Committee (3rd Day)
My Lords, if there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting, this Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division Bells are rung and will resume after 10 minutes.
Clause 1: Abolition of the system of by-elections for hereditary peers
Debate on whether Clause 1 should stand part of the Bill.
My Lords, in rising to question the proposal that Clause 1 stand part of the Bill, I take the opportunity to put a question to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott. The noble Lord is, of course, a very senior and distinguished member of the Labour Party and doubtless attended the party conference in Liverpool, I think it was, earlier this year where among the policies decided upon, as I understand it, was an early general election. If that happens this Bill would sink without trace, so presumably the noble Lord does not support the idea of an early general election. Will he clarify that for us?
My Lords, this Private Member’s Bill being committed to a Grand Committee is in the nature of an experiment. It is clearly a hugely successful one. This must be a record attendance at a Grand Committee. The usual channels may consider this an important precedent that might be useful on other occasions.
I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, has mentioned elections because what makes this Bill particularly important is an impending parliamentary by-election which will take place on Wednesday when we will have a new Member of the House of Lords elected by 16 people. As the noble Lord knows, the electorate is 31 people, so the mathematicians will be able to work out that 16 votes will be enough to get someone elected. In most parliamentary by-elections some 20,000 votes are needed for a new Member of Parliament to arrive. I simply say to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, that Clause 1 needs to stand part. If it does not, 50% of the Bill will be gone. It is a two-clause Bill that has so far attracted I think 75 amendments. I urge the noble Lord to let the matter go so we move on to the detailed discussion of Clause 2.
Clause 1 agreed.
Clause 2: Extent and short title
36: Clause 2, page 1, line 14, leave out “the whole of the United Kingdom” and insert “England and Wales”
My Lords, I shall speak also to a number of other amendments as shown on Marshalled List.
There are three or four quite important amendments that we need to discuss on this clause. The first amendment I draw to your Lordships’ attention is Amendment 39. It would affect the Short Title of the Bill. I propose that the words “Abolition of By-Elections” are left out. The reason for that is that the Bill gets rid of hereditary Peers. It starts by getting rid of the by-elections and, in due course, as hereditary Peers die off, there will soon be no hereditary Peers left in the House of Lords. The Bill should have the title “House of Lords (Hereditary Peers) Bill” because there will not be another Bill to get rid of the hereditary Peers if this Bill proceeds and we wither on the vine.
The second amendment to which I draw your Lordships’ attention is Amendment 42, which states that Section 1 should not come into force until,
“the Secretary of State has commissioned an independent review of the benefits that hereditary Peers bring to Parliament”.
One of those important benefits is that we are not appointed by the Prime Minister. The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, accepted my amendment that acknowledges that the Bill is designed to produce a purely appointed Chamber, on the whim of the Prime Minister’s patronage. We will come on to patronage a bit more in due course, because it is a matter that my noble friend Lord Young—then Sir George Young—did not like when the other Bill went through the Commons in 1999.
Amendment 43 makes another condition—that there ought to be a vote of excepted hereditary Peers before the Bill becomes an Act. I tabled that amendment because the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, is arbitrarily unpicking an agreement we had signed up to that was binding in honour until stage 2 came along; I wish that stage 2 had already happened. The people who will suffer from this are the hereditary Peers, so it seemed only sensible that a vote should be taken among them on whether they were happy that the agreement should be broken.
Another amendment that I wish to talk to briefly is Amendment 58B, which concerns the size of the House. We will talk about that a bit more when we come to the amendments on the Burns report, but this amendment states that the Bill should not become an Act until,
“steps have been taken to ensure that the membership of the House … does not exceed 600 in, or after, the year 2030”.
That is about the same time as the Burns report proposed that that figure should come about, but it would be a big step towards stage 2. When the House is limited at 600, that should be the time when the hereditary Peers’ by-elections should cease. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will speak only once, because what I have to say applies to the whole Committee. Some noble Lords were at what I think of as the Norton-Cormack meeting the other day, which Bernard Jenkin from the House of Commons addressed by saying that if the Bill were passed he would do his utmost to get it through the House of Commons. That is important for your Lordships to note, because often Bills from this House do not go smoothly through the House of Commons.
