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Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.49 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.44 to 8.49 p.m.]

House of Lords Bill

House again in Committee.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 [Commencement and transitional provision]:

[Amendment No. 111 not moved.]

Lord Norrie moved Amendment No. 111A:


Page 1, line 13, leave out subsection (1) and insert--
("(1) This Act shall come into force at the end of the session of Parliament in which it is passed providing that it is in full compliance with the provisions of the Statute of Westminster 1931 expressed by the written consents of all the Commonwealth States provided as direct evidence of the Resolutions of all the said Parliaments and Assemblies to that effect, all of which have been communicated to the Speaker of the House of Commons.")

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The noble Lord said: The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that the provisions of the Bill are in full compliance with the Statute of Westminster 1931 expressed by the written consents of all the Commonwealth states to this Bill. I refer the Committee to the words of the preamble of the Statute of Westminster. It states that:


    "inasmuch as the Crown is the symbol of the free association of the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations, and as they are united by common allegiance to the Crown, it would be in accord with the established constitutional position of all members of the Commonwealth ... that any alteration in the law touching ... the Royal Style and Titles shall hereafter require the assent as well as of the Parliaments of all the Dominions as of the Parliament of the United Kingdom". The response of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, to my Amendment No. 14A demonstrated his basic misunderstanding of the issues concerning the application of the Statute of Westminster to the Bill. I assure him that I have not at any time grounded any claim by hereditary Peers to property rights in this House on the Statute of Westminster, although it was clearly stated that I had done so in the Minister's remarks recorded in cols. 251 and 252 of Hansard on 27th April.

My point was that the statute's preamble clearly mandates that the approval of all the Commonwealth states is required to any enactment of the Westminster Parliament which touches upon the Sovereign's titles. Inherent to the Sovereign's titles is the right to create hereditary Peers who are Members of this House. A peerage and membership of this House are in the same creation. The Bill would change that hereditary right because under it the Sovereign would no longer be able to create hereditary peerages with membership of this House. The fact that the Sovereign may not again create a hereditary peerage is not the issue. A simple analogy might be that I have the right to stand at Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park and shout this message to all the world. The fact that I have not done so does not mean that I have no longer have the right. Such rights do not fall into abeyance because of non-use. A right is a right, whether it is a citizen's or the Sovereign's.

Where does that argument take us? It takes us into the realms of the Sovereign's hereditary rights and those rights being changed by this Bill. The logic of this Bill is unavoidable. Changing rights involves touching on them and vice versa. What intrigues so much is the Government's repeated dissembling about the realities of the sovereignty of Parliament. Do the Government mean that they will change the Sovereign's hereditary rights no matter what because the Government control the other place?

It would be foolish in both law and politics for any government to assume that the sovereignty of Parliament is unrestrained. That is an unrefined and outdated theoretical and even historical view. The sovereignty of the British Parliament is restricted by public opinion, by European conventions and by international laws. Parliament can ratify those, but can it thereafter without restraint violate them? As stated by this side of the House, to regard parliamentary sovereignty as absolute and unrestrainable is an

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outmoded doctrine. Reference to it demonstrates how like an ancien regime this Government regard themselves and their power.

From another viewpoint, the appointment of the Lord Chancellor, as head of the judiciary and a Cabinet member, as well as a Peer and Member of this House, is an exercise of the Sovereign's hereditary rights in just one creation. Those appointments are all made by the Sovereign's hereditary powers and not by election, as is similarly the case for the right reverend Prelates as Members of this House. Those appointment are founded on the Sovereign's hereditary powers.

It is unhelpful, to say the least, to draw repeatedly on the sovereignty of Parliament as an empowerment of the Government to do anything they wish concerning the hereditary Peers. The natural extension of that would be that Parliament can abolish itself. That is pure theory in modern times, yet that theory is put forward by a Government who so often deride the meaning and values of our history.

My remarks and the issues I have mentioned in opposition to the Bill are not filibustering. They refer to matters of particular relevance to the Government's use of the weapon of parliamentary sovereignty. I say this because, by the Statute of Westminster, this Parliament's powers are preconditioned and restrained from changing the Sovereign's hereditary rights. For the Government to do so, this Parliament must obtain the consents of all the Commonwealth states, at least those of which our Sovereign is head of state. A 1931 Act may be irrelevant to this Government, but they make it very plain that the earlier 1911 Parliament Act is not. It is because of that inconsistency that my amendment is necessary.

Lord Goodhart: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Has he consulted any of the Commonwealth Governments or their High Commissions about this issue? If so, what were their responses?

Lord Norrie: Yes, I certainly have. I have written to the Governor General of New Zealand because my title is "of Wellington, New Zealand", so that was an obvious interest. I have also written to Canada and I have had some responses. However, I believe that I should leave that issue because other Members of the Committee would like to follow the same pattern as myself.

My amendment seeks to ensure that the prerequisite Commonwealth approvals are made inherent to this Bill also. If my amendment is seen as a lesson to the Government about their manners in their constitutional behaviour, they have only the Leader of the House to blame. When the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, spoke on 29th April, she said in col. 538 that the Sovereign's right to create hereditary Peers, "remains precisely the same". That statement, both constitutionally and in logic, is incorrect. I regard the noble Baroness's statement as dissembling, and believe that she knew it, and that she intended it. While it is true--

Lord Williams of Mostyn: It is well known that in this House we have rules about asperity of language.

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Those words recently used by the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, are an abuse of our freedom and should be withdrawn at once.

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Lord Norrie: I heard such things said from the Front Bench about my last amendment--

Lord Williams of Mostyn: No one has said about the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, that he was dissembling--that is, lying--nor that he lied deliberately. I repeat, and I look to the Opposition Front Bench for support--that it is quite wrong to use language of that kind.

Lord Norrie: If that is the case, and that is the definition of the word that he has looked up in the dictionary, I do not view it quite like that--

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I need no dictionary to know the meaning of English words. To say that someone is "dissembling" means that they are telling untruths. To say that they are "dissembling deliberately" means that they are deliberately lying.

Lord Norrie: I am certainly not saying that the noble Baroness is deliberately lying. I would not say that at all. However, I was saying that it was not quite the case, as I shall now explain. While it is true that the right of the Sovereign to create hereditary Peers remains, the rights of the Sovereign would no longer be intact or unchanged and therefore could not be precisely the same as the noble Baroness said.

9 p.m.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: At that time, I was referring to the implications for that particular change on the style and title of the Sovereign, which I thought was the purpose of the noble Lord's amendment and, indeed, the purpose of his amendment this evening. If I am incorrect, perhaps the noble Lord will explain more clearly why that is so.

Lord Norrie: I do not wish to become involved in an argument this evening. I shall just refer to what has been said and perhaps the noble Baroness will read Hansard. She may then understand what I mean.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: I am sorry to intervene again, but if the noble Lord does not wish to become involved in an argument or discussion about his amendment, perhaps he will withdraw it now and no one need respond to it.


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