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Lord Harris of Greenwich: Having sat here silently for the whole afternoon I think it is reasonable that we on these Benches should be allowed to express an opinion. It is quite understandable and in my view perfectly reasonable for people to put down amendments
I have a list of the life Peers who were created under the premiership of Mr. Major. To be fair, he did not go to the extremes of his predecessor, the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher. However, when he created life Peers under the Life Peerages Act, he added 83 to the Conservative numbers in this House; a House which already had an overwhelming Conservative majority. That was two more than the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats put together. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, was a senior member of that government. I wonder whether he expressed his grave concern about what might be interpreted as an abuse of power by the behaviour of his right honourable friend the then Prime Minister.
When we go back to the record of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, the examples under her premiership are even more interesting. During her period as Prime Minister, she appointed twice as many Conservative life Peers as Labour life Peers, and 11 times more Conservative life Peers than Liberal Democrat life Peers. That gives some indication of what abuse of power is really about.
During the many days of discussion on the Bill, we have heard an absolute torrent of humbug from the Opposition Benches on this issue. Of course it is necessary to try to create arrangements to avoid future misuses of power by a government of any political persuasion. However, perhaps I may say, with great respect to the noble Viscount, that there has to be just a touch of humility when he addresses the House on this issue.
I turn, briefly, to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, which proposes that the Government should have broad parity with the major opposition party. However, as he would recognise, by the terms of the Government's White Paper and, indeed, the interesting amendment tabled by his noble friend Lord Lamont, who unhappily is not in his place, the Conservative Party is still substantially over-represented in this House. It will continue to be, given the ration of 42 new Conservative hereditary Peers who will be allowed to remain here. When the noble Lord makes such a proposition, one inevitably has to look at it rather critically.
Lord Waddington: Does not the noble Lord recognise that those words are taken straight from the White Paper? Surely I have made it plain enough that the point of the amendments is to ask the Government whether they are prepared to write into the Bill what they state are their own intentions.
Lord Harris of Greenwich: I am sure that the noble Lord is aware that I have pointed out that the document was produced by the Labour Party and ourselves even before the last general election. Therefore, it was available to be discussed at that time. It was agreed that the proportions of party political Peers should be not on the basis of equality between the Conservative and Labour Parties, but on the basis of the proportion of people supporting those political parties in a general election. That is the difficulty.
Lord Harris of Greenwich: If the noble Lord will reread the White Paper, he will see that what I have said is incorporated in it. However, the point before us is a simple one; that is, whether the amendments should be agreed as part of the Bill. If the Conservative Party behaves as it has on previous occasions, in a few moments the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, will withdraw the amendment. I do not know whether he proposes to divide the Committee. As I have indicated, I consider that the discussion on this matter is entirely reasonable. However, what are not reasonable are the constant assertions that there was purity in the past and there may be malevolence in the future as far as the present Government are concerned.
The Earl of Errol: As a Cross-Bencher, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord a question. Does he agree with the premise I put forward earlier that the Tory Party needs equally to be controlled in the future by an amendment such as this? I believe that is what he was saying.
Lord Harris of Greenwich: It is perfectly reasonable for us to discuss the particular circumstances in which an appointments commission should be created. The reply of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, will be listened to with great care for that precise reason. Of course, it is reasonable to discuss that matter and to seek reassurance that the behaviour of such an appointments commission will be fair.
Lord Harris of Greenwich: The noble Lord has asked a question. If he is good enough to allow me to reply, I shall endeavour to do so. We had the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, for instance, that under the Bill as presently drafted it will be easier to manipulate the House. As I have tried to point out, manipulation took place under Conservative Ministers. Noble Lords such as the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, when he was patronage secretary, did absolutely nothing to deal with the situation.
Lord Shore of Stepney: I hope that my noble friends will not be dismissive of the proposals put forward. I would be the last to suggest to them that they should simply adopt the amendments. That clearly is not on. However, I hope that they will think further about the matter and perhaps, at a later stage, tell us of their conclusions.
Perhaps I may explain why I say that. I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, on Second Reading. What he has done in these amendments was foreshadowed in that speech. Frankly, I thought that his speech then fell into two parts. In one part, with which I strongly disagreed, he was highly critical of all that we were up to and our motives. However, I thought that the second part was really rather good. He picked out those features of what we have volunteered and have put to the country which I believe, on merit, are extremely attractive.
