My Lords, Amendment 2A is not on the Marshalled List. I apologise; it was tabled rather late yesterday and I did not have an opportunity to discuss it with the noble Lord, Lord Grocott. I had a eureka moment in my bath yesterday morning, when I was thinking about the noble Lord and his Bill, and came to the conclusion that it was an appropriate way to deal with this legislation and solve a very serious lacuna at the heart of the Bill.
Before I go on, I join my noble friend Lord Cormack in saying how right it is that this House should stop at 11 am for one minute to mark the terrible attacks in New Zealand. I hope that my noble friend Lord Young will direct us at a suitable time so that we can honour that moment with appropriate dignity.
Given the sort of parliamentary chaos that has been going on over the past couple of weeks in another place, it is wonderfully reassuring for people to come to this House and find that we can have a straightforward debate—one we have held many times in the past 20 years—discussing in detail how to progress with reforming your Lordships’ House.
As the House knows, I have been involved in many such debates, as has the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, but this is the first time I have spoken on this Bill during this Session. I have no idea how long this Session will last, but even if it lasts just another couple of months, I hope the noble Lord will agree that it is extremely unlikely that this legislation will get into law. I do not know whether we will finish Report today or when the Bill will receive its Third Reading. However, to be clear, I oppose the legislation because it would create a wholly appointed House. As the House knows, I am broadly in favour of politicians in the United Kingdom being elected, not appointed, but I know that that is not a popular view in this House.
If my noble friend is so certain that the Bill will not make it on to the statute book, why on earth is he moving this amendment?
I was just about to come to that. My amendment is small and humble but it deals with an important issue. As it is unlikely to become law, we now have time to study it in some detail—if the principle behind it is accepted today, as I hope it will be—before Third Reading, when we can add detail to it. I am grateful to my noble friend for allowing me to clarify that.
What is the most difficult part of this Bill? It is the third and fourth lines of Clause 1, which say,
This is the central part of the legislation, to which I would like to add the words,
“and create a statutory House of Lords Appointments Commission”.
I have nothing but the greatest respect for the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, and for his integrity and tenacity in coming back time after time with this legislation. However, it is a profoundly political Bill. In Committee, my noble friend Lord True explained why that was. By doing this, we will remove the ability of 40-plus Conservative Members of this House to replace themselves without a guarantee that they would be replaced in any other shape. I wholly understand why the noble Lord thinks that is a desirable outcome, and I hope he will understand why I think it is an undesirable outcome. He certainly does not duck the issue. The noble Lord is completely up front about his objective.
The lacuna at the heart of the Bill is that it removes the ability to have hereditary by-elections but does absolutely nothing to improve the way others are appointed to this House. I want to put that right. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, will agree with me that it is something we need to tackle, and why not tackle it in this Bill? It has been promised for more than 20 years by the party that the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, supported so ably in government. It appeared in several White Papers in the early part of the century. Now is the opportunity to debate it further and, I hope, to put it in this Bill. I have said that it is a humble amendment but it deals with a big issue, and I hope very much that the House will accept at least the principle behind it.
My Lords, I went to the Public Bill Office to put the amendment down, and it took the clerk about 10 seconds to agree that it was entirely in order. It might also be worth flagging up that my noble friend Lord Caithness, after Clause 3, has a very substantial amendment, Amendment 59, which seeks to amend the Bill to include a fully thought through appointments commission. I think it is in order but if the noble Lord feels that it is out of order in any way, I will certainly listen to his argument.
I am grateful to the noble Lord. I have to say that the loss of 40 Conservative hereditary Peers may not be greeted with great sorrow all around the House. Can he tell me how many years he would expect it to take to lose the total of 40? I suspect it would be many years.
My Lords, I am not an actuary but I am sure there are actuarial tables that the noble Lord, Lord Burns, will have looked at in the course of his report. But what the noble Lord’s question really begs is that he does not believe that there will ever be any long-term reform of this House. I have not given up hope. One of the few things that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and I agree on is that that is a very desirable way to go forward. I accept that it is unlikely to happen in this Session of Parliament, or indeed in the next, but that does not mean that we should give up on that ability. My fear is that once we have a wholly nominated House, that will be it for another 100 years, and I am not in favour of that.
As the House knows, in 1999 we had a two-stage reform.
My Lords, I do not want to intervene for long, but I am in rather a strange position. As a life Peer, having stood down as a hereditary Peer and been elected to this House, I have the issue that my son could stand on the hereditary Peer list. Obviously I have had to explain to him that I will have to be dead first—that is the way of it. But I question the noble Lord’s premise. In 1999, the number of Conservative Peers was set just because that happened to be the percentage of the number of Peers there were at the time. That of course led to the Liberal Democrats having only three. If the same situation arose today and was based on the number of Peers, we would have a larger proportion. Is he saying that, as a matter of luck, the Tory party ended up with a large number of hereditary Peers who will carry on for ever and that should be the basis going forward, or is he suggesting that perhaps we should rejig the number of hereditary Peers available to other parties?
My Lords, I wholly accept that everyone thought that the hereditary Peer by-elections would never actually occur because they would kick in, if I may use that term, during only one Session after the subsequent general election that took place in 2001. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, looked me in the eye when he made this agreement and said, “These things will never happen because we intend to come forward with proper reform early in the next Parliament”. I accepted that.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, that it is always entertaining to hear a Liberal Democrat talking about the disparity of numbers in this House: need I say more? Whether it was luck or a matter of fact, those figures for the hereditary Peers were set at the time and no one thought that they would continue. But they are set now and my point to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, is that if you take away the hereditaries’ ability to remove themselves and put nothing else in place, that could create a long-term unfairness, which I will deal with in a moment.
