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Lord Marlesford: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that since the Prime Minister's Statement last Tuesday to the effect that ground troops would not be needed, the scale of refugee flow has become so great that it is not going to be possible to handle them other than inside Kosovo? Is it not now necessary therefore to contemplate a limited area of Kosovo being secured by ground troops so that the refugees can be kept there pending the outcome of this terrible war?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I can only repeat what I said last week; that is, that we have no intention of fighting our way into Kosovo. If there is a peace agreement then, as was discussed at Rambouillet, we will expect to support that with a military implementation force.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am well aware of how strongly my noble friend feels about these events. I am sure that the Prime Minister will be pleased to respond personally to his letter. All I can say at this stage is that there is nothing that the British Government or indeed anyone involved with the NATO alliance has said which indicates that we would be anything other than extremely pleased to engage in further discussion. However, the initiative for that must come from President Milosevic, given the situation we are now in.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness about the length of time over which these events have been building up. The problem, as she will be aware, is that they have been accelerating over a period of time. As I said when I repeated the Statement, there were already 300,000 refugees last summer when this situation began to be clear. Matters have now accelerated to the point where, in the two days prior to the NATO campaign, 20,000 people were driven from their homes.
The point relating to voluntary organisations is a good one. I am sure all noble Lords will be aware of the enormous role they often play in these difficult humanitarian situations. I believe my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development was speaking today to Mrs. Ogata, the executive director of the UNHCR. It is already understood that the World Food Programme, the International Red Cross and other NGOs will be involved in the humanitarian effort.
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, relating only to the Berlin conference, will my noble friend inform the House as to whether any discussions took place about the holding of a special intergovernmental conference at which institutional and administration changes within the European Commission can be discussed? Also, can some consideration be given to taking away from the Commission the sole power of making proposals for action by the Council of Ministers itself in order that the nation states, through the Council of Ministers, may once again resume the control they had initially over the policies and actions of the European Commission?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, my brief reading of the conclusions of the Council, which perhaps my noble friend read in more detail, as he usually does read any document related to Europe that is hot off the press, does not suggest that such a proposal was discussed. It is probably something the new President of the Commission, Mr. Prodi, may wish to consider as a way forward in precisely the way we discussed other questions from noble Lords about the sort of reform by which we will judge his success or otherwise in achieving a different type of Commission activity.
Baroness Ludford: My Lords, the Leader of the House referred to precedents at previous summits on budgets and CAP spending increases. Can she say whether there is any precedent for heads of government watering down their farm Ministers' agreement on CAP reform, which they did this time? Is it not disappointing that the governments have not achieved sufficient
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, as I said in reply to other noble Lords who raised this question, the British Government were not entirely satisfied with the outcome of the CAP discussions. However, we felt that it was an achievement to make some progress. It is true that the arrangements and agreements of the agricultural Ministers are always the subject of consideration and agreement by the European Council. There is nothing new in that. The main problem of the settlement reached by the Agricultural Council in this instance, before the meeting of the full Council, was the cost. The European Council has now agreed changes that substantially reduce the budget cost of that agreement and I am sure that that is something the House on the whole will be glad to hear.
Baroness Young: My Lords, this is one of the saddest days of my political life. Unlike defeat in an election, when one may not only hope, but possibly expect to win on a future occasion, this Bill means the end of the House of Lords; the end of hundreds of years of history.
I stand by what I said last October: the Bill is a constitutional outrage. The Bill is nasty, short, and based largely on political prejudice. It will contribute nothing to better legislation, nor to more legislative control over the Executive, or benefit the British people at large in any respect whatever. It is not supported by a single serious political commentator or historian and, if public opinion polls are to be believed, nor by the public at large. No one has said in the course of the debates, letters, discussions or papers, that the House of Lords does a bad or ineffective job; quite the contrary. Above all, it will not lead to a Chamber with democratic legitimacy. We should all understand that life Peers are just as undemocratic as hereditary Peers. As the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said, when looking for legitimacy in the future, this is something we should recognise in whatever follows from this Bill. It will not be a House that has any more political legitimacy.
The Bill will not lead necessarily to a stage two House based on any kind of political consensus. Indeed, in my view, it is the ultimate political irresponsibility to dismember the present House without saying what, if anything, will take its place. Any slight concessions have had to be dragged out of the Government and in my opinion it is a prime example of this Government's general contempt for Parliament and constitutional practice. It is for that reason, above all, that I shall support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, with whose speech and argument I agree.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jay, her colleagues in government and those on the Government Benches, may feel pleased with themselves this afternoon; but I wonder how history will come to judge them and the Labour Government. Destruction of institutions without reason or argument does not usually stand the test of time and is not usually well thought of. What business, what educational establishment, what organisation of any kind whatever would allow its destruction without saying what it intended to put in its place?
