|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Norrie: This is very unfortunate. I shall just continue to move the amendment in the best possible way that I can. Does the noble Baroness see no change in what I have just described? Does she not see that the hereditary right would no longer be precisely the same as before? Perhaps she would wish to answer that question.
What would happen if Parliament tomorrow said that the Sovereign's hereditary right to open Parliament was no longer to be exercised by the heir when king? Would that not be a change to the Sovereign's hereditary right? However, through this Bill, the Government intend to deny to the heir, as Duke of Cornwall, access to this House. Does that leave the Sovereign's rights precisely as they were before? Those examples are not so abstruse that we are incapable of understanding them. I am not impressed by Members of the Committee on the Front Bench opposite presenting arcane points. Let us stay with the honest and simple logic of this issue.
It is evident that the Government are not willing to regard the removal of hereditary Peers as changing the right of the Sovereign or the Government to create Peers with membership of this House. I ask why that is so. The Government persist in denying that consequence because such an admission must invoke the Statute of Westminster and thus the need to obtain approval from the Commonwealth parliaments. That statutory requirement presents a threat to the Bill because of the consequent delay in the Government's timetable for the removal of hereditary Peers.
Perhaps the Minister will now explain to the Committee her statement that this Bill leaves the Sovereign's hereditary rights to create hereditary Peers with membership of this House unaltered and thus untouched; and that the Sovereign's rights are precisely the same as they were before. I beg to move.
Lord Northbrook: In deference to the quality of learned legal opinion opposite, I wish to speak to the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Norrie on the Statute of Westminster in rather more legal detail.
I should say in passing that this is not the first Statute of Westminster. That statute was passed in 1275 and, among other things, laid down that girls should not be married until they were seven years old. I believe that this is the Statute of Westminster (No. 2), although there were a couple in between.
As my noble friend Lord Norrie stated, the Statute of Westminster makes some very clear comments in its preamble on Clause 4 on the connection with laws passed by the UK Parliament which affect UK hereditary Peers living or resident in the dominions, as they then were, of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the Irish Free State and Newfoundland.
"are autonomous communities within the British empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate to one another in any aspect of their domestic or internal affairs. They are united by a common allegiance to the Crown and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations". The second passage states:
"On the question raised with regard to the legislative competence of members of the British Commonwealth of Nations other than Great Britain, and in particular to the desirability of those members being enabled to legislate with extra-territorial effect, we think it should be similarly placed on record that the constitutional practice is that legislation by the Parliament of Westminster applying to a dominion would only be passed with the consent of the dominions concerned".
I am not sure whether the Government have made such an allowance in the Bill; whether the dominions have requested the Bill or whether they will consent to it. The Bill clearly affects the legal rights of residents of the dominions mentioned previously. It is particularly pertinent to Canada where, I understand, there may be 18 hereditary Peers either living or resident. From my researches I have found that there are also several hereditary Peers who live in other dominions and in other Commonwealth countries.
I shall go a little further on hereditary Peers. As I have just demonstrated, citizens of the dominions may be hereditary Peers. There is no distinction between a Peer who is a British citizen and one who is not. Peers with a connection with the dominions, who in any event are Peers of the United Kingdom, can participate fully in the United Kingdom Parliament as well as in the making of domestic legislation.
In the reference books I see that a lot of the hereditary Peers are quite elderly. Were they to die out, I do not see why in law the dominions concerned should be prevented from recommending that local citizens should be appointed hereditary Peers to take their place. Following the principle, but extending the argument to the Commonwealth, Lord Sinha was appointed a hereditary Peer in India in 1919 by the King Emperor's royal prerogative.
It seems to me--I am supported by counsel's opinion on this--that apart from hereditary cleansing, this Bill seeks to infringe the constitutional rights of citizens of the dominions and, by extension, the Commonwealth. I shall speak about the Commonwealth on a later amendment.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: On this subject, I am fairly neutral. However, I could not help but notice that the noble Baroness did not rise to her feet when her noble friend Lady Castle of Blackburn used the word "cleansing" earlier.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: I agree that the noble Baroness used that word, but I was careful to note that she did not refer to it in this context and she certainly did not use the phrase "hereditary cleansing". I am sure that the whole Committee realises that that phrase has a resonance well beyond the particular expression used.
Lord Northbrook: With great respect to the noble Baroness, I was present when she registered her previous objection to the phrase "hereditary cleansing". However, I was not sure that the whole House took the view that that was an objectionable phrase.
It seems to me that this Bill seeks to infringe the constitutional rights of citizens of the dominions and, by extension, the Commonwealth, to which I shall refer in relation to a later amendment. In doing so, it is legislating for Canada, New Zealand, Australia and other Commonwealth countries in breach of the principle of the inter-imperial equality agreed at the imperial conferences of 1926 and 1930 and solemnly enacted into several independence Acts; for instance, Section 2 of the Canada Act of 1982.
Even more interesting, and on a new theme, the Bill affects the Monarchy. As I understand it, on another issue, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thornton, failed to answer a question put to him by my noble friend Lady Miller about future powers. The preamble to the Statute of Westminster--my noble friend Lord Norrie has discussed this--states:
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|