Post 1999 we were promised a second-stage reform, but we are not there yet. The by-elections are a central reminder of that failure. As well as being a nod to the past, I think the new hereditary Peers are perfectly capable people and I know that the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, has been at pains to say that there is no personal attack on hereditary Peers or their heirs; these are much more principled objections. But if we are stuck with this halfway house, we must deal with some of these issues. For the noble Lord that means the by-elections, while for me it means an appointments commission set up on a statutory basis.
I hope the noble Lord will forgive me. Would his statutory commission apply just to Cross-Bench Peers, as now, or does he see it applying to party Peers too? He will know that there was a big debate when the commission was set up on a non-statutory basis about whether it would apply party Peers. Indeed, there was a radical idea that the commission itself, rather than the party leaders, should nominate the party Peers. Has the noble Lord given any thought to this idea, because the scope of his commission is an important question?
My Lords, the noble Lord and I stand shoulder to shoulder in our radicalism. I would want a statutory appointments commission to do exactly that: to appoint all Peers to this House apart from the Lords spiritual, who of course get here in an entirely different way. At the moment the Bishops have their own route in and the hereditary Peers have their by-elections. The HOLAC nominations come in, but the overwhelming majority of new life Peers who come to this House arrive through the political route, advised and guided by the Prime Minister, who no doubt takes soundings and recommendations from other party leaders. This is the reason for the change. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, is asking his question at exactly the right time because it is the time for radicalism on this.
I shall make some further points. First, nothing I say is a criticism of the current system championed by HOLAC. It does an excellent job and is led by the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar. However, HOLAC is not statutorily based. The commission can be abolished or its remit can be changed at any stage. Since I feel that in recent years our constitutional arrangements have become more fluid, in a sort of make-it-up-as-you-go-along mood, there is a real danger over the next few years, if we accept the case for a wholly appointed House, that a Prime Minister could well use those ancient constitutional powers to increase the House of Lords on a party basis. Remember, this has been threatened in the past. If we are to create a wholly appointed or wholly nominated House, we need new protection.
My humble aim today is to get the principle of this agreed—I cannot imagine that anybody would want to oppose it, but in this House you never know—and then to join others, including my noble friends and perhaps the noble Lords, Lord Grocott and Lord Adonis, to look at what has been written about this in the past and to come up with an amendment at Third Reading that might appeal to noble Lords across the House and to the Government. To those who might say that it would be inappropriate to table such an amendment at Third Reading, I say that obviously I would not do it if it were not clearly in the rules. We might even be able to recommit that new clause at Third Reading. I hope the House would regard that not as a constitutional innovation—it is not—but as an opportunity to debate in detail what I would propose.
The key ingredients of this should be that an appointments commission would be independent by statute, would decide on the political balance and would have a vital role in defending the Cross-Benchers, who at the moment are not defended at all—a Prime Minister might instruct HOLAC not to appoint any new ones. As the House knows, I have defended the principle of an independent group of Peers sitting on the Cross Benches since I started involving myself in these debates at the end of the last century. That is why I have always championed an 80:20 elected House, to keep the 20% in.
I can see that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, is looking at the clock, but I hope the House will agree that I have been generous in replying to all the interventions made.
This amendment would remove at a stroke most political patronage: no more placemen, no more cronies, but a properly statutorily based independent House. As the House knows, I oppose the Bill; I think politicians should be elected.
I discovered in my research that in 2000 my late noble friend Lord Kingsland introduced a Bill to do just this, which was accepted by the House. In his opening words, he said,
“I believe that it is constitutionally undesirable for the composition of a parliamentary body to be determined by the executive”.—[
I can put it no better. I beg to move.
My Lords, someone from this side should perhaps say a few words at this stage. I wholly associate myself—I am sure everyone in the House does—with the remarks made about the events resulting in our minute’s silence at 11 am. I fear that that might be the end of the consensual feeling I am able to express today.
The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, began his remarks by saying that he thought the Bill was unlikely to become law, and then spent 16 minutes making it less likely to become law. He knows perfectly well what he is doing; he has been here for 34 years, so I imagine that he is getting the hang of it by now. Mind you, he is a newcomer compared with our friends the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, who has been here for 49 years, and the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, who has been here for 56 years. So they have had 140 years between them, and that is a pretty good innings. Maybe they can listen to some more recent voices.
I simply say this to the noble Lord: it is a pity he was not able to join us in Committee to familiarise himself with what has happened to the Bill so far. It was introduced 18 months ago in September 2017, when I was lucky enough to draw number one in the ballot for Private Members’ Bills, which should give one a reasonable hope of the Bill passing through its stages in the Lords. It had its Second Reading then; it has since had three days in Committee, which the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was unable to get along to.
Had the noble Lord made it to the third day in Committee, he would now be aware that the precise amendment he is proposing now was debated at length and overwhelmingly opposed by those who spoke, including no less an authority on procedure—admittedly, not in this House—than the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, who pointed out, quite correctly, that this is a single-issue Bill that I am proposing. It is a three-clause Bill on one page. The noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, said, in terms, that to introduce this kind of additional related material into a single-issue Bill of this sort was a rather “generous” way of interpreting our procedures. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, knows perfectly well that, if this amendment were accepted or debated in any detail now, it would add enormously to the time involved in establishing this Bill, it would add to the costs of the Bill and, most importantly of all, it would do what I am sure his amendment is intended to do and make it even less likely that this Bill will become law.
