Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I wish to associate myself with the words of my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition. I made it clear during the course of some of the debates in Committee that this was one of the matters in my recollection which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and I had raised but had deferred as matters for consideration in further detail. I hope that the noble and learned Lord will also be able to confirm that as his recollection. It is a matter of detail, but, I submit, of extremely important detail.

I shall once again trespass on your Lordships' patience by reminding the House of what I saw as the purpose of the agreement I came to with the noble and learned Lord and the Prime Minister. The purpose was to try to pour some sand into the Government's shoe. It

22 Jun 1999 : Column 790

would be an irritation to them. Those of us who suspected--no doubt entirely wrongly--that the Government all along wanted to stick at a stage one nominated House saw it as an incentive to ensure that that intention never materialised.

It is against that background that I suggest we should consider my noble friend's amendment. If the Government mean what they say--and I have absolute confidence in the noble and learned Lord when he says it--that they intend to proceed with all due dispatch to stage two reform, I suggest that there is no difficulty from the Government's point of view in accepting my noble friend's amendment. After all, by the time of,


    "the first Session of the Parliament after that in which the Act is passed", according to paragraph (a) in Amendment No. 21, if that time comes, and the Government mean what they say, it seems to me that we shall be well on the way at least to incorporating stage two on to the statute book. If that is not so, we would have accomplished it. So if the Government mean what they say, they would surely not be taking any risks in terms of by-elections. There would be no call for by-elections.

However, if the Government resist the amendment, it would confirm in the unfortunately suspicious minds of some of us that there are some elements of the Government--I am sure, not the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor--who have always wanted an entirely nominated Chamber. They could clearly not get it by passing the Bill in its original form. That is something which they accepted would prove enormously difficult in the absence of the compromise which your Lordships have approved in principle.

It would imply that they could also not rely on the recommendations of my noble friend Lord Wakeham. Those suspicious spirits might feel that he could have been relied upon by the Government to recommend an entirely nominated Chamber. Your Lordships have been repeatedly assured by my noble friend, as is no surprise to those of us who know him, that a nominated Chamber is only one of the options that his Royal Commission will consider and that of course he will be entirely open as to his reasoning behind any recommendations he gives.

So, if the suspicious are right, then the Government would not be able to achieve a wholly nominated Chamber by that route either. If the Government were to resist this by-election amendment, the suspiciously minded would then be driven to the conclusion that if the first two routes had failed they would be driven to a third expedient, and that expedient would take a little longer than they had originally planned but they would still get there in the end. The phrase that has come to be recognised to represent this tactic in your Lordships' House is "withering on the vine". Clearly, if no by-elections were to be held, and this stage one Bill were not to be replaced by a stage two Bill, it would be clear that the 92 would be allowed to wither on the vine and the Government eventually would manage to have achieved their nominated Chamber. In fact as the withering took place, the nominated Chamber would

22 Jun 1999 : Column 791

become increasingly a reality, as those of your Lordships who were lucky enough to be elected as members of that group of 92 gradually died off.

It seems to me therefore that what is at stake here is the Government's credibility. I have no doubt at all, as I have said before, that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has bent over backwards to be honourable in keeping to the agreement that he and I came to. I have already said that this detail was one over which we did not agree and which we merely raised in passing, as I understood it, for future agreement. Nevertheless, for the reasons I have given, it seems to me that this is a detail of considerable importance. If the Government really do mean to go to stage two, there seems to be no necessity to oppose my noble friend's amendment, because the by-elections will never be called upon to take place. If, on the other hand, they do not mean to proceed to stage two, then the sand in the shoe will become an ever-present reminder to whatever government are in place at the time of by-elections that something must be done to complete the process which Parliament has started in the present Session.

I would submit to your Lordships that this amendment is integral to the tactic which lay behind our motives in coming to this agreement. If Your Lordships do not accept the amendment, then the whole reasoning behind the Weatherill amendment begins to fail. I would suggest to Your Lordships that this will prove to be a test which it is only sensible for your Lordships to set the Government. I am sure that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will take my remarks in the spirit in which they were intended.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Desai: My Lords, we should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for repeating the arguments that he made on an earlier occasion on this amendment. I find the amendment rather curious. The argument is made that, if we are going to have a reformed Chamber and a second stage, then this amendment is harmless and that therefore we should accept it; but if it is not going to be like that and the transitional House will last a long time, then of course it is absolutely crucial, and the Government must accept it.

I would say exactly the opposite. If noble Lords are right and we accept the Weatherill amendment in order to entice or encourage the Government to have a stage two and stage two is going to happen, the amendment is unnecessary. So why burden the Bill with an unnecessary amendment? If, however, for some reason or another, we are going to have a long transitional stage, which will change the nature of this House in the much longer run, we need to think very carefully about how we will replenish the numbers in that continuing House.

One argument I would make, which is a very strong one, against putting such a provision in the Bill is that at present the rules for electing the 90 are not on the face of the Bill; they are in the Standing Orders. Any amendments to those rules should be left to the

22 Jun 1999 : Column 792

committees of this House in the future rather than be put on the face of the Bill, which would allow another place to amend them. We do not want another place to determine by what rules we elect Members of this House. In order to do that, we must leave this question off the face of the Bill. That is one argument for rejecting the amendment.

Lord Dean of Harptree: My Lords, I voted for the amendment to Clause 2--the so-called Cranborne/Weatherill compromise--for three reasons: first, it will provide some continuity with the existing House; secondly, it will retain in the House more knowledge, experience and diversity than would otherwise be available; thirdly, it will provide an elected element and therefore greater authority for the Peers who are elected and for the House as a whole. Those seem to be substantial reasons in favour of the amendment. Therefore, I judge all amendments, including this one, by one test: is the amendment in keeping with the compromise or not? In my judgment, the amendment moved by my noble friend is in keeping with it. In fact, I believe that, without the provision for by-elections, the amendment which your Lordships' House accepted in Committee will not be wholly effective.

I realise that the Government will say that provision for by-elections is not required because the second stage reform is coming quickly. I do not doubt for one moment that the Government are genuine in their belief, but I do suggest to your Lordships that both time and political imperatives will be against them. The Royal Commission is due to report by the end of the year. That is a very tight timetable. There is no guarantee that it will achieve that timetable. After that, the Government, to their credit, have promised a Joint Committee of both Houses. Anyone who has studied the history of House of Lords reform will realise how difficult it will be for that Joint Committee to achieve agreement. It will certainly need a good deal of time to deliberate. After that, there will be the reaction from the Government. Who has ever heard of a Government coming up to a general election and introducing a Bill for which there is little demand in the country? Of course, the Government will inevitably say--any Government would say it in such circumstances--"We are far too busy with legislation for which there is great demand among the public and legislation which will stand us in good stead for the next general election". Any government would do that and no-one can blame them for so doing.

I suspect that, when we reach that stage, the Government will say, "We are very sorry but we do not have time to introduce the Bill in this Parliament". Then, of course, the general election will take place. Who will win it? Who knows? What will be the form of the next Government and the next Parliament? What will be their attitude to stage two? No one knows. It is at least possible--I say probable--that the interim House will last for a very long time. It is for this reason that

22 Jun 1999 : Column 793

I believe we should legislate for that possibility, and I strongly support the amendment moved by my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page