|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
The issue before us is that we believe the way to proceed with general and fundamental reform of your Lordships House is the process that was laid out with the publication of the White Paper. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, talked about the vagueness of the timetable, but let us be clear: we have said that we intend to move towards the next general election with a manifesto based on the provisions that are contained in the White Paper. There is no reason why legislation cannot follow the next general election.
Lord Lea of Crondall: Will my noble friend confirm that his reason for rejecting this Bill is that it would delay fundamental reform? Indeed, those were the words he used the last time around this circuit. Given that it will take something like seven or eight years for fundamental reform to take place, can he justify his statement that the Bill would delay it?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I do not know where my noble friend gets his figure of seven or eight years from. Why should it be seven or eight years? It is perfectly possible for a Bill to reform your Lordships' House to be brought forward in the first Session of a new Parliament following a general election which, as we have observed, must take place within 15 months. It need not take seven or eight years.
Viscount Bledisloe: Is the noble Lord saying that the Government like three-quarters of the noble Lords Bill but that they will not have it done by somebody else? Is he saying that they want to do it themselves, so they will reject this Bill and then do the same in two or three years time?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: The Governments view on the noble Lords Bill, as it is on all Private Members Bills, is that we do not seek to impede its passage through your Lordships' House. That is the Governments position. I have said that we are looking at aspects of the Bill; I have also said that we are anxious to move towards legislation to support the House in being able to discipline its own Members. But the Governments fundamental position is that we want comprehensive reform. Having established a process to bring the parties together in cross-party talks, having had very successful talks, a very successful outcome and a clear pathway towards the election and legislation after it, it is no wonder that that is where the Government are going to put their energy.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: I hope that my noble friend will not regard this as nit-picking but, in response to various questions and comments, he has said that the Government effectively support three of the four points. As my noble friend Lord Grocott says, that amounts to a three-quarter endorsement of the Bill. Yet I understand that what he is saying about proposed subsection (d) of the new clause, which would,
is that the Government are looking more urgently than considering the general points of the White Paper at perhaps bringing legislation forward before the general election. Would he be kind enough to confirm that, if possible? If that is so, and all he is saying is that he cannot accept the provision on the hereditary Peers, why is it not possible to take any potential immediate action to include some of the other points proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Steel?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Of course the Government are listening very closely to your Lordships' House, and we will consider other aspects of the Bill. We will consider the issue of a statutory Appointments Commission. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is also taking note and will attempt to convince his leader to change his mind on the priority of Lords reform. We are perfectly prepared to engage in discussions with noble Lords on these matters. All I am seeking to do is to stress again that our prime concern is to take forward fundamental reform of your Lordships' House. In that respect, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, that the Government will be strongly opposed to his amendment. We cannot support it. Although it is very unusual, I believe, for members of the Government to vote on an aspect of a Private Members Bill, I shall vote in the Not-Contents Lobby on that matter, because I could not possibly support it.
Lord Strathclyde: Not for the first time, the Minister has referred to his proposed legislation on discipline in the House. When does he think the House will be able to see either the detail of his proposals or the generality of them, and will they be discussed or debated in any other forum rather than simply being published by the Government as a fait accompli? The House should be consulted on these issues before the Government take a final position.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: That point is very well taken. I assure noble Lords that the Government have no intention of doing that. The House has a mechanism for looking at these matters and the Government will be very much informed by the outcome. There is certainly no intention suddenly to produce a proposal without there being full discussions with relevant Members of your Lordships' House.
Lord Strathclyde: That is extremely helpful and useful, because I think the Minister said that the Government would not seek to legislate until the House had taken a view through its procedures, either a Leaders group or a discussion within the Privileges Committee, which could be approved by the House. Is that what I understood the Minister to say?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: The Government believe that we need to make urgent progress in this matter. As I understand it, the House has a mechanism for looking at these matters and the Government would of course wish to be informed of the outcome. We
19 Mar 2009 : Column 426
The Earl of Caithness: I am delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, in his place. I apologise to him for not being in my place at Second Reading, when he spoke, but I am very grateful to him for what he said about me. I have been called many things in my life, and I am delighted to add to that list being a representative of the Bourbon tendency and having Trotskyite leanings.
Lord Lea of Crondall: If the noble Earl looks at Hansard, unless it got it wrong, he will see that I said that we have here in the House a member of the Bourbon tendency, and my noble friend on the Front Bench, who fully appreciated that the point was tongue in cheek, said that we had on our own Front Bench a member of the Trotskyite tendency.