I am amazed at the tactics used on the Bill. They are self-destructive and against the interests of the hereditary Peers in this House. The only Labour leader I ever regarded as a friend was the late John Smith, who of course sadly never became Prime Minister. He once said to me that the worst job he had was, as he put it, with the queue of supplicants down the Corridor seeking to help the Labour Party by taking a seat in the House of Lords.
There will be a change of government one day—that happens in democracies—and the Labour Party will come into power. At the moment, it has 186 Peers including four hereditaries, and our side of the Chamber has 248 Peers including 47 hereditaries. Any Labour leader who wanted, first, to strike a radical pose, and secondly, to get himself out of a lot of people supplicating for membership of this House, could pass a simple Act that would have enormous popularity in the country: the abolition of the legislative rights of hereditary Peers. That would not take the title away, but it would take away the right to sit in the House of Lords. That would quickly change the arithmetic to there being just 201 Conservatives and 182 Labour Peers. That would put us well on the way to what is not an illegitimate aim for the governing party of the day; that is, to have slightly more seats than the principal opposition party of the day.
The late Jim Callaghan was fond of talking about turkeys voting for Christmas. I wonder whether the hereditary Peers, who seem to be the only ones backing this move, have actually thought it through. What is principally being discussed, particularly on the ultra left of the Labour Party, is the idea that perhaps they should go for abolishing the House of Lords. However, there are now two sorts of people on the ultra left of the Labour Party. There is the Jeremy Corbyn faction which believes in principle above everything else, but probably more important is the John McDonnell faction. John McDonnell believes in achieving his aims progressively. I think that the John McDonnell faction is quite happily in favour of this Bill being stalled in this place because it gives him a good cause for putting into the manifesto the abolition of the legislative rights of hereditary Peers.
I have said that I will speak only once, but my overall conclusion is that hereditary Peers are shooting themselves very firmly in their own feet.
My Lords, those are very interesting words and most certainly worth reflecting on. I thank the noble Lord. I rise to speak to Amendment 58D, tabled in my name. It concerns the Prime Minister’s prerogative. In my Peers in Schools programme visits, we inevitably and rightly discuss the composition of the House and the routes of entry. Three issues are raised consistently by the pupils: obviously the hereditaries, the Bishops and the Prime Minister’s prerogative. In respect of the prerogative, it seems that the relevant set textbook makes the point that there is no other country in the developed democratic world where one person has so much power over the membership of the legislature. Indeed, as the discussion generally continues, the view seems to develop in all the classes that I can recall that the Prime Minister’s prerogative is by far the largest constitutional issue of the three.
This House considered the matter recently as part of the annual Burns committee initiative, and last December more than 90 Members spoke. As we will all well recall, the overwhelming mood was one of great support for the Burns committee, and accordingly of curbing the Prime Minister’s prerogative. Indeed, the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee of the other place reported on 19 November on the matter. In a powerful analysis of the Prime Minister’s prerogative, it concluded at paragraph 35 of its report:
“It is important that the Prime Minister commits to the proposed cap and to limiting appointments in line with the proposed appointment formula”.
There are 791 Members of the House, of whom 178 do not owe their membership to a Prime Minister. That number is comprised of 26 bishops, 89 hereditaries and 63 Members who have come in through the House of Lords Appointments Commission. Some 613 Peers have therefore been appointed under the prerogative power, which is around 80%. I strongly believe that this dynamic represents a constitutional risk in that the prerogative is so concentrated in one person. That risk should be managed, and this Bill clearly represents a route whereby one might attempt that. However, as currently drafted, the Bill would increase the risk over time by removing half of the non-prime ministerially appointed buffer, although other dynamics are also in play to exacerbate matters.
I very much admire HOLAC. Its chairmen have crafted a first-class institution. It is, however, being somewhat smothered. In its first period under Labour Administrations between 2001 and 2010, 52 Peers were appointed in just over 10 years. That is an average of pretty well exactly five per year. In its current period under Conservative-led Administrations there have been 15 appointments, including three last June. That is an average of just under 1.8 per year. Actuarially, one would need three to four a year to maintain the current number of 63 HOLAC Peers. Accordingly, the HOLAC part of the buffer that is not appointed by the Prime Minister is shrinking. As I said, this Bill would see other parts of the buffer shrink further.
