The plain fact is that the Joint Select Committee, of which I have the honour to be a member, is considering a government draft Bill. I have been accused of opposing all kinds of House of Lords reform simply because the hereditary Peers will in due course come to the end of their time, but that is not my position. As a matter of fact, I am not opposed in principle to House of Lords reform; indeed, I am not opposed in principle to what is proposed in the government draft Bill being considered by the Joint Select Committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. When and if full reform is achieved, the hereditary Peers will of course come to the end of their time.
This Bill—the part of it that we are now to consider first—includes ending the by-elections. The by-elections which were agreed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, and my noble friend, now the Marquess of Salisbury, secured the passage of the 1999 Act. Had those changes not been agreed that Bill would not have been passed—or at least it could have been passed only with the provisions of the Parliament Act, which I do not think that anyone was considering at the time. My noble friend’s Bill therefore seeks to undermine and destroy a clear and categorical undertaking that the by-elections would remain in place until full reform was achieved. This Bill is by no means full reform. Indeed, removing the clauses on the Appointments Commission, as my noble friend now proposes, further removes the Bill from any possibility of being described as House of Lords reform. As one noble Lord said in our previous debate, this was House of Lords improvement. It is hardly that. Above all, it undermines a clear and categorical undertaking given at the time of the passage of the 1999 Act and which has been repeated and agreed by numerous Ministers in almost every Administration since that time.
I therefore ask my noble friend whether he is really determined to take the Bill through—if he can, in the teeth of the opposition of some of us—
I was going to put the Question in any case. The Question is that the House do now resolve itself into a Committee upon the Bill. As many as are of that opinion will say Content.
118: Clause 10, page 5, line 16, at end insert—
“(5) Nothing in this Part shall disqualify an hereditary peer from being proposed to the Commission under section 4.”
Amendment 118 agreed.
Debate on whether Clause 10 should stand part of the Bill.
My Lords, perhaps I may ask my noble friend Lord Steel a question that is germane to the way in which he has reordered proceedings. As my noble friend Lord Trefgarne said, a committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, is looking at the reform of your Lordships' House. We wish that well. When one looks at the Bill that is now proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, one can only assume that he has had an indication that House of Lords reform will not happen in this Parliament and that this Bill is a way of achieving partial reform instead. That is enormously disappointing, because those of us who are in favour of House of Lords reform do not want any Government to use this Bill as an excuse for reform not to happen. Will the noble Lord address that issue when he winds up on this clause?
My Lords, one is judged all too often by the company one keeps. I want to make it clear that the reason why my name is added to those who oppose Clause 10 has to do with a wider purpose which relates to Part 1. Therefore, I dissent entirely from the arguments that have been made so far on the clause stand part debate.
My Lords, I would like the clause to remain in the Bill. I say that on a straight point of principle because in 1999 many of us who disapproved of much of the House of Lords Act 1999 were assured that 92 hereditary Peers would remain in this House until there was a major reform of the House of Lords. Clearly, this Bill does not satisfy that criterion. When we last debated this last year, my noble friend Lord Steel argued that it did. He said that he had the support of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, who was the Lord Chancellor in 1999, who had said that this Bill met the criteria that he had in mind for the second phase of reform of the House of Lords. However, my noble friend Lord Strathclyde pointed out that, notwithstanding that, it would have been unlikely that an agreement such as was reached in 1999 would have been reached with my noble friend had he known that this Bill would have constituted the desired reform.
Things have changed since then, because my noble friend Lord Steel has changed his mind about the Appointments Commission. There is a misunderstanding about the Appointments Commission. In a couple of conversations that I had during the Division, people who voted for my noble friend’s Motion were of the opinion that the Appointments Commission would not be discussed. It will. It is in the Bill. There are amendments to it. Regardless of whether it comes first or last, it will still be discussed. If my noble friend succeeds in removing Part 1, which covers the Appointments Commission, this will certainly not be a Bill to reform the House of Lords. That goes quite against the 1999 agreement. We agreed to that important principle—with hindsight, some of us against our better judgment; I should not have agreed; I should have continued to fight the cause of a proper reform of the House of Lords, a full reform to an elected Chamber, which is what I support. A number of very good working hereditary Peers left this House on an agreement. That agreement will be breached today if the clause is removed from the Bill. To me, that is totally unacceptable.
I recognise the grievance expressed by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne. I understand why they feel as strongly as they do. Indeed, they erect their grievance into a point of principle. With great respect to them, I do not think that it really is a point of principle, but even if it is, there is a more important point of principle: a principle that we were reminded of a little earlier by the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby. We need to consider the reputation of this House. I speak as someone who holds individual hereditary Peers in enormous respect and personal affection. I recognise the quality of the work that they do as working Peers in this House, but I believe that the people of this country cannot see a rational justification in 2011 for the hereditary principle as a basis for membership of the legislature. It is 12 years since that agreement was made. In the interests of the reputation of this House, we need to reconsider the position. That is why the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, has been entirely right to include the provisions in the Bill.
I also note that the Bill would treat hereditary Peers who are Members of this House with the respect and courtesy that is proper. There is no suggestion that they should all be swept away in one fell swoop. The proposition is that over time, as nature takes its course, the hereditary Peers would disappear from the legislature. That is a decent, practical and proper way to proceed. I very much hope that the House will agree with the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood.
My noble friends Lord Trefgarne and Lord Caithness have made points that resonate strongly with me and with several other noble Lords. It is perfectly true that we are now in this position by the consent of a large number of our former noble friends—they are still our noble friends but they are no longer Members of this House—on the strict understanding that the rearguard would remain until a satisfactory position had been reached. That is a point of principle. The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, said very nice things about hereditary Peers, but fine words butter few Peers. We are here on an honourable understanding built on the understanding of many others who served this House for a very long time.
Why, therefore, do I support the Bill—as I do with a heavy heart? It seems to me that the real basic principle is not to do with undertakings that we have been given or the perception of the British public at the present time, it is the protection of the British people from their future Governments down the generations to come. The House of Commons, for various reasons, is now on occasion firmly in the grip of the Government of the day. We saw that very clearly in 2003. I would love to expand on that, but your Lordships want to get on.
The same circumstances would automatically arise if this were to be an elected House. We have to try to find a means by which an acceptable House remains without being replaced by an elected House. Reform is necessary, but it must not be a House made up of people who can be removed by the Whips of any governing party at their whim by deselection. That being so, we have to find something that is workable and acceptable. It seems to me quite possible that my noble friend Lord Trefgarne’s heroic efforts to forge something acceptable from the draft Bill at present before his Committee may fail. What emerges may not be acceptable; in fact I very much doubt that it will. That being so, the search will be on, if time permits, for something else. If that something else is already here and working, there is a good chance that it will last. Therefore, I have to swallow my pride in the past and my affection for the present and leave my loyalty to the British people and to this sad but necessary device.
My Lords, I am very pleased to follow the noble Lords, Lord Elton and Lord Howarth of Newport. I do not accept the general point that they are making about the Government’s Bill, but that is not before your Lordships' House today. We face a specific set of proposals from my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood and supported by many colleagues across the House. Since Second Reading, we have had many expressions of support for Clause 10 and for the Bill generally. It is important to remind your Lordships that they have come from all parts of the House.
I read the two-day debate in June on the White Paper and draft Bill, during which a whole range of views was expressed about this Bill as being the right way forward in the transitional period. This is not an exclusive list, but support came from the noble Baronesses, Lady Boothroyd, Lady Noakes, Lady Taylor of Bolton and Lady Royall of Blaisdon, the noble Lords, Lord Wakeham, Lord Bilimoria, Lord Low of Dalston, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market, Lord Elder, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, Lord Cobbold, Lord Howarth of Newport, Lord Lucas, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, Lord Stewartby, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, Lord Gilbert and Lord Lyell, together with the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, and the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow. There was a great range of support to make progress along the lines proposed by my noble friend and included in the clause. I, therefore, want to address the question that Clause 10 stand part.
The raft of amendments, not just on the first nine clauses, but indeed latter clauses, suggests that the consensus that I thought was emerging for my noble friend’s Bill does not get support right across the House. That has been apparent even from the early discussions today. It would seem to be that only a very small minority, given the overwhelming vote that we had a few minutes ago, wants to hold up the Bill. Clearly, some amendments are aimed at more radical change. Some are probing and foreshadowing discussion of the Government’s Bill. Others are equally clearly intended to sabotage any chance of making simple but necessary changes envisaged by my noble friend.
Before any other Members of your Lordships’ House suggest that we have plenty of time and that it is a long time before we will see any proposals from the Joint Committee—I see many distinguished members of the Joint Committee here today, and I am proud to be a member of it—I should tell the House that we are making progress. Our proceedings have been in public, so I am not betraying any secrets. There is a determination to do serious work on the Bill. I can give, legitimately and properly, a progress report. We have sat in public and have taken evidence from the Minister responsible, the honourable Mark Harper MP. Despite the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Wills, expressed earlier, and indeed the noble Lord Elton just now, we will do the job that a Joint Committee is asked to do, on behalf of your Lordships’ House and the other place, to give real practical scrutiny to the proposals. We have recently decided that we should be aiming our work programme at the planned out date of February 2012. We have specifically refused to adopt prematurely a defeatist attitude.
That therefore means that we should try to make progress, as indicated by the vote this morning. In these circumstances, I suggest that, shorn of the more controversial and complicated appointments sections covered in Clauses 1 to 9, as my noble friend said, we can today make real progress on a useful transitional measure for the next three years until the planned first very limited tranche of new entrants—elected, appointed, or possibly just elected—in 2015. Perhaps I should remind your Lordships that the very explicit statement in the White Paper from the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, supported by other members of the Cabinet, was that they were both,
“fully committed to holding the first elections to the reformed House of Lords in 2015”.
Today the reputation of your Lordships’ House as being supremely capable of constructive scrutiny is once again in question. Other legislation currently before us raises those issues, too. If today proves to be just another long-winded defence of inherited patronage as a basis for the membership of this legislature, I suggest that there will be important inhabitants of the other place at the other end of the Building—not least the business managers, whom I used to have to deal with, so I know what they are like—who may well conclude that the sooner the Government’s Bill is enacted the better. Our reputation for getting on with our business in a business-like way is once again before us and we should do so today.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, rightly makes the point that we are not here to discuss the Government’s Bill today. I shall repeat a point, if I may, which I made in an earlier debate. It does not seem to me that the Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, in any way pre-empts the Government’s Bill.
On the question of the agreement: an agreement is an agreement. I have supported that agreement on three occasions. Of course, I am not a hereditary Peer but an agreement is an agreement, and I fully understood the circumstances in which it was made. I shall not take very much time today on anything, but this is a crucial matter for Members of this House and for the benefit of the House.
On the three occasions that I spoke on this, which is why I shall not speak at length, I was supported by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath who took exactly the same line as me. That is not the only occasion when that has happened. I did not vote because I could not possibly support the Motion but I could not oppose it either, because it was an opportunity for a relevant discussion of some importance and I was not prepared to deny that. I do not sit on these Benches and not vote as a rule, but this was a very difficult situation.
On this question, which is an agreement, it must be kept until a substantial reform is before the House. Without being critical, I am not concerned what any noble Lord says about committees that he sits on, however interesting it may be. What matters is the view that the House takes on what a committee says.
My Lords, I question whether the agreement made by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, in 1999 means that hereditary Peers have a veto—like Mr Gromyko—for as long as one can see ahead. The 92 hereditary Peers will be here for many years. When most of us are dead there will still be hereditary Peers. As Keynes said:
“In the long run we are all dead”.
