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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, for myself, although I think I do include my noble friend, I can say that there is no question of opposing the implementation of stage one. The Government have entered into a so-called, "free-standing", as they call it, stage one, process, without any idea so far as to what will follow. That seems unbelievable not only to us on this side of the House but also to many people outside. Indeed, I was interested to meet some strangers only last week who were in the Gallery listening to our debate. They simply could not believe that the Government had embarked on this kind of constitutional change without at least a strategic view about what should follow.
Perhaps I may answer the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Harris Greenwich, who was, not for the first time, exasperated. Indeed, it is entirely characteristic of him to be in a bit of a lather about such matters. I can tell the noble Lord that the reason we have a First Reading, a Second Reading, a Committee stage, a Report stage, a Third Reading and then a Bill do now pass stage as regards each of the Bills that we consider, is so that arguments can be made and revisited. It also allows new points to be introduced and enables the Government to do what we had to do when we were on that side of the House when the very same people, including the noble Lord, who complained today about procedures, produced amendments, withdrew them,
However irksome I might have found it as a government Minister, I always felt at the end of the day that the arguments had been tried and tested and that we had been called to account. We had to defend the arguments. I have no conscience whatever in ensuring that the present-day Ministers defend their arguments. In this particular case, I do not think that they defend them terribly well.
Time and again, the noble Baroness has talked about this so-called, "free-standing", one-off, Bill. Yet, at the same time, we are constantly being reminded that there is to be a stage two and that stage two will follow on from stage one very quickly. If that is the case, neither the amendment in the name of myself and my noble friend Lord Boardman nor indeed that in the name of my noble friend Lord Trefgarne poses any threat whatever.
If, as some of us are predicting, stage two will last rather longer, I believe that our amendments act as an impetus to make sure that the House addresses the importance of thinking through properly the formulation of the composition, powers and role of a second Chamber more quickly. Either way I believe that one of these two amendments--I have no strong feelings whether it is my amendment or that of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne--should be accepted.
Further, if we take the noble Baroness at her word--I have no reason to doubt her word--the Royal Commission will report within about 10 weeks of the end of this parliamentary year. We do not know exactly when the parliamentary year will end but we know that there will certainly be an overspill if we are to cope with the business of the House that is yet to come before us, unless we are to sit in August and September. We know that there is a narrow gap here. We are not talking about great delays. If the Royal Commission is to report by December, the Joint Committee could do its work in January and could report by early spring and both Houses would have an opportunity to express a view about the work of the Royal Commission.
Therefore I do not believe that these amendments prejudice the Bill at all. The Government know that they will get their Bill in its present form. We are simply talking about the implementation of stage one when at least a strategic view is taken about the powers, roles, function and composition of the second Chamber in stage two. I support my noble friend and I support my amendment. I would not go to the barricades to say that the amendment of my noble friend Lord Trefgarne should not be accepted. However, I think the Government would do well to take one of these amendments seriously.
Lord Richard: My Lords, this is not the first time that I have heard this argument; I think it is about the seventh so far. I am reminded of the Congressman in America who was sitting through a long, filibustering debate. He turned to his neighbour and said, "But everything has been said". His neighbour replied, "Yes,
As the argument has been raised again I wish to make three brief points. First, the Labour Party's strategy for the reform of the House of Lords could not have been more specifically set out before the election. We said that we would do it in a number of stages. We said that we would have a freestanding Bill which would result in the removal of the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in your Lordships' House. That is what we said. We then said that there would be a public consultation exercise either in the form of a joint--the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, insists upon shaking her head at me. The previous time she did that, I said that the only effect of that is that her head shakes. With great respect--
Lord Richard: My Lords, I am glad that the noble Baroness is now nodding her head at me while standing up. I should have thought she would be pleased. As I understand the position, the Benches opposite stood up and cheered the Weatherill amendment. If anyone has the right to complain about the Weatherill amendment it is this side of the House, not the Benches opposite.
What are we presented with tonight? Let us look at this amendment. The amendment suggests that this Bill, which was telegraphed in advance as a freestanding reform to be followed by subsequent reforms--I trust that there is no argument about that, not even from the noble Baroness--should not be introduced until,
We have debated the matter, I think, seven times before. I do not have anything particularly fresh to say about it; I hope the House does not have anything particularly fresh to say about it; I hope it will come to the same conclusion tonight as it did on the last occasion.
I support the amendment. I have never masked my opinions or my own personal views. I am not using it for some novel or strange purpose. I commend to the House the way it has been presented by my noble friend; I could not have presented it better. However, I maintain that the Government should defer to the wishes of the people. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Richard, that this argument was raised, explored and defeated on my referendum amendment; it was fully explored at the Committee stage; it requires no repetition. I defer to the House, but I still think that the argument is right--and I am sure that the people think the argument is right. The Government should defer to the wishes of the people. I support the amendment.
The Earl of Kinnoull: My Lords, perhaps I may intervene. I am one of the few Members who have not before taken part in this discussion, but I have looked back to see what my noble friend Lord Boardman said. There are not many people, in either House, with such a wealth of parliamentary experience as my noble friend. I respect the fact that he has consistently argued the valid, logical point that when one is dealing with a large constitutional change every effort should be made.
We have now gone a long way with the Bill. It started probably as a monster and has got better and better. We are now getting towards some conclusions--which is good--but when it is possible that the Royal Commission will report even before the Bill reaches the touchline, it seems rather strange that we cannot stop, hold back and not let the Bill come into force until the constitutional changes have been properly examined. I see no harm in that.
I was disappointed with the skilful, dazzling Welsh words used by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, on the last occasion. In dismissing my noble friend's amendment, he said that the Bill was a desirable objective. I am sure that that came at the end of a long discussion. I am sure that he did not mean it in any wrongful spirit though it was said in a slightly dismissive way. The truth is that the Bill is a desirable political objective which is not really worthy of constitutional change of this nature.
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