§ (". The purpose of this Act is to create a more legitimate and more democratic House of Lords.")
§ The noble and learned Lord said: In moving this amendment, with the leave of the Committee I shall speak also to Amendment No. 4 and Amendment No. 5 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, with which my amendments are grouped.
§ Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 raise the issue of whether it would be desirable to have a purpose clause on the face of the Bill. These amendments seek to probe the Government's general attitude to such a suggestion and to the specific purposes incorporated in the amendments tabled in my name and that of my noble friends.
§ The desirability of Bills containing purpose clauses is a topic which arises from time to time as individual Bills undertake their legislative passage through your Lordships' Chamber. Indeed, the whole topic was the subject of an Unstarred Question asked by my noble friend Lord Renton which led to a short debate taking place in your Lordships' Chamber back in January of last year.
As many Members of the Committee will be aware, purpose clauses, or statements of purpose or principle as they are sometimes referred to, were the subject of a recommendation of the Committee on the Preparation of Legislation chaired by my noble friend Lord Renton many years ago. Recommendation 15 of that report was in the following terms:
Statements of purpose:
It is important to note that when considering this topic and making a recommendation about it, the members of the Renton committee were concerned not only with the scope of the legislation but also with its effect. It may be said by the Government in response that the scope of this Bill is limited. No doubt it could be said that all that this Bill does is to end the membership of the House of Lords,
by virtue of a hereditary peerage"—
§ Clause 1—and, furthermore, enact certain other minor provisions consequential on that change. I readily concede that on one view the scope of the Bill could be accurately described in such narrow terms. But when the possible effects of this Bill are considered, it is an entirely different matter. The potential effects of the Bill are far more difficult to identify and define. Whatever the difficulty in doing so, the need to do so is of paramount importance. It is not merely what this Bill states that is of significance. The topics it does not deal with are of almost equal importance. It is because of that that it can confidently be said that if there was ever a Bill where the effects of the proposed legislation are uncertain, this is such a Bill.1060
§ On any objective view of the situation, independent observers have every reason to be concerned as to what the ultimate effects of the Bill will be. That is why the questions arise sharply, first, whether there is a need for a purpose clause and, if so, what they should contain.
There are a number of possible reasons why there is concern about what the potential effects of the Bill may turn out to be. First, the Bill is being presented to Parliament as the first stage, but not the only stage, of a major reform of your Lordships' House. It is presented in paragraph 20, Chapter 2 of the White Paper as a first step in the process of reform,
But it is far from the only reform necessary".
§ On that basis, it brings about a change in our constitutional arrangements which is not designed to be permanent, however long it may last. Secondly, there are different schools of thought as to how long we will have to wait for stage two to come along.
§ The Bill's enactment will bring into being a transitional House which is to be of unknown duration. The transitional House is referred to in such terms in the White Paper in not a little detail in Chapter 6, but finds no mention whatsoever in the provisions of the Bill itself. No one can say for how long the transitional House will exist, because, while the Bill's parliamentary passage is taking place in tandem with the work of the Royal Commission, which has been set a very tight timetable, no similar timetable has been identified, let alone accepted, by the Government as to when the stage 2 proposals will come forward in the form of a Bill which will effectively bring the transitional House to an end.
§ A third reason is that the White Paper acknowledges that the transitional House will have a different complexion in addition to a different composition. The White Paper is right to do so, even though there remains a measure of uncertainty as to whether or not the Bill will include a Weatherill amendment, in whatever form such an amendment may take. However, having highlighted the fact that the House will have a different complexion, the White Paper fails to address the consequences of that different complexion. Somewhat naively, it limits its discussion of the functions of the transitional House to a very bald statement that those functions will continue to be to question Ministers and to give its consent to, and where appropriate to revise, legislation. There is no other discussion of what the powers and functions of the House should be and, most important of all, how they might be exercised.
§ I doubt whether any Members of the Committee believe that if hereditary Peers are no longer to take part in our deliberations the House of Lords will function as it does at present. In the light of the reasons that the Government themselves have put forward for ending the rights of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in the House, is it not perfectly possible that the transitional House will feel that it is much more democratic and more legitimate than the House as presently constituted? If Members of the transitional House were to think in such terms, would they not be justified in doing so, because, if they did, that would accord with various statements made by Government Ministers in support of the Bill?1061
I refer in particular to what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said on Second Reading. When referring to hereditary Peers who might remain in the House in the event of the incorporation of the Weatherill amendment, he said that such hereditary Peers would have a greater authority, because they would be elected by the whole of the hereditary peerage within their party. The Leader of the House, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, said, when we were debating reform of the House of Lords, back in October last year:
any change which produces a fairer balance … must make this House more democratic.
§ I suggest that, armed with such support from such strong quarters, members of a transitional House may well feel that they have more democratic right, more democratic legitimacy, than is sometimes accorded to Members of the House of Lords at present.
§ Against that background, when another place approved the Bill without any amendment to its terms, was that what its Members intended should be among the consequences of the Bill becoming law? Is it suggested that when the Bill passed through another place that place accepted that at least some Members of the House of Lords would be entitled to consider that they had a greater authority than they enjoy now? If a transitional House accepts that such a view may be held in the future, does not that raise very sharply the question of whether the Bill should leave the House of Lords without clarification as to whether it would be right to do so?
§ There is a further reason for suggesting that a purpose clause would be valuable. Many hold the view that over many years the hereditary Peers have formed one of the more important independent elements of the House of Lords, if not, indeed, the most significant element. That element has to be removed in furtherance of the manifesto commitment about which we have heard so much. When that happens, is it possible that those Members who remain in the transitional House will seek to compensate for the removal of that important independent element? If they do, and if they seek to flex their parliamentary muscles in doing so, how is another place likely to react? Again, that is a matter that should be clarified to guard against the risk, spoken to so fully by my noble friend Lord Waddington, this afternoon, that a purely nominated House might be subject to ultimate control by the executive of the day.
§ A final reason for suggesting uncertainty requiring to be clarified is to be found in Chapter 7 of the White Paper, which discusses what the stage two House might look like, how it might be composed and what powers and functions it might have. In that chapter there is a theme which has found some support among a number of Members of the House of Lords—that although the House might have an increased legitimacy, that might be accompanied by a reduction in its powers. I do not seek to pre-empt the outcome of that debate, because it is likely to be a long and stimulating one, which will not be resolved until after the Royal Commission has 1062 reported and the Joint Committee of both Houses has met and considered what form stage two reform might take. But if there were to be any suggestion that a transitional House might have reduced powers, and that came to be accepted over the next year or two, or possibly longer, that would inevitably have consequences for how the debate about the stage two House would fall to be resolved.
§ For those reasons it is important that this issue be addressed, and now. Accordingly, these amendments have been tabled in the hope that the Government will indicate whether they think it would be valuable to have a purpose clause in the Bill, and, more important, in order to give the Government an opportunity to indicate where they stand on a number of the issues on which Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 focus.
§ Do the Government accept that the transitional House will be more legitimate and democratic than the House as presently constituted? Do they accept that the composition of the transitional House will increase the independence of Parliament, and in particular the independence of this House from the Government of the day? Do they accept that the transitional House will enjoy an enhanced ability to scrutinise legislation and to hold the executive to account?