Amendment 58D is designed to cope with this dynamic and the recently expressed and strong desire of not only this House but the other House—or at least a committee of the other House—to curb the Prime Minister’s prerogative. The amendment accepts the elegant way of dealing with the end of the hereditary era while delaying its implementation until the prerogative is curbed. The wording is designed to promote debate only. It does not specify how such a cap would operate. The Burns committee has already expressed views on this. The other place’s constitutional affairs committee builds on it in its report of this week. It is heading in wholly the right direction. It makes no sense to have half a reform of our composition and routes of entry. A full reform process is needed. I thus urge the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, to accept at least the principle of the amendment. I naturally would be very happy to discuss matters with him.
My Lords, I obviously agree with other noble Lords that we really need full reform of the House of Lords, but that is not on offer. That we cannot have full reform of the House of Lords is no reason to say that we cannot make progress on more limited reform. In examining this group of amendments, I thought I would look at the dictionary definition of “amendment”, which says that an amendment is:
“A minor change or addition designed to improve a text or a piece of legislation”.
I respectfully suggest that no amendment in this group remotely fits that dictionary definition of what an amendment is. The amendments in this group do not seek to be minor or to improve the text in any way. They seek simply to delay discussion on perhaps more important matters, to filibuster this debate and to prevent any progress on the legitimate issue. That is wholly wrong and brings the House into disrepute when we are debating things to prevent Members in the Commons voting on issues such as this. We should proceed with the Bill to allow them to have their say on it.
With great respect, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, is wrong to suggest that if the Bill was approved it would mean that we simply ended up with a wholly appointed House on the whim of a Prime Minister. He ignores the very important role of the independent House of Lords Appointments Commission, which does not appoint people on the whim of the Prime Minister. I also respectfully suggest that other noble Lords are at present appointed on what might be called the whim of party leaders, but they are at least elected party leaders who have faced the electorate. To suggest that it is somehow more legitimate to have people in this place because of the hereditary position is wholly wrong. They, of course, are here only on the basis of the whim of a previous monarch, perhaps some centuries ago, whom that monarch might have married, and then their eldest son, the eldest son’s son, et cetera. That is no basis whatever for any sort of legislature deciding on the laws of the land in the 21st century.
For those reasons, all these amendments should be rejected so that we can get on to more serious debates. We should have Report shortly in the House of Lords and allow the House of Commons to consider the Bill.
My Lords, I will briefly address just two of the points that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, made objecting to the Bill. The first objection is on the basis that the Bill would end the one part of the existing process for the creation of new Members that is democratic because it depends on election rather than appointment. I can perfectly well understand, though I profoundly disagree with, those who argue for an elected House rather than an appointed House. What I fail utterly to understand is why it should be considered less objectionable—indeed, considered a partial answer to those opposed to an appointed House—that 92 of its Members and those who currently elect their successors come from a privileged class of hereditary Peers who, alone, are candidates for election. This is what the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, and, indeed, I in the past, have called the “assisted places scheme”. It is nonsense. It is hardly going to persuade those in favour of democracy that: “Ah, we meet that test now; we wouldn’t if this Bill went through”.
The second point is in relation to Amendment 58B: the suggestion that we wait until we are down to 600 before we implement the Bill. Under the Burns proposals, which are the route by which we hope to reduce the House to 600, those who leave by death or retirement are to be replaced—initially one for two, later one for one—by new members of the same party, so if hereditary elections remain, Tory slots in future would sometimes inevitably have to be filled by hereditaries wherever there is a gap. That would reduce the number of new Members whom the party leader might otherwise prefer to be in the House. If this Bill passes, therefore, and the Burns scheme succeeds in reducing us to 600, the Tories will not lose in numbers but will gain in the choice of who fills the available slots. If the Bill fails, hereditaries will form an ever-larger part of the Tory group. Is that really what they want?
There is only one point I want to raise, other than to say that of course we want a general election. Actually there are two issues. One, which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, has just mentioned, is the importance of refreshing this House not only with those who happen to be sons of people who, as the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, said, were appointed by a monarch or a Prime Minister. It will be important to refresh the House so that it is not just men who are appointed. That will certainly be the case for the Conservative Party which, otherwise, will end up very male-dominated.