In the past our criticism of the House of Lords, apart from its hereditary composition, which is well understood, has been its total imbalance of party strengths. We volunteered and, with tremendous courage, committed ourselves, first, to parity, not supremacy, and, secondly, not to fall for the temptation of giving one party a majority over the whole second Chamber or upper Chamber, whatever it will be called. These are enormously important features of our proposals. The proposal that we shall seek to ensure that a substantial number of independent Peers, the Cross-Benchers, will be retained, gives that promise of a real element of independence in the future Chamber. On merit, I find the latter arguments to be very powerful.
Perhaps I may put to my noble friends the following point. Whether bogusly or genuinely, many people are writing editorials criticising what we are doing and saying that the principal objection is that it will leave
I put it to my noble friends that, if we can find a way of incorporating these principles into the Bill itself, although not in detail, we will have a very persuasive additional ability to sell it to the country as a whole. We really are saying to the country, "Look, we stand for the genuinely independent second Chamber, one where the parties are equally balanced". It is a guarantee of many of our liberties and, indeed, of the fairness with which our constitutional arrangements will be carried out in the future.
Obviously, there can be quite a considerable argument about the proposed commission and I would not wish to come to a conclusion in that respect. In some ways, I believe it to be of secondary importance to the three principles. If we are to have a substantial number of Cross-Bench representatives in the second House and if we are really to stick to the business of one party not having an overall majority and the two main parties being equal, the room for mischief in the use of patronage as regards the appointment of independent Peers is not all that great.
Therefore, in thinking about this, I hope that my noble friends will take a serious look at the matter to see whether we can fit this into the framework without it leading to unnecessary difficulties. I understand that any such amendment will inevitably raise questions of further debate in the other place. Nevertheless, I do not believe that there will be any resistance in the other Chamber if we can find a way to incorporate these most desirable features which we, ourselves, have proposed and volunteered.
Lord Lucas: It may appear that I have some amendments in this group, but that is not so. Indeed, I have taken them out and ungrouped them from each other. When we come to deal with them, I hope that it will be unnecessary for me to move them. I hope that we shall find that we are in dialogue with the Government in dealing with the underlying issues which cause us and, evidently, others on all sides of the House, so much disquiet. However, if we find that we are faced with an intransigent Government and that, like the rest of the House, we are having to discuss how we should tackle the matter, I trust that my amendments may give us a reasonable opportunity to consider the various aspects of the proposed appointments commission and other ways of dealing with this problem in some detail. In that case, we may perhaps be able to bring back an amendment on Report, which is likely to command wide-spread support in the House.
As the Bill is set at the moment, the Government are inviting us, as I said on Tuesday, to set to sea in a sieve on the basis that they will rush out to our rescue before the water is up round our necks. I accept everything
In an earlier interjection, the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, suggested that we should not change this Bill in any way which would reduce the Government's incentive to move on to stage two. However, if we leave this Bill in a state where the Government, merely by appointing 30 or 40 extra Peers and exercising some judicious selection of the Cross-Bench Peers, were able to have effective control of this House, there will be no incentive for the Government to go through the pain--and it will be painful--of introducing stage two. Indeed, it will be a difficult and time-consuming thing to do, but if the Government are left in a position where they have effective control of the House, there will be no incentive whatever for them to make any changes.
The Government need look no further than our own record in office to see that we were perfectly content with a manifestly inequitable and indefensible system because we were in control of it. When we were in power, there was never any hope of persuading the Government in another place to make any changes. We cannot let that happen again. I very much hope that the Government are as determined as I am to ensure that we leave this Bill in a state where that cannot happen again.
Beyond anything else, it is proposed that we should be bought with the arrangements arrived at under the heading of the "Weatherill amendment". But if the Bill remains as it is and the Government can obtain control of the House over two or three years merely by appointing Peers in a way for which there is adequate precedent, the Weatherill amendment will be worth nothing to us. We will have achieved nothing by it. We will merely have let this House be acquired as part of an arm of the executive without offering any resistance. I do not believe that that should be part of the deal we are being offered. I believe that the Government are being honest in offering us the Weatherill amendment. When we come to discuss ways of making that water-tight and the Bill acceptable so that we are being offered a real proposition in the Weatherill amendment, I hope that the Government will go along with us in trying to ensure that what we are being offered is a real compromise.
I do not have any particular attachment to the ways in which it has been suggested that we should tackle these problems. Indeed, I have no particular attachment to what I propose in my own amendments. There may well be other ways to approach the matter; for example, we might do it by something declaratory in the Bill, which would make it extremely difficult for a future Prime Minister to behave in a way which is not envisaged by this Government. I look forward to listening to the Minister when he responds to the debate.
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