§ 3.20 p.m.
§ LORD ALPORT rose to move that this House takes note of the present situation with regard to the reform of the House of Lords and its wider implications for the functioning of Parliament. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Bill which you have been good enough to allow me to withdraw was not my Bill; it was a Bill no doubt coloured by the political requirements of the situation as seen by the Government, but it was in principle a product of prolonged conversations between the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Leaders, who had reached a remarkable measure of agreement. I should like to say to my noble friends, Lord Carrington and Lord Jellicoe, that during nearly forty years' of active association with the Conservative Party's fortunes, in good days and in bad, I can think of no more remarkable achievement in the field of constitutional reform than theirs in assisting a Labour Government towards a decision to publish, first, a White Paper and, secondly, a Bill, the effect of which was both to strengthen your Lordships' House and to maintain a remarkable degree of continuity with regard to its composition.
As to the first, let me recall to your Lordships the views expressed by Mr. Heath a few days ago. Mr. Heath is reported in The Times of April 24 as follows:
Of the Lords reform Bill, Mr. Heath said the White Paper embodied the best proposals for reform yet devised and they would have
produced a more effective House of Lords. He suggested that if Mr. Wilson had not called off the inter-Party talks, in a fit of pique, over the Lords' action on the Rhodesia Order last summer, the Opposition would have gone on fighting for the Bill.
So far as continuity is concerned, and assuming a reasonable span of life, there would still be at least one Peer entitled to sit in your Lordships' House by hereditary right in the year 2020.
§ I think, frankly, that this was a brilliant achievement on the part of the two noble Lords who led the Conservative Party in this House. Their success was endorsed by an overwhelming vote which your Lordships gave in favour of the White Paper. It may be that the Bill, the No. 2 Bill, when presented to the House of Commons, fell short in some respects of the promise of the White Paper. Nevertheless, as a Conservative I recognise that it took great political courage and breadth of vision on the part of Ministers to produce a Bill at all on the lines of the No. 2 Bill. Here the credit, so far as your Lordships' House is concerned, goes, I believe, to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. In promoting the White Paper and the Bill, clearly they were inspired by the wish, in the interests of the Labour Party, to put an end to the centuries-long domination of this House which the Tory Party has enjoyed, but at the same time to preserve the valuable role which your Lordships' House has in relation to our Parliamentary system, and to maintain in our typically English way an element of continuity in the evolution of a great historic institution.
§ I guess that I should be right in saying that the same breadth of vision animated Lord Byers and his Liberal colleagues, whose political inspiration must be drawn from memories of the last Liberal Government and the bitter episode of the Parliament Act 1911. If I had been a Labour or a Liberal Peer, understandably embittered by the manifest unfairness of the political situation created by the existing composition of your Lordships' House, I should have had difficulty in resisting the urge to use the opportunity provided by a large majority in the House of Commons to replace the long decades of Conservative domination of this House by a system which gave my Party at any rate 1273 an equal chance of enjoying a long period of similar advantage. But that is not what the Parliament (No. 2) Bill sought to do. Its aim was to give a Labour or a Liberal Government something less than every Conservative Government had enjoyed since the 'seventies of the last century: that is, a docile majority in the House of Lords which could be relied on to prevent any obstruction of, or embarrassment to, a Conservative Administration or its supporters in the House of Commons.
§ It may be that Party zealots will consider that there are defects in a solution which does not seek to extract the last ounce of Party advantage from a situation with which it deals; but I have a profound faith in the fair-mindedness and common sense of British opinion. I believe that, if fully understood, the generosity of the reforms agreed to by the Government and published in the No. 2 Bill would have been of as great advantage to the Labour Party as the existing composition of the unreformed House of Lords is a political liability to the Conservatives.
