Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Earl of Onslow: I apologise for intervening, but will the noble Baroness answer one very simple question? Has she any idea at all what she would like in stage two?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: I am always tempted by the noble Earl's intriguing suggestions. I am sure there will be plenty of opportunities for us to consider my views, the Government's views and those of your Lordships at an appropriate time. This is not the appropriate time. We are considering the passage of the Bill and three precise amendments to it.

The Earl of Onslow: I did not ask what the noble Baroness's views were. I merely asked whether she had any.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: Yes, I have.

It is worth considering the way in which the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Boardman, would work. It suggests that an Act of Parliament passed by the usual methods could then be challenged by Parliament itself. I am inclined to accept the views of my noble friends Lord Desai and Lord Richard, and not to subscribe to the optimism of the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton of Dalzell. I believe that in those circumstances it is almost certain that the political majority in this House would enforce a perpetual veto on whatever was proposed.

We have been round this course on several occasions--

Lord Hamilton of Dalzell: Will the noble Baroness accept the fact that this House has always done so in the past?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: I am afraid that I do not entirely follow the noble Lord's intervention. The House has always done what in the past?

Lord Hamilton of Dalzell: As I understood it, the last reform, in 1968, was agreed by this House but was turned down in another place.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: Perhaps I may gently correct the noble Lord. It was in fact the White Paper on proposals that was put before this House and agreed. There was then a subsequent discussion about the Rhodesia sanctions legislation which was referred to in

27 Apr 1999 : Column 220

an exchange on an intervention by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. The Bill then went to another place, and we all know the history of that.

Lord Trefgarne: Perhaps the noble Baroness will give way. I believe that that is not quite correct. There was a Parliament (No. 2) Bill which went through this House and approved the reforms that were proposed.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: I stand corrected by the noble Lord, but I believe his reference was to the previous occasion, on which the hereditary Peers voted on the White Paper proposals. However, perhaps I may move on.

The noble Lords, Lord Desai and Lord Richard, probably correctly predicted the future in suggesting that whatever was proposed by the Royal Commission would find both adherents and opponents and that, together, they would almost certainly delay any subsequent reform and indeed the implementation of this Bill.

As I said, we have been round this course a number of times. The Government have made very clear why they intend, and have pledged, to proceed to the reform of this House in two stages. One noble Lord, in speaking to an earlier amendment, said, and I support his view, that smaller and, more importantly, self-contained reforms are often the best way to proceed on constitutional matters. Anyone who genuinely wants to reform this House should join us in that approach and, frankly, not seek to delay reform by this kind of method.

I agree that some of the arguments made by Members of the Committee today are apparently rational and have the impact of an interesting discussion which would be worthy of appropriate debate when we come to discuss both the outcome of the Royal Commission and the next stages of reform. But I cannot say too often--

Lord Elton: Perhaps noble Lords will forgive me for intervening in a debate for most of which I have been absent. The Minister repeats a point that I have heard before. The Minister's reference was, "when we come to discuss". But it will not be "we"; it will be "they" so far as the hereditary Peers are concerned. It is because we are locked out of that discussion that we do not feel we can fulfil our duty to see that our departure does not leave the electorate undefended.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: The noble Lord may have missed the earlier discussion among your Lordships. Perhaps I did not use the appropriate expression. When I said "we", I was referring to the House in general and to the life Peers who, as we have discussed, we on this side of the House feel are probably more than capable of defending both the electorate and discussing the future of the House in a sensible fashion.

As I have said before--I said it at Second Reading and in the various debates that we have rightly had on this subject--we see the Bill as a self-contained act of reform. That does not, however, suggest that it is a single act of reform, to reply directly to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. We are aware--

27 Apr 1999 : Column 221

again, I perhaps repeat myself; the Committee must forgive me but some of these arguments have been repeated several times--that there have been several attempts this century that have shown that abolishing hereditary rights to sit and vote will simply not happen if it is tied to the search for a perfect long-term solution. As I said at Second Reading, the Government are not prepared to fall into that particular trap in 1999. We do not believe that we should do nothing just because we do not intend, and it is not yet possible, to do everything.

Amendment No. 113 is tabled in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. Some Members of the Committee seem to prefer that amendment; some seem to prefer the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Boardman. After the earlier discussion on Amendment No. 10A, I shall assume, unless I am contradicted, that the amendment of the noble Baroness is not official Opposition policy--although of course the noble Baroness is a Member of the Opposition Front Bench and a Shadow Minister. I shall assume that the amendment is not official Opposition policy unless I am contradicted.

As the noble Baroness has said, and as other Members of the Committee have agreed--

Lord Strathclyde: The noble Baroness is making a rather clever point, which I missed. There was an obvious pause, allowing me to intervene. If she was making a clever point, could she go through it again in a rather more simple fashion?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: To put it at its baldest, we are waiting for the noble Lord to give his advice to members of his party. If the noble Lord, Lord Harris, were to suggest that the Committee should divide on the amendment, is that something that the noble Lord would support?

Lord Strathclyde: The noble Baroness was here when I made my speech and heard me say that I marginally preferred the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. The noble Baroness and my noble friend Lord Boardman have not yet replied. They may take the view that their amendments are imperfect. At the moment it is an entirely hypothetical matter. It may be that their amendments are perfect in every way. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, is indulging in a bit of sport, a ploy; that is what he was on about. I am certainly not going to play the games that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, wants me to play.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: I am sure that the Committee will understand from that intervention precisely what the noble Lord intends. We on these Benches are a little confused. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, who we regard as a distinguished Member of the Opposition Front Bench and spokesman for her party, has tabled the amendment.

Baroness Blatch: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. It is a little rich for the noble Baroness to be very concerned and confused about my single

27 Apr 1999 : Column 222

amendment when the noble Baroness has no idea what size the interim Chamber will be or what the stage-two proposals are likely to be.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: I am attempting to address the amendment which stands in the name of the noble Baroness. I am very happy to discuss numbers with her. As I said in an earlier response, I think that that issue is more relevant to a debate on the second stage of reform than to this Bill. The noble Baroness said, and the noble Lord agreed with her, that the resolution of both Houses of Parliament on the basis of the Bill should not even be put to either House until the Joint Committee of both Houses has reported on the findings of the Royal Commission.

By my reckoning, that would mean that there would be no possibility of the Act coming into force until at least the end of the next Session of Parliament. Perhaps, with a bit of luck, it would spill over into the Session after next. In that case, I imagine that the noble Baroness would argue that the Act should not come into force until after the next general election, when perhaps the electorate might be asked to give its view on both stages of reform. Then, perhaps subsequently, we would hear yet again, as we have from many noble Lords today--notably from the noble Baroness, Lady Knight--that the electorate neither understands nor appreciates the terms of these constitutional matters. However, I should point out to the noble Baroness that we operate in the real world and that if the report of the Joint Committee were to recommend, for example, some variation of the Royal Commission proposals, we would be faced yet again with the cry that the Government should do nothing until some further resolution was made.

To put it at its most simple, the Government do not intend to play the game (to use the terminology of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde) and to debate this serious issue (to use the terminology of the noble Baroness) in this way again. This time, in this form of legislation, on this Bill, there is one simple question: "Do you believe that hereditary Peers any longer have a place in Parliament?"--and the answer to that must be "Yes" or "No".

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page