I am so conscious on these occasions that we have these ragged debates—we have had several on this—that are unintelligible to the public outside. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, suggested that he was a moderniser; well, not in this respect. It needs someone—and it falls to me—to remind the House why we are doing this and why I am introducing the Bill. It is simply to end these idiotic by-elections, which are occurring with increasing frequency, in which only hereditary Peers on the hereditary Peers list, of which there are 211—I remind the House that 210 of them are men—can take part. In the first 10 years of the 20 years for which this system has been in operation, there were 10 by-elections. In the second 10 years, to date there have been 26. There is one pending, which bears a moment’s thought. It is due to be announced on
Most of what I want to emphasise today is what is happening in this House. In the last 10 days, 63 amendments have been put down to this simple, three-clause Bill, 53 of them by the same two Members—our old friends the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. They have degrouped all the amendments—I will not go into the details of degrouping, because I really would lose an audience if I were to try to do so—but it simply means that today we are discussing 42 groups of amendments. Most Chief Whips will say that if you are very lucky you can get through six groups in an hour—we are certainly not doing that now—so I reckon it would take seven hours of debate to get through those 42 groups. Of course, every one of them needs opposing, because most of them are ridiculous.
I will give two examples; I will spare my noble friend Lord Adonis on this side—I think he would win the prize for the silliest amendment. Actually, I cannot resist; I will mention it in a moment. But there are two that I will mention now. Amendment 47 says that in order for the Act to be implemented there would need to be an approving ballot among not just hereditary Peers here, but all hereditary Peers. There are about 900. I have not counted them, but I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, knows how many there are. I have no doubt that many of them are living abroad and are in various stages of excitement about the arguments that they can deploy—that is as politely as I can put it. The idea that you can organise a ballot of 900 people worldwide in order to sort this out is just ridiculous.
The amendment that takes second prize is Amendment 54, which says that the Act will be implemented when the number of women hereditary Peers equals the number of women hereditary Peers who were Members of the House of Lords at the time of the 1999 Act—you know it makes sense. There were four women hereditary Peers at the time of the 1999 Act. The progressive series of elections has resulted in the fact that there is now one—so the number has gone down from four to one—and the Act would come into effect until that number got back up to four. Please spare us that amendment. I ask that all the amendments be withdrawn or not moved, but let us concentrate to begin with on the most idiotic amendments. The idea that in the 21st century we should be arguing about whether we should have one woman or four women among the 92 reserved places is beyond satire.
However, I have to give first prize to my noble friend Lord Adonis. He says—
I support everything that the noble Lord, my friend, has said, but would it not look ridiculous in the country if this debate prevented a proper discussion of the Cohabitation Rights Bill, which is due for a Second Reading and in which many people throughout the country are taking a real interest?
That is absolutely right. This Report stage is scheduled to finish at 1.30 pm. That is ample time to deal with any reasonable amendments that anyone might wish to put down. It is generous time—but I am losing track of my desire to get to my noble friend Lord Adonis’s amendment. It would provide that, when the next by-election takes place, which we know will be on
This is all serious as far as I am concerned, but there is a real test here, particularly for the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. It is this: they can decide to expedite these amendments, and move them if they must, to conclude this Report stage by 1.30 pm. The House would then be orderly, it would have given the Bill more than enough time—more than anyone could reasonably expect a Bill of this length to have given to it—or they will be in grave danger of bringing the whole proceedings of this House into serious disrepute if they do not withdraw the vast majority of the amendments.
Before my noble friend sits down, perhaps I may ask his advice on one point. Surely the Government should end this whole pursuit and provide time for the Bill to conclude during this Session and to be introduced in the Commons and then carried over into the next Session so that we can really make some progress and end this ridiculous farce that is bringing this House into terrible disrepute.
I sincerely wish it were possible to carry this Bill over into the next Session, because there is no doubt whatever that it has overwhelming support in this House in all parties and, I guess, even among the hereditary Peers—but it is not within the power of the House to do that. The Companion to the Standing Orders is quite clear. I reassure my noble friend that if I should be unfortunate enough, despite having been first in the ballot, not to get my Bill on to the statute book this year, despite the wonderful support that it has had, I shall bring in exactly the same Bill in the next Session of Parliament. I know it will succeed some time. It is just a matter of persistence, and I can be extremely persistent if required.
My Lords, it might be for the benefit of the House if I speak to my Amendments 58, 59 and 60, which my noble friend Lord Strathclyde mentioned in his speech. I am glad I am now following the noble Lord, Lord Grocott. I do not have my name down to 53 amendments, as he claimed. That was a very misleading statement. He also derided the amendment relating to female hereditary Peers. There is a slightly deeper reason for that. My name is not to that amendment, but I think my noble friend Lord Trefgarne, who will doubtless speak for himself on this matter, has introduced a Bill to change the rules regarding succession to hereditary peerages. I believe that it should be the eldest child. If the eldest child of the monarch should succeed, so should the eldest child of a Peer succeed. I would support any Bill in that direction.
There will be people outside watching this debate. Will Members declare an interest at the beginning of their contribution if they are hereditary Peers so that people understand exactly where people are coming from in this debate?
My Lords, that is not a declarable interest, but I think all those who are interested enough to listen to this debate will know that I am a hereditary Peer, and it does not take much looking up on Google to decipher whether a Peer is a hereditary.
The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, also said that he did not want me to speak. It was not until, I think, the 42nd minute that I was allowed to get to my feet, so I have not been delaying the Bill.