§ In the hope that these questions will be answered, I beg to move.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ The Earl of Onslow
I am delighted to see the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, back on the Front Bench, wearing imperial purple, which will thrill all our hearts.
The Bill before us is quite extraordinary in that the Government have in effect agreed to a wrecking amendment. By that I mean that the Bill has been completely changed by the Weatherill amendment. I welcome this, because the original Bill was a bad Bill. The Weatherill amendment has made it a very considerably better Bill.
Everything that I shall say during the Committee stage will, I hope, ensure that any influence that I have is exercised so that the Bill will be a much better Bill, so that if peradventure—or "Events, dear boy" as Harold Macmillan used to say—it is possible or probable that there is no stage two then when stage one goes through the House of Lords it results in a Bill and a House of Lords which can do their job and stand the test of time. It is well known to the Committee that I have always been a reformer and have wanted reform. I shall not go anywhere near any ditch for the hereditary Peerage. We have passed our sell-by date. I want to make that absolutely clear yet again. I shall probably have to make that point again and again, otherwise I shall be accused of feathering my own nest.
Another interesting aspect of the Bill is that the powers which your Lordships have are considerable. But when we have been reformed, even under stage one, those powers will be used much more legitimately. I say "hoorah" to that because I see nothing wrong in the House of Commons saying that it will invoke the Parliament Act. That is what it is there for. If the House of Commons does not agree with us digging in our toes 1063 when we are reformed, so be it. It will be said, "We do not agree with the Lords and we are prepared to stand up in public and justify our use of the Parliament Act". The Commons will not be able to use the excuse that it is all those Earls, Marquises and Dukes of ancient lineage coming out of the woodwork because they will not be in the woodwork. Most of the active Peers will still be here. That is the glory of what my noble friend Lord Cranborne has done: he has kept the majority of the hereditary active Peers here, or probably 60 per cent. of them. That is a marvellous deal and that is why I describe it as a wrecking amendment. Any government who are prepared to accept a wrecking amendment to their own Bill must surely be congratulated on the wisdom and foresight of their behaviour. I mean that with a slight sense of irony but, equally, totally genuinely.
Let us say that, peradventure, stage one passes and, probably even less likely, there is a Tory government at the next election. Good God, a Tory government will have trouble with this House compared with the position in the past. I suggest that that is good. That is why we need a purpose clause: to make clear what we want from the House of Lords. I suggest that it should not be a democratically-elected House because that would impose seriously upon the will of the House of Commons. It should be a House of influence; a House of the powerful; and a House of the great and the good.
The reason for that is that we shall have legitimacy but not democratic power. The House of Commons is the chamber of the commonality. It is the Chamber of geographical regions. It is from there that it draws its power, and long may that be so. That has been the case in our constitution since the Middle Ages. This House is the Chamber of the influential.
I want a purpose clause. I do not know whether this is the right one. In my small way, I shall try to make sure that any amendment in my name makes the appointment to this House more transparent and more open to criticism and that it represents, where it can, real power and influence so that it has legitimacy. Stage one may last for many years. I do not in any way accuse the Government Front Bench of being anything other than completely sincere in wanting a stage two, but "events, dear boy, events", intervene. Therefore it is essential that stage one can stand alone and it is perfectly all right for the House, under stage one, to continue for the next 25 years. That is why it is essential to have a purpose clause.
I hope that the Government will accept that. They may not agree with the wording of this amendment, but I ask them to accept the need for a purpose clause which sets out what we want from the House of Lords. That is what I want.
§ The Earl of Longford
I oppose this amendment. I am a strong supporter of democratic principles applied to the House of Commons. I suppose that everybody here is a democrat in that sense. Churchill said that democracy is not a very good system but anything else is much worse. Therefore, for the House of Commons, let us accept that democracy reigns supreme.
1064 The last speech seemed a bit dubious about democracy. I do not know which side the noble Earl was on in relation to democracy. But in my opinion, democracy does not apply to a place like this. If the Bill goes through and the hereditary Peers are no longer with us, what shall we have? We shall have a group of highly qualified persons—bishops, judges, leading ex-government officials, former Cabinet Ministers and many high-minded, well-qualified persons who have not been elected. It would be an appalling tragedy were we to have an elected Chamber. What should we have here then? We should have the dregs of politics—people who could not get into the European Parliament. That is the last thing we want.
We want a highly-qualified, high-minded House. We have that to some extent now. I support the Bill. Do not let us talk about democracy any more in that connection, please.
§ Lord Northbourne
I rise to speak to Amendment No. 5 which is grouped with this amendment. In doing so, I assure the Committee that, with typical Cross-Bench independence, I did not consult the Opposition; nor do I intend my amendment in any way to be in opposition to the Government. I hope that it may be helpful.
Also, I have no pride of authorship and if the Government prefer the opposition amendment or if they would prefer to take away and consider the idea of a purpose or object clause to reword it, I should be more than happy with that.
I was greatly impressed when I listened to and read the enormous number of speeches which have been made over the past four days on this subject. It seemed to me that two clear themes emerged: first, the vast majority of speakers from all sides of the House agreed that the days of the hereditary Peerage were, alas, over. But I was impressed by the selflessness with which so many hereditary Peers expressed that view, which is obviously to the detriment of their own personal enjoyment of serving with your Lordships.
I do not know whether the Government are trying to get the Bill through by consensus or whether, in the end, they want to be seen to be carrying a flaming sword against the anathema of the hereditary Peerage. But if they want consensus, it seems to me that those speeches indicate that they are pushing at an open door; that a consensus is within their grasp if they are prepared to make concessions. Indeed, by implying that there will be a concession in relation to the Weatherill amendment, they have gone a long way down that road. I believe that some sort of object or purpose clause would help in that regard.
I shall tell the Committee why that is so. The second common theme which I noticed in so many of those speeches was a genuine concern—and in most cases I believe it was not just a delaying tactic but a genuine concern—about what comes after the hereditaries. Will the House be as good and in the best interests of Parliament and the people? It is interesting that in those speeches more than half the speakers were concerned 1065 about the reality of the Government's commitment to retaining this Chamber as an effective revising Chamber and as a check on the executive.
They fear that the Government's ultimate objective is to have a rubber stamp. I confess that I share that fear. I hasten to say that that is not because I impugn for a moment the integrity and sincerity of Ministers on the Front Bench. But in the end, when push comes to shove, will the Government be able to deliver? When phase two is on the table, will the Prime Minister and his Cabinet want and accept a solution which retains and enhances the powers of this House? Will they not feel that such a Chamber may inhibit their ability to do all the good things that they plan for this country. I know, in the field of families and children, that wonderful things are being done. Will they not be tempted, at the last moment, to prefer a rubber stamp?
The second critical question is whether, even if it can be got through the Cabinet, it can be got through another place. As I see it, the purpose of an object clause is to place on the face of the Bill some of the commitments which have been made verbally to this House. I suggest that an object clause could go some way to calm the very reasonable fears and anxieties, particularly of noble Lords opposite and those on the Cross-Benches, which have been expressed in those speeches.