This is a generous Bill. We cannot go slower than saying that we will suspend by-elections. It is a pity that the noble Marquess is not here today. He made a very clever arrangement in 1999 and got sacked by Mr William Hague as leader of the Conservative Peers for his efforts. An agreement made in 1999 cannot surely apply for all time until there is a substantial change, which some people are sceptical about coming any time soon. Does the noble Lord really think that that gives people a veto, as it were, to interpret this for the foreseeable future?
My Lords, I have a question that is relevant to what was said. It was not an agreement for all time, if the noble Lord will accept that, but an agreement until a certain event took place, which was a substantive amendment of the constitution. That was the agreement. Forgive me for saying this as I do not want to contradict the noble Lord, but I can assure him and a lot of other Members of the House that this was not an agreement for all time.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, is concerned that the general public find various aspects of our arrangements ludicrous, which brings the House into disrepute. The general public give very little thought to what this House does. Because the media think that Parliament consists entirely of another place, they do not hear very much about what we do and therefore do not think about us.
Much is continually being said about the ludicrousness of the hereditary Peers’ elections. It is said that they bring us into disrepute. I do not deny that. However, the principal thing that is ludicrous about the elections is that the electorate is only the hereditary Peers. In the case of Labour and Liberal Democrat elections, two or three Peers vote for many more candidates. That could be simply remedied by making the electorate all the Peers in the party. With hindsight, I believe that is how it should have been.
When stage 2 of the reform of this House has been enacted and comes into force, the 92 should be prepared to go. If any or all of them are offered life baronetcies by the Government, it should be up to them whether they accept them. As I have said before, for us hereditary Peers to be party to abolishing the elections would stick in my gullet. It is tantamount to saying to our erstwhile colleagues, who were so meanly and cavalierly sacked in 1999, and whose only hope of either getting back themselves or ensuring that their heirs did was to be elected: “I’m all right, Jack, and as far as you're concerned, hard cheese”. That is not on.
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway in his recollection of events. The deal with the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and the Lord Chancellor was done in 1999 on Privy Council terms and was not to be overturned unless substantial reform of the House was to be done. Like the noble Lord, I remember the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, confirming this from the Front Bench only three or four years ago.
My Lords, my name is on the amendment. I apologise for arriving late; I had a medical appointment, as happens all too frequently these days. I support what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. He was right that the deal made by the then Lord Chancellor and the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, now Marquess of Salisbury, to maintain 90 hereditary Peers was only a temporary measure until such time as there was full-scale reform of the House—which we still await. The House of Commons had about seven options to choose from and in its wisdom—or lack of it—chose to throw them all out. Therefore we are in this strange impasse. I wonder how long it will go on.
I made a proposal to the Wakeham Commission in 1999 that there should be an upper age limit in the House of Lords. I thought that it was a sensible suggestion. Unfortunately I am in breach of my own recommendation as I have now passed that age. Therefore, it is high time that we moved ahead and got on with the reform that I hope will one day happen.
My Lords, I can remember the debate: I took part in it quite extensively. The agreement or promise was not made by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne; it was a commitment made from the Front Bench by the then Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg. I remember his words. He said that his promise would be binding in honour on all the Privy Council. Therefore, as far as I am concerned, all Privy Counsellors present, including the noble Lord, Lord Steel, should be bound by the oath and promise given from the Front Bench.
The agreement was that a group of hereditaries would be left—which many people did not want—until there was further democratic reform of the House of Lords. The word “democratic” was used quite often. I know that that is not acceptable to some people, but that was what was decided. Therefore, until the other place sorts out democratic reform, it is not our place to pre-empt it and hope to slip it in through the back door.
I take to task the noble Lord, Lord Elton. He seems to think that if we were elected, the whole thing would be a disaster. There are many parliamentary democracies that elect both Houses, under different systems. There are mechanisms by which one can make sure that it is not a complete disaster. The challenge is that if this House ceases to have a sufficiently large elected element, the next time we have a row that is taken as far as the Parliament Act, the other place will say, “You do not have democratic legitimacy any longer. You do not have the authority to change laws because you are not elected in a democracy”. They will remove the residual powers of the House of Lords to alter legislation. That will happen at some time in the next 10 to 20 years; it depends how big the clash is and how frightened we are of pushing things almost to the Parliament Act limit, with the ping-pong going on too long.
Once that authority has been lost, we will become like—I think—the Norwegian Parliament: a talking shop. There will be no point to us; we will become a club for people of great honour. When that happens, it will be a sad day for democracy. What worries me—I know that it worries other noble Lords—is that there are 170 people in the current parliamentary party in the House of Commons who have an appointment in the Executive. Which way round is it? Is Parliament setting the rules for the Executive, or is the Executive tail wagging the dog? Until we sort out proper checks and balances, we cannot afford to go non-elected in this House.
My Lords, as secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary British-Norwegian Group, I must correct what the noble Earl said. The Norwegian Parliament is not a talking shop; it is a single-chamber assembly that has a great deal of authority and status, and a great deal of history. For the noble Earl to describe it in the way he did was most unfortunate.
My Lords, I will briefly raise a few points. I am very proud to be a Privy Counsellor. However, Clause 10 is not about the abolition of hereditary Peers today, tomorrow or whenever the Bill may be accepted. We are talking about a very gradual diminution in the number of hereditary Peers. Therefore, as a Privy Counsellor, I do not feel that I have any conflict of interest in voting for Clause 10.
Perhaps I could suggest to the noble Baroness that the by-elections were part of the deal agreed between my noble friend—now the Marquess of Salisbury—and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg. Her Government, of whom she was then a distinguished member, signed up to the deal.
My Lords, I was a very proud member of my Government, but I was not a member of the Government at that time. As to hereditary Peers, I accept what the noble Lord says, but I believe that we are part of an evolutionary process. Today is the anniversary of the introduction of the first four life Peers in 1958. Since that time, the House has evolved, and our debate today is part of that evolution. I see absolutely no conflict between discussion of these issues today and discussion of the Bill before the Joint Committee.
Like my noble friend Lord Howarth, I recognise the grievances expressed by hereditary Peers in the Chamber. Like other noble Lords, I have huge respect and affection for the work of those noble Lords. However, while I respect and very much like the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, I have to disagree with her. When people think about this Chamber and its composition, they do not understand why we still have hereditary Peers. I understand about the agreement, and I understand what is happening. I must say to the noble Lady that yesterday I had the privilege of speaking with 20 Chevening scholars from India, the brightest and the best of the Indian subcontinent, and when we talked about the composition of this House, they simply did not understand why we still have hereditary Peers. When we have things such as the Arab spring and we are nurturing the new democracies in the Middle East, to still retain the election of hereditary Peers does not seem logical or proper. For that reason, I certainly wish to support the retention of Clause 10, which I believe to be an important, indeed, essential part of the Bill.
As a hereditary Peer, I do not have a grievance about anything and if I have to go, I have to go, but my purpose here is to ensure further democratic reform. That is why I was put here. This is not democratic reform. Until that comes, I should stay.
I think of two very simple facts. First, hereditary Peers who are sitting in this House are in no sense discriminated against as a result of Clause 10. Secondly, it is perfectly obvious that the arrangement for by-elections was always intended to be an interim one. The mistake, in a sense, was not to have had it ending at the end of that Parliament or, conceivably, the following Parliament because it was intended to make use of the reservoir of experience which we had, needed and wanted to keep. We have done it extremely successfully. Least there should have been a too rapid decline, there was an arrangement for temporary topping up.
In answer to the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, it is so clearly for the reason she gives that the topping-up system is a farce. It is undemocratic, and I suggest that Clause 10 is a means of moving on to democracy, which is the reason why it should stand.
My Lords, I have been in your Lordships' House for a period of time, and I refer you to Standing Order No. 8. The problem with your Lordships is that you have very little knowledge of Standing Orders or precedents within the House. I am an elected hereditary Peer under an Act of Parliament, as are others. It has been quite convenient for people over a long period of time to drop the word “elected”, but it was an election. That was an agreement binding in honour on Privy Council terms, and should anyone in your Lordships' House wish to know the background, please just send me an e-mail or letter and I will give you a copy of all the submissions I have made over the past 10 or 20 years. We also take precedence according to the ancienty of our degree. Therefore, I can give way to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, because he is slightly more ancient than me in the date of his Letters Patent.
There was an attempt for a long period of time to ignore the fact that there was an election. I do not support the replacement of current people by the proposed system. What I suggested was that all those hereditary Peers who would like to enter the House should have their names submitted to the Appointments Commission for consideration not as a hereditary Peer but as someone who might make a good contribution in future.
I did not really approve of the election process, but I have to admit I was wrong because the quality of the people who have come into this House as a result of those elections is very high. They have a great knowledge, and they make a great contribution. They become what your Lordships will understand to be working Peers although, as I have pointed out in this House on previous occasions, there is no such thing as a working Peer. A Peer sits here not with a job, other than the 10 who are paid, but with a duty and a responsibility. Certain hereditary elements put upon you a greater feeling of duty. Of course I am here because my grandfather was Postmaster-General. It does not matter; that was the way, indirectly, when my father died, but all my family have been in public life. Those of us who have been in public life have a feeling of duty which overwhelms everything else. I do not approve of the Steel Bill. I believe that we should still wait for the government proposals, and I will support all those proposals.
If anyone goes on saying that I am not elected, I am far more legitimate than those people appointed by patronage. At the moment, we have an overwhelming number of people who do not know each other, do not know the rules and do not know what to do. We should be asking what the House of Lords as it is today should be doing in the community and what initiatives it should be taking, instead of squabbling among ourselves about the future. We have a major economic crisis, we have a whole range of problems and within this House we have an amazing collection of people who do not know each other’s abilities. As noble Lords may know, I have a background on every Peer. You could not assemble these 830 or 840 people, but we fail again to understand communication. Half of them do not have PCs, and we are in a world of electronic communication. I believe this debate should go on. I would regard the Steel Bill as a White Paper or a Steel paper. When I first met the noble Lord, Lord Steel, on the Council of Europe many years ago, he tried to persuade me to become a Liberal, partly because of my grandfather. I think the noble Lord has done a good job. He is quite a crafty worker, and this is a bit of good craftsmanship, but it is too crafty by half.
I hope I may be allowed to explain shortly but clearly why I disagree that this clause should remain in the Bill. Back in 1999, the House consisted of some 700 hereditary Peers and 560 or thereabouts life Peers plus the Bishops and the Law Lords, so the vast majority were hereditary Peers. When the Government Bill came forward, it was to remove all those hereditary Peers, each and every one, all the 700. Never in history, surely, was there a Government seeking to remove more than half of one of the Chambers of Parliament by legislation, but the hereditary Peers recognised that there was a case to be made and in the end an arrangement was reached between, as we have heard, my noble friend, now the Marquess of Salisbury, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg. The hereditary Peers did not have to be persuaded by that argument, but they were. The result was that that Bill passed.
Had that agreement not been reached, the Bill would almost certainly not have passed. Indeed, there were a good many life Peers who were not in favour of it. I believe it would not have passed although it could, no doubt, have been forced through with the Parliament Act. However, there is room for more than one respectable view about whether that was possible. The deal that was then done, the arrangements that were agreed between my noble friend and the noble and learned Lord were to the effect that 90 hereditary Peers would remain, re-elected as necessary as they passed on, and two hereditary Peers—the two great officers of state—would come ex officio, so to speak. That was the arrangement, and the arrangement was to remain in place until House of Lords reform was complete. By no stretch of the imagination does this Bill represent complete House of Lords reform. Therefore, in accordance with the undertaking then reached, this clause ought not to be included, and I hope my noble friend Lord Steel will not insist upon it.
My Lords, I apologise to your Lordships. If it is any consolation to the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, having to attend a medical appointment is not only a function of what age you are. I apologise to your Lordships that I, too, was attending one this morning.
