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Lord Desai: My Lords, Amendments No. 25 and 27 are rather long and there is a lot of detail. Having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, the message is very clear. I can describe the spirit in three propositions. The first is that no Labour Prime Minister is to be trusted. Secondly, the liberties of British subjects are only safe in the hands of hereditary Conservative Peers. Thirdly, the world will not be safe until there is another Conservative government.
Lord Waddington: My Lords, I ask the noble Lord to read what I said in Hansard tomorrow. I believe he will find that I was in no way referring to the Labour Party. I was talking about constitutions in general. I was talking about constitution makers and how they should bear in mind history and make sure that when they make constitutions there are the greatest safeguards possible against tyranny. I would have thought that anyone would agree with that. It had nothing whatever to do with the Labour Party. I believe that the noble Lord is far too sensitive.
Lord Desai: My Lords, it was not a question of fact on which the noble Lord interrupted me. The noble Lord was implying that by creating a new House of Lords this Bill will so fundamentally alter the British constitution that if these amendments are not passed there will be a greater probability of an enabling Act being suspended. That is where the analogy between the
We are not creating a dictatorship. All we are doing is removing 90 per cent. of the hereditary Peers from this House. That seems to be such an alarming thing that all our ancient liberties appear to be threatened and we need all kinds of guarantees. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has done more things that he did not have to do than any previous Prime Minister. He has promised an independent commission but, of course, it cannot be trusted. Why is it that when we come to the Weatherill amendment his word can be trusted, because, after all, the hereditary Peers are getting something, but on anything else the Prime Minster's word cannot be trusted?
Noble Lords opposite should pause and think whether they are saying that no life Peer is independent and that all life Peers in this House are corruptible, especially on the Labour side. Only we on this side are corruptible and Peers on the Opposition side are not corruptible. Only our Prime Minister is not to be trusted, but a Tory Prime Minister is. The noble Lord said that these matters were not for this Government but for future governments. Future governments would probably be Conservative or Liberal Democrat. Are noble Lords opposite saying that a Conservative or Liberal Democrat Prime Minister will so abuse their powers--
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, I am an Earl by corruption of a Conservative Prime Minister. I do not believe that they can be trusted any more than anyone else. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, complained about Mrs Thatcher creating too many life Peers. I am pretty certain that she was copying Lloyd George, which was the last time the Liberals had a chance to create Peers. Lord Wilson of Rievaulx--we know him better as Mr Harold Wilson--was not exactly squeaky clean on the honours front. No Prime Minister has been. Therefore, it is important we do something that this Prime Minister has promised to do.
I accept all the points made by noble Lords opposite that this matter is a derogation of power on behalf of a Prime Minister which is unprecedented. It is not that I do not trust him or that he is not a very honourable man. He undoubtedly is an honourable man. It is not that he is not a patriot, because he undoubtedly is. It is not that he is not a reasonable Prime Minister, because he undoubtedly is. It is that the system itself has reached a position where the executive in our country is far too powerful.
As a result of this Bill this House is going to be more powerful. As I said earlier today, one cannot blame it on Onslow. I give the Government credit for having gone a very long way to change the concept of this Bill since the publication of the original. It is not as far as I would
The Government have listened and I give them great credit for having changed their mind. Today we have had a very good example of that. Surely, they can go a little further and accept the principle of what is suggested in this amendment. I do not trust anybody when too much power is available. We know what Lord Acton said; namely that
I hope we all believe that this Government intend to do what they said they will do. But barely a month ago the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that he would implement the reforms on divorce of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, and now he will not. I make no criticism of that, because circumstances change. We cannot put the constitution of this country at risk of the changing whims of Prime Ministers.
The Government proposed the Bill and it has had my support throughout. The Bill marched under two great banners: first, the end of the hereditary peerage in the House, on which we have reached a conclusion, and, secondly, the end of one-party domination of the House, on which we have not reached a conclusion because the Bill, as it stands, allows for the government of the day, of whatever colour, to assume domination of the House by a small additional appointment of Peers. That would allow a repetition of the evil to which the Government have sought to see an end. I do not believe that we should allow that.
On a purely domestic and personal aspect, if the Bill passes as it stands, I do not believe that the Weatherill amendment, even as amended, would mean anything. If a government can assume control of the House by appointing a few extra Peers, there is no point or purpose in all the debates, concessions and good will that have been extended to us by the Government. We shall have gained nothing and this House will have become nothing.
I have no particular attachment to the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde. I hope that there are other ways of achieving this. There are surely simpler ways in terms of presenting a measure that would work and achieve what the Government have set out to achieved. I believe that it is entirely satisfactory. I hope that we shall hear from the
Lord Elton: My Lords, noble Lords opposite reject the line that my noble friends are taking because for many years there has been a built-in majority in this House of Members whom they see, understandably and correctly, as being inherently supporters of the Conservative Party only.
The Government must, first, accept that if it is wrong for the Conservative Party to have a built-in majority, because that is a threat to freedom and democracy, exactly the same applies to a built-in majority of any other party. Although there is an instinctive revulsion against forgoing the guilty pleasure of having a built-in majority, that must be put aside because it is illogical. It is also a constitutional threat.
My noble friend Lord Waddington in no way understates the importance of what we are doing. We are not simply addressing a small committee matter about a reduced House of Lords; we are doing things to the constitution upon which this country depends as much as sailors at sea depend upon their vessel. A boat is not designed for one trip in good weather; it is designed to withstand a typhoon if necessary. To say that these amendments address a small detail, a small part of the apparatus, is like reassuring the passengers or the crew of the ship by saying, "It's all right, it is only the pumps that we are messing about with".