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Viscount Cranborne: I realise that the noble Earl is a great deal more knowledgeable than I about the history of the constitutions of Commonwealth Parliaments. My sense of the development of the Commonwealth in the past few decades is that increasingly Commonwealth countries have taken from the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, and indeed from the British Parliament, powers which they have drawn into the bosom of their own Parliaments. I suspect from some of the newspaper reports that I have read in the past few days--I believe I read something of the kind in connection with Trinidad this morning--that the remaining vestiges of the connections may indeed be on the way out. I suspect--I refer to those of us who believe that the nation state will endure--that those of us who distrust the reliability of international organisations will find this a rather reassuring development.
Viscount Bledisloe: Even assuming that there is the theoretical problem identified by the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, I find the solution proposed by his amendment remarkable. Let us assume that stage two does not come upon us very quickly, if at all, and that in, say, seven years' time a Minister of the Crown introduces a Bill and it is suggested that that restricts the powers of the Crown--let us say, to select the Prime Minister. Is it really contemplated that upon that day seven years hence, all those then qualified for hereditary Peerage, the heirs of many of the persons presently in your Lordships' House--some of whom will by definition never have been here--all 700 of them, shall then be entitled to apply for Writs of Summons, shall queue up to take their oath, shall make their maiden speeches (all 700 of them) before they can take part in proceedings on the Bill? That is not just a matter of dusting down elderly Peers who have been put out to grass for seven years; it is a question of unwrapping from their nappies their successors who have never been to this place and who have no idea how it works, and suddenly conferring upon them a power to take part in the activities of one Bill, because it is an important Bill, and then sending them back either to their dusty shelves or to their nappies. It is an amazing solution.
Lord Eden of Winton: One of the great assets and great strengths of the Chamber which many Members of the Committee have commented upon, most notably my noble friend Lord Cranborne, is the independence
Nonetheless, I would find it most valuable to have something like the declaratory amendment put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Perth, included on the face of the Bill. That would be a safeguard and a reassurance. I emphasise the word "reassurance" and in doing so I look straight at the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and say to him that I understand perfectly well why he felt a little upset. I do not think he was "steamed up" because in the past I have seen him get steamed up and I know what happens when he does. He certainly was not steamed up this afternoon. Nonetheless he made a perfectly valid point; namely, that there is nothing to choose, when it is a matter of independence of judgment and of a willingness and readiness to protect the constitution, between hereditary Peers and life, appointed Peers. I fully accept that.
However, what this Bill is about--as, again, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, took the opportunity to emphasise--is the composition of the Chamber. We are engaged in a process which will lead to a changed House of Lords. It will not be the same as it is now. By changing the composition you inevitably change the nature of the Chamber. I suspect--but I do not know this any more than any other noble Lord does at present--that the nature of the Chamber will change by virtue of the appointments that will be made to make up its number. It will become a different place. It will become largely peopled by new-entry Members who owe their allegiance to the source of that appointment. Inevitably there will be an erosion of the degree of independence of judgment which, by virtue of the mix of hereditary and life Peers that we have at the present time, this Chamber has been able to enjoy, and which it has honoured. Therefore I believe that we are in danger of having a less independent, judgmental forum in the future than that which we have today.
I ally that possibility in my mind with the reality of another place with a substantial majority, and with a government determined to exercise their power and who have already shown that they have comparatively little regard for parliamentary institutions. Therefore, I think it is all the more important that we do everything we can to safeguard those elements of the constitution which may in future be under attack by an over-mighty government with an over-large majority in the other place when this Chamber has changed its composition altogether. For that reason I strongly support the amendment moved by the noble Earl, Lord Perth.
I hope that I am right in feeling encouraged that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, who has evidently written a very fulsome letter to the noble Earl, will be able to give firm reassurances from the Dispatch Box and, more importantly, that he will seek to enshrine words to the effect of the declaratory Motion, if not in the Bill then in any future legislation affecting the powers of the House.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I do not believe that it will unduly grieve or shock my noble friends sitting in front of me when I say that it is quite a long time since I would have admitted to the description of being an ardent party politician. Indeed, my regard for political parties generally has diminished sharply over recent years. I hasten to add that that does not alter or diminish the respect I have for my noble friends who are sitting in front of me.
The speech of the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, from the Cross Benches gave me particular pleasure. I regard the Cross Benches of your Lordships' House as unique. Noble Lords who sit on the Cross Benches come here without any party ties at all. That is not repeated anywhere in the world. I hope that whatever replaces your Lordships' House will somehow perform the miracle of preserving a collection of people who are uncontaminated by party allegiance.
I quite understand the difficulty and the hostility that the Labour Party has felt for many years at finding itself facing a permanently entrenched majority of Conservatives in the House. I find it exceedingly difficult that we somehow get blamed--as we were by the noble Lord, Lord Graham--for wishing to compare the respective merits of hereditary and life Peers. That is totally irrelevant to the issue. Everyone wants to have good people in the House who will look after the interests of the nation. To indulge in that kind of comparison is very unhelpful indeed.
I have the greatest respect for the noble Lord, Lord Richard. No one can be more fairly attributed the characteristic of Olympian calm. The noble Lord achieved a unique performance. He always speaks entertainingly and interestingly, but on this occasion he somehow managed to couple his usual Olympian calm with words of anger. The words did not seem to be coming from someone who felt that emotion. Although the noble Lord was very impressive in one way, I think he had a very odd combination of manner and substance.
My noble friend Lord Renton will correct me if I am wrong, but I never heard him say that the only way in which to defend the constitution was the preservation for ever of hereditary Peers. If I am not right, my noble friend will doubtless interrupt me. That was the basis of the charge. If the noble Lord, Lord Richard, is going to
The difficulty throughout the Bill has been that we are discussing a one-legged affair; it hops along; it does not progress in an orderly fashion. I am irritated when I look at the Front Bench opposite and again and again one sees the unreceptive faces of noble Lords who cannot understand any point of view other than their own. I did not come here to make those kind of remarks. I was in a happy, calm mood. It is amazing the power that people on Front Benches have to upset me. They must practise; they have such skill. I see no sign of them even trying to understand what we mean or our real concern that we do not know what the future holds. I am a very reluctant believer in the goodness and common sense of governments. My experience of nearly half a century is that governments do not deserve any tribute of that kind. Goodness is very far from them and common sense often flies away from them.
I hope that the Government Front Bench will at least listen with respect to noble Lords who are not trying to filibuster or to put only the point of view of their party, but who feel very worried indeed about not knowing what will replace your Lordships' House. They are worried that we could end up with a House which, far from being permanent, will be a storm centre for many years to come.
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