I trespass on your Lordships’ indulgence simply because when those discussions were taking place in 1999 I was there as a humble agent of the discussions and perhaps I can make some comments from the standpoint of one who was actively involved in some of the official negotiations which were supporting negotiations taking place.
I offer no advice to any noble Lords on the decision that they may or may not want to take on the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood. There has been comment about the statement made from the Dispatch Box by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, about the agreement, which the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, has described quite accurately as being binding in honour. Honour is a very personal matter, and I do not think it is for anyone to say to other people how they should interpret what being bound in honour actually means.
I am certainly aware of that. As I understand the way in which your Lordships' House operates, the decisions made in it are made by individual Peers reaching a decision on the matters before them. I was hoping to shed some light on the decision that is about to be taken; I am not going to go into the constitutional theory of binding succession.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, said that the agreement was binding in honour, not on Privy Counsellors—that would be nonsensical—but,
“on all those who have come to give it their assent”.—[Official Report, 30/3/99; col. 207.]
It was passed by overwhelming majorities in both Houses of Parliament on the amendment put forward by the late Lord Weatherill. For my own part, I lent that agreement my assent, although I was not a Member of your Lordships' House, and I therefore consider myself bound in honour.
Why was that agreement made? That has been very clearly expressed. It was made to enable the Labour Government to achieve a long-standing aspiration of the Labour Party to reform your Lordships' House, and I think that most people in your Lordships' House believe that this House is better as a result, although it is arguable whether the Bill would have passed without the Parliament Act had that agreement not been made. It was assented to by the majority of the Peers then in the House, 666 of whom then left the House to enable that legislation to take place, on the legitimate expectation that we would be proceed to—to use the term that was used then—stage two.
Stage two is not defined, and when things are not defined, inconveniences arise, but no one suggested that stage two should be election, or necessarily appointment, or a mixed House. However, everyone in both Houses of Parliament agreed at that time that we would proceed towards stage two. So far as I am concerned, the Bill before us is, as has been said today, in no sense stage two. Stage two could be any of the things I have described, but we have not reached that point, so in those terms I—I cannot speak for others—consider the agreement that was entered into as binding in honour.
I might say to the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, that the nature of the elections can certainly be described by some as being odd. At the time, the Conservative Party and the representatives of the Cross Benches proposed in talks that the arrangements should not be as they are now but should be more akin to a representative peerage and more like some of the other results. Representatives of the Labour Government at that time insisted on the present arrangement, and we, for our part, agreed to that. It was all part of the give and take of the agreement, and we live with the compromise.
Having troubled your Lordships, I will perhaps sit down.
I note as a new Peer the pleasure that that gives to some, but having had that slightly disobliging reaction perhaps I may sit down with a disobliging remark. One of the things that we always have to bear in mind as parliamentarians is the end result of the legislation that we propose to pass. It does not escape my notice that the end result of this clause, if passed, would be, albeit over time, that an all-appointed House of Lords would come into being. As I said in a recent debate on this subject, I believe that that is a perfectly honourable aspiration. I notice a congruity between the many supporters of this legislation and support for the end of an all-appointed House. That would not escape the notice of the country or indeed of another place, and we cannot agree that stage two is an all-appointed House by passing this Bill.
My Lords, I was describing to the House—I could do so at greater length but this is not the place to do it—how Lord Weatherill, as well as the late Earl of Carnarvon and the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, proposed what was set out in 1999 after negotiation. I am referring now to the conditions of 1999 that led to the situation that is now before us, and I believe, as I have said, that I am bound in honour by those negotiations.
I am very surprised that we have not heard from my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire. What is the Government’s view on this? Do they think that this Bill is of such depth and importance that it constitutes the stage two to which my noble friend Lord True has referred, or do they think that we should be bound by the agreement of 1999? As I said, it is very surprising that we have not heard from our government Front Bench on this.
My Lords, the Government are not in favour of undertaking piecemeal reform. We are moving with all deliberate speed towards second stage reform. I am sure that all Members of this House have read the Draft House of Lords Reform Bill. I have now read the transcript of the first two meetings of the Joint Committee considering it. As noble Lords know, we are proposing a wholly or mainly elected reformed second Chamber, which will of course end hereditary membership, allowing for hereditaries to stand for election or to put themselves forward for appointment.
Perhaps I might be allowed to add that I happened yesterday to speak to a cousin of the late Lord Onslow. She reminded me that he liked to say that he saw absolutely no reason why the historical accident that one of your ancestors had got drunk with Pitt—he used a rather more evocative term than “drunk”—should qualify you for membership of a House of the legislature.
My Lords, perhaps I may reply to the debate on whether the clause should stand part of the Bill. My noble friend Lord Caithness and others made the perfectly reasonable point that there was an agreement in 1999. I understand that. I thought that he was well answered by my noble friend Lord Elton in a very honest speech as a hereditary Peer saying why we should now move on. Frankly, looking back at Hansard, perhaps I may quote one or two phrases from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, who was then the Lord Chancellor. He said:
“The transitional House will be of short duration”.—[Official Report, 26/10/99; col. 169.]
He also said:
“The transitional House which will be created as a result of the Bill will be exactly that: transitional and not permanent … The notion that the Government would even contemplate the notion of the Weatherill amendment becoming a permanent settlement, as distinct from a short-term compromise, is fanciful”.—[Official Report, 11/5/99; col. 1092.]
That was 12 years ago. I do not think that anyone in the House at that time, and I was there, ever thought that 12 years later we would still be holding these by-elections. That is the point which Clause 10 seeks to address. We are now further on. We have had many by-elections. No one is suggesting that we get rid of hereditary Peers or that those who came in by by-elections are less worthy than anyone else. They have all made a great contribution to the work of this House.
The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, is correct. By-elections that take place among the whole House for a hereditary Peer just pass muster and in the case of the Conservative Party and the Cross-Benches, less so, but there are some numbers. But, frankly, when a Labour or Lib Dem hereditary Peer dies, the numbers are ridiculous. I do not see that in the 21st century we can possibly stand up and say that people become Members of the British Parliament by heredity and election by three or four people. It is simply nonsense. In order to bring that nonsense to an end, Clause 10 should stand part of the Bill.
My Lords, I understood that I had already answered. The Government prefer thoroughgoing reform and we are moving in that direction with the current draft Bill. We hope that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, and others will give full support to that Bill when it comes through and expedite constructive discussion of it when it reaches this House.
Amendments 119 and 120 not moved.
121: After Clause 10, insert the following new Clause—
“Name of the House
On a date to be specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State, which shall not be before 1st January 2020, the House of Lords shall be known as the Senate of the United Kingdom.”
My Lords, the name of the House is a hugely important issue. Now that the final ethnic cleansing of hereditary Peers that started in 1999 is going to take place, in my view it is appropriate that this House should no longer be called the House of Lords. The question is: when is a suitable date to make the change? Why should it be called the House of Lords when a section of Peers have been refused entry to it? It is absolutely fine as long as a number of hereditary Peers are here, but as a result of the vote it is now clear that the 1999 agreement has been shredded, and in due course the number of hereditary Peers will drop to zero. The purpose of this amendment is to take account of that situation—
No, I am saying that a section of Peers in the broader sense will be prohibited from sitting in this House and therefore it is not representative of the House of Lords. The House of Lords will not be representative of all the Peers. I know that my noble friend is very keen to get rid of the hereditary Peers. After achieving that goal, it is quite right that the name of the House should change. That is the reason for the amendment. The question is: when is a suitable time for that to take place? I have suggested 1 January 2020, but of course I am open to suggestions. There might actually be a book as to who is going to be the last hereditary Peer to sit in the House of Lords. Let us hope that, long before that, we have a fully elected House of Lords and that it can then properly change its name. But as I believe the majority of Peers in this House wish to retain an appointed, unelected, undemocratic system, I think it is appropriate that the name of this Chamber should change. I beg to move.
My Lords, when I looked through the list of amendments that had been tabled earlier in the week, particularly the very large number tabled by my noble friends Lord Trefgarne and Lord Caithness, I said to myself, “I have been in both Houses of Parliament for a number of years but I have never seen such a collection of wrecking amendments”. Wrecking amendments are not a formal part of the machinery of this House, but one recognises what one sees. If I may say with great respect to my noble friend Lord Caithness, there could not be a better example of a wrecking amendment. My noble friends have made it abundantly clear that they do not want this Bill to pass, and that is what they are up to—
I am sorry but I will not give way because I am going to sit down in a second. I do not think that this House should allow itself to be deflected in this way. My noble friend Lord Tyler made a good point in the earlier debate, which is that it does not do this House any credit to become involved in the sort of shenanigans that we are being subjected to today by my two noble friends.
I end with one other point, and I hope that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester will agree with it. I was brought up to love the sinner and hate the sin. My noble friends remain my friends, but I think that they are making a most disastrous mistake.
My Lords, I understand exactly what the noble Earl is saying. It may well be that some of us are going to relearn the process of wasting time in order to avoid a Bill being passed. As the noble Lord says, that may be the motive behind all these amendments. But I do not consider it right for him to say that this is a wrecking amendment.
How can an amendment to change the name of this House in 2020 possibly be a wrecking amendment? It may not be an amendment that will find favour with many people, but it is certainly not a wrecking amendment. But as far as tactics are concerned, it does this House no good for Members to cast aspersions on the motives of other Members. I am sure that all of us who have views on this Bill have good motives. Earlier today the noble Lord, Lord Steel, was accused of being discourteous in withdrawing Clauses 1 to 9. He was not being discourteous; he was using the well-known political ploy of keeping your opponents guessing. There is nothing wrong in that. So let us not start chucking motives around.
Perhaps I may say to my noble friend Lord Caithness that he and I are in agreement on one issue. If and when we get to that point in the Government’s own proposals, I will certainly vote to change the name to that of a senate, so I agree with him on that. But it is irrelevant to this Bill. The noble Earl cannot pluck a date out of thin air and say, “Let’s make it 2020”. It depends on when the Government’s proposals come into effect. The amendment is irrelevant to this Bill, and therefore I hope that the noble Earl will withdraw it.
My Lords, before the noble Lord withdraws his amendment, I was very interested in the suggestion that he makes. Irrelevant of the date, when the royal commission headed by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, sat, I made a written proposal. Included in that proposal was a suggestion that the House should in due course change its name, if we were to have an elected House, to precisely that—a senate. That is what other countries have for their upper Chamber, and it seemed a very sensible way. It also has classical connotations. By no means can this constitute a wrecking amendment; it is merely a suggestion, and I think that it is rather a good one. I hope that it will come to pass. I find myself in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Steel.
My Lords, just to comment on what the noble Viscount has said, the amendment is not relevant to this Bill. It has been put in to enable a debate to take place. Whether people agree with it or not, it does nothing to further the remaining clauses of the Bill, of which this House seems to be in total support. That is my point, and anybody who puts amendments down for that purpose seems to me to be tabling what is properly described as a wrecking amendment.
My Lords, one very short reason for refraining from supporting this proposition is the fact that the Welsh Assembly is known as Senedd, which has been adopted because it is the original meaning of the word senate. Senedd in Welsh means a “law-making Assembly”. If we were to become an English law-making Assembly, it does not seem to me suitable. Senedd and senate would be capable of confusion with each other, so let us for heaven’s sake stay where we are.
My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, will reflect on the word “shenanigans”, which he used a few moments ago. I take some exception to that description. We described at some length—and I will not repeat what I said then—why we objected to Clause 10 stand part. That was not shenanigans; it was responsible and respectable and a decent argument. I take exception to the words used by my noble friend, and I hope that he will withdraw them.
