Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Earl of Radnor: Would we not be much happier about the future and not be worried, as is the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, who moved the amendment, forgetting how he wanted to solve the matter, if we knew what the House of Lords was going to be like?

Lord Richard: The noble Earl might be happier, but that is not the issue before the Committee. The issue is whether hereditary Peers should be deprived of the right to sit and vote. The strategy of the Labour Government on reforming the House of Lords is well known. We have been round this course many times. It is a two-stage process, of which this is the first stage. All that I am saying is that to tie the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, to the argument about the removal of hereditary Peers from the House is illogical, does not make sense, and is deeply offensive to the other parties who are not Conservative.

Lord Crickhowell: I am flabbergasted by the tone of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, on this occasion, in suggesting that anything said by my noble friend Lord Renton was grossly offensive. It seems to me, on the contrary, that my noble friend raised a valid and important constitutional issue.

The noble Lord, Lord Richard, said that the Bill was about composition and not power. But if we are dealing with a constitutional matter the two things are intimately related, and must be. That is so because there is no safeguard in the arrangements for the temporary House to prevent the Prime Minister of the day fixing the nominations.

The nature of the appointments commission that is proposed by the Government, which is to be set up by the Prime Minister and the Government--that is to be dealt with on a later amendment--is concerned only with the appointment of Cross-Bench Peers. Indeed, the Government's White Paper says specifically that the Prime Minister will decide the overall number of nominations to be made by the Queen.

I know that we have had a number of undertakings. I am sure that those are intended and well meant. However, I should point out that we have had undertakings from the Government, which have been quickly overturned. Indeed, we had an example of that yesterday. Undertakings were given in this House about beef on the bone which were overturned 10 months later by a Minister in another place.

Although this legislation is intended to last for only a short time, it may last for very much longer. There may be a different Prime Minister in position by then. It is important that there should be a constitutional safeguard which is effective in any circumstances. A Prime Minister who was tempted to go to Parliament and the House of Commons and seek an extension of the life of Parliament from five to seven years would be precisely the kind of Prime Minister who may be tempted to attack this House. Indeed, if he thought there were

29 Apr 1999 : Column 459

legitimate grounds for extending the life of Parliament, no doubt he would find powerful arguments for dealing with this House.

Therefore, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said, no constitutional safeguard is provided under the Bill as it stands at present. Surely that is a sufficiently important issue for it to be discussed in this Committee without arousing the fury of the noble Lord, Lord Richard. It is an important constitutional issue which deserves serious consideration.

My noble friend is right, too, to link the issue of the duration of Parliament to that of the constitutional position of the monarch. He drew attention to a number of important considerations regarding the appointment of the Prime Minister and the tensions which may arise in a variety of situations. But it is true also that questions are being asked at this very moment about the use of the Royal Prerogative. That is being raised by Members in another place. Therefore, the question of the role of the monarchy is currently being debated legitimately--I do not object to it--by Members of the party opposite.

Therefore, dealing with the most fundamental role of this House, which is a role of constitutional protection, we should understand precisely what we are doing, as should the country. I am sorry if any Member of the Committee opposite finds that grossly offensive but I hope that my noble friend and others will continue to debate the matter as it certainly deserves to be debated.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: The proposition which we are asked to consider was dealt with head on by my noble friend Lord Richard. However kind and sensible the proposition, it is perfectly clear that in the mind of the mover of the amendment, if not every Member opposite, is the thought that there is a need for the House to retain the intelligence and the national interest which resides in the hearts and minds of hereditary Peers.

What is the difference between life Peers and hereditary Peers either in their loyalty to the Crown or the observations of conventions and the constitution? There should be no difference at all and, in my view, there is not. I accept and understand that the hereditary Peers are faced with what, to them, is an extremely important event; that is, the exclusion from sitting and voting in this House. That is all.

On Second Reading we had a very lengthy debate in which many hereditary Peers, supported by their friends who are life Peers, put forward the case that hereditary Peers serve a useful purpose because they are motivated by service, loyalty, duty or pride. Life Peers are motivated by all of those feelings. What is the difference?

One element was left out of their argument; that is, the political element. Hereditary Peers told us that they come here because they are proud to continue the line of service offered by their families. I respect that. They felt that they had a duty to be here. I respect that. But there was not one word about their allegiance to one party--the Conservative Party. In that debate, noble

29 Apr 1999 : Column 460

Lords opposite spoke about many things but not about the party that dare not speak its name, the Conservative Party.

You can dress up the reasons why you do not want hereditary Peers to be deprived of the right to sit and vote. For my part, it is primarily a political issue. I sat on the Labour Benches and I was the Chief Whip. Therefore, I know, beyond doubt, that whenever there was a major vote there was no influx of life Peers; there was an influx of hereditary Peers. They came in out of a sense of duty, loyalty and service to their political party.

I am puzzled as to why noble Lords opposite persist in, first, denying their political heritage; and, secondly, using the time of the House to bring forward what are interesting debating points, but they are not the issue which is before this House. The issue on the Bill, the clause and the amendment is whether we are in favour of taking away the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in this House; and I am.

The Earl of Perth: I rise because my Amendment No. 106 has been grouped with the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry.

I start by saying that we should not become too heated in this debate. We are discussing a Bill which may last for 50 or 100 years, a long period. Whatever the government of the day may say, the abolition of hereditary Peers will cause a fundamental change. I have lived for a long time and so the fact that I shall disappear does not cause me any concern. It is about time I did retire. It is extremely important to realise that this Bill proposes something which may well last--I hope it does--for a long time.

As I said, my amendment is grouped with Amendment No. 25 which we are considering at present, and I do not quarrel with that. The sidenote to my amendment states: "Declaratory (No. 2)". I looked up "Declaratory (No.1)". It concerns Amendment No. 97, tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness and the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley which covers very much the same ground. It states:

    "Nothing in this Act affects the powers of the House of Lords"." That is really what the Government are saying. I do not quarrel with that; I am delighted to hear it. However, when we debate that amendment let us remember that the purpose is abolition of the hereditary Peers; nothing else.

I remember being told, 40 or more years ago, that the only thing that counts in a Bill is what is actually in it. Ministers may give every kind of assurance--and generally we believe them--but when it comes to the crunch, to an interpretation, all that the law does is to look at what is in the Bill. That is of vital importance and that is why I tabled my amendment. Although there are all sorts of obstacles to this Parliament being lengthened, none of them is certain except the power of veto of this House, in whatever form, over the other place trying to extend its life or to extend the life of a parliament.

29 Apr 1999 : Column 461

That being so, I very much hope that in one form or another--Amendment No. 25, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, Amendment No. 97, or my Amendment No. 106--this is accepted by the Government.

I had the pleasure of discussing the matter with the noble Lord, Lord Carter. He wrote me a helpful and thoughtful letter on the subject. I wonder whether he would either reply, quoting his letter to me because it is so valuable, or consider placing it in the Library. It states:

    "I do hope what he [Lord Carter] said will put your mind at rest." I am afraid it does not. It is not that I doubt his intention in any way, or that of the Government. I would like to recall what I have always been told; that is, nothing counts except what is in a Bill in words. I appeal to the Government to consider the point and see whether they can help. The noble Lord, Lord Carter said he would do all he could to make it clear and give as many assurances as necessary. I absolutely accept that. However, as I have tried to show, assurances count for nothing when it comes to the crunch; that is, when we have to decide what a Bill says.

I therefore beg Members of the Committee not to think of this as being derogatory of the Government's intention but to think seriously of the worries many noble Lords have on the matter.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page