I believe that an object clause does not conflict with the Weatherill agreement. I also believe that in any business it is good practice to have an object clause. When that clause goes back to the other place I believe that it will help to clarify their views and thinking. Finally, I believe that an object clause will help the Government to get this Bill through by consensus, if that is what they want to do.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
I support Amendments Nos. 3, 4 or 5. They seem to do roughly the same thing. I did not speak on Second Reading partly because there were so many speakers and I was not quite sure whether I could stand the pace until three o'clock in the morning. To that extent I apologise to the House for not having taken part.
I hope that the Government will take very seriously the notion that there should be a purpose clause in this Bill of all Bills because there can be no justification whatsoever for doing anything to this House if it does not make it more legitimate and democratic and if it does not increase its independence and ability to scrutinise legislation and to hold the executive to account. That must be the purpose of a Bill such as this. If the Bill is not about that, I hope that it is not simply about the vindictive act of removing hereditary Peers because the Government believe that the Left-wing of their party does not like hereditary Peers. I do not believe that that is what they are trying to do; they are trying to improve this House. If the Government are doing that they must accept a purpose clause of this kind. This is a serious and important amendment. I hope that we shall not hear the Government say that they do 1066 not want a purpose clause of this kind because if they do they will be admitting something which I hope is not true.
Lord Bruce of Donington
I would like to deal briefly with Amendment No. 4. It seeks to insert, before the commencement of the Bill, what the noble Lord described as an "objects clause". The amendment states,The purpose of this Act is to increase the independence of Parliament and to enhance its ability to scrutinise legislation and to hold the executive to account".I read the Bill as doing nothing of the kind. Its purpose is to abolish the hereditary peerage. The Bill seems to me to do that adequately. I have been in the party for a long time—namely, for the past 65 years—and since that time the objective of getting rid of the hereditary peers has always been on the cards. The Bill is quite simple and I do not see the need to argue with it.
There is another reason on which I am bound to address the Committee and it is intimately linked with the question of independence, which this Bill does not affect. I sincerely hope that your Lordships' House will give this Bill a speedy passage and that it will reach the statute book with the minimum of delay. But it should not be done with any illusion that it is enhancing the independence of Parliament.
We shall spend hours and hours discussing this Bill and while doing so the independence of the English Parliament is disappearing week by week. To me the language of priorities is the religion of socialism, which is how I came into the party to begin with. As regards the independence of Parliament this Bill has no relevance at all. It has no relevance to the real priorities that need to be addressed in our country. Every week at least two pieces of European legislation go through Parliament without scrutiny by the scrutiny committees in either House; without even the Government reading them or the Prime Minister knowing about them. Such legislation goes through week after week.
Parliamentary reform in its broadest sense is dealt with in the Government's very good memorandum on the subject. I sincerely hope that we proceed with sufficient speed, particularly with modernising the regulations and the scrutiny machinery, with the bureaucracy being required to inform people of the truth instead of trying to pull the wool over their eyes. If that is done quickly it may well be worth while.
I am well aware that Members of the Committee know my views on this subject. I have had the indulgence of the House for a long time, particularly that of my own Front Bench. But I say to them that all this constitutional paraphernalia on which we are now engaged, and on which I believe we shall be engaged for weeks, raises very little relevant to the real needs of our country in terms of the relief of poverty and the gross inequalities of income and status. I hope that that will be borne in mind at some time or other.
I support the Bill and I wish it Godspeed. I hope that it will enable us to attend to the nation's real concerns and problems when it is passed.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
Not for the first time I find myself very much in agreement with the noble 1067 Earl, Lord Onslow, as to what we need in the form of a second Chamber and the spirit in which we should frame amendments. But I doubt whether too much importance is being placed on a purpose clause. On the Government Front Bench there is the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate and on the opposite Bench his predecessor. There is also the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, a former chairman of the Bar Council. My conception is that the only objective and service of a purpose clause is as an aid to interpretation, and that only arises if there is ambiguity in the Bill and the ultimate statute. As the Bill stands, I cannot descry any ambiguity. No doubt some of the proposed amendments might introduce some, but I hope that we shall have ironed out any possible misunderstandings by the time this Bill leaves your Lordships' House.
There are three purpose clauses—if the Committee believes that we need one—before us. I prefer Amendment No. 4. Amendment No. 3 uses the word "democratic" which has been very loosely canvassed during discussions on this issue. "Democratic" has been taken to be virtually equivalent to "elected". We hear about the democratic Chamber meaning that it is the elected Chamber. But democracy goes far beyond that. A society is democratic in so far as that the mass of the people can influence the decisions which affect them. Representative government is only one. A far more important one is to vouchsafe the decision actually to the people themselves. Whatever else one might think of Thatcherism, at least that was done under the previous government.
My other objection is to the word "legitimate". Again, it seems to be considered that the only legitimacy is that conferred by election. But a constitution or part of a constitution is legitimate in so far as it serves a valid constitutional purpose. I confess that I find the hereditary principle perfectly easy to accept within that conception. It has served this country admirably for many years and I strongly agree with what I believe was implied by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow; namely, that an hereditary element is an independent element. What we should be seeking throughout the proceedings on the Bill is a strong and independent second Chamber where the first is always bound to a great extent to be subservient to the executive.
When I entered the other place nearly half a century ago, the three rising stars on the Benches opposite were the son of Mr. Arthur Greenwood, Viscount Stansgate (Commander Wedgwood Benn, just previously) and the son of Mr. Alderman Jenkins. That does—does it not?—say something for heredity. It would be idle to pretend that political ability is genetically transmitted, but I think that it is well established now that intelligence and intellect are genetically transmitted. What happens is that certain people grow up in an atmosphere of political culture.
When I was in the other place, I was a member of the One Nation Group. By far the most commanding intellect there was Mr. Enoch Powell, but his was not the best political judgment. Indeed, the best political judgment was made by a member of the group who belonged to a wide-ranging political family who 1068 automatically, almost instinctively, arrived at a wise political decision. I hope that it will not be embarrassing if I mention that we should not close our eyes to the fact that two of the most distinguished Members of your Lordships' House, two Members who have contributed as much as anyone, are sons of the House of Cecil and the House of Russell.
If we are to have a purpose clause—and I somewhat doubt whether it would have any real value—I hope that noble Lords will adopt Amendment No. 4 which expresses the aspiration which we should have in these deliberations.
§ Lord Haskel
From the speeches that we have already heard, it appears to me that if we do agree to a purpose clause it will just open the floodgates and there will be an unstoppable flow of purposes. After all, up until now, my noble friend has suggested that the purpose clause should contain references to socialism; the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, suggested that we should refer to independence; and the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, suggested that the purpose clause should refer to democracy. If we accept some sort of purpose clause, it seems to me that we will never agree on what it should be. I feel that the Bill itself is absolutely clear in that respect and does not require such a clause. Therefore, I do not support the amendment.
§ 6.15 p.m.
The Earl of Caithness
I am a firm supporter of a strong second Chamber. Whatever may be the complexion of a second Chamber, it must be able to defeat the government of the day in another place in order to ask them to think again. I agree with much of what my noble friend Lord Onslow said about a revised Chamber: it may well cause a Conservative government more trouble. Goodness knows, this House caused me enough trouble in the 1980s and early 1990s. Indeed, if it had caused me any more trouble, it might have shortened my life considerably more than it did.
