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Lord Richard: My Lords, the party opposite ran the theory of the mandate almost into the ground over a period of 18 years. It cannot really expect us somehow suddenly to give up one of the very pillars on which that party stood for that period of time. What we proposed was in the manifesto. The noble Viscount's assertions about that are absolutely ludicrous. What on earth did he mean by saying that pre-legislative referenda in any way inhibit parliamentary scrutiny? It is a fact that the House of Commons has gone through both the Scotland and Wales Bills in some considerable detail following the referenda. It is a fact that this House will be doing the same.
It is the Government's belief that on issues of such importance, particularly special endorsement is required. I also remind the House that the Opposition have committed themselves to a referendum on entry into European monetary union. I suspect that the noble Viscount's dislike of such referenda is not because they are a bad thing, but because the Opposition have lost all of them. It seems to me that the use of pre-legislative referenda may be thoroughly justified in certain circumstances.
There can be no doubt that one of the most effective weapons in the armoury of parliamentary scrutiny is your Lordships' own Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. I stress the high regard in which the Government hold that committee. I am delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Weedon, the chairman of that committee, in his place. I am sure that the whole House is very much looking forward to his speech. I am sure, too, that it will join me in paying tribute to the noble Lord and his highly respected committee for the valuable work it does.
I hope that the House will also agree with me that this Government have a good record in responding to the recommendations of the scrutiny committee. It is more than clear that we take the work of that impartial and effective committee extremely seriously as a central contribution to parliamentary control over the executive.
He raised the question of Statements on government policy. This Government are committed, as all governments have been, to a greater or lesser extent, to announcing major changes of policy directly to Parliament. Our record on the number of Statements made is comparable to that of previous administrations. Most alleged leaks are either unsubstantiated or unauthorised. I have to say that they seem to have been a feature of the previous administration as well. All Statements made in another place are offered for repetition in this House. In considering whether or not to accept a Statement, I know that the Opposition exercise a certain degree of objective restraint as to whether it should be repeated here, as did their immediate and perhaps distant forebears, too.
Perhaps I may also remind the noble Viscount that immediately after the election there were rumblings from his side that this Government wanted to make too many Statements to Parliament. Noble Lords opposite cannot have it both ways. We are either making too many Statements, in which case we are over-informing Parliament, or we are not making enough, in which case we are under-informing Parliament.
As regards procedures in your Lordships' House, we are committed to this House as a revising Chamber and to the efficient and effective scrutiny of Bills that your Lordships can provide. I hope that this House will continue to show itself capable of some flexibility in that respect. I have in mind particularly that the House has a number of procedures for enhancing the scrutiny of Bills, notably the Grand Committee procedure in the Moses Room. I hope that the noble Viscount will come to see that the scrutiny provided by that procedure very neatly fits into the theme of his Motion today. Accordingly, I look forward to widespread agreement by the present Opposition to the use of that procedure throughout the long years ahead when they will continue to occupy the Benches they do.
I would have liked to say something about the modernisation of Parliament in the other place. Perhaps I may give one example and that is the Select Committees. Our accountability to Select Committees in Parliament is demonstrated by the more frequent appearances of Cabinet Ministers to give oral evidence. As at 6th May this year, there have been 51 such appearances at 160 sitting days. That amounts to three such appearances every 10 sitting days, which is 20 per cent. higher than the average for the past seven Sessions. It does not seem to me that that is an example of a government deliberately avoiding Parliament.
I have only nine minutes. I would have liked longer. Nevertheless, I hope that I have given a clear indication of the importance which this Government attach to the role of Parliament. All governments need to be held to account and it is the job of Parliament to do it. In our approach to Westminster we look for every sensible opportunity to modernise and renew our institutions and procedures and to open up opportunities for our citizens.
Earl Russell: My Lords, I look forward eagerly to the maiden speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Biffen, and the noble Earl, Lord Dartmouth. When I published my first book a good many years ago, on the strength of a quotation from a remark in another place in 1628 I gave it the title, The Crisis of Parliaments. One of my friends congratulated me on choosing an eternally topical title and, similarly, I must congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, on introducing an eternally topical Motion. With a small change of language appropriate to the period, it is just about the same Motion as the famous one from the reign of George III, that the power of the Crown has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished. That Motion, like this, came from a party which had been in for so long that it had grown moths, and then found, to its great surprise, that the view looked different when it was out.
