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Lord Elton: My Lords, I am sorely tempted to make a rather slashing speech about the iniquitous way in which our criminal justice system has been misguided by politicians over the past 10 or 15 years, and not only by the present Government, but I shall content myself with asking the Government to respond to the series of questions put earlier in the debate by the noble Baroness, Lady Stern. I am also tempted to talk about school discipline, but I had a chance to do that during the previous Session, so again I shall content myself with asking the Government to have a look at the report of the inquiry that I chaired in 1988 to see how much of it was implemented and what effect it has had on the present situation.

I had thought to talk about respect and to say that what was needed was to foster in children a recognition of their responsibilities. However, the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, spoke eloquently on that, and I will add only that this is something for which you cannot legislate, you have to educate. That brings me back to the earlier subject.

The reason that I am here in this place is that I am one of the 10 per cent of the hereditary peerage left behind as a guarantee that stage two of the reform of the House would take place. I decided to volunteer for the role because I was concerned that the changes brought about by phase two might in fact unacceptably weaken the House. It is about that that I wish to speak.

I say that, of course, under the shadow of the possibly impending European constitution. As the noble Lord, Lord Owen, pointed out, it has huge implications for our constitution and, indeed, as my
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noble friend Lord Wakeham observed, if it comes in it could significantly diminish the importance of what we are debating about our own future.

Too much has happened to the House that people generally have not understood. Therefore they are not concerned about it. The reason for that is that the country and many politicians have long since lost sight of how Parliament came about, what it was invented to do and what it is still for today. It was invented as a means by which the government of the day, the executive, could extract enough money out of the population to carry on the government, and possibly to exploit the population and protect them. Before the invention of Parliament, there was no formal body to which governments were answerable by anything except arms. The purpose was to raise money, and that purpose decided the composition of the new model Parliament. I am tempted to talk about the enormous number of Lords Spiritual that were here in those days and how we lost them, but we have lost them all from this debate, and so I shall skip over that paragraph.

It is important to know that Parliament was then formally, for the first time, divided into two Houses. The knights, the elected element of the shires—many of them substantial land owners—sat with the rest of the Commons in the other House, but they shared the landed interests with the Members of this House and, indeed, were related to many of them. So, the first important thing was that the Crown could never play the two Houses off against each other as the French Crown did with enormous success—such great success that it completely removed all power from its Parliament and consequently lumbered incompetently into the revolution of 1789, which resulted in the end of that monarchy and the letting of vast quantities of blood. We have been spared that because governments have never, until recently, been able to play the two Houses off against each other.

In England in 1295, when the model Parliament met, and for long afterwards, the government was the King. Those he gathered around him to conduct government business were dismissible at his will. He was the government, the government outside Parliament. Parliament was "in here", and he was "out there". Before the government "out there" could get any money from parliamentarians "in here", he had to give legally enforceable undertakings—not once but three times—that he would never levy taxes without the advice and consent of Parliament. Parliamentary control of government had begun. What has brought it to an end?

That control was, of course, resisted—sometimes by force of arms—but it was always reasserted until the glorious revolution of 1688 seemed to settle the matter with a just and secure balance between the Crown and its Ministers "out there" and Parliament "in here". "Seemed" is the word, of course, because governments were as hungry for untrammelled freedom then as they are now 300 years later.

Parliament was evolving. All but a handful of the Lords Spiritual had gone—evicted by Henry VIII's reformation—but it worked well at first. It was when
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George I succeeded, speaking no English, that he required a First or Prime Minister to conduct his government for him, and that Minister was already "in here", in Parliament.

In spite of the continuing shared interests of their respective Members, the distinction between our two Houses remained clear, but the distinction between Parliament and government had begun to blur. Parliament was still "in here", but so was a fragment of government. Had it remained a fragment—had it been one Minister or a few, a handful—the distinction between government and Parliament would have remained clear, but it did not and a fortiori it is not now.