What are we destroying? The House of Lords is unique. It is a House of Parliament that regulates itself, whose members are courteous and whose customs and procedures are civilised and maintained by agreement. It is a House in which both sides of the argument are put with reason and indeed are listened to. Because of its character, the House has attracted very many distinguished men and women to come and participate in its debates and committees. I wonder whether such men and women will be as willing to come to the future House, particularly in stage one.
The present House is one in which women have done particularly well. They have been able to occupy all the top jobs. There is no glass ceiling and there is no intense power struggle or, indeed, a "macho" atmosphere about which so many women Members of Parliament complain. I believe that it owes these important characteristics above all to the presence of the hereditary Peers, many of whom have given great and distinguished service both to this House and to the country at large. It would be very wrong to let an occasion like this pass without recognising what they have done. Whatever may be the outcome, we must ensure that we manage to secure a House which works as well and which will attract people to give similar service.
I was delighted to hear my noble friend Lord Carrington speak this afternoon. He has given such long and distinguished service. I was also delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, in his place. He was the Deputy Labour Leader when I came to the House. Indeed, I recall so well his predecessor, Lord Shackleton. There are many hereditary Peers from all parts of the House to whom I should like to pay compliments if time would only allow me to do so.
This House has nothing to hide and nothing of which to be ashamed. After all, it was the first Chamber to allow in the television cameras. A surprisingly large number of people watched the House of Lords at work day by day and recognised its value.
As the Bill proceeds there will be a great deal of debate. Like other noble Lords I, too, have my views on what a future House might be like. However, perhaps I may answer three points which have been raised. The noble Baroness, Lady Jay, said that reform was frustrated in 1968. However, it was not frustrated by Conservatives; indeed, it was lost in the House of Commons. One of the people who contributed to that loss, as my noble friend Lord Carrington said, was Mr. Michael Foot.
I turn now to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers--a classic example, if I may say so, of the work of the Lib-Lab Pact. He compared the Bill before us to the Youth Justice Bill, which I recognise to be a very important piece of legislation. However, I should point out to him that there is no comparison to be drawn between that Bill and this constitutional measure and the time which should be allotted to it.
I had a great deal of sympathy with large parts of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. However, I hope that he is right to say that we shall have some cross-party debate. If this could only really be so--indeed, if any of us could believe it--we might view the coming procedures with something approaching a modicum of confidence. In my opinion, this is a bad day for the House; it is a bad day for public life; it is a bad day for Parliament; and it is a bad day for Britain.
Viscount Tenby: My Lords, it is with a sense of some surprise and trepidation that I rise to address the House, as I am not accustomed to being so highly placed in what is a very long list of speakers. I hope that I may not owe my exalted position to the expectation of a final family flourish on this most longstanding of issues. Things were very different in those days, as the noble Baroness the Leader of the House said earlier. I would only remind noble Lords that the Budget of 1908, which, to coin a phrase, nearly brought the House down, involved many all-night sittings in another place and ran to some 550 Divisions in all. I hope--and I am sure that the Chief Whip hopes with me--that even with the intensive and constructive criticism of the Bill, which we all anticipate, we may nevertheless escape with rather less strain on our constitutions.
I would not be presumptuous enough to suppose that anyone would be swayed by anything that I have to say or anything I do in this debate, unless perhaps it might be to follow my example by only speaking for a few minutes. I take it to be correct that I should confine my remarks to the Bill itself and to the intermediate stage which it creates. Therefore, I will resist the temptation to observe that, in my view, it would be a very great mistake indeed to have an all-elected second Chamber. So, with apologies to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, I have to declare myself as a mish-mash man or a pot pourri Peer. On this issue the noble Lord, Lord Richard, has my vote--much good will that do his reputation, I fear.
The proposal to remove the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in this House was contained in the victorious Labour Party's election manifesto. Although, of course, no one would seek to claim that it was that
Much has been made of the undesirability of proceeding on the path of reform until the composition of a revised second Chamber has been agreed. In the best of all possible worlds, that is undoubtedly right. Indeed, if there were time enough and the will, we should surely embark on the root and branch reappraisal of Parliament itself, for few can doubt that another place could do with the treatment as well.