The noble Lord also mentioned patronage, which is of great interest to my noble friend Lord Cormack. I am sorry that he has changed sides. He will recall that, on
“I believe without equivocation … that the House of Lords will be better for the 92”.
He raised another point a little earlier in his speech:
“We are witnessing a crude exercise of patronage”.—[Official Report, Commons, 10/11/1999; col. 1200.]
That was the patronage of the then Prime Minister Mr Blair, and I wonder what my noble friend thought of the patronage of Mr David Cameron in his Dissolution list when he ceased to be Prime Minister. That is why my noble friend Lord Strathclyde had one of his many eureka moments—this time it was in the bath yesterday morning, but he has had a number of them—and it is also why I tabled Amendment 58, which requires the setting up of a statutory appointments commission. I go into more detail than my noble friend Lord Strathclyde—I set out exactly what I want.
Does my noble friend not see the irony of a hereditary Peer arguing against patronage, given that all hereditary Peers are here as a result of patronage given some generations ago? As to the image of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde in his bath, does he not think that this matter requires rather longer consideration than the time he might have spent in his bath?
We are giving it consideration. It was that eureka moment in the bath that has prompted this debate. My noble friend Lord Forsyth knows full well my position on hereditary Peers. I do not think that they should be here, and I also think that this ought to be an elected House. However, in 1999 there was a binding-in-honour agreement that the hereditary Peers would stay here until stage 2 of House of Lords reform. The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, never refers to that and I can quite understand why, but to us it was a fundamental part of the agreement. If I am being criticised for standing up for a binding agreement and principle, so be it, and I am very sad that other noble Lords do not take the same principled view on the matter.
My Lords, that is the noble Lord’s interpretation of the agreement. I was not party to it, but it was introduced by the then Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, and it was binding in Privy Council terms on all of us who took part in that debate. That was a binding commitment. I have tabled an amendment that we shall come to later to try to help the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, get to the same position that I want to get to, which is to get rid of the hereditary Peers in this House.
Perhaps I may return to my amendments. I set out in quite considerable detail how the House of Lords statutory appointments commission should work. It will come as no surprise to my noble friend Lord Young on the Front Bench because he will recognise the details. They come from Schedules 5 and 6 to the 2012 Bill, which, sadly, failed in another place. I would have supported it had it come to this House. His name was on that Bill, as indeed was Danny Alexander’s, so I presume that the Liberal party still supports a statutory appointments commission, and I look forward to getting the support of its Members for this.
I do something slightly different from my noble friend. I set out that there should be a House of Lords appointments commission, and, equally and importantly, that there should be a Speakers’ committee comprising 13 members, as designed in 2012, to oversee the statutory appointments commission. It was drafted by a government draftsman, so I will not go into any detail, but I hope that the House will give this consideration. As my noble friend Lord Strathclyde said, there would be a lacuna. When the hereditary Peers go, it would be a much better arrangement if there were a totally independent committee to look at all appointments. My amendment covers all that. Proposed new subsection (4) in Amendment 58 says that it should come into operation,
“on a statutory basis, with the role of screening, selecting and recommending all persons for appointment to the House of Lords”.
Does the noble Earl recall that he advanced this argument at length in Committee on
What does he have to say to that?
My Lords, I will speak for only a few moments. I support the amendment and very much hope that it will become part of this Bill if it reaches the statute book, which, naturally, I hope it will not. Just a few moments ago, the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, appeared to deploy what I believe he considers to be—
If it will satisfy the noble Lord, I am happy to declare that I am a hereditary Peer.
A few moments ago, the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, described what he sees as the principal shortcomings of the by-elections—namely, that there are very few voters and candidates for the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats as compared with the Conservatives. I hope he therefore agrees that, if the Bill does not become law, voting in by-elections should be done on an all-House basis, which I shall very much support.
Can we dispose of this matter? One would think that lots of people would vote in a whole House election. I never take part in these things, but I am very happy to report that at the last whole House election earlier this year, 33% of this House took part in the ballot. I think that that is a sign of people voting with their feet—they know how silly the whole thing is. The percentage taking part has steadily declined since the 1999 Act.
No doubt, if there is another all-House by-election, the noble Lord will persuade them otherwise, particularly those in his own party. I will not detain your Lordships any longer unless any other noble Lord wishes to intervene. I simply repeat that I support the amendment proposed by my noble friend.
My Lords, I wish to intervene very briefly to declare an interest as another hereditary Peer and to say that I have a close interest in what is happening here.
I want the House to be reformed. Reform is available in the form of the Burns report. Everybody has said that all we are looking for is stage 2 of reform. From my point of view, that is stage 2, and if that report were the basis for the second stage of reform, I would not resist this Bill. However, if it comes to a vote, I will vote against it because we have not got to stage 2. That reform was promised to me and 800 other Peers, and they gave up their privileges for no reward on the promise that we would remain here until stage 2 occurred. The most important element of that reform was, whatever form it took, the House would still be free to challenge effectively the national Government when that was required by circumstances. My resistance is temporary, and I wish that we could get on with the issue of reform.
My Lords, I hope that this answers the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, who is not in his place. I remember well that in the original House of Lords Bill in 1999 we tried to get the amendment of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde added, but it was thrown out by the other place at the last minute. As other noble Lords have said, the non-statutory Appointments Commission, which was established in May 2000, has done a good job in connection with the non-political Peers.
My Lords, we will now pause for a minute’s silence in memory of those who have lost their lives in Christchurch, New Zealand. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and friends and indeed with the whole people of New Zealand at this time.
