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Lord Elton: My Lords, this debate is not about whether or not the Bill should pass; it is about whether this amendment should be accepted. It is also about whether or not this amendment is some new animal, recently introduced into your Lordships' House, called a "killer amendment". It has been so described by an ex-Leader of the House, by an ex-Prime Minister and by an ex-Chief Secretary to the Treasury, but we have not yet heard from the Government Front Bench and that is where power lies. This is realpolitik; it is not about the elegance of our exchanges, the length of our history or our courtesies to one another; it is about political power, as the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, said in a most notable speech some four or five days ago.
The facts of the realpolitik are that Her Majesty's Government have a commanding majority in the other place and an agreement in this House. Everything turns on the definition of that agreement because if to pass this amendment would be a breach of that agreement, then the Government are off the hook and can do away with the 92 places so far secured. My own aspirations apart, it will be valuable to have 92 voices available at the time when this House decides with the other place what the succession to this House will be. If there were to be no such voice the country as well as your Lordships would be a great deal the poorer because those voices owe their privilege of speaking to no one except their ancestors who are not here to complain about their use. As my father was made a Peer on the recommendation of Ramsay MacDonald I am perhaps relieved that that criticism is not available. However, he moved far across the Floor of the House before he died!
The reality of the situation is that this debate turns on the definition of that agreement because if this amendment were to breach that agreement, it would flaw that concession. I myself cannot see how it can. I do not think that a government ought to hold a House of Parliament to ransom and say, "You may not send any discussion about any particular aspect of this Bill to the other place or we shall then destroy the final sound of your hereditary Lordships' voice in this Chamber". But this is realpolitik; they have the ability to do so. I think, therefore, we have to be guided by my noble friend Lord Cranborne who has made it fairly clear that if we were to take that step it would put the Government in a position not to renege on but to withdraw the concession. I avoid provocative words because I think that that is a good thing to do at this stage of a debate. I must say with the greatest respect that I think that is the advice we should follow and that explains why I am wearing a black tie today.
I have to say that I agree almost entirely with the comments of my noble friend Lord Richard who spoke a little earlier except in respect of one matter; namely, when he spoke about an elected House. Both he and I have some experience of elections, sometimes happy and sometimes less happy. I have divided views about the value of elections. I shall not go any further into that.
However, what worries me here arises from what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said a moment ago when he reminded us that we were not dealing with the fact that the Bill should now pass--though, oddly, we seem to have been doing that--but rather with an amendment. It struck me that the great difference between this House and the other House is that we can move amendments at Third Reading, which the other place is unable to do. However, there is, or has been, in my 20-odd years in this place, an underlying convention as regards the nature of the amendments moved at Third Reading. It was generally thought that Third Reading amendments were marginal, tidying up amendments to "tweak" a Bill. This amendment is nothing of that nature and is not an appropriate amendment for Third Reading. I would go so far as to say that it is a total abuse of parliamentary procedure that this amendment should be on the Marshalled List.
It is not my place to put amendments on the Marshalled List but it is the place of Members of this House to put down only such amendments as are appropriate to the stage of the Bill with which they are dealing. This matter has been debated several times in this House already. There is absolutely no reason whatever why it should creep in as an amendment at Third Reading. It is totally out of order and should never have been put down. Those who put it down should have had more respect for this House than to have put it down. I say that it should be thrown out and the Bill should go through as it stands.
The Earl of Dundee: My Lords, as it states, and as has been said, the effect of this amendment is that the Bill would come into force as an Act at the end of the Parliament instead of at the end of the Session. That effect is consistent with four connected aims and it enables an improved means for expediting those connected aims.
First, there is consistency with the Bill. The aim of the Bill is to remove automatic parliamentary rights from hereditary Peers within this Parliament; its method is to do so by the end of this Session. The aim of the amendment is the same: to remove automatic parliamentary rights from hereditary Peers by the end of this Parliament. That is what the terms of reference state. If its different date constitutes a delaying tactic for Lords reform unrelated to substance, then of
Secondly, there is consistency with the Weatherill proposals. Clearly if the amendment of my noble friend Lord Tebbit does not alter the Bill and affects only the date when the Bill comes into force, then, by definition, it does not affect the Weatherill amendment which is already part of the Bill.
Thirdly, there is consistency with the Wakeham commission. Certainly a professed intention of this Bill is to implement stage one of Lords reform before the Royal Commission reports. However, by accepting the amendment of my noble friend Lord Tebbit, we still achieve stage one of Lords reform as the Bill, and the Weatherill amendment within it, are guaranteed to come into effect by the end of the Parliament.
Fourthly, and not least, is the amendment's consistency with the objective itself of Lords reform and the amendment's improved method for achieving a balanced version of Lords reform. The reason for this is simple. If we pass the Bill as it is, we are left in doubt--as a number of noble Lords have said--whether stage two will be reached before the elapse of a great many years, let alone within this Parliament. Yet as my noble friend's amendment states a different date for implementing stage one, it may itself appear to delay Lords reform. In fact, it does the reverse. The later date which it states for implementing stage one makes it far more likely that stage two will be carried out at the same time and by the end of this Parliament.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Tebbit made several important and powerfully argued points. I do not believe that it was his intention to introduce an amendment that would block the Bill. However, it must at least be arguable that that would be its effect. Let us be under no illusion: the Government--I do not need to speak for them as I am sure that they will tell us charmingly enough in due course--will not accept a deferred commencement of this kind. They have made that view plain on several occasions during the course of our debates on the Bill.
My noble friend introduced a secondary point which concerned the European Court of Human Rights. The issue has not been widely debated but perhaps the Minister who replies will answer this question: can he say whether the bringing about of hereditary Peers being unrepresented in a Parliament--which will then tax them and pass laws affecting their property rights--is contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights? Can he say who the Government consulted about that issue?
As to the point made by my noble friend about seeking to delay the introduction of the Bill until at least the Royal Commission has reported and the Joint Committee of both Houses has sat--thereby delaying its introduction until the end of this Parliament--it is
If some of my noble friends do not believe me, they have only to remind themselves of the speeches made by the noble Lords, Lord Callaghan, Lord Barnett, Lord Richard, and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, who have made the point time and time again. We have heard it before. Those of us who were here on one of his frisson days will have heard it directly from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. He has said in the past that any kind of sunset clause, sunrise clause or commencement clause is unacceptable to the Government; they would consider the Bill defeated and the Weatherill compromise dead.
To be blunt, there is no chance of the other place-- dominated as it is by the factions circling around No. 10--agreeing to this House dictating to them how and when this Act of Parliament, as it would be, should come into force. Your Lordships' House does have that right, but we do not have the power. The end result is likely to be that instead of playing our game the Government will tip up the table and rewrite the rules. They will use the rule of decreed power of the Parliament Act, for which they have already shown considerable relish. The end result will be that far from having all our hereditary colleagues here for another two or three years until the next general election--as I believe they should be--we will find a House of patronage imposed on this country by the rule of decreed power of the Parliament Act, probably in the course of the next four or five months. There would be no hereditary Peers left here; we would have a totally appointed House by Easter. That would be bad for the House and bad for the country.
It does not please me to say that, although my heart may tug in the direction of the Lobby if my noble friend presses his amendment, a cool head points elsewhere. I hope that my noble friend will not press his amendment. If he does, I will abstain and encourage my noble friends to do the same. If we do not want this Bill to pass then we should address that issue directly later this evening when the Motion is put before your Lordships.
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