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Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer moved Amendment No. 33:


The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I hesitantly return to the thorny issue of compensation. The amendment relates to the removal of compensation for the revocation or variation of time-limited licences that cause serious environmental damage. As it is drafted, the Bill allows the revocation or variation of any licence for abstraction, without compensation and without a time limit, in order to offer protection from serious damage to any waters or flora or fauna dependent on them.

While that is a welcome provision, a number of environmental organisations feel there is still a loophole because a licence granted with a time limit can continue to operate even if it is causing environmental damage. Continued operation is likely to be the reality if compensation has to be paid under revocation or variation. That position was strengthened by the Minister's reply to a previous amendment—not the one on which we have just voted, but an earlier one. It is difficult to argue that abstraction should be allowed to continue under any licence if it has been confirmed that abstraction is causing serious damage to the environment.

The Government may like to consider that the amendment is all the more necessary, given that the Bill's flexible approach may allow time-limited licences to be granted for quite long periods in some instances. I beg to move.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, it has been announced on the television that the office of Lord Chancellor should be abolished. Is it not totally disgraceful that no Statement has been made to Parliament and no discussion has taken place, and that an office of 800 years has been abolished without anyone debating it? At the whim of the Prime Minister, we have altered the constitution. Suddenly we are landed with this, and nobody knows what is happening. It is an abuse of process, of privilege and of office. What can we do about it? I therefore beg to move that the House do now adjourn.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, may I respectfully suggest to the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, that if he wishes to raise the issue in the Chamber, it would be wise for him to consult his Leader and Chief

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Whip and have a discussion through the usual channels rather than seek to use this extraordinary procedure now?

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, if so, why did not the Government do the same and issue a White Paper showing what they are going to do to the constitution? It is a complete and utter disgrace. I have probably made my point. I am probably out of order. I am probably anachronistic. However, I feel so strongly about this abuse of the constitution, abuse of privilege and abuse of power—all the things on which Parliament is supposed to hold the executive to account. But no one turns a hair. I beg to move.

Moved, That the House do now adjourn.— [The Earl of Onslow.]

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, may I ask the House for some guidance on this issue? I moved my amendment, but the noble Earl, for understandable reasons, has moved another Motion. I am not sure which Motion we are considering.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I think that it must be in order for us to take the noble Baroness's amendment which was before the House.

Noble Lords: Division.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the Motion to adjourn the House must be a divisible Motion if it is objected to.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, on the position of order, my assumption is that the Motion just moved by my noble friend is both debatable and divisible and should now be proceeded with. I think that the Deputy Speaker should put the Question, and if Peers wish to take part in a debate, we should proceed to debate the Motion on the lines that my noble friend proposed.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, the reason why I do this is not that I feel any great love for the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, although I respect him. I do this not because I have any great love for any successor who may be appointed to his position. I do this because I think that it is completely disgraceful that a constitutional position and constitutional office should suddenly be abolished at the whim of a Prime Minister. All other constitutions have checks and balances in them. How dare he treat this House with such contempt? How dare he overlook the enormous services of someone like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn? How dare he behave as he has?

We live in a parliamentary democracy. We live in a democracy honed by centuries of checks and balances. We cannot have arbitrary government, but this is arbitrary government at its absolute worst. That is what my forebear commanded a regiment of

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parliamentary cavalry for—to ensure that there was no arbitrary government. Suddenly we have arbitrary government at its absolute worst.

In they come, summoned by the Whips. And they sit in a little bloc behind the Minister so they can all be seen on television.

Lord Borrie: My Lords, the noble Earl knows that I normally sit in this place. Noble Lords sitting in front of the noble Earl will confirm that I have sat in this place throughout most of the day.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, has been glued to that Bench for as long as he has been in this House. I concede that that is his normal place. But suddenly a block of noble Lords appear opposite. They were summoned in by the Whips. We know the origin of the Whips. They were invented by Walpole who was a beagling fanatic. I refer to hunting whippers-in.

I may be flippant as regards Whips and noble Lords opposite sitting in a bloc in the hope of being seen on television but I am not being flippant when I refer to the abuse of the constitution that we have just witnessed. I am not being flippant when I say that you cannot just change 800 years of British political history at the whim of the temporary—thank God—occupant of No. 10. All occupants of No. 10 are temporary.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, unless anyone else wishes to contribute to the debate I should like to make a few points. My noble friend Lord Strathclyde, who would otherwise no doubt speak from this Dispatch Box, is at the moment taking part in a television programme in the north of England.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, noble Lords may laugh at that but they know perfectly well that when one is involved in political life one takes on those engagements.

There seem to me to be two aspects of what has occurred this afternoon. First, the Prime Minister reshuffled the Cabinet and moved some people from one department to another. He also moved some responsibilities from one department to another. That is conventional and has happened before. No doubt a transfer of functions order is required to put that into effect but it is within the prerogative of the Prime Minister from the Crown. Secondly, it appears from the television that the Government seem to have said that in future they will not allow the Lord Chancellor to fulfil the role that occupants of that office have fulfilled for many hundreds of years. In effect the Government are withdrawing from the House of Lords the services of the Lord Chancellor as presiding officer. That has potentially many consequences for your Lordships' House and for its future. Those are ultimately matters for the House. The House itself will, I believe, need to reach decisions about what to do.

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I am not sufficient of a constitutional legal expert to know whether primary legislation will be involved in the changes being made to the office of Lord Chancellor but I guess that it will be required. It will certainly be required with regard to the appointment of judges. I believe that a new statutory appointments commission will need to be set up. I am not sure how judges will be appointed in the meantime but no doubt we shall be told that.

I am particularly concerned about the effect of what has happened on the House of Lords and its management. As I say, I believe that that is a matter for the House. I also believe that it is a matter on which we should have wide consultation and discussion, perhaps in the appropriate committees of the House or through some other mechanism. We shall need that consultation. It would be extremely helpful if the Government would say what they are doing, why they are doing this to the House of Lords, why this change is being made and what they intend to do about the consequences. The short-term consequences can no doubt be managed in some way or other but deep thought will need to be given to the long-term consequences as regards how the House of Lords will in future function.

The noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House is present and can no doubt guide us on what is in the Government's mind on such matters, so that we can see about future aspects of the House of Lords and how a process of consultation and consideration is intended to be taken forward on what has happened this afternoon.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I obviously regret that there are not more experienced and longer-serving Members of these Benches to comment on the matter. I think it regrettable that the announcement was not first made to the House, given that it was of so much importance to it. That mistake having been made, however, I do not believe that it would be in the interests of the House to debate it or to adjourn at this point, simply because of the lack of people whom I know would want to take part in the debate who had no idea that we would now be discussing something of such importance.


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