“has helped to transform the Crossbenches into a more active place where members arrive better prepared, and there is now a clear distinction between independent and party peers. It has also been possible to use these appointments to somewhat improve the gender and ethnic balance in the chamber, and fill clear expertise/professional gaps”.
The noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme, is reported to have told the committee that,
“by focusing on merit, quality and diversity, the Commission had helped to bring much-needed experience to the cross-benches”.
He added that,
“figures for gender diversity, ethnic minorities and disability on the cross-benches are considerably higher than among members of the House … as a whole”.
Some members of the committee, such as Meg Russell, argue that the non-statutory commission should be given more powers. I fear that this would not work. There are problems with its non-statutory basis. The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, in giving evidence said:
“While the existing Appointments Commission acts with scrupulous care and excellent judgement it is not satisfactory, to itself or anyone else, that it has no statutory basis, it invents its own remit and makes up its own rules as it goes along. There should be a statutory Appointments Commission, its task defined in general terms by Parliament and plain for the public to see”.
I agree, and believe that this amendment is important for the future appointments process.
“I say quite clearly that … the position of the excepted Peers shall be addressed in phase two reform legislation”.—[Official Report, 22/6/1999; cols. 798-800.]
He also said, in March 1999:
“The amendment reflects a compromise negotiated between Privy Councillors on Privy Council terms and binding in honour on all those who have come to give it their assent”.—[Official Report, 30/3/1999; col. 207.]
As the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, was Tony Blair’s Parliamentary Private Secretary, he must have been well aware of all this. To the hereditary peerage, it was a vital part of the 1999 Act and an additional reason to let it have satisfactory progress through the House.
I appeal to the noble Lord not to try to rewrite history in the way that he is doing. Does he not recollect that the deal in 1999 to which he refers was done in such an underhand way that it led to the resignation of the Conservative leader of the Peers in this House? There was nothing particularly noble about it; rather the reverse.
With respect to the noble Lord, I was not part of that deal so I cannot go into the detail of it. With reference to the Burns report, I have just seen that the Government do not accept the committee’s recommendation that the Prime Minister must now commit to a specific cap on numbers, absolutely limiting appointments in line with the formula proposed. Thus an important element of the Burns report is deemed to be invalid and the major reform which was promised for phase 2 is incomplete.
My Lords, it would be helpful if we could intervene from these Benches just once. I have to say that just at the moment I do not feel like a shadow Minister. I feel rather like Alice through the looking glass, as though I had fallen through a door and discovered myself—I will not say at the Mad Hatter’s tea party—somewhere in quite a different century.
On the so-called promise made in 1999, women of my age—or rather six months younger than me—were promised throughout their working lives that they would have a pension at the age of 60; they then discovered, unprepared, and without the money, that it would be 67. This House let that through, so it is quite possible to change what has been promised by an Act of Parliament. It is right to do it by an Act of Parliament rather than any other method, but let us not have any of this, when we consider what has been taken away from women. I am one of the very lucky ones—the last cohort of women who got their pension at 60, which was a long time ago—but a whole swathe of women have lost out.
Along with some colleagues, I met a group of Slovak MPs here in the House earlier this week. As very often when women politicians get together, we fell to discussing female representation in our various Parliaments. I have to say that they were completely mystified as to how this House—with the advantage of appointments and therefore not having to worry about whether the electors always choose equally—had not moved further towards female emancipation. I then pointed out that, with one exception, we had a caucus of 92 men who would always remain here because the system was that, when they left, they would be replaced by another man, and nothing that anyone else could do would alter that. They were a little mystified.
I am afraid that I have two sons and two daughters, so the two sons would have to go first with no male heir for the daughters to get here; but there are those possibilities and several others here in that position.
There were several others but, as we know, the figure has gone down from four to one; that is why I said that, with one exception, they are all men. For most on the list, as we have already heard, we are talking about men; in a House of only 400 or 500 active Members, 91 places will always be held for men. That may not make others ashamed, but it makes me ashamed and I am not even one of the people who are here by virtue of my father, grandfather, great-grandfather, great-uncle or anyone else, noble though those people were in their own right. I did not come here having inherited that right through the attributes of some earlier generation. That is what those who stand in the way of this Bill are trying to retain. They are trying to preserve, with some exceptions, the right of sons of people whose attributes 100 or 200 years ago were notable to have a seat in Parliament.
I do not believe that is the right way for us to choose anyone. I do not believe Picasso’s child should be recognised as a top painter simply because their father was. I do not know whether the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, has children, but surely they should not be considered a top ballerina just because their mother was. Yet we think that legislators should be here by virtue of their fathers, grandfathers or earlier forebears. I am not embarrassed by this, but I am embarrassed for those who are here for that reason now—nothing in this Bill will alter the position of those here at the moment—that they should seek to preserve a system whereby, with some exceptions, the sons of people whose forebears were given a seat here should have it, and that they should try to continue this ludicrous system.
We in the Opposition say: this Bill has our support. What we are seeing is a filibuster to try to undermine, talk out and stop the Bill, which will alter something fundamental to our constitution. That is not good enough. It belittles this House, and I think it belittles the hereditaries who are here to vote for the continuation of this system.
My Lords, perhaps I could intervene briefly at this stage to restate the Government’s position on the Bill. I begin by commending the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, on steering his Bill through the obstacle course in Committee and reaching Report, where there are still a number of hurdles in front of him. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, that I am a life Peer but a hereditary Baronet. I hope that does not confuse his rather binary approach to these issues.
