|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Williams of Mostyn: I cannot agree at all with the underlying thrust of what the noble Viscount has said. I listened with great care to what my noble friend Lord Callaghan of Cardiff said. I understood that he was putting forward the proposition that reform is inevitable and that we should look for the best possible outcome not only for this Chamber but also for the whole of our democracy in this country. I absolutely agree with him. Further, I understood him to say that we can get the best possible reform if we listen to other people's opinions and strive for consensus. Those are easy words but we have yoked ourselves to at least two burdens: one is the Royal Commission, which has not been "packed" and has been given a generous remit; the second is the important undertaking--as we are still a parliamentary democracy--to establish a Joint Committee of both Houses. A third measure--this is the provision that I mentioned--is the Cranborne/Government com- promise. I do not think that shows any ill will at all. Of course I cannot legislate away ill will but we want to go forward in the spirit identified by the noble Lord. However, these amendments do little to nourish and encourage a spirit of consensus. It is, I think, quite--
Lord Elton: The noble Lord is almost there but he seems to me to leave out one link. There is no question of arguing ill will or bad faith. What is being argued is that it is quite difficult to promise that something will happen within a specific time. If that depends on obtaining the good will of all three parties in the other place, let alone here, some of us cannot see how that is in the gift of any government because it depends on the tact and diplomacy of people in three, or indeed four, parties in another place, which they cannot deliver. That being so, either we make the interim arrangement as unbounded as the present interim arrangements are--as my noble friend Lord Cranborne has pointed out, we are in fact an interim House ourselves--or there has to be a sunset clause. Perhaps the noble Lord can argue that case.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: As the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has just said, we cannot promise absolutely to deliver by a certain date. The whole point of these amendments is to require absolute delivery by a certain date. No government, whether before or after an election, with whatever size majority, will be able absolutely to ensure good will. However, the way to get good will is to say, "We shall listen to what people say. We shall not work on the basis of diktat. We shall have
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: Perhaps I can help the noble Lord. I greatly appreciate everything he has said this evening and the way in which he has said it. I never had the intention to divide the Committee on this amendment which seeks simply to explore the Government's thinking on this matter. I repeat that I immensely appreciate the way in which the Minister has expressed his points. Now I would not even consider dividing the Committee on the amendment but I would like the chance to say a few words after the Minister has sat down.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: That is a handsome response. At the risk of tedium I can spend a moment or two describing the defects of each of the amendments in the group. As regards Amendment No. 110F, the date of 2001 simply cannot be met. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, abandoned his offspring as soon as it uttered its first squawk. However, I should not have said that bearing in mind his recent domestic experience! I use the expression figuratively. The opportunity for malice and mischief-making is encouraged by establishing a timetable of that kind.
Amendment No. 110G provides for the Act to lapse automatically at the end of the parliament in which it is passed. That would mean that hereditary Peers--the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, is quite right in this respect--would once again become Members of the House of Lords. They would lose their right to vote in Westminster elections or stand for election, although in the meantime they would properly have been put on the register and might indeed have been elected in a by-election. Again, that is a built-in incentive to delay further reform.
Amendment No. 110H has similar difficulties. This proposes that the period of grace should be three years. We simply have no detail about when it would come into effect. It might be right in the middle of a parliamentary Session because it refers to the "passing" of the present Act, not its coming into force. Where that leaves the 750 hereditary Peers I am not quite sure. I can see the attraction of having the hereditary Peers returning after a period of three years. I would be agreeable to that if calamity occurred and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, had not been elected--which I am sure he will be, as I constantly say on his behalf--as he would have to return in three or five years' time, depending on which amendment one chose. But what about the legitimate expectations of all the wives of hereditary Peers? They would have then had a legitimate expectation, properly supportable by judicial review I am sure, that they would have had their husbands home in the day. Would it be right to snatch from them that infinite prize? That deals with Amendment No. 110H.
The noble Lord has been so kind as to explain in a very courteous manner the deficiencies in the amendment. I wonder whether he will take his courtesy one step further down the road and explain to me something which I have never understood. He has repeated this evening that the party opposite has a paranoid objection to hereditary Peers--I can under- stand that. It has got a very substantial majority in another place and it was in its manifesto that all hereditary Peers have to go. We were told that. I have never understood why there was a change; why there was a volte-face and all of a sudden we were told the Government want to keep 100 hereditary Peers. It is not a trick question; I do not understand why it was necessary. What is the reason?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: I always look at the noble Earl because I know that he will offer a contribution of some spirited quality which then requires a determined, focused examination, which I shall now offer.
