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Lord Watson of Richmond: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. She explained to the House that she was sharing with us this evening some of her background thinking and some of the crossings-out as well as the ticks. However, can she also share with us when she hopes to arrive at a strategy?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, indeed, I shall. This is a slightly long-winded answer and I apologise to the noble Lord, but in replying I want to make two points. The first is that it is very important to the work that we are doing that we have a strategy that is well resourced and that meets with approval from those who will have to implement it. Much criticism is heaped on all governments in all societies for coming up with ideas that have not been tried and tested. It is not our intention to do that.
Secondly, for the next few months the languages steering group will continue to deliberate on the different parts of education. I hope to be able to come to your Lordships' House with a thought-through strategy by the autumn. I say that on the basis that we have already begun to think about that languages strategy. Noble Lords will be aware of that because I know that such documents are in existence. But we need to talk to many colleagues to discuss and debate
I shall be brief in finishing. As the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, said, it is important that this is joined-up government. However, it is also important that we recognise that a political will exists to take action on this matter. I say to my noble friend Lord Radice that we need to be careful about mixing need with political will. We should approach this because it is of value and important to our society, not just simply on the basis of need.
We wish to move to a strategy based on practical action that we can undertake. We shall be exploring all the proposals I have indicated. We are mindful that noble Lords will have other ideas. I look forward to speaking with noble Lords, both in your Lordships' House and outside.
In conclusion I do not pretend that there is anything other than a lot to do. We are fortunate in the partners with whom we are working, including the Nuffield Foundation, CILT, subject associations, business, teachers, students and others. We are determined that our solutions will stand the test of time, can be resourced properly, are not rushed and are well thought through. I hope that I have given your Lordships some indication of our commitment. Once again, I thank my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel for initiating the debate.
My noble friend has given us many ideas. There are many things which both she and the department are studying. As yet we have not had any action on, or a strategy for, the Nuffield report. It is a question of waiting until the autumn. I am sure that noble Lords who have taken part in the debate will hold my noble friend to that. I hope, too, that the Government will provide time for a debate on the matter in the autumn.
Meanwhile, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. It has been a useful exercise. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Michie, for her speech, which was not in Gaelic. Perhaps I should have replied in Welsh. It was a most distinguished maiden speech and we look forward to hearing from her on many occasions on all sorts of subjects at which she is expert.
On a personal note, I echo the comments of my noble friend the Minister. I am glad to see the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, in her place. She was much missed and I am glad that she has returned. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.
I start by offering an apology to your Lordships, particularly to the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House, for the fact that this is the second week running in which he, particularly, is required to sit on the Government Front Bench and to speak on the tricky subject of Lords reform.
On the other hand, I believe that discussion has moved on since the two day debate of last week. It has become clear, not least from the debate in the other place last Thursday, that the White Paper, entitled The House of Lords, Completing the Reform, will not complete the reform. It is, perhaps, a step on the way. It has provoked argumentwhich is a good thingrather than agreement. Therefore, it is appropriate to look further, not so much tonight at the question of composition of the reformed House, which has dominated past debates, but much more, as I should like to do in the context of my Bill, at the powers and functions of a reformed House, a subject which has had much less attention.
I do not expect myself, a single Back-Bencher, to change the British constitution, though it would be pleasant if one were able to do so. However, I hope to use tonight's debate as a lever to get greater thoughts from the Government as to their position on the question of increasing the powers and functions of a reformed and partly elected upper Chamber.
Almost exactly 90 years ago, Winston Churchill, then a young and pretty bumptious Home Secretary in Asquith's Liberal Government, after winning two elections in 1910, and in discussion about what became the Parliament Act 1911, wrote to Asquith on 3rd January 1911, after the second election stating:
The argument works in reverse. We now have a vast majority of life Peers. In my judgment, we shall soon be joined by a proportion of elected Peers. At that stage, the upper Chamber must, at least in logic and reason, be considered as more representative, therefore more legitimate, although I accept that that is a difficult word to define. Therefore, it is appropriate to consider in that context whether the powers are adequate or should be increased. At the same time, in the process of considering reform of the upper
I accept that both the Royal Commission and the White Paper thought that our powers were adequate. Apart from a small diminution of our powers in relation to statutory instruments, they recommended no change. However, at the same time, reading carefully the language, there was a hint that part of the problem for them was that it was all too difficult to make a real change in our powers. That argument has been put to me by several noble friends on these Benches; that is, it is just too difficult to try. Is it right to accept that at this moment of potential reform? Are our powers adequate?
