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Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, it is sometimes necessary to return to an issue four, five or six times simply in order to obtain a proper response from

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government. It strikes me that, when it comes to the quality of Ministers, the Government are better served in this House than they are in the other place. In the other place, Ministers quite simply do not answer questions. In this House they quite cleverly do not answer questions. During the passage of the Bill, the Government have hardly responded to any of the points I have raised and I am not living in any great optimism that it will be any different this evening.

I rise strongly to support Amendment No. 66, which strikes me as eminently reasonable. The amendment does not prevent the Government from getting their Bill nor, to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, does it prevent there being a two-stage process. It simply allows Parliament to lead the country and to see what is proposed for the second Chamber before this measure takes effect.

The noble Lord, Lord Graham, claimed that this was a delaying amendment. Any delay deriving from this amendment is entirely the fault of the Government. They could have appointed a Royal Commission two years ago. We could by now know the proposals for stage two. The fact that we do not should be laid at the door of the Government. It is not the responsibility of this side of the House. We know where we are moving away from but I think it is eminently reasonable to argue that, before we make the move, we should know where we are going. I think that responsibility rests on the Government to explain why that is not a reasonable claim to put forward.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, I rise very briefly to say that one aspect of the debate has puzzled me and it has perhaps been encapsulated most in the contributions of the noble Lords, Lord Richard and Lord Harris of Greenwich. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, seemed to take the view that there was something wrong in trying to amend the Bill because it was against the principle of the Bill and the whole philosophy and concept which lay behind it. This seems to ignore the fact that many of us believe that this is a thoroughly bad Bill anyway. Whether it was in the Labour Party's manifesto or not is a matter of total irrelevance. Many of us believe it to be a bad Bill and we want to amend it and improve it in every way we possibly can.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, seemed to be exasperated that we were spending so much time in returning to arguments that have been deployed and developed before. That is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said, exactly what the proceedings of this House are about. We have stages of the Bill which enable people to come back to arguments which may have been deployed before and may have been dismissed before, but to put them forward again in the hope that they may throw some new light upon the proceedings and give people an opportunity again to express their views.

It is understandable that it may be irksome for some people to sit late at night and hear arguments deployed again and again. Of course it is irksome. The whole system of conducting the parliamentary business of this country can sometimes be irksome. When we are involved in a constitutional transformation--a constitutional revolution--of the kind which the

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Government are now proposing, I do not think we should be too worried about sitting late at night once or twice and even hearing arguments deployed once or twice or even three times.

I believe we would be very unwise indeed if we were to think that what we are doing with the Bill was a waste of time or pointless. We have, as one noble Lord has said, improved the Bill enormously already. We have in Clause 2 caused the Government to make a complete U-turn and to do something which was in direct conflict with their manifesto commitment. I believe there is much more that can be done to amend the Bill and I hope that we shall not shrink from doing it because we have been kept up late on a few nights debating the issue.

I support the amendment. However, I want to make the point that all that we are doing in this House on the Bill is very, very necessary if we are to discharge our proper responsibilities as the Upper House of the British Parliament.

11.30 p.m.

Viscount Mountgarret: My Lords, I was going to hold my fire until we reached my amendment but I cannot resist supporting what the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, has just said. I am disappointed that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, who, after all, as a former Leader of your Lordships' House has held one of the highest offices in the land, should descend to such comments as that there are those on various sides of the House who want to filibuster and delay the Bill. That really is the most terrible accusation to make. The Bill will have enormous consequences but what it proposes is tied up in a few pages. The Government cannot in a few pages summarise and bring together all the ramifications relating to the Bill.

Amendments have been moved about noble Lords being able to host charity events. What about all the parliamentary activities that go on? What about the Parliamentary Golfing Society? What about one of the oldest cricket clubs in England; namely, the Lords and Commons Cricket Club? Will Peers be eligible? Such points have not been addressed. They may seem to be de minimis to those who wish to get the Bill through but they nonetheless should have been addressed. If noble Lords wish to produce amendments in order to try to have these matters addressed, it is only fair and right that they should do so. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, feels that there is an element of filibustering. As far as I am concerned, there certainly is not.

Lord Kingsland: My Lords, so many eloquent and pertinent speeches have been made in the debate on this amendment that it has made my task very easy. At various stages of the Bill members of the Opposition Front Bench have given full support to the principle that lies behind the three amendments in this group. The Opposition support the amendments this time for, among others, the reasons given by my noble friend Lord Boardman.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, for his

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extremely brief response. Does that mean that if these amendments are put to a Division the Opposition Front Bench will support them?

