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Lord Chalfont: My Lords, I rise to give my wholehearted support to the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit. Some of my noble friends have asked me to explain why I support this amendment so firmly and wholeheartedly. I owe to the House the obligation of explaining why I do so.
This amendment can almost be described as the "last-chance saloon". If it is not accepted by the House, the only logical alternative for those who object to the Bill is to vote against it on the Question, "That the Bill do now pass". Some noble Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, would welcome that and I believe that many noble Lords will suggest it when the time comes. I have difficulty with that procedure. I feel that there is an intellectual and logical problem in a House which passes a Bill on Second Reading and then rejects it at Third Reading, when all that has happened to it in the mean time is that some concessions have been made by the Government.
Having said that, I have great sympathy with those now pressing the case for the Bill to be rejected. That is why this amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, is so important. I hope that neither the noble Lord, Lord Peston, nor anyone else will say that this is a sixth-form debating society or a sixth-form debating point. It is a vital point. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, has said that he does not mind delay. That is what the amendment proposes. It does not propose that the Bill be rejected, nor that the principle of the removal of the hereditary peerage should be reneged upon, but simply that it should be delayed for a period. I regard that as a very serious constitutional point.
Before I go any further, perhaps I should make one interjection into my general argument. It is especially relevant to the fact that this amendment has been tabled by a Conservative Peer. One of the things about which I am sorry is that the Conservative government, when they were in power, did not take some steps towards reforming this House. Had they done so, we should not be in the mess in which we now are. Let there be no two ways nor mealy-mouthed talking about this: the whole of this Bill, everything concerned with it and the additions around it are a mess. It is a greater mess than anything I have seen in my 35 years in your Lordships' House. I have to make that point. I am sorry that when the Conservative Party was in office it did not do what in my view it should have done; that is, adopt an orderly, civilised, long-term approach to the problem.
I also believe that the Government and the governing party have lost a great deal of sympathy by the way in which they have handled this Bill. At the beginning, some people--not too far from where I stand at the moment--felt a certain sympathy for the new Labour Party and the new Labour Government and for the things which they were trying to achieve. However, I believe that the Bill, and the way in which it has been handled, has destroyed, abated and dispersed a great deal of that sympathy. That is a great shame because it could have been handled in a much more orderly and civilised manner.
I believe it is not going too far to say that hereditary Peers are being treated in an almost humiliating way. They are being cast out at the drop of a hat with no right to return here even, as far as we can see, for a cup of tea or to read a book in the Library; they will be without any kind of redress. Suddenly, families which have had an association with this House for hundreds of years are to be cut off. That is all right. That is what the Bill and the government policy intend. However, I believe that some noble Lords will agree with me when I say that the matter could have been handled in a more civilised, orderly and sensitive way. I, for one, am sad that that has not been the case.
This amendment now gives us an opportunity to stand back at a little distance, with all the experience that we have had of the debates on the Bill, and take advantage of whatever advice is given to us by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, when his Royal Commission reports, and to look at things in a new light.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that we should not pre-empt the Wakeham report in any part of this legislation. As the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, and my noble friend Lord Clifford of Chudleigh have already said, the whole point of this Bill is to pre-empt the Wakeham Commission. I believe that it is very odd to give to a distinguished Member of this House the commission to decide upon, or at least to recommend upon, the long-term future of this House and, while he is still in the middle of it, to take steps to alter the House in a constitutionally profound and radical way. That appears to me to be totally illogical and wrong.
As I said before during this debate, I believe that this is a bad Bill. I do not like the Bill at all. I wish it had never come into the House. I want to see it defeated in one way or another. I have already said that to throw it out at Third Reading for many reasons, including one that I have mentioned, is probably not the ideal solution. In my view the ideal solution is to do what the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, asks us to do; that is, to agree that the Bill should come into force not at the end of the Session but at the end of the Parliament. That is an important difference, of course, but it does nothing to undermine the Labour Party's manifesto nor to undermine its right and obvious determination to change the nature of this House. That is why I give this amendment my wholehearted support.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, before I address myself to the arguments of my noble friend Lord Tebbit, I suggest that, during the course of what I have to say, noble Lords should remember the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, and that those remarks should run as a sort of leitmotif through what I have to say in the next few moments.
I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, let the cat out of the bag. It was extremely interesting that so authoritative a figure as the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, approved so loudly, although from a sedentary position, of the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, when he said that he would welcome this Bill returning to its original form. In view of the majority which pertains down the Corridor, I hope that my noble friends will remember the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett.
I agree wholeheartedly with the analysis of my noble friend Lord Tebbit, speaking particularly as he does--and has done so often in the past--as something of an expert in the ways of Labour governments. If I understood him aright, my noble friend had divided his argument into two main parts. The first part was an elegant restatement--certainly far more elegant than I have ever managed during what have seemed to be endless debates in your Lordships' House on this subject--and reasoning behind that rather inelegant slogan which I believe I coined, it seems aeons ago: no stage one without stage two. I am pleased to find that my noble friend and I agree wholly on that slogan. The Government would have been very wise indeed to have followed it. In fact, as the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said, if we had done so, without any question we should not have been in the mess that we are in today.
During the course of his restatement of why this is the wrong way to approach reform of your Lordships' House, I do not believe that my noble friend made the connection--if I may venture to suggest with the greatest of respect to him--which flowed from a number of the reasons he gave for saying that we should return to insisting upon that. The first reason was--and it is again one with which I agree--that it would have been very much better to have waited for the results of the Royal Commission before deciding on reform of your Lordships' House. I do not believe that anyone on this side of the House will disagree with
I also agree with my noble friend's suggestion that there was an inequity in depriving a number of your Lordships of the implied benefits of sitting in this House. That was the counter-party to their not being allowed to vote for membership of another place or, indeed, to stand for membership of another place.
