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Lord Richard: I seem to remember a proverb from my schooldays about Greeks bearing gifts. There are not many Greeks in this Chamber but, if my Latin were good enough, I would try to re-translate it to, "Beware the Earls bearing gifts".
With great respect to the Opposition, it is a most extraordinary and rather fatuous position they are arguing. What is it? They have put down an amendment which on the face of it does exactly what the Government wish to do. They have done that not by way of an amendment to Clause 1, but by inserting a new clause which is clear and specific and which they say is unarguable; namely, that hereditary Peers should not receive a Writ of Summons to come and serve in your Lordships' House. The amendment is not tabled by one of their lawyers in an attempt to tidy up the drafting; not a bit of it. It stands in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, two Mackays and the legal spokesman for the Opposition, Lord Kingsland. Yet, in reply to my perfectly simple question, "does it represent the view of the Opposition, I am told, "Of course it does not. It is merely an attempt to assist the Government to make sure they get it absolutely right."
If the Opposition are opposed to the Bill, I would have thought that the result they might have wished was one in which the Bill was not totally clear; one in which there could be a recourse to the courts. Indeed, if the Opposition mean what they say about opposing the Bill--root and branch, I think someone said at one stage--a situation in which it was capable of being overturned by the courts is one I would have thought the Opposition would grasp with both hands.
With great respect to those sitting opposite, I do not think that they mean what they say. I do not believe that they are in business to assist the Government. If, therefore, the amendment does not reflect the official position of the Conservative Party and if the Opposition do not mean that which is contained within it they should not have proposed it.
Viscount Cranborne: I find myself in rather a distressed state after listening to the noble Lord, Lord Richard. I thought that we had established an agreeable double act in your Lordships' House in recent weeks in which we would be able to fly over both Front Benches and agree, in a sort of moueing fashion with each other, on virtually everything to do with reform of your Lordships' House. However, having listened to the noble Lord's as usual eloquently expressed strictures, I find myself profoundly in disagreement with what he had to say. It is important that those among your Lordships who, like me, are not lawyers should intervene in lawyers' disputes. It is in the best traditions of Parliament that non-lawyers should contribute.
Listening to the Government and their supporters, I must confess to a degree of astonishment at the line they taken. It sounds increasingly an Alice-in-Wonderland sort of proposition. It does not matter what the legislation actually says, "it means what
I recall, on the first day of the Committee stage, a number of us were reproved by the Government Front Bench for making what were considered to be Second Reading speeches. The implication of that criticism is that in Committee your Lordships concentrate on what your Lordships do so well, which is to consider the detail of the legislation. If we are to consider the detail of the legislation, which is something that the Government are encouraging us to do, I suspect that the way we do so is by concentrating on the meaning of the language.
For the Government Benches therefore--led by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, and the noble Lord, Lord Richard--suddenly to say to your Lordships that it does not particularly matter what is said in the detail of the Bill and so long as the Government's ultimate intentions are made clear we can rely on the courts to put it right is an abnegation of the true purpose of Parliament and of legislation in the first place. I am sure that one moment's thought on the part of both noble Lords, who in their own respective ways are not only experienced parliamentarians but also very distinguished lawyers, would convince them--without any help from me--that, with the greatest respect, they really are talking nonsense.
I am not a lawyer, but I am very well aware of the reason why I sit in your Lordships' House. I sit here not because I am a hereditary Peer. I am not. I sit here by virtue of an extraordinarily arcane device which has occasioned a good deal of ribaldry, not least among a number of your Lordships opposite but also, dare I say it, among the denizens of Grub Street. That arcane device, your Lordships will remember, is a Writ of Acceleration. The fact that I am allowed to sit and speak in your Lordships' House, as I understand it, is purely as a result of my being in receipt of that Writ.