It is for that reason that I think a purpose clause is necessary. Having read the excellent report of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, it seems to me that he has set out some very cogent reasons why a purpose clause is necessary for a revised second Chamber. It is also important because the revised Chamber that we are discussing will last for a considerable length of time. Although remarks have been made about it by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, when speaking to the first amendment, there is no doubting the fact that there has never been a problem in this Chamber with reforming this House; indeed, the problems have always occurred in the other place. I believe that the Government will be pleasantly surprised by the attitude of hereditary Peers when we come to discuss reform. Any trouble with phase two reform will not be here but in another place, as has always been the case. For that reason, this Bill must be as perfect as possible because I can see it lasting many years into the future. That is why, to my mind, a purpose clause is essential.
1069 Of the three purpose clauses now before us—and there is of course a fourth one, as set out in Amendment No. 9—I prefer the one suggested in Amendment No. 4. I was surprised by what the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, said. I have agreed with him so much in the past and I am sure I will do so in the future. I should have thought that he would have liked Amendment No. 4. I say that because in the future I foresee this House scrutinising European legislation much more thoroughly than it has been able to do in the past. I give way to the noble Lord.
Lord Bruce of Donington
I thank the noble Earl for allowing me to intervene. If he reads the amendment carefully, he will see that it refers to "Parliament" and not specifically to the House of Lords.
The Earl of Caithness
Indeed, the noble Lord is right. I prefer Amendment No. 4, and was dealing with the independence point because I wish to stress the fact that this House should be more independent and should be able to take a more independent view on Europe. However, that will depend very much on how its composition is made up in the future. I believe that that will he the key amendment on which we will need to spend some time in the days to come. However much we would like to have a strong and independent second Chamber, we shall not get one unless we ensure that we get the composition right. For that reason, I believe it most important for us to have a purpose clause of some sort.
§ Lord Bach
When the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, moved what he described as a probing amendment, I did not feel that his heart was really in it. If ever a Bill did not require a purpose clause, it seems to me that it is this short, unambiguous and straightforward Bill. Moreover, if one is looking for its purpose, it is clearly set out in the Long Title. Perhaps Members of the Committee will forgive me if I remind them that the Long Title refers to the fact that this is a Bill:To end membership of the House of Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage; to make related provision about disqualifications for voting at elections to, and for membership of, the House of Commons; and for connected purposes".I give way to the noble Earl.
§ The Earl of Onslow
Surely this particular plan has been kyboshed by the Weatherill amendment; indeed, there will be 92 of us jumping up and down. We will be doing so as hereditaries and for no other reason, except that we will be elected and you will not!
§ Lord Bach
I look forward to the discussion of Amendment No. 31 just as much as the noble Earl. However, we are not discussing that today. We are discussing this amendment early in this Committee stage. It seems to me that it would be quite wrong to have a purpose clause for so straightforward a Bill as this. I am delighted that there is support for my view from someone as distinguished as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. He, if anyone, should know which Bills require purpose clauses and which do 1070 not. As a probing amendment I think it has value. However, if it were to be taken really seriously, I believe it would damage the Bill a great deal.
§ Lord Northbourne
Before the noble Lord sits down, does he not agree that the Government's manifesto stated that this would be the first stage in a process of reform to make the House of Lords more democratic and representative? If it is the first stage in a process of reform, it is part of that process of reform. Therefore the word "democratic" is perfectly legitimately used in all these amendments, if I may say so.
§ Lord Bach
I am grateful for that intervention. I believe that the important words are "first stage". This is a distinct first stage in the long overdue reform of this Chamber. It would be quite wrong therefore to confuse it with the second stage which, of course, will come later and I hope quite soon. I hope that I stick by the convention in saying that in my opinion it would be wrong to make a simple, short Bill such as this have a purpose clause. Where on earth would it end? I believe that would be a mistake.
§ Lord Crickhowell
I understand why the noble Lord who has just spoken does not particularly like this probing clause as it exposes the total vacuum at the heart of this short and simple Bill. As so often, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, gave us a powerful reason why we should perhaps not have a clause of this kind written into the Bill. However, my noble and learned friend who moved the amendment moved it as a probing amendment. As a probing amendment it has already proved extremely valuable. A little earlier we heard from one of the great independent figures in either Chamber; namely, the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, who added to his desire that the Bill should proceed speedily on its way, the hope that other things might then happen. However, the trouble is that we have absolutely no evidence that something will happen which will put a sensible constitutional settlement on the table.
Clearly the Government cannot object to a statement that this Bill is designed to create a more legitimate Chamber because they have repeatedly given that as a reason for introducing this simple Bill. One would like to think that they perhaps favoured a more democratic Chamber. However, it has already been pointed out that this will certainly not be in the interim a more democratic Chamber. Some of us who sit in this Chamber have at least on frequent occasions fought and won elections and served in government. But even we are here because we have been nominated. There are others I see in this Chamber who have frequently fought elections but never won them. However, they have also come to this Chamber because they have been nominated. There are others, who are perhaps more worthy than any of us, whose breadth of experience, contribution to public life, wisdom and skill have led them to be appointed to this Chamber. However, I believe that none can claim to be here as representatives of an 1071 enhanced democracy, although I take the point that was made about the nature of democracy. It is hard to see that we are particularly legitimate on those grounds alone.
As for the suggestion that we should increase the independence of Parliament and enhance its ability to scrutinise legislation, that, I believe, is one of the key objectives that we should have, as I said during the Second Reading debate. The trouble is I am not sure that the Government like independence and I am pretty certain that they do not much care for the close scrutiny of their legislation. We have seen that time and time again.
There are those who argue that the best solution would be a wholly elected Chamber. I profoundly disagree with that assertion because I fear that we would finish up with a mirror image of the present House of Commons, with all its shortcomings, and a Chamber which would be far from independent and would lack the breadth of wisdom, skill, knowledge and experience that is the great strength of this Chamber at the present time.
I think the best solution will probably be a Chamber that contains a part elected element but a considerable number of others who come here because of their breadth of skill, wisdom and experience. However, that is for debate on a later occasion. That is the problem that we confront throughout our debates on this Bill. We have a phase one that leaves us in a vacuum and with no idea of what is to come in phase two for the good reason that the Government do not have the smallest idea of what is to come in phase two and are desperately hoping that the Royal Commission will come up with some solution that they will find acceptable and which will be widely accepted by others.
It seems to me that in moving this amendment my noble and learned friend has done a great service because he has exposed the extraordinary futility of this piece of legislation. Indeed there would be some case for pressing at least one of these amendments because it would then enable us to move a succession of amendments to make this interim Bill a workable Bill, a Bill with a purpose and a Bill which would be of service to the nation rather than leaving us with a Chamber—which we may be left with for a long time—which would be a considerably weaker and less effective Chamber than the one we have at present. I hope that my noble and learned friend will not entirely drop the idea of pressing this amendment, if not today then on some other occasion. For the moment I, for one, am extremely grateful that he has moved it and exposed the futility of the Government's solution.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Viscount Cranborne
Not for the first time I am delighted to follow my noble friend Lord Crickhowell because I too find myself extremely grateful to my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Drumadoon for his splendid idea of moving a probing amendment. Like my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, I believe that the whole Committee may have found, like me, that the past 50 minutes or so have not been exactly a waste of time; they have been extremely revealing.