My Lords, I would like to make two, I hope, perfectly sensible points. In previous discussions, the main reason given for removing hereditary Peers at this point was that the public thought that it was an anachronism, that it looked silly and they did not understand what it was about, and all that sort of stuff. If it is about public image, I recommend that we should change the name of our upper House to senate, which is universally understood globally and is taught in politics lessons. That would be the perfectly logical thing to do to pair with getting rid of hereditary Peers. What amuses me is that those who are very keen to get rid of hereditary Peers because it taints this House are also very keen to hang on to the title. I really do not understand that; it is just not consistent and logical.
The other point that I would make is that in all my points that I am arguing, I am arguing against my continued presence in this House much more effectively than if we put this Bill through, whereby I would roll on until I died, with luck—whereas actually I am trying to force an earlier departure by getting a proper democratic assembly. When we go democratic, it will be easier to understand if it is called a senate. Whatever happens, renaming it as a senate would be much clearer and would give a much better image of the House to the public.
My Lords, I wish it to be on record that many of us who believe that there should be a change of name in future, at the appropriate stage, be it an all-appointed or all-elected House, cannot support the noble Earl’s amendment because it is inappropriate at this stage, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said. So casting aspersions about people wanting to hang on to titles is out of place, with that explanation about the reasoning behind our choices.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I listened particularly carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, since your former Permanent Secretary is always somebody you listen to with great care, although one might not always agree with a former Permanent Secretary, or even from time to time with a Permanent Secretary. I tabled this amendment because I wanted to look at the situation that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, mentioned when he intervened. He agreed with me that the name needs to change, but do not let us do it now—let us wait for the government Bill. That is my argument about the Steel Bill—let us wait for the government Bill. It is in a Joint Committee.
My noble friend Lord Steel is a very crafty politician, much craftier than me. He has been down the other end and learnt in the real mill of politics. One is just a humble hereditary Peer. But I would use exactly the same argument that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, has used against me against his whole Bill. Let us wait for the government Bill. But what happens if we do not get a government Bill? We have taken long enough to get to this stage of reform of the House of Lords. What happens if the hereditary Peers die out and this has not been faced? I wonder how the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, sees that one being tackled.
As for my noble friend Lord Jenkin, he is entitled to his opinion. I do not comment on the amendments that he put forward on other Bills, and if he believes what he believes that is fine by me. The amendment is trying to resolve what undoubtedly many in the House see as a potential problem in future. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, that the House should be called a senate and that the sooner that it is fully reformed into an elected Chamber, the better. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 121 withdrawn.
122: Before Clause 11, insert the following new Clause—
“Termination of membership of House of Lords
(1) Members of the House of Lords shall, subject to subsection (2), cease to be members after the end of the session of Parliament during which they have completed 15 years of membership.
(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), the period of time prior to the date on which this Act received the Royal Assent shall be treated as half its actual time.
(3) This section does not apply to any period of membership as a Lord Spiritual.”
If the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, is not going to move the amendment, I shall do so, as is I believe in accordance with procedure.
This amendment results, if I may say so, from the shenanigans of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, in changing around the order of consideration. The amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, declines to move, which I now move on his behalf, relates to the earlier part of the Bill. We are now not considering that amendment because we have, apparently, deferred consideration of the earlier part of the Bill. That points to the difficulties created by what the noble Lord, Lord Steel, decided to do late last night in tabling his amendment, reordering consideration of the clauses. I do not intend to pursue the matter further, but I suggest to your Lordships that the reordering that your Lordships agreed to earlier today was not perhaps as straightforward as many noble Lords may have imagined. I beg to move.
My Lords, I wonder if I could ask a question of those constitutional experts, and I am sure there are many sitting in your Lordships' House today. We heard earlier that Clauses 1 to 9 will be debated after Clauses 10 to 19. If that is the case, will any noble Lord who has amendments listed in the Marshalled List, as this amendment is, be able to move any amendments to those clauses when we have already passed through the list of amendments that is before us?
My Lords, today has been disappointing for many reasons, not least because amendments have been withdrawn. I had looked forward to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, explaining how he arrived at the magic figure of 15 years. That 15 years is in the government Bill, all the Government White Papers and so on. What is magical about 15 years? No one has explained it. I make the rather acid comment about the possible lifestyle of 15-year senators—or Peers or whatever—appointed: they will have five years to learn the job, five years to do the job and five years to look for a job.
My Lords, as we have been debating the problem of reordering the Bill at the last minute, will the Government be able to use this mechanism in considering the health Bill, which will be highly contentious? I can see huge opportunities for managing to mess people up with the order of amendments.
My Lords, it will be important when we get to Amendment 123 to recall that the other amendments in the group—Amendments 4, 6, 58 and so on—will be highly relevant to that debate because they are consequential on Amendment 123. They will presumably be debated. Your Lordships will need to look at the earlier part of the Bill when considering Amendment 123 —as presumably noble Lords will.
Again I apologise to the noble Lord. As I was saying—I will say it again quickly—we are now dealing with the confusion caused by my noble friend Lord Steel insisting upon reordering the consideration of these clauses. I will not pursue the consideration of the amendment, which I shall withdraw.
Could we have an answer to the question posed by my noble friend Lord Astor? That is quite relevant to our future discussions. Can we come back to this amendment or to my consequential amendment—which we are about to come to—when we debate the original amendment from which these consequential ones flow?
My Lords, while my noble friend on the Front Bench receives some advice, perhaps I could help your Lordships. I have amendments to Clause 5 in Part 1 of the Bill. I am confused: should we come to Clause 5 after we have dealt with Amendments 10 to 19? Will I be able to move amendments to those clauses? If my noble friend has received some expert advice, I would be grateful if he could answer that question.
My Lords, the House decided earlier today to take amendments in a certain order: that is, Clauses 10 to 19 and then Clauses 1 to 9. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, said that certain amendments were not to be moved. It seems difficult to move an amendment if it is not there in the first place, but that is the way it will be done. We are proceeding now with Clauses 10 to 19 and they will be followed by Clauses 1 to 9. Matters will be dealt with in order at that time.
My Lords, this is abusing procedure in a dangerous way. The noble Lord is saying that, should the Government wish to use the Steel mechanism on something such as the health Bill, they could reorder it in such a way that knocks out subsequent amendments because they are consequential on an earlier amendment to be moved later—and there would not be time to reschedule them. The whole of the amendment list should have been rejigged when this was proposed, in such a way that the consequential amendments were in the right order. This is an abuse of process. I do not like that sort of thing happening in Parliament, and certainly not in the Upper House.
My Lords, the House decided earlier this morning the order in which it wanted to discuss a Private Member’s Bill. When it comes to government Bills, noble Lords will recall—as on many days—that we have a commitment Motion and the order in which things are to be debated is listed. Often that is in numerical order but sometimes, for the convenience of the House, it is put in a different order. With government business—this is not government business—that is done some days before the business comes before the House.
My Lords, could my noble friend clarify this so that I am absolutely sure? As he rightly said, we are now debating Clauses 10 to 19 and following that we will debate Clauses 1 to 9. When that happens, will the House allow me to go back up the list of amendments and move, for example, Amendment 75 to Clause 5?
My Lords, before I withdraw the amendment—as I will do in a moment—is it not clear, following the Motion moved by my noble friend Lord Steel this morning and agreed by your Lordships, that we are now in a considerable state of disarray as far as these clauses and amendments are concerned? I am not particularly bright or talented but I have had the privilege of being a Member of your Lordships’ House for nearly 50 years. I cannot remember how many committees I have take part in or even led from the Dispatch Box. I have never found myself in this disarray before. Plainly, I think that noble Lords took the decision to reorder consideration of these clauses without the benefit of adequate advice. Did we not understand that the confusion now reigning would take place? I suspect that there is not much that we can do about it now unless we decided to adjourn for a moment to allow the clerks to reorder the Marshalled List. If that is not to happen—I do not suppose that it is—I shall beg leave, for now, to withdraw the amendment, unless, that is, my noble friend has some more to say.
It may be helpful to read out paragraph 8.65 in the Companion:
“Each amendment on the marshalled list and each manuscript amendment is called in turn by the Lord on the Woolsack or in the Chair, subject only to pre-emption. An amendment which has been tabled need not be moved, but if none of the members named as supporters of the amendment moves it any other member may do so”.
That is quite clear on what can happen. Noble Lords will have noticed with care that, although I have been sat here for quite a time, I have not spoken. That is because this is private business. It is not government business and the House decided what to do. It was in the hands of the House and the House decided—there was a vote—that noble Lords would take the back half of the Bill first and then come to the front half. That was decided earlier today.
My Lords, I of course accept that the House decided to agree to my noble friend Lord Steel’s Motion earlier today and that is that. I suggest that it might have been better had the Minister offered some advice on the result of agreeing that Motion while your Lordships discussed it. Be that as it may, he did not do so and we are now somewhat confused. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment that I moved on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart.
Amendment 122 withdrawn.
Clause 11 agreed.
Clause 12 : Permanent leave of absence by reason of failure to attend the House
123: Clause 12, page 5, line 27, leave out “member of the House of Lords” and insert “Member of the Legislature”
I beg leave to move the amendment. It is part of a series of amendments intended to remove titles from those Members who wish to stay in the House. I am not sure that it will command very much support. I want to leave it for later in the Bill. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 123 withdrawn.
124: Clause 12, page 5, line 33, leave out “sufficient” and insert “reasonable”
My Lords, this is a small amendment—so small that even my noble friend Lord Jenkin will not be able to accuse me of tabling a wrecking amendment. I say to him that the only time that I ever hear that phrase “wrecking amendment”, one could substitute it with, “This is an amendment that I do not agree with”. We sometimes hear that far too often.
Clause 12 is about:
“Permanent leave of absence by reason of failure to attend the House”.
I support the clause in principle. For noble Lords who are no longer able to attend your Lordships’ House, it seems to be sensible. However, my amendment concerns the clause which says that the House of Lords may,
“by Standing Order make provision for a member to be excluded”,
and then, by application, come back. There are Members of your Lordships’ House who perhaps get appointed to some important government post abroad, or for some reason are doing something so that they may or may not be able to attend. We certainly do not want to lose them.
In the Bill, the reason is deemed to be “sufficient merit” for subsection (1) not to apply. My amendment leaves out “sufficient” and inserts “reasonable”. Your Lordships’ House has always been governed by reason and reasonableness. There should not be arguments in the future as to whether something is or is not of “sufficient merit”. Who is to say, if a Member of your Lordships’ House is appointed an ambassador or a high commissioner abroad, as has happened in the past, whether that country being regarded as important is “sufficient”? If they are sent to be governor of Gibraltar, is that regarded as not “sufficient”? We should have a test that is based on a choice of words with which I would hope your Lordships feel more comfortable. That is why I inserted the word “reasonable”. I beg to move.
Amendment 124 agreed.
125: Clause 12, page 5, line 34, at end insert—
“( ) A Member of the House of Lords who has taken leave of absence will not be subject to the provisions of this Part.”
My Lords, now that this wonderful reasonable atmosphere has taken over the Committee, I have no doubt that my noble friend Lord Steel will also accept this amendment. It is a very simple amendment, because there is already a leave of absence. If somebody has genuinely taken a leave of absence under the existing system before the provisions of this Bill come into effect, why should they be subject to them?
Amendment 125 agreed.
Clause 12 agreed.
Clause 13: Permanent leave of absence: consequence for membership
Amendment 126 not moved.
Clause 13 agreed.
Clause 14: Right to vote and stand for election to the House of Commons
Amendment 127 not moved.
Clause 14 agreed.
128: After Clause 14, insert the following new Clause—
“Part 3ARetirementRetirement age
A member of the House of Lords shall not be entitled to receive a Writ of Summons after their 75th birthday.”
My Lords, I do not think that my noble friend will be quite as receptive to this amendment as he was to my last. We now face the problem that we have all been skirting around today, but which we have earlier debated on numerous occasions: the question of the size of this House.
