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Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: I hope that the noble Lord will permit me to say a few words about this particular topic. I am not discussing the coming World Cup or anything of that kind but something which is germane to our earlier discussions without in any way entering into that controversy. I wonder whether the time has not come to consider more fully how we deal with those pieces of legislation which do not greatly divide the parties but cannot be said to be strictly non-controversial. I understand that a formula has been found for discussing some Bills of that nature although one cannot be certain that they are non-controversial. However, a Bill of the kind which is before the House has many detailed provisions which deserve to be properly scrutinised without the inevitable and, in my personal view, highly undesirable adversarial mood which sometimes takes this House and which puts Ministers in a difficult position. Irrespective of the resolution of today's affairs, I hope that the noble Lord can help the House--and in particular me--by explaining how this matter could be properly considered so that the House will be able more fully to fulfil its role of scrutiny which is our pride and joy and firmly respected outside.
Lord Elton: Before the noble Lord sits down, it would be immensely helpful to the House if he were to explain where the present Bill falls in the spectrum of controversiality he referred to. It is arguable that on the one hand it is so controversial that it would be excluded from the process and on the other that it is so uncontroversial that it need not be considered.
Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: I am glad to have the opportunity to discuss the Richter scale which is what I think the noble Lord refers to. I hope the House will allow me to think aloud because that is the only thing I can do in the circumstances. It is not a Bill of high controversy. Were it a custom of your Lordships' House to vote for or against Second Reading, I find it difficult to believe that it would have been opposed on Second Reading. That puts it at the lower end of the Richter scale.
This goes deep into the political system of this country. For example, the absence of proportional representation encourages an adversarial view in this Chamber as does the fact that the Chamber is designed as it is. My own view is that if we were not obliged to be adversarial, this Bill would come somewhere at the lower end of the Richter scale. It is not devoid of controversy and the views of political parties. It may be that on questions of defence and prosecution disclosure there are as many views in this House as there are in
In the meantime, on the Richter scale, if we assume that 10 is a major earthquake, equivalent to a Bill of great controversy such as that which introduced the disastrous poll tax when even Members on the other side of the Chamber know that what is proposed is a nonsense but are obliged to follow their leader, I would put this Bill somewhere near the bottom of the scale, at perhaps 2 or 3.
Lord Elton: Before the noble Lord sits down perhaps I may intervene. He raised the question of the shape of the Chamber. He should consider also the size of the Chamber. Noble Lords may recall that during the war Adolf Hitler dropped a bomb on the other place. The occupants of the other place came en masse and sat in this Chamber and the occupants of this Chamber, happily much fewer in number than now, went to occupy the Robing Room at the other end of the Royal Gallery. When it was diminished by a Content Lobby to the right by the Throne and a Not-Content Lobby to the left by the Bar--and rails in front of the Throne and a Bar behind which Members of another place could stand to hear proceedings--it was a very small Chamber. My father, who was a Member of the House in those days, said that it was a delight to debate there because you could not make a speech but only have a discussion, as we are now. When we came back to this Chamber we all launched back into speeches, oratory and antagonism.
Once you are in a big Chamber which invites oratory--I am not sure how long on this occasion it invites it for, but it would appear to invite it for a little longer--you have to consider the question of the shape of the Chamber. Norway and many other countries with advanced democratic systems have horseshoe or semi-circular-shaped chambers. That avoids blocs forming for or against the government and only rarely leads to blocs in between, voting sometimes one way and sometimes the other but always on the merits of the issue. It does, however, produce shadings of parties and coalitions. That goes very well with the system of proportional representation which I hope the noble Lord will take this opportunity to deny lies at the centre of his party's aspirations for the British constitution.
I remember as a young man coming for the first time to see the other place perform. That was indeed when the House of Commons was sitting in your Lordships' Chamber. I discovered that I had no ambitions to go to No. 10, but I did think that at some time I would like to take part in the debates.
When the noble Lord says that perhaps a smaller Chamber would be more suitable he raises the whole question of the reform of your Lordships' House and whether we should have a smaller number of Peers present in the course of our debates. I would not like to eliminate the hereditary element as such, as I believe
There is a simple scheme by which your Lordships could sit in this House, occupying seats to be distributed in direct proportion to votes cast in a general election. For the sake of symmetry, we could have the Cross-Bench Peers representing those voters who had not voted at all. We would then have a balanced House. The opposition parties would be represented more fully than hitherto, and we would enable noble Lords to contribute. There are many hereditary Peers who contribute brilliantly to our debates and those of us who are fair minded would not want them to be eliminated.
There could be a House of, say, 450 Members sitting as an electoral commission because it should not be in the power of the Prime Minister to decide who sits in your Lordships' House. After every general election seats would be allocated in direct proportion to the votes cast. That would be a simple form of proportional representation to which I believe noble Lords on all sides of the House would readily give their assent. That is the germ of the change I would like to see.
In relation to the delay we face today--although I know that no noble Lord is wasting your Lordships' time--a Bill was before the House but appears to have disappeared for an indefinite period. Until that Bill reappears I am attempting to introduce the question of the reform of Parliament. Perhaps other noble Lords may be able to pick up the theme and develop it for the next two or three hours until it is time to go home.
Lord Monkswell: Has the noble Lord considered the risk to the body politic of Parliament of, effectively, setting up a second Chamber which would be in direct competition to the other place? One of the achievements of our British Parliament is to avoid too much fighting between the two Houses. We pass legislation from one to the other in sequence. There is a mechanism to enable us to make adjustments to the legislation that we have in front of us that accommodates extreme feelings. One of the means by which that system works is the recognition by this House that the other House has a greater legitimacy. There are rare occasions when we think that the other House is wrong and we take the matter to a fight.
However, if this House were to feel that it had almost equal legitimacy with the other House I suspect that there would be far more conflict between the two Houses of Parliament. I wonder whether the noble Lord who suggested that rather fantastic arrangement has considered that possibility. Another factor is how the membership would be chosen.
Lord Strathclyde: Perhaps I may intervene. Unfortunately I started the debate, which I very much enjoyed. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, and my noble friend Lord Elton went down a route, which I found of some use, concerning the geography of the House and so on. However, we began this discussion because we were waiting for the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, to return from his discussions with the Minister and the usual channels to decide how to proceed with the Committee stage. Word has now reached me that they will not return just yet. In the light of that information I believe that it would be fairest to the Committee if I were to move to adjourn the Committee stage for another 10 minutes. I beg to move.