My other point, from the point of view of the Labour Party, is on an issue that has been raised and which I have responded to before about the binding commitment. The binding commitment was, of course, not binding in law; it was binding until it was possible to change the composition of the House. I remind the noble Lord that that commitment was made in 1997. After we lost office, his party were in government in coalition from 2010 to 2015 and did not manage to bring in a change to the House, they were then not in coalition and did not do it, and they are now effectively in coalition again and are not doing it. The lack of commitment to changing the House means that a commitment made much earlier no longer has the standing that it had at the time.
My Lords, I am grateful to a number of noble Lords who have spoken in favour of the Bill, and I do not want to add to the points that they made. The noble Lord, Lord Balfe, shared a useful piece of information about the views of important people in the Commons in relation to this legislation. It gives me great heart if I am able to think that, should this House pass the Bill, as I very much hope it will, it would be a huge example to almost any other institution of an institution reforming itself in a sensible way.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, for that, and to the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, who mentioned the need for speed. These by-elections will take place with increasing frequency; that is the inevitable consequence of age. We are talking about people who were identified as the 90 in 1999. There have been 44 by-elections since then—or 44 new Members as a result of by-elections; some have been for two new Peers—but inevitably they will come with greater frequency. There are two in the pipeline. The need to get this Bill through is all the more urgent if we are not to be subject to, it seems to me, the reasonable accusation of looking completely ridiculous with some of these by-elections. The point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, about the effect that an increasing proportion of the membership of the House being hereditary Peers will have on different parties is powerful.
I do not disagree at all with the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, about the need for a cap on the size of the House. I think very strongly that we should reduce the number of people here. But of course, if nothing is done specifically about the hereditary Peers—this is the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown—it will be significantly harder to reduce the size of the House if there are 92 people to whom “two out, one in” does not apply. The stats in the second, most recent report of the Burns committee are quite clear. They are small numbers so one should not draw huge lessons from them, but they make it pretty plain that it is difficult to reduce the size of the House if hereditary Peers are being replaced one-for-one, whereas everyone else is being replaced on the basis of one in for every two out.
This is a big group of amendments and I urge the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, not to press them further, either here or on Report, as they would have the cumulative effect of delaying the Bill’s implementation. I will be kind to him today and say that he is not trying to wreck the Bill with these amendments—though it was hard for me to say that—but they would certainly significantly delay it. One or two of them are, frankly, close to being silly, such as the idea of reviews of the work of both Houses. But let us leave it at that, and I appeal to him not to press them further either here or on Report.
My Lords, this has been a useful discussion. I would only say to my noble friend Lord Balfe that I think the McDonnell wing that he mentioned will put into the manifesto exactly what he says, whether this Bill goes through Parliament or not. It was in fact in the 1997 manifesto that all hereditary Peers should go. It is something that I agree with, because I think that all hereditary Peers, and all life Peers, ought to go. That is what I say to the noble Lord, Lord Rennard: whatever the composition of a House that is not 100% elected, it is easily criticised. That is why I believe that 100% election is much the best way forward for a second Chamber in this country.
The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, did not answer me at all on Amendment 39. I wonder whether he might give that some thought between now and the next stage, because it would not delay the Bill at all; it would merely clarify exactly what the Bill does, which is to abolish hereditary Peers. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 36 withdrawn.
Amendments 37 to 40 not moved.
41: Clause 2, page 1, line 16, at end insert—
“(3) Section 1 comes into force on such day as the Secretary of State may by regulations made by statutory instrument appoint.(4) Regulations under subsection (3) may not be made until the Secretary of State has published a report outlining progress made towards the implementation of the recommendations in paragraphs 18, 19, 29, 35, 39, 41, 44, 45, 48-51, 53, 55, 66, 70, 74, 77, 81, 82, 96 and 97 of the Burns Report.(5) In this section, the “Burns Report” means the Report from the Lord Speaker’s committee on the Size of the House of Lords, published on 31 October 2017.(6) This section comes into force on the day on which this Act is passed.”
My Lords, I have one simple thought about this. It is the one expressed by my noble friend Lord Caithness a little while ago. He, I and others object to the Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, because it breaches the undertaking given in 1999. The context of that Bill was the total abolition of the hereditary peerage. At some point during its progress—the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, was, I believe, involved in the discussions that went on behind the scenes; I most certainly was not—all hereditary Peers were going to be removed from the House of Lords. A deal was done involving, principally, my noble friend Lord Strathclyde but others as well. An undertaking was given “binding in honour” those who gave their assent to it. Those were the words of the then Lord Chancellor, repeated in the House and, I believe, elsewhere. It is an undertaking that I hope, on reflection, all political parties will continue to be bound by.