Viscount Cranborne: If the noble Lord cares to look once again at the amendment proposed by my noble friends on the Opposition Front Bench, I think he will see that the implied point he makes has been taken aboard in the drafting. It is always a pleasure to be barracked by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. Indeed, I am barracked very frequently by the noble Lord not only in your Lordships' Chamber but also in the corridors. If I may say so, it is one of the things that draws me back like a magnet to your Lordships' House. Perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to make my point in my own way.
In the drafting of their amendment my noble friends have said, as no doubt the noble Lord has noticed, that no one shall receive a Writ of Summons to attend the House of Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage. It is implied by the noble Lord that my connection with the hereditary peerage is what enables me to receive
With the greatest respect to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, who, I understand, is the only begetter of this particular piece of legislation, and no doubt because of the hurry in which it was drafted, he perhaps swallowed a word or two when he came to consulting parliamentary counsel on the drafting of stage one. If we are here by virtue of a hereditary peerage, I submit that Clause 1 as drafted is no more than a statement of the existing position. It does not change it one whit. If, on the other hand, we believe that legislation should say what it actually means rather than what the government of the day suggest it should mean--it would be an extremely dangerous road to do down despite Pepper v. Hart, and so on--it would be more sensible to incorporate the reality in Clause 1.
The other argument deployed by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, not only in his remarks today but in previous interventions, seems to me remarkable. If I understand the noble Lord correctly, he is saying that however one drafts it the effect is the same: hereditary Peers will no longer be allowed to sit. That is the Government's intention: we all accept that. Equally, the noble Lord has asked: is it not somewhat odd for the Opposition effectively to make a suggestion which makes legislation, with which we assume they disagree, work better? In putting forward that argument, the noble Lord is making an uncharacteristically partisan point. He has been a most distinguished leader of your Lordships' House, and indeed leader of the Opposition. During the course of my extremely agreeable association with the noble Lord in both those incarnations, I felt it was clear that the noble Lord understood that there was a difference between party politics and the constitutional role of your Lordships' House. It seems to me that a clarity of view of that distinction has distinguished your Lordships' House and its Members rather more than it has Members of another place. Your Lordships are well able to distinguish between a view about the desirability of a policy, whether or not a party policy, and whether the legislation is drafted in such a way as to deliver a government policy, desirable or not, in the most effective way.
For the noble Lord, Lord Richard, to say, that by implication the measure as drafted may not be satisfactory but at least it can be sorted out in the courts seems to be accepting a surrender of the proper role of Committee stage in a parliamentary process which is breathtaking--and certainly breathtaking coming from someone of his distinction.
I think that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor could help us a great deal if he were able to say that he agrees that a number of us sit here because we are connected with, or are, hereditary Peers; but we have the right to sit here because we have received a Writ. If the Government wish to abolish the right of
Lord Goodhart: I read earlier today Mr. Lofthouse's opinion. It is an incredibly learned opinion and I am persuaded that he is correct in saying that membership of your Lordships' House results not from a peerage alone but from that coupled with a Writ of Summons. Mr.. Lofthouse concludes from that that the Bill probably fails to achieve what we all know is its purpose.
In the best tradition of the Bar, the opinion leads by a process of impeccable logic from a correct premise to a wholly fantastic conclusion: that the Bill applies only to hereditary Peers who have not yet taken their seat during this present Parliament. Mr. Lofthouse's opinion wholly fails to see the wood for the trees. The fact is that we all know what the Bill means. The Conservatives know it as well as anyone else in your Lordships' House. It is of course true that one can never be quite sure that judges will know what is common knowledge to everyone else, but I believe that even the most remote and learned judge--there are not so many of them around as there used to be--would have no difficulty in deciding that this Bill, if passed as it stands, removes the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in your Lordships' House.
The noble Lord, Lord Richard, refers to the phrase, "beware Greeks bearing gifts". He should have taken into account the fact that in legal debates classical allusions have been forbidden by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. However, I suggest that this debate is not worthy of any further time of the Committee.
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