Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, in a democracy, it is the decision of the elected government to which we must adhere, not the advice that that government are given. Like my noble friend the Leader of the House, I am not a member of the legal fraternity and certainly not a lawyer. However, am I right in believing that lawyers, including those on the Liberal Democrat Benches who have asked the questions, preserve and protect the confidentiality that they have with their clients?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, one would have to ask the lawyers on those Benches, but I am sure that that is the case. I am being asked for the Government to do something unprecedented—to publish the advice that we were given by my noble and learned friend the Attorney-General. We have already done something not done by any other government in terms of the statement that he made on 17th March, which set out very clearly his views on the legality of the use of armed force against Iraq. However, a government have to retain the right to keep confidential the advice that they are given by their legal officers.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, the Minister says that the advice of the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General is confidential. Speaking as someone

13 Oct 2003 : Column 603

who was in the public service for 36 years, I was brought up to believe that the advice of public servants to Ministers was also confidential. Does she not agree that the proceedings of the Hutton inquiry have totally changed the situation regarding confidentiality?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, everyone in the House would agree that the situation is unprecedented. Information became available through Hutton that we all know would have been kept confidential for 30 years under the rules that currently govern the advice that officials give to their Ministers. That is not a usual event. To change completely the rules that govern the relationship between officials and Ministers, and between a government's law advisers and that government, is not a decision that any government would want to make.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, we ought not to assume that the views of the legal basis for the use of force against Iraq, which was how the matter was described by the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General in March, accord with the advice that he gave to the Government. If he gives us a summary of his advice, is it not in the public interest that we be told on what those views are based in its entirety? What is being concealed?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, we were in an unprecedented situation in March. The Government made it absolutely clear that we were happy for my noble and learned friend the Attorney-General to make a statement setting out views on the legality of armed force because a number of questions were being asked in relation to that. However, we preserved what is important for any government to have; that is, confidential legal advice. It was on that basis that the advice itself was not published. That was considered such a serious issue between the Government and Parliament and the Government and the people that it was felt important that the Attorney-General made a statement. He made a statement on the basis of the rumours which were being published about the nature of his advice, so he made his views on the legality of the use of armed force absolutely clear. However, the Attorney-General did not publish the advice itself.

House of Lords Reform

2.50 p.m.

Baroness Sharples asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Weatherill amendment for the retention of 92 elected hereditary Peers until stage 2 of House of Lords reform was negotiated on terms which were regarded as binding by those who gave it their assent.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Lord Filkin): My Lords, the Weatherill amendment was negotiated on terms considered to be binding by all those who

13 Oct 2003 : Column 604

gave it their assent. It was agreed on the basis that it was a transitional arrangement and that agreement on final reform was within reach in the near future. It has not been possible to obtain that agreement, and consequently the basis on which the amendment was negotiated has changed. We have therefore developed proposals which form the next stage of reform and which go as far is possible at this point. There was never any intention that the Weatherill amendment should become a permanent settlement.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, I find the noble Lord's Answer less honourable than the Question, which is all about honour. Perhaps I may ask the Minister why the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is not answering my Question. Is he aware that this House is being blamed for what has occurred in the Commons, where his honourable friends did not come to a consensus on the issue?

Lord Filkin: My Lords, I shall pass the first comment by, although later in my Answer I hope that I will have an opportunity to demonstrate why the Government have behaved utterly correctly and honourably in terms of the agreement that was reached. To the perhaps flippant question of why my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor is not answering, there are two answers. First, that is what junior Ministers are for. Secondly, there is a physical reason. Noble Lords will have noticed with amusement the soft-shoe shuffle that Lord Chancellors have to perform in moving left and right to the microphone.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Filkin: My Lords, I have it on very good authority that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor would be delighted to be sitting on these Benches and answering Questions at Question Time, but he would need to be released from his position as Speaker to do so.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, what an interesting remark the noble Lord has made; namely, that junior Ministers are there only to draw fire from their superiors. I entirely agree with my noble friend's suggestion that it would have been seemly for the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack to have answered the Question, since he is such a pioneer when it comes to improving your Lordships' House.

Lord Filkin: My Lords, I accept the compliment and agree with it strongly. The Lord Chancellor is a genuine pioneer in reforming this House. We have seen a range of reformist measures during the past three months that do the country credit and will do this House credit when they are implemented.

I shall to turn to some of the specifics, because there is a danger—

Noble Lords: No!

Lord Filkin: Then I will stay with supplementary questions if noble Lords wish me to, which is why the

13 Oct 2003 : Column 605

Lord Chancellor is not answering the Question. He is not answering because that is exactly what Ministers in a department of state do. They answer questions across the full span of their brief and it is a pleasure and a privilege to do so.

Lord Howe of Aberavon: My Lords, does the noble Lord recollect that the principal reason set out for removing the hereditary Peers was to end the situation where one political party had dominated the Houses of Parliament, regardless of anything else? Does he recognise that, since the changes were made, the Government now win three out of four whipped Divisions and that the House is clearly responding to debate and is no longer dominated by one party? Is that not a relevant change of circumstances since the original review was carried out?

Finally, does he recollect that his noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, when he spoke about the matter last week, paid glowing tribute to the surviving hereditary Peers, pointing out quite rightly that many are among our most active and effective Members and expressing the hope that they might well survive as life Peers in the future? If that is a valid tribute to their quality, as indeed it is, why cannot arrangements now be made for them all to survive into the future on that basis?

Lord Filkin: My Lords, I echo the words of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor in paying tribute to many of the remaining hereditary Peers who serve in this House. It is the nature of this House that over a period of years one comes to respect and to like people across all Benches and to be appreciative of their contributions. That does not mean that one does not move on issues of principle to make change when it is clearly necessary. The argument that there should be a continued presence in this House of people who owe their presence here to birth rather than to other proper processes of merit has been lost some time ago. It does not do this House any credit whatsoever to argue that we should perpetuate that.

My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor clearly signalled that if, as part of a process of change, other parties seek to nominate to life peerages people who currently sit by virtue of birth, that is a matter for them. However, I emphasise the point that while we respect and value the contribution that has been made, that is not a sufficient reason for perpetuating a constitutional and historical anomaly, and the country recognises that.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, is it not the case that if the Government were determined to achieve a proper democratic reform of your Lordships' House, they could do so? It was said in the Statement on 18th September that:


    "On the further reform of this House, we will continue to look for a way forward".

Do the Government really mean that or are they simply propounding that any further reform beyond the current proposals should be kicked into the long

13 Oct 2003 : Column 606

grass until some distant time in the future? Are the Government proposing any further reform before the end of this Parliament or will the issue be included in their manifesto for the next?


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page