It is hoped that a retirement system will encourage people to leave the House. I do not think that that is going to work at all. I do not see it working under the present system of leave of absence. Not many Peers have now taken it, although I have used a leave of absence when I was in my 20s; I was told that it was appropriate to do so if I was not going to be a regular attender in your Lordships’ House, so I did for three years. However, the procedures that we all followed then have fallen into disrepute, and it is not done to the same extent. There is a retirement scheme at the moment, and I understand that two of your Lordships have taken retirement, but I do not think that what my noble friend proposes in the Bill will work.
My noble friend Lord Trefgarne and I have tabled a new clause in Amendment 128, which states:
“A member of the House of Lords shall not be entitled to receive a Writ of Summons after their 75th birthday”.
It is important that the House plays a proper role in the legislative affairs of the nations. It can be debated whether the House is any better now than it was pre-1999; that is an argument into which I will not enter. However, as some of your Lordships may have read in the recent leaders, there has been some pretty unfavourable comment about how the House is behaving and working. Many of your Lordships have complained that there are far too many Peers, so the proposal that my noble friend and I have made is that there should be a retirement age of 75. Yes, we are undoubtedly going to lose some expertise from time to time, but the average age of this House is 69 according to the noble Lord, Lord Tyler. I do not know of any other institution or corporate body where the average age is 69. I have now been here for 40 years, and I am still below the average age of the House. To me, that is an absolute nonsense. It has worked very well, I have enjoyed it and I am extremely grateful. However, in 2011, it is not a terribly good way. If the average age of the House is 69, it should be made younger.
My noble friend Lord Trefgarne and I have therefore tabled the amendment. It refers to the 75th birthday; I am open to arguments for 70 or even perhaps 80. But we should at least have this debate, which is really important because it will reduce the size of the House which has been a cause of concern to so many people. I beg to move.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Caithness is right. I am not going to suggest that we accept the amendment for the simple reason that the clauses that we have now passed put the matter in the hands of the Government. We have given statutory authority in accordance with the recommendation, which I am holding in my hand, from the all-party committee under the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral. Perhaps I may quote from that. He said:
“On the evidence of our extensive consultations, we are confident that there is a broad consensus in the House in support of a provision to enable members voluntarily to leave the House permanently, in order that the overall size of the House may be reduced as soon as possible. We hope that this broad consensus might now be taken as the starting point for a way forward … we are advised that legislation would, strictly speaking, be necessary to override the entitlement to a Writ of Summons”.
I am with my noble friend in his intent, but it is not right to try to prescribe today, in the course of a Committee stage, what the age should be. We should leave that to the Government and the consensus which the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, suggested exists. If the Bill goes through, we will have given the Government the statutory authority. It will then be up to the Government by statutory instrument to come back to the House and produce a scheme which will enable the numbers in the House to be reduced. We should not do it in this arbitrary manner now.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Steel, says that he does not want to do anything in an arbitrary manner. That may well be right as far as this proposal is concerned—although, frankly, I do not think that it is—but that is not the view that he has taken on other aspects of his Bill, when he has made it quite clear that he was not in the least bit interested in waiting for whatever the Government proposed, even though a Bill has been brought forward for consideration by the Joint Select Committee.
Confining my remarks precisely to the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Caithness, to which I have added my name, I think that the age of 75 is about right. At present, most judicial appointments—I think virtually all of them, including magistrates—have to retire at age 70. I do not think that there is any proposal that that younger age would be acceptable as far as your Lordships are concerned. Indeed, in answer to a question from me the other day, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, the Minister for Justice, said that this matter might be reconsidered in legislation next year. I happen to think that 75 would be a good age for magistrates, for judges of all the different courts and Members of your Lordships' House to retire. The amendment has some merit and some force and I hope that your Lordships will agree to it.
My Lords, I am not sure that I agree with that. We have to be very careful in setting a limit. I declare an interest, being over 75, as one could say, “Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?” On the other hand, it is worth remembering that a respected demographer has recently told us that the person who is going to live to 150 has already been born. We have to take into account the fact that the pensionable age is now much higher than it was and that there is still a lot of life left in a lot of people who are aged 75. I agree that we need to reduce the numbers in the House, but this is not the way to go about it. There are other avenues to pursue to reduce the size of the House. I would be very wary of depriving it of the benefit of having some great experts. Under the proposal, when they had passed 75, they would not be invited to return in the subsequent Parliament.
My Lords, a previous proposed new clause was intended to get rid of your Lordships who cannot come to your Lordships' House; this amendment is intent on getting rid of some of your Lordships who do come to your Lordships' House and play a role in our proceedings.
The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, said on an earlier amendment that elections to hereditary peerages surprise and confound those who do not understand the proceedings of your Lordships' House, which is certainly true. Another thing that confounds them is the fact that your Lordships’ Chamber is the second largest legislative Chamber in the world, second only to the Chinese National People’s Congress. It is quite frankly absurd for us to go along and defend the number that we have in this place compared with that in another place. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, mentioned that this House should do something to reform itself to give itself more respectability to the outside world and show that we understand the concerns. One of the concerns that are constantly expressed to me is the number of Members who sit in your Lordships' House. We need to do something about it.
Seventy-five might not be the right age. I am not entirely sure what the retirement age for High Court judges is, but a retirement age, be it 70 or 75, would seem to be one possible solution. The noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, declaring an interest, was against that. Other alternatives have been promoted in the past; for example, when your Lordships have sat here for 15 or 30 years, they should also be retired. I declare my interest in that that would affect me, so, quite naturally, I am thoroughly against the proposal. However, it is for this House to consider this matter very carefully. It is also for my noble friend on the Front Bench and the Leader of the Opposition to come before your Lordships and say what the main political parties in this country feel that they can do about the size of this Chamber. We know that there is going to be long-term reform, but we really ought to address the issue beforehand because it is important.
When I declared an interest, it did not imply that it was in self-interest that I was making the argument that the House would be deprived of a lot of expertise; I was speaking of a lot of other people. It is worth recalling that, since the noble Viscount spoke of the Chinese People’s Republic, I do not know of any other upper Chamber where there happens to be such a limit. If one is going to go down a different route, perhaps the noble Viscount might consider it a good idea if we limited the number of new creations. That would be one way of getting the size of the House down.
My Lords, it is a foolish idea to set an arbitrary age limit. There are some people who are pretty brain-dead by about 40, and there are some people who are highly intelligent in their 90s—I think immediately of the late Lord Renton and Lord Bruce of Donington, who always gave grief to his Front Bench on EU matters, because he knew far more than anyone else about it. The list goes on and on. To deprive the country of the accumulated wisdom of people such as that would be about the most foolish thing that we could do. Let us find some other mechanism. As has quite rightly been said, we are ageing now. An age limit might fall foul of the Equality Act, because we have removed the retirement age elsewhere—we are forcing companies in the corporate world to keep people for as long as those people wish to stay there. Why on earth are we operating in the opposite way? If we are finding it difficult, we should not be doing special legislation for Parliament. Let us keep our wisdom.
My Lords, I declare a special interest, at the age of 84, although a number of others no doubt share that antiquity with me. Those who have emphasised the importance of a sensible approach to this question pose their premise on their declared recognition of the wisdom of the House. If we are as wise as some colleagues have already said we are, we would surely be profoundly unwise to take a decision of this importance, which has been brought before us at a few hours’ notice. It certainly deserves more consideration than it is likely to get before the luncheon Adjournment. I oppose the proposition, not just out of self-interest but out of sheer sanity and respect for the reputation of this House.
My Lords, given that the rationale used by every speaker who wants to support the proposed new clause has been to do with the size of the House being too great and the need to reduce it, is it not a fact, and I ask the Minister to comment on this—
No, you cannot.
Okay, he cannot answer. I did not know that. The Minister has some responsibility for implementing the coalition agreement which has led to the dramatic escalation in the size of the House. By virtue of the ludicrous formula in that agreement, the House has to reflect the voting in the previous election. If we were to take the last election as an example, there would be 1,100 in this House if we did not get rid of anybody. The getting rid of somebody is not to do with age but with this ridiculous formula. In order to reduce the size of the House you may as well say, “Let us get rid of people by lot”, or, “Let us get rid of everyone whose surname begins with L, M, N, O or P”. There is as much sense in this proposal as that.
My Lords, in reference to age, I was put on various committees at a very young age. I was told, “My dear chap, you are far too young for this but we want someone to be alive at the time when something happens”.
Desmond Morris, a friend I admired, wrote The Naked Ape and also wrote on longevity, which is related indirectly to dementia. As you get older, you forget where you have put your car keys or whether you have ordered two glasses of wine in the bar, but your long-term memory gets better and better. Part of his thought process was that what keeps people alive for a long age is using their brains and being active. This we have looked at in dealing with the older population. If there was an attempt to introduce an age of 75 it would mean many Peers leaving this House—I shall not give your Lordships today the scary number, from my figures, of how many would go but it is quite considerable—and we would probably be leading them to an earlier death than would otherwise be the case.
I very much agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, said about age. He mentioned the Chinese. The Chinese believe very strongly that, as you get older, you get wiser. That may be the case with many people but, being well over the age limit, I am not sure that that is so in my case. We should consider this matter very carefully. Certainly an age limit of 75 is fairly absurd.
My Lords, I sometimes make the point that teaching students makes me realise that I am not that young but being in the House of Lords makes me realise that I am not that old.
My noble friend Lord Astor made an appropriate point when he referred to the problem of the size of the House. However, he then went on to refer to Members who sit, as if the two things were the same. I would distinguish between the two. There is a problem with numbers, but I do not think we should focus on those who sit—that is, those who turn up and contribute to the work of the House. We are trying to deal with it at the other end rather than through those who make an active contribution.
I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, about leading figures in the House who have been over 75. One could add the names of Lord Wilberforce and Lord Simon of Glaisdale among those who have influenced the House in a number of the decisions that it has taken. Without them, the statute book would have been much the worse. Focusing on age is to come up with the wrong solution to what my noble friend has identified as a real problem.
My noble friend makes an important point about the problem of those who do not attend as well as about those who do. However, there is a problem in both areas. Very often your Lordships’ House is overfull and some of us have to sit below the Bar, and that is quite unusual in my experience. We need to find a way of reducing the size of your Lordships’ House. Whether an age limit is the right way forward is a matter for your Lordships to consider. That, of course, would apply equally to those who do attend and those who do not. There are other ways, too, of dealing with the numbers, as several noble Lords have suggested. For example, you could have a ballot as you do for hereditary Peers, but I guess that that is not now very popular.
However, there are ways of doing it. Something has to be done and it is a pity that the Bill of my noble friend Lord Steel did not begin to address the problem.
My Lords, I agree that we have to reduce the numbers in this House; I do not think putting an arbitrary retirement age on Peers is the right way to do it. Apart from all the arguments against it which we have just heard, which are quite valid, it would be too haphazard. We will need to be a little more precise in our aim when we come to reduce our numbers.
I am a little worried that we will reduce the numbers too much. I have an idea that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, would like to see a House of 300 people. I am a little worried because, if all the existing committees are to be staffed and government posts to be filled, I do not think 300 Members will be sufficient. I think we would be looking at nearer 500. There are 375, or thereabouts, places on our various committees and, although some sit infrequently and can be sat on by people who sit on committees that meet every week, that does not take account of government Ministers or the various other party Front Benchers. They amount to another 60, minimum. So you are getting quite near 500. I am of course talking about a voluntary House such as we have at present, and not one where the Members receive salaries and can be expected to work non-stop.
My Lords, the debate has wandered a little from the amendment under consideration to the broader proposals the Government have produced. Let me remind the House that, as has already been stated, under the Government’s proposals Members of this House will serve for a term. That will resolve the question of an age limit.