1072 Of course I am grateful to my noble and learned friend for putting down his probing amendment. However, I find myself in somewhat greater difficulty as to whether I can necessarily agree with at least the terms of Amendment No. 3. Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, I find myself slightly more able to support Amendment No. 4. Before I state the reasons for that, when the Minister replies I hope that he might care to consider two matters. The first is the following. Even if he rejects the need for a purpose amendment—for some obscure reason I believe he may feel inclined to do that—I hope he may feel able to follow an example which is very much deprecated by parliamentary draftsmen in the modern age; namely, of considering a preamble.
During a previous debate this afternoon my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway was kind enough to give a puff to a Private Member's Bill I introduced into your Lordships' House. At the risk of wearying the Committee even further on that admirable piece of legislation I draw attention to the fact that it has a rather old fashioned preamble. I venture to suggest that the merits of the preamble are that it enables the framers of a Bill to set the legislative provisions of the Bill concerned within a wider context.
If I have gathered one thing from the debate today, it is that a number of your Lordships find it difficult to discuss the narrow terms of the Bill without reference to the much broader context of the Government's wider misguided constitutional reforms but in particular what we hope will be the probability of a stage two. It may well be difficult for us within the context of this narrow Bill to refer in a purpose clause to stage two, but it may perhaps be possible to meet the point made so eloquently by a number of your Lordships by thinking in terms of a preamble. In my experience, preambles are rather fun to compose, if only because they enable one to make all kinds of tendentious remarks without getting into trouble with the parliamentary draftsman.
The second point that I should like the Minister to address is on a hypothetical plane. As a number of noble Lords opposite have already pointed out, the Bill in its present form does not include Amendment No. 31. I hope and believe that by the time it leaves your Lordships' House the Bill will include Amendment No. 31, but, as I keep saying, that is for your Lordships to decide. However, I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure me that the Long Title of the Bill, which begins with the words,End membership of the House of Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage",is broadly enough drawn to accommodate Amendment No. 31. If that is so, I shall be greatly reassured. It will mean that the nightmare I remember from my days as a business manager, when something one wanted to do was not permitted by the Long Title of the Bill, will not be facing the Government, who I know from experience are entirely honourable in their intentions to abide by the agreement contained in the Weatherill amendment.
I turn, I hope reasonably briefly, to the substance of the amendments. My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Drumadoon told us that he was talking in terms of a probing amendment only. But it must be right 1073 for your Lordships to view even a probing amendment with something more serious than a purely cavalier approach. We must look at the terms of the amendments as drafted. We have not yet—as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, would have reminded us were he still in his place—adopted the rather more cavalier and Napoleonic habits of legislation to be found on the other side of the Channel.
In Amendment No. 3 it is suggested by my noble and learned friend that the purpose of this Act should be to create a more legitimate and more democratic House of Lords. Again, not for the first time I find myself fully in agreement with the reservations expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. It is at least possible to argue—I put it no higher than that—that it might be desirable for there to be a democratic element in a future upper House. Indeed, I can see myself arguing for at least a partially democratic element in a reformed upper House if by "democratic element" one means at least some of the Members of your Lordships' House or its successor being elected by universal franchise.
My quarrel—I use the word perhaps rather bravely with my noble and learned friend on the Opposition Front Bench—is that nowhere in the Bill as presently drafted—and that is how we must look at it—can I see anything remotely democratic about its provisions. I can therefore only suppose that, with his usual extraordinary perspicacity, my noble and learned friend is trying merely to make the Bill at least consistent with the record of the Government, who, in my observation, have managed with an extraordinary degree of consistency to declare that they were doing one thing and proceeded to introduce provisions in their legislation and their foreign policy action to bring about exactly the opposite. For that reason I can sympathise with my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Drumadoon when he introduces the word "democratic" because it would at least be consistent with the Government's previous record, although I fear that for your Lordships to introduce that degree of consistency would not be serving the purposes of your Lordships' House as a proper revising Chamber.
Equally, I am not entirely clear why a nominated Chamber, even one at least partially nominated by the kind of commission that the Prime Minister has trailed before us for Cross-Bench Peers, is necessarily any more legitimate than a hereditary Chamber. During the course of previous debates I have often ventured to suggest to your Lordships that one could argue that it was rather less legitimate for the purely pragmatic reason that at least people like my noble friend Lord Strathclyde owe their positions here to someone who is dead rather than someone who is still alive. Unless one believes particularly in ghosts, someone who is dead would be unlikely to twist my noble friend's arm in the same way.
That brings me to the question of independence. If I were to introduce yet another smidgen of criticism into what my noble and learned friend has brought forward in Amendment No. 4 and venture extremely nervously to disagree just a little with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, it would be over the assumption implicit in Amendment No. 4 that a 1074 nominated Chamber would necessarily be more independent. I remember being taken to task by no less a person than the noble Lord, Lord Richard, in a previous incarnation for suggesting, or being thought to suggest, that life Peers were any less independent than hereditary Peers. I would be the last to suggest that any Member of your Lordships' House who is a life Peer is in any way less independent. In fact, there is plenty of evidence to show that life Peers have at least as many independent and free spirits among their number as the hereditary Peers.
Perhaps your Lordships will allow me a brief trip down memory lane. When I had the great honour and privilege of being the Leader of your Lordships' House I remember that an inordinate number of people out there seemed to believe that I had some say in who was to become a Peer. I need hardly add that I never in any way attempted to disabuse them of that illusion. That would have been unwise for a highly ambitious politician like myself. I am sure that those of your Lordships who have also enjoyed the privilege of being thought to be in a similar position would have found the same. In spite of being warned that that would happen, I was astonished at the virulence with which the very great, good and respected people who wished to become Peers made it clear that that was the best way in which they could continue to serve the best interests of the country. They did not usually enjoy queueing outside the Leader's room; it was perhaps a little too public. But I have to tell your Lordships that in the Privy Council Office they queued. Not only did they queue; they made it clear that it would be an absolute outrage if they were not made Peers.
Noble Lords may think this unworthy, but I must confess that, when confronted with such a person. male or female, great captains of industry, leaders of thought and opinion from every part of the political spectrum, so I thought, inevitably one's tongue found itself creeping somehow uncontrollably towards one's cheek. One found oneself saying, "Sir (or madam), if you were to sit on the Cross-Benches, which undoubtedly in your position you might feel you had to, how could we rely on your vote?". And, mirabile dictu, almost without exception these people used to say, "Ah, of course, I have always been a Conservative". And they would say, "You know that, don't you?".
Noble Lords will recognise that I knew nothing of the kind. I was astonished at the extraordinary "brass neck" that so many of them displayed, when I knew perfectly well, as they did, that they had never been anything of the kind. I would then say, "But then, if you were to become a Peer, how could I know that we could rely on your vote, particularly if you found yourself sitting on the Cross-Benches?". Not all, but a surprising number, said to me, "Would you like it in writing?".