When was the golden age to which the noble Viscount's Motion refers, when Parliament had the central place in the nation's life, when it genuinely did control the Executive and place and displace governments? The golden age was 22 years long. It ran from the fall of Sir Robert Peel to the beginning of the first prime ministership of Gladstone. It was the period when the party structure had collapsed and the Government in the Commons suffered 112 defeats in 10 years. The politicians hated it.
This debate runs the risk of becoming a pot-and-kettle debate. I hope that it will not because two points need to be made about the story of the pot and the kettle. First, they both wore black. Secondly, why were they not using smokeless fuel?
There have always been considerable limits to the effectiveness of Parliament. Those limits have often been set by the power of government patronage, which was why, for example, the stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds was made incompatible with membership of the House of Commons.
That trend has got worse in recent times for a number of reasons which are not entirely under our control and some of which we would not want to control even if we could. The first is the change to a mass electorate, to which the noble Viscount and the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal referred. The second reason is the introduction of salaried MPs who make their living from their profession. The third reason is the vast increase in the press of business and information. The late Richard Crossman once remarked that not more than six Ministers actually controlled their departments. The
When Bishop Williams, Lord Chancellor, opened the Parliament of 1624--a 17th century Mr. Williams--he said that the first Parliament was when the three members of the Trinity said, "Let us make man"; and it genuinely was a power-sharing arrangement. When Lord Montagu, the author of our standing order on asperity of speech, looked at the beginning of the Civil War, he observed that the body which remained at Westminster was not a parliament; it was only the Lords and Commons. That is a perfectly correct constitutional observation, but increasingly now, King, Lords and Commons--or Queen, Lords and Commons--is, in effect, the power of the majority in the House of Commons. I do not think that we can reverse any of those trends, so we must think about damage control.
By introducing the Bill to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights, this Government have attempted to strengthen judicial control over the Executive. That may well prove to be the most welcome and the most important of the Government's constitutional reforms because the judiciary have always had the power to call Ministers before them as a higher authority and to compel answers to questions, and they have had the benefit in the common law of a system of law which does not result from parliamentary sovereignty.
However, that is not an alternative to scrutiny by Parliament; it is a complement to it. They are two different types of control. Any government need both. So, we need to ensure that Parliament is able effectively to do its job, just as much as we need to ensure that the judges, under the Human Rights Act, will be able to do theirs. Stopping the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack from having to walk backwards is no substitute for ensuring that Parliament can actually call Ministers to account.
We have all the usual parliamentary troubles. I shall not waste time on them because noble Lords know my views. The problem of drafting statutes is particularly visible in the Teaching and Higher Education Bill, with the Humpty-Dumpty clause which says, "Words mean whatever I say they mean", the Cambyses clause which says, "The Secretary of State can do whatever he likes", and our old friend, the Henry VIII clause. We have the usual problem of regulations, which looks to me very much as it always has. The standard of Answers to Questions in this House is sometimes a good deal better than it has been and I should like to offer personal thanks to a number of Ministers in that regard, but that is not yet uniform. Overall, the position looks very much as it always has.
In that context, I was a little disconcerted to hear the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, refer to the noble Lord, Lord Ewing of Kirkford, as having condemned himself to exclusion. I was reminded of General Stockwell, the commander of the Suez invasion, regretting the number of casualties in Port Said and saying that it was because the Egyptians would defend themselves.
We are getting fewer speeches and fewer amendments from Government Back-Benchers, although the contribution of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, on the Social Security Bill was a model of how a Government Back-Bencher should operate. It was both constructive and helpful, and I am sure that if the relevant Minister were still in her place, she would probably agree with that description.
