HL Deb 17 April 1969 vol 301 cc207-13

3.57 p.m.


My Lords, with permission I should like to repeat a Statement which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister about the Parliament (No. 2) Bill. The Statement is as follows:

"As the House knows, the Government introduced this Bill following consultations in the all-Party conference on Lords reform, as the measure best calculated in our view to modernise Parliament on a comprehensive basis, dealing with the powers of another place and its composition.

"Following the Government's decision to introduce early legislation for the purpose of giving statutory effect to some of the salient proposals in the White Paper In Place of Strife (Command No. 3888) it is now clear that the legislative priorities governing the Parliamentary time table for the rest of this Session must be recast in order to give right of way to the Industrial Relations Bill, and—as soon as this can be made ready—the Merchant Shipping Bill which my right honourable friend, the Leader of the House recently indicated that the Government wished to bring forward this Session.

"The Government have therefore decided not to proceed further at this time with the Parliament (No. 2) Bill in order to ensure that the necessary Parliamentary time is available for priority Government legislation including the two measures to which I have just referred."

My Lords, I propose to keep your Lordships informed, as my right honourable friend the Lord President of the Council will keep Members informed in another place, about the Government's further intentions in the matter of the Bill.


My Lords, the Statement made by the noble Lord the Leader of the House will not come to your Lordships as much of a surprise. The Bill has been as good as dead for some time. Although the Government talk about not proceeding further with the measure "at this time", I think that none of your Lordships will expect that we shall ever see this Bill in its present form again. I must say that to me this is a disappointment.

The noble Lord will not expect me to accept the reasons given in the Statement for abandoning the Bill. Nor do I. But this is not the moment to recriminate. I am sad because I see an opportunity to reform your Lordships' House, with a considerable measure of agreement between the Parties, wasted; and your Lordships will remember that the White Paper proposals were approved in this House by an overwhelming majority. I do not believe that in the future it will be easy, or even perhaps possible, to get such agreement again. I must put on record that I, and I think probably the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, believe that the proposals in the White Paper would have made a workable, an acceptable and an authoritative House.

My Lords, I have seen it suggested in some quarters that the Government might consider introducing a short Bill to remove all power from this House and not touch the composition. To put it very mildly, I think that the Government would be very ill-advised if they did any such thing; and I hope that they will rather work to salvage what can be salvaged from this very sorry affair.


My Lords, I should like to endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has said, and to express my personal sympathies to the noble Lord, the Leader of the House, for having had to make this Statement, this depressing Statement, to-day. It must have been extremely repugnant to him, particularly when one realises the strenuous personal efforts and inspiration which he has given to try to make this measure of reform a reality. I share his disappointment. I believe it is a bad decision by the Government and a weak one, and I think it ironic that the battle to preserve the status quo should have been won by the self-styled radical reformers in another place. But the decision not to reform this House will also, in my view, put back the overdue reform of another place, and I believe that the Government must consider the tremendous implications of their decision to-day. I would ask them whether it is not possible to refer this matter perhaps to the Constitutional Commission. I believe something must be done, because it seems to me incredible that at a time when the whole political system of this country is forfeiting the confidence of the public the Government should shy away from a major reform of the Parliamentary system. My Lords, I believe this is a bad day for democracy and a bad decision.


My Lords, may I—


My Lords, I think it is customary for me to reply to the two Front Bench speakers first.




My Lords, I shall follow the example of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and not get drawn into controversy to-day. I have noted what he has had to say about a possible Bill on powers, and I think he knows my view on that. I also noted what the noble Lord, Lord Byers said about the Constitutional Commission. That, of course, has always been a possibility and has been suggested in various quarters, but there has been no time to give it consideration in the new situation in which we now find ourselves.

My Lords, I must make clear that I repeated this Statement with a very deep feeling of regret. Notwithstanding all the controversy, I share the views of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and other noble Lords opposite, judging by the vote in your Lordships' House; and I know that I speak for the majority of my noble friends on this side of the House. I believe the proposals contained in the White Paper and those parts of them which were embodied in the Parliament (No. 2) Bill to have represented a good and practical arrangement for the reform of your Lordships' House, and I would emphasise that it was of course in the context of modernising Parliament as a whole. It is on that account that I feel regret, rather than at the time we spent in working out the scheme, and I appreciate the personal remarks to me of the noble Lord, Lord Byers.

I would not let this opportunity go by without expressing my very real appreciation to those of my colleagues who have worked on this subject; in particular the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, who chaired our discussions with great fairness, assiduity and skill; and especially to the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Byers, and to the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and also the officials who have worked so very hard on this matter.