Patronage in Parliament has blossomed since then. There are now no fewer than 89 government Ministers in Parliament—15 of them in your Lordships' House and no fewer than 74 in another place—soon to be supplemented by an as yet unpublished number of Parliamentary Private Secretaries.

Parliament has been invaded by government, and government wishes now—as it has wished for 700 years—not to be restrained by Parliament. While government takeover of parliamentary seats was in progress, Parliament and the dynamics within it continued to change in other and important ways. The identity of interest between the two Houses diminished rapidly, with the diminution of the agricultural sector of the economy. That became painfully clear as long ago as the Budget debate of 1911. Since then, it has been increasingly easy for governments to exploit the differences between the Houses. More important still, it has become increasingly easy for governments to represent resistance by your Lordships to any government policy as resistance not to them but to the House of Commons.

The House of Commons, too, has evolved, most markedly in the way it orders its business and rewards its Members. Until the middle of the previous century, they received no pay at all. Losing your seat did not result in loss of income—it increased your earning power. Now, even Back-Benchers with no special responsibility receive salaries that half our population could regard with envy. The financial impact of losing a seat has thus been reversed. In a House of which an increasing proportion of Members have no qualifications for alternative employment, that must be a serious consideration. That is not to impugn Members of Parliament, simply to recognise as a fact that anyone has to be more cautious about expressing an unpopular opinion if the result is likely to be a complete loss of earnings. The threshold of protest has been significantly raised.

If the loss of earnings were to result from a loss of electoral support, that would be fine. It would be the proper working of democracy. But we now have to recognise another fact of parliamentary life. In all but a negligible proportion of cases, no one can hope to be elected without the support of one of the great national parties. The parliamentary leaders of those parties and the Whips who operate them can ensure that some, at least, of those who displease them lose the party qualification and so become unelectable.
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I call that the Paxman effect. Jeremy Paxman's book had already proved that it was a significant consideration for very many MPs before, in the previous Parliament, the Government took the step that made the noble Lord, Lord Desai, see the unwisdom of moving to a wholly elected House of Lords. They sought to give one of their Ministers the power to lock people up for as long as he liked without trial or recourse to justice, merely on suspicion. The fact that that proposal was massively and rightly unpopular in the Government's own party was made clear by a huge reduction in their majority. If there had been no Paxman effect, it is at least doubtful that there would have been a majority at all. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, at least, has read what was then written on the wall. If further proof of the exposure of Back-Benchers to Front-Benchers' power in any party were wanted, the sad history of Howard Flight immediately provided it.

The Government naturally represented the difference between the two Houses as a difference between the elected and unelected House. It was not. It was a difference between Parliament and Government. It demonstrated the extent to which one House of Parliament had already been weakened; and it made it blindingly clear why this Government—not just this Government but any government to come—are and always will be terribly keen to weaken this House as well.

The power of the Whips is one means of exerting pressure on the debating Chamber, but it can be done in other ways. If Members will not say what you want, gag them. If you do not like the result of their scrutiny of your Bills, stop the scrutiny. In the previous Parliament, we received one Bill with 100 clauses undebated in another place as a result of the guillotine. I do not know what the surgical connotation of that may be. My noble friend Lord Higgins said that it castrated the other House, while my noble friend Lord Waddington said that it neutered it. That is an indication of what the Government are about, and the proposal to introduce a 60-day limit here has already been shown to your Lordships as dangerous.

If you do not like the public knowing how MPs and most of your own Back-Benchers—most of all, your own Back-Benchers—react to your new policies, tell the media first so that they are writing it up while you are breaking the news in the House. In that way, the press conference debate is the only debate reported. There are no inconvenient parliamentary rules about accuracy or answerability there. It provides the perfect pitch for spin bowlers.

There are many other ways in which the Government are undermining the power of Parliament. I notice the confident smile of the Minister who knows that I have to sit down, having overrun my time dangerously. There is much more damaging material, but I have stayed here to try and protect the public, who elect the other place, from having their freedom taken away from them because the other place is no longer able to do so.
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8.29 pm

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