Compared to international examples of other bicameral legislations, our powers are relatively weak. In the United States, the Senate and the House of Representatives, both of which are elected, are equal in legislative power. I often remember a remark attributed to one of the founding fathers, in which he was asked to describe in his judgment the difference between the Senate and the House of Representatives. He drew an analogy with a cup and saucer. He said that the House of Representatives was there as the cup and the Senate as the saucer to catch the overflow from the cup. That is a nice way to put it. We should consider whether or not we are a good enough saucer.
I refer to Australia and Canada, which have more recent constitutions. The United Kingdom played a part in the formation of those constitutions. Australia has an elected Senate. I believe that Canada has a fully nominated Senate. In both cases, they have considerably stronger and greater powers than ours. The upper House may amend or reject any ordinary Bill and may amend financial Bills. In neither case is there any specific limit on the amount of delay that the upper House can impose.
In Germany, the most recent constitution of substantial sizeagain, one in which after 1945 our British advisers played a considerable part in formingBills where the two Houses, the Bundestag and the Bundesrat, do not agree, must be submitted to a joint mediation committee of both Houses. That committee is composed of 16 Members of each House. Interestingly, they serve on it for only one parliamentary session. It is considered to be a very powerful committee. It has to come up with a compromise that is acceptable to both Houses. I suspect that in the long run, after we have a reformed upper Chamber, that is the kind of remedy that we shall arrive at. There will be a joint mediation committee that will try to settle disputes. Obviously that will take a long time to arrive at. In the short term, it is much easier to concentrate on the length of delay
I must confessperhaps I should notthat as Government Chief Whip under a Conservative Government about 10 or 11 years ago, I found the delaying powers of the upper Chamber irritating, but not a great deal more than that. Mea maxima culpa perhaps, but that is the truth of the matter. Other people might say to me, "Well, all that has changed now. There is a large Labour majority in the lower House. In this House there is a close balance now between Conservative and Labour Members and Cross-Benchers, with the Liberal Democrats adding a good dash of pepper and salt. So the situation is totally different to what it was when you were Government Chief Whip in the Commons". But, having been here now for rather more than four years, have things changed very much? I do not get the impression that they have. We are still very hesitant to use the limited powers that we have. Therefore, in my little Bill, I have concentrated on this delaying power and have sought to extend it in order that, fundamentally, we should have more influence and a stronger negotiating position with the lower Chamber.
The contents of my Bill are very simple. It is only one page long. The effect of Clause 1 is to restore the powers of the House of Lords to delay public Bills coming from the Commons for two years rather than one year. It is a power that existed after the Parliament Act 1911 but was removed by the Parliament Act of 1949. It applies only, as I have said, to public Bills, ordinary Bills that are not money Bills.
There are two important limitations on this. The first clause does not apply to public Bills that come to us from the Commons in the third or subsequent Sessions of a Parliamentin the second half of a Parliament. Therefore, given that most Parliaments last for four or five years, my reason for putting that in was that if a Parliament runs its normal course of four years or more, no new power is being given to the upper Chamber to kick a Bill from the Commons over to the other side of a general election. I thought that that was an important continuing curb and restraint.
I have chosen this particular route for a partial restoration of the power of the upper Chamber because the greater the power to delay, the more influence the upper Chamber will have over the lower Chamber, which I fully accept is the primary legislating body. I am not suggesting any alteration to that basic primacy of the Commons. I accept that what I am suggesting is both modest, because it gives the Chamber a greater opportunity to increase its powers to revise and amend only in the first two years of a Parliament, but it is also radical. It is radical because it is the first time that for 90 years we would see a minor increase in the powers of the upper Chamber to coincide with the arrival of elected Members.
I have triedI want to be in this contextto be constructive, rather than confrontational. I was much struck and much believe in the first sentence in the Prime Minister's opening statement in the White Paper. He said:
Lord Hylton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, for introducing a Bill which gives us the opportunity to discuss the way Parliament works and what the functions of a second Chamber should be. I wish the Bill well. I trust that it will be very fruitful in all its subsequent stages.
