords does not mean that their Lordships do not attend, of course; Hon. Members should not believe that. In fact, it is on record that over the past few years their Lordships' average daily attendance has been increasing. It has increased almost every year for the past four or five years, and it may be six when this year's figures come out. The last full year for which I have the figures is 1977–78, when the average attendance was 282, that is, those who claimed and signed on. The average number staying for the Divisions in that year, however, was 135. Less than half of those who clocked in to get the £36 a day which they can claim for their fee and attendance allowance stayed. It will be noted that three times that number came down on 13 March.

The Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security, instead of sending his people to stand outside the homes of decent law-abiding widows in Birmingham, should send his shock troops to the other place, because some people outside may say, and constituents have said to me, that they are clearly ripping off the public purse. They do not do a good job and they have no qualification for being there. It is firmly on record that there is unanimity on this issue on this side of the House and it has been thrashed out at our conference. It is only right that, it being four years since we last had an opportunity to deal with it in another Parliament, this Parliament ought to be given the chance to put its views on record.

The hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) has given me notice that he wishes to oppose the motion.

4.26 pm

I oppose the motion moved by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker). The House will notice the terror that he inspired in the Benches of the Lords in the Gallery, which are currently flooded by one Liberal peer.

We have had debates on the abolition of the House of Lords before now. This matter tends to come before this House at times of frustration on the part of the Opposition, especially when the Opposition are a Labour Opposition, who, as the hon. Member for Perry Barr said, have never found it possible to get more than 10 per cent. or 15 per cent. of the peers to accept the Whip.

The last Ten-Minute Bill—at devolution time, four years ago—was moved by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), or, as was said at the time, perhaps the future Lord Bolsover; possibly—if he satisfied the criteria of the right hon. Lady—Viscount Claycross. He asked what the Lords had ever done to deserve accommodation in the Palace of Westminster, let alone a voice in our legislative system. The House will recall that this was at a time when the then Prime Minister had ennobled his grocer, his publisher and his raincoat-maker. In the ensuing vote it was interesting to notice that among the people who opposed it were my then hon. Friend the Member for Montgomery—Mr. Emlyn Hooson—and the then right hon. Member for Fulham—Mr. Michael Stewart—both of whom seem to have changed their minds and are now sitting in the other place.

But the motion on that day was lost, as I hope it will be today, and while on that day we did vote on party lines, with the exception, on this side of the House of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells) and me, I hope that on this occasion hon. Members on the Opposition Benches will bear in mind the debt of gratitude that I think we owe the Lords on the matter of school transport, as dealt with in the Education (No. 2) Bill. The Lords came from wherever Lords come from and they voted handsomely that enough was enough from the Front Bench representatives of the Department of Education and Science. Their vote was against the dedicated life-long party advice; it was a significant vote. As a result, families were not penalised in respect of their children's education for living where they do. I think what have unkindly been called "the Iron Lady's bovver boys in ermine" performed a service beyond praise.

The hon. Member for Perry Barr said that with the Lords established down the corridor there was no chance of constitutional change. I should like to put it to him that Labour Governments have done pretty well in the nationalisation of steel, transport and aerospace, and if this was not unradical and unconstitutional I should like to know what it was.

Of course the Lords have no right to rule, but my submission is that they do not rule. If we had an ideal House of Commons, perfectly representing the nation, always moderate, never passionate, abounding in men of leisure and never omitting the slow and steady forms necessary for good consideration, it is quite certain that we should not need a higher Chamber. The work would be done so well that we should not need anyone to revise it, or take another look at it, because in government whatever is unnecessary is pernicious.

The fact is that our House is not ideal. It is less perfect in its representation of national opinion than any nation that calls itself a democracy. We have had Governments who have sought to speak for the people of Britain. In 1970 the Government was elected by 33·4 per cent. of those who had a vote. In February 1974 that figure went down to 29·3 per cent. and in October 1974 to 28·6 per cent. To put it another way, every time the Prime Minister of the day addressed a representative 100 of his people, 71·4 of them did not endorse his policies, or certainly did not vote for them. In 1979 the figure rose to 33·3 per cent.—still a pittance.

Throughout that time the Opposition have opposed. While they represented a considerable majority of the people, their chance of success lay in resorting to the sort of gestures that the hon. Member for Perry Barr and I have had to indulge in in respect of the Social Security (No. 2) Bill, or in looking to our longstop in the House of Lords.