Baroness Warnock: My Lords, we must all be brief and disciplined this afternoon, but I take time to thank the noble Viscount for introducing this debate, thus enabling your Lordships to discuss openly a serious issue that goes far beyond the walls of this House. One must not believe everything that one reads in the newspapers. But there is no doubt that there is a general feeling in the press and among strong supporters of the Labour Party, including my children, that there is something amiss with the relationship between Parliament and government at the present time and that that is increasing.
If it is widely perceived outside this House that the central place of Parliament in the government of the country has been weakened and its authority is being disregarded or not exercised it is not a matter of party politics--although one may be forgiven this afternoon for believing that it is--but a new political philosophy which may gradually, not at once, emerge in a new constitution.
Last week's higher education supplement of The Times contained a report of the Prime Minister's long discussion with certain academic political theorists in 10 Downing Street about the nature of the state and the present relationship between it and the individual--very proper philosophical subjects. I have no doubt that the Prime Minister listened carefully and responded with talk about freedom and the necessity to refrain from eating beef on the bone, but here and now the relationship between the state and individual--that fine old philosophical topic--is being changed. There are referendums and numerous ways in which the individual is being approached and given a voice. So far this has been good and forward looking, but it is no good using these methods if the powers of Parliament are eroded. Although a referendum appears to be a useful idea, it is almost bound to fail as a serious means of government because of the extreme crudity of the question that must be asked particularly before legislation and debate.
The link between any government and the individual is and must be through Parliament. It is totally understandable that to a government with a huge majority Parliament should become an object of contempt. If one knows for certain that one can get one's way--for example, that one can overturn all of the amendments to Bills that go from your Lordships' House to another place--there is no need to think of Parliament as an independent power with its own will. There is evidence that the will of Parliament is no longer thought of or that perhaps it no longer exists. If Parliament is held in contempt it is easily forgotten that Ministers must be accountable to Parliament for every one of their decisions. Why should they bother?
We hear much about a new style of government. Much is made of the spin-doctoring activity of improving, changing or presenting a style of government. I do not believe that this is a matter of style but that it has become a matter of substance. We have heard many accusations and denials on each side of the House, and we shall hear many more during the course of this afternoon. I beg your Lordships not to forget history or to regard constitutional change as just another change, for example like changing the hours when Parliament sits or setting up a parliamentary creche. Innovation with regard to the powers of Ministers and their responsibilities is not to be introduced without reference to where those powers come from or to whom those responsibilities are owed.
I believe that we should all attempt the most difficult task of standing back and considering what we are doing and what is being done to us. In this debate it is very difficult to remain, as I would wish, independent, but if the kettle to which the noble Earl has referred is in reality black, then independence demands that we should say so whatever our colour.
Lord Biffen: My Lords, I have been a Member of this House for approximately one year. During that period I have undertaken a good course of silence and been on a learning curve that has taken me round the
I very much endorse the points made at the beginning of the debate. They demonstrate just how widely this whole topic can range. I should like to pick up one particular matter raised by my noble friend Lord Cranborne. There have been substantial changes relating to Scottish and Welsh devolution and the mayoral arrangements for London but there are certain underlying assumptions. First, it is assumed that they will bring about a degree of settlement, not necessarily certainty, for the decades ahead and will receive the support of the population that they are supposed to serve. One does not say that those reforms cannot be achieved but that they impose a great constraint in both Houses of Parliament, in particular in this House, on the co-operation that I believe to be absolutely essential to reach some kind of consensus as a prerequisite of success.
It is very tempting to look at the immediate short term public opinion polls in Scotland, and I have done so. However, having looked at them, one should be very cautious about what can be done over what timescale and with what objective in order to make it a success. Above all, it must embrace every aspect of our body politic.
The situation in Wales is rather different. Unlike Scotland where there was a significant vote for change, in Wales the vote was narrower but it was nonetheless a vote for change. I have spent most of my politics under the shadow of the Breidden Hills. I do not pretend that I have any special feeling for the Welsh situation because of that proximity, but I have a touch of scepticism about what may be gained quickly. If one proceeds on a narrow vote one needs to be careful to build up and consolidate general support for what are intended to be more permanent changes.
