|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Weatherill: My Lords, I have not spoken before in this debate but I feel impelled to do so this evening. I am pleased to do so after the noble Lord, Lord Garel-Jones. I make much the same points. I shall be brief. I am passionately against the closed list system. I voted against it the first time around. I abstained on the second occasion because I hoped that the Government would think again. However, on subsequent occasions I have voted in the Government Lobby. As a former Speaker of the House of Commons I think it is wrong that this House should seek to frustrate the will of the elected House. We would have been wise to have accepted the offer of consultation for a different system of election after these European elections have taken place.
We were not greatly helped yesterday by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, when he said that this was not in fact a Labour Bill but that it was "our" Bill. That did not help this House at all. Nevertheless, like the noble Lord, Lord Garel-Jones, I was a Whip for some 12 years and I know something about parliamentary tactics; I can see a trap when it is being set for us. I believe that that is what has happened in these subsequent debates.
I still believe in the open list system and I hope that something may be done about it in the days to come. However, we should not forget that we are an unelected House. I believe that we would be very unwise to frustrate the will of the elected Chamber for the fifth occasion. As has been said by others, the argument has been won; that is not in doubt. But that will not be remembered in the days to come. What will be remembered is that this unelected House frustrated the will of the Commons on five occasions. We should think very carefully before we do that this evening.
Earl Russell: My Lords, the House knows my views on the substantive issues. They have not changed and I shall not repeat them. One thing has changed since I last took part in a debate on this subject on Thursday last. Then, there were seven days left before the end of the Session and now there is one. As I am addressing a completely different situation, I have the right to think through again what the consequences of my acts are likely to be.
I also took advice on the potential of the Parliament Acts. I received advice that, while in theory it might be possible that the Parliament Acts might be used in time, it was in practice extremely unlikely unless it was in the circumstance of the Bill enjoying the Opposition's consent. If that is what the Opposition intends to do at the end of the day, it might as well save its own prospective candidates a great deal of anxiety and do it now. If it is left until then, the words "prospective candidate" will painfully literally mean exactly what they say.
Therefore, we have to decide whether we want to stick to the amendment and kill the Bill or accept the Bill unamended. We do not have to decide which of those is the worst option. We may think that killing this Bill for the House would be a bridge too far--it usually is but not quite always. However, killing a Bill of which we approve in principle is, as far as I can see, two bridges too far.
I hope that in the next Session we will be very sure, before we put through any stage one, that another place is committed to the principle of a revising chamber once it has one that it recognises to be legitimate.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, as have others who have yet to speak in this debate, I have attended all of the issues. I am delighted to follow the noble Lords, Lord Garel-Jones and Lord Weatherill. Together with those two, I think that I represent a "Whip round". I can claim to have served in the Whips Office in both Houses. I have served in the Whips Office for 19 of the past 25 years.
I learnt when I came up here, which was a great privilege, the conventions, agreements and understandings of this House. Until the Opposition decided to do what it has done here, one of those conventions was that it was proper, right and legitimate for this House to defeat the Government and to send its amendment to a Bill to the other place. But, it was infra-dig; it was not done. It was done to defeat the Government twice. Now, the Opposition has not only
I have a question for the noble Lord, Lord Mackay. I have done some research but I cannot find any Bill, over the past 30 years, that has been amended by the same amendment more than twice. In fact, on only three occasions has there been an attempt to pass the same amendment to a Bill twice. My question to the noble Lord is this: will he please explain to the House what is different about this occasion? I do not refer to the context of the subject but in relation to how this House works; the understandings and the arrangements. The Whips Office is often called "the usual channels". A great deal depends on the confidence and credibility which has built up among senior parliamentarians.
If the Opposition persists, I want the noble Lord to tell the House why. If he pleads in aid that the issue is important, I remind him--unfortunately, the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, is not in his place--that I well recall an occasion when we were debating the Railways Bill and an important issue on pensions. The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, moved an amendment against his government which was carried. When it went to the other place, of course his government overturned it. When it came back here, there was a great determination on our part and on the Liberal Democrat Benches that we should seriously consider beating the government a second time. We did not do that because of the understandings of which I had been told by Chief Whips and other senior Members: that is, the right of this House to insist upon its will once, but not twice. I should like to hear the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, tell us what is special about this occasion. We have a long life ahead of us--some of us--and we want to be in business for a great length of time.
The other point I should like the noble Lord to deal with is the argument that if the Government have got it wrong, it is open to them to use the Parliament Act. I remind the House that in the knowledge of many people here the Parliament Act has been used only once; that is, on the War Crimes Bill in 1990. Is the noble Lord telling us that this issue is on a par with the contents of the War Crimes Bill? I say to noble Lords on the Cross-Benches, who have listened carefully to these debates, that my noble friend Lord Callaghan said that it was of a different level; and it is. I should like the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, to answer the question: why should the Government be pleaded with to bring in and use the Parliament Act?
The final point I wish the noble Lord to answer is this. Constant reference has been made to the need or ability of the Government to treat seriously the views of this House and to bring forward a compromise, or amendments. Every time the Bill has returned to the Commons an attempt has been made by the Government to move slowly to the centre. Will the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, tell the House how often he has suggested a compromise or made a conciliating move?
Lord Beloff: My Lords, possible answers to the questions asked may be that we are dealing with a quite exceptional issue. As the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, reminded us, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, has told us in so many words that this is not a government Bill. It is a Bill from the Liberal Democrat Party; and the conventions which have been quoted relate to government Bills.
That is quite important because it is part of the effort by the Liberal Democrats. Since last week there has been a new announcement of further collaboration. We know what they wish to gain. They wish to get Mr. Ashdown into the Cabinet. They wish to have proportional representation for Westminster. And in order to gain that they will sacrifice any principle, even the principle of having at least an open list. Therefore we are in a very different position.
It may be argued that all this is shadow boxing because we know perfectly well that the Labour Party will not give any of the sweeties that the Liberal Democrats expect as a result of their kowtowing to the Government over and over again. In fact the Liberal Democrat Party reminds me nowadays of a lady of doubtful virtue who is willing to sell her services for a promissory note on a failing bank.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page