|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords, if the noble Baroness will allow me to intervene, there was an express resolution of this House negativing the proposition that the noble Baroness has just enunciated.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, the House made a distinction between the unfettered paper right, if I may so put it, of this House to exercise its powers in the same way as the elected House: that an unelected, largely hereditary House has the right on paper to overturn an elected House. But we also said that we thought it wise that this House should respect a self-denying ordinance, which it has respected over the past 15 years, and should not exercise that right to thwart the will of an elected House.
We made a distinction between the conventions that this House observes, by which this House runs, which we ask the House to continue to accept, and its theoretical rights, which are wisely in abeyance.
Perhaps I may wind up. We believe that if the issue were pressed to the vote and your Lordships were minded to reject the measure, it would mean that whatever the elected House did would be irrelevant because the instrument could not proceed. Unlike an amendment to a Bill, the Commons could not reject and overturn a decision by your Lordships' House. In the colloquial phrase, there could be no ping-pong. I accept that on paper we may have the unfettered right, but if we did so we should create a situation where the view
The House of Commons will not debate the regulations until 12th November. We do not believe that it is right to deny the other House the right to determine the outcome of these regulations. This reflects our consistent position in Opposition when we always abstained on such matters.
As far as I understand, the last time the House of Lords annulled regulations was in the late 1970s--naturally it was against a Labour Government--on issues of town planning and national parks. On several occasions since then I have been in this House when the noble Earl, Lord Russell, has led the Liberal Democrats, or the Cross-Benchers have been moved, to annul regulations. Often I have supported their policies but never felt it right to seek to veto the Commons.
Your Lordships will recall that on local government reform in Cleveland in January 1995, or in Berkshire in July 1996, we on these Benches made it clear that, although we were deeply hostile to the Government's handling of some of those issues, we would not vote to overturn a regulation. Even when we debated housing benefit changes in May 1996 we made it clear that we would not vote against a statutory instrument. Similarly in July 1996, when the noble Earl brought forward a Prayer to annul the child benefit regulations, we on these Benches refused to overturn the convention, the self-denying ordinance of this House, by joining him in the Lobby. We amend, we revise, we debate but, I suggest to your Lordships, we do not thwart irrevocably. It is a long established self-denying ordinance which I ask the House to respect tonight. Therefore I ask the House to agree these regulations.
Earl Russell: My Lords, before I say anything else, it is my great pleasure to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, on a distinguished and extremely skilful maiden speech. I should also like to congratulate the noble Lord on proving me right, not once, but twice. I said that his task was impossible, and that he would pull it off. He did, and I am lost in admiration at the skill with which the job was done. I look forward to hearing the noble Lord in this House many times in future, and to hearing that skill deployed with a much greater freedom than he was able to enjoy today. It will be a pleasure for us all.
To turn immediately to the noble Baroness's remarks about constitutional conventions, first, the practice of voting on Prayers is not in abeyance. It was done twice during the previous Session: first, by my noble friend Lord Avebury on the regulations on the Port of Ipswich
Earl Russell: My Lords, the noble Baroness challenges me to take on the part of Gideon and say that it is yet too many. However, she might consider what happened next. It might not be quite as she wishes.
As to the point that there is a convention, as the noble Baroness says, I have in front of me the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, speaking without any thought of advantage to any party, for he has no party and that is one of his glories in this Chamber. The noble and learned Lord said:
I also have in front of me the speech made on that occasion by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, speaking for the Opposition as they then were. Speaking on a Motion that the House had an unfettered right to vote on subordinate legislation, the noble Lord said:
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, speaking on 20th October 1994, drew attention to that point and prayed in aid a letter from the late Mr. Bob Cryer, chairman of the Joint Select Committee on Statutory Instruments, as the noble and learned Lord said,
That means that the right of this House to express any effective opinion if it cannot vote is rendered nugatory. The power of another place to check what is done by the Executive is being very much diminished. This Parliament does not represent the great age of the Government Back-Bencher in another place. So, if this House does not retain a residual power, to be used rarely and only in relation to points of great importance, then the Executive's will is law. I find that a more unacceptable conclusion than any that the noble Baroness describes.
I accept what the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, also said on that occasion; namely, that there is a party imbalance in this House. It is right that anybody who seeks to win a Division in this House should be forced to persuade those to whom they talk. One should not be able to win a Division simply by the deploying of a party majority. But in my position, the parallel of Gideon is a good deal more acceptable than the parallel of an overwhelming party majority. We on these Benches do not win Divisions unless we succeed in persuading other people--and that is what I have tried to do.
Earl Russell: No, my Lords, I am saying that my party by itself does not command a majority in this Chamber. That is a proposition which I do not believe the noble Lord disputes. We win Divisions only when we persuade people outside our own party.
To turn to the noble Baroness's argument, I congratulate her on the skill with which it was done. She was in a position that I would not have been put in for £1 million, and she discharged that position with consummate skill. What she gave us amounted only to what New Labour calls "warm words"--so warm, indeed, that I wondered whether they should be liable to VAT! But they were extremely skilfully deployed. They concentrated particularly on the theoretical background of our attitude to lone parents, on which, as the noble Baroness knows, there is very little, if anything, between us. On that framework, upon which she wisely concentrated, I agree with her remarks. The question is: how much does it add up to?
Most of the noble Baroness's remarks came under two headings: either pilot schemes--and while I do not object to pilot schemes, they do not as yet have any great substance; or the childcare disregard, which I have in the past welcomed. But my honourable friend Mr. Webb in another place has since done more work on the exclusion conditions of those disregards. They apply only to the use of registered childminders. There is a cut-off edge, a cut-off amount which means, according to Mr. Webb's calculations--which have not been disputed by the Government--that under the exclusion conditions only 2,000 single parents in the country are eligible to benefit. This does not yet amount to colossal new policy. I repeat what I said about the Secretary of State: she is as good as the Chancellor of the Exchequer allows her to be. I do not find that good enough.
Nor do I believe that the Minister has given enough weight to the finding of the Policy Studies Institute that people who suffer severe financial deprivation find it much harder to get work than those who do not. That is a research finding; I believe it also to be a finding of common sense. It is entirely intelligible to me. So, for all the noble Baroness says about her dislike of social exclusion--and I was glad to hear her say it--by going ahead with these regulations she is considerably worsening the social exclusion of some of the most