|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Viscount Cranborne: Of course. With the greatest respect to the Government Chief Whip, I thought that I was dealing with the amendment. Of the many fair people on the Government Front Bench he is the very fairest. I believe that he will very rapidly come to see why what I am saying is directly relevant to the amendment. I also believe that he knows the answer to that even before he receives it.
We know that the Government refused to incorporate broad parity--an undertaking which is so important--into the Bill. We know that the Appointments Commission, which is a device which sounds good but about which some of us are doubtful, will apply only to the appointment of Cross-Bench Peers. Equally important, there is no cap on the number of Peers. We shall come to that later during the Committee's deliberations.
I believe it is clear that the Prime Minister wants a nominated Chamber. He thought that he could get it at the beginning by sticking at stage one. That was very much reflected by some of the pronouncements that we heard the noble Baroness make when she first became Leader of this House. She will well remember that she spoke about this being a stand-alone reform. In the newspapers she was quoted as saying that we should wait for the other constitutional reforms--I believe I quote her accurately--"to bed down" before we proceeded to stage two. That added to the conviction.
It was for those reasons, as a convinced reformer of this Chamber, that I felt it absolutely essential to see whether there was a practical way in which we could find an agreement incorporating a device which would shame the Government into reversing what was increasingly clearly an intention to stick at stage one. After all, with the incorporation of a number of hereditary Peers--in my case I would argue the larger,
In the light of the agreement, there must be a powerful incentive for the Government not to stick at stage one, but to progress to stage two as rapidly as possible. That does not mean that for stage two they will not make another attempt to have a nominated House after they have failed to reach that objective on stage one. We shall come to that problem later. Above all, it is the incentive to which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor so elegantly referred and the reassurance that it gives us in a bad Bill. It is for that reason that I support this amendment. It will give us at least a less bad interim House because it would ensure or at least encourage that interim House to remain interim rather than stay for another 90 years.
Setting aside the arguments as to whether the Salisbury convention applies to this legislation, certainly the Government could force through this Bill under the Parliament Acts, were we to reject it. Clearly, that is how the British constitution works. There is no doubt that the Government have a sufficient majority in another place and sufficient time before the next general election to do that, were they so inclined. Noble Lords could opt to die gloriously like the Scots on Flodden field, but I suggest that even then they would risk forfeiting the goodwill that your Lordships' good sense and the Government's own foolishness has built up in this House over the past two years.
I am the first to admit that this agreement is far from perfect but, in addition to it being an inducement to the Government to go on to stage two, if the amendment is accepted in principle and the plan to recommit is followed through--I pay tribute to the usual channels for their perspicacity in producing this plan--I hope that we can examine why it was not possible to have a larger number of hereditary Peers. The larger the number, the greater the inducement.
Lord Shepherd: Since the noble Viscount makes repeated references to an "incentive", how does he reconcile that with the group of hereditary Peers who will remain Members of this House as long as stage one is in existence? Knowing the reluctance of hereditary Peers at present to give up their seats, where lies the incentive to bring about change? I do not recognise it.
Viscount Cranborne: I apologise to the noble Lord the former Leader of the House for being less than clear than I should have been. I am afraid that that is one of my weaknesses. I thought I had made clear that the incentive applied not to your Lordships' House but to the Government. The Government have said repeatedly that it is unacceptable to have any hereditary Peers sitting in Parliament. Here we have an agreement that allows them provisionally to sit as Members of Parliament. So long as they are there as a standing reproach to the Government, surely it becomes an incentive for the Government to get on with stage two.
One of the weaknesses of the plan is that the number is not large enough, but I accept that this is as much as the Government can offer us. I agree with my noble friend Lord Strathclyde that if this turns out to be a longer interim period than the Government have promised--events may easily dictate such an event; we do not know--we shall have to consider the question of by-elections. I hope that we can return to that. There are other matters that need not detain us at this stage, but to which we can return later.
I add one further matter which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers. It has been suggested that it would be very much better if the whole House played a part in electing the first tranche of 75. That is superficially an attractive argument. However, a moment's thought shows that it is perhaps not as sensible as the noble Lord suggested. Surely no deliberative assembly should select its own members. As has been said frequently by someone on the other side of the House, this is not a club. We are not White's, selecting our own members. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, that we may question the authority by which we arrive here--indeed, that led the Government to produce the Bill in the first place--but that is different from saying that a group of people outside this Chamber, as they will be by the time the Bill comes into force, has a right to send some of its number here. That is different from saying that people who are already Members of this House should select who will come and join them.
I accept that that poses questions for the 15, although perhaps my argument is not as strong in their case. I readily agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, that for those reasons we should return to the question of how they are elected. As for the remainder, for the reasons that I have endeavoured to explain--no doubt I have failed to explain them adequately to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd--I believe that the amendment is an inducement. It will not save us from the Prime Minister's attempt to have a wholly nominated Chamber by manipulating stage two. The by now notorious paragraph 5.4 of the Labour Party's evidence to the Royal Commission confirms that, if confirmation were needed. But, fortunately, we have the assurance of my noble friend Lord Wakeham, delivered with his usual authority in debates in this Chamber, that we can rely on him not only to look at the question in as broad as sphere as is his wont, but to do so transparently enough for us to be able to see the rationale that leads him to whatever recommendation can be made.
I conclude by suggesting that this is the least bad solution open to your Lordships. I would not dream of suggesting that it is a foregone conclusion. This is a matter that noble Lords must and will decide for themselves this afternoon. I only hope that before noble Lords cast their votes they will think very carefully about the alternatives to accepting this amendment. In the end, I suspect that the alternative is a stage-one Chamber, which is wholly nominated and with no incentive whatever for this Prime Minister to do anything about proceeding to stage two.
Lord Richard: At the outset of my comments, I point out that I did not intend to speak in this debate. I imposed upon myself a vow of silence and intended to sit here quietly unless provoked. The noble Viscount has provoked me. To put it mildly, it is a bit rich to be lectured from that side of the House about the kind of democratic and constitutional innovation that we should make on this side of the House. For 18 years the party opposite sat on those Benches and did nothing. It made no proposal for reform or for the creation of any kind of democratic element in your Lordships' House. The party opposite had a massive majority of Conservative hereditary Peers. If perchance it had won the previous election, I have no doubt that it would still be there with a very large majority of hereditary Peers and that we would hear nothing whatever about reform of the House of Lords.
I approach this amendment from an entirely opposite direction to that adopted by the noble Viscount. He said that this was an amendment that made a bad Bill better. I believe that it is an amendment that makes a good Bill a bit worse, for the reason that it eats into the general principle set out clearly in our manifesto; namely, that the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in your Lordships' House should be abolished.
This amendment is not a matter of principle, however much people try to wrap it up; it is a matter of convenience. It is therefore important that the House recognises it for what it is. This amendment is a compromise. The essence of a compromise is that everybody goes away equally dissatisfied with the result that is on the table. It appears from the observations of the noble Viscount that the Conservative Party will go away extremely dissatisfied with the result that is on the table. I shall go away from the table dissatisfied with the compromise, but I recognise that it is purely a matter of convenience. This is a somewhat grubby compromise designed for the convenience of all the parties in your Lordships' House and, on that basis but on no other, I support it.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page