I shall not distress your Lordships by continuing this descent into anecdotage. I hope and believe that not one of those people received a peerage—not because I had any say in the matter, but because those who did have a say had a great deal of judgment. I am absolutely certain that the same rigour has been applied by the present Government, although I must confess that there are 1075 some mauvaises langues who have implied differently. I hope and believe that that happy situation will continue to obtain.
However, Prime Ministers are subject to great temptation, particularly when confronted with the possibility of being able to pack their own Benches, and indeed some of the Cross-Benches, with compliant Peers. In an entirely nominated House, there will be a standing temptation to any future Prime Minister to ask a person to make a commitment before he or she becomes a Member of this House, rather than afterwards. It is a sensible principle that all legislation should be framed in such a way as to catch the possibility of dishonourable, as well as honourable, Prime Ministers succumbing to temptation.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
Will the noble Viscount give way? I wonder whether he was in the House when the noble Lord, Lord Archer, read out to the House a letter he received from the then Prime Minister, Mr. John Major, in which he asked as a condition upon which he would recommend the noble Lord for this place that he would agree to vote in support of the Tory Government in every way.
§ Viscount Cranborne
My Lords, I do not remember that episode. I am most grateful to the noble Lord for saying that he would send me a copy. I am sure that I can find the reference in Hansard as well, but I am, as always, grateful to the noble Lord. He has always endeavoured to save me trouble. If the implication, which I reject, is as I think it is from the noble Lord, that would go towards supporting my case rather than the reverse.
I have detained your Lordships far too long and I am grateful for your indulgence. I hope that my noble and learned friend will take this point from my remarks about independence. In spite of the remarks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, my experience tells me that there is a danger that an entirely nominated House would not necessarily increase the independence of this House.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
I am grateful to the noble Viscount for giving way. Does it not depend on who makes the nomination? The noble Viscount was right in replying to the noble Lord sitting in front of me that his argument supported the noble Viscount's case. But that is because the nomination is by the Prime Minister. That is the mischief.
§ Viscount Cranborne
I wholly accept what the noble and learned Lord has said. The point I wish to make is that my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Drumadoon is showing his usual faith in human nature by including the word "independence" in this amendment—a faith which, I am relieved to find, has survived prolonged exposure to the Scottish courts.
The amendments that we are considering are extremely useful as probing amendments. However, I should find it difficult, for reasons I have attempted to 1076 explain, to support them. In view of my admittedly rather feeble powers of analysis, I am not sure that the way in which they are framed bears any relationship to what the Bill will bring about.
I suggest to the Minister that it would be extremely helpful were he to think in terms of including a preamble, although of course it may not be possible under the rules of the House to do so. I hope it may be possible for the noble Lord to give some reassurance on the matter I raised in relation to the Long Title.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn)
It is always a great pleasure to listen to Second Reading speeches, particularly in Committee! The noble Viscount has made a number of important contributions. I want to be as helpful as I can. His particular question concerned his trouble about whether the Weatherill amendment might slot into the Long Title. I think the answer to the noble Viscount's question is to be found in Amendment No. 152 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Weatherill and Lord Marsh, the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, and the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby.
Noble Lords will be grateful to the noble Viscount for the scrupulous and conscientious way in which he dealt with the difficult question put to him by my noble friend Lord Acton. His reply was no less than we should have expected, but it was refreshing to hear him answer so plainly and boldly.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, spoke of the purpose of a purpose clause. He described it in two ways, citing the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and his former committee. The noble and learned Lord said that one would have a purpose clause which was most convenient to deal with scope and effect. He also said of the recommendation of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that if there were to be anything akin to a purpose clause, it ought to be in a purpose clause, not a preamble. The Committee is thoroughly familiar with it; there was a preamble to the Act of 1911 which, so far as I am aware, had no particular utility in the intervening 89 years.
§ Viscount Cranborne
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Does he mean what he has just said? I seem to remember the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and many others quoting that preamble ad nauseam as a justification for "unfinished business".
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
Of course they quoted it ad nauseam, but that does not derogate from the proposition which I put that they needed to quote it in 1997, 1998 and 1999 precisely because of what I said. It had no practical legislative utility of any kind. As always, the noble Viscount kindly reinforces the point I was making.
The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said, very unkindly I thought, that many persons here had never stood for elective office. That is unfair. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate stood for election as dean of the Faculty of Advocates in Edinburgh and I myself stood—both of us being successful—as chairman of the Bar in this country. Both of us 1077 enjoyed—if that is quite the word I was looking for—electorates distinguished by two central characteristics: barking egomania and rat-like cunning! I can say that in this private gathering. If we survived that, I believe we are reasonably entitled to say that we had a democratic mandate from the brothers and sisters.
The noble Viscount also spoke of his glee—maybe his mischievous glee—in penning a preamble. I understand that, and it is not unlike penning a valentine and despatching it anonymously. He asked questions hypothetically—he rightly described them as that—about Amendment No. 31. It would be for the convenience of the Committee, as the Chief Whip always tells me, if we discussed Amendment No. 31 in its proper, due place. It is an extremely important amendment. I repeat what the Leader of the House said. It was our wish and it might have been better to have had the Weatherill amendment and its related consequences right at the beginning of our debates in Committee. That is what we suggested. Other noble Lords took a different view. It is their continuing prerogative, but I believe that we might have done the House a better service if we had followed her advice.
§ Lord Strathclyde
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. On that point, does he agree that it might have been better if the amendments had been agreed in the House of Commons and if the House of Commons had been able to have a proper debate on those matters before they came to this House?
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
Despite my manifold responsibilities, the conduct of business in the House of Commons is not one. I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has to make the occasional partisan political point because there is little else of substance that we are entitled to look forward to. The fact is that it was a perfectly sensible proposition; it was not done for any particular partisan advantage and I repeat that it would have done a service to the conduct of this debate. It may even be that the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, would agree with me on that.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
I think it is time I sat down. There is no purpose at all in having any of these variants of this clause, for the reason which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, exposed: namely, it is useful and most convenient when dealing with scope and effect. No one—and I pray in aid the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale—could be under any sensible misapprehension about the purpose, scope and effect of the Bill. In fact, the Explanatory Notes make it plainer than anything that,The Bill's main purpose is to end membership of the House of Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage".I do not think that a purpose clause will improve on that.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, asked me four questions. The first was: did I, on behalf of the Government and not trespassing on my own personal views, think it valuable to have a 1078 purpose clause at all. My view is that it is not and that coincides with the Government's approach, fortunately. He then asked three questions which I will answer together. We believe that the House which will result from the passage of the Bill will be more democratic. more legitimate, no less independent and better equipped to do its proper job of scrutinising legislation and holding the executive to account. I repudiate the proposition that life Peers are any less independent, stubborn, mulish, offensive to Whips and downright disagreeable than hereditary Peers. It is not true if one looks at the list. Indeed, in moving my head round the assembled panorama, even of those opposite me, were I deeply unkind I could point to one or two of my noble friends who have been extremely independent and have continued to be so, whatever apparent blandishments might have been offered to them before they came here.
§ The Earl of Onslow
Will the noble Lord give way? I quite accept all he says about mulishness and the rest, but I do not understand how it is in any way more democratic. Will he please explain that one point?