My Lords, I want to comment on the percentage of hereditary Peers, which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, raised on a previous amendment. The best date the Library could give me figures for was 11 January 2000, just after the 1999 Bill went through, when the hereditaries comprised 13.89% of the House. As of March—I have not updated the figures since then—we comprised 11.66% of the House. When the House reaches a total of 600 Peers we would comprise only 15.33%. The percentage has gone down since 2000. That percentage will go up a bit, but I am very happy to discuss that point so that we keep the hereditaries at the same figure they are now.
My Lords, this group of amendments in various ways responds to the Burns report, which most of us welcome. They lay down all sorts of preconditions that this Bill cannot come into operation until sundry provisions of the Burns report have been implemented. We have been over the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, about the “binding commitment” in 1999 so many times. The inference of what he said is that my fingerprints were over that commitment. I can tell him exactly why the concession was made in 1999 that resulted in the difficulties we have had ever since with these by-elections. The Labour Government, with a colossal majority in the Commons, had the simplest possible statement of intent in respect of the House of Lords, which was to end the whole of the hereditary peerage—no ifs, no buts. However, as there was a huge majority of hereditary Peers—and Conservative Peers, although for this argument, that is beside the point—in this House it was plain that the legislation was not going to be admitted by them.
Worse than that, it became increasingly apparent that the rest of the Labour Government’s legislative promises to the electorate would not be able to be enacted because of the colossal amount of obstruction coming from the hereditary Peers at the time. That is the last time I am going to make that speech. It has the merit of being true. My good friend—and friend of many others here—Denis Carter, who was my predecessor as Chief Whip in the House of Lords, advised No. 10 and the Cabinet that there were real dangers to the Labour Government’s whole legislative programme. The settlement of 92 was obtained under duress—that is the only way in which it can sensibly be described. What is absolutely certain is that it was intended to be a short-term arrangement, yet here we are, 19 years later, debating at length—I shall make sure that my speeches are not at length—an end to what was intended to be temporary and is now 19 years old. Can we please not have that discussion ever again? I hope that the proposers of these amendments will agree not to press them further.
Perhaps it may be in order for me to say one brief sentence. The Government of whom the noble Lord was a distinguished member could have honoured the undertaking by bringing forward their own legislation to reform the House of Lords, which they chose not to do. They had eight or nine years subsequently in which to do that, but did not do a thing about it.
I fear that I am in danger of being bored; I do not know about anyone else. A Bill was introduced; it died in wash-up when the Labour Government were voted out of office in 2010. Subsequently, other efforts were made. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, cannot say with a straight face that they have been forever passionate supporters of a fully elected House. The two of them have been here for 100 years put together—full marks for that. If they were totally committed to a fully elected House and if they have been unable to do anything about it in those 100 years other than to keep repeating those barely credible words which are simply a device to delay and prevent enactment of this Bill, all I can say is that they have not been very effective parliamentarians. Please can we hear the end of that and move on.
Amendment 41 withdrawn.
Amendments 42 to 58 not moved.
58A: Clause 2, page 1, line 16, at end insert—
“(3) Section 1 comes into force after the period of two months beginning with the first day on which the conditions in subsections (4) and (5) are met.(4) The condition in this subsection is that a House of Lords Appointment Commission, as set out in Schedule (The House of Lords Appointments Commission), is in operation on a statutory basis, with the role of screening, selecting and recommending all persons for appointment to the House of Lords.(5) The condition in this subsection is that a Speakers’ Committee on the House of Lords Appointments Commission, as set out in Schedule (The Speakers’ Committee on the House of Lords Appointments Commission), is in operation on a statutory basis, with the role of scrutinising the work of a House of Lords Appointments Commission set up in accordance with subsection (4).(6) This section comes into force on the day on which this Act is passed.”
My Lords, we move to an important amendment which would not delay the implementation of the Bill in any way if it were accepted. It touches on a matter that we have briefly discussed: the appointment of life Peers to the House. When the 1999 Bill was debated in the House of Commons there was considerable discussion about patronage. My noble friend Lord Young of Cookham, then Sir George Young, said that the Bill would see,
“a quango House created by stealth”.—[Official Report, Commons, 10/11/99; col. 1147.]