I suspect that the Labour Party, which I notice is barely visible tonight, except on the Front Bench, has not asked itself the right questions. It seized on an obvious anomalynamely, the hereditary peerageand asked how this could best be removed. Labour failed to ask: What are the proper functions of Parliament? How can the two Houses best divide the necessary tasks and work together like a pair of organs in the human body? Labour overlooked the consequences of the absence of independents and the effects of rigid party discipline in another place. It seems not to have reflected on the constitutional impact of the "payroll vote" in that place. The combined phalanx of Ministers, junior Ministers, Whips and PPSs together ensures that few, if any, non-governmental amendments are approved in another place. Labour overlooked also the effect of the heavy burden of constituency work on Members of another place. Much of this burden, in my view, relates to matters that are primarily the concern of local authorities. Or, like education, health and housing, they should rationally be devolved to English regions.
I believe that I have touched on some of the factors which account for the low esteem in which politicians are currently held and for the trend towards an ever lower turn-out at general elections. These factors may explain why we in your Lordships' House not infrequently receive letters from people who prefer our reasonably non-partisan debates and our independence of outlook. They may also throw light on the situation in which it was necessary for this House last year to approve 4,761 amendments to Bills.
For these reasons, I support the demand of the noble Lord, Lord Denham, and others for a Joint Committee of both Houses, to consider the parliamentary implications of reform. The interactions of the Houses need to be fully considered on a joint basis, with the minimum of ministerial pressure. The Government said plainly that that would happen, and now they seem to be drawing back. They should bear in mind that the interests of good legislation are permanent and above politics; they are a public need, as important as the interests of justice.
That brings me to the purpose and functions of the second Chamber. It should be complementary and capable of taking a longer-term and more strategic view of policies. Its advice on constitutional matters and on minority and human rights issues should continue to command the respect of all. It also has the supplementary role of constantly calling the executive to account and holding it responsible for the consequences of its decisions. For legislation, the second Chamber is, and should be, primarily a revising one. That is not to exclude Private Members' Bills, private Bills and some government measures originating here. The huge flow of secondary legislation makes necessary a sifting mechanism, to draw attention to significant and controversial orders. There should be power not only to delay secondary legislation, but to reject or amend it as may be desirable.
The second Chamber, as many have said, should retain the right to reject any measure breaching the entrenched quinquennial Act. The task of examining Bills in draft or outline form and of considering the effect of Acts after they have been in force for a period should be shared with the other place. A Joint Committee of both Houses should also consider how the various stages of Bills can most effectively be spread between the two Houses, bearing in mind the variable length and content of legislation. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, about mediation and conciliation in disputes between the two Houses. That is most important.
Your Lordships must ensure that the present accumulated experience of European policies and legislation is not diminished. In that context, I have suggested that the British Members of the European Parliament should have the right, when they wish, to attend and speak, but not to vote, in the new second Chamber. On to the existing competence in European matters it would be wise to build a new function of examining treaties, especially those of global significance, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, and others have proposed.
Nearly three years ago, in evidence to the Royal Commission, I agreed with those proposing a Chamber of some 450 Members. Now, it seems that the target is 600 or more, to accommodate part-timers and to diversify the party political elements. I also advocated the indirect election of a majority, to overcome the inherent lack of democratic credibility of a mainly hereditary or a mainly appointed House. In that, I agreed with the Fabian Society, but I know that the more vocal parts of the public who met the Royal Commission dislike the idea.
I believe that the concept still has merit. It overcomes problems such as the timing and multiplicity of elections and the level of turn-out. It would also reduce the influence of national political parties. That might be helpful. It could help to improve the participation of women and members of ethnic minorities in a reasonably democratic and non-paternalistic way. I do not say that all have to be elected indirectly; a direct percentage would be acceptable, and nomination would still be important if we are to achieve the widest spread of experience and independence.
I shall give two examples of indirect election in practice. It has been suggested that the British MEPs should elect a number of people, not themselves MEPs, to act as a long-term liaison group between Brussels and Westminster. Again, we might consider how the main religious faiths should be represented. I would like that to be done by lay people, rather thanwith due respect to the Bishopsby clergy, as at present. The existing Anglican Bishops would retire, and the various faith or denominational groups would be asked to elect a quota of, say, 30 in proportion to the membership of each electing group.
I conclude on the terms and conditions for the second Chamber. It should be called the senate and its members senators, thus finally severing the link between aristocracy and Parliament. I recall the telling phrase used by the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, who quoted Churchill's phrase about the clink of coronets. The terms of service should be long and should be the same for elected and nominated Members. All Members need not serve for the same length of time, but the terms could range from seven to 15 years. If lists must be used, they should be open ones. The system of daily expenses should be continued for as long as it can attract good quality Members with diverse experience. The nominating body for appointed Members and any other necessary purposes should be essentially a parliamentary one, once again without Ministers. It could, of course, include some non-parliamentarians to represent the wider national interest.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Renton of Mount Harry on introducing his Bill to amend the Parliament Act 1949 and limit its application as soon as the first popular election is held to elect Members of your Lordships' House.