On the other hand, deciding on the second stage is the difficult bit. It always has been. That is precisely why only minor progress has been made towards solving the problem in the past 87 years. Further, although there are many who believe passionately that an all-in-one reform is the only way to tackle the problem, I nevertheless wonder if there are not some who see this position as offering the best let-out, tactically, for doing nothing at all.
However, be that as it may, we now have the Bill. It is a comparatively short one given the complexity and sensitivity of the subject. The Government will hope, just as their opponents will hope to the contrary, that its draftsmen and advisers have got it right. There will be many tremors of excitement, as one legal hare after another is flushed from the undergrowth. But let us all keep a sense of proportion in the weeks to come.
The principal innovation following the Bill's publication has been the production of the so-called Weatherill amendment. I am sure that it is not necessary for me to emphasise that this is not an official Cross-Bench amendment, that being impossible in the nature of things. It is an amendment by three distinguished Peers who happen to be Cross-Benchers. I very much hope that as many noble Lords as possible will vote for it as it provides a constructive and practical means of carrying on the work of this House in the interim period. To seek to change its content fundamentally--by, for example, increasing the suggested number of Peers to be retained--would be at best unproductive and at worst might jeopardise the amendment itself.
In my view the selection of the 92 Peers to be retained is a matter of some importance. Some would see the correct procedure as being the establishment of an electoral college of hereditary Peers only, rather on the historical lines of the Scottish and Irish electoral colleges of former years. I believe, however--and it is only a personal view--that this is to run counter to the point which is surely behind this Bill. Such an election implies the continued legitimacy of the hereditary principle in this House and additionally disenfranchises those Peers--that is, the life Peers--who will have to
Some of us have been pondering on this problem for what seems to have been an eternity. Some four years ago I was privileged to be invited to join a group formed by the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, to investigate the subject of Lords' reform. I recall thinking at the beginning, with all the certainty of the uninformed, that the solution was a simple one: just do this, and a little bit of that, and hey presto, end of problem. Six months, and a great many distinguished witnesses later, I was fairly sure that I did not have the answer. Indeed, I was not even certain what the question was.
I wish the Royal Commission well in its daunting task. When we began our survey we took the view that we would not look back at all with sadness at what had been, provided that what came after was better in every way. Let us in our future deliberations try to make this hope a reality. Let us in the weeks to come act in such a way that people will say of us, "Nothing so became them as the manner of their leaving".
Lord Waddington: My Lords, I do not want to weary the House and I hope that the noble Viscount will forgive me if I do not follow him in my speech as I wish to concentrate on one important point. This is not a transitional measure. I say with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, that this is not a paving Bill, or anything like a paving Bill. There is nothing on the face of the Bill to suggest that it is a transitional measure. There is nothing in the preamble which suggests that it is a transitional measure. There is no sunset clause. There is no clause saying that it will cease to have effect on a particular event or after a particular length of time has elapsed. That is the legal position and that also is the practicality of the matter, and we had better keep it very much in the forefront of our minds.
The Government say that the Bill is intended only as the first stage in a two-stage process. I do not doubt for one moment that that is the Government's intention. But the reality is that the Government cannot guarantee that there ever will be a second measure providing a replacement for the nominated House created by this Bill. I have been over this ground before but we really must remember that history shows how difficult it is to get any consensus on reform. Anyone who has read the Second Reading debate on this Bill in another place will have seen that there is no consensus now in another place as to what kind of House should take the place of
It was interesting to hear the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and other noble Lords give us their views on what should be the shape of ultimate reform. But as the House created by this Bill may never be replaced, the real question is one which has not yet been addressed. We should ask ourselves whether the Bill as at present drafted contains all the safeguards one would expect to see in a Bill creating as a more or less permanent feature of our constitution a House wholly nominated by government. That is the real question. I ask Ministers to address it because it certainly has not been addressed yet.
In our debate a month or two ago I reminded the House that a government with dictatorial tendencies could pack the House with its own supporters and procure the passage of any legislation it wanted. In his response the noble Lord, Lord Carter, said that I was scaremongering. He said that what I feared had never happened in the past and that, indeed, I was impugning the integrity of life Peers who could always be relied upon to do the right thing in any circumstances. The noble Lord was wrong for three obvious reasons. First, the hereditary Peers are a uniquely independent element in the present House simply because, unlike anyone else here, they are beholden to no one. It insults the intelligence to suggest that a wholly nominated House would be as independent; quite clearly, it would not. Secondly--
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