My noble friend Lord Cormack also criticised the patronage that could happen at that stage and recommended that the hereditary Peers be kept because of the undiluted patronage of the Prime Minister.
Since then, as the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, has said, the House of Lords Appointments Commission has come into being, but it is not statutory. Whatever happens to this Bill, immense power and patronage will be in the hands of one person to appoint life Peers.
The purpose of Amendment 58A and the two other amendments that go with it is to establish a statutory appointments commission. I will not go into detail because noble Lords who have studied the 2012 Bill—which, sadly, fell in the House of Commons because of mishandling at that end—had it all in there. My words are taken from the 2012 Bill, of whom one of the proposers was none other than Sir George Young, so my noble friend the Minister will know the words intimately. I hope that because he designed and approved them, he will have no objection to them coming in.
This would be a good amendment for the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, to accept. At the moment his Bill is destroying a part of the House. He has described it as a small Bill, but it is like lighting a match and putting it to a fuse that is going to Semtex because there will be substantial alterations to the British constitution as a result. He could go out with this Bill not only having destroyed something but having put something valuable in its place—a statutory appointments commission.
I will not weary your Lordships by taking you through all the points of detail because they were all made by parliamentary draughtsmen seven years ago. I beg to move.
My Lords, if I was still in another place and not here, I would ask the person chairing the Committee how this amendment is allowable. The purpose of the Bill is to:
“Amend the House of Lords Act 1999 so as to abolish the system of by-elections for hereditary peers”.
It does not go beyond that. However, this amendment goes way beyond that.
As I understand it, because of the crazy procedure in this place, the chair has almost no powers, so perhaps I may ask the Minister, who has been referred to on many occasions by the proposer of this amendment, how on earth these amendments are allowable. It is crazy. Is there no answer?
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, is right about the nature of this amendment. There is a simple test to compare an amendment as against a filibuster: this is a one-page Bill in total and yet the amendment runs to nine pages. A nine-page amendment to a one-page Bill is not an amendment to make a small change to improve the legislation but an attempt at a filibuster. A definition of a filibuster is:
“A filibuster is a political procedure where one or more members of parliament or congress debate a proposed piece of legislation so as to delay or entirely prevent a decision being made on the proposal”.
The noble Lord is right about filibuster—I like filibusters on occasions. I could put down an amendment within the terms of the House of Lords Act 1999 so as to abolish the system of by-elections for hereditary peers and I could filibuster on a perfectly proper amendment which changes a word or whatever. That is allowable. However, as I know the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, is a constitutional expert, perhaps he can tell me how these amendments—which are clearly not within the terms of the title of the Bill—are allowable. I must have a word with the Clerk of the Parliaments—I am having a lot of words with him at the moment but I will have another one—to find out why on earth these things are allowed.
I ask exactly the same question as the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and I agree with the point that he is making. There is a strong case for putting the House of Lords Appointments Commission on a proper statutory basis. That was one of the four proposals in the House of Lords Reform Bill, which became known as the Steel Bill—one of the many sensible proposals—but it was effectively blocked because of a flurry of hundreds of amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, tabled the day before that Bill was to be considered in the House of Lords. That is the reason it did not happen or make progress. Those people who prevented the House of Lords Appointments Commission being put on a statutory basis are now suggesting that we need to debate putting the House of Lords Appointments Commission on a statutory basis. The text is simply to prevent us making a sensible, modest reform to bring an end to the hereditary by-elections. We need to end those by-elections because if we do not make a contribution from the hereditary element towards a reduction in the size of the House, we will increase the proportion of Members of the House who will be here by virtue of the hereditary position, as opposed to at least being appointed by the Appointments Commission or by elected party leaders.
My Lords, I respectfully support what the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, said. Of course, one cannot translate issues of scope directly into issues of relevance in this House, as opposed to the House of Commons, but it is worth recalling that this is a single-purpose Bill. At the very least—at the kindliest level of criticism—its inclusion as being in order for an entirely separate one-purpose piece of legislation is generous.
My Lords, I was hoping not to speak in this debate because I wanted to leave early and get a train to Dorset to see my grandchildren, so I am rather irritated to be on my feet. Quite honestly, this is cheating. I know that I am a relatively new Member of the House, particularly compared to the noble Lords opposite, but filibustering on a simple Bill like this which has an enormous amount of support in the House is cheating and I do not know how it is allowed.
