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Lord Elton: My Lords, the trouble with debating this proposal in this country at this time is that this country has been without a revolution for 311 years. Any Spanish or Portuguese people, for example, listening in the Gallery at this moment would be astonished at your Lordships' equanimity. Our anxiety is about a future that we cannot foretell.
There is common ground on one matter in this debate; namely, it is essential to the health and survival of a democracy that the electors are able remove a government and are assured of being able to do so at regular intervals. The amendment turns on that principle.
If that ability is lost, the only way of removing a government, as the Portuguese, the Spaniards and many others will tell us, is by violence--by revolution--which sets a country back many generations, costs the breaking of families and lives and is at all costs to be avoided. The purpose of the amendment is to avoid that loss.
Many noble Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Graham, foremost among them, focused their attention on the present and said that this could not possibly happen now. Of course it could not. We are not so crass as to suggest that it could. I do not go along with the noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret, in his doubts about the Government, but even he would not expect them to engineer their survival with the present manning of the Front Bench in this House, let alone the other place.
We are not thinking about now; we are thinking about the future--and in exactly the same way as your Lordships think about the future of the houses in which you live when you decide to buy a fire extinguisher. You are certain that you will put out your cigarettes before you go to bed; you are certain that the oven will not be left on when you go on holiday--but, just in case, you put in place a provision to take care of that, so that
There was no bloodshed in the 1688 revolution 311 years ago. We have to go back before that. Did people in 1600, three years before Queen Elizabeth I left the throne, think that there would be a civil war in this country during their lifetime? Certainly not. Did people in 1920, in the German empire, foresee the rise of Hitler and the democratic republic? Certainly not. We cannot tell the future. My noble friend Lord Halsbury is right--wait and see.
Baroness Strange: My Lords, I should like briefly to support the amendment and the remarks of my noble friend Lord Halsbury. I speak as a mother. When you take a child upstairs, put it into bed, listen to its prayers and read a story, you say to the child, "Now, do not move from there until morning". You then say goodnight and turn out the light. Then what do you? You tuck the child in--just to make sure. That is all that this proposal is. You love your child very much, but you tuck it in, just to make sure.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, this amendment is not like installing a fire extinguisher in one's home, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, maintained. It is like taking out an insurance policy against being struck by a meteorite. The odds against such an event are astronomical.
Noble Lords say that they are not speaking about the immediate future. They are right; they could not be speaking about the immediate future. They must be speaking about a future in which it is not this House that is calling the shots and deciding that the life of Parliament is to be prolonged but the other place. They are talking about a government being installed who presumably have no mandate from the people to prolong the life of Parliament, but they decide, halfway through their term of office that they wish to govern for longer than the five years and present a Bill in the other place to prolong the life of Parliament. They see that that would not go through this House without the creation of a vast number of new life Peers, so they set about bringing in the 1,000 or so new Peers to get the legislation through. That is the point at which the main
What is happening in the country during that period? Is it contended by those who advance this proposition that a government who do not have a mandate from the people will introduce such a Bill halfway through the life of a Parliament and that they will seek to create this vast number of Peers who will ensure that the Bill goes through this House? That is science fiction. It is way beyond anything that George Orwell thought of. It might be considered that such an event might occur in the year 3000, but if we were to legislate against all such improbable circumstances, why stop at extending the life of Parliament? One speaker mentioned the fact that Hitler came to power even though there was an elected government in Germany, and suggested that that could happen in this country--so we could legislate against any party representing an extreme appointing Peers to this House.
All kinds of things could happen to change the composition of this House in the future which might be of an extreme or remarkable character. But they will not happen in our lifetime or in the 21st century. Events may occur in the far distant future which are not the responsibility of Parliament as it is composed today.
It is utterly wrong that fears should be raised by noble Lords who support this amendment. Incidentally, they are not correct in saying that there is a vast public outside this House which is anxious to see what this House does. When I travel on the No. 36 bus I do not hear people talking about the extension of the life of Parliament and how the Lords must be vigilant to protect the country against that. It is not a matter for consideration. To debate it at such length now is not the best use of this House's time. It is not important to the wishes of the country. We should get the Bill onto the statute book and leave these matters for consideration by others in the 36th century.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, as a comparative neutral in the matter under debate, and one who has been accused in the past of propping up governments of both complexions, perhaps I may briefly make a point that was touched upon by the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth. With great respect, too many contributors to this debate are living in the
For 27 years, at the other end of the building, I had the honour and privilege of working with both governments. At that time, one was quite clear as to the procedure. One operated with the Prime Minister of the day, based on a freshly elected parliamentary party. Decisions were made eventually through the usual processes of civilised discussion, both in the Chamber and sometimes outside it. It is not like that now and it will not be like that in the future.
The part of the United Kingdom from which I come is involved in a very serious crisis; I do not know what the outcome will be by midnight tonight. But one thing I do know is that this present crisis and much of the uncertainty and instability in Northern Ireland could have been avoided had it not been for those whom I call the unelected Whitehall manipulators who sometimes meddle in the decisions made by elected governments, reaching a peak in, for example, the recent Hillsborough agreement and this week showing their hands again. What are we to make, for example, of two schoolchildren being dragged up to Stormont bearing placards transmitting a political message? In certain circumstances, and under other legislation, that might be called a form of child abuse.
To return to the theme of the debate, I should be happy if we did not need safeguards, but I suggest that we need the safeguard provided for in the amendment and many similar safeguards if the real power of governance in the United Kingdom is not to slip out of the hands of the elected representatives and, ultimately, your Lordships' House.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to say that I agree entirely with one speech made this afternoon which I hope the Government Front Bench will read, mark, learn and inwardly digest with care. I refer to the speech of my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth. I cannot believe that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, will have found anything deeply offensive in it and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, will not have been deeply insulted by anything that my noble friend said with such eloquence.
The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, began his speech by saying that he would attempt to calm himself down from the point of rage that he had reached. I am bound to admit, in all fairness, that I thought he made a very good job of that! Whether he achieved anything else must be open to doubt.
We then plunged into this extraordinary argument about trustworthiness. I cannot remember a government who ever claimed to be entirely trustworthy without anticipating a sharp rebuke, usually from the bottom of the hearts of the British public. I do not think we should have an argument about who is trustworthy and who is not. I believe that governments are not in control of events, although they frequently pretend to be. The unforeseen and unpredictable frequently occur. Therefore the undertakings given by government, in
I go back to the speech made by my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth. I hope that members of the Government Front Bench will be convinced by what my noble friend said that amendments from this side of the House are not prompted by viciousness or a wish to embarrass the Government but by a genuine concern. From that remark I exclude the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn. What I say this afternoon is milder and more restrained because of the speech made by the noble Lord in response to what I said last time I spoke in these debates.
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