The Earl of Caithness: I think that the noble Lord, Lord Lea, has surprised a lot of people, but I am grateful to him for his kindness towards me. I turn to the amendment of my noble friend Lord Selsdon. The effect of the Bill before us is exactly as he said; it is to create an all-appointed House.
It is fascinating how the views of some people who have come to this House have changed since 1997. I remember very well in government being chastised on more than one occasion by my Secretaries of State and other senior members of the Cabinet, some of whom are up here now, for having lost Divisions. Why cant we win Divisions?, they had asked. This is my legislation and the House of Lords, that unelected Chamber, is defeating my legislation. We are not doing the right thing from the Conservative Party point of view.
There is another group of Peers who have come in since 1999 and who in the past had been great potential reformers of the House, seeing changing it as one of the great things that they could do when they got into it. Is it not fascinating how both those two groups of people have come together to support an appointed House as if, now that they are here, the House is infinitely better than it was pre-1997? That is why my noble friend Lord Selsdon has got his amendment absolutely right. Alas, I cannot support it because, being the second hereditary Peer speaking in this debate, I want an elected Chamber. I want the appointed Peers to goI would be delighted to see you all go, as I would be delighted to see the hereditaries go. Let us have a fully elected Chamber. I wish the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, good speed with the proposals that have come before us, which in due course will come forth.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, intrigued me when he asked, Why is it that the Government can only do one thing at a time?. It was not so long agoin fact, it was the other daywhen the noble Lord or another
19 Mar 2009 : Column 427
I turn to Amendment A1 from the noble Lord, Lord Steel. I distrust the amendment; I am highly suspicious of it, because of its timing. In principle, I support having a purpose clause in a piece of legislation but not the timing of it. We have debated this Bill before, yet on the night before we are to debate it in Committee this amendment is tabled. A lot of the Members of the House would not have been aware of it. Why was not this done at Second Reading? Why was the noble Lord not more open with us? Why has he sneakily put it in as a starred amendment? It makes me extremely suspicious, and I find that as he is unable to reply to the questions put to him by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, I remain continually suspicious about his motives. I think he is one of those who are chameleons on this matter; he says with one voice that he wants an elected House but, now that he is here, he would be perfectly happy to remain in an appointed House.
I turn to Amendment A1B and the House of Lords hereditary Peers by-elections. I cannot support that; I shall go into it in much more length when we get to my amendment, but it is a matter of supreme principle to me and loyalty to those of my friends and colleagues who were brutally removed in 1999. The noble Baroness, Lady Jay, rather surprised me when she said that she was now in favour of incremental reform; she certainly was not in favour of incremental reform in 1997, when she wielded the axe with devastating effect. If she had been more incremental then
The Earl of Caithness: I have changed from the old system that we had, and since the 1999 Bill I have been in favour of a fully elected House. I voted that way the last timeand I think that it would be much the best thing for this Chamber.
In 1999, a decision was taken as a result of an agreement that was made. The principle of that agreement was that a small number of hereditaries, some 90 of us, would remain until stage 2. A lot of people who had worked hugely long hours, hugely longer than we are working now, for considerably less money and at great cost to themselves, had given a great chunk of their lives to the service of this House. In 1999 they lost their seats on the basis of that agreement. I was one of the Peers and Members of this House that did not like it at the time, but we went through with it. However, it would be quite wrong and disloyal to those who gave up their seats to support an amendment like that. I can understand some noble Lords not agreeing with me, but they were probably not in the House before 1999, understanding what it felt like and what the atmosphere was like. For that reason, I would try to remove that part from the noble Lords amendment before us.
It is of concern that the noble Lord has tabled an amendment at the 11th hour and 59th minute. It is highly suspicious and he does the House a huge disservice.
19 Mar 2009 : Column 428
Viscount Goschen: I received a terrible shock during the Minister's speech this afternoon to be told that I was not going to live beyond the age of 94. I am not sure what information the Government were drawing on, but that is official and from the Front Bench.
I share the sentiments of my noble friend Lord Caithness who I felt spoke very powerfully about the deal that was entered into solemnly that resulted in the settlement that we have and the need for a properly thought-through stage 2.
Turning to the amendment in front of us, we have not heard any convincing argument about why Amendment A1 was tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Steel. Why is there a manuscript amendment? Why is there a need to state this? It is very clearly a ruse, a wheeze or a device. One thing I have learnt in my time at Parliament, which is relatively short compared with some noble Lords here, is that parliamentary wheezes do not work. They run extremely badly outside the Westminster village. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who suggested that someone sitting in the Public Gallery might ask while walking out, What was all that about?. It is a fair question.