It is clear that many noble Lords wish to see the end of the by-elections, but, despite the oratory of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, he has not achieved total unanimity. A number of my noble friends, and in earlier exchanges some Cross-Benchers, believe that hereditary Peers should remain, in line with the commitment given at the time, until we have comprehensive reform. I pay tribute to the role that the hereditaries play in our proceedings, as they have a higher participation rate than us lifers.
As the Bill has proceeded through your Lordships’ House, the Government have not obstructed it, nor will we. On the contrary, my noble friend the Chief Whip has been exceptionally generous in the amount of time he has allocated to this Private Member’s Bill, in a field where there are many contenders. While we have some reservations about the Bill, our position is actually academic, as the chances of it reaching the statute book in this Session are, frankly, small, however many meaningful votes are held. The Government’s view is that our energies would be better spent in taking forward the recommendations of the Burns report, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Elton, which I believe is a more effective way of getting our numbers down than abolishing the by-elections. The Prime Minister has assisted in this process by showing commendable restraint in her nominations to your Lordships’ House, which has caused a lot of distress among former Members of Parliament.
On this particular amendment, noble Lords will know that the House of Lords Appointment Commission was established in 2000 to make nominations for membership of your Lordships’ House to the Cross Benches. It is also responsible for vetting the propriety of all nominations to this House, including candidates for party-political membership. We believe that it does an excellent job and have no plans to make it statutory. As was said earlier, I do not think that amendment sits easily with the main purpose of the Bill. Having set out the Government’s position, I do not plan to intervene again, unless provoked beyond endurance.
My Lords, to avoid an unnecessary intervention by a politically appointed Peer, I am a hereditary Peer who believes firmly in a democratically elected Parliament in both Houses. I have absolutely no financial interest to declare as to whether the by-elections continue or not. There is no financial interest at all.
It is basically a failure of the democratic principle for the head of the Executive branch of the Government—in other words, the Prime Minister—to be able to influence the appointment of people to a part of the legislature that passes the laws that should be controlling him or her. That is the basic problem. The proposal of an appointments commission, when combined with Amendments 58, 59 and so on, goes some way to correcting that dangerous anomaly in our form of democratic government. It must be totally independent of the Executive, especially as many Members of the other place are Ministers—even more nowadays—and if they reduce the numbers there then the proportion will be even worse. It can be extremely difficult for them to know which hat they are wearing when they are passing legislation that will affect them. Are they legislators or members of the Executive? That concerns me.
I have always said that this House should be principally elected by the public. Many Members of another place agree with that principle; back in 1998, they held several votes on the subject and could not reach a decision on the question of appointed versus democratically elected. The real challenge is that the democrats want both Houses of Parliament to be elected but the Commons supremacists want this House to be appointed, because then they can take away its power as they are the ones with democratic authority, and this House will eventually lose its power over the years. The Prime Minister loses their power to reward people under both proposals, which is part of the problem.
Interestingly, the increase in the number of elections taking place now indicates that, were the Bill to pass, the hereditary Peers would die back to very few over a much shorter period than people seem to think. That would remove all incentive for what we were promised in 1999, which was further democratic reform of this House. All noble Lords who believe in the democratic principle should remember that, and therefore vote for something that does it. That is why the amendment is vital: it would give us an independent appointments commission that was totally outside any influence by the Executive of the Government.
My Lords, I shall be brief, as I believe all other noble Lords should be at this stage of consideration of the Bill. It is the fifth day in this Session of consideration of the Bill, and anyone looking at it will be quite amazed that this talented group of people has spent five days considering a one-page Bill consisting of just 231 words, which takes less than two minutes to read. It is of course a Bill that has the overwhelming support of Members of this House, which has been tested a number of times in its earlier stages. Overwhelming support has been demonstrated by this House for the principle of the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott.
The Bill is also entirely consistent with, and complementary to, the proposals of the Burns report. Indeed, without this Bill making further progress and being enacted, the report might undermine the principles of this House because it would see a reduction in Members and a consequent increase in the proportion of hereditary Members, unless we do something to halt these ridiculous by-elections.
Over three days in Committee we looked at nine pages of amendments to this one-page Bill. A week ago, 11 pages of amendments were tabled, and now, thanks largely to the efforts of a very small number of hereditary Peers, we are looking at 23 pages of amendments to a one-page Bill. Amendment 59 on its own is a seven-page amendment to a one-page Bill. Therefore, to avoid repetition, I suggest that in each grouping we consider the dictionary definition of the word “amendment”:
“A minor change or addition designed to improve a text, piece of legislation, etc”.
Most of the amendments on the Marshalled List are not anywhere near what might be described as being either minor or intended to improve the legislation. They are intended to wreck it, filibuster and prevent it making progress. They are certainly not minor and they do not improve the text.
I think it brings the House into disrepute that, once again, a small number of Members are preventing the overwhelming majority of the House allowing the Bill to be expedited and preventing the important next Bill, on cohabitation rights, being considered properly. The purpose behind most of the amendments is clearly to delay discussion, filibuster the debate and prevent progress on this issue. I believe we should complete Report today and, as soon as possible, allow the House of Commons to democratically consider the Bill. We are debating issues that are barely relevant to many of the amendments simply to prevent Members of the House of Commons being able to consider the Bill.
We should no longer waste time. We should seek to conclude this stage today and take the next steps to allow the House of Commons to consider this very important and worthy Bill.
The noble Earl is well aware of our position in support of having a properly constituted appointments commission on a statutory basis, but that is not the purpose of the Bill. The purpose of the amendment seeking to put forward that idea, which we have long supported, is simply to prevent proper consideration of the abolition of hereditary Peers’ by-elections, which continue to bring the House into disrepute. Such interventions seeking to delay progress are further bringing the House into disrepute.
