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Earl Ferrers: By introducing the amendment my noble friend Lord Renton of Mount Harry has done a good service. Perhaps I may say that he introduced it in an inoffensive, intellectual, and scholastic way. I am surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, became more and more angered by it. He said that the Bill concerns only one issue; that is, getting rid of hereditary Peers. He must see that it goes a good deal further than that. He shakes his head. He seems to have tunnel vision. One cannot remove 600 or 750 people from Parliament and say that it has no outside or alternative effect.
Lord Richard: I am not saying that. Of course I know that it has an effect. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, is that the only way of preserving these constitutional prerogatives, and the only way of ensuring that no government extends the life of a parliament, is by bringing the hereditary peerage back into this House for the purposes of considering the Bill. I reject that on my own grounds. With respect, I am just as capable of looking after the constitutional position in this country as the noble Lord.
Earl Ferrers: The noble Lord is far more capable of doing that than I am. However, he knows perfectly well that when one tables an amendment it is often a probing amendment. The noble Lord shakes his head again. That is another example of tunnel vision. It is unlikely that any future government or event would have the effect that all the Peers who had been ejected would suddenly come running back in. The point made by my noble friend is that this concerns a serious constitutional matter.
Perhaps I may say, with the greatest respect, that the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, made the same mistake in stating that all the Bill does is to get rid of hereditary Peers. He asked why all hereditary Peers belong to the Conservative Party. I can tell him one of the reasons. Before 1958 a number of Peers were, quite correctly, created on the Labour Party Benches. Curiously, the majority of their sons became Conservatives. That was the reason for the introduction of the Life Peerages Act: to encourage more Peers on to the Labour Benches.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Carter will not reject this totally. It is a serious point but not an inflammatory one. If the Bill is passed as it stands, all hereditary Peers will go and we would be left with an appointed Chamber. We do not know what will happen about the Weatherill amendment, which is another matter entirely. That is what the Bill states and what the Government intend to do. That would totally alter the balance of powers and responsibilities between the two Houses and may well produce a constitutional problem. That is the reason why my noble friend quite correctly highlighted this point.
We do not know what the second Chamber will comprise or who will make the appointments. We do not know whether there will be 100 hereditary Peers. Because of the way the Government have introduced the Bill, the future is unknown. With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, it is no good him saying, "Oh, well, this is only about getting rid of hereditary Peers. It doesn't matter." This affects the constitution hugely and my noble friend is quite right to draw attention to the matter.
Lord Northbourne: Perhaps I may say to the noble Lords, Lord Richard and Lord Graham, that as a hereditary Peer I would be very comfortable if I thought that they would be in a position to make the decisions in future. Under those circumstances, I would be happy to go. However, alas, neither the noble Lord, Lord Richard, nor the noble Lord, Lord Graham, has the power to deliver. We do not know what this Chamber will be like when we, and possibly they, have gone.
Lord Goodhart: We have no objection to Amendment No. 106 which stands in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Perth, but it is completely unnecessary because there is nothing in the Bill that alters the powers conferred on your Lordships' Chamber or reserved to your Lordships' Chamber by the Parliament Act 1911.
The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, is another matter altogether. That is not acceptable to us because it retains the votes of the hereditary Peers for special circumstances. It is seriously defective in its drafting. There is nothing in it which prevents a Bill to extend the life of Parliament being moved by a government Back-Bencher with government support.
To get away from the defects in the drafting, the principle behind the amendment is equally unacceptable; indeed, more so. I do not believe that there is any prospect of any party seeking to exercise the power to prolong the life of a parliament in any circumstances, except the kind of grave national crisis which led to the extension of the lives of the Parliaments elected in 1910 and 1935. But if any party did seek to do so, the life Peers of all parties would have the independence and courage to resist the attempt. I do not believe that the life Peers on the Conservative Benches feel themselves less independent than do their hereditary friends. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, whether he feels less capable of exercising an independent judgment than his noble friend Lord Ferrers. I do not believe that he does.
If a Conservative government tried to extend the life of a parliament and the Conservative Peers believed that they were wrong in doing so, would they vote against their own party? I believe that they would. If they would not do so, the whole argument that your Lordships' House is a bulwark in its present form against the power to extend the life of a parliament must fail. But if it is true that the Conservative Peers would be prepared to vote against their own party if they believed it was acting wrongly in seeking to extend the life of a parliament, that must equally be true of the Peers of other parties, whether they are life or hereditary Peers.
I may have expressed my views less provocatively than the noble Lord, Lord Richard, but in essence my views are exactly the same as the views expressed by both him and the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. I do not believe that the amendment is justified.
Baroness Young: This is one of the most important amendments tabled to this Bill and I hope that the Government will look at it very seriously. It may not be correctly drafted, as the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said, but that is not the point at issue.
The important constitutional point at issue here is whether or not the House of Lords would have the power to prevent the life of a government being extended. The amendment, moved in a balanced and moderate way by my noble friend Lord Renton of Mount Harry, linked with that of the noble Earl, Lord Perth, makes that important point.
It would be extremely unfortunate if the debate descended into a kind of wrangle as to whether hereditary or life Peers are more independently minded and act more responsibly. That is not what this is about. The truth is that when we determine a constitution, like any legal document, we look at the opportunities for doing things which none of us sitting in this Chamber today would think are right. But one cannot possibly
In making these judgments one has to consider what a future Chamber might think it right to do. Those of us who have been in politics for a long time know that there are situations in which temptations and arguments are put up which are quite wrong; and one likes to feel that one is independently minded enough to stand up against them. I believe that I can say that I am independent minded and have stood up against arguments which I felt were wrong. In constitution-making, we have always to prepare for the worst and make the assumption that such things are possible. I can accept that these amendments may not be correctly drafted, but this is an important issue that needs to be addressed and I hope that the Government will address it.
The Earl of Errol: Perhaps I may say quickly from these Benches that I am a little tired of hearing how all hereditary Peers sit on the Conservative Benches. They do not. A significant number of us sit on the Cross Benches and if one other party joined with the Cross Benches, we could defeat the Conservatives. That is a straight fact. They do not have an overall majority in this Chamber.
Having dealt with that matter, the real problem here--the reply of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, was very ingenuous--is that this country does not have a constitutional court. We have no final long-stop. If the executive can gain control over everything, that is it. At the moment, for many members of the public and Members of your Lordships' Chamber, the only long-stop left is the hereditary Peers, inadequate as that may seem to many. If another Bill before Parliament gave a different constitutional, irrevocable long-stop, I am sure that we would have no problem with the Bill going through at the moment. We are therefore attempting to put in other long-stops.
The 1949 Act has shown how it is possible to revoke certain provisions in other Acts. The 1911 Act contained certain protections. The 1949 Act shows that those protections can be overturned. In fact, the 1949 Act, as an example, could overturn Clause 7--the quinquennial Act provision--to reserve powers to the Lords under the 1911 Act. It therefore concerns me that whatever we pass now can actually be revoked. It does not matter what constitutional protections we put in; it can be revoked by a government and pushed through. That is what worries me.
As I said in my Second Reading speech, I am worried about who governs my grandchildren. I am not worried about going on sitting here; I am worried about the future. I find it very difficult when I listen to people of great and good intention who are honest, sincere and would do their duty--like the noble Lords, Lord Richard and Lord Graham of Edmonton, whom I respect greatly; I know I can put great faith in them--who believe that they can trust a successor of either political colour. No one can guarantee that this interim House will not last for another 100 years. So these provisions will go on and we should try to think how we are going to put in
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