We have not had a particularly dignified parliamentary occasion this afternoon because there have clearly been some underhand movements to produce such a substantial amendment at the very last minute. There is no logical explanation for that other than to generate an extraordinary situation of the purpose of the Bill being stated. We know what the purpose is and we do not need the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, to come down in written form at the last minute; a few hours before we debate the Bill. It does this House no credit at all for that to happen. We have an awful lot to talk about in the Bill, but to have this debate prompted by a manuscript amendment is not productive. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, owes the Committee a frank explanation about the timing and purpose of the amendment.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: I simply have to take issue with my noble friend for talking about the wheezes, tricks and all the other things that have happened. As a matter of fact, this has been going on now for one hour and 27 minutes. We were here to talk about the purposes of the Bill in a serious way. Those of us who consider this a very serious Bill cannot be happy with the way that it has progressed so far. Only very recently have we come to the purposes of the Bill and heard from the Minister that the Government are unhappy with only one purpose, but happy with the other three. It took an awful long time to get there.
I say to my noble friends who are talking about wheezes, and my noble friend Lord Caithness, that there is no way that I would have supported the Bill and the noble Lord, Lord Steel, if I thought that he was up to wheezes of all kinds. We have seen wheezes this afternoon. We have seen people wasting time.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: We have seen all kinds of things. I say to the House that I am terribly disturbed by it. Many of your Lordships might remember when we had the original Bill in 1999. It may be that the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, will remember, but certainly my noble friend Lord Strathclyde will remember because he had to give me a handkerchief because I was crying so much at the terrible things that were happening to this House. I remember my noble friend saying at a Front Bench meeting afterwards that the hereditary Peers owed me a vote of thanks for crying on all of their behalves so that none of them had to cry for themselves.
This is now a way of protecting this House from something terrible happening to it in the future. All contributions should deal with the Bill, not these other imagined things that noble Lords think might happen.
Viscount Goschen: My noble friend intervened on my remarks, and I could not agree with her more that we need to get to the substance of the Bill. So why do we need this new clause? Why do we need this manuscript amendment? What is its purpose other than to create an artificial decision for the House?
Lord Strathclyde: My noble friend Lord Goschen is actually correct. We are currently debating the manuscript amendment of my noble friend Lord Selsdon. The only reason that my noble friend felt obliged to put down a manuscript amendment was because the noble Lord, Lord Steel, who proposed the Bill, produced Amendment A1 at the very last minute, giving nobody any opportunity to put down an alternative amendment. I carry some of the guilt, because I myself have a manuscript amendment that we shall debate in a moment. If the noble Lord, Lord Steel, had been better organised, put his amendment down earlier and let us all knowhe knows that we are interestedthen we would not be having a debate on manuscript amendments.
Any member of the House of Lords who fails to attend the House during the course of a session, where that session exceeds more than three months in duration, shall be deemed to have taken permanent leave of absence.
Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: Submitting late amendments obviously gives rise to suspicions. I had a little suspicion, particularly after I heard the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, say that a debate on an elected House is for another day, that if this were adopted it would prevent us from debating the amendments in my name.
Lord Steel of Aikwood: We have been around the houses long enough so I should perhaps respond to the debate so far. I started, right at the beginning, by saying that the amendment was an open and transparent device. The device is to serve the interests of the Committee by enabling it to come to a clear decision as to whether, in principle, it favours these four reforms or not. That is being helpful to the Committee, rather than having endless debates on the 95 amendments that have been tabled to the Bill, 52 of them yesterday and the day before.
It is reasonable that we have a debate on the purpose of the Bill, which is what I had hoped that we would provoke, instead of which we have had all sorts of other highways and byways, including an attempt to divide the Committee on the issue of whether we have an appointed or elected House. The Bill is not about that and its purpose is not about that. The way is still open. All three parties are committed to an elected House. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was correct that when we had a whole series of votesI do not remember how many years ago nowon different permutations of election, I voted against them all except for 100 per cent election, which has always been the policy of my party.
When the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, talks about his timetable, he is really offering it to the Government. He is not saying that the Conservatives would have a timetable on the issue if they came in. He said that the first thing we should do is to debate the White Paper, but that was published last summer. The noble Lord is a major part of the usual channels. Has he agitated every week to get a debate on the White Paper? No, I do not suppose that he has. We have made no progress whatever on this. As for the Minister telling us that the manifesto commitment will mean that we have early legislation, I remind him again that his party gave a manifesto commitment to have a statutory Appointments Commission not at the previous election but at the one before that. Eight years later, we still do not have that. What are the chances of getting a major reform of the House if we have to wait eight years even to get one part of the Bill that is before us today?
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|