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Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, nothing new was done but of course Uganda is one of the 18 countries which has benefited. In addition to the reduction of 500 million US dollars for Guyana, a further 5.6 billion dollars of debt has been restructured under the Naples terms proposed by the Prime Minister. Progress is being made in this field. Uganda has benefited from that. I hope that Uganda will benefit more when the sales of IMF gold produce the funds to enable multilateral debts to be reduced.
Debate resumed on the Motion moved yesterday by the Lord Chancellor--namely, That this House take note of the United Kingdom's existing constitutional settlement, and of the implications of proposals for change.
In a Parliament that consists of three parts--Monarch, Peers and Commons--ultimate authority can only rest with an elected chamber. I also suggest that the beauty of our present arrangements lies above all in their clarity--a clarity that arises from their fundamental simplicity. After all, there is but one elected element in Parliament. There can therefore be no doubt about where the victory should be in any dispute between the two Houses. It is a clarity that extends to the way the government themselves are chosen. Our present first-past-the-post electoral system nearly always ensures that the electorate chooses the government, not parliamentary factions hammering out deals in bars or in what has become the cliche of the smoke-filled room. It has ensured that rule by faction has become a folk memory and that governments stay or change as soon as the results of the election become clear.
That clarity is an asset of immense value. It gives our constitution a certainty in the way it works which is a source of political stability. As I shall try to make clear during the course of my remarks, stability is something we should prize above all else.
I do not propose to say much more about another place this afternoon except in so far as it affects your Lordships' House. I shall return to that in a minute. However, I would like, if I may, to draw your Lordships' attention to a passage in a speech made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister last week in which he suggested that Parliament might like to look at ways to improve its scrutiny of legislation. This is a subject that I know is dear to your Lordships' hearts. Indeed, I seem to remember that one of the first debates I answered in this House as Leader considered a recent report on the subject by the Hansard Society. I know many Members of this place, for example, my noble friend Lord Renton, have long advocated a number of the measures trailed by my right honourable friend last week, such as publishing more Bills in draft in advance and greater scrutiny of policy, whether in draft Bills or in White Paper form. I hope that in due course this House will begin to consider how we might build on some of the changes we have introduced of late--thanks to the initiatives of such eminent noble Lords as my noble friends Lord Jellicoe and Lord Rippon--to mirror some of the ideas my right honourable friend the Prime Minister is asking another place to discuss.
My right honourable friend's proposal that Parliament should consider changing the dates of the start of the parliamentary year and that the Government should look forward each year on the occasion of the Queen's Speech to a draft programme for the following year will make introducing these changes, which merely build on
I hope, too, that success would have a beneficial effect on this House's role as a revising chamber. We spend about 30 per cent. of our time revising legislation. It is one of our most important functions, but I wonder whether more careful preparation of legislation would not enable us to spend more of our time on debating important matters like our Select Committee reports, which too often are squeezed out by pressure of other business. Indeed, it seems curious that we should base some of the justification for our existence on the implied weakness of another place in sending us Bills which so often we feel the need to improve, sometimes substantially.
Experience shows that enthusiasm for such changes has up to now been the preserve, if I may put it this way, of the congenital optimist. I hope that this does not prove once again to be the case in the wake of my right honourable friend's proposals. But I make no apology for emphasising this aspect of our aspirations at the outset of my remarks, however unglamorous it may seem to some outside observers.
Like the clarity in our basic constitutional arrangements that I extolled a moment ago, I think that the quality of Parliament's legislative work is a great source of stability in our political system; and like, I think, every other Member of your Lordships' House, I find it distressing that another place seems to have fallen so low in public esteem. Over time the cumulative effects of such measures as my right honourable friend has advocated could make a significant contribution to restoring some of its standing. Indeed, stability--I emphasise that in my view it certainly does not mean rigidity--would be substantially enhanced.
What I am certain will not make such a contribution is a reform of your Lordships' House that undermines the authority of another place. And that, of course, as we all know from experience is the difficulty. By definition every reform of our House short of abolition would give more authority to the second chamber. It is, I seem to remember, what scuppered Mr. Crossman in 1968, and perhaps it will be what scuppers Mr. Blair if he ever wins a general election.
I suppose that one option could be abolition of our House. It is an idea that once enjoyed a certain vogue in the Labour Party. I am interested to see that the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, is so far out of step with his own Front Bench that he approves of the suggestion. I confess--I am sure that your Lordships will not be surprised by this--that I am not attracted by it. It is really because I am persuaded, above all, by the strictures of my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham in his celebrated lecture in which he warned of the dangers of an elective dictatorship.
It is, I suppose, possible to envisage a constitutional court providing the necessary check on another place. However, like my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, I find a Bill of Rights and a constitutional court not only alien to our tradition but less practical, less flexible and, above all, less defensible in democratic terms than a parliamentary check on another place. Like the noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg--I hope that I do not misrepresent him; it would be the last thing I wish to do--I feel happier with the idea of Parliament enjoying supreme constitutional and legislative authority rather than the judges, except in so far, of course, as they are Members of your Lordships' House. I am, therefore, relieved that the Labour Party now seems to accept that it is desirable to keep a second chamber.
Nevertheless, I confess to being more than a little mystified about their plans for reform. Of course, the justification for continuing the present arrangements is that they work. Again my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham, if he will allow me to say so, has rested his case on that fact. Despite the ribaldry that I begin to see rising predictably on the Opposition Front Bench, I assert that this House works, and works well. You only have to experience a week in this place to feel that that is so. Our role as a check on another place, as a revising chamber, as the highest court in the land, and as a forum for informed debate is a formidable one, and if any more evidence is needed one has only to turn to the annual report of your Lordships' House to find a comprehensive account of our activities, carried out, I may say, for the modest price to the taxpayer of £24 million per annum.
It was not always so. A distinguished former Leader of this House once told me in his old age that before the introduction of life Peers and women this House was, as he put it, "dying on its feet". As a result of the 1958 reforms, no one could say that of your Lordships' House today.
Nevertheless--and this is, I know, where I shall fail to take members of the party opposite with me--the longer I spend here the more I feel that the hereditary element in your Lordships' House is an important ingredient in our success.
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