Amendment 129 is grouped with Amendment 128 and, under these two amendments, there will be an upper age limit for the House of Lords but not an upper age limit for membership of the House of Commons. It is specifically allowed for in Amendment 129 that Members of this House, on retiring at the age of 75, will be free to stand for election to the House of Commons.
My Lords, if we have an upper age limit for membership of this House we will be throwing away a terrific amount of experience and wisdom. The vast number of noble Lords who came in with the increase since the last election were appointed to this House by the leaders of the political parties in another place. It is not the fault of this House that its numbers have grown. I suggest that as, say, five Members of this House die and, therefore, no longer sit, they are replaced by only two or three new Members. We will need new Members to keep new and younger blood coming to the House, but in that way we could have a gradual reduction in numbers.
My Lords, again, I am grateful to all of your Lordships who have taken part in this debate. Let me start with my noble friend Lord Swinfen, who has just sat down; I hope that he will bring forward an amendment on his proposals.
I absolutely take the point about losing a lot of wisdom from people over 75. It was a concern of mine when we tabled this amendment but it was right to have had this important debate. My noble friend Lord Norton of Louth said, quite rightly, that we must differentiate between active and passive Peers. I would only say to him that he should have supported me when it came to the abolition of hereditaries in 1999 because all that Bill did, in fact, was to get rid of about 90 active hereditary Peers. The majority of the hereditary Peers who were excommunicated from this House were not active Members and although the House appeared large in number, if we ever got a vote of 300 in those days it was indeed a large vote, as the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, will remember. That argument should have applied to hereditary Peers but it was of course an inconvenient argument for the Government to accept. It will be a convenient argument for them to accept this time but it was inconvenient 12 years ago.
That brings me to the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, who said that I have an amendment to limit the House to 300 people, which indeed I have, and that we could not staff the existing committees. To follow up on what I have just been saying, pre-1999 we did not have the number of committees. It is only because we have grown like Topsy that we have increased the number of committees, and we will go on increasing them. There is no end to the demand that we must have a committee for this and a committee for that and, as the numbers increase—which they undoubtedly will until we get a proper reform of this House—we will keep on increasing the number of committees. I think that one should get to a number and then ask, “Right, what is the best way for those people to make themselves work in an efficient way?”, and if that means getting rid of some committees, so be it.
The debate we have had brings me to the point that the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, made on, I think, 4 June —maybe he will correct me—when he wrote this, which your Lordships can find on the Guardian blog:
“The old guard are already lining up to defend the status quo”.
That is clear from the debate that we have had. There is always something wrong with the amendment that is put forward. There must be other amendments and a different way of doing things. The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, said that we must find another mechanism. I have put forward a mechanism and it has not received any great support but there is not another mechanism. We are therefore going to be faced with this continual problem of an increase in the size of the House, and of the active House.
I will, again, be referring in due course to some leaders that have been written in the papers recently about how this House works. I have increasingly come to the conclusion that in their writings my noble friends Lord Steel and Lord Tyler are both right, for what is this House designed to do? We have not discussed that. We are talking about reforming a system that is creaking at the seams without looking ahead to ask, “What should a second Chamber do?”. It would not be this House of Lords but having got what a second Chamber should be doing, you then work out how it is composed. I see my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth nodding. It is very unusual that we agree on reform of the House of Lords but this is one of those rare moments that one cherishes.
We are, again, putting the cart before the horse. Clearly, age is a non-runner. I accept that but it has been extremely worth while because at least my noble friend Lord Trefgarne and I have put forward a proposal to be discussed. I hope that other noble Lords will put forward different proposals, because there is no doubt that something needs to be done.
My point is that the all-party committee of the House under the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, has already come to a firm conclusion and published a report. By the clauses that we have just passed, we are saying to the Government, “Take this report up. Get on with it and let’s reduce the numbers”. That is the right way to do it.
I absolutely take my noble friend's point. As I said to him earlier, that is not going to work because the only way you are going to get retirement from this House is to have a financial inducement, and I do not think that that will ever be acceptable, particularly in the present financial circumstances. For a House comprising Peers who are not paid but merely receive expenses, to be paid to leave is not acceptable. It was not acceptable for the hereditary Peers and it is not acceptable for the life Peers.
I have to challenge the noble Earl’s assertion that the number of committees is driven by the size of the House. This is not the case. I have some experience of this. The number of committees is driven by the fact that legislation is becoming increasingly complex, particularly the scrutiny of European legislation, and, unfortunately, by the quality of the form in which legislation comes from the other place often being very poor. Your Lordships have a duty to scrutinise properly. It is not quite right to say that we create committees to make jobs for the boys and girls. We do it because there is a genuine need for better scrutiny.
My Lords, I certainly bow to the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, who has much greater experience of this than I have. There is no doubt that, as a result of the reforms in another place, there is less scrutiny there than there used to be and we have to do more. However, there are other committees that have grown since I was first here. It is a bit of both. The noble Lord is absolutely right that the complexity of legislation, particularly European legislation as it has come in, has needed committees. However, my figure of 300 is merely taken from the Government’s proposals. We will come back to that but we must get on.
I can answer that. In fact, what has been done internally in the House is not at all what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, recommended. He recommended a statutory provision and a payment. The answer to the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, is that the Hunt committee said that this should be done without adding to the budget of the House of Lords, so that it would save public expenditure. The committee argued it very carefully. What has been implemented in the mean time is simply voluntary resignation, of which only two Members have taken advantage. The recommendation of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has not been implemented and it ought to be implemented, or at least considered now in some depth.
Amendment 128 withdrawn.
129: After Clause 14, insert the following new Clause—
“Right of retired Members to vote and stand for election to the House of Commons
A person who ceases to be a member of the House of Lords under section (Retirement age) shall not be disqualified from—
(a) voting at elections to the House of Commons, or(b) being, or being elected as, a Member of that House.”
My Lords, this is a very simple amendment, which I hope my noble friend will be able to accept. It says:
“A person who ceases to be a member of the House of Lords under section (Retirement age) shall not be disqualified from … voting at elections to the House of Commons, or … being, or being elected as, a Member of that House”.
I beg to move.
Amendment 129 withdrawn.
My Lords, at this stage it may be helpful to mention that we are running out of groupings on the list that we have. Therefore, there is a new list in the Printed Paper Office, which takes us from Amendment 130 to the end and starts again at Amendment 1. That new document is available for Members.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. I do not have a copy of the revised groupings list. I am taking my amendments individually and not grouping them, but it shows how very tricky these proceedings have become. This is a very bad precedent for discussing a Private Member’s Bill regardless of what Bill we are discussing.
Clause 15 : Conviction of serious criminal offence
130: Clause 15, page 6, line 14, leave out “one” and insert “five”
My Lords, we now come to Part 4 of the Bill, which is headed:
“Conviction of serious criminal offence”.
I have stated before that I do not like this clause and I do not like it for two reasons. One argument advanced in favour of the clause is that the provision is the same as that which applies in another place. However, I do not think that we should necessarily follow the provisions of another place. We are a different House and we are composed differently. It is right that we should make different rules, if necessary.
I have previously mentioned my second reason for disliking the clause. When a person has served a sentence they should no longer be penalised for having committed the offence in question. When I was Minister for Prisons the principle was clear. The courts meted out sentences but, when they had been served, that was the end of it. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, is not in his place but I hope that there are some lawyers present who will support my remarks. Therefore, in principle I have serious concerns about Part 4. I completely understand what my noble friend is trying to do but I consider that the provision goes against the principles of British justice.
The term “more than one year” in the Bill is too short a timescale and would catch too many trivial offences. Therefore, my Amendment 130 suggests a timescale of five years rather than one year. There is a certain benefit to be had from permitting Peers who have been convicted and sentenced to prison to come back to the House after they have served their sentence. Lord Kagan used to sit on the Labour Benches, having spent a little time at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. He came back and gave useful insights into that experience which assisted our consideration of criminal justice Bills. My amendment seeks to improve the Bill and explore the justification of my noble friend Lord Steel for the one-year period. I beg to move.
My answer to my noble friend Lord Caithness is very simple: I do not think that there is any magic in the one-year period. I am simply bringing this House into line with the other House. It has long been the practice in the elected House that anyone sentenced to a year’s imprisonment is automatically expelled. It seems to me that that should apply across Parliament as a whole. That is the only rationale for the measure. My noble friend has tabled two later starred amendments. I am minded to consider these very carefully because I think that he has a point there which we could carry forward to Report stage, if we get to it. However, we should resist Amendments 130 and 131 as they would make the provisions for this House different from those of the other place, and I do not see any case for that.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Steel, has mentioned my amendment, which is not grouped with this one. However, it may be for the convenience of your Lordships if I speak to it at the same time. I think that three noble Lords who attend this House have served time during Her Majesty’s pleasure and that two are either in prison or have been there recently. There are a few over the years who perhaps should have been there. There are quite a few I would have liked to have sent there but could not find a decent enough reason. Be that as it may, the point of my amendment is to make the situation rather similar to what the noble Lord, Lord Steel, says applies to the House of Commons. I absolutely agree that if you are in prison you should not attend your Lordships' House. If you are in prison I do not see how you can attend your Lordships' House unless there is some day-release policy of which I am not aware.
Or you are tagged.
You could be tagged, as my noble friend said. I understood that one of the important principles of the Liberal Democrats was rehabilitation—bringing people back into society after they have served their sentence, paid their price and done their time. Those of your Lordships who have suffered the indignity of prison will come out and find it quite difficult to get regular employment. After all, who is a more difficult person to employ than someone who has been in prison? It would be difficult to employ a Peer who had been in prison. I should have thought that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, who is a humane person, would want such people to come back and contribute to society. The difference for the House of Commons is that you have to be re-elected, but if you go to prison you do not lose your title—you are stuck with it, I am afraid. Such noble Lords should be given a chance.
My noble friend Lord Caithness referred to Lord Kagan. I try to avoid the trap of politicians falling into the pointless anecdote, but perhaps I will mention one concerning Lord Kagan. When he reappeared in your Lordships' House, he came to the tea room and sat down. We all looked slightly embarrassed and wondered what to say. The late Lord Marsh turned to him and said, “I hope that your time in prison was not too bad”, to which Lord Kagan said, “I’ve only been in prison twice. The first was a concentration camp during the war and the second was here. I have to tell you that British prisons are much nicer places”. After that, we were all silent for quite a long time.
The purpose of my probing amendment is to ask the noble Lord, Lord Steel, whether noble Lords who serve in this House, but due to some unfortunate circumstances have been a guest of Her Majesty, can contribute. Will the noble Lord consider that such noble Lords might, in some circumstances, be able to come back and rehabilitate themselves into what must be a welcoming place to come back to?
My Lords, these are interesting amendments. Although I realise that this is a Private Member’s Bill, I know that the government Benches believe in giving people a second change. That is commendable in many ways and I certainly believe in the rehabilitation of offenders. I also recognise that although we are one Parliament we are two Houses, each of which has rules and regulations. However, in this instance, it is absolutely right that we bring our own procedures into line with the House of Commons. While I believe in the rehabilitation of offenders, we must bear in mind that we are legislators and make laws. When one has broken a law to such an extent that one receives a prison sentence, it is right and proper that for a period of five years one should no longer have the privilege of making laws.
My Lords, perhaps I may help us to make progress by simply adding that I very much agree with the noble Baroness who has just spoken. The Government’s draft House of Lords Bill contains a very similar provision to the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, because it mirrors the provisions for MPs, which are set out in Section 1 of the Representation of the People Act 1981. It is appropriate that the terms and conditions for both Houses should be the same.
My Lords, my comments apply to all the amendments to this clause and I will not make them again—although the amendments are not grouped. I entirely agree with all the comments about rehabilitation. That is the whole point. What if someone does something very silly when they are young—they get into a big fight and are locked up—but in their 20s they become very sensible people and pillars of the community? Why are we disbarring them for the rest of their lives? There is no rehabilitation provision in this clause, and that is obnoxious in a civilised and democratic society.
