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Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I am deeply obliged to the noble Lord for his helpful intervention. He has drawn attention to the possible length of the interval that will ensue before any of those four questions can be answered.
The amendment makes a rather pleasant, happy proposal, which is that in the event of there being no valid second Chamber in existence--I do not mean the transitional one--by 31st October 2001, there will be the marvellous experience of seeing many of my noble friends and other noble Lords exiting the graves to which they have been confined and being restored to a new and what I hope will be a happy and fruitful existence. I realise that that is a rather far-fetched hope, but I cannot entirely curb the spirit of optimism which is inherent in my nature.
I hope that the noble Lord will realise that there is genuine anxiety about the length of period and the number of uncertainties there will be before the Government's plans for a second Chamber have a chance of maturing. I beg to move.
The hope is that the amendments will not be put to a Division tonight because they are inconsistent with Amendment No. 111 which has already been debated and which implements the referendum amendment which was withdrawn by leave and has now been redrafted to be tabled at Report stage, taking into account the various points made. The suggestion of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, and my noble friend Lord Cranborne who opposed it, was that we should take a rain check.
It would be premature to pre-empt the referendum amendment on which the opinion of the House shall be taken on Report. If it were not to be carried in a Division, I would support one of the amendments in the grouping under Amendment No. 110 if moved. But I would much prefer to support Amendment No. 120. I believe--it is a matter for noble Lords--that it provides an effective, well thought out and fair long stop, or safety clause, to implementation as to stage two which, quite rightly, was the concern of my noble friend Lord Peyton.
Lord Bridges: I put my name to the amendment first moved by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, and I speak in support of the amendment now. I am intrigued by the amendment of the noble Lord which seems to me to be typically ingenious. It was a device which first came to my attention when living in the United States. For four years I watched with some trepidation the proceedings on Capitol Hill. It frequently was the case that where the executive branch sought some special authority--let us say, to negotiate a treaty on foreign trade--Congress, while willing to give the President that authority, would seek to put a term on it because it was not altogether sure about his intentions and wanted to have a good look at the measure before it was passed into law. That was known as a sunset clause. In effect, that is the device which the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, has adopted. I think that it is ingenious and quite appropriate for the circumstances.
The amendment does something else which appeals to me. It reinforces the Weatherill amendment. It provides a means of ensuring that stage two actually happens. I hope that the amendment will find favour.
In listening to the lengthy debates today, my mind has brought to the surface a quotation from a famous contemporary Italian novel called The Leopard by Lampedusa. The chief character is a rather old fashioned Sicilian. He sees that times are moving against him. Towards the end of his life he has to agree to certain rearrangements in his family which he finds difficult to accept. However, he consoles himself with the thought that some things must change so that everything can stay the same. In some of the speeches today I believe that that thought has been present too. However, as regards the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, that thought is reversed: some things must stay the same so that everything can change.
The Earl of Northesk: Amendment No. 120 in the name of my noble friend Lord Trefgarne and myself is in the group. It offers an alternative version to the other proposals of my noble friends; namely, tying the duration of the Bill to the report of the Royal Commission. I have little to add to the general arguments of my noble friend Lord Peyton, except to raise one or two small points.
On the surface, the prospect of a hereditary peerage being reinstated after a sabbatical might appear ludicrous, but it should have the desirable effect of concentrating minds. The Government Front Bench has expressed its commitment to stage two and beyond to this Chamber in no uncertain terms. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, described convincingly in our debate on Amendment No. 31, the pressure of time and events upon the Government will be such that the potential for progressing the matter in the short term is negligible. In other words, the certitude exhibited by noble Lords on the Government Front Bench is by no means the same as actual delivery, unless the Government have in mind some strategy, perhaps by means of secondary legislation or executive decree, that they are keeping up their sleeves.
Nor do I subscribe to the view that acceptance of Amendment No. 31 on the face of the Bill will either inevitably or as a matter of course accelerate the process of further reform. It will act as a spur, a motivation. But, as we all know, that has existed since the 1911 Parliament Act, and has often been frustrated by another place. There is nothing new in our current situation, nor will there be if and when the Bill is enacted, to suppose that that impasse has been magically brushed aside.