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
Yes. If one comes here by nomination—in my case by the nomination of Mr. Major to Her Majesty—it is always necessary to bear in mind recent as well as early history. If one comes on that basis of nomination, one is nominated by someone who himself has an electoral mandate. That: is a good deal more democratic, I suggest, than someone who is here by virtue of a former place offering centuries ago. That is my answer and I believe it to be a proper one.
A number of Members of the Committee inquired about whether the Government would contemplate a purpose clause at all. One might have a short purpose clause. It might be to restrict the queues of importunates outside the Privy Council office. But that is a tender mercy to the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne.
We have had a wide-ranging debate on a narrow focus. Many of the contributions have little, if any, connection with the point. The noble Lord put it as a probing amendment. I have answered his probes.
§ Lord Northbourne
Before the noble Lord sits down and rather than having to move my amendment in order to speak again, perhaps I may say this. I do not believe he answered any of the points I made. I hope he will read the Official Report because I believe that a purpose or object clause could be extremely helpful for those of us who are concerned about the future of your Lordships' House.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
With great respect, I have dealt with that. I said that it has no sensible place within the context of a Bill as limited as this. When we come to the discussion on Amendment No. 31, the Weatherill and other related amendments, the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, will be dealt with. But they are not dealt with by a purpose clause for reasons abundantly stated by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. That is why I referred to him by way of a general citation. They have no proper utility in 1079 this Bill. For example, the Life Peerages Bill had no purpose clause. If I introduce a Bill to bring back capital punishment, it does not need a purpose clause because it speaks for itself.
§ 7 p.m.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My experience of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, on the various Bills in which we have taken part is that he either gives a long, full and most interesting answer or he goes for brevity. This evening he has gone for brevity. I do not think it has improved his argument in any way. He might have done better trying to address some of the many points which Members of the Committee have put.
In his interesting speech, my noble friend Lord Cranborne talked about the possibility of having a preamble to the Bill. That seemed to be dismissed on the grounds that there was a preamble to the 1911 Bill and nothing much happened. Some Members of the Committee may think that a good reason for having a preamble to this Bill. It may be for others to argue that.
My noble friend was taken up to a slight extent by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, when he discussed the legitimacy of the various Members of your Lordships' House. If I had thought about it, I would have realised that it was true; I discovered that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, and I share one thing in common. We were both nominated by Mr. John Major while he was Prime Minister. I am not sure whether that makes us both John's cronies, but certainly it tells your Lordships how we both got here.
I was discussing this matter with my noble friend Lord Strathclyde. I asked him whether he was more or less legitimate than I was, as his peerage resulted from the appointment of his grandfather by Winston Churchill, who was the elected Prime Minister at the time. I find that a very difficult question to answer. I know that neither my noble friend's grandfather nor I gave large sums of money to our political parties. I was sent here—I can say this without batting an eyelid, although I think that probably the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, may not be quite in this category—by Mr. John Major, not because I was a crony but because I was a friend of his, and I like to think that he thought I might play some modest part in the proceedings of your Lordships' House. Some of your Lordships may sometimes regret that Mr. John Major ever sent me here, but others of your Lordships may appreciate it. I am not sure how we shall end up this evening, or indeed after many evenings discussing this Bill on that particular note.
I do not believe that it helps our argument to discuss which of us is more democratic or more legitimate. I myself take the view that it is a pretty close run thing. I also take the view, so far as concerns the Salisbury convention, that this is not an issue which impinges only on hereditary Peers. However, if that is the way the Government wish the argument to proceed, that is fine: they will live to regret it.
1080 That concerns me when I discuss amendments to government legislation, because I believe that my position is certainly a good deal more legitimate than that of the other place. At least I am not in the category of those who have never stood for elected office. I am not sure whether the Bar Council counts, but I had better be terribly careful because its members are very influential, very important and much richer than I am and can certainly afford to sue me if I were to say anything out of place. I know I am safe in here but—you never know—they might find a way around that. However, I will allow the Bar Council as a serious body from which to receive an electoral mandate. I notice also that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie, was the elected Dean of the Faculty of Advocates. I accept that being elected the Dean of the Faculty in Scotland is a great deal more important than being elected chairman of the Bar Council south of the Border!
Other noble Lords have not been elected to anything, and perhaps they have not even tried: that is probably wise of them, if I may say so. Other noble Lords have tried, tried, tried and failed. I have tried, succeeded, tried and failed, and so I have a semi-democratic legitimacy; or, occasionally in my life I have had democratic legitimacy. However, I do not think it takes us very far to argue that, and I will return to the question of democratic legitimacy later.
The noble Lord, Lord Bach, intervened. I am not sure whether the noble Lord has been elected to anything, or has even tried to be, and so I do not know which category he comes into. He said that he did not want a purpose clause because he wondered where on earth would it all end. That is exactly the point we are putting to the Government: where on earth is it going to end? My noble friend Lord Crickhowell said that the Government have not the smallest idea of what they want in stage two. My noble friend Lord Caithness, quite rightly, said that this stage may last for quite a long time and therefore a purpose clause is essential.
I am very cautious about crossing swords with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. We have debated a number of issues on previous occasions and I am always pretty careful to try, if I possibly can, either to agree with him or to take away what he has had to say and think about it. However, I think that I will disagree with him because the noble and learned Lord said that a purpose clause would be of any value only if there was any possibility that there might be some ambiguity in a piece of legislation. There is huge ambiguity in this piece of legislation, in that the Government do not know what to do next. They keep bringing forward this half of the Bill, and they have no idea where they are going to go with the next half of the Bill.
That in itself is a good argument either for a preamble or for a purpose clause. The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, seemed to be following his Central Office brief pretty well and so I am sure he is right and a purpose clause is not necessary because we could not agree about what it would contain. I think that we would be able to agree about what it would contain, and I shall suggest about 1081 five permutations that we could agree on. I am sure that we could agree on three out of the five without any trouble at all.
The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, in his attempt at a purpose clause, reminded us that there was a modern obsession with purpose clauses and object clauses. In the Foreign Office, after the election, I think they were called "mission statements". I am not entirely sure whether they remember their mission statements these days, but it is not a had phrase. Let us have a mission statement for this Bill, a preamble or a purpose clause.
The noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, mentioned the important points in relation to purpose clauses. The three proposals here underline the role not merely of this House, as the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, mentioned, but of Parliament. There are a number of key words in the three different versions in front of your Lordships: "more legitimate", "more democratic", "increase the independence of Parliament", "enhance its ability to scrutinise legislation"; and then we have "democratic legitimacy" again and "more effective scrutiny".
Those are the key words, and I say again to the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, that we should be able to agree on them. Do we not all agree on the importance of improving the scrutiny of legislation? The noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, mentioned in particular European legislation. I could add to that all forms of secondary legislation. I do not think that we deal with secondary legislation at all well. I do not think that we scrutinise it properly. We accept it, as does the other place, in whole or in part and we have a convention that we will not vote against it, although the noble Earl, Lord Russell, has tried to find ways around that by cleverly devising systems which, while not actually opposing it, qualify secondary legislation. The other place votes, but again it votes on the whole and not on individual parts.
