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Therefore I venture with some trepidation into making an assertion. I think that we both felt that it was impossible for us to cover every detail of the mechanics that would flow from this agreement and it was for that reason that we suggested that a committee of representatives from the Government and from all groups in this Chamber should convene to consider the detailed mechanics under the guidance of the Clerk of the Parliaments. I think that the entire Committee is familiar with the conclusions that that group reached.
My memory--I hope that the noble and learned Lord will be able to confirm this--is that during the course of our conversations we did not cover the question of by-elections until a late stage indeed. I remember that I suggested to the noble and learned Lord that the matter of by-elections was important. The noble and learned Lord poured what I shall describe as a modest amount of cold water on that suggestion. I hope that he will also confirm that I emphasised to him that I attached great importance to this matter for exactly the reasons that my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition has suggested. If we subscribe--as I certainly do--to the theory that the principal reason for the existence of the 92 hereditary Peers in the transitional Chamber is that it is a continuing incentive for the government of the day to progress to a full stage two reform, then evidently it is of interest to maintain that full number so long as a full stage two reform has not taken place.
As my noble friend Lord Strathclyde made clear, it does not seem practical that we should hold by-elections if a full stage two reform takes place within the timescale that the Government have suggested they would like. I think we all accept that that is fully what the Government intend. However, we also know that governments can conceivably and very occasionally--even this Government perhaps--find themselves blown off course by events, pressure and perhaps even by successful oppositions. Were that to happen, it might just be possible after the next election for the new Conservative government to be blown off course as well. Therefore, I would suggest that my noble friend's amendment is not a partisan amendment; it is a further incentive for whatever government take office after the next general election. Since my party is now fully committed to the cause of reform, a little sand in their shoe would be at least as welcome as the sand we are now suggesting would be welcome in the Government's shoe as well.
If my memory of our conversations is accurate--and I hope that the noble and learned Lord will agree that it is--I hope that he will look very seriously at the suggestion of my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition, if only to ensure that whatever government are in power realise that so odious, despicable and unacceptable thing as a hereditary peer should not sully the House of Lords for longer than absolutely necessary.
Lord Richard: Not for the first time, I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, for what he has to say. He has lifted a little at least of the veil covering the agreement between him and my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor. From what he said it is perfectly clear that there was no agreement between the two of them as to the issue of filling vacancies by by-elections.
Viscount Cranborne: Obviously, I was not clear, as usual. There was absolute agreement about the question of filling a vacancy from the proxime accessit to start with. Where we did not agree was on what was to happen if by some misfortune stage two was delayed.
Lord Richard: I think it is my turn to apologise. I obviously did not express myself very clearly. As I understand it, there was no agreement about the possibility of holding by-elections from within the constituency of all the hereditary Peers in the event that after the initial stages of the arrangement it should continue and there should be a vacancy caused by death or disqualification. I think that is right, and I think it is what the noble Viscount has said.
Two possible alternatives have been adumbrated. One is that the next in line should take over and the other is that there should be a by-election. The first seems to me to have all the merits, and the second seems to me to have an immense number of demerits.
Let us postulate what the noble Viscount was hinting at. Suppose that this arrangement is still in existence, because a government have been blown off course, or whatever phrase one wishes to use, in seven, eight or nine years' time. What is seriously suggested is that when one of the 90 representative Peers, as they are now quite clearly going to be called, dies, the other 660 will be wheeled out, brought back and asked to judge, presumably in the electoral colleges of their own parties or the Cross Benches, who should replace the individual. After such a period, or a decade even, of absence from the House of Lords, they would be the last people who could possibly judge the worth of who should take over.
The noble Viscount shakes his head. He will know, and my noble and learned friend knows full well, that I am not exactly enthusiastic about the Cranborne/Weatherill/Irvine compromise, arrangement, concordat or whatever it has been called in the course of this debate. But I accept it; I accept it as a matter of convenience between the parties for the purposes of getting legislation through.
However, I am bound to say the idea that somehow to wheel out all the hereditary Peers, as someone said in one of our earlier debates, dust them down, put them in their Bath chairs and wheel them in to take a decision as to who should now become the new representative seems to me to be absolutely incredible.
Lord Richard: With great respect, the electorate outside has had the opportunity of seeing what the Government have been doing for five years. It would seem to me that somebody who has not been inside this House for a period of five, six, seven years or a decade, will really not be in the best position to decide precisely who should take over to fill the vacancy.
This is meant to be a temporary arrangement. That is the basis upon which many Members on this side of the Committee and I have accepted it. If it is a temporary arrangement, it seems to me that the best way to deal with it is by having one election; all groups have their electoral colleges and decide who their representatives are to be; and that election having taken place, the next on the list moves in if there is a vacancy by death or disqualification.
The Earl of Onslow: You will take the three, I accept that. Peradventure that arrangement lasts not for 10 years but for 20 years. It is no good the noble Lord raising his eyes towards heaven and saying that it will not happen. We must assume that it will happen, not because we wish it to happen but because we must make certain that what comes into place is workable. We all assume that it will be a temporary House but it must be a workable temporary House. The last temporary House has lasted for 88 years. Every single Member of the 1911 House of Lords is dead. If it lasts slightly longer, how on earth are we to manage that arrangement?
Lord Richard: Perhaps I may answer the noble Earl. He asks me what will happen. It is quite a simple proposition. He forgets that the Government have the right, and, indeed, the duty to attempt to legislate and that Parliament can pass laws. If there is a difficulty in six, seven or 20 years' time, that is the time I would expect a government to look at that problem; to
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