What do the Lords do? [HON. MEMBERS: "Nothing."] On average, they sit for 155 days in the year. For 52 per cent. of that time they are examining, revising and scrutinising legislation. That is a fact, whatever Labour Members feel. Twenty-

Division No. 281]


[4.32 pm

Anderson, DonaldBrown, Ron (Edinburgh, Leith)Crowther, J. S.
Archer, Rt Hon PeterBuchan, NormanCryer, Bob
Armstrong, Rt Hon ErnestCallaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)Cunliffe, Lawrence
Ashley, Rt Hon JackCampbell-Savours, DaleDavies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Ashton, JoeCanavan, DennisDavis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford)
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham)Cant, R. B.Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)
Bagier, Gordon A. T.Carmichael, NeilDewar, Donald
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Cartwright, JohnDixon, Donald
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony WedgwoodClark, Dr David (South Shields)Dormand, Jack
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)Dubs, Alfred
Bidwell, SydneyConcannon, Rt Hon J. D.Dunn, James A. (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
Booth, Rt Hon AlbertCook, Robin F.Eadie, Alex
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Cox, Tom (Wandsworth, Tooting)Eastham, Ken

two per cent. of their time is spent debating matters of public interest, and 12 per cent. is spent initiating legislation —legislation like the Abortion Bill that my right hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) had the opportunity of making into an Act in 1967.

The Lords have no real power, other that that of what their enemies call "delay" and perhaps their friends refer to as "the power to make us in this House think again".

The Lords are not ideal, as I am sure they would agree, but a country that can ill afford Her Majesty's Opposition, whose job is to oppose regardless of the issue, needs a second Chamber, if only to stop an attempt to perpetuate the Government of the day. The Lords are currently our only protection against the abandonment of the five-year rule. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree with me about the need for the people of Britain to be given the opportunity to replace the Government of the day—perhaps, in particular, that of the right hon. Lady the Prime Minister. This must not be denied them.

Sir W. S. Gilbert wrote:

"The House of Peers, throughout the war,
Did nothing in particular,
And did it very well".

There is an immaculate argument in favour of reform and democratisation of the Lords. But abolition and the ensuing single Chamber would do us no good.

I therefore urge the House to oppose the motion.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):—

The House divided: Ayes 142, Noes 240.

Ellis, Raymond (NE Derbyshire)Litherland, RobertSever, John
English, MichaelLyon, Alexander (York)Sheerman, Barry
Evans, John (Newton)McCartney, HughSheldon, Rt Hon Robert (A'ton-u-L)
Ewing, HarryMcDonald, Dr OonaghShore, Rt Hon Peter (Step and Pop)
Field, FrankMcElhone, FrankSilkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)McKay, Allen (Penistone)Silverman, Julius
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelMcKelvey, WilliamSkinner, Dennis
Foster, DerekMagee, BryanSmith, Rt Hon J. (North Lanarkshire)
Foulkes, GeorgeMarks, KennethSnape, Peter
Freeson, Rt Hon ReginaldMarshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)Soley, Clive
Garrett, John (Norwich S)Marshall, Jim (Leicester South)Spriggs, Leslie
George, BruceMaxton, JohnStallard, A. W.
Graham, TedMaynard, Miss JoanStewart, Rt Hon Donald (W Isles)
Grant, George (Morpeth)Meacher, MichaelStoddart, David
Hamilton, James (Bothwell)Mikardo, IanStott, Roger
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)Millan, Rt Hon BruceStraw, Jack
Hardy, PeterMiller, Dr M. S. (East Kilbride)Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Harrison, Rt Hon WalterMorris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wythenshawe)Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton West)
Hattersley, Rt Hon RoyMorris, Rt Hon Charles (Openshaw)Thomas, Dr Roger (Carmarthen)
Haynes, FrankMorton, GeorgeTilley, John
Healey, Rt Hon DenisMoyle, Rt Hon RolandVarley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Heffer, Eric S.Newens, StanleyWatkins, David
Hogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire)O'Neill, MartinWelsh, Michael
Home Robertson, JohnOrme, Rt Hon StanleyWhite, Frank R. (Bury & Radcliffe)
Homewood, WilliamPark, GeorgeWhitehead, Phillip
Hughes, Mark (Durham)Pavitt, LaurieWigley, Dafydd
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen North)Pendry, TomWilson, Gordon (Dundee East)
Hughes, Roy (Newport)Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)Winnick, David
John, BrynmorPrescott, JohnWrigglesworth, Ian
Kerr, RussellRadice, GilesWright, Sheila
Kinnock, NeilRichardson, JoYoung, David (Bolton East)
Lambie, DavidRoberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Lamborn, HarryRobertson, GeorgeTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Leighton, RonaldRooker, J. W.Mr. Frank Dobson and
Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)Roper, JohnMr. Reg Race.
Lewis, Arthur (Newham North West)Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)


