So what is wrong with inheritance?

Podium: John Corbett; From a speech by the 4th Baron Rowallan to the House of Lords during their debate on reform yesterday
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The Independent Culture
SO THE problem is inheritance, is it? What is wrong with inheritance? Why does virtually everybody in the world try to have children if not to let them inherit? Even the Bible said the meek were to inherit the earth.

Inheritance is the very pillar of family life that this Government say they stand for. Inheritance is the true reason that we have fought for years to bring peace and prosperity for all. It is not about inheriting money and property only; it is about inheriting our future. It has been a central plank in all societies in our country for ever. It was good working practice for our forebears to hand on jobs in every trade to their sons. That was true of the miners, the dockers, the shipbuilders and the car workers. All ensured that their jobs were founded on the principle of inheritance.

Labour should have no objection to inheritance but it hates the independence of the hereditary peer who will not be told what to do by his own party Whip, let alone by that of any other party, or by spin doctors. Labour hates the fact that we inherited the right to vote in the Lords from our forebears. But we do not misuse it. The contrary is true, as we are brought up to look after and protect our moral responsibility to the country. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. There are always some bad apples in any orchard, but they are very few in number and are controlled by your Lordships yourselves. We do not need a Speaker like the sheep and rabble at the other end. We do it ourselves--and woe betide you if you fall foul of that discipline.

Why does this Labour Government want to change so drastically that which has served us well for centuries? Why change for change's sake? Our European neighbours have suffered from tyrants, despots, dictators and the secret police.

We, on the other hand, have enjoyed rules, institutions, customs and standards which have given us the society of today, where everyone can look forward to a future without deprivation or starvation and have the security of a home and our envied social service programme to help those who unfortunately fall by the wayside.

Let us look at the alternatives to second Chambers around the world. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, will pay close attention here.

The Canadian Senate is a pure quango. It votes on strict party lines. It has become stronger than the lower House, as it can amend or block any Bill.

Deadlock is frequent and the membership does not change until members die or reach 75. It has no young members and is moribund.

The German Bundesrat is a hybrid composed of representatives of the 16 Lander. They vote as they are told by the state governments. It is a permanent body with only a few members changing at state elections, and most Germans think it does not work. My Lords, in the German Bundesrat, some Members are elected; some are not.

The French Senate is jobs for the boys. Every three years one-third of its members are elected by an electoral college for nine years. Thus it is filled with ex-MPs.

The American Senate is now more powerful than the House of Representatives and the same is true in Australia, where both Houses are elected and both are vying for power. Are those better than the upper House that we have today?

An upper House should exist to stop the extremities of politics. It should give sober and considered responses to revising and perfecting legislation.

It should act as a brake on knee-jerk reactions to temporary outbreaks of passion or stupidity in the community.

This House does that. Yes, it can be argued that it is undemocratic but the fact is, whether this Government likes it or not, whether the country likes it or not, it works and it works well for this country.

The key to the balance of our constitution is your Lordships' House as presently constituted, because it has a separate method of appointment; it rewards public figures of our day; it has a detached approach to its functions; it has no pretensions and, most importantly, it does not seek to overrule the lower House. Why? Because of the hereditary principle.

We are seeing Old Labour rear its ugly head in this reform. Michael Foot said in 1963 about the House of Lords: "Let's cut its throat - let's make up our minds to have no more bother from the House of Lords."

The challenge, though, is to square the circle of democracy and still preserve the independence of the upper House and to stop it from being "a bother" in the future. Let us leave it alone for now.

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