Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Acton: My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, can he remind us what his figure was at Report stage?

The Earl of Caithness: Yes, my Lords, indeed I can. I believe that my noble friend Lord Stanley and I proposed a figure in excess of 800, but since then I have had the opportunity to discuss the matter with my noble friend Lord Kingsland and have agreed his figure.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, it is always a pleasure to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, particularly when he endeavours to import the habits of another place into your Lordships' House. The noble Lord and I were together briefly in another place. One of the things that I noted was that it was not particularly effective as a revising Chamber.

26 Oct 1999 : Column 190

If a large proportion of our time is to act as what his noble friend, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, called "the legislative housemaid", it seems to me that whatever the merits or demerits of the way we handle Bills, there is a great deal to be said for maintaining the habit of your Lordships' House of being able to introduce amendments at Third Reading as well as at earlier stages.

The size of both Houses of Parliament is a question which, quite rightly, is beginning to exercise people interested in this constitution at a time of change. I venture to suggest to your Lordships a sensible and compelling case for reducing the size of another place. It is one which I suggested in a Bill to which your Lordships were kind enough to give a Second Reading this summer.

There is, perhaps, a rather more difficult argument to put forward in favour of a smaller or very small upper House, reformed or otherwise, for one simple reason advanced with great clarity and elegance, if I may say so, by my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon, in his evidence to the Royal Commission chaired by my noble friend Lord Wakeham.

My noble and learned pointed out that so long as your Lordships' House is peopled by unpaid amateurs--I use the word "amateurs" in the best sense, as a compliment rather than an insult--it is inevitable, particularly when those amateur politicians are expert and active in their respective fields of endeavours, that they will tend to turn up sometimes rather sparingly. Nevertheless, as your Lordships know, many Members of your Lordships' House are listened to with great attention even though they are only occasional contributors to your Lordships' debates. They are busy acquiring their experience, authority and expertise in their individual realms of endeavour.

As my noble and learned friend points out in his evidence, this is an argument for a larger House in the upper Chamber as opposed to a smaller House in another place. That is a distinction which, even at this late stage, I should like to draw to the attention of your Lordships.

There is an argument for a larger upper House so long as we are not a House of professional, paid, full-time politicians. I hope that your Lordships would agree that we already have one House too many consisting of those. To have a second would be perverse.

The argument put forward so elegantly, as usual, by my noble friend Lord Kingsland boils down to the question of broad balance. That is a phrase with which I became familiar during the course of my conversations with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. As the whole House knows, that was an integral part of the agreement to which we came. It was put before your Lordships' House and your Lordships have finally to decide one way or the other today.

To what extent can we rely on the undertaking given by the noble and learned Lord and his colleagues in the Government that during the transitional phase of your

26 Oct 1999 : Column 191

Lordships' House, which has been ushered in by this Bill, they will seek no absolute majority but merely parity with the principal opposition party which, at present, is my party?

One of the agreeable aspects of dealing with the noble and learned Lord--I pay tribute to him once again--is that through thick and thin he has unquestionably stuck to the letter and spirit of our agreement. Based on experience, I have no doubt, therefore, that the noble and learned Lord will stick to his word, as I am sure will his colleagues.

The high proportion of your Lordships who have been members of Cabinets will know that Governments of both complexions are subject to intense pressures which, rather regrettably, once in a while cause them to undermine the undertakings given by their predecessors. This is not an ad hominem attack on Members of the present Government.

If by some misadventure the transitional House lasts rather longer than both the noble and learned Lord and I would like, it becomes important to have some means of assuring ourselves that it would be difficult, under those circumstances, for his successors to abrogate the agreement he has made and which I have no doubt he will keep.

It may be appropriate for me to ask the noble and learned Lord for a legal opinion. Perhaps I am entitled to do that on the Floor of this House without him charging me. That request is stimulated by the experience of sitting as a lay member of the Privileges Committee during the hearings that took place in recent days.

During the course of those proceedings, some play was made about the extent to which judges can rely on the famous Pepper v. Hart judgment. I believe I understood correctly that noble and learned Lords sitting as judges on that committee made it clear that they were not altogether happy that the Pepper v. Hart principle should apply without qualification and, indeed, that many of them had endeavoured to hedge around the Pepper v. Hart conclusion with all sorts of restrictions.

In view of the undertakings that have been given by the noble and learned Lord, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House and all Members of the Government who have spoken on this matter, to what extent will Pepper v. Hart principles be available for us to rely upon in the matter of broad parity? If not at all, my noble friend Lord Kingsland is right to wonder how far we can rely in the long term on the undertakings given by the noble and learned Lord if, by some misadventure, this transitional House was to last longer than his tenure of office, which I hope will be a very long one.

That is my question and why I venture to suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, is wrong to suggest that we should undertake in this instance the procedures from another place. I also suggest that my noble friend Lord Kingsland is right, even at this late stage, to press for some reassurance from the noble and learned Lord on this important matter.

26 Oct 1999 : Column 192

4.45 p.m.

Lord Annan: There is a simple way of reducing the numbers in the House. However, I would not table an amendment because I realise that it would gain virtually no support. I refer to the fact that there should be a retiring age for appointed Peers, such as myself, who reach an age when perhaps their utility becomes markedly less.

Perhaps I may say how much I enjoy listening to the noble Viscount. Curiously, he reminds me of Milton's Comus. The noble Viscount will remember that in that masque there is a noble lady who becomes lost in a forest, having been separated from her two brothers. She meets a shepherd who, of course, is Comus in disguise. He says, "Come along with me and I'll show you the way out of the forest" and leads her to his palace. There he is surrounded by his rout of oughly-headed monsters. He makes no pretence at all about what he is at.


    "I, under fair pretense of friendly ends

With well-plac't words of glozing courtesie Wind me into the easie-hearted man And hugg him into snares".

Nobody will accuse the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor of being an easy-hearted man: warm-hearted, yes, but easy-hearted, no. As for the noble Baroness, I cannot conceive she would wish to be hugged by any Member of the Opposition.

Nevertheless, why has this dilemma arisen? It is because of what we call the Weatherill amendment. Here again, the noble Viscount is so remarkably like Comus because he always referred to it as the Weatherill amendment.


    "Thus I hurl

My dazzling spells into the spungy ayr Of power to cheat the eye with blear illusion". The illusion is that it was the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, who invented it. Of course, it was the noble Viscount who did that and increased our numbers in the interim stage. I have no doubt that that will cause great trouble to the Government at the second stage, when every effort will be made to prolong the life of the 90 Members. It is for that reason that I ask the House not follow the line that the noble Viscount has taken.

I ask the noble Baroness a very important point. If by any chance the Third Reading was refused or the Bill was not passed, I ask for an assurance that the so-called Weatherill agreement would not be reintroduced into the House in another place. That assurance would give some people great pleasure.

The Earl of Perth: My Lords, I wish to make one point. As I read the amendment, I came to the conclusion that it was a very ingenious way of preventing any future government--I stress "any future government"--from swamping the House by creating a great number of Peers. In the early part of the debates many noble Lords tried to find ways of achieving that. I hope that the Government will look at this amendment for a second time and see that from their point of view it could have a real advantage. It would avoid the Lloyd-George method of threatening the House. Therefore, I hope that your Lordships will

26 Oct 1999 : Column 193

consider this amendment in that sense. That point has not been touched on by anyone else although it is inherent in the amendment. That is all-important. There is to be a transitional House. If this amendment is included in the Bill now, it has to be taken into account at a later stage.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page