We will deal with a piece of secondary legislation on Thursday night which. in my view, requires a tiny amendment, but there is no procedure to make any amendment. We either have to accept it in full, as has the other place, or reject it in full. I think that is a mistake. I am referring to the rules and regulations relating to the European Parliamentary Elections Bill. There is no provision for a recount, or at least the provision for a recount arises prior to anybody actually deciding that there will be a need for a recount. When we discussed this point in relation to Scotland and Wales, even the Government agreed that there was a serious problem here. But because we are unable to make a small amendment we are left with either accepting or rejecting the regulations as a whole. That is an impossible position. Therefore, the question of the scrutiny of legislation, and in particular secondary legislation, is very important.
I have suggested that those were key words, and some of your Lordships may well wonder where they came from. I cannot speak for the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. but in the case of the amendments in my name and the names of my noble friends I can tell your Lordships exactly where we found some of those words. We took some of them from the 1082 "Holy Grail", the manifesto. I always carry my copy with me because I know it is going to be quoted to me and so I want to be sure that noble Lord; on the Government side know their manifesto properly; that they have learnt it off by heart and are word perfect. But perhaps I may help them with regard to a modern House of Lords by pointing out that the manifesto says that this Bill will be the first stage in a process of reform to make the House of Lords more democratic and more representative. So I think we have every entitlement to say that the word "democratic" has good credentials.
I challenge any of the Government's supporters to get up and say that the word "democratic" does not have good credentials as far as concerns the Bill. If they do they will be in some trouble, albeit disobeying the holy writ of the manifesto. That 'was one of the sources. The other words emerged from the debate on the White Paper without a Division. Therefore, everybody, in your Lordships' House agreed with the words:urges Her Majesty's Government in carrying forward the proposals in the White Paper to set as its objectives an increase in the independence of Parliament and an enhancement of its ability to scrutinise legislation and hold the executive to account".I believe that the words used in our two amendments and those adopted by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, have perfectly good and legitimate parentage and are worthy of being considered as either the preamble or purpose clause of the Bill.
§ Viscount Cranborne
I am grateful to my friend for giving away. In spite of what he has just said, does he believe that the Bill which followed the insertion of any such clause would carry out the purposes that he has so clearly enunciated?
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
I shall come to that in a moment. I do not necessarily believe that the Bill as it stands, or even as it will be amended, presumably, by the Weatherill amendment—which should have been done in the other place and not here—obeys some of the phrases that I have used. Frankly, unless we in this place and Members of another place take certain steps to change the way in which we deal with this matter, no reform of this House will necessarily increase the scrutiny of legislation.
§ Lord Peston
Perhaps I may put one question just for enlightenment. For 10 years I sat on the Opposition Front Bench. When did the noble Lord and his noble friends decide that they were in favour of a democratic House of Lords? I did not see the slightest glimmer of it in my 10 years of slog on the Opposition. Front Bench. When did they undergo this conversion and decide that democracy in this House really mattered to them? I do not want the exact day but I would not mind being told the month or year.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
I am quite surprised by the noble Lord's intervention. I took the word "democracy" straight from the manifesto. Equally, 1083 perhaps I can ask the noble Lord when the Labour Party will start to bring forward proposals for a democratic House.
§ Lord Peston
We on this side have no difficulty. My noble friend on the Front Bench emphasised that we favoured a democratic House of Lords. He was concerned merely with the purpose clause. I sit here bewildered as to when the noble Lord who has moved the amendment decided that he believed in democracy for this House. Why was he content to sit on these Benches as a Minister and let me and my noble friends slog our guts out in the House of Lords as it was without ever saying that he was deeply embarrassed and wished that the place was more democratic?
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
I am trying to work out how to phrase my response gently. I am aware that the noble Lord becomes impatient. I remember a previous occasion when he became impatient. I have not yet reached the "democratic" bit. In the project to reform your Lordships' House I would not have started from here. But, as the noble Lord is aware, my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern has produced a report in which two options are given. Those are two options more than the party opposite has proposed—unless the noble Lord, Lord Peston, who is a free thinker, has his own solution to the reform of your Lordships' House.
Like my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, I have doubts about this House being wholly democratic, because that will bring it into major conflict with the House of Commons. I believe that last time I spoke on this issue I said—perhaps because I am an old lag from the House of Commons—that the other place should be the primary Chamber. I have absolutely no doubt that a fully elected second Chamber, however qualified or tied down, would challenge the primacy of the House of Commons. That is one matter to which we must give very serious thought as we consider what kind of Chamber and what democratic input it should have to ensure that there is enough to introduce some democracy but not enough to challenge the primacy of the other place.
I welcome this debate. We should not be having a debate on this Bill but on the whole package and where we are going. I am aware that in 1998 the Prime Minister said—the noble Lord, Lord Peston, did not echo the remark but was certainly on the same train—that the House of Lords was a democratic monstrosity. The Labour Party manifesto indicates that it wants the House to be more democratic and representative. Amazingly, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House said:Legislating to stop hereditary Peers being Members of Parliament removes a profoundly undemocratic element".—[Official Report, 14/10/98; col. 922.]After Weatherill it will leave 92 of my noble friends—to which I do not object—and all the life Peers. I am not entirely sure how much more democratic we are. However, I have already discussed that and do not want to go over it again.
As to the proposition that we should not insert a purpose clause or preamble and use any of the words suggested in our amendments or in the amendment of the 1084 noble Lord, North Northbourne, I point out that without any division we agreed to words being added to the take note Motion on the White Paper. I repeat those words:urges Her Majesty's Government in carrying forward the proposals in the White Paper to set as its objectives an increase in the independence of Parliament and an enhancement of its ability to scrutinise legislation and hold the executive to account".There is absolutely no reason why the Government should oppose a purpose clause or preamble along the lines indicated in the three amendments before your Lordships.
The noble Baroness the Leader of the House told your Lordships:overall, the Government accept the broad sentiments of [the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold]. Indeed …the first page of the White Paper emphasises that Parliament is the central element of Britain's democracy, and that for Parliament to carry out its purpose it must act with authority and integrity. That principle is the basis for our proposals for reform of this Chamber; to improve the effectiveness and balance of the House so that it can play a full and proper role in Parliament, a role which necessarily includes a significant scrutiny of legislation and of the executive".—[Official Report, 22/2/99; col. 847.]The noble Lord, Lord Carter, who was given the job of summing up that evening, said at col. 1086:The Government entirely share the view that it is essential that Parliament should be properly equipped to scrutinise legislation and to hold the executive to account".Your Lordships who have read the purpose clauses now before them will see the same words. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, went on to say:That is precisely why we wish to reform the composition of this House".He continued at col. 1087:My noble friend the Leader of the House has made clear that the Government agree with the first part of it"—not the part relating to the power—Who can be against an increase in the independence of Parliament and an enhancement of its ability to scrutinise legislation and hold the Executive to account?The only person who appears to be against it is the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, who does not want these words added to the Bill.
We are disappointed that we have not had a more positive contribution from the Government, but we have heard enough to know that a purpose clause or preamble can be created that will meet some of the objections that we have heard. Perhaps we shall return to this issue under one or other guise at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 not moved.]
§ Lord Carter
I think that this would be a convenient moment to break for dinner. In moving that the House do now resume, I suggest that we do not return to Committee before 8.20 p.m.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.