There is no chance of achieving what the noble Lord says he wants to do—set up an independent statutory commission—through this Bill. The noble Lord, among others, seeks to delay the progress of this Bill so that it can go nowhere. There is no prospect of progress in the way the noble Lord intended. It will require a proper, separate Bill, which we would support.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a life Peer who has sat in your Lordships’ House for 35 years and served the House from the Front Bench, the Back Bench and the Woolsack, and behind the scenes in committees and all-party groups. I also was here for the passage of the reform Bill, which sadly was handled very badly. Although the core purpose of that Bill was to lead to a more “democratic” House of Lords, it did not do so. I cannot say that the fully appointed House of Lords is worse than the mixed House in which I sat for 15 years, which had a mixture of almost equal numbers of life Peers and hereditary Peers. But it is not a democratic House.
I support my noble friend Lord Strathclyde’s amendments. I do not need to go into detail, because he and the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, have explained the situation very clearly. Indeed, it was very helpful to have the intervention from the Minister. It is important to remember that the purpose of the so-called reform Bill was not just to get rid of hereditary Peers, as was said at the time, but to lead to elections of a second Chamber. I have voted in favour of an elected second Chamber in your Lordships’ voting lobbies.
My Lords, I strongly support this Bill. It is for that reason that I oppose this amendment, not because I do not see powerful arguments for a statutory HOLAC but because they clearly will not prevail in the context of this Bill; as has already been amply pointed out, they can only destroy the limited but important effect of the Bill as proposed.
I have said in the past that I am a huge admirer of the contributions made by hereditaries, but I fundamentally object to the notion that they should be followed by other hereditaries through an assisted-places scheme. That is what it is, and we have called it so in the past. It is of course right to say that the present scheme is also gender and racially biased, but those considerations fall into insignificance compared to that fundamental objection: that it provides for a well-born group of people to be necessarily the only candidates to fill 90 slots. That is just not appropriate. For the reputation of the House, I urge that this Bill be not hampered by the accretion of a statutory HOLAC, but be accelerated through. The fact that this House is trying to modernise and promote its reputation should be foremost in all our minds.
The thought that, as the Burns report progresses and we diminish in numbers, an ever-larger proportion will be hereditaries is absurd. Besides the Prime Minister’s commitment to her reticence and the fact that we are now diminishing in number, the one response of relevance to the Burns report is that in future there is to be,
“no automatic entitlement to a peerage for any holder of high office in public life”.
If Cabinet Secretaries, CGSs, Chief Metropolitan Police Commissioners, Lord Chief Justices and the like will not be able to count on appointment in future, why on earth should future hereditaries?
My Lords, I do not think I need to remind noble Lords that, at this moment, all over the nation, the political class is seen to have failed the country. If ever there was a time when noble Lords could make a stand for connecting more with the people, it is now. I assure noble Lords that, in pubs from Cradley Heath to West Bromwich, to Kings Heath in my home town, they talk of nothing but reform of the hereditary peerage system.
I fully support the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, in what he is trying to achieve. The time has come when, if we truly believe in making the political class that which I know this talented nation can provide for its people, this House must set an example. These amendments—every one of them—should be withdrawn, and after five days of debate over 240 words, we should push this through and stop the farce. We can then get on with not only running the country but reconnecting the political class with the people who have trusted us to look after them.
My Lords, I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. It is not an irrelevant amendment and it does not distract from the purpose of the Bill. On the contrary, it is an essential accompaniment to the Bill if it is passed. If it is passed, this House becomes a wholly appointed House, and therefore the mode by which people are appointed to it is not a peripheral issue but one of central importance. I was extremely surprised to hear the noble Lord from the Liberal Democrat Benches, a party that is supposed to be committed to radical constitutional reform, going well beyond this Bill. He was not even prepared to support an acceptable process for people to be nominated to this House in the first place.
I understand the point from the noble Lord, Lord Jones; I would much rather we were not discussing this issue at all. I completely agree that we should be discussing the big issues facing the country, not the distraction that my noble friend Lord Grocott has imposed upon us day after day. However, since my noble friend has forced us to debate this issue, we should get it right. That is very important. The likelihood of having a wholly nominated House will be significantly reinforced by this Bill, because once it passes, you can wave goodbye to the prospect of any more fundamental reform of the House. Indeed, my noble friend does not want to see more fundamental reform of the House of Lords. He is patently honest about his intentions: he wants a nominated House in perpetuity and does not support an elected House. He has been extremely clear about that.
I support an elected House. I am with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. We share a birthday; we have not had much else in common over the years, but we are united in House of Lords reform in our late 50s. It is very important that we do not imperil the urgent issue facing the country as far as parliamentary reform is concerned, which is connecting Parliament as a whole with the people far more effectively than we do at the moment.
Coming to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Jones, the reason we are in the middle of the Brexit crisis gripping the country is in large part because Parliament has become so divorced from the people, particularly in the Midlands and the north of England, an area my noble friend Lord Grocott knows well. The sense of power being distant has become greater. The idea that a wholly nominated second Chamber will do anything to repair the connection between people and Parliament is farcical. Indeed, it may make it worse than the status quo, because it will put into abeyance any agenda for wider reform.
My noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, for whom I have the greatest respect, said that we should declare interests. I declare an interest: I am a life Peer appointed to this place by Tony Blair. If my only concern was to remain here as long as possible, I should have a big interest in the passage of this Bill. I am 56 and I hope I have a reasonable lifespan; indeed, there is research by reputable medics which shows that membership of the House of Lords adds 15 years to your life on average—I cannot begin to think why. On that span, I may well be here in 40 years’ time, if this Bill passes, because there will be precious little chance of reform hereafter.
