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Viscount Cranborne: I am sure Members of the Committee will agree with me that we owe a debt of gratitude to the noble Earl, Lord Perth, and to my noble friend Lord Renton of Mount Harry for putting forward, in the one case, his declaratory amendment, and in the other, his probing amendment.
The whole House seems to feel that the noble Earl merely reflects a statement of the case as it is. But we owe him a debt of gratitude because it is often forgotten--and had been forgotten until the reform of your Lordships' Chamber once again floated over the political horizon--that one of the most important and, we hope, permanently dormant--politically at least--powers of your Lordships' Chamber is its power under the 1911 Act to preserve the provisions of the quinquennial Act. For that reason, it seems to me that the declaratory amendment proposed by the noble Earl is a useful reminder, whether or not it is eventually incorporated into the Bill.
As far as concerns the amendment of my noble friend Lord Renton of Mount Harry, I also think that we ought to be grateful. During the course of my noble friend's extraordinarily interesting analysis of his amendment I believe he made it clear that, if the provisions of the Quinquennial Act are to be preserved, the quality which matters most for your Lordships' House after the passage of the Bill is independence. It matters for virtually every other issue that this Chamber concerns itself with, such as the revision of legislation and its more day-to-day functions. However, by definition, this long-stop function matters more than anything else. Indeed, that independence is the crux of the argument which has flowed backwards and forwards across the Chamber this afternoon.
I believe it was my noble friend Lady Young who, wisely, observed during the course of her remarks that we should not legislate on the assumption that people of good will interpret the legislation. She said that we should legislate on the assumption that governments in particular will be tempted to act in certain ways. From my limited experience of governments, of all persuasions, I do not think that it is necessarily always ill will that tempts them; it is expediency. Above all, it is the feeling, which is perhaps natural in any government, that they are the embodiment of the instrument of doing what is right. They feel that there is a sort of moral obligation which enables them to become a little less scrupulous, especially after long periods in power, than perhaps a number of us would like to see. I hasten to add at this point that I am not referring to governments of any complexion in that remark.
However, I also think that it is especially important to consider now the question of the effect of legislation on governments who are driven, for whatever reason, to become unscrupulous. After all, we are not only living
We must assume in this House and in the consideration of legislation that the nation state is something which will endure for the purposes of this Bill; and that safeguards affecting the nation state should continue to be incorporated. But if, for example, this view, which I deplore, were to become more prevalent I suspect that it would be increasingly easy to argue, if only for reasons of expediency, that constitutional safeguards which guarantee the continuance of the nation state, in the form that we understand it, should be undermined. Indeed, not only that they should be undermined but, also, in the modern global world in which we all live, that they represent something which does not particularly matter. After all, in international organisations there are great platonic guardians who know what is good for us better than we do.
Therefore, for all those reasons, I think it is extremely sensible for us to ensure that the preservation of the provisions of the Quinquennial Act is kept as the cornerstone of the functions of your Lordships' House, whether reformed or unreformed. As I said, I believe that my noble friend Lord Renton of Mount Harry did us a service by drawing our attention to this so early in our proceedings. However, with the greatest respect, where I begin to part company with my noble friend is on the issue as to how sensible it is to imply that any group of people outside the membership of either House of Parliament should have a reserved constitutional role which acts as a sort of guardian for Parliament. Some people may say that, in due course, judges may have a say in that role. Again, this may betray my conservatism in every sense of the word, but I actually think that this is the sort of question which properly belongs in Parliament, especially in the upper House.
I believe that I have made clear during the past few weeks my reluctant conclusion that the day of the hereditary Peer is over, but I shall not rehearse those arguments again and risk boring noble Lords more than I usually do. Nevertheless, however much I may or may not deplore the departure of the hereditary peerage, I find it constitutionally odd that Parliament itself should not be trusted to perform one of its central functions in its control of government; and that Members of Parliament alone--particularly, in this instance, Members of your Lordships' House, whether reformed or unreformed--should not be trusted to maintain the provisions of the Quinquennial Act.
Having said that, that does not mean to say that I do not greatly sympathise with the very real problem identified by my noble friend Lord Renton of Mount Harry. For reasons that I have tried to explain, I fear that we would be wise in this House to doubt the reliability of governments of any colour when put under enormous pressure and when they may feel that it is
I suspect that that safeguard will, by definition, be somewhat eroded with the very much smaller House that we will see, even though the Government have told us that they intend to maintain broad parity with the Conservative Party alone and not seek an overall majority in your Lordships' House. Under the very severe circumstances which might lead to a proposal for the overturning of the Quinquennial Act, I suspect that a government would not be too inhibited by that undertaking.
I should tell my noble friend that I do have a difficulty with the solution that he proposes to the problem that he has identified. However, that does not mean to say that I do not think that he is absolutely right in his view that the problem does exist. If the Government agree with me that the way my noble friend has suggested for dealing with this problem is perhaps not the ideal one, I wonder whether they could give us an reassurance that perhaps some thought might be given as to how his difficulty might be addressed. One way he suggested was a fixed Parliament. If I may say so with the greatest respect to him, that is one of the oldest chestnuts in British constitutional history. That is one possibility.
Another one, which may be more easily achieved during the passage of the present Bill, is a maximum number for the membership of your Lordships' House, which, again, would help a little to ease the difficulty of swamping your Lordships with new creations. That is another thought that I leave in the Committee's mind as a possibility.
However, whichever way we jump, we are presented with a difficulty throughout this Bill. My noble friend Lord Waddington, who is not present, has identified that difficulty with increasing passion as our debates have progressed; namely, that we are presented with a Bill which is only half a reform. Time and again we come back to the practical difficulty; namely, that as much as we love and admire and believe the Government, in the end we are forced to take on trust the fact that they will proceed to stage two, which will incorporate all the guarantees that we all want and which, by definition, are being eroded in this present Bill.
I recognise--as your Lordships have perhaps criticised me for recognising in the past--that the Government are in an extremely powerful position and that the compromise which we shall debate in a couple of weeks' time is perhaps the least bad option. However, it would be some comfort at least for those of us who
The Earl of Erroll: Before the noble Viscount sits down I wish to ask him one question. He said that it was the role of Parliament to decide these matters. Why was it then that the British Parliament in deciding the bicameral constitutions of the Dominions still reserved the right that constitutional change had to be ratified by this House?
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