The principle underlying the Bill is clear. It is that the powers of the House should not be inhibited to the extent described in the Bill and by my noble friend once the composition of your Lordships' House has been changed to include an elected element. The obverse side of that coin is that the powers of the House should be increased after reform, as proposed in the White Paper or in any other proposals that include an elected element. Judging by the polls, I understand that many people want to see an elected House of Lords. I venture to suggest that what they want is the House of Lords at its traditional best, but elected by them. Of course, they do not want a replica of the other place. That proposition would find favour with the electorate and possibly with the majority of your Lordships.
The underlying assumption in any election is that those elected are given a degree of pre-eminence, and, in politics, that means power and influence. Voters do not vote for nothing. They expect those for whom they vote and who are elected to be able to serve their interests. My noble friend's Bill removes one of the restraints on the power exercised by your Lordships' House. Some of those restraints were self-imposed, over the years, because the House was conscious of its unelected status.
It is curious that the Government have only belatedly realised that they have opened a Pandora's box by proposing an elected element. In the Government's White Paper it is 20 per cent, but according to a report in tonight's Evening Standard under the heading "Blair hints at U-turn on Lords reform", there was a private meeting of Labour MPs at Westminster with the Prime Minister. There was talk of a revised blueprint and the newspaper suggests that that would include a bigger elected element.
Therefore, the ratchet is slipping and there are those who will not rest content until they have an entirely elected House. Such is the threat that the Leader of the House in the other place devoted a substantial part of his opening speech in last Thursday's debate to countering such a proposal. He said:
Curiously, the non-elected, appointed element in the composition of the House has suddenly become all important. It is the Government's last line of defence against more democracy, more accountability. After the two days of debate in your Lordships' House and the one day in the other place, no one is under any illusion as to the purpose of the Government's reforming strategy. It is to remove the Conservative majority and substitute their own as best they can.
That last phrase raises the very interesting question of how the non-voters, the abstainers, at the last election, for example, are to be represented. There were some 40.6 per cent of them. Are they to be represented by independents, or not at all? I leave the question open.
Under the White Paper proposals, because of the closed list system of choosing candidates for election and the basis of appointment, 80 per cent of Members would be directly or indirectly appointed by the political parties. That was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell. Therefore, what we might be faced with here in the event of a Labour defeat at the polls would be a hangover of Labour domination able to block Conservative measures for some years to come. Alternatively, if Labour continues to win, its measures will be able to pass through this place unscathed. The Government would be assured of victory in the Division Lobbies and the executive's power will know no bounds.
But of course the ratchet has not stopped. The Conservative leader, the right honourable Iain Duncan Smith, has proposed that 80 per cent of his smaller House should be elected on a first-past-the-post basis. His proposals are part of a larger scheme of reform of both Houses designed to increase the accountability of the executive. He, too, has acknowledged that the House should have additional powers. It would be similar in some ways to the American Senate. All his proposals would, of course, be put to a Joint Committee of both Houses, which is to us on this side of the House a sine qua non for the consideration of that proposal.
The point, surely, is that once there is a body with an elected element, especially if that element exceeds 50 per cent of the whole, it will inevitably seek more powers. It is happening already in the Scottish Parliament, in the National Assembly of Wales, and I am sure that it will happen here.
If my noble friend's Bill does no more than highlight the close relationship between elections and powers and hint at the shape of things to come if the Government persist with their plans, it will have served a useful purpose. But I hope that it will do more than that which I have just said.
Lord Donaldson of Lymington: My Lords, I join in this debate in order to draw attention to a significant omission in the House of Lords paper, Completing The Reform. It is an omission that I believe could possibly mislead. I refer to paragraphs 29 and 30. The cross heading is "Parliament Acts".
