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Lord Callaghan of Cardiff: The noble Viscount raised so many hobgoblins, I am not sure I can remove them. However, as an assiduous student of everything the Labour Party says, I can say that in its evidence to the Royal Commission it made it absolutely clear that it intends to accept the quinquennial Act, as it always has done, and that it should be incorporated into the new arrangements.
I do not suppose that that reassures the noble Viscount for one moment. No, I did not think that it would. The only circumstances I can conceive of it being broken is if the Conservative Party goes even more mad than it is today--but that is unlikely, too. I cannot believe anyone else is likely to affect the situation to which the noble Viscount referred.
I turn to the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and I am obliged to him for quoting me. I wish to reinforce what has been said, but I ask a question which arises out of the amendment and in view of those associated with it. I shall not particularise, but let us suppose that we are not all reformers. Let us suppose when the Bill is passed there are little evil devils lurking in our midst who do not share our overwhelming view for reform and who might reflect on what happened in 1968. That is not unknown to the mover of the amendment. Why should they not use the passage of these amendments, in particular Amendments Nos. 110F, 110G and 110H, in order to prevent the passage of a reform Bill? Why should they not do so? We have precedents for it, as the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, knows. He not only knows but he took part in preventing the passage of a scheme which had been agreed by this House and which was wrecked by Mr. Michael Foot, Mr. Enoch Powell and the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, himself.
Old men forget, but the noble Lord is not as old as all that. I do not wish to put into his mind suggestions which do not exist, but I can imagine a new incarnation of the noble Lord in another place might well have it in its mind that the best way of ensuring that no hereditary Peer disappears finally from this place is to wreck any new arrangement. I have made the debating point and I now turn to the serious point.
The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, has given me the opportunity of reiterating my belief that securing a second stage will demand the good will of all three parties. Unless we have that we shall not have a second stage. I wish to reiterate that as firmly as I can because the responsibility rests firmly on this place. Once this Bill is passed, the Royal Commission will be valuable in clearing the ground, clearing our minds, stating what can be done and putting to us one or more propositions.
Unless there is a national referendum on this issue, to which I should be totally opposed because it is far too complicated, it will then be for all the parties to put aside all the ingenious amendments which could be
I repeat that we shall then have to subordinate all our ingenuities and different schemes. I have a scheme in my mind and I know it is better than anybody else's. But we must put that on one side if we are serious about reform. Those of us who are serious about reform say to those from all three parties who must conduct the business here and in another place that that is the only way in which the matter should be approached.
I hope that there will not be a Division on this matter. I am not willing to support it because it would give the wreckers an opportunity to ensure that no scheme for reform which is brought forward is successful unless we apply guillotines and so on, in a way that I should not wish to see. We really should not do that.
Lord Marlesford: I am one of those who has always seen the need for reform of your Lordships' House. I recognise immediately that there has been a lot of steam in the Labour Party for reform and there is an electoral mandate for the reform which the Government put forward through their initial Bill.
However, I was always concerned that the Bill would damage the House greatly and make the House of Lords much less effective than it has been. That is why I welcome so strongly what I regard as the brilliant negotiation by my noble friend Lord Cranborne which has infinitely improved the Bill. It has now made it tolerable for the present.
We should be extremely careful before we rush into further changes. I must admit that I have had moments of anxiety about the apparent desire which, on occasion, my party has seemed to show for not changing anything until you change everything. That has always struck me as a rather unconservative way in which to proceed. Those anxieties were fanned by the publication of the report by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern who appears to be throwing the whole family of triplets out with the bath water.
I cannot support the amendments. In the context, first, of the Royal Commission's report and, secondly, in the context of all the other changes which have been made to the constitution of our country, we must look to see how the interim House of Lords beds down. We should not rush into further changes. I recognise that my noble friend Lord Peyton put forward the date as a debating point but the idea that, at this stage, one can include any sort of sunset clause in the legislation is not only unrealistic but undesirable.
The Earl of Erroll: I have always held the opinion that passing the stage two Bill is imperative and that we should not be left in limbo. Although various inducements, such as the Weatherill amendment, help, a sunset clause is essential.
When the noble Baroness the Leader of the House replied to my noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch, she stated--and I paraphrase--that a seven-year interval between elections was excessive. I gather that she does not believe that we shall even reach the first election. Therefore, I presume that the Government will support a sunset clause with a period of less than seven years.
Lord Desai: My noble friend Lord Callaghan referred to ingenious amendments being proposed. They are all in line with the reluctance of noble Lords opposite to realise that change is going to happen. The noble Lord, Lord Gray, said that we need a health warning on the interim Chamber. The only health warning needed is "New, improved House of Lords". We are about to improve it.
No great vacuum will be left when the hereditary Peers leave. I know that we life Peers are not hereditary and therefore do not have the great intelligence, virtue, sagacity and valour which the hereditary Peers have. But we are as mindful of our democratic rights as they are. We are as mindful that no government should be allowed to extend their term beyond the quinquennial Act. Indeed, I am astonished by what I can only describe as the arrogance of some noble Lords opposite who believe that when they leave, anarchy will break out and that we life Peers are complete weaklings who cannot think for ourselves without their help. Therefore, unless they help us, what do we poor people do?
The sunset clause is extremely interesting. I remind Members of the Committee that one piece of manifesto-led legislation which was reversed within the same Parliament was the community charge legislation--the poll tax. The poll tax was such a disaster that it had to be reversed within the same Parliament. I may be wrong but I remember no other legislation with a sunset clause attached.
Therefore, an innovation must be made only because of the distrust with which the hereditary Peers treat this House. I do not understand why we should think that when 660 hereditary Peers leave somehow the nation will lose all guarantee of its liberties. I find that proposition astounding. These amendments must be rejected.
Lord Trefgarne: The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, referred to what happened in 1968 when, as he said, this House was content with what was proposed. As I recall, we agreed to a Parliament (No. 2) Act enshrining the proposals which ran into the sand in the other place. Therefore, it cannot be said that in this House we are against the concept of reform. I am certainly not against it.
However, I object to this reform, which is not a reform at all. What is proposed in this Bill makes the House of Lords worse, not better. I agree with my noble friend Lord Strathclyde that the Weatherill amendment makes a bad Bill slightly less bad. But the Government maintain that it is just a temporary measure and that in
Of course, the Government came lately to the idea of a Royal Commission. When we started out on this road a year or so ago, there was no prospect of a Royal Commission. I believe that it was only because of pressure from many quarters that the Government agreed to set up a Royal Commission. I hope that they will take seriously the recommendations when they are made.
Lord Callaghan of Cardiff: We must pay very serious attention to the Royal Commission report when it is published. But I do not go so far as the noble Lord because I believe he indicated almost that we must accept it. We must not. The Royal Commission will be a very good guide for us. But the parties must decide and bring forward a scheme. I want them to bring forward a joint scheme before both Houses. I interrupt only to make that point because I have noticed that a number of noble Lords seem to think that when the Royal Commission has reported, that is signed, sealed and delivered. It is not.
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