I did not say that we had a paranoid objection to hereditary Peers. I said--I repeat--that we had a principled objection to the hereditary right to sit in the House and to conduct parliamentary legislative business on the basis of the capricious donation of birth. That is not paranoia; that is reason and principle. That was put to the public at the previous election; which brings me to the manifesto, which clearly the noble Earl has read with great care. We said that this would be stage one, as a stand alone reform, to invite the hereditaries to depart. It is perfectly true that there has been a tactical device which was entered into by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, for proper purposes and agreed to by the Government. It is a device which is to last for a very brief period. The noble Earl makes my point very well: it is a device intended for a short time so that there shall be, first, the practical utility of the 15 and, secondly, the binding device which means that if we want to bring about our principled solution--and we do--we will have to get on with it.
Let me go on to Amendment No. 115. That amendment deals with what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, suggested might be the better outcome. When I am accused of paranoia and all the other agreeable characteristics, I need to go back to the two words used by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde: is it "principle" or is it "expediency". The necessary outcome of Amendment No. 115 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, gives as long as, to use the awful phrase--I am only using it because it is in the notes provided for me and it would be a shame to waste them--the window between October 2006 and October 2008. By this stage one is getting rather unrealistic. I suppose that every October we could have an anniversary dinner and wonder whether or not we might be meeting again next year and possibly asking Dame Vera Lynn to join our deliberations. That deals with Amendment No. 115.
Amendments Nos. 120 and 135A are not dissimilar. They have the same defects. If I understand Amendment No. 120 correctly, it says that unless the Royal Commission includes a recommendation that, at the very least, the scheme set out in earlier Amendment No. 31 is retained and expanded, the whole of the Act should lapse. In other words, if the independent Royal Commission makes a particular recommendation, this automatically leads to an event which is the direct opposite of the recommendation. I forget who it was who spoke earlier in these debates about Alice in Wonderland, but this certainly seems to be not a sunset clause but an Alice in Wonderland amendment. If the Royal Commission says that all hereditary Peers should go or stay away, that would automatically trigger the consequence that all hereditary Peers should immediately return. The amendment is well calculated in its consequences.
Amendment No. 135A is not dissimilar. Our approach is that we have set our course properly and we are entitled to look--particularly after the Weatherill compromise--to the passage of the legislation. Essentially Amendment No. 135B, which is also in the grouping, repeats the substance of old Amendment No. 94.
I hope that I have dealt with the matters raised by the Committee. The fundamental, serious point of this group of amendments is this: is there an assurance that we intend business when we say that we are intent on the serious long-term reform of the House. We do mean business. I hope that I have illustrated why. I hope that I have illustrated to the general satisfaction of the Committee why we have yoked ourselves to the particular structures.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I rise very briefly to repeat what I said when I intervened in the noble Lord's speech. He could not have approached the problem with more obvious sympathy, concern and with a total absence of rancour or bitterness of any kind. There was no sour reaction from him and no great disappointment that all was not reason and light on the Opposition Benches--it never is. I greatly appreciate that. I will read very carefully what the noble Lord said. I believe that it will not be necessary to come back to this point again.
My amendment was not framed with any particular date in mind. It was an idea to get the Government's reaction--and we have had it. The Government's reaction--in the form of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Williams--does them nothing but credit. I greatly appreciate that.
The intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, was highly embarrassing for me. I hope that I do not offend him too greatly when I say that the noble Lord is not only my friend but also my neighbour. If I were to say anything disagreeable now I would find myself faced with the most dreadful reprisals, which I do not care to risk. I need not say more about the noble Lord's intervention except for this single point: every Government--most of them forget--need the utmost good will. Noble Lords opposite will require that good
I have nothing more to add except to say that the plea of my noble friend Lord Pearson--I hope we are friends still--for an abandonment of rigidity is fully met and perfectly reasonable. The only fear I had was when the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, was on his feet and he started his remarks about the Conservative Party with those terribly ominous words, "With greatest respect to those concerned". I wondered how whole-hearted that respect was, but I will not go into it now. As I said at the start, I am also very grateful to my noble friend the Chief Whip, who was extremely accommodating and helpful to me. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.