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I have a simple point about powers which I did not make, although I should have thought it was fairly obvious. If the hereditary peerage is removed from this House, it will be a relatively simple and not lengthy business for a prime minister to appoint a working majority in this House in favour of the executive. At that time the House will lose all power to check the executive. It is for that reason that amendments have been tabled to put that power of patronage of the prime minister into commission.
As the Bill stands, it would need merely 35 or 40 new Peers of the colour of the politics opposite to give effective control to the executive. I am sure that, if we were in power, the Benches opposite would resent that as much as we would.
Lord Marlesford: Perhaps I may intervene briefly. It is clear to me that the powers of this House stem from statute, from convention and from Standing Order. The way in which the conventions and Standing Orders are written and followed is very much a function of the composition of the House. This Bill changes the composition of the House. Therefore, it seems to me to follow that that could considerably change the powers of the House. Partly for the reasons given by my noble friend Lord Onslow, if I were the Government I should probably like something that states that this Bill does not change the powers, because, with the departure of the majority of hereditary Peers, there would be some danger of powers being increased rather considerably.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: We traversed this ground a little earlier this evening. It is not a case of being squashed by my noble friend Lord Richard of Ammanford; it is a case of listening to his analysis. It is precise; devastating and overwhelming. No argument has been addressed to dispute his analysis.
Perhaps I may cover one or two points. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, in assuming finality in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Richard--finality is not a concept with which I associate Committee in this Chamber--said that he was troubled about there being a working majority in favour of the executive. Oh dear! How long has it been that there has been a working majority in favour of the executive? Thirteen defeats per Session under the Tories, 49 since the last election.
I always listen to what is said with varying degrees of incredulity. That one will not run. With great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Elton--I always listen with particular care to what he says, as he knows, and always try to respond to it either in debate or by letter--I take his point that he and others of a similar view, though not of a unanimous view (pace the noble Lord, Lord Avebury), regard themselves as having a duty. I do not disrespect or disregard that.
I simply say to the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, that when Fabius Maximus had discharged his required duties to the state, he retired to his farm. The noble Earl and I have the same recollection of O-level history. I am just underlining the fact that I listen to what the noble Earl says; he did retire, and rightly so.
None of the questions raised in relation to these amendments has the slightest connection to the Bill. The Bill is quite short; it is quite plain. I go back to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, said. We occasionally need a purpose clause if it might be required for interpretative purposes if there is ambiguity. One can peruse this Bill with any sort of microscope or eyeglass. There is no ambiguity in it. The fact that it contains no ambiguity may be what causes heartache and concern. Heartache and concern there may be, but ambiguity there is not.
There is nothing in the Bill that affects the powers of this House. Whether or not those powers may be deployed in a different way in the future is an entirely different question. All Members of the Committee know it to be commonplace that we have notional powers which we rarely exercise. The figures that I gave indicate that the rareness of the exercise sometimes may be coincident with the colour of the present incumbent government.
It is idle to ask what we are going to do about stage two. We are now discussing a Bill that deals with stage one. Many Members of the Committee will feel that that is disagreeable. It may be. That is what the manifesto said and that is what we are delivering. We were chided earlier by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, for saying one thing and doing the opposite. No one can say that about this Bill. It is in the manifesto and it is transposed almost literally into the Bill.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: It is not irresponsible to consider in its appropriate place at the appropriate time what the future may be. I simply contend that this is not the time or the place. At the moment an attempt is being
My only surprise is that other things have not been included such as "Wouldn't it be a good idea to have a purpose clause that supported Mom and apple pie?". These amendments are in the same category. They are expressions of desire, of hope, of ambition for the future. They are not unworthy for that reason. But they are not appropriate for the reason that I have set out and for the reasons that were set out with absolute authority by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, earlier.
There is nothing in the Bill that touches on our powers. Therefore, these amendments are properly described as not relevant. That is not to say that I do not recognise and do not sympathise with the point very moderately put by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on this occasion and earlier, and I recognise the feeling with which the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, addresses these matters.
But--I say this as politely as I may--this is not the occasion to try to alter the Bill. I recognise what has been said. I recognise that the speakers believe in the virtue and validity of what they have said. There may be value in what they have said, but that is the occasion for further debate. It is not the occasion at the moment. The amendments have nothing to do with the Bill at all.
The Earl of Caithness: I listened with interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, said. He mentioned the number of Divisions. I know that the noble Lord is not ungenerous, and he will of course recall that on many occasions, as is worth stating for the record, amendments were accepted when we were in government. I certainly accepted an awful lot of amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, in particular, with whom I debated on numerous Bills. Not only did I accept them, but when they were redrafted by the Government I put them back down on the Marshalled List, with his agreement, in his name. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will be generous in accepting that there is another dimension--not only the defeats that the Conservative Party suffered but the number of amendments that we accepted that never went to a Division.
Lord Strathclyde: I am rather disappointed and surprised by the attitude that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, has taken. He has a great deal of experience in the House of Lords, both in Opposition and as a Minister. He normally conducts himself with great skill, but he has not addressed himself to practically a single point that I made.
The main point that he makes is as follows. I hope I paraphrase him correctly and, if not, no doubt he will wish to put me right. He is saying that the powers are not in the Bill and therefore we should not be discussing powers. I have just been reminded of a point by my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, who, when he was Minister spoke at considerable length on the Pensions Bill, which will be remembered by many Members of the Committee. The Pensions Bill, not surprisingly, was to do with pensions. One of the matters that it was not to do with was war pensions. I do not remember noble Lords opposite twisting and agonising about whether they should vote on the question of war pensions. I do not believe that the question was raised at all. There was a vote on war pensions. The Government lost and they accepted that position. There is no way that my noble friend would have used the, I am sorry to say, rather pathetic argument of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn. The noble Lord is going to put me right now.
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