The agenda for House of Lords reform we should pursue is not tinkering changes about whether it is somehow superior to be nominated rather than hereditary. We are equally illegitimate on any democratic principle; let us be very clear about that. As an appointee of Tony Blair, I have no more legitimacy than the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has as an appointee of Charles II—or however far back it goes. In this debate, there has been an air of superiority from life Peers, as against hereditary Peers, but we are equally illegitimate. The only justification for our being here is that this is the existing law of the land. It is a very unsatisfactory law. I was present and working at the heart of government when the reforms of 1999 passed. I can assure the House that it was very much a spatchcocked reform. Let me be completely frank that it was in part motivated by the desire of people my noble friend Lord Grocott not to have wider reform of the House. My noble friend has been anxious at every stage that there should not be a move towards elections and wider reform.
I have spent most of my career engaged in public service reform, infrastructure and now, alas, trying to stop Brexit. I have taken the view that House of Lords reform is not high on the list of either my priorities or, to be frank, the nation’s, but in this big Brexit crisis, where the whole issue of Parliament’s relationship with the people is at the centre, I do not believe it is now possible to duck this issue any further. I am entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde: we need a much wider reform of this House. My view is that we need to move towards—
I know that my noble friend is a very keen tweeter. I have had the pleasure of reading one or two of his tweets, although I am not sure how I acquired them because I am not part of the system. For example, I think he is comparing our present situation to the one Britain faced in the spring of 1940. He is given to hyperbole, but as he tweets—and no doubt the wisdom he is expounding will be tweeted out to a large number of people as soon as he leaves the Chamber—could he please promise me that he will tweet the details of the amendment he will propose later and the arguments for allowing 40 million people to take part in the next hereditary Peer by-election? Will he also please give an estimate as to what the cost of that would be? Finally, could he explain to us how he thinks that would reconnect him with the public?
My Lords, that is a completely absurd intervention from the Liberal Democrat Benches. Of course democracy comes with a cost. The question is whether we are prepared to meet it. That is the whole issue. Of course I recognise that my amendment is absurd, but this is the key point. We are talking about amendments that the noble Lord tells us have to be minor changes to the current Bill. It is less absurd than the status quo, which is that the only people who will have a say are these 40 hereditary Peers. It is significantly preferable that the people of the country should have a say.
What I wanted to do was move to a fully elected House in the Bill. I wanted to do what I think is actually Lib Dem policy. I was told by the clerks that was beyond the Long Title. That is why I tabled the amendment. The only amendment that was acceptable was one that would make the election of hereditary Peers subject to the whole electorate. I could not do the really radical thing that I wanted to do, which is to have the election of Members of this House by members of the public from among members of the public—a revolutionary idea, but one we should be implementing.
The noble Lord has stolen my thunder by admitting that his amendment is absurd and part of an exercise to try to talk this legislation out, which is a disgrace. I wonder what Brenda from Bristol would think of his proposition that 40 million people should vote for the hereditaries.
I think Brenda from Bristol might be keen to take part in this election, because she currently has no say over any Member of this House. For the first time, Brenda from Bristol would have the opportunity to nominate and vote for somebody to sit alongside the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. She would give thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and to me for making it possible, because under the independent Appointments Commission that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is proposing, Brenda from Bristol might well be nominated, whereas she stands very little chance of Mrs May noticing her, which is the only way to get into this place at the moment.
My Lords, the noble Earl is very much into these high-tech solutions. Being old-fashioned and believing that people vote by putting crosses on ballot papers, I do not necessarily go the full way with these revolutionary suggestions, but that might be possible.
I come back to the point about this issue being fundamental, not peripheral. I can tell your Lordships that this issue was considered when the reforms of 1999 were considered. I was in No. 10 when we considered it. The obvious vulnerability to which we were open when we removed the hereditary Peers was that we would be creating a wholly nominated House, and how could we justify the only source of nominations to that House being the Prime Minister? What we did was a classic English compromise. Remember that before the independent Appointments Commission came, the Cross-Benchers were nominated by the Prime Minister too. Let me tell your Lordships, if I may choose my words euphemistically, that the selection was not always uninfluenced by what line those nominees might take in your Lordships’ House on matters of state. Noble Lords might be scandalised by that idea—I can see scandal written on the face of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde—but I am afraid these considerations took place. That is why a compromise was reached whereby the independent Members would be appointed by the Appointments Commission, but it was too much for my then boss, Tony Blair, to agree that the party Members should be. There were very big debates about it, particularly about whether there should at least be a role for an independent commission in reviewing the bona fides of those nominated by the party leaders because, again, if I may choose my words euphemistically, sometimes—
No, it does not; it is very important to understand what happens. At the moment a health check is undertaken, but not a judgment as to whether the nomination takes into account considerations of racial, ethnic, geographical or gender diversity, or whether that person is appropriate and has the qualities needed in Members of the House. We looked at this halfway house. It was ruled out because my then boss and the then leader of the Conservative Party did not want their control of nominations fettered in any way. Even reviewing the bona fides, in the sense of the health check, was an extremely difficult concession that was granted.
The reason for this was that the party leaders did not want to give up their control of nominations to this place. They did not want any formal process in place by which either their judgment might be challenged, or it might be possible for nominations to be made apart from by them, which is a real issue because—to choose my words delicately again—the leaders of parties almost always represent factions of parties. Let us be clear about it; that is what happens. When Tony Blair was nominating Members to this House—