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Lord Richard: I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said. I was flattered by his reference to me. I hope he bought the book and did not just borrow it from the library. He would have found it modestly priced and well worth the money.
Lord Crickhowell: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. As the author of one book and another which is to come out, I have every sympathy and I will buy his book if he undertakes to buy both of mine.
These two amendments are not ones the Committee should accept for one simple reason; that is, they both bring the matter back to this Chamber. After the Royal Commission has reported; after the joint committee has considered it; the matter then has to come back here in order for it to be decided whether this Bill, which the Royal Commission is not discussing, will be implemented.
Again, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, pointed out--he was right to do so--we would be in the position where the implementation of this Bill, which would have passed the Commons and presumably passed this House as well, would again be subject to the veto which the Opposition hold because of the composition of this Chamber. I do not believe that either the noble Lord, Lord Boardman, or the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, could conceivably expect the Government to accept an amendment which would mean that in perhaps 18 months or two years' time, after the Royal Commission and the joint committee reported, we would come back to this House and be again in thrall to the 300 hereditary Peers who take the Conservative Whip.
The figures in this House are always worth remembering when we are considering constitutional matters. I believe 476 Peers take the Conservative Whip; of those, 300 are hereditary. The Labour Party has 175 Peers, of which 18 are hereditary. Perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, in parenthesis, that the Labour Party is perfectly capable of playing its part in running the committees and the work of this House without, if need be, 18 hereditary Peers. I imagine that would be the same for the Liberal Democrats. So the noble Baroness is simply trying to persuade the Committee that we cannot run the business of this House unless there is an overwhelming majority of Conservative hereditary Peers to do it.
The noble Baroness shakes her head. With great respect, that is the inexorable conclusion of the figures on the composition of this Chamber. She can shake her head as much as she likes but she cannot evade the conclusion. The fact of the matter is that, by and large, the hereditary Peers sit on the opposite side of the Chamber--300 of them. I am not prepared to accept, and I trust my party is not prepared to accept, that in order to run the second Chamber of the British legislature we have to perpetuate a system which gives such an enormous in-built Conservative majority to the Opposition in the House of Lords. It is an absurd proposition and should be rejected.
Therefore, to talk about a set of amendments which would mean that in 18 months' or two years' time the issue would have to come back to this Chamber, at which point the 300 hereditary Peers on the other side would no doubt, yet again, be able to make all the noise that they are now making, is, frankly, a proposition which I find deplorable.
Baroness of Knight of Collingtree: I have a question for the noble Lord before he sits down. Is it not the case that if they were constituted as they are at present, the Government could perfectly well vote down what this Chamber decided? Surely the noble Lord's point is not a very strong one.
Lord Richard: With great respect to the noble Baroness, the first answer to that is the fact that the Parliament Acts do not apply to resolutions; indeed, they apply only to Acts of Parliament. Secondly, for this to apply to an Act of Parliament, the procedure would have to start in the other place and then come to this Chamber. Therefore, unless we amend the Parliament Acts so as to give the government majority in the first Chamber--that is, the House of Commons--the right to vote down a resolution passed in this House, there is no other way of doing this.
Baroness Blatch: Does the noble Lord agree that we on these Benches have, throughout the whole history and record of our party in this House, honoured the commitment never to vote down secondary legislation?
Lord Richard: My noble friend refers to the Rhodesian order, but a resolution of the House is not technically secondary legislation; indeed, it is a resolution. It does no good for the noble Baroness to shake her head again because, with respect, it does not advance the argument. All it does is make the noble Baroness's head shake. She really must apply herself to the point.
That side of the House is entitled to vote against a resolution of this House. I have no doubt whatever that, if this were to come back in two years' time on the basis of either of these two amendments, that is precisely what noble Lords opposite would do. Why would they do so? The answer is very simple. They would do so for the reason that they are now opposing the Bill; namely, that they want to preserve the Conservative majority here in the second Chamber. It has always been thus.
Lord Marlesford: I wonder whether Members of the Committee paid sufficient attention to the most interesting and important speech of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich. It seemed to me that the noble Lord raised an interesting procedural point. As noble Lords know, I am a child in procedural matters. As I understand it, the mover of an amendment has the right at the end of the debate to propose to withdraw it. Normally that is taken on the nod, that is to say, without a Division, with all of us walking through the Lobbies.