The position was admirably described in his Life of Lord Lansdowne by the grandfather of my noble friend Lord Newton. Your Lordships will recollect that the second Lord Newton was a Conservative Peer and an aide to Lord Lansdowne during the controversial Sessions of 1910 and 1911. Lord Newton, in this book, says:
The failure of the Unionist Party to recognise the necessity of reforming the House of Lords when they had the opportunity during their ten years' period of office from 1895 to 1905 is one of the most curious oversights in Party tactics imaginable. The House of Lords positively invited attack. Overgrown, unrepresentative and unwieldy, when the Unionists were in office it was expected merely to act as a kind of registry office, and to pass without amendment, and occasionally without discussion, any measure sent up to it at the last moment. When, however, a Liberal Government was in power, it was expected to come to the rescue of a discomfited Opposition. Although the House of Lords has occasionally shown itself to be a more correct interpreter of public feeling than the House of Commons, its gigantic and permanent majority deprived it of any appearance of impartiality, and, unfortunately, it had not shown any sign of independence by throwing out any Conservative measure.
Lord Newton goes on to say, writing in 1929,I think:
The danger of the situation had become fully apparent to the more clear-sighted and energetic members of the Conservative Party.
He subsequently proposed some reform, and he notes that his proposal
found little favour in the eyes of the official Opposition"—
that is, the Conservative Party—
and various efforts were made privately to induce me to withdraw the Bill, chiefly on the familiar ground that it was 'inopportune'. It was certainly inopportune in the sense that it had been for too long delayed, but it was evidently less inopportune in 1907 than in 1910.
He goes on, finally, to say
The task of pointing out its imperfections to any Assembly is an ungrateful one, and there were probably many who resented my action"—
that is, Lord Newton's action—
as an impertinence; but whatever the defects the House of Lords may possess, it is always polite".
From my own personal experience since I entered your Lordships' House there is a familiar ring about Lord Newton's description of his experiences some forty or fifty years ago.
§ My Lords, the No. 2 Bill would have ended the state of affairs described by Lord Newton, and which in fact still exists in this House to-day, a stale of affairs which has been morally and politically indefensible for nearly a hundred years; which has weakened your Lord-ships' House in the eyes of a fair-minded public; which has given us a unicameral Parliament in fact if not in theory, and, because of this, has undermined the balance and credibility of our Parliamentary system at a time when our democratic institutions need all their strength as Britain enters an era of great economic instability and trouble. It is because I agree with Mr. Heath that the Government's proposals embodied the best proposals for reform yet devised, and with my noble friend Lord Carrington that the dropping of the Bill represented a wasted opportunity of a reform which would have given to the Upper Chamber powers appropriate to its place within the Constitution that I, at any rate, have been appalled by what happened to the No. 2 Bill in the House of Commons.
§ It would not, I think, be in accordance with our custom in this House to comment in detail upon proceedings in another place, but no one who has the 1275 slightest knowledge and understanding of the workings of our Party political system can fail to be astonished—quite apart from the cause of reform of this House—that the leaders of the Government and of the Opposition have allowed themselves to be deflected from effecting a major piece of constitutional reform, on the desirability of which there is general agreement, by a combination of forces which represent the extreme Left and the extreme Right in the contemporary political spectrum. It is quite unimportant that the reasons for the opposition of these groups to the No. 2 Bill are quite different: the Labour Left presumably because it strengthens the powers of the Second Chamber, and the Tory Right presumably because it weakens Conservative domination over it. Nor is it right to believe that the Government's defeat—and this is what it came to—on the No. 2 Bill was due to a purely opportunist combination of forces led by two rather elderly enfants terribles in the shape of Mr. Powell and Mr. Foot. I dare prophesy that the consequence of what happened to the No. 2 Bill will affect the remainder of the Labour Government's term of office and have serious consequences to Mr. Heath's ability to control his Party and govern when he comes to power.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, may I appeal to the noble Lord the Leader of the House to guide us? My noble friend is now in this speech criticising individual Members of another place for their actions in the current Session. Were a similar thing to be done in another place immediate objection would be taken thereto by Mr. Speaker. It would be out of order. I think we desire to treat another place with the respect with which the two Chambers invariably treat each other. As it is not within the power of any presiding officer in this House, as it is in the power of Mr. Speaker, to stop my noble friend, I would seek the guidance of the noble Lord the Leader of the House on whether it is not contrary to the practice of this House to criticise individual Members of another place for their votes and speeches in the current Session?