I do not doubt the sincerity of the intent. But the reality is that however often or forcefully a promise is made it cannot be a cast iron guarantee. After all, none of us can see into the future. That being so, acceptance of any one of the mechanisms proposed in the group of amendments would act as a more compelling earnest of stage two than the Bill as it stands. That fact should commend itself to the Minister.
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede: I wish to make a brief contribution. The sunset clause is surely the Weatherill amendment itself. That provides a huge incentive to the Government to get on with stage two, a point acknowledged by the Opposition Front Bench.
Lord Elton: I congratulate the noble Lord on the brevity of his speech. I do not altogether agree with its content. It seems to me that a further inducement is needed. I do not say that in any provocative way. I know that it is apt to be taken by the other side of the House as though it were disagreeable or disobliging. However, it really is the case that no one is in command of events and any help they can gain in commanding those events should be welcomed.
I share the hope, but not the expectation, of my noble friend Lord Peyton that a great deal of the Government's future intentions will be revealed as a result of his amendment being tabled. I concentrate merely on the single point that if we are to give way to a genuinely transitional House, the period of transition should be defined. That would mean that further steps would have to be taken if the period were to be extended.
I have sought the best precedent and advice. A source which will commend itself to all noble Lords by the seniority of its origin, and in particular to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, is that of the noble Lord her father. I quote col. 219 of the Official Report of 30th March 1999. The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff stated:
"shall have effect until the last day of the first Session of the second Parliament following the Parliament in which the Act is passed". There is respectable authority for giving the Government that length of time in which to prepare their next stage and some difficulty in arguing that it ought to be longer.
The Viscount of Oxfuird: My noble friend Lord Gisborough has tabled Amendments Nos. 135A and 135B. Unfortunately, due to his duties in the lieutenancy, he is unable to be here tonight to speak to them and has asked me to do so in his stead.
Whether the Government accept it or not, the hereditary Peers who attend this House regularly have the feeling that they are in a job. That was admitted by the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal. As such, they are concerned that they do not let their organisation down, a feeling similar to any loyal member of an
That is what we are being legislated to do. What will come in its place, we know not, but we know that we have a duty to guard the quinquennial Act and to ensure that no government exceed their allotted time. In order to achieve that, the Bill, and finally the Act, must be rigorous in its clarity and purpose, and it is now that these matters have to be addressed. It is obvious that a fully appointed House must be open to the abuse of patronage. Man is made thus.
In 1997, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor reminded the House that it was important to avoid the public perception that this House is the biggest quango in the nation's history. In order to achieve that, there must be an Act to back it up. Once the current Bill is passed, there will be nothing to prevent the Government changing their mind and saying that they want this Chamber to reflect the majority in another place.
It would certainly not be for the first time that a government have chosen to go back on their word. We have only to look at the beef-on-the-bone issue in order to remind ourselves of the potential for such policy changes. We must now examine most seriously the acceptance of the Weatherill amendment in relation to the Government's stated intentions in this Bill. We are a relatively stable nation without the problems caused by governments which have dogged so many other countries. By and large, our democracy has led to moderate governments, without inflicting either extreme Right or extreme Left policies on the country. But who can tell in the future? Do we just leave the matter to trust? Who foresaw the Falklands and who foresaw Kosovo? Who can foresee the effect on our country of a population swollen perhaps to 100 million? We already see road rage when people take the law into their own hands. There is such a thing as cause and effect.
Those consequences have to be thought through and it is not beyond the bounds of imagination to see in the future an extreme government with an appointed second Chamber voting to prolong Parliament. With a part elected House, that would be more difficult. Certainly, with hereditary Peers able to return for such a Bill, it would be almost impossible. I totally accept the assurance of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, that he would defend the quinquennial Act, and the same would go for every Member of this House as it is today. But if the unforeseen were ever to occur and we were to have some extreme leader, who could say then that the power of that Act could be maintained?
The report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, suggests two ways of senate composition. But will the other place agree to either? By all historical precedents, the answer is no. It is possible that the interim Chamber under the Weatherill amendment could by default become the permanent. Then again, when the 90 have faded away the Chamber becomes all appointed, leaving the Weatherill amendment with no long-term value and not guaranteeing a stage two. Hence this amendment.
We are on our own in this matter and the public will be badly served if we do not put forward a solution to this problem which can be accepted in another place. Otherwise, the ultimate threat must be the return of the hereditaries. We must not walk out and leave a vacuum.
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