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Baroness Jay of Paddington: I shall attempt to reply to the noble Lord's amendment with great animation in order not to invite the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, to suggest that I am either exhausted or bored with the proceedings of this House. I am certainly not. If he says that some of our replies are somewhat familiar, I say to him and the noble Lord, Lord Clifford, that this displays not boredom or exhaustion but the lateness of the hour, and I apologise. It may be because a great many of the same arguments are deployed in advancing some of the amendments.
The noble Lord's amendment is another valiant attempt to find a combination of circumstances in which hereditary Peers can remain in your Lordships' House with certain rights. I am sure that the Committee will not be surprised to hear me say that it is no more acceptable to the Government than were the others. I understand the proposal to be that the hereditary Peers should retain their right to sit but not to vote except on constitutional matters. However, those constitutional matters are not precisely or fully defined.
The noble Lord, in moving the amendment, referred to the Parliament Acts, but of course the amendment does not refer to those pieces of legislation. Clearly, the context of the amendment and the way it was introduced suggest that any additional rights given to hereditary Peers would include a Bill, any Bill, to give effect to stage two of reform of your Lordships' House. I am afraid to say to the Committee that all I can say is, "Here we are again". This is yet another proposal to delay the removal of the hereditary Peers so that they are present and able to vote in any way--although my suspicions are that they would vote against any proposal for further reform.
The noble Lord suggested that in some way hereditary Peers may be guardians in a particular form of the constitution. But in this House any individual Peer or groups of individual Peers would not perform that role; it is the House as a whole which performs the role and function of guardian and peruser of the constitution. The House without the hereditary Peers will retain its same place in the constitution and in perusal of constitutional matters as now.
This amendment, like all the others along these lines, fails to address the fact that the Government see no justification for the principle of continued hereditary membership of your Lordships' House. As my noble friend Lord Williams said in reply to an earlier amendment some two or three hours ago, this simply will not do. It is no good noble Lords trying different permutations in the hope that eventually they will light on one to which the Government will say "Yes".
We have already indicated that the only amendment to which we are likely to give a favourable response--and that will of course depend on the nature and type of debate surrounding it--is the one in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill. We have already indicated that that is one which we would look at with some degree of enthusiasm, but it is not contained in the amendment before us tonight. Therefore, I would ask the noble Lord to withdraw it, and if he wishes to press it I would ask the Committee to reject it.
Lord Strathclyde: I do not think that the noble Baroness has given quite as much thought to her reply as I would have expected. I did not gain the impression from what the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, said that this is just an attempt to preserve the hereditary peerage in the House of Lords for a little longer. It goes rather deeper than that. This is about the powers of the House of Lords, and it is also about the nature of the interim House.
As I said earlier, in reply to a speech by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, what we are talking about in the Bill is not the removal of the hereditary peerage; it is the creation of a House of patronage. Some noble Lords do not like that word, but that is what it is, because nobody will be a Member of the House unless it is as a result of that patronage. Moreover, that patronage will be in the hands of the Prime Minister. No statement that the Prime Minister has made to date--if the noble Baroness wants to make a correction I shall be very happy to hear it--has indicated to me that he will not be able to control the total numbers coming to the House.
The noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, was asking the noble Baroness whether she recognised that there is a danger in the fact that another place will therefore be able to control the membership of the House of Lords, and that very serious constitutional issues arise. The noble Baroness shakes her head, and I hope she will reply in a moment to tell me why that is not the case; I look forward to that. Is there not therefore a considerable danger that constitutional change will be able to go through the House with very little debate, because it has been controlled by the Prime Minister of the day?
The solution of the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, is to retain hereditary Peers to deal specifically with constitutional issues. That may or may not be the right way. What I would like to tease out of the Government is whether they believe there is a case for having some form of special measure to deal with constitutional issues.
We have been down this road before. In 1911 it was decided that a septennial Act, as it was then, a quinquennial Act as it has now come to be known, which was clearly a constitutional safeguard, would not form part of the Parliament Act. I know that the Government have no intention of changing that, so they have already accepted that there is a role for the House in constitutional matters. All that I am asking is this: do they think that there is an extension of that, perhaps a threshold, for instance? I think that in the Scottish Parliament there is a threshold for changing constitutional matters.
So again the Government have done some thinking on these matters, which I welcome; it is refreshing. If that is not the right solution, there may be others. This is an issue to which we shall have to return, and I would very much welcome hearing the thoughts of the noble Baroness on it.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: As always, I am very much indebted to the noble Lord for raising these very interesting broad principles, which, I agree, may well form part of our discussions on the second stage of reform, or indeed on the reference to the Royal Commission. They are in no way contained in the amendment before us.
Lord Strathclyde: I apologise to the noble Baroness. I have no intention of straying into stage two. I would hope that stage two would solve these problems. I would hope that once the Labour Party has thought about these things it will come up with a solution. That is not what the Bill is creating. It is not creating stage two. It is creating an interim House. This is a matter of safeguards in the interim House. We are creating a House of patronage, entirely in the hands of the Prime Minister.
The question that I am putting to the noble Baroness--and I agree on stage two--is this: does she not think that there should be some greater safeguards to ensure that the untrammelled powers of the Prime Minister of the day should not be used against the interests of the country?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: I am very ready to engage with the noble Lord in precisely such a discussion. He will recall the speech of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister last autumn when he said that he would reduce his individual powers of patronage which led to the very sensible and somewhat detailed proposals in the White Paper on the interim House which I am sure the noble Lord and other Members of the Committee have had an opportunity to study.
However, I cannot see anything in the amendment we are now considering that raises any of those issues. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, or the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, if he is championing this amendment as a broad constitutional issue, will be courteous enough to explain to the Committee the meaning of the second part of the amendment, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Clifford, as "other matters" and the words:
The amendment is one way of dealing with the issue of untrammelled powers. It may not be the solution. I merely ask whether the Government recognise that there is an issue here which needs to be resolved.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: Perhaps I am not being entirely clear. I recognise that there are interesting issues which the noble Lord raises but in no way are they embraced by the amendment under consideration by the Committee.
Lord Harlech: I wish to address the Minister. There is a serious issue here in relation to the concept of a parliamentary democracy which is extremely important. It is happening now. What is being undermined is freedom of speech. As Nelson Mandela explained clearly to his own people and to the people of the world upon inauguration back into the Commonwealth, if you have institutions which are serious and keep a democracy in order you should keep in place those institutions and be very careful that you do not destroy them. I urge the Committee to read the speech; it is a good one.
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