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Lord Strathclyde: I found the case made by the noble Lord strangely unconvincing. The problem is not the assurances of the current Government on the Septennial or quinquennial Acts, which I wholly accept. The point is that we are creating an interim House, the composition of which is in the hands of the Prime Minister. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, shakes his head. Therefore, I would be delighted if he accepted an amendment tabled by us to ensure that that was not so. To return to the point, the composition of the interim House will be in the hands of the Prime Minister. This Prime Minister, on whose behalf the Government Chief Whip has given certain assurances, may not last for very long. It is possible that he will last for a very long time, but the Bill may last for longer. We ask that an amendment be made to the Bill to deal with a problem. My preferred solution is that there be a qualified majority of this House. In that way the House of Commons cannot override the wishes of this House by a simple majority here because they have packed the House with their own cronies, to use common parlance.
Lord Carter: There is an extremely simple answer to the point just raised by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. The Prime Minister has given an assurance which the noble Lord says he accepts. For the sake of argument, let us assume that the Prime Minister lasts at least until the end of this Parliament. If we amended the Bill any successor Parliament could change it. Therefore, one has an assurance. In practical terms we all know what will happen if the Bill becomes law at the end of this Session, as we hope: there will be a transitional House. The sole intention is to achieve broad parity with the Opposition.
This Prime Minister has taken fewer powers than any previous one by handing over the choice of independent Members to an independent appointments commission. Noble Lords opposite are aware of the Government's proposals about the creation of an independent appointments commission to handle the appointment of independent Peers. This Prime Minister, unlike previous Conservative and even Labour ones, has reduced the power of patronage. We cannot say any more than that when the Bill becomes law--I am aware that I am repeating myself--we seek no more than broad parity with the main Opposition party. All of us can work out the figures. We believe that the Government in this House will never command a majority. It will require an overwhelming majority in this House of all the parties together--the Cross-Benchers, the Conservative Opposition and the Liberals--to defeat the Government. That is the only way that a change can be achieved.
The Earl of Lauderdale: I am obliged to the noble Lord for giving way. Earlier he said that no government or Parliament could bind their successor. He has just said that the guarantee (if I may put it that way) of the independence of this House in future will lie in the
Lord Carter: They are the usual arrangements, all of which have been discussed already. I hope that I am not being offensive if I say that noble Lords opposite are extremely slow learners. We debated this matter for 40 hours before we had the two-day debate on Second Reading. All of this has been explored many times and we have clearly spelt out our intentions. I do not believe that any government could have spelt out more clearly our intentions in relation to this House. The proposal is that in the transitional House there will be an independent appointments commission appointed in the same way as an independent non-departmental public body. Noble Lords must start to believe, first, that we mean what we say and, secondly, that we are telling the truth.
Earl Ferrers: With great respect, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, cannot get away with that. He stated that we had to believe everything that had been said. The Prime Minister had said this and the Government had said that and therefore it would happen. Whether or not one likes it, the Government are altering the constitution. They may be altering it for the better or the worse. You cannot get hold of the constitution and shake it like a Christmas tree and not expect something to fall off. It is perfectly possible for something to go wrong. It is perfectly possible for things to happen which no one expects.
Perhaps I may have the Minister's attention, even when he is being advised by such a learned person as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. I am sure that the noble Lord will have benefited greatly from the advice he has received, if he is able to remember what it was. I was asking whether the Minister will be good enough to listen to what I am saying, even though he was being interrupted, I am sure quite rightly.
The Minister said that we have to believe what the Prime Minister said. I am sure that the Prime Minister may mean that. But Prime Ministers come and go--sometimes unexpectedly. If one is altering the constitution one must take care of every eventuality. One could have a situation where the House of Lords is an appointed Chamber--that is what it will be--and the House of Commons has a certain majority and therefore pushes its view through both the appointed Chamber and the elected Chamber. In order to ensure that such an eventuality does not happen, we ask for some safeguards.
What worries me, and probably worries my noble friends, is that the Government may wish to provide for that but they have the blank look of not being prepared to listen and to consider that there might be a scintilla of argument. I am sure that their brief is, probably from the Prime Minister too, that there shall be no amendments to the Bill, whatever the argument. But there is an argument. There is a matter of concern. It is not a question of hereditary Peers versus life Peers. I just wish that all four noble Lords on the Government Front Bench would admit sometimes that there might be an argument to be addressed.
Lord Rotherwick: I am a little confused by what the noble Lord, Lord Carter, meant when he said that the Government seek broad parity. I understand that we shall go through stage one. Does he mean that they would then seek broad parity in the intermediate House? If so, we have grounds for fear. We would have no control whatsoever over the Government's definition of parity. Would it mean parity with another place--with numbers on Government and Opposition Benches in another place--or in this House?
Lord Carter: I am trying to put the issue as simply as I can. If there are 100 Conservatives in the transitional House, we would seek 100 Labour Peers. That is broad parity. It means equality with the official Opposition. Is that clear? If there were 200 Conservatives, the figure would be 200. It is broad parity. If noble Lords want the figures, as Chief Whip I have them in my head. At present we do not have broad parity with life Peers. We are still about 15 short. I leave that point with Members of the Committee. If the Weatherill amendment were accepted the Conservatives would still have more Peers than Labour. Over time we should see broad parity: that is, equality with the number of Conservative Peers.
Lord Rotherwick: That is the whole point about seeking broad parity. If the noble Lord told us now that all the Government seek is to have 100 Peers on the Government side and 100 Peers on the Opposition side, why cannot there be an amendment to give us comfort that that is what will happen?
All the noble Lord gives us is a deep suspicion that when the time comes the Government will not do what he suggests they will. As with the debate yesterday on Welsh beef on the bone, the Government had good intent last year but when it comes to the crunch things change. Why cannot the Government give us the assurance, the comfort, which would allow us to go away happy?
I make the point clear. We have made our intentions entirely clear. I do not think that we could have made them clearer. Either noble Lords believe us or they do not. I would willingly give way to any noble Lord opposite who had raised any of these fears with previous Conservative Prime Ministers who could have flooded this House. Mr. Blair can flood this House with Labour Peers today. He chose not to do so.
Viscount Torrington: Can the noble Lord explain what would happen in a coalition? It has been known before in British politics. If there is, for some reason or another, an alliance between the Tory Party and
Broad parity with the Official Opposition means that the Government (the Labour Party) in this House over time will see the same number of Peers as the Official Opposition. There will be an Official Opposition in this House even in the case of a coalition. That is all we seek.
I do not think that I can put it any more clearly. I do not think that there is much point in continuing the debate on this issue. I have made it absolutely clear. I repeat: I shall give way to any noble Lord opposite who once raised these fears with any Conservative Prime Minister who could have flooded this House. The noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, certainly tried to do so, with twice as many Conservative life Peers as Labour life Peers despite the substantial number of Conservative hereditary Peers. Did anyone on the Benches opposite ever express concern? No.
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