Finally, one considers the future of London. Of course, this is much more a matter of public fascination than what I referred to hitherto. I do not believe that one can have a shred of history, whether it be Herbert Morrison or George Lansbury, without realising that there is a rich radical tradition in which London is the anvil on which to forge a future. I am not impressed by the smallness of the vote. What impresses me is the potential to be derived from that vote.
I strongly endorse the point that is made. I endorse it as somebody who is regretful that the unitary state is disappearing, but I accept that. We all together have to work for a different future and move towards a future also outlined by the noble Earl, Lord Russell. We want to see that something can be done about Dunning's famous Motion on the power of central political forces being increased and which ought to be checked. I was delighted to be taken back to Gladstone. I was cheerfully prepared to carry on but we may have to part at some stage.
I shall conclude briefly. One instance I remember from the 1966 Labour Government is that an attempt was made to expand power by the use of a so-called voluntary system for pay control which simply disregarded the use of law. In the process it brought into conflict the use of law and, above all, proved to be ineffective. Any remarks or prejudices I have on this point are overshadowed by the noble Lord, Lord Orme. There comes a time when, however clever, however elitist, there are hard rock situations that have to accommodate these matters. If they require economic policies, then economic policies there must be. To try to masquerade them under legal policies does harm for Parliament and it does harm for government.
I should like to thank your Lordships for the patience with which you have listened to me and, alas, my infelicity in trying to grasp names. I shall now retire for a period of Trappist consideration while I improve my use of nomenclature.
The Earl of Longford: My Lords, there is a pleasant convention in this House that one congratulates the maiden speaker. But it needs no convention to guide me to congratulate the noble Lord. I have always been interested in the noble Lord--but have never had the pleasure of meeting him--partly because I had a great deal to do with one of his assistants who described him to me, time after time as one of the kindest of men. While eloquence and eminence are thoroughly acceptable here, kindness is perhaps valued most of all.
The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, tells me, in his own expression, that the noble Lord, Lord Biffen, is one of the nicest conceivable men on the Opposition Benches. I suppose that is a guarded compliment. Also, I suppose one has to make some allowance for the fact that the noble Lord comes from what he calls the shadow of Wales. Be that as it may, it was a delightful speech. I am aware that at one time it was thought he might become Prime Minister. Then I gather he and Mrs. Thatcher disagreed. To quote a famous expression, they all had noble ideals. Let us leave it there and look forward to hearing from both of them. If the noble Lord promotes himself a little or moves downwards, he will find himself, I hope, in an enjoyable relationship with the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, for many years to come on the Front Bench opposite.
This debate in a sense asks us to consider the whole nature of Parliament. The authority of Parliament cannot be discussed without asking ourselves what is this Parliament. I assume it will be a two-Chamber Parliament--that at least. We have had very instructive leadership from, we might say, two representatives of the two most famous political families in the country, the Cecils and the Russells. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, is one of six Cecils, five of whom have been Leaders of this House. He has also served in both Houses, which is more than I have done. The record of
I submit three propositions about the House of Lords. On the one hand, the constitution is indefensible. What is indefensible cannot be maintained for ever without reform. On the other hand, it is a wonderful place. Nearly all of us who come here, particularly those who have been here a long time, consider that here, in this House, collectively we perform a service of great value to the nation. Thirdly, whatever reform takes place, let us not undermine that value to the nation. Let us start from those propositions.
Why are we so proud to be Members of this House? It is a lovely club, with very fine company, unique service, a staff of quite exceptional kindness and a general atmosphere of friendliness. That is one reason that makes it the best club in the world. But, to take the grandfather of the present Leader of the Opposition, there was an occasion when a Labour Peer, at a time when I was Leader of the House, sitting there made remarks about the Leader of the House in his absence which were thought to be disparaging by noble Lords sitting over there. Some of them felt they had to walk out. That was not a very dignified exercise, but still they stumbled out. However, the noble Marquess, the ancestor of the noble Lord, met the Labour Peer in the Corridor and said, "I gather some of our fellows did not like what you said about me. If that is what you thought was right, you were quite right to say it. This is not a club, it is a House of Parliament". So that is the tradition established for all time by the ancestor of the noble Lord.
