Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Graham of Edmonton: Will the noble Viscount give way? I wonder whether he was in the House when the noble Lord, Lord Archer, read out to the House a letter he received from the then Prime Minister, Mr. John Major, in which he asked as a condition upon which he would recommend the noble Lord for this place that he would agree to vote in support of the Tory Government in every way.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I do not remember that episode. I am most grateful to the noble Lord for saying that he would send me a copy. I am sure that I can find the reference in Hansard as well, but I am, as always, grateful to the noble Lord. He has always endeavoured to save me trouble. If the implication, which I reject, is as I think it is from the noble Lord, that would go towards supporting my case rather than the reverse.

I have detained your Lordships far too long and I am grateful for your indulgence. I hope that my noble and learned friend will take this point from my remarks about independence. In spite of the remarks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, my experience tells me that there is a danger that an entirely nominated House would not necessarily increase the independence of this House.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: I am grateful to the noble Viscount for giving way. Does it not depend on who makes the nomination? The noble Viscount was right in replying to the noble Lord sitting in front of me that his argument supported the noble Viscount's case. But that is because the nomination is by the Prime Minister. That is the mischief.

Viscount Cranborne: I wholly accept what the noble and learned Lord has said. The point I wish to make is that my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Drumadoon is showing his usual faith in human nature by including the word "independence" in this amendment--a faith which, I am relieved to find, has survived prolonged exposure to the Scottish courts.

The amendments that we are considering are extremely useful as probing amendments. However, I should find it difficult, for reasons I have attempted to

20 Apr 1999 : Column 1076

explain, to support them. In view of my admittedly rather feeble powers of analysis, I am not sure that the way in which they are framed bears any relationship to what the Bill will bring about.

I suggest to the Minister that it would be extremely helpful were he to think in terms of including a preamble, although of course it may not be possible under the rules of the House to do so. I hope it may be possible for the noble Lord to give some reassurance on the matter I raised in relation to the Long Title.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): It is always a great pleasure to listen to Second Reading speeches, particularly in Committee! The noble Viscount has made a number of important contributions. I want to be as helpful as I can. His particular question concerned his trouble about whether the Weatherill amendment might slot into the Long Title. I think the answer to the noble Viscount's question is to be found in Amendment No. 152 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Weatherill and Lord Marsh, the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, and the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby.

Noble Lords will be grateful to the noble Viscount for the scrupulous and conscientious way in which he dealt with the difficult question put to him by my noble friend Lord Acton. His reply was no less than we should have expected, but it was refreshing to hear him answer so plainly and boldly.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, spoke of the purpose of a purpose clause. He described it in two ways, citing the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and his former committee. The noble and learned Lord said that one would have a purpose clause which was most convenient to deal with scope and effect. He also said of the recommendation of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that if there were to be anything akin to a purpose clause, it ought to be in a purpose clause, not a preamble. The Committee is thoroughly familiar with it; there was a preamble to the Act of 1911 which, so far as I am aware, had no particular utility in the intervening 89 years.

Viscount Cranborne: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Does he mean what he has just said? I seem to remember the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and many others quoting that preamble ad nauseam as a justification for "unfinished business".

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Of course they quoted it ad nauseam, but that does not derogate from the proposition which I put that they needed to quote it in 1997, 1998 and 1999 precisely because of what I said. It had no practical legislative utility of any kind. As always, the noble Viscount kindly reinforces the point I was making.

The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said, very unkindly I thought, that many persons here had never stood for elective office. That is unfair. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate stood for election as dean of the Faculty of Advocates in Edinburgh and I myself stood--both of us being successful-- as chairman of the Bar in this country. Both of us

20 Apr 1999 : Column 1077

enjoyed--if that is quite the word I was looking for--electorates distinguished by two central characteristics: barking egomania and rat-like cunning! I can say that in this private gathering. If we survived that, I believe we are reasonably entitled to say that we had a democratic mandate from the brothers and sisters.

The noble Viscount also spoke of his glee--maybe his mischievous glee--in penning a preamble. I understand that, and it is not unlike penning a valentine and despatching it anonymously. He asked questions hypothetically--he rightly described them as that--about Amendment No. 31. It would be for the convenience of the Committee, as the Chief Whip always tells me, if we discussed Amendment No. 31 in its proper, due place. It is an extremely important amendment. I repeat what the Leader of the House said. It was our wish and it might have been better to have had the Weatherill amendment and its related consequences right at the beginning of our debates in Committee. That is what we suggested. Other noble Lords took a different view. It is their continuing prerogative, but I believe that we might have done the House a better service if we had followed her advice.

Lord Strathclyde: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. On that point, does he agree that it might have been better if the amendments had been agreed in the House of Commons and if the House of Commons had been able to have a proper debate on those matters before they came to this House?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Despite my manifold responsibilities, the conduct of business in the House of Commons is not one. I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has to make the occasional partisan political point because there is little else of substance that we are entitled to look forward to. The fact is that it was a perfectly sensible proposition; it was not done for any particular partisan advantage and I repeat that it would have done a service to the conduct of this debate. It may even be that the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, would agree with me on that.

The Earl of Onslow: I do.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I think it is time I sat down. There is no purpose at all in having any of these variants of this clause, for the reason which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, exposed: namely, it is useful and most convenient when dealing with scope and effect. No one--and I pray in aid the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale--could be under any sensible misapprehension about the purpose, scope and effect of the Bill. In fact, the Explanatory Notes make it plainer than anything that,


    "The Bill's main purpose is to end membership of the House of Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage". I do not think that a purpose clause will improve on that.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, asked me four questions. The first was: did I, on behalf of the Government and not trespassing on my own personal views, think it valuable to have a

20 Apr 1999 : Column 1078

purpose clause at all. My view is that it is not and that coincides with the Government's approach, fortunately. He then asked three questions which I will answer together. We believe that the House which will result from the passage of the Bill will be more democratic, more legitimate, no less independent and better equipped to do its proper job of scrutinising legislation and holding the executive to account. I repudiate the proposition that life Peers are any less independent, stubborn, mulish, offensive to Whips and downright disagreeable than hereditary Peers. It is not true if one looks at the list. Indeed, in moving my head round the assembled panorama, even of those opposite me, were I deeply unkind I could point to one or two of my noble friends who have been extremely independent and have continued to be so, whatever apparent blandishments might have been offered to them before they came here.

The Earl of Onslow: Will the noble Lord give way? I quite accept all he says about mulishness and the rest, but I do not understand how it is in any way more democratic. Will he please explain that one point?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Yes. If one comes here by nomination--in my case by the nomination of Mr. Major to Her Majesty--it is always necessary to bear in mind recent as well as early history. If one comes on that basis of nomination, one is nominated by someone who himself has an electoral mandate. That is a good deal more democratic, I suggest, than someone who is here by virtue of a former place offering centuries ago. That is my answer and I believe it to be a proper one.

A number of Members of the Committee inquired about whether the Government would contemplate a purpose clause at all. One might have a short purpose clause. It might be to restrict the queues of importunates outside the Privy Council office. But that is a tender mercy to the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne.

We have had a wide-ranging debate on a narrow focus. Many of the contributions have little, if any, connection with the point. The noble Lord put it as a probing amendment. I have answered his probes.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page