Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Richard: My Lords, I rise not because I had intended to say anything on this amendment, but because the noble Lord was moved to say something about me in the course of his remarks. I listened to what he said with great interest. I found it impossible to relate it to the amendment he was supposed to be moving.

The noble Lord accused me of arrogant bullying, and of slighting him because he has a title and out of spite. I am very sorry if he feels slighted. I am very

26 Oct 1999 : Column 218

sorry indeed that as a hereditary Peer he finds himself at the sharp end, so to speak, of the Bill. I do not slight him. My meaning is very simple: "We don't want to lose you but we think you ought to go". Why do we think you ought to go, my Lords? The answer is simple. The noble Lord used the phrase that the function of this House was to be a check on the executive. I agree that the function of this House is to be a check on the executive, in particular when the executive has a majority of 170 (or whatever it is) in the other House of this Parliament. But the reason that the hereditary peerage has to go is that the composition of this House in its present form means that it cannot do its job as a check on the power of the executive properly and well.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, does not take that as a personal slight. It is, as I see it, a fair reflection of the state of play between both Houses of Parliament. Since the 1968 attempt at reform, this House has laboured continually under the imposition of a majority of this House being of the hereditary peerage and, indeed, a majority of that hereditary peerage taking the Conservative Whip. Looking at the facts and the composition of this House, it seems impossible to come to any other conclusion than that it is the illegitimacy of the composition of this House which deprives it of, and removes it from, the proper position that it should occupy in the British legislature.

I am sorry if the noble Lord, Lord Clifford, thinks that that is a Socialist ploy inclining towards envy. It seems to me a realistic appreciation--it is one that I and the party on this side of the House have held for some time--of what has to be done to this House to make it effective. If the noble Lord, Lord Clifford, wants to make it effective, I am surprised that he is not voting with us.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Kingsland: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, has made an immense contribution to the passage of this Bill at all stages. No one who has heard him promote his amendments can have any doubt whatsoever about his sincerity, his determination and his passionate attachment to the cause he seeks to promote.

Many of the amendments tabled by the noble Lord have been of a high standard and have posed testing and apposite questions to the Government. Often his perspicacity has illuminated dark corners of peerage law or, more widely, our constitutional law.

I felt, however, that his speech was too wide-ranging for the text of his amendment which refers to constitutional matters and constitutional law. If a lawyer were to be responding to his advocacy in court, he would say that the problem with the noble Lord's amendment is that it is void for uncertainty.

What is a constitutional Bill in your Lordships' House or another place? I tried in the early stages of the passage of this Bill to argue that a Bill altering the composition of the sovereign was a constitutional Bill. However, the Government were quick to point out that that gave it no special status in our constitution.

26 Oct 1999 : Column 219

It is difficult to define what amounts to a constitutional matter. Even if that can be agreed by some, it is difficult to know who should decide what it is. There are no answers to either of these questions in the amendment. In those circumstances, I fear I have to say to the noble Lord that his amendment serves no practical purpose.

I would rather turn your Lordships' attention to the amendment that was passed at Report stage in your Lordships' House by my noble friends, Lord Mancroft and Viscount Goschen, which sought, at least at this stage successfully, to entrench the quinquennial Act in the law of our nation. I earnestly hope that noble Lords on the Government Benches opposite will not seek to have that amendment overturned when it goes to another place.

More widely, the important question of what constitutional role your Lordships' House should play in the transitional phase is a matter that the new House will need to consider at an early stage. If the Government are right that the new House will be more legitimate than the previous House, it is also right that the new House should have new responsibilities, and those responsibilities should encompass constitutional matters. It will be the task of your Lordships' new House to determine what they are. That is the proper moment for a debate on constitutional matters and what constitutes those matters and not, I submit, in this Bill.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I wonder if I may bring the House back to the grouped amendments which I believe we are discussing; namely Amendment No. 16 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Chudleigh. I believe that he has ungrouped Amendment No. 28.

