|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, I wish to inquire about the timetable. The idea of the Joint Committee was mooted 12 months ago. It has taken the Government 12 months to come up with a single sentence containing the terms of reference. They then apparently expect the committee to report within a maximum of two and a half months. I say a "maximum" because even now we are not ready to go forward. As the noble Baroness made plain, the matter has to go to another place. It has to come back here, names have to be nominated, and then presumably the committee has to be set up, and dates found convenient for the sizeable number of members to gather together. I would be grateful if the noble Baroness the Lord President would indicate what realistically she thinks is the first date on which the committee will meet.
Having taken 12 months to set the thing up, it seems nothing short of ridiculous to expect the committee to report within two months as it will. I had been minded to table a Motion to set a later date by way of amendment. I was persuaded not to only by the assurance that it was fully open to the committee to put in an interim report by 21 July and then to take as long
25 Apr 2006 : Column 82
as the matter needed to put in its final report. I would like an explanation of when the committee is expected to meet and why we have this ridiculous disproportion between the time it has taken to set it up and the time within which it is expected to report.
Lord Waddington: My Lords, I do not believe that I can be alone in feeling that this is an extraordinary time to be debating a Motion in these terms. I am somewhat surprised that my noble friend, who gave a most admirable speech, should have accepted so readily that we debate this matter today. The Government wish to see the composition of this place changed. The Prime Minister has made that absolutely plain in the past few weeks. There is much debate on what powers a reformed House should have. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor advanced recently the crazy argument that the more legitimate this House is made the more it can command the respect of and reflect the views of the people, and the fewer powers it should have. I suspect that he now wishes that a veil would be drawn over those absurd remarks; otherwise the men in white coats will be waiting in the wings.
Surely we can all agree that the way this place is composed and the powers it is given must have a great bearing on the relevance and appropriateness of our conventions. Already there are differences of view and debate about the relevance of the Salisbury convention, now the House is no longer in any way like the House that existed when the convention came into existence. When the composition of this place is changed again, it will be appropriate to examine the Salisbury conventionnot now, when the future is quite uncertain. We are wasting our time debating this matter today.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, when the noble Baroness the Leader of the House sums up this debate, will she agreeand thus agree that the Joint Committee should consider carefully the factthat, with regard to paragraph (A) of the Motion, which relates to the Lords not voting against measures included in the governing party's manifesto, manifestos are growing like Topsy? The last Labour Party manifesto was more than 100 pages long. To try to fix the Salisbury convention on every single statement made within a massive manifesto is to dishonour the circumstances in which that convention was brought forward. It would be an extremely difficult issue for the Joint Committee to address in a manner that would lead to codification.
I support strongly both the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, and the noble Lord who spoke previously, who suggested that the date of 21 July is not only unreasonable but unfair to Back-Benchers in the House. There will already be two important committees on the composition and powers of this Chamber. If the Joint Committee proposed by this Motion is also to run in parallel, we will have three of the most important committees that have been in existence for many a day operating at the same time. We will have less than 10 weeks to do that because we
25 Apr 2006 : Column 83
have a Whitsun break coming up, so the opportunity for Back-Benchers to have a significant input in a manner that can be considered maturely by the relevant committees is beyond the realms of realism. If the Joint Committee is to report at the end of this Session, how will there be any chance for debate in this House, let alone mature debate, in advance of the Queen's Speech? Is it possible that the Government may use the report of the Joint Committee without having listened to what the House has to say for the purposes of introducing proposals in the Queen's Speech? I hope very much therefore that this date will not be proceeded with.
Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, is it not at least as plausible to conclude that, far from the Motion unduly accelerating the debate on composition, the converse is true? This Motion puts the horse before the cart and not the other way round. That is why it should be supported.
Lord Renton: My Lords, I have served in Parliament for the past 60 years34 years in the other place and 26 years in your Lordships' House. Of course, there have been tremendous changes in that time. These conventions for consideration are based on what was, not what is or what should be. For example, the Salisbury/Addison convention was formulated when your Lordships' House consisted entirely of the Bishops and hereditary Peers. Three hereditary Peers still attend the House, but they have never served in the other place. As has been said, in considering our future and that of the House of Commons it is necessary for us to change these conventions. We must change them fundamentally. I ask your Lordships to bear in mind that, although in 1945, when these matters were first considered, and when I was a Member of the other place, there was anxiety because of the hereditary nature of the membership of your Lordships' House, they acted quite rightly at the time. But, because of the changes that have taken place, we really must reconsider the whole matter and the suggestion made by one of my noble friends that we are perhaps asking too much for independent views to be put before us by the end of July. This is a fundamental matter which must be thoroughly considered.
I conclude by saying this: the House of Commons is democratically elected, as it always was, and as I so well remember. It has resulted in a bunch of splendid people but they do not have the experience that there used to be. I will cite just one example. Sir Winston Churchill, although he had not been knighted by then, was a prominent Member of the House of Commons in those days. Indeed, my conscience was badly affected because I was running late for a Division in October 1945 and I collided with Sir Winston, who had already voted. I apologised and he said, "That's all right, I saw that you were travelling pretty fast. Go and vote". Now we have a House of Lords which is not democratically elected but highly representative. We haveand I think it is an advantage95 hereditary Peers, well chosen out of 950. We have life Peers from numerous walks of life, many of them with valuable
25 Apr 2006 : Column 84
experience. To let the people of both Houses, who will reconsider the matter, merely to try to support the existing conventions would be a very serious mistake.
Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, if the remit of this proposed committee is only to codify existing conventions and not to change them, and if, as the noble Lord, Lord Cope, has indicated, codifying some of them would be nearly impossible, it seems to me that this committee will be a complete waste of time and money. I will not divide the House on that but if any other noble Lord has in mind to do so I should be very happy to support him.
Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I join those who think that the timetable for this Motion is little short of ludicrous but I want to make what I think is a more important point. It has been made by a number of noble Lords, who suggested that to codify the existing conventions might be a profound mistake, whether or not there are to be changes in the constitution of this House. We have been told by my noble friend the Chief Whip that we are not altering the conventions. We are certainly not restricting the power of the House of Lords. But the other side of the argument is that we cannot extend the conventions or amend them in any way.
There are quite good reasons, as my noble friend suggested, for reconsidering conventions such as Salisbury/Addison. The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, suggested that it would be absurd that every tiny reference made somewhere in a vast manifesto should necessarily bind us and prevent us voting on an important issue. That applies particularly to constitutional and electoral matters. To give an example of my concern, I refer to a Bill presently before the House. The Government of Wales Bill contains some very important changes that the Government intend to make to the electoral arrangements. They also intend to use Orders in Council as a method of conducting primary legislation. Both those issues are of profound interest, and this House, above all others, as the defender of constitutional propriety, should be able to take a view. The fact that somewhere in the Welsh manifesto a few sentences have been inserted which enable Ministers to say that it is a government manifesto commitment and that this House therefore cannot stand in the way is very dangerous indeed.
It would be a profound mistake if, as proposed in this Motion, we codified existing conventions without considering their possibly very damaging impact. So when the committee comes to consider its interim report, if it can reach that point by 21 July, it will recognise that this is not just a question of codifying existing conventions; it will have to consider with the utmost care whether, in codifying, it is in fact doing great damage to the potential job of this House.
25 Apr 2006 : Column 85
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|