That is all very fine and large but there is no hint of any dissent from the Royal Commission's recommendations in "Changes to the Parliament Acts" and, in particular, paragraph 5.15. That paragraph states:
In the Government's paper there is no indication of their attitude towards that. Indeed, if one read it quickly, it could be thought that they fully accept the proposals. However, it is reasonably clear that they have not done so up until now. On 1st February 1999, the then President of the Council and Leader of the House in the other place, Margaret Beckett, said:
Almost a year later, on 19th January of last year, the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House, replying at col. 1330 on behalf of the Governmentat the time he was the Attorney-Generalto a Second Reading debate on the Parliament Acts (Amendment) Bill, which I had introduced, made it perfectly clear that, from the Government's point of view, any attempt to clarify whether the 1949 Act was ultra vires was unnecessary and any attempt to entrench the provisions of the Parliament Act 1911 as amended would be either unnecessary or would not be accepted. That was made quite clear.
I ask the question: what is the Government's position today? Of course they seek a consensus on terms which are satisfactory to them. I make no criticism of that. But if they secure consensus and agreement, after having enacted that consensus will they move on and treat it merely as the basis for further negotiation or further intimidation or further unilateral action? We need to know, because I cannot help but think that the main parties, even though they are the main opposition parties, could not go along with a consensus which was in fact only an interim measure and thus left the other House in a position, in effect, to renege on it, or at any rate, to move on to an entirely different basis.
If the Government do not get a consensus, what are their intentions then? Will they try now to use the Parliament Acts procedures to push through what they believe to be in the best interests of the country as a whole? If that is the case, I ought to warn them that I have no doubt at all that that would be resisted in the courts. Whether the courts would take the view which I am inclined to take; namely, that the amendments apparently produced by the 1949 Act are in fact ultra vires, or whether they would uphold the Government's position, I know not. But it does not really matter because in constitutional terms we ought, if we possibly can, to avoid a situation in which the courts become involved in such an exercise.
On the Bill as it stands, I make only two points. The first I shall apologise for because I am sure that it will be dismissed as a pettifogging legalism. I do not think that the 1949 Act can be amended and produce any results at all. That Act, whether it was good or bad, is spent; it amended the 1911 Act. If the mover of the Bill wishes to move on from there, he will have to amend
On the Bill's merits, I am bound to say that I do not think that this is the time to decide whether we should alter the powers of this House. The time to consider that decision is when there is some clear consensus or determination by the Government as to what are the duties of this House in the parliamentary context; that is, in the context of this House, the other place and of an all-powerful executive. What is the function of this House? Having decided those matters, and seeing what the composition will bea revised compositionit will then be the time to decide what powers are appropriate. For the moment, however, I go along with the view taken by the Royal Commission. Subject to entrenchment, there is no case at the moment for altering the powers of this House.
Lord Skidelsky: My Lords, I greatly welcome the opportunity afforded by the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, to discuss the powers of this House. I listened with great interest to the cogent speech of my noble and learned friend Lord Donaldson, who approached the subject from a different angle but, I believe, with the same general objective as that of the mover of the Bill; that is, to find a way of limiting the executive power being exercised on behalf of the so-called supremacy of the House of Commons.
The debate held last week was concerned solely with the composition of the House, except for the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, who did refer to the powers of the House. That followed the lead of the White Paper. In my view, composition and powers are the two blades of the same pair of scissors. I understand that the principle lying behind the Bill is that powers should be proportional to composition. The more authority or legitimacy the House of Lords acquires, the greater should be its powers. This Bill suggests a small, practical step to give effect to a very large principle.
The noble Lord, Lord Renton, reminded us that the Parliament Act 1911 was intended as an interim measure to curb the power of an entirely hereditary House of Lords pending a more radical reform of its composition. It was in that context that a suspensory veto of two years, reduced to one year in 1949, replaced the absolute veto on non-money Bills. Now the House has been recomposed, but ironically the interim measures have achieved the status of holy writ.
The reasoning behind the Parliament Acts was simple. It was wrong that a chamber whose members were there by accident of birth could thwart the will of an elected government. The offence was aggravated by the fact that the hereditary Peers were predominantly supporters of the Conservative Party. Your Lordships' House was memorably dubbed, "Mr Balfour's poodle" in the constitutional crisis which led to the Parliament Act 1911.
I am not sure whether it was the accident of birth or the Conservative allegiance that accompanied it which rankled most with the Liberal and then Labour governments. Had the accidents been more randomly distributed among the political parties, with an occasional inclination towards progressive causes, I suspect that the animus against the hereditary peerage would have been much less. Be that as it may, the two Acts of Parliament were understandable and properly justified in the circumstances of the time.
