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The Earl of Perth: My Lords, I rise to speak because the amendment in my name and that of the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, Amendment No. 61, is linked with Amendment No. 46. Our amendment states:


It is curious that these amendments, which are bracketed together, should raise such anxiety. I could almost use the word "hostility" on the part of some on the Labour side. I completely trust what the noble Lord, Lord Carter, has said at one time or another, in writing or otherwise, and indeed what the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, has said. That is not the issue. The issue is something quite different. It is that one cannot tell what

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the future will hold. No one knows what the outcome of making a major change in the composition of the House would be. It is for that reason that Amendment No. 46 is most ingenious because it in no way affects the powers except if someone threatens to prolong the life of Parliament. No one can tell when that might arise. It could be a Conservative government just as easily as a Labour or even some new government which might, under certain circumstances, try to do this.

Under those conditions, packing the House is also something that has been threatened before. We have heard the historical side of that. What is proposed in the first amendment prevents that. It gives time and time is of the essence in an issue like this.

Not only can there not be packing, but there cannot even be the threat of packing which could be a very serious issue. With every power that I have I urge the Government to accept the amendment in good faith in the belief that we are worried as to what could happen in the distant future. I wondered how to express the anxiety about the extension of the life of a Parliament. I came to the conclusion that if it were a statutory statement in the Bill itself, it would not be absolutely effective but it would show what the Peers of this moment are worried about. It would give time, which I think is of the essence here, for everybody, the Government of the day included, to think for a second time and give public opinion, particularly the media, the opportunity to draw attention to the danger that lies ahead.

It may be said that the first amendment by itself is enough. Amendments Nos. 46 and 61 cover one and the same anxiety and purpose, that we should have a defence which is not only the belt but also the braces. The first amendment is the belt and mine is the braces. The two amendments go together. I beg the Labour Government to realise that this is not intended to be a party matter but one which is for the good of the country and the future, the future may well be in 40 or 50 years time as nobody can tell just what we are really faced with.

I hope very much that the amendments which are in a sense totally bracketed and belt and braces will be accepted in the spirit that they are put forward.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, I am pleased that I gave way to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, who has very carefully and calmly made much of the case that I want to make.

I was struck by the remark of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, who said that there is a need to build in additional constitutional safeguards. The puzzle on this side of the House is why, when there is a change of political power, there is the need to build in additional constitutional safeguards.

Reference has been made to the impact of this attempt. I do not besmirch anyone's motives in this matter at all. We are all politicians. We all look at these matters from the point of view of how they affect, among other things, the political fortunes of the party that we serve. We on this side of the House--I speak

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for myself of course--are just a little suspicious that the need to protect the constitution arises this year or next year when it did not in the past.

You do not need to look into a crystal ball to see what a political party did when it had power in this place. I can recall that, in 1979 when the Conservative Government took over, the Conservatives had a majority in this House over Labour of more than 300. At the end of the government of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, with that majority of 300, Labour was down by 28 and the Conservatives were up by 32. There was a net difference in the strength of the parties in this House of 60. One might say that was not deliberate, that it just happened. We have to make sure that someone who governs the country in the future who has a different point of view, a different agenda, will not deliberately take advantage.

One of the matters that upsets noble Lords on this side of the House, despite protestations, is the clear implication that they do not believe what the Prime Minister is saying. What he has said with all the dignity that he can is that it is not his intention to pack the House. In fact, he has taken away from himself the supreme power of a Prime Minister in forwarding to Her Majesty the names of those upon whom she should confer a peerage. The Prime Minister has given his word, which in my view the country will accept and we on this side of the House accept. If the other side is worried about that possibility, let them take my assurance too.

I remember very well what the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said. If there were ever any attempt by a Labour Prime Minister to do anything remotely like what has been hinted at, his biggest opponents would be here on these Benches. So if there is a worry, please be assured that the Labour Benches are as much in tune as others about damage to the constitution. We have worked hard. The issue was resolved on 1st May 1997. Whether noble Lords on the other side of the House like it or not, the manifesto was put before the people and we have a mandate to govern; and that is what we intend to do.

4 p.m.

The Earl of Erroll: My Lords, perhaps I may--

Lord Renton: My Lords, I hope the noble Earl will forgive me if I do not follow him, because I wish to be as brief as possible. As the Life Peerages Act and the powers under it are being discussed, I should declare that I had some responsibility for piloting it through Parliament in 1958. I was then merely an Under-Secretary at the Home Office; the Home Secretary who introduced it was the late Mr R.A. Butler, as he then was. It will intrigue your Lordships to know that the purpose of that Act, although it was not declared in it, was to enable people who might be offered peerages to become life Peers if they did not want to become hereditary Peers. However, it became clear after a year or so that that would not be the limited purpose for which peerages under it would be created. Indeed,

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in the past 30 years--this is an answer to the noble Lord--no party in your Lordships' House has had a clear majority.

If in 1958 when the Life Peerages Act was passing through Parliament it had become clear that the powers under the Act could be used for creating peerages to extend the life of a parliament at the behest of a government, that Act would not have been passed into law at that time. No party would have agreed to it; neither House would have agreed to it. We have as a possibility--it is no more than a possibility but it is one that we should guard against--that some government, for some reason, inevitably, I think, an inadequate reason, might say, "Let us use the powers in that Act to extend the life of the government and of the parliament". That would be wrong and that is why I fully support my noble friend's amendment.

Perhaps I may say as well that Amendment No. 61, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Perth, which goes somewhat wider than Amendment No. 46, is also worthy of support.

The Earl of Erroll: My Lords, I rise briefly to speak as my name is attached to Amendment No. 61. I like Amendment No. 46 for the simple reason that it has real teeth, whereas the other amendment does not. The question has been asked as to why such a provision should now be necessary when it has not been necessary for many years. The answer is that we have not been looking at changing the composition and powers of this House for many years. Therefore, there was no point in raising the issue as it was not an issue. It has now been made an issue, so we are looking at all the implications of what has been proposed. If one notices that there is a shortfall somewhere, it is naturally logical to try to close some loopholes such as exist at the moment under the 1911 Act so that there will not be a problem in the interim House. That is why the amendment is needed.

I have found it sad that life Peers seem to think that the provision is aimed at them. Life Peers will be able to vote under Amendment No. 46. Life Peers will not be excluded from voting on the measure which will come before the House to extend the life of Parliament. They will be included. The only ones who will be excluded are new Peers who are created immediately before that measure is proposed to the House.

As someone once said, "I know you think you understand what I said but I am not sure you realise that what you heard is not what I meant". The trouble is that people are trying to look for offence when none is intended. This is a perfectly reasonable idea in order to try to prevent problems arising. As a Cross-Bencher, my concern is that the Conservatives, with their larger group, might, if the Cross-Benchers had not come out against, have been able to get such a measure through more easily than they should have been. I look forward to the time when the House is more evenly balanced, as it will then be harder for a Conservative Government potentially to abuse their position of power. On the other hand, if the House is more evenly balanced, it will also be easier to pack it. One will not need to put forward so

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many in order to tip the balance in one's favour. Therefore, with a more evenly balanced House, the danger becomes greater.

I found the comments of the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, slightly naive in his thinking that Her Majesty might tell the Prime Minister that he could not create new peerages. Those days have long since gone. I fear--and I am not sure that one should say it--that it is now accepted that the Crown will always accept the recommendations of the Government of the day. That is a sad reality. I strongly support Amendment No. 46.


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