A Noble Lord: Lord Clifford.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: I am so sorry, Lord Clifford. I do apologise. That is in no way a slight. It is simply forgetfulness on my part. May I ask him whether he has ungrouped Amendment No. 28?

Lord Clifford of Chudleigh: My Lords, I have put in that preamble in order to support.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall speak to Amendment No. 16, which is the amendment, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, that I believed we were discussing.

It may be helpful to your Lordships to know that the effect of the amendment is to allow any hereditary Peer, whether or not he has previously been a Member of the House, to return to take part in any proceedings on a constitutional Bill or a Bill containing constitutional provisions. The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, used the legal expression that this was "void for uncertainty". Perhaps I can explain it in layman's terms. There is no attempt in the amendment to define what Bills might fall into these categories, nor

26 Oct 1999 : Column 220

is there any attempt to spell out what arrangements, if any, the hereditary Peers in question would have to go through in order to turn up for these debates.

This is now the third time that we have considered an attempt by the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, to preserve a role for hereditary Peers in this somewhat undefined area of constitutional Bills or Bills including constitutional provisions. With this Third Reading amendment, I suggest that we revert to what I might call the somewhat extreme version which I understand the noble Lord originally proposed at Committee stage, whereby any hereditary Peer, whether or not he has ever been a Member of this House and whether or not apparently he is a minor, an alien or a bankrupt, can simply turn up and take part in proceedings on certain Bills.

I know that my noble friend Lord Peston may well rise to say that this is another example of sixth form debating on a subject which is not central or serious. Let the House be in no doubt that the amendment is quite unacceptable to the Government for the reasons which we gave when it was previously discussed. First, it is unacceptable to us because it implies that life Peers, by the simple fact of being life Peers, are not to be trusted to deal adequately with these constitutional issues. It implies that there is something about the mere status of a hereditary Peer--not experience but simply status--that makes him better able to judge the needs of the country, in these particular respects, than those who may be charged with that task by the people--that is, those in the House of Commons--or the life Peers.

Parliament is the guardian of our constitution. That simple but profound statement was echoed by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, when, on a similar amendment in Committee in your Lordships' House on 29th April 1999 he said:

    "I find it constitutionally odd that Parliament itself should not be trusted to perform one of its central functions in its control of government;"--[Official Report, 29/4/99; col. 466.]

Nothing that has been said today alters that fundamental position, so elegantly put by the noble Viscount. If the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, seeks the opinion of the House on Amendment No. 16, I hope that your Lordships will reject the amendment.

Lord Clifford of Chudleigh: I thank the Leader of the House for her last few comments. My preamble contained a particular statement specifically designed to show her and other members of the Government that the House feels, as I do, that it should be reformed. I hope that that was understood.

With regard to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, in relation to slight, I talked about slighting farmers and the Armed Forces because they were hereditary Peers, or vice versa.

Usually, as on this occasion, this House considers legislation, returning its opinion to another place and asking its Members, the executive, to think again before committing the legislation to the monarch and then to the statute book. So many details, though not

26 Oct 1999 : Column 221

all of them, have been presented to your Lordships on this occasion, that I am asking your Lordships to think again and to remember that the people of this country, the electorate, will be affected should we condone the disbandment of this essential, independent part of Parliament. Should we relinquish our responsibilities towards the electorate? Despite the fact that we are unelected, we have responsibilities. We have responsibilities to monitor the executive and to give a balanced, well considered opinion of legislation.

We should remember the opinion of a particular Member of another place in 1968, a man named Enoch Powell, a Conservative who, together with the late Michael Foot, overturned the Bill which I previously mentioned. He said something which I think we all ought to remember. He said:

    "Too often today people are ready to tell us that this is not possible or that is not possible. I say, whatever the true interest of our country calls for is always possible. We have nothing to fear but our doubts".

I ask your Lordships to consider what I have said. I shall withdraw my amendment, in the light of the fact that we have yet to consider Amendment No. 18. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 [Commencement and transitional provision]:

[Amendment No. 17 not moved.]

6.45 p.m.

Lord Tebbit moved Amendment No. 18:

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page