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The Earl of Caithness: Amendment No. 97 in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley has been grouped with this amendment. I wish to make clear that the note at the top of the grouping list reads:
I think it is important that we spell out clearly the powers of this House. I would go one stage further than my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, because I should like to introduce an amendment at a later stage, spelling out those powers. The reason I would like to do so is very simple. What is happening is not a gradual evolution of the House like the Life Peerages Act; it is a major, sudden change in the composition of this House. We are fortunate in the powers and the functions that we have at the moment, and I think it is important for a successor Chamber to have those spelt out for it.
After all, we know who will comprise the membership of the second Chamber in its initial stages; but we do not know what is going to happen after that. We have absolutely no control over the Prime Minister or the appointments committee. There could be a sudden influx of 100 or 200 new Peers who know nothing about the powers and functions of this House, and at that time there will be no hereditary Peers to guide them in such matters.
The second point of the amendment put forward by my noble friend Lord Stanley and myself is to help the Government. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said at an earlier stage that he wished to fulfil the manifesto in full. The simple amendment in our name does exactly that. As my noble friend Lord Strathclyde has just said, the Labour Party manifesto contains the single sentence:
Let me just spell out some of them. First, we have the revising function. That is an important function because any of your Lordships, from whatever part of the House you come, can table and move amendments. No control is exercised by the party whips over what one can do or over the time one can do it: one can do it at any hour the House is sitting. I think that that is an important freedom of this House. It is not like the other place, and these differences are to be treasured and protected.
There is also the power to initiate legislation. That again can be done by the Government or by individuals, as my noble friend Lord Cranborne said earlier. He has put a Bill before your Lordships' House, and I believe that is an equally important right that should continue into a successor Chamber, and should be spelt out on the face of the Bill. Of course, although one has the power to initiate legislation, one should also bear in
There is the contentious, but very important, power to reject a Bill presented by another place at Second Reading. That is an incredibly important power to be taken forward into a successor Chamber. It might be embarrassing for the government of the day, but I believe that the Parliament Act should be enforced more often because if this second Chamber, which I believe should be a stronger Chamber than we have at the moment, is to pull its weight, it must be able to reject a Bill at Second Reading, make the Government think again and, if necessary, bring it forward under the Parliament Act and justify that to the country.
I move on to the important powers that we have with regard to secondary legislation. Here I should like to try to strengthen the powers of our successor Chamber. We talked earlier this afternoon about our inability to question matters involving secondary legislation and to alter them. I believe that a second House should be able to do that. We should be able to look at the detail, amend it and send it back to another place. When it comes to scrutiny, the successor Chamber must never lose the right to make the Government answer to this Chamber, whatever may be its composition. That only stops short of the House having the power to enforce a change of government.
It is important that these powers are well known. It would be better if they were placed on the face of the Bill in the appropriate form so that the successor Chamber would know what it could do. I believe that if we move to a reformed second Chamber it should be able to use the powers a great deal more often and effectively than we have been able to. My noble friend Lord Cranborne observed--I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, also said it--that on many occasions one of the weaknesses of this House was that it was not able to use the powers available to it. Surely, if we are to carry out this revision, albeit with a long stage one, it should be clear to the successor Chamber what its powers are and that it can use them however embarrassing and inconvenient that may be to the government of the day.
Lord Richard: I have listened to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, in speaking to this amendment and, having done my best, I am unable to follow them. If there was any provision in the Bill which dealt with the powers of this House, no doubt the amendment would be relevant and apposite and it would be worth while the House debating it. There is nothing in the Bill about the powers of the House. There is no suggestion in the Bill that the powers of the House should be reduced.
What we have on the other side of the Chamber at the moment is an attempt to pre-empt either the deliberations of the Royal Commission or perhaps even the legislation that may have to be introduced after the Royal Commission has reported and its report has been
I fully understand what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, seeks to do. He wants a statement from the Government now which will enable him the better, as he sees it, to conduct the political battle that may be joined when the Royal Commission comes to stage two. That is a perfectly legitimate tactic on his part, but the Committee should recognise it for what it is. There is not a scrap of merit in the argument. It is good old political evasion on the part of the noble Lord, with no merit in it at all. If the Bill said anything about powers then it would be relevant. But, in the absence of the Bill saying anything about powers, if this measure is passed and the House is reformed, what will be the powers of the House? They will be precisely the same in future after the Bill has been passed as they are now. With great respect, I believe that the Opposition should be a little more precise as to what they seek to do.
Lord Elton: If the noble Lord can be persuaded to raise his eyes a little further down the road than the next year or two, I believe he will see matters in a different light. That is the light in which I and my noble friends see the current debate about the powers of the House. I tried to express something to that effect in the debate on Second Reading. Hereditary Members of your Lordships' House see themselves as the rearguard, or final trustees, of a mechanism that is designed to protect the electorate of this country from the excesses of an over-powerful executive.
Lord Elton: Those who disagree with me, such as the noble Lord, will tell me so, but to satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, I rephrase my remarks. I believe that I am in company with many when I see my functions and theirs as protecting the electorate from the excesses of an over-powerful executive of any party. I speak approximately two years after the arrival of noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite. I remember how I felt two years after I arrived there, secure and confident in the belief that the country would always be conducted on familiar lines properly arranged by my friends who saw things as I did. The only thought that I leave in the minds of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, is that the day will come when this House may be required to protect the electorate from the excesses of a party other than their own. It is in order to ensure that this House does not fall below the level of authority that enables it to check an executive in that way that my noble friends, I believe, are tabling these amendments. In abandoning our trusteeship, we want to be sure that that security remains.
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