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The Earl of Dartmouth: Does the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor mean that he is in favour of an election for Members of the House of Lords which has a rather wider franchise than just the House itself?
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: I thank the noble and learned Lord for his reply. It seems quite strange and does nothing, one way or the other, to commend the amendment to me. However, I reiterate that we need in the House the people the Government want to turn out because they have the disease of being hereditary, but who will be allowed to stay. That seems a reason for accepting the amendment. Ever since I came here, my view about the future of the House of Lords is that it should be an elected House.
Lord Bruce of Donington: Inevitably, some part of our debate today has involved speculation as to what is likely to happen as a result of the appointment of the Royal Commission. I suggest to your Lordships that we are perhaps in danger of giving undue consideration to the composition of this place rather than the functions it performs and its position vis-a-vis the other place. I was a Member of the other place for five years and a Member of the European Parliament for four years and I have been a Member of your Lordships' House for
I shall not enlarge further on that point except to say that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, in all the circumstances, is the only possible course of action to take for purely practical reasons. Sometimes we tend to forget altogether the activities which take place outside Westminster. I expect a loud guffaw from the Committee when I say that we have also to regard what happens in Brussels. Day by day and week by week legislation coming from Brussels is going into our law without any scrutiny; it goes straight onto the statute book. Therefore there is a progressive diminution in the area in which Parliament as a whole can operate for the benefit of our people here. The role of the British Parliament is shrinking, day by day, and week by week.
In those circumstances, I am sure noble Lords will agree that we must have some regard to the contribution made by this House towards the effective scrutiny of much of the legislation, draft legislation or regulations that come out of Brussels. That is accomplished by the Select Committees.
The Government assure us that the Bill will come into operation by the end of this Session. I gather that there is some dispute between the Government and the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, on that point. On that assumption and on the basis of these proposals, it will mean a complete rupture in the work of all the Select Committees of this House. The committees do an enormous amount of work, largely unknown, and often in conditions that are not ideal for the detailed consideration of the Bills or regulations that come before them for scrutiny. I refer not only to the Select Committee on European matters and its five or six sub-committees. This legislation will also affect the Science and Technology Committee and its sub-committees. On those committees there are a considerable number of hereditary Peers who, on the assumption that the Bill will go through, will no longer sit after the end of this Session. That does not take into account the numbers that it is proposed to retain, allegedly temporarily, under the arrangements of the amendment.
For example, on the committee dealing with consolidation Bills there are no fewer than six hereditary Peers. On the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee there is at least one, and the most important one at that. On the European Communities Committee there are nine hereditary Peers, some of whom are very distinguished. All of them are known to me personally.
And there are hereditary Peers on the various sub-committees. For example, on Sub-Committee A dealing with the question of proposed taxation and various other financial matters there are three hereditary Peers; on Sub-Committee B, dealing with energy, industry and transport, there are five; on Sub-Committee C, dealing with the environment, there are four; on Sub-Committee D, dealing with agriculture and fisheries, there are seven; on Sub-Committee E on law and institutions there are two; on Sub-Committee F on
So let us imagine what will happen at the end of this Session, when each of the committees and their sub-committees will still have one further Session to run. We shall be faced with the necessity of electing new members to the various committees in place of those who will disappear. I very much doubt whether they can all be satisfied out of the numbers that are proposed in this amendment. It will certainly produce a certain amount of economic chaos.
It may well be that the matters that I have ventured to lay before your Lordships, and which are now purely technical, are not of great importance. My experience in political life is that one of the necessities of participating in a parliamentary democracy is to be able to devote the time and energy to research, to the ascertainment and verification of facts, as well as all the other work that must be done in drafting. I trust that I have not in any way over-dramatised them; it would not be my purpose to do so. The amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, is vital for the continuation of the ordinary business of this House, which is in support of the democratically elected Government in another place.
It should never be a function of this House to challenge the authority of the other place. Our function is to assist the other place and to participate in the total democracy which is the envy of most of the civilised world. We may not always realise that when we adopt a suppliant attitude to being at the heart of Europe, or the heart of anywhere else except the United Kingdom. I hope that we shall abandon that and in future, particularly after the publication of the Royal Commission's report, we shall aim to strengthen British parliamentary democracy and restore the pride that most of us have always had in it.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: We have had an interesting and authoritative debate. I wonder whether the Committee now feels it appropriate to listen to the noble Earl, Lord Dartmouth, who has sought to intervene for some time. Then perhaps we can ask the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, to respond.
I have deliberately taken no part in any of the previous debates or informal party discussions relating to House of Lords reform. That was because, having taken the Writ of Summons only in March last year, I wanted to understand more about the issues.
The most important issue underlying our consideration of House of Lords reform is that the present composition of this House inhibits it from carrying out its revising and scrutinising function as effectively as it could, it should, and it must, given the complexities of the modern world. There should be more votes, more government defeats and more amendments--and in consequence much less ill thought-out and badly drafted legislation coming into law.
The amendment put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, is no free lunch for hereditary Peers. The Government have made it clear--and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor confirmed it in his opening remarks--that the Government's support for the amendment is fully conditional on Peers letting the Bill through the House before stage two and letting other legislation through the House without full or adequate scrutiny. I use the phrase of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, "unimpeded".
It is clearly relevant, therefore, to establish exactly what the Government are pressing ahead towards in stage two. Like some but perhaps not all of us, I have read the principal part of the Labour Party's submission to the Royal Commission on House of
Should hereditary Peers support the amendment, the hereditary peerage as a group will be perceived in the country--and rightly in my view--to have endorsed the Government's scheme for a supine, ineffectual chamber of nominees and to have endorsed what the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, earlier described as a bad Bill. Such a course of action by hereditary Peers would have neither dignity nor honour.
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