A few comments have been made already which are infuriating. I do not remember either noble Lord signing up to my Bill on an all-elected Chamber, but I look forward to getting their signatures when I bring it back. This phrase about the “undiluted patronage of the Prime Minister” is not strictly true. I am here because Cameron honoured a promise in the party’s election manifesto. I am sure that Cameron and Clegg regret it but that is the fact, so there are people who are here not just on a whim. I remind all noble hereditary Lords that they are here on a whim, as the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, pointed out—the whim of a monarch, many centuries ago—and I do not believe that anybody is born that entitled. I admire what a lot of the hereditary Peers do here—I even have a best friend who is a hereditary Peer—but the fact is that it is a ridiculous system to maintain into this century. Quite honestly, this abolition of by-elections is a soft way to go about it. It values the noble Lords we have here at the moment but it says: “Enough”. This is a defunct and outdated system and we will gain respect from outside if we are to make a move of this kind.
My Lords, I really am grateful for the contributions we have had. I thought pretty much everything that could be said about this Bill had been said at the various stages so far. This is the third day in Committee, which must be unprecedented for a Private Member’s Bill, or close to it anyway. Still, new thoughts arise, not least—I suppose this is not a new thought but it is a very significant one—from my noble friend Lord Foulkes, whose point was embellished with skill and elegance by the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, whose clerkly word to describe the allowance of this amendment being tabled to the Bill was “generous”. I shall remember that all-encompassing word, which avoids saying brutally what needs to be said. I was surprised as well that this amendment was in the scope of the Bill. Should the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, decide to bring this back on Report, I hope that they consult the clerkly community, as I am sure they do, and that the clerks will reflect on what has been said today during this debate—particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Rennard—and decide that this should not be here. Many of us are perfectly happy about having a statutory Appointments Commission. I am happy about all things in life but I do not want them all tacked on to this Bill. That is all I am saying.
I appreciate the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. We have had very few votes, but support for this Bill in this House is overwhelming in all parties and in none, as well as among both life Peers and hereditary Peers. I have no doubt about that. I notice that one of the amendments asks that the Bill should not become operational until a majority of the hereditaries agree to it. This is only anecdotal, but a number of hereditary Peers have come to me to say, “Why on earth do they not let this Bill pass?” That is my appeal to them now.
We will come back to the Bill on Report. We have had a clear indication from the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, that there is a good chance that the Commons would support it. We would do ourselves no end of good by passing it and we would do ourselves significant damage if we allowed these silly by-elections to continue. Let us try to complete the Committee stage now.
My Lords, it made me smile when I heard several noble Lords criticise this proposal because I have had heard equally from noble Lords who want to attach their ideas to other legislation going through the House, their argument being, “We don’t get many chances to discuss bits of legislation so let’s tack it on to this Bill”. The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, when he was the Chief Whip, will remember many occasions when amendments were tabled to tack on people’s specific wishes that some would consider not quite in the spirit of the Long Title. However, it was a chance to air a point.
Noble Lords have not criticised the need for a statutory Appointments Commission, although they have said that it would be wrong to have it with this legislation— I remember saying that as a Minister in response to quite a number of amendments.
I have been singled out for trying to delay the Bill. Yes, I have tabled amendments, but until today I think that we have had some six hours of discussion and I reckon that I have spoken for less than a quarter of an hour. I do not think that it is me who is holding up the Bill or discussion on it. I may have put down amendments, but everyone else seems to want to chime in.
I regret that the opportunity has not been taken to put this proposal into the Bill because I do not think that it would cause much of a problem. If everyone wants it, this is a perfect vehicle for taking it forward for the benefit of the future of this House. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 58A withdrawn.
Amendments 58B to 58D not moved.
Debate on whether Clause 2 should stand part of the Bill.
As we come to our conclusion, I shall say simply this. I am very grateful to so many people for proving the success of Private Members’ Bills being held in Grand Committee. It should facilitate the opportunity for more Members to make use of the House’s time on a Friday while Second Readings are being taken in the main Chamber. I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in our debate. I can barely believe that we have completed the Committee stage, but it looks as though we have.
Clause 2 agreed.
Amendments 58E to 59 not moved.
Bill reported in respect of proceedings after Amendment 35A.
Committee adjourned at 11.54 am.