But if it is not a club and it is a Parliament, what features does it possess? I think we can fairly say that we have intellectual distinction here unequalled anywhere in the world: many Bishops, many professors, many Law Lords, leaders, including two former Prime Ministers, leading trade unionists and leading businessmen. There is certainly no Chamber in the world which could equal this place for intellectual eminence and distinction.
But it is not only that. Everyone who comes here notices something else about the debates apart from the intellectual quality. When I say intellectual quality, I think that we have the best debates in the world and possibly the worst voting system. But apart from intellectual quality, what do we have? We have a courtesy, a civilisation and an essential decency which never fail to impress visitors from this country or from abroad.
The question is whether that owes anything at all to the hereditary element. That is something that cannot be proved one way or the other. I would say it owes a great deal to the hereditary element. That does not mean that because one has inherited a title, one's family should go on inheriting it for ever. But one should be very careful
Thirty years ago, when I was Leader of the House, I suggested that hereditary Peers, in their lifetime, should speak here but not vote. That was not my brainchild. It was the brainchild of Henry Burrows, the then Clerk Assistant at the Table. It was accepted by the leaders of the political parties here and in the other place but sabotaged by cross-Bench activity in the House of Commons. I still believe that that is the best--indeed only,--way of providing an answer which maintains tradition and continuity and yet does not define democratic principles.
I do not know whether it will happen. I shall not go into the tactics of it and whether or not hereditary Peers will vote or what will be done about that. More important people, like my Leader, in conjunction with the Opposition, will work that out. Therefore, I shall not go into the tactics at all. But if we want to have a House which commands moral, political and intellectual approval, that was and remains the only answer.
The Earl of Dartmouth: My Lords, first, I should like to say how honoured I am to make my maiden speech in this House. Long ago I did have some political experience in a small way. In February and October 1974, I stood as a Conservative candidate for the House of Commons for Leigh and Stockport South. But as has been pointed out to me elsewhere in no uncertain terms, all that is now more than 24 years ago. I hope that noble Lords in this House will not judge me guilty of paying them a back-handed compliment if I say that it is very refreshing to sit in an assembly where direct front-line electoral experience of 24 years ago can be regarded as virtually current.
Although I was very disappointed at that time not to be able to put those letters "MP" after my name, because, unfortunately, the good electorate of Stockport South decided by 4,000 votes in October 1974 something different, I subsequently attended the Harvard Business School and I have been able to put the rather different and lesser letters of "MBA" after my name.
My late father, the ninth Earl of Dartmouth, who like myself was a chartered accountant, worked for 44 years in the City and retired only when he was 70. In consequence, my father never made a maiden speech in this House. However, lest it be thought that I come from a long line of backwoodsmen, I should say that other members of my family have played a significant role in this House and in Parliament.
Specifically, the seventh Earl of Dartmouth was Lord Great Chamberlain from 1928 to 1936 and assisted Black Rod in running this House. In fact, if he were alive today, he would probably have said that Black Rod assisted him. Also, the seventh Earl of Dartmouth, as Viscount Lewisham, had previously been Conservative Member of Parliament for West Bromwich and it is a chastening thought for those of us on this side of the House to consider just when, in the future, West Bromwich will return another Conservative MP.
Although this is a maiden speech, I hope that I may be permitted to make a few relevant observations on this Motion. On 1st May last year, the Labour Party achieved a greater electoral victory than in 1945 and as a democrat and a long-time aficionado of such matters, I must congratulate them. But it has been said and written frequently that the 1997 Labour victory, unlike that of 1945, did not have a big idea driving it. Certainly in terms of economic policy, that is entirely true. If one makes a comparison with 1974, back to the days when I stood for the House of Commons, when Labour stood for, among other things, "seizing control of the commanding height of the economy", and so on, there is mercifully very little economic change in prospect.
However, just when we all thought it was safe to go into the water, if one looks at Labour's constitutional plans, there is a big idea, indeed, a whole series of big ideas. Perhaps I may mention a few of those. The Government are committed to home rule for Scotland, to restructuring local government and incorporating the European Convention on Human Rights into our domestic law. That means, in effect, an activist and interventionist judiciary, as there is in the United States. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, regarded that as a very good thing. For anyone who believes in parliamentary democracy, it is a very bad thing. The Government are also committed in principle to abolishing the pound.