Adley, RobertCormack, PatrickGummer, John Selwyn
Aitken, JonathanCorrie, JohnHamilton, Hon Archie (Eps'm&Ew'll)
Amery, Rt Hon JulianCostain, A. P.Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)
Ancram, MichaelCrouch, DavidHampson, Dr Keith
Arnold, TomDean, Paul (North Somerset)Hannam, John
Atkins, Robert (Preston North)Dickens, GeoffreyHawkins, Paul
Atkinson, David (B'mouth, East)Dorrell, StephenHayhoe, Barney
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesHeddle, John
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)Dover, DenshoreHenderson, Barry
Banks, Robertdu Cann, Rt Hon EdwardHeseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Bell, Sir RonaldDurant, TonyHill, James
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay)Dykes, HughHolland, Philip (Carlton)
Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon)Eden, Rt Hon Sir JohnHunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Benyon, W. (Buckingham)Eggar, TimothyHurd, Hon Douglas
Berry, Hon AnthonyElliott, Sir WilliamIrving, Charles (Cheltenham)
Biggs-Davison, JohnEmery, PeterJenkin, Rt Hon Patrick
Blackburn, JohnEyre, ReginaldJessel, Toby
Blaker, PeterFairbairn, NicholasJohnson Smith, Geoffrey
Bonsor, Sir NicholasFairgrieve, RussellJohnston, Russell (Inverness)
Boscawen, Hon RobertFaith, Mrs ShellaJopling, Rt Hon Michael
Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West)Fell, AnthonyJoseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Boyson, Dr RhodesFenner, Mrs PeggyKaberry, Sir Donald
Braine, Sir BernardFinsberg, GeoffreyKellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
Brinton, TimFisher, Sir NigelKimball, Marcus
Brooke, Hon PeterFletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh N)King, Rt Hon Tom
Brotherton, MichaelFletcher-Cooke, CharlesKitson, Sir Timothy
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'thorpe)Fookes, Miss JanetKnight, Mrs Jill
Browne, John (Winchester)Forman, NigelLamont, Norman
Bryan, Sir PaulFox, MarcusLang, Ian
Buck, AntonyFraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)Latham, Michael
Budgen, NickFraser, Peter (South Angus)Lawson, Nigel
Butcher, JohnFreud, ClementLe Marchant, Spencer
Butler, Hon AdamGardiner, George (Reigate)Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Cadbury, JocelynGarel-Jones, TristanLester, Jim (Beeston)
Carlisle, John (Luton West)Glyn, Dr AlanLewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Goodhew, VictorLloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Carlisle, Rt Hon Mark (Runcorn)Goodlad, AlastairLuce, Richard
Chalker, Mrs. LyndaGow, IanMcCrindle, Robert
Channon, PaulGower, Sir RaymondMacfarlane, Neil
Chapman, SydneyGrant, Anthony (Harrow C)MacGregor, John
Churchill, W. S.Greenway, HarryMacKay, John (Argyll)
Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)Grieve, PercyMcNair-Wilson, Michael (Newbury)
Clark, Sir William (Croydon South)Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St Edmunds)McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)McQuarrie, Albert
Colvin, MichaelGrist, IanMarlow, Tony
Cope, JohnGrylls, MichaelMarshall, Michael (Arundel)

Mates, MichaelPink, R. BonnerStewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Mather, CarolPollock, AlexanderStokes, John
Maude, Rt Hon AngusPowell, Rt Hon J. Enoch (S Down)Stradling Thomas, J.
Mawby, RayPrentice, Rt Hon RegTapsell, Peter
Mawhinney, Dr BrianPrice, David (Eastleigh)Taylor, Teddy (Southend East)
Maxwell-Hyslop, RobinPrior, Rt Hon JamesTebbit, Norman
Mayhew, PatrickProctor, K. HarveyTemple-Morris, Peter
Meyer, Sir AnthonyRaison, TimothyThompson, Donald
Mills, lain (Meriden)Rathbone, TimThorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Mills, Peter (West Devon)Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal)Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexleyheath)
Miscampbell, NormanRees-Davies, W. R.Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)Renton, TimViggers, Peter
Moate, RogerRhodes James, RobertWaddington, David
Molyneux, JamesRhys Williams, Sir BrandonWainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Monro, HectorRifkind, MalcolmWakeham, John
Moore, JohnRippon, Rt Hon GeoffreyWaldegrave, Hon William
Morgan, GeraintRoberts, Wyn (Conway)Walker, Bill (Perth & E Perthshire)
Morrison, Hon Charles (Devizes)Rost, PeterWalker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester)Sainsbury, Hon TimothyWaller, Gary
Mudd, DavidSt. John-Stevas, Rt Hon NormanWard, John
Murphy, ChristopherSandelson, NevilleWarren, Kenneth
Myles, DavidShaw, Michael (Scarborough)Wells, John (Maidstone)
Needham, RichardShelton, William (Streatham)Wells, Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage)
Nelson, AnthonyShersby, MichaelWheeler, John
Neubert, MichaelSilvester, FredWhitney, Raymond
Newton, TonySims, RogerWilkinson, John
Ogden, EricSkeet, T. H. H.Williams, Delwyn (Montgomery)
Onslow, CranleySmith, Dudley (War. and Leam'ton)Winterton, Nicholas
Page, John (Harrow, West)Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)Wolfson, Mark
Page, Rt Hon Sir R. GrahamSquire, RobinYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Page, Richard (SW Hertfordshire)Stainton, KeithYounger, Rt Hon George
Parris, MatthewStanbrook, Ivor
Patten, Christopher (Bath)Stanley, JohnTELLERS FOR THE NOES
Patten, John (Oxford)Steel, Rt Hon DavidMr. A. J. Beith and
Pattie, GeoffreySteen, AnthonyMr. Stephen Ross.
Percival, Sir Ian

Question accordingly negatived.