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The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, for his reply and for further clarifying the Government's position as set out in Committee. As was pointed out by my noble friends who were kind enough to support my amendment, as long as there are part-time Back-Benchers who can contribute fully to this House, and as long as the House is organised to enable them to do that, I think the noble and learned Lord need have no fear. My fear is that the Bill will alter the composition of the House and drive out the part-time Back-Bench Peer. It is through the revised composition of the House that pressure would be put on the Government to pay salaries, as my noble friend Lord Ferrers pointed out.

I am grateful for the statement on government policy as regards the interim House. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Perth moved Amendment No. 61:

After Clause 4, insert the following new clause--


(" . Nothing in this Act affects the power of the House of Lords to veto any bill introduced by a Minister of the Crown providing for the maximum duration of Parliament to be extended beyond 5 years.").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, your Lordships will be glad to know that I shall be brief on this amendment, which was grouped with Amendment No. 46. There was a long debate on the two amendments and Amendment No. 46 was passed by a considerable majority.

Both amendments are concerned in different ways that the life of a Parliament should not exceed five years without the House of Lords so agreeing--if the House of Lords uses its power of veto on this point. I know that my amendment is not watertight but it provides time for public opinion and the all-powerful media to focus on what is happening. The amendment provides for a statutory declaration written into the Bill which, it is to be hoped, would make the government of the day hesitate and think again before trying to extend a Parliament's life.

I look upon Amendments Nos. 46 and 61 as one and the same; they provide a belt-and-braces defence against an unknown future--perhaps another Cromwell. I absolutely accept the word of the Government that they have no intention to seek to extend the life of a Parliament. That has been made clear in writing by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, for which I am grateful, and in

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other ways. Remembering the passing of Amendment No. 46, I very much hope that the Government will also accept Amendment No. 61, which is linked with it.

Lord Renton: My Lords, the amendment moved by the noble Earl, Lord Perth, is of very great value and guidance. It may well be that he does not intend to divide the House upon this matter tonight, but if the amendment can be regarded by the Government as valuable guidance for the future the noble Earl will have performed a good service. The amendment is much wider in effect than Amendment No. 46; indeed, I would have voted for it had there been an opportunity at this late hour. It is very important that the Government understand that it is the will of the House within the terms not only of Amendment No. 46 but Amendment No. 61 that there should be no attempt to extend the life of a Parliament.

Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, I spoke in opposition to Amendment No. 46 and voted against it. On the other hand, I support this amendment. If it is the intention of the Government--as I vaguely suspect it may be--to reverse their defeat on Amendment No. 46 at a later stage, I very much commend to them Amendment No. 61. I suspect that whoever is to reply to the debate will say that the amendment is unnecessary because it already exists in law. In technical terms, I accept that that answer would be correct, but there is no great harm in occasionally enacting something that is merely declaratory of present law. There is undoubtedly suspicion, whether or not justified--I do not believe that it is--that the consequence of this Bill may be to make it easier for the Septennial Act, which is now quinquennial, to be repealed. That suspicion may be fortified by the reversal of Amendment No. 46 either at a later stage or in another place. I commend to the Government the idea that if they accepted Amendment No. 61 nobody could be suspicious of their intentions if thereafter they deleted Amendment No. 46. It may be unnecessary, but it is wholly desirable and totally harmless.

Lord Monson: My Lords, this amendment is much neater, more easily comprehensible, and therefore much more user-friendly so far as concerns the general public, than Amendment No. 46, which was passed earlier today by a majority of 106. Unlike Amendment No. 46, this amendment is not open to the objection that it creates two classes of Peer. I trust, therefore, that it will be accepted without hesitation, but if by some mischance it is not I hope that my noble friend will press it to a Division.

10.45 p.m.

Baroness Strange: My Lords, as always, I wish to support my noble friend, kinsman and clan chief.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I support the amendment. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, that the arguments on Amendment No. 46 and on this amendment are disparate. Let us not go into the details.

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On Amendment No. 46--and the question goes to both amendments--the noble Lord, Lord Graham, asked a perfectly reasonable question: "Why, suddenly, do you, the Conservative Party, ask for a fundamental constitutional safeguard when you did nothing for 18 years, and now the Labour Party have arrived on the scene?" I think that is the question he asked. I longed to answer it but there was not time and no one wanted to listen.

The answer is quite simple. Although we did nothing for 18 years, at least we did nothing. What the Labour Party has done is to upset totally the constitutional apple cart with devolution, this Bill, and no doubt other things. There is a new drive to alter the whole constitutional structure. It is because of that that I respectfully suggest that it is reasonable to ask for a fundamental constitutional safeguard along the lines of these amendments.

I accept that the arguments in support of both amendments are disparate, but I support the argument on this amendment.

Lord Kingsland: My Lords, noble Lords on the Government Front Bench will be relieved to hear, I trust, that I shall not engage in a robust defence of Amendment No. 46, although it well deserves it. Nor shall I rise to the fly so deftly cast over me by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe. I simply say that the Opposition believe that Amendment No. 61 happily complements Amendment No. 46; and we shall be very pleased if the Government will agree to include that on the face of the Bill--as a declaratory statement but one that the Bill thoroughly merits.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I cannot support any of my noble kinsmen in this House because I have none. But I have an argument, which may sometimes be of greater assistance.

Quite simply, this amendment, as the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, accepted, has no effect. It simply declares that the Bill does not affect the power of the House of Lords to veto the amendment or suspension of the Septennial Act, as it originally was. Since the Bill says nothing about powers, self evidently the Bill as it presently stands does not affect your Lordships' powers.

It is not true that apparently meaningless expressions in legislation are always necessarily harmless. They are not. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, asked for a fundamental constitutional safeguard. One can have that, as I said earlier, in a written constitution which is not able to be amended except with certain majorities. But a bare statement of the self evident, such as this, is neither fundamental, nor a safeguard, nor particularly constitutional.

The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, said that he did not feel able or inclined to defend Amendment No. 46. I paraphrase what he said. The amendment has been

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described as a belt and braces provision. If Amendment No. 61 were the braces alone, the trousers would fall down, because it is utterly and completely valueless.

Lord Monson: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, is it not the convention in this House to accept amendments in the same grouping as the first amendment which has been agreed?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: No, my Lords, and that is why the noble Earl, Lord Perth, scrupulously developed this theme and his argument on Amendment No. 61, which is different. That is why I have responded in this way. The noble Earl was correct and I am correct.

The Earl of Perth: My Lords, I thank all those who have supported my amendment. It may well be that it has no effect in the sense of having a statutory right or preventing something happening in relation to the duration of a Parliament. However, it will undoubtedly ensure that people think again, "What is all this about?". If Parliament wants to extend its life, it is important that the country as a whole and the media know what is happening. The amendment is designed to achieve that.

Even if the amendment has no effect, in the light of the support that I have received I should like to test the opinion of the House.

10.51 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 61) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 34; Not-Contents, 83.

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