Each one of those changes represents a leap in the dark. Taken together, they represent the biggest change in our constitution since the Glorious Revolution of 1688 which, as most of us will know, established, seemingly once and for all, the supremacy of Parliament. As the Motion states, those changes had the effect of making the Executive comprehensively less accountable. But those proposed constitutional changes which I have enumerated and other changes will be justified, indeed have been justified on the grounds that, as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said, the Government are returning power to their citizens.
I make this point and it is my only substantive point. As well as making the Executive accountable, the historic role of Parliament has always been to redress grievances. Parliament, by definition, cannot redress grievances if the powers to redress them have already been fully transferred elsewhere.
I would hope that noble Lords on all sides of the House would agree that the supremacy of Parliament has been the source of our almost unique stability as a nation. As someone who has spent many years of my life overseas, I understand and recognise that. To transfer and dissipate powers of Parliament severs the link between the Executive and the people. I referred
Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, it gives me great pleasure on behalf of myself and on behalf of the whole House to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Dartmouth, on his excellent maiden speech, even if it was not wholly uncontroversial. We look forward to further contributions from him in the future. His experience in accountancy and business will undoubtedly be of value to our future deliberations on many matters with which we shall contend.
I note that the noble Earl had a run-out in the general election in Stockport in 1974. As I have lived there for nearly 20 years, that is one link between us. Another link is that we both have addresses in the north of England. That must be of some asset to this House. Once again, I offer the noble Earl hearty congratulations on his maiden speech.
Like my noble friend Lord Richard, I was expecting a much more illuminating address by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, regarding this debate, which was, after all, introduced by the Opposition. Nevertheless, be that as it may, I appreciate that the Opposition must oppose. I know that an Opposition must draw to the attention of this House responsibilities which they feel the Government are not observing or, indeed, responsibilities which the Government are neglecting. But this afternoon I feel that the Opposition have gone over the top, at least in introducing the terms of this debate, if not in advancing strong arguments in support of it. At the very least, they are exaggerating in their criticism of the Government and, in my view, are somewhat guilty of "the kettle calling the pot black". But I shall come to that a little later.
First, perhaps I may remind the House that after 18 years of unbroken Conservative government, Labour was elected last year with a landslide victory. It was a victory that resulted in every Tory seat in Scotland being lost; a victory that resulted in every Tory seat in Wales being lost; a victory that resulted in Tory seats in England, which it was thought impossible to lose, being won by Labour; and it was a victory which has resulted in large areas of England now being without Tory seats.
Yet noble Lords opposite, it seems to me, speak as though their party still claims to be the custodians of the interests of British people, despite being thoroughly rejected by the electorate at the general election.
I shall draw the attention of the House to some of the measures which the Labour Government have introduced in order to modernise and to make parliamentary democracy stronger. I shall outline what has been done to take democracy out to the British people so that democracy is closer to the people and that their representatives are more accountable to the people. And all this has been done in 12 short months after languishing in opposition for nearly two decades.
Some of those measures are very important; some are less so. In this House, for example, the Ceremony of Introduction of Life Peers, although continuing a tradition of the House, has been updated, bringing about a change which was agreed. The Grand Committees on Bills in the Moses Room offers the opportunity for close scrutiny and has been successfully used in this Session. In the other place, the Government proposed an all-party Select Committee on Modernisation. That has led, for example, to proposals for the explanatory memorandum to a Bill to include notes on clauses and for some Bills to be drafted in advance and laid in the Session before they are debated, possibly with pre-legislative scrutiny in a Select Committee. Again, this Government use far fewer guillotines as compared with the average of the last 10 years under the Conservative government. Select Committees have been strengthened, including a joint committee on parliamentary privilege, and Cabinet Ministers appear more frequently before them.
Those new developments take their place alongside existing forms of scrutiny whose importance the Government recognise. For example, the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee does valuable work which gives Parliament a ready and respected source of reference on secondary powers and whether they are appropriate--
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