As I understood the noble Lord, he suggested that at some time in the future an amendment might be put forward by a Member of this side of the Chamber, which the mover subsequently proposes to withdraw. He said that he would oppose the withdrawal and, presumably, that means that he would vote against it being withdrawn. Indeed, if Members on this side of the Chamber (and perhaps on the Government side) decided that they would like to have the amendment withdrawn, they would ensure that it was withdrawn because they would vote for that. I am not absolutely sure how that helps the noble Lord, Lord Harris, because the result would be precisely the same. It will not have been a question of deciding on the merits of the amendment; it will merely mean that we will have spent quite a lot of time going through the Division Lobbies to decide that the amendment should, by leave, be withdrawn.
Lord Harris of Greenwich: Perhaps I may assist the noble Lord by referring to a debate on 19th March 1998 (Hansard cols. 919 to 922) on the Crime and Disorder Bill and to the Division which took place thereafter. On that occasion, the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton of Eggardon, asked, with the leave of the House, to withdraw her amendment. At that point, the noble Lord,
Lord Eden of Winton: We are in fact discussing two amendments proposed by my noble friends Lord Boardman and Lady Blatch. Of the two, I have to say that I prefer the former amendment tabled in the name of my noble friend Lord Boardman. I do so for the precise reason that, were his amendment to be accepted, the time-scale likely to be involved would be shorter. In other words, we would not have to wait for a committee of both Houses to report, as I understand would be the case with the amendment of my noble friend Lady Blatch. Following the report of the Royal Commission, I believe that it would take some time for a committee of both Houses to report.
As I understand it, the Royal Commission is doing its level best to report by the end of this calendar year. If that is the case, what my noble friend Lord Boardman proposes is extremely modest. He has suggested that the implementation of this Bill should await the report--and only the report--of the Royal Commission at the end of this year. That is not asking a great deal.
I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Desai, or the noble Lord, Lord Harris--indeed, it may have been both of them in curious harmony--indicated that there was the potential for delay beyond the end of the calendar year when the Royal Commission reports because of the proposal in both amendments that there should be a resolution of both Houses. I hope that I am right in saying this; but, if I am wrong, no doubt someone will shoot me down. It seems to me that the sense of the proposal that there should be such a resolution lies in the fact that that would provide at least an opportunity for some account to be taken of the findings of the Royal Commission.
I believe that it was the noble Lord, Lord Monson--although it may have been one of my noble friends--who put forward the view that rather than proceeding as we are and taking a once-and-for-all decision in advance of knowing the nature of the findings of the Royal Commission, we should at least hear what it has to suggest. I cannot believe for one moment that the Government have set up this commission with their hands tied. Surely the Royal Commission has full scope and opportunity to make whatever recommendations it may choose. I suspect that the commission will take into account the terms of this Bill in its deliberations. However, it will know that by the time this Bill reaches its later stages it is likely to have been amended, despite the manifesto commitment, by Amendment No. 31 tabled in the name of a number of Cross-Bench Peers, including the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill. If that were done, there would then be provision for retaining a number of hereditary Peers. The importance of that in the context of these amendments, and bearing in mind the possibility of the Royal Commission reporting with some regard to the position of those hereditary Peers, is that the latter might be retained for a longer period.
If the Government have agreed to the Weatherill amendment, which provides for the retention of a number of hereditary Peers--presumably for the good order and better working of the House; otherwise, I cannot understand why they have done it--they might also want to preserve that same group for a while longer so that we can understand the full import of the Royal Commission's findings.
I hope very much that the Government will feel able to accept at least the modest proposal of my noble friend Lord Boardman because it makes good common sense. If we are embarked upon this major change--I think every noble Lord in the Chamber accepts that there is no question of stopping the process--let us do whatever we can during the course of it to ensure that what comes after the change makes good sense. It is important that the position of the Royal Commission is not fully circumscribed by the passing of this Bill and that we should not bring it into force until the commission has had a chance to report. I hope very much that that will be the case. I do not see this as a wrecking amendment in any sense. I certainly do not feel that it is a wrecking amendment and I do not think that it should be interpreted as a wrecking amendment. I accept the principle of the Bill as predicated in the manifesto. The manifesto commitment will still be honoured when this Bill ultimately becomes law. All one is asking in a modest way is to hear something of what will take the place of this Chamber in the future before this Bill is enacted. I hope very much that the Government will feel able to accept at least the proposal of my noble friend Lord Boardman.
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