Lord Kingsland: My Lords, we shall wait to see what happens.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I have to say that it is one of the elements of repetition in the discussions on the Bill, which is of some frustration to my noble friends, that noble Lords on the Opposition Front Bench are inclined regularly to explain to your Lordships how enormously important they find the measure proposed to them and how much they support the underlying principle of it but that they do not intend to support it in the Lobbies.

Lord Kingsland: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for giving way with her customary courtesy. The fact of the matter is that the Opposition Front Bench has been entirely consistent in its approach to the matter. If the noble Baroness wishes, the Opposition Front Bench will vote on every amendment with which it agrees. I am sure that she would not wish for that. So do not tempt us too much!

Baroness Jay of Paddington: Well, my Lords, that was an interesting intervention which I am sure will be noticed by all hereditary Peers who sit in the House at present and presumably wish to continue to do so under the regulations of the transitional House which have been agreed by Clause 2 of the Bill. I am sure that if the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, were present, he would be interested to hear that intervention.

I should like to confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, as he directly asked me how many times I had personally debated this issue, that I agree with him. I think it is seven. We have debated this issue on every single occasion on which your Lordships have considered these points. I accept what the noble Baroness says, that it is legitimate to bring back points at different stages. However, I would re-emphasise to the noble Baroness, since she tried to draw a contrast between her behaviour in government and the behaviour of the Government Front Bench at present, that the Companion of the House states that, as we have repeated on several occasions in the course of debate this afternoon--the noble Baroness may not have been present all the time, and there is no reason why she should have been--arguments fully deployed in Committee of the Whole House should not be repeated at length on Report. The Government Front Bench has stuck courteously but firmly to that guidance in the Companion. We intend to continue to do so.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, is the noble Baroness suggesting that I have breached the rules of the House? Is she suggesting that the length of time I took to make the points this evening was also in breach of the rules of the House?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: No, my Lords. What I am suggesting to the noble Baroness is that the

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Government Front Bench does not have to repeat at length arguments which it has deployed at Second Reading, in Committee, in debates on the White Paper, at the earlier stages of Report and so on. I shall reply to the points which have been raised in a new form on this group of amendments, and not to the Second Reading debate points which have been made on several occasions by noble Lords who have contributed this evening.

With regard to Amendments Nos. 65 and 66, the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, has changed his wording from that of the amendment he moved in Committee. He has dropped his insistence that the findings of the Royal Commission should be accepted by resolution of your Lordships' House before the Bill comes into force. I am afraid that although he has made that change in response to some of the points we made in Committee it does make the amendment any more acceptable to the Government.

The amendment now does not require your Lordships' House to debate the findings of the Royal Commission, nor even to agree to them. The Royal Commission's report must merely be laid before the House, and that would be the trigger, as I understand it, for the Bill to take effect; it would take effect whatever the Royal Commission said. Several noble Lords responded vigorously when it was suggested that simple delaying tactics were their motivation, and such tactics seem to be the motivation here, because if it does not matter what the Royal Commission says in order to trigger the stage one Bill, then it really is not relevant whether or not the Royal Commission has reported.

This is simply a delaying tactic in terms of the implementation of the Bill. It could mean, for example, that the provisions of the Bill would take effect in mid-Session. We have heard today at great length, and I think with genuine concern, from noble Lords around the House that they feel there is disruption to their lives. The amendment could mean that laying the Royal Commission's report before the House on, say, a Wednesday would immediately trigger implementation of the Bill, and all the hereditaries would be out on Thursday. I cannot imagine that that was really what was intended in terms of easing the transition from one stage to another, but that is the effect of the amendment.

The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Boardman, supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, is equally unacceptable, for the simple reason that, as I am advised, it is impossible for a Joint Committee of both Houses to provide for the commencement of an Act of Parliament. The amendment is therefore technically defective.

As I have said, we have been round this course on six, now seven, separate occasions. The Government wish and intend, and have pledged themselves, to proceed with reform of your Lordships' House in two stages. We intend to continue on that course. We do not accept that we need to delay in doing so. As my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton pointed out in the course of his remarks on the amendment, it is not sensible to do that, for all the reasons which those who spoke about their experience in earlier attempts at reform have expressed most eloquently.

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One noble Lord referred to the comment of my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn at an earlier stage that the Bill was a desirable objective. The Government stick precisely by that position, and we seek to move ahead with it as quickly as we can.

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