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The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, your Lordships will not be surprised that I rise to support my noble friend's amendment. Right from the beginning we have been consistent in our approach: we want to know who will succeed us.
Since Second Reading, the Government have made a complete U-turn on their manifesto commitment by allowing 92 hereditary Peers to stay. As a point of interest, there is almost a secondary hereditary system within that system. I am honoured and privileged to be joining the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, and the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, as the fifth members of our families to be elected by our fellow Peers. That is not quite as good as my noble friend Lord Northesk, who represents his family for the sixth time.
The amendment before the House does not refer back to the appointments commission; we accept that the Government have rejected that sensible amendment. This amendment now places the onus on the Prime Minister. It is worth bearing in mind that a quarter of those who will comprise the future House will have been appointed by this Prime Minister. This will be a XTony Crony" House. Sadly, it will become almost the rubber stamp of another place. Some hereditary Peers do not attend the House on a regular basis, but the proceedings of this House will suffer from the loss of the expertise of those who, unfortunately, will not be with us from today. In order to preserve our role as scrutineers of legislation from another place, it is vitally important that we preserve the widest diversity of interests within your Lordships' House.
With regard to the usual channels, clearly the Government prefer the votes of people who will acquiesce. It is clear from last night's proceedings and debancle that the House will not be able to continue by way of agreements between the usual channels. We shall have to scrutinise much more carefully what the usual channels agree if we are to fulfil our role in the future.
For that reason and the many other reasons that my noble friend Lord Stanley has elucidated, I support the amendment. It will enable this House to continue to do its proper job until we get on to stage two.
Perhaps I may remind your Lordships that the function of Parliament is the control of the executive. All our debates are about that. It is perfectly understandable that a party in government would expect to have parity within the revising Chamber of a Parliament. However, it is not only that matter but the control of the balance in that House of Parliament that is now at issue.
Your Lordships have been told--as often as I was told by my son that he was giving up smoking--that the Prime Minister will give up the power of patronage of appointments to this House. My son has honoured his undertaking. I hope that the Prime Minister will do so as swiftly. I am not talking only about this Prime Minister; this legislation is not only about Xa" prime minister. This House has historically restrained some of the greater enthusiasms of prime ministers of all colours, as my noble friend Lady Thatcher would readily, if sorrowfully, confirm. There may be other prime ministers of that or a different colour who may go further from the central line of political consensus in this country, whether towards fascism or towards communism.
I speak merely to remind your Lordships that the Bill gives the privilege and power to the executive to determine the balance of political power in the second House of Parliament--the House of Parliament which has a veto on the extension of the life of the other place. I shall give your Lordships a moment to think of the implications of that, were we ever to have a prime minister too far towards the fascist or the communist end of the political spectrum. Were that power to be used to extend the life of the other place beyond its elected period, we would be within a whisker of joining all those countries in Europe which, having lost the power of changing governments by election, were eventually released from their control after very many years, either by revolution or by war. That is a Cassandra's remark, I fear.
My noble friend has driven further from the principle of the control of the executive resting in Parliament. The control of the executive party in Parliament is increasingly being concentrated in the hands of the Prime Minister. The amendment does not go nearly far enough to be acceptable. I merely mark for your Lordships the great danger in which we stand.
Lord Clifford of Chudleigh: My Lords, although one is exceptionally pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, thought it better to compromise than to capitulate, I, like the noble Lord who has just spoken, question the removal of the originally proposed appointments commission, the composition of which was to be eight members of the Privy Council, no matter that their title might be necessarily by succession.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I am surprised that the Government rejected the amendment in another place. After all, the Leader of the House told us that this would be done when it was proposed a few months ago in the summer. But that is not the beginning of the story of the appointments commission; it is quite a long way into the book. The Government promised an independent appointments commission as long ago as May 1997 and then did nothing about it. They repeated that promise in their quite dreadful White Paper on this House. Even then not a shred of action was taken. The Government made the same promise in the Labour Party's evidence to the Wakeham commission. They said, in what I believe are rather ludicrous terms which were repeated yesterday in another place by the Minister, Mr Tipping, that, XTony Blair is the first Prime Minister to relinquish his powers of patronage". I am bound to say, when looking around this Chamber, that I do not see much evidence of that. Promises, promises: how many times must a dead horse be flogged before it rings hollow? XTrust Tony" may be an article of faith for many on the Benches opposite but it cannot be elevated into a constitutional doctrine.
In the amendment before noble Lords, we took the Labour Party's own proposals from its own documents and have tabled a measure to put them on to the face of the Bill. The ideas in the amendment are not our ideas. They are not even the ideas of the Liberal Democrats. They are the Labour Party's ideas. But it appears that they were unacceptable to the party opposite and I believe that we are entitled to ask why.
As we move closer and closer to the creation of a patronage-dominated House without any statutory defence against the abuse of patronage, it is high time that the country also began to ask why. Exactly what is the Prime Minister's game in respect of this House? The case put forward by the Minister in another place was greeted on all sides--quite rightly--by an enormous belly-laugh. The Minister said that your Lordships' amendments had stopped the Government setting up an appointments commission because a proposal was before Parliament.
The fact that the Scotland Bill was before Parliament did not prevent a fortune being spent on preparing for the Scottish Parliament, nor did the Government of Wales Bill in relation to the creation of the Welsh Assembly. Even in the Bill before us, the Government have been quite happy to have elections of Weatherill Peers. Only in the case of an
The Minister in another place also said that it would be wrong to have a statutory appointments commission because the new House might only be temporary and it might be necessary to change a statutory system if a reformed House were ever introduced. Did the Minister in another place not realise that a new reform of this House would require a new statute in any case? It would be just as easy to amend an appointments commission as it would be to amend the powers or composition of this House--and perhaps even a good deal easier. The argument sounds rather like, XEven though it is raining heavily I won't put on a raincoat because I might need a T-shirt next summer". The argument is an insult to the intelligence of Parliament and, I believe, to the people of this country.
I do not pretend that there would be any point in pressing this issue today. The Government have spent two-and-a-half years promising an appointments commission and then doing nothing. They will not change their mind today of all days. For that reason, I hope that my noble friend will not press his amendment, excellent though it is in spirit and much though I agree with the intention behind it. I do not believe that the amendment is practical and I do not think that it would be right to enshrine this particular proposal in legislation.
I prefer the last vote in the old House to have been the smashing victory over the Government on the matter of the penalising of disabled people who have saved. The House was right on that matter. The Government refused to listen then and they will not listen to my noble friend's arguments this afternoon. I think that we should let the Government rest in embarrassment and shame on this matter.
However, when the noble Baroness comes to reply, I hope that she will be able to answer one or two questions. First, when will the appointments commission be created? Will there be a Statement in this House next week? Will the Millennium Honours--about which we have heard so much in recent months--be covered and, if not, why not? If the answers to those questions are not forthcoming when this House meets again, we should seek other ways to make the Government stand by their promise.
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