If the Bill passes in its present form, there will be a period--perhaps 18 months or two years--during which many of us who are not fortunate enough to sit in this House will be represented nowhere in Parliament until the next general election. That, of course, is self-evidently true. However, I am well aware that the argument which I am about to put to my noble friend will not be one that he will find enormously seductive. In many ways, neither do I. But recently I was privileged, if that is the right word, to sit on the Committee for Privileges. It was put forcibly that a breach existed on this very point under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Your Lordships will be aware that the three noble and learned Lords who served on that committee and guided us, as lay-members, were very clear that the margin of appreciation doctrine made that point invalid because of the relatively short period between the passage of the Bill and the next general election.
I am well aware that my noble friend is, if anything, even more sceptical than I am about some of the effects of the ECHR on our own parliamentary system. Nevertheless, it seems that it is difficult for us to argue that point when it is governed by something to which we have already signed up.
Both those points carry enormous weight with, I should think, all of my noble friends. They certainly do so with me and clearly have persuaded my noble friend. They are supplementary arguments to the perfectly obvious point that we should not undertake a reform of your Lordships' House stage by stage but that the matter should be undertaken in one fell swoop.
This is where my noble friend's argument about the unreliability of the Government comes in. He is self-evidently right, again. This Government are profoundly unreliable. We know that they are extremely cavalier--I put it no higher--in the way in which they deal with constitutional matters. I need lay only one example before your Lordships. Your Lordships will remember that the Government had no scruples about indulging in two pre-legislative referendums before introducing in this House devolution legislation for Scotland and Wales. We know equally that both those referendums were rigged. I have no doubt that the Scottish result would have differed little, even if it had not been rigged. I wish I could say the same about the Welsh referendum.
We also know that the effect of this constitutional outrage of pre-legislative referendums is clear. It emasculates the will of Parliament to give proper scrutiny to constitutional legislation. We know that that is yet another example, which is even more
However, I would say to my noble friend that the Government decided to change your Lordships' House in at least two stages; possibly more. I am highly sceptical as to whether stage two will appear for some time. However, that is no more than idle speculation. We also know that we are presented with a Government who have a vast majority in another place. The Government are utterly determined, no matter what happens, to get this Bill through in one form or another whether we like it or not. The Government Front Bench in your Lordships' House has made that clear beyond peradventure more times than I care to remember.
I do not trust the Government, although I have the greatest respect for the people in it. However, as a government--not as individuals--I do not trust them further than I can spit, and that is not far with a dry mouth. It is for that very reason, that they are unreliable, that we have two guarantees that there will be a powerful incentive for the Government not to remain with an entirely nominated House. The first is that the Bill will have to return here from another place. If they break their agreement--which they have not so far--and we have kept our side of the bargain, I, for one, would have no hesitation in doing my best to ensure that the revised Bill, in the form which the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, and, I dare say, most of the Labour Party, would like to see it, as amended, is thrown out. I remind my noble friend that your Lordships will still be in a position to do that.
My second point is that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, will recognise that in spite of the overwhelming force down the corridor, we have at least managed to persuade the Government, in however inadequate a form, to proceed to stage two. I am no defender of what the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, kindly and probably quite wrongly attributed to me as author of the Weatherill amendment. It is far from perfect. However, it is at least some inducement to a government which have, over and again, said how much they dislike the idea of hereditary Peers, to proceed to stage two if only to get rid of the provision for the 92 Peers which your Lordships have ensured is inserted in the Bill. That is not a copper-bottomed guarantee, but at least it is inducement for them to proceed to stage two.
I apologise to the House for taking so long. Of course my noble friend is right in his analysis: the Government are unreliable. He is right about no stage one without stage two. However, the truth of the matter is that unless we can hang on to what we have, the Government will ensure--with the greatest of pleasure, I am certain--that the desires of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, will be satisfied.
I make clear that if in any way attempts are made to alter the composition of the Bill or its timing, certainly I and, I imagine my noble friend Lord Barnett and many others, will feel entirely relieved of our obligations to support the compromise which we have steadily supported all the way through and will continue to do so as long as no change is made. From the murmurs of assent of my noble friends, I see that perhaps I carry one or two of them with me.
I should like, therefore, to reinforce the comments of the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. The gloves are off. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, always manages to take them off. However, he usually makes a rather stronger argument. He does not normally have to bring in, in defence of his case, Ken Livingstone on a matter regarding the procedure for selecting candidates in the Labour Party. I am sorry to say that that only goes to show how weak his case was on this occasion. There were not even those flashes of humour which I normally associate with him and much like and respect. Perhaps I may say that it was not the best speech I have heard from him. I doubt if he thinks he has a case.
Frankly, the only case he has is, "I don't like the Bill. I am going to use every stratagem and scrape I can in order to delay it". That is his only argument. I am sorry to say that I do not agree with him. I shall use what power and influence I have, which is very little, I am bound to say. I shall certainly use my vote and my influence, if I have any, with those in another place to stick to the original Bill. That is my position and it always has been. It has always been the position of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. We will stick to our view on these matters.
If noble Lords opposite feel that it is worth their while to preserve the 92 Members in order that we should then proceed to a sensible reconstruction of this Chamber--which I hope we will have; I put my views to the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, several months ago--they will not attempt to delay the Bill or to mutilate it in any form. If they do not think it is worth their while preserving the 92 Members and proceeding on that basis to a reconstruction, they will vote against the Bill. Those of us who try to have some influence on the Government know what we will do if they do that. The Government should then return to the original Bill and put it through under the Parliament Act. We
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