We could also easily fall foul of the EU and the Human Rights Act. There is a big argument at the moment about whether prisoners should be able to vote. Equally, I do not see why ex-prisoners who are rehabilitated should not contribute to the legislative process. They would probably give us insights that we would not otherwise have. Things can go on in certain institutions that we would not otherwise know about. That could be useful experience. I cannot see any reason for being so punitive as to have a lifetime ban. If we do not have an element of rehabilitation, the entire provision should be struck out.
Incidentally, if someone serves a long enough sentence, the term that they serve means that they are resident in the jail, so they will be given permanent leave of absence by reason of failure to attend the House under Clause 12(1). In the light of what we may decide about rehabilitation, that may need to be rewritten for someone who is here already.
I do not disagree in principle that in certain circumstances noble Lords convicted of an offence should be excluded from your Lordships' House—in serious cases, perhaps even permanently. However, there was a case quite recently when a noble Lord was convicted and sentenced to a rather long sentence which was rapidly reduced on appeal to a much shorter sentence. That noble Lord quickly returned to your Lordships' House. Where sentences change rapidly on appeal, that should act in the favour of the noble Lord concerned. What does my noble friend think about that?
I have two problems with the clause. First, the definition of a serious criminal offence could cause a lot of problems. Secondly, if a noble Lord was locked up in Zimbabwe for a trumped up offence, it seems unsatisfactory that he would be excluded from the House for that reason.
My noble friend has just brought up the point I was going to raise. Unfortunately, one or two regimes in the world unjustly lock up their people and, occasionally, visitors, after they have gone through a sham of a trial. That would be covered under the clause. How would my noble friend deal with that? Some very worthy Members of this House may be on business abroad who happen to have said things in this House that their hosts do not like and who take the opportunity to incarcerate them as a result.
Can my noble friend on the Front Bench give some examples of offences for which you would be penalised for more than a year? I am trying to get at what level of offence would be covered by the one-year cut off. What sort of things get you penalised for more than one year? Secondly, I pick up on the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall. She said that noble Lords would be excluded for five years. That is not how I read the Bill. I would like my noble friend Lord Steel to clarify that. I thought that the noble Baroness said that if you have gone to prison, you cannot come back here for five years.
The principle behind Part 4 is simply that lawbreakers should not be lawmakers. That is the principle at the other end of the building, and it is one that I think we should sustain. I hope that I can persuade my noble friend not to press Amendment 130, because it would make this House different from the other one. My noble friend Lord Astor makes a strong liberal appeal for rehabilitation. If noble Lords would be kind enough not to move Amendments 131 to 133, I will certainly talk to both the Ministry of Justice and the authorities in the other place about those matters. I take the point just made by the noble Lord about sentences in other countries. We must take that into account. If we need to amend the Bill further at Report, I will be very willing to do so.
There may or may not be words of wisdom arriving. I remind the noble Earl that this is a Private Member’s Bill. The Government are here to be helpful from time to time but we do not have the answers as it is not our Bill.
While I am on my feet, I have further news. The Government Whips’ Office produced this splendid document showing that there are continued grouping of amendments, going up to Amendment 20 on the second page. It is an ambitious document, with 31 groupings yet to come. The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, was concerned about his Amendment 68. That one comes after another 31 amendments, after the 31 groups on the sheet. He is also concerned about Amendment 75, which is five amendments after that—in other words, 67 amendments on. Ambition is splendid and it may be that moving with great speed another list has to be issued. We shall see.
My Lords, before my noble friend Lord Caithness withdraws his amendment it might be for the convenience of the House if I respond to the noble Lord, Lord Steel, to save me moving my Amendment 131 and thank him for his humane response to my suggestion, for which I am grateful.
Before the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, responds, nobody has really picked up the point about rehabilitation. The clause does not prevent rehabilitation because it would be open for somebody who had been expelled from the House to be considered for a life peerage in the event of them doing good work and rehabilitating themselves. What the clause rules out is those who do not engage in rehabilitation.
I hesitate to intervene because my noble friend on the Front Bench is about to move on. He is trying to draw a distinction between a Private Member’s Bill and other legislation that passes through your Lordships’ House. Will he confirm with the authorities of the House what is different with the groupings and other procedures for a Private Member’s Bill as opposed to any other business in your Lordships’ House? I understand that the groupings are carried out with the agreement usually of both sets of authorities of the House but that it is open to each mover of each amendment not necessarily to agree and to insist on moving an amendment even though it may not be in accordance with the wishes of the Front Bench. Will my noble friend please explain why the usual arrangements might be different today because we are debating a Private Member’s Bill rather than any other procedures in your Lordships’ House?
My Lords, nothing is different apart from not having a Government and an Opposition endeavouring to agree groupings. We are dealing with people who are promoting a Private Member’s Bill and others—we do not know who they are—who take a different view. We do not know who they are in composite; we know them as individuals. Therefore, the Government Whips’ Office is trying to be helpful in doing these groupings. The noble Lord is correct that amendments can be degrouped, as we have seen today. This document is simply an attempt to help all noble Lords with the business before us.
Now I am on my feet I will say that I have been given a piece of paper which suggests that under existing sentencing powers, magistrates' courts can, for a single offence, imprison for a maximum of six months. A wide variety of offences can be punished by more than 12 months’ imprisonment. That is my information and I hope that it might help the noble Lord.
My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend on the Front Bench; that is certainly helpful to me. I say to my noble friend Lord Steel that I do not see why we have to be the same as another place if we are playing a slightly different role. I certainly agree that we are legislators. However, given our present make-up of being appointed, which I fear is likely to continue for some time, I do not see why we have to be identical on this.
I take the point—which I meant to make when I moved the amendment—that the clause could affect people's human rights. It was made by the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, and by my noble friend Lord Swinfen, and we should discuss it. In order to be helpful to my noble friend Lord Steel, and given what he said, I shall not move Amendments 132 and 133. This should speed up the process. However, I point out that Amendment 133 is a pre-sequential amendment that refers to the Appointments Commission that he wants to get rid of—so we will have fun on that when we come to it. He offered me a lovely olive branch by saying, “Yes, I rather like your amendment, we can discuss it”. However, he will take away the whole point of the amendment later in the proceedings. If he will discuss with me whether it should be one year or more —perhaps two, three, four or five—and we can talk about the clause, I will not move my Amendments 132 and 133. I see him nod and I will take that as a yes. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 130 withdrawn.
Amendments 131 to 133 not moved
Clause 15 agreed.
Clause 16 : Right to vote and stand for election to the House of Commons
Amendment 134 not moved.
Clause 16 agreed.
Clause 17 : Eligibility for nomination
Amendment 135 not moved.
136: Clause 17, page 6, line 24, at end insert—
“( ) Nothing in this Part shall apply to a Member who has been convicted of offences under the Road Traffic Acts.”
My Lords, this is a serious amendment of a probing nature. My recollection is that some past legislation excluded convictions under the Road Traffic Acts from the penalties that would otherwise apply. Perhaps that would be appropriate in the case of this legislation. I would need guidance on whether it is possible to sentence people under the Road Traffic Acts for the longer sentences that we are anticipating—longer than those that normally apply in magistrates’ courts. Perhaps my noble friend on the Front Bench—or even my noble friend Lord Steel—can offer me some guidance on that. Occasionally, people commit serious as opposed to minor offences under the Road Traffic Acts. I would be interested to know whether that situation would apply to this legislation.
My Lords, my noble friend behind me asked me earlier why there was a reference to a conviction for a serious criminal offence, and how that was defined. It is defined by the courts, not by Parliament. As I understand it, the current position in the Commons is that any offence for which a year's sentence is given must by definition be serious. I am not familiar with the details of the Road Traffic Acts, but my guess is that if somebody were not convicted in a magistrate’s court, because, as we have just heard from the Front Bench, sentences there are limited to six months, then it must be a very serious offence. It might be dangerous or reckless driving. I do not know. I am not an expert on that. I do not see why we should exempt one particular kind of serious offence just because we are rather partial to the Road Traffic Acts.
I am not trying to establish a precedent in this matter. My recollection is that the Road Traffic Acts are excluded from the provisions of some other legislation and, of course, it is open to somebody charged under a Road Traffic Act to elect to be tried before the county court rather than the magistrate’s court, so there is rather more to this than may immediately appear. It needs further investigation, and I hope my noble friend will allow me to do that.
Since I have already undertaken to discuss the other matters with the Ministry of Justice, I am certainly willing to take this one on board as well if my noble friend would be kind enough to withdraw the amendment. If we need to come back to it on Report, we could.
My Lords, I am not an expert on the Road Traffic Acts, but surely someone who drives unlicensed, uninsured or under the influence of drink or drugs or who does a very serious amount of damage to other people’s property, possibly killing or maiming them at the same time, would get a very severe sentence and is not the sort of person whom one would want as a Member of this House in any case. I think the noble Lord needs to think on that side of it before pressing his amendment.
Amendment 136 withdrawn.
Clause 17 agreed.
137: After Clause 17, insert the following new Clause—
“Part 4AVoting at electionsVoting at elections to the House of Commons
(1) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a Member of the Legislature shall not be disqualified by virtue of that post for voting at elections to the House of Commons.
(2) A Member of the Legislature shall be disqualified by virtue of that post for being, or being elected as, a Member of the House of Commons.
(3) For the avoidance of doubt, a Member of the House of Lords who ceased to be entitled to sit and vote in the House of Lords under section (Right to sit and vote in the House of Lords), shall not be disqualified for voting at elections to the House of Commons.”
This amendment contains a very simple proposition. I think we are the only Members of a second Chamber in any democratic country in the world who do not have the right to vote in general elections. It seems to me that there is a point of principle here. Many of us campaign in elections. I have window bills up in my house, and yet I am not allowed to vote for reasons that have disappeared in the mists of history and which make no logical sense today. It would not be compulsory. Those Members of this House who feel that they should not vote would have the right not to go to the polling station, but people in history have died for the right to vote. It has been a fundamental principle in many countries in the world. I feel very deeply when I am not allowed to vote on election day, even though I take an active part in campaigning for the candidate or candidates of my choice. The proposition is very simple. It will not change anything fundamental but will give us the right on polling day to exercise a democratic right. For those people who say that we are in the legislature and therefore we have other chances, the point of voting is to choose or influence the Government of this country. That is the right that we do not have as Members of this legislature, unless we are given the right to vote. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for one very simple reason: while canvassing at the previous election, I knocked at a door and said, “I very much hope that you’ll vote Conservative at the forthcoming election”. The answer was, “I might. Did you at the last election?”. I was forced to say no, so the lady said, “Well, neither shall I”.
My Lords, I have often thought about this. It is an anomaly that dates back to when the Lords had the same sort of power as the other place. We can no longer vote on money Bills. This is my point. I seem to remember that they had a tea party in Boston on this very issue, which is that there should be no taxation without representation, or at least the right to vote. We are the only ones excluded, apart from various others. We are not allowed to vote on money Bills here, and nor are we allowed to vote for the very people who are putting them through and deciding upon them in another place. Logically, I think we should. We should either be given some powers over money Bills, which would be one answer or, alternatively, we should be given the right to vote.
I support the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, on this point. First, we should have more powers on money Bills and, secondly, it seems quite ridiculous while we can vote in local elections and European elections. Why on earth should that right not be extended to voting in general elections?
My Lords, I add my voice to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. I have found it similarly difficult to answer the question when canvassing, as the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, has. We have now reached the position where, as our democracy moves on and we encourage others around the world, which I spent a lot of time doing, to vote and to participate, it really is quite stupid that we do not have the opportunity to express our views about which Government we want.
