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Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, can the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor give us an

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assurance that, because of the complications involved with disabled people, they will not be turned down by lawyers and will always have access to a lawyer?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, as I said, I can think of no reason why a disabled person would be turned down by a lawyer. Legal aid lawyers act on behalf of the disabled today and there is no conceivable reason why it would be in their interests not to do so tomorrow.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, nevertheless, is not the Lord Chancellor aware of the great concern within the legal profession, particularly among groups which act for minorities, including the disabled, that under the conditional fee system where the lawyer receives double fee or no fee, the prospect is that in difficult cases of low value lawyers will not find it in their interest to act for the disabled in cases where they are now ready and willing to do so under legal aid?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, there is no rational reason whatever--lawyers are rational people--why a lawyer would abstain from acting under a conditional fee agreement for someone who is disabled when he would not abstain from acting for someone who is not disabled.

Baroness Uddin: My Lords, does my noble and learned friend accept that members of minority groups who are disabled are doubly disadvantaged in accessing justice? If so, can he tell the House what he proposes to do to redress that inequality?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I would require persuasion that a member of a minority group who is also disabled is doubly disabled in relation to access to justice. I accept that he or she is doubly disabled, but not the latter.

Rover Car Company

3.7 p.m.

Lord Brougham and Vaux asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What talks they have had with Karel van Miert, the European Union Competition Commissioner, regarding the aid package to BMW for the Rover Car Company.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the UK met with the European Commission on 11th May to discuss the package of support for Rover's Longbridge plant. This was the first of a series of meetings which are expected to take place. The UK will shortly be lodging its formal notification of the aid package with the European Commission.

Lord Brougham and Vaux: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, as far as it goes. However, if the Government failed to convince Herr Miert and as his approval is necessary, can the Minister say when

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they intend to meet him again? Is it not unfair to the workers of Longbridge that they have been led to believe that all is well and doubts are now cast on the future of the rescue package?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the words which Commissioner van Miert used were that he, "remains to be convinced" of the mobility aspect of the aid package; in other words, whether there was a realistic alternative to Longbridge for the development of the R30 car. Mr. van Miert has expressed comparable opinions on many occasions. We are confident that at the end of the negotiations we will show that in all respects, as we anticipated, the aid package is in conformity with the EU framework. A series of meetings to which I referred in my first Answer will start on 7th July.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, would it not have been far better if Her Majesty's Government had made certain that the Competitions Commissioner was content with the package before it was announced? Are not the Government ashamed at the terms of the press release issued by the Commission when it said:

    "The UK Government gave ample coverage yesterday [last week] to its formal agreement with BMW over an aid package to Rover's Longbridge factory. It should be quite clear that the UK Government must notify the aid to the Commission and indeed withhold any payment until the Commission has formally approved the proposal"? Is not that a fairly stiff reprimand? Is it perhaps the reason why neither of the two Ministers who look after the DTI in your Lordships' House have come along today? Will not the Government do this kind of thing the next time, and, before they trumpet aid, clear it with the Commission?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord knows as well as I do that aid packages of this kind are always subject ultimately to the European Commission. It has always been the case that they have been announced before the final negotiations are complete, always under his government as well as under this Government. This is no exception to the rule. In those circumstances, there has been no breach of existing procedure. BMW, Rover and the United Kingdom Government always knew from the beginning that ultimately European sanction would be needed. We said so at the time and we say so now. As for my presence at the Dispatch Box, I apologise, as always, to the noble Lord for the inadequacy of my answers.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, would my noble friend agree that the well known pro-European credentials of the noble Lord who has just asked that question need these days perhaps to be hidden, when one considers the company that he keeps?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, is too fly to allow

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himself to be caught with the Eurosceptic philosophy of his party. He always asks questions and makes speeches which fail to reveal his own views.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, can the noble Lord the Minister assure the House that these aid packages are dealt with by the Commission in an even-handed way across the whole Community?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, of course they are dealt with in an even-handed way. The framework is well established. It has been set out for many years. I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, that we are very much in favour of the rigorous application of competition legislation in the European Community. It is enormously to our advantage to see that unjustified state aid is reduced and that genuine competition throughout the European Union is encouraged by this kind of regulation.

Lord Paul: My Lords, I congratulate the Government on the support that they have given to BMW and Rover. It is an essential industry in that part of the country. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will expedite the procedure of the European Commission?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for those congratulations on behalf of the Government. It is, of course, a procedure which takes a number of months. There has to be a thorough investigation by case officers into all the matters that are contained within the framework. We will, of course, be doing our part by submitting our evidence. BMW and Rover will also be doing their part by submitting their evidence in sufficient time to ensure that we reach a satisfactory conclusion, of which I am confident, as early as possible.

House of Lords Bill

3.14 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now further considered on Report.

Moved, That the Bill be further considered on Report.--(Baroness Jay of Paddington.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Lord Mancroft moved Amendment No. 46:

After Clause 3, insert the following new clause--


(" . In respect of any proceedings in the House of Lords on a Bill providing for the maximum duration of Parliament to be extended beyond five years, no peer appointed to the House of Lords under the Life Peerages Act 1958 during the course of that Parliament shall be entitled to vote on such proceedings.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, your Lordships will be pleased to hear that this is a very simple amendment. Under the provisions of the quinquennial Act, which is more properly called the Septennial Act, as amended by the Parliament Act 1911, your Lordships have an

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absolute power of veto should the government of the day bring forward a Bill to extend the life of a Parliament beyond five years. If the Government have a legitimate reason for so doing, such as in time of national emergency, your Lordships might choose to agree with the proposal. It was, for example, with your Lordships' agreement that the 1935 Parliament continued until 1945.