Perhaps I may make one point which I hope will not be embarrassing to the Clerk of the Parliaments: I should like to express my appreciation to the Clerks of the House who, while preserving the absolute propriety of their independent position, have given valuable advice on technical questions, as they always do, to all Members of your Lordships' House irrespective of Party. In particular, I am bound to single out one person who at the present moment does not have the technical status of a Clerk of the House—that is, Mr. Michael Wheeler-Booth, who is Secretary to the Leader and the Chief Whip and who has devoted a very great deal of intelligence and creative thought to this matter. This occasion, therefore, can be only rather a sad one for me; but, my Lords, I still think that we have a lot of useful work to do in your Lordships' House.

4.7 p.m.


My Lords, may I say one word, as one of those who did not agree with this Bill? I am not quite clear, from what the noble Lord the Leader of the House said, whether this Bill has, as it were, passed into a coma—which would be quite natural after the battering that it had in another place—or whether it is definitely dead. I personally hope very much that it is dead, because I think it was an extremely bad Bill which would have been not only disastrous but dangerous to democracy in this country.

I would, however, add this: first, a word of sympathy with those who have tried so hard to find a solution, an agreed solution, to this very difficult problem. It is not perhaps their fault that they did not find a very satisfactory one, because nobody has done that up to now. I should also like to say how much I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Byers, when he said that he hoped the problem of the House of Commons could be tackled at the same time. I think that one of the worst things about this Bill was the attempt to reform your Lordships' House without any consideration of the other place. I hope that next time they will both be considered together.


My Lords, may I support my noble cousin in what he has said? Would not Her Majesty's Government agree that this abortive manæuvre, now abandoned, has wasted the time of both Houses of Parliament; and not only both Houses of Parliament, but the country as a whole? And will not Her Majesty's Government abandon these follies and fripperies in favour of serious legislation?


My Lords, I am one of those who would like to join in the tributes which have been paid to the Leader of the House and to those who worked so hard to find a satisfactory solution to what is admittedly an extremely difficult problem. I was not one of those who thought the solution which was produced by the Government at all satisfactory. I will not go into the reasons why I hold those opinions. I welcome the decision that this Bill is now dead and I should like to join in the funeral oration and the tributes. I also welcome the fact that it will no longer be necessary for me to try to qualify as a Cross-Bencher.


My Lords, may I ask the Leader of the House whether he is aware that there was a clause in the Parliament (No. 2) Bill which gave to Peers the right to vote in Parliamentary elections? This has nothing to do with the reform of the House of Lords, and I would ask the noble Lord whether the Government will bring in a short Bill to to give Peers the right to vote in Parliamentary elections which has been denied to them for hundreds of years when other members of the community have been given votes right and left.


My Lords, I know the interest of the noble Lord, Lord Rathcavan, in this point. I must admit that it was certainly one to which we gave consideration and on which we came to a view. Whether there will be an opportunity in this matter I do not know, but I have indicated that any further consideration on the matter of the Bill will be reported to your Lordships' House. I think that he has made a significant point. As to the precise status of the Bill, I really cannot enlighten the noble Marquess, because I am not very enlightened myself on the subject; but I take his point. Equally, I will not be drawn by the reference of the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, to funeral obsequies, though there is a certain quality of that in the discussion. May I say that I appreciate the remarks of the noble Viscount and of the noble Marquess as sympathetic and, if I may say so, more appropriate than those of the noble Earl, Lord Arran.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he realises that there is another side to this matter which has given some encouragement in certain quarters, in these days when the power of Government is getting so much greater, in that an agreement between the two Front Benches has been frustrated by the Back Benchers of another place? A great many people are—perhaps "deriving satisfaction" is too high a term, but are noting that Members of another place are not yet quite incapable of making their opinion felt.


My Lords, I do not wish to be drawn further. The last time I made any comment relative to the proceedings of another place, rather greater weight was attached to its significance than I think had been done in your Lordships' House. I would only say to the noble Lord that the purpose behind the reform was to strengthen Parliament and to enable it to work more effectively in relation to the all-important question of controlling the Executive. As to the particular methods, the noble Lord may wish to return to the days of Irish Members—but perhaps I will not go any further.


My Lords, in view of the triumph of democracy, would not the Government consider putting up a statue to the Heavenly Twins—Michael Castor and Enoch Pollux?


My Lords, in view of what has been said, I wonder whether one of the least conspicuous of Back Benchers in your Lordships' House may point out one thing. My noble Leader has said that a substantial amount of agreement was reached between the Front Benches. That is certainly true as regards the White Paper, but it is not true as regards the Bill, which bore very little relation to the White Paper, and a great many of us felt extremely uneasy and unhappy about it. Personally I am not one who mourns the Bill's demise.


My Lords, I do not want to go on. One of the great difficulties is that I found that so many of the critics of the proposals had never read the White Paper. I can only conclude that the noble Lord has not correlated the Bill and the White Paper.