My Lords, perhaps someone could enlighten me on the origin of all this. I assume that commoners vote for the Commons and that Lords are a totally different kettle of fish. Is that correct? Can anyone say what the principle is supposed to be? Otherwise, it looks ridiculous.
My Lords, I fully support my noble friend in his amendment, which is excellent. However, I look forward to hearing the response from the noble Lord, Lord Steel, because, while this is of the utmost importance, I would not wish it to impede the passage of the Bill in any way. As I said, however, I am fully behind my noble friend’s amendment.
My Lords, to be honest, I was completely agnostic about this amendment. My initial reaction was that it was another matter outside the scope and intent of my Bill. However, no one has spoken against it, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Lea, is correct that the origin of this practice was that Members of the House of Commons could vote in their Chamber and that we had a voice and a position here. The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, is right that the powers of this House have been diminished over the years, which no longer stands up to scrutiny.
This is a very important matter that has far-reaching consequences and implications, so could we not return to this matter on Report or at Third Reading? I am not saying that I am against it at all, but I do think that we need to reflect, particularly in the light of what the noble Lord, Lord Wright, said a moment or two ago, on the implications and on the differences between being a permanent Member of this House and not being a Member at all of the other place during the election campaign.
I think my noble friend is correct. I said that I was agnostic about the amendment, but I am actually quite sympathetic to it. I just wonder whether it is right to make such a fundamental change in just a few minutes’ debate. I will take it seriously, and if the noble Lord will be kind enough to withdraw his amendment, I will certainly discuss it, again with the other House authorities and with the Ministry of Justice, with the other things that I am discussing. If there is no objection, I will be happy to bring back the amendment in my own name on Report.
My Lords, given the widespread support throughout the House, I do not honestly see that there is any significant problem about this. We would simply be on the voting list and could vote as we can in European elections, in Scottish elections if we live there, or in Welsh or in Northern Irish elections. We would just have the right to vote. It would make no difference at all in practice. The local authorities would simply have an easier task when compiling the voting list.
On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wright, Members of Parliament might not technically be Members of the Commons when an election is called, but they can vote in a by-election. I very much hope that we can proceed to a decision. Everyone whose opinion I test in the country thinks that this is an anomaly and absurd. The world will not come to an end, but democracy will be enhanced.
On the suggestion that the amendment is withdrawn, my noble friend Lord Steel has made a very clear offer. The amendment does require further consideration, not least because Members who are not present today may well have a view. We can certainly come back to this on Report or at Third Reading.
Perhaps we could reach a compromise the other way around. I am quite happy to accept the amendment on the understanding that we will have further discussions. If it is found to be objectionable, for some reason which we do not understand now, we could come back to it on Report and take it out again. At the moment, let us keep it in. On that basis, I am happy to accept the amendment.
Amendment 137 agreed.
138: Before Clause 18, insert the following new Clause—
(1) Her Majesty must by Order in Council, on the advice of the Prime Minister, cause a referendum to be held throughout the United Kingdom about whether the House of Lords should be reformed in accordance with the provisions of this Bill before any part or whole of the Bill comes into effect.
(2) For further provision about a referendum held by virtue of subsection (1), Schedule (Referendums under this Act) applies.
(3) An Order in Council under this section may not be made unless a draft of the statutory instrument containing the Order has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.”
My Lords, I apologise in advance as I may be a little longer on this amendment than I have been on others. That is because the amendment refers to referendums. I believe that a change in the constitution, such as this Bill proposes, should be the subject of a referendum. We are getting more and more used to referendums as part of our political landscape. The Local Government Act 2000 provided for the holding of referendums to enable electors of individual local authorities to express their preferences for the type of executive arrangements within their council. The 2001 Regional Assemblies (Preparation) Bill also allowed for the holding of referendums.
The House is currently considering the Localism Bill, which has a huge number of Liberal Democrat amendments—I can see my noble friend Lord Steel nodding, whether in sadness or pleasure I am not certain. Under Schedule 6 to the two tomes of that Bill one sees a huge amount about “Council tax referendums: further amendments”. A referendum was also agreed in Section 6—headed, “Decisions requiring approval by Act and by referendum”—of the European Union Act 2011, which my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford took through. Earlier this year there was also, of course, the referendum on the alternative vote system, with the quite remarkable and wonderful result that it was not agreed. We are getting increasingly used to referendums.
This is a constitutional Bill of some importance. The most important bit is the one we have agreed which will break the 1999 agreement on the succession of hereditary Peers until a further reform of the House of Lords takes place. If this Bill is important enough to break that agreement then it is important enough to prompt a referendum.
Amendment 138 states:
“Her Majesty must by Order in Council, on the advice of the Prime Minister, cause a referendum to be held”.
We then move on to the schedule and the consequential amendments. The schedule comes after Clause 19 and sets out the details of the referendum. I have to admit that I have copied this from the referendum amendment put forward for the Scotland Bill, which is also before your Lordships’ House. But I have proposed amendments to my amendment to take into account the fact that we would have a Joint Committee. We have not yet discussed the Joint Committee. The purpose of bringing it in—which I had hoped we would discuss earlier today—is that the Government proposing doing so in their draft reform Bill, which is in front of the Joint Committee of both Houses. We are caught up in a mess as a result of the rearrangement this morning because the amendments to my amendment concern something that we have not yet discussed. In view of what my noble friend Lord Shutt said, perhaps it would be wise for me not to move the amendments to my amendment until we have discussed the Joint Committee. However, I think that this is a cack-handed way of trying to discuss legislation. It is impossible to do it rationally.
I shall take noble Lords quickly through the schedule. There is, of course, the “Entitlement to vote”, which I hope does not cause any problems. We then deal with the conduct of the referendum and the “Referendum question and statement”. That is an important part of the schedule because the Order in Council,
“must specify the question to be included”.
We then come to the date of the referendum, and following that the “Referendum period”, which must be determined by the Order in Council. We then have “Combination of polls”, the encouragement of voting and the “Provision of information to voters”. It is important that one provides the correct information. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Steel probably knows more about referendums than I do, but my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth is probably the man to check that I have all of this right and to his satisfaction. The schedule goes on to deal with “Referendum material” and “Funding and accounts”. It deals with legal challenges to the referendum because they could well take place, followed by the “Supplementary” and “Interpretation” provisions. That in brief is the schedule before us. The principle of this is that there should be a referendum when it comes to constitutional reform. I beg to move.
My Lords, while I sympathise with my noble friend, I have to say that if I thought that the Bill brought forward by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, was as groundbreaking as my noble friend Lord Caithness points out, perhaps we could consider a referendum. But I have to say to my noble friend that I do not think that that is the case, and I really do not think that it justifies a referendum.
The more interesting issue here is that we do not know whether the committee looking into reform of the House of Lords is going to be able to keep to its timetable, or indeed whether the Government will produce a Bill for the reform of the House of Lords in this Parliament. It may be that they will wait until the next Parliament under whatever Government they are—I assume it will be a Conservative Government—and it is quite likely, if that is the case, that both major parties and indeed the Lib Dems will set out in their manifestos that they favour a wholly or largely elected second Chamber. If all three parties have that in their manifestos, there really is no chance for the country to have a view on it, because there will be no basis on which to have an alternative view on whether this House should be elected or appointed. It is not as if one can choose to say of one party, “I’ll vote for that because they put it forward”. In that case a referendum might be very worthwhile in deciding whether this nation really wants an elected second Chamber, with all the effect that that will have on another place and the way we manage the constitution of this country.
My Lords, I do not want to truncate the debate, but I want to reply to the mover of the amendment. I am wholly opposed to Amendments 138 and 141 for the simple reason that the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, has enumerated. Earlier someone said that this Bill should not be called the House of Lords Reform Bill, but the “House of Lords Improvement Bill”. I could even rename it the “House of Lords Housekeeping Bill”. What we are dealing with are three housekeeping matters internal to the House: the question of the election of hereditary Peers, the question of retirement and the question of removing those who commit serious offences. These are matters within the operation of the House and are not at all suitable for a referendum. So I am totally opposed to these provisions.
My Lords, I wholeheartedly agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, that this is not a ground-breaking constitutional Bill. It is, indeed, a housekeeping Bill. But I am delighted that the noble Viscount agrees with the policy of my party, which is that there should be a referendum on any Bill that comes out of the Joint Committee, which will certainly be a profound constitutional change. In that case, I am certainly in favour of a referendum; in relation to the current Bill, I am opposed.
I am not in favour of this at all, due to certain bad experiences in my life. The noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, will recall that we were both joint treasurers of the Conservative Group for Europe when the European referendum took place. I ended up having to raise very substantial amounts of money because, although the referendum went through, it was very difficult to explain to people what this European lark was all about. In general, people were slightly anti-European. The Labour Party was totally anti-European; when the referendum said that we should go into the EU, it refused to send a delegation to the European Parliament.
My concern about these matters is that it is very difficult to explain things. I speak in my capacity as a member of the Information Committee. We have a major problem, even though we have the outreach programme, in explaining to the outside world what we actually do. It is easier to explain it to young children than it is to those of teenage or later years. I shall use my grandson as an example. He sums it up very brilliantly, by saying that we work at Big Ben and we make rules. That is easier for people to understand—but what does the House of Lords do? In the outreach programme, when you talk to different people, it is very difficult because they all think that we are a bunch of old fogies who do nothing but sit on our backsides and drink tea. This explanation of what we do is very important if a referendum comes up. At the moment, if you were to have another referendum on the EU, you might have some very interesting results. So I am totally opposed to introducing to this Bill the referendum concept at this stage.
My Lords, I am certainly very much opposed to having a referendum on this Bill. This is a series of modest proposals, which is—as my noble friend Lord Steel said, and as the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, accepted—a housekeeping Bill. It is a modest Bill, which would certainly perplex any electorate if put to it for a referendum.
The point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, is entirely different. I have never been a fan of the referendum; indeed, I did not want a referendum in 1975, and made that view quite plain in another place at the time. But we had it, and you cannot uninvent things. We have reached the situation in this country where we have had referenda on a number of major constitutional issues. We had them over devolution; we had one, which I thought was wholly unnecessary, earlier this year about alternative voting. But if you argue that alternative voting is of sufficient importance constitutionally to merit a referendum, you cannot argue that the abolition of a House of Parliament and its replacement by something totally different—because that is what it would be about—is not a fit subject for a referendum. So if by chance there is a proposal that we should have this House replaced by an elected one, there is an unanswerable case for a referendum, particularly if, as my noble friend indicated, the three major parties subscribe to that general ideal in their manifestos. We know that, whatever was said in the manifestos last time, there are a significant number of Liberal Democrats who are unhappy about the concept of an elected House. There is a very much larger number of Labour voters and Members who are unhappy about an elected House, and there is an overwhelming number of Conservative Peers and a very large number—we do not know how many—of Conservative Members of Parliament who are against it. If the hierarchies and leaders of the three parties put this forward in manifestos, that would be all the more reason for a referendum. That would be on the significant and central issue of whether this House was to be replaced by something different.
Here, I slightly disagree with my noble friend Lord Selsdon. I believe that the people of this country are sufficiently mature and adult to understand whether they are being asked to have an assembly of 300 paid, elected party politicians to replace what they have in this House at the moment. If they decide to go down that route, having had the issues thoroughly debated and explained, I would be very sad but so be it. That would certainly be the right subject for a referendum. The noble Baroness’s party is right to have that at the heart of its manifesto commitments on this particular issue. I urge my noble friend Lord Selsdon not to press his amendment as far as the Bill is concerned.
I entirely agree with my noble friend’s reaction to that proposition but that is what is in the White Paper—the draft Bill. Something very different may come out of the Joint Committee—we know not —but that is what is before us. Incidentally, I am sorry that I said “Lord Selsdon” when I should have said “Lord Caithness”. It is his amendment.