The power of veto was deliberately left with your Lordships under the provisions of the Parliament Act 1911, and again by the Labour Government of Mr Attlee when the 1949 Act was passed. Although it might seem unlikely that the Government would attempt such a thing, it was felt to be so important that this extraordinary and unique provision should remain. Indeed, it is significant that in its submission to the Royal Commission the Labour Party spelt out its view that this power should continue to remain with your Lordships' House.

During the course of the Bill, the Government have made it clear that the Bill before your Lordships today is solely concerned with the composition of the House and that there is no intention within it to alter the powers of the House. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, repeated this point somewhat forcefully when he addressed this issue in answer to the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Renton of Mount Harry at Committee stage.

I would suggest to your Lordships that the Government are being a little naive. Any Bill which removes a substantial proportion of the membership of this House, while not affecting the theoretical powers of the House, is bound to affect the way in which those powers can be used. No one could argue that if one were to reduce the cubic capacity of a motor car engine, it would not have a marked effect on the ability of that car to operate; of course it would.

In the case of your Lordships' House, the removal of a large number of existing Members would automatically increase the voting power of those who would remain. We have already felt the effect of the uniquely large number of new Peers who have been appointed by the Prime Minister since May 1997. I believe that the House has been happy to welcome them and has indeed benefited from their input. However, there is no denying the weight of their impact, not least in the Division Lobbies. Imagine how much greater that effect would be, whether benign or malign, which is not relevant today, when at the other end of the scale almost half the existing membership departs, as the Bill proposes.

The situation which this amendment is designed to counter is one in which a future prime minister--and, before anyone gets over excited, nobody has mentioned the present Prime Minister, who, as we all know, is completely perfect in every way--might decide that it is temporarily inconvenient to submit himself to the judgment of the electorate; and he may believe that, with a little help, he can get your Lordships to allow him an extra year in which to persuade the voters to re-elect him. I am the first to admit that this is unlikely to happen. I am also of the view that it would be extremely

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difficult to pack this House with enough new Peers to make a significant difference--unlikely and difficult, but not impossible.

Although today it may be difficult for us to envisage a set of circumstances in which that could happen, I wonder how many noble Lords sitting in this very Chamber in June 1899 would have predicted that in less than 10 years' time they would be facing a threat from the Prime Minister to pack this House. What is even more significant is the fact that noble Lords at that time clearly believed that the threat to pack the House was both real and possible. It is also interesting to note that the size of the House at that time was broadly the same as it will be when this Bill is passed.

All that this amendment does is prevent Peers of all parties and no party, appointed during the term of a Parliament, from voting on proceedings to extend the life of that Parliament. In other words, a prime minister cannot pack your Lordships' House with his supporters before asking the House to prolong the term of the Parliament beyond five years, by suspending a general election. Those Peers denied a vote on this issue will still be able to speak in the relevant debate and will be able to vote on all other proceedings as normal. Should the prime minister's request be reasonable, as it was in 1939, the House would, of course, be able to agree to it. The voting prohibition only extends to the term of that Parliament because, following a general election, the prime minister will have defended his policies and received a fresh mandate, or not, as the case may be. In either event, the electorate will have had the opportunity to express a view. My Lords, it is as simple as that.

I suspect that we shall be told that this amendment is unnecessary in the light of the assurances already given about the parity between the parties and in respect of the proposed appointments commission. Unfortunately, it is difficult to assess the impact of these, since they are not on the face of the Bill, which is what we must consider in isolation. It is equally difficult to assess the effect of the amendment that was accepted by your Lordships last week, setting up a statutory appointments commission, since the Government have already declared their intention to try to remove it from the Bill. In a sense, the importance of the amendment this afternoon is reinforced by the haphazard way in which the Government have chosen to execute the reform of your Lordships' House.

When my noble friend Lord Renton of Mount Harry proposed his amendment, the response from the Government Benches was largely devoted to destroying my noble friend's solution rather than addressing the problem. At one point the debate almost deteriorated into an extremely unpleasant "hereditary versus life Peers" match. I am happy to say that this amendment does not stray into that territory. I do not believe that hereditary Peers are the sole guardians of the constitution, nor do I believe that the life Peers who will remain cannot be relied upon to act independently or with integrity. On the contrary, I am confident that many life Peers on all sides of the House, who I have come to know and work alongside, can be relied upon with confidence. But none of us can be sure that a future Prime Minister, a person unknown who may not hold

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office until we have all gone to that great debating Chamber in the sky, will not seek to appoint a different sort of person to this House for his own short-term political gain.

It is for that reason, and that reason only, that my noble friends and I propose this amendment today. In matters constitutional, I believe that we would be failing in our duty if we did not seek to ensure that this piece of legislation is as watertight as we can make it. That is not because we do not trust the Government; it is not because we do not have faith in those noble Lords who will remain when the rest of us have taken our seats in the tumbrels. It is because none of us can see into the future and predict what political turmoil may lie ahead, particularly during the next few years of unprecedented constitutional upheaval.

The amendment would not stop the Royal Commission making recommendations; nor would it tie the Government's hands. It would not infringe upon the Labour Party's manifesto commitment and it would not alter the main substance of the Bill. Indeed, if the Government fulfil their promise to implement stage two reasonably quickly, the amendment will never come into play.

The amendment would not change the powers of your Lordships' House in any way whatever: it merely seeks to ensure that its most important constitutional power cannot be undermined. If I may say so, it is the smallest and mildest of insurance policies for a future crisis that may never happen. But if that crisis were to develop and your Lordships had failed to press the issue, we would rightly be accused of neglecting our duty. For some of us, it may be our last opportunity to be of collective service to the British people. I beg to move.

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