But those are not the circumstances of today. Practically all the hereditaries have gone and the rest will soon be given their marching orders. There is no Conservative majority. As the Lord Chancellor pointed out, this House now has 220 Conservative Peers, 200 Labour Peers, 65 Liberal Democrats and 189 Cross-Benchers and others. In short, the reasons which led to the two Parliament Acts no longer apply. In strict logic, they ceased to do so from the moment the balance started to shift from accident to merit with the Life Peerages Act 1963. Yet the Government, with widespread support in last week's debatethe only point on which they did have widespread supporthave insisted that the relationship between the two Houses set up by those Acts is sacrosanct.
So what are the new reasons for maintaining the status quo? One argument is that even a second House appointed on merit would lack the legitimacy of an elected House of Commons. The Lord Chancellor rightly rejected the suggestion that such a House would have no legitimacy at all. He pointed out that election was not the only route to legitimacy, giving the judiciary as an example. He might have gone further. Spiritual authority has never depended on electionand I doubt whether we would be altogether happy if our hips were replaced by elected doctors or our aeroplanes flown by elected pilots. In the euro-zone, the legitimacy of the European Central Bank is thought to depend precisely on its not being democratically accountable.
The Government in fact propose a hybrid House, with a relatively small elected element; the Liberal Democrats would go further with an almost wholly elected House; and the Conservatives have now jumped onto that particular bandwagon with the idea of a Senate, of which 80 per cent of its Members would be elected. I recognise that in a democracy an appointed or a hybrid House would have an inferior mandate to a wholly elected one. Parenthetically, we should not swallow entire the doctrine of the mandate. The main function of democracy, as I conceive it, is not to implement the will of the peoplebecause what is the will of the people?but to give voters a chance of choosing their rulers. That is a hallowed tradition in political theory. So I would not overstress the doctrine of the mandate. But, accepting it for the moment, would the mandate of the House which the Government propose be so inferior to the mandate of the House of Commons as to justify maintaining the Parliament Acts in their full rigour? That is the question to which the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, draws attention and which deserves a wider airing.
Behind all the fine talk about maintaining the supremacy of the Commons lies the barely concealed aim of maintaining the supremacy of the executive. We have come to regard the arrangements which make this possible as the bedrock of democracy. But in no other advanced democracy is power concentrated so exclusively on the executive. All other countries have mixed or balanced constitutions. In Britain, there are no general formal checks and balances on the House of Commons at all.
That was not always the case. Before the executive gathered unto itself all the powers hitherto distributed between the Monarch, the Lords and the Commons, there was a balanced constitution. Eighteenth-century political theorists looked to the British constitution as a model of a balance-of-power constitution in devising their own constitutions. But that has gone completely. The process was quite relentless, it was unplanned and it was made possible by the lack of a written constitution. You may say that this accretion of power by the executive was accidentalas accidental as the accidents of birth to which such objection has been taken.
The Government's case amounts to this. By a series of accidents we have reached a situation of executive supremacy with which Ministers are wholly comfortable; "Let us not change that". I fear that historical accidents are no longer quite so fashionable as they were as a basis for constitutional thinking. Once you start stirring the constitutional pot, who knows what kinds of accidents and anomalies will start floating to the surface.
The alternative to accidents is simpleit is logic. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, has dipped his toe into the treacherous stream of reason. I believe that we would find it rather invigoratingthough perhaps un-Englishto follow him at least part of the way.
Lord Renton: My Lords, I support my noble friend's Bill. I voted against the 1949 Actindeed, I may be the only living person who did soand I confess that, although we feared very much at the time that it would do a lot of harm, both Houses of Parliament have learnt to live with it. But we must remember and bear in mind in all our future decisions on this matter of the composition and powers of your Lordships' House, in particular, that over the past 50 yearsespecially in the past five yearsthere have been important changes in composition, particularly in regard to the other place.
For most of the years since 1949 there has been enough talent, experience and expertise in the other place to accept the decisions of your Lordships' House and to realise that they are well founded. As the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, said, we make several thousand amendments each year to government legislation and, luckily, so far the other place has always accepted all but a very small number of them. But in considering this particular matter of the law, we must not ignore the changing composition that has already taken place
As I said in the debate last week, the House of Commons no longer has the people accustomed to responsibility that it needs, whereas there are people in your Lordships' House who are accustomed to responsibility of almost every imaginable kind. That is a factor that we should bear in mind in relation to this legislation and in relation to the composition of the House.
Let me make one or two brief comments about my noble friend's Bill. By the way, he is not the noble Lord, Lord Renton; he is the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry. I would not wish him to be, so to speak, diminished merely by having to use my name.
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