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Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am grateful for that intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. Perhaps I may formally say how much the Government appreciate his great kindness in giving up an enormous amount of time--as I am afraid it will be--in the next few months to undertake this extremely important task. I am grateful that he feels that the terms of reference are sufficiently wide to enable him to do the job properly and we look forward to many constructive and, as he rightly said, co-operative discussions on the detail.
I add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Wakeham on his appointment. His experience in both Houses--as Chief Whip in another place and indeed as Leader of your Lordships' House and a former Leader of another place--will make it all the easier for him to understand the importance of the relationship between the two Houses with a reformed upper Chamber. Will the noble Baroness confirm that she regards that relationship as one of the pivotal areas which must be considered by a Royal Commission?
Will the noble Baroness also accept that we on this side of the House, as my noble friend Lord Strathclyde said, would infinitely have preferred that reform of your Lordships' House should have happened in one fell swoop rather than in two stages? The reasons given by the noble Baroness for failing to undertake that "one fell swoop" reform appear to be increasingly specious. In view of the fact that she appears, thankfully, to be in a considerable hurry to proceed to stage two, in marked contrast to the sort of atmospherics that she was giving off only three months ago, will the noble Baroness explain to the House the reason for that change, particularly as she was quoted not long ago as saying that in her opinion stage one should be allowed to bed down until such time as the effects of devolution could be felt, which would enable us to be able to consider the effects of devolution in the context of a stage two reform? Can the noble Baroness explain to the House what has changed in the past three months to make her change her mind?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount, and particularly grateful for the helpful words in relation to the appointment of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. I am sure that, with the general help of noble Lords around the House who wish to proceed by consensus, we shall do so. As I said, I am particularly grateful to the noble Viscount for underlining that point.
The noble Viscount spoke of the need to regard the question of the relationship between both Houses as pre-eminent. Again, if he had had the opportunity to look at the terms of reference of the Royal Commission, he would find that that is made explicit. When the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde--I apologise to him for not referring to that point in my reply to him--asked what was meant by that, I believe it is all too clear that the House of Commons must remain the pre-eminent Chamber. That is something that we are asking the Royal Commission to take as a given, in the pursuit of its wide-ranging discussion on the terms of reference which, as the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, said, are sufficiently wide to allow a general debate and a general consideration of the broader issues.
The noble Viscount referred to the "atmospherics" of my remarks. I am in some difficulty in being able to establish precisely what those atmospherics are. Again, if he were to look at the precise details of the terms of reference of the Royal Commission, he would see that perhaps the tense is marginally more in terms of the continuing present than the future. The terms of reference which ask the Royal Commission to look at the roles and functions of the second Chamber in the context of the constitutional settlement, particularly as it relates to the devolved institutions, appear to be consistent. However, I am afraid that I find difficulty in being consistent with atmospherics because I am not precisely sure to what he refers.
The Lord Bishop of Chichester: My Lords, perhaps I may make three brief points on the document before us. First, I wish to express our appreciation for the kind remarks made in the document in relation to the contribution of the bishops to the work of this House. Secondly, we look forward to offering our own comments and contributions to the work of the Royal Commission when it comes into being. Thirdly, I want to make it quite clear, as I have done on previous occasions, that we would welcome the expansion of religious representation in this House to include other faiths, not only Christians.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for those words. As I said in my original Statement, there is no intention in the transitional House, and certainly no understanding in the terms of the Bill, that there should be any difference in the representation on the Bench of Bishops during that period. He is right that in relation to the general discussion of the work of the Royal Commission
The Earl of Longford: My Lords, is the noble Baroness the Leader of the House aware that many noble Lords who have been here a long time are concerned about the future of our unique staff under the proposed arrangements? Will they be halved? What will happen to the staff? Can the noble Baroness give us any reassurance.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for raising that question. I am sure that the extremely effective and illustrious members of staff of your Lordships' House will be delighted to hear that they have such an important advocate on their behalf. Of course, there will be over 500 life Peers plus a representation of hereditary Peers--if we retain them in the transitional period--who, I am sure, will use the offices of the staff with the same enthusiasm as at present. The staff may be grateful for slightly more free time.
Baroness Young: My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that there are many of us who agree with my noble friend Lord Strathclyde that this is a very sad day for the House? That is a view shared by a great many life Peers, not just hereditary Peers. We should place on record our gratitude for the amount of work carried out by the hereditary Peers--often unsung, unnoticed and, unquestionably, unpaid. Whatever the new House becomes, if it is founded predominantly on life Peers, it will be quite a difficult proposition.
In the noble Baroness's interview on the "Today" programme this morning and again in her Statement this afternoon, she failed to say that hereditary Peers have agreed to reform of the House, and did so in 1968. It is very important that everybody, not only in this House but also outside it, should understand that point.
The important reform brought in by the late Lord Wilson when he was Prime Minister was accepted by Conservative Peers when my noble friend Lord Carrington was Leader of the Opposition, but it was lost in another place. Having had that experience, it is hardly surprising that a lot of people are sceptical about whether or not stage two will work.
My second question this. Although we are all agreed that at long last a Royal Commission is to look at stage two, none of us will be satisfied--indeed, we will fight to the end to achieve it--unless we have a copper-bottomed guarantee that we will have a stage two. Otherwise, the Statement and the White Paper will be seen simply as a very bad transition, a so-called reform of the House of Lords, dressed up in the new buzz word "modernisation", whatever that might mean. That would see a very important constitutional reform, affecting people throughout the United Kingdom, carried out in a manner more reminiscent of a sixth form debate than a serious constitutional proposal.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I have said on many occasions, and I am delighted to repeat today, that everybody acknowledges that there are some members of the hereditary peerage who have not only made major contributions to the work of the House but have also often played an important part in national affairs in general. I do not believe that anyone has denied that in the appropriate context.
The noble Baroness draws attention to the need to proceed rapidly to stage two. I believe we would be in disagreement about the relevance of the hereditary peerage in a second Chamber of the 21st century. It is precisely because we on these Benches are unwilling to foresee that as a long term prospect that we will wish, particularly in light of the theoretical amendment to retain transitionary rights of hereditary Peers to sit in your Lordships' House, to move rapidly to a point at which that becomes unnecessary. The fact that we have given the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, a very tight timetable in which to report to the Government on his findings under the Royal Commission must suggest to your Lordships that we would hope to move to a second stage as rapidly as possible. I am sure that noble Lords are more able than I of working out the parliamentary and annual arithmetic of the number of months between that and the next general election.
The noble Baroness says that in the past hereditary Peers have agreed to this type of reform. If the noble Baroness feels that that is right, and that it was merely obstructed in another place, it is surprising that the former government and the party of which she is a member made absolutely no effort in 18 years to move forward on reform.
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