§ VISCOUNT DILHORNE
My Lords, before the noble Lord replies, would it not be in accordance with custom to 1276 ask my noble friend to withdraw the observations he made about individual Members of another place?
§ LORD ALPORT
My Lords, perhaps it would help the House and the noble Lord the Leader of the House if I say that of course if I have caused any offence to the right honourable and honourable Gentlemen in another place by the reference to them, I immediately withdraw it.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, since I have been asked by the noble Lord to comment, this is a very delicate area and we have been conscious of remarks made in another place which have caused very considerable resentment and resentment among all Members of this House. I think it would be as well if I drew attention to what the Companion to the Standing Orders actually says on this. As is so often the case, the Companion gives general guidance without being quite as explicit as one might wish, but of course in another place there is the Speaker to interpret. This appears on pages 61 and 62 of the Companion, and the two main points areIt is out of order to quote from a speech of a Member of the House of Commons, unless it be the speech of a Minister …althoughThe content of a speech … may be summarised".It then goes on to say:This practice has been established for the purpose of avoiding anything which might bring the two Houses into conflict, and for preventing a debate in the House of Lords becoming a continuation of a debate in the House of Commons.Again this is slightly obscure, but there is a general rule, I think, that we try to avoid referring to Members of another place. I think the noble Lord was just about all right, but if I may advise him. I think he had better not go further. I think I should be expressing the feelings of your Lordships' House—however much we may resent things that have been said in another place—if I said that we should perhaps be careful that we ourselves behave in a way consistent with our normal standards.
§ LORD ALPORT
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for his guidance to me personally in this matter as well as to your 1277 Lordships' House. I have, as your Lord-ships have already heard, withdrawn any reference if indeed it causes offence. The last thing I should like to do would be to enter into direct controversy with another place, even though this matter may be of interest.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, if I might interrupt the noble Lord, perhaps I should have added—and I am sorry I forgot—that it is also laid down in the Companion that… no Private Member of the House of Commons may be mentioned by name by way of criticism.
§ LORD ALPORT
My Lords, I was saying that the effect that seemed to me likely was that this episode of the No. 2 Bill would represent a great problem not only for the present Government but for a Conservative Government when it came into power, and it was because I felt that it was important that we in this House should have an opportunity of discussing the situation that I decided to introduce the No. 2 Parliamentary Bill as the No. 6 Parliamentary Bill, and informed my noble friend Lord Carrington, the noble Lord the Leader of the House, and the noble Lord, Lord Byers, of my purpose. I thought it right that in the first place we should have a debate here to enable those of us who supported reform to try to correct some of the impressions and misunderstandings which seemed to me to have arisen from a general discussion of the Government's proposals. It has, for instance, been argued that the No. 2 Bill gives to the Prime Minister in particular a source of patronage which will corrupt politicians and degrade our public life in some sinister way. I do not believe that this argument holds water for a moment.
In 1911 the Liberal Government were prepared to create 300 hereditary Peers in order to gain control of the House of Lords, and I think no one at that time doubted that it was the Prime Minister's right to insist on such a bulk creation in the interests of his Government's policy. To-day a Prime Minister of, let us say, the Labour Party could, by creating 300 Labour Life Peers take effective control of the unreformed House of Lords—an ascendancy which a subsequent Conservative Government would have great difficulty in frustrating. Indeed, so far from 1278 extending the Prime Minister's patronage, the No. 2 Bill would have limited and regularised it. I conclude that the reason for this discussion, this form of criticism, was one which was not really based upon fact.
Critics of the No. 2 Bill further allege that a House dominated by nominated Peers would be more subservient to the Executive than one which contained a numerous hereditary membership. There may be some Members of the House of Commons who genuinely believe this point of view. But we in this House—I think most of us, at any rate—believe that, however great may be the distinction and sense of service which an mates our colleagues who sit by right of succession, it is the continuance of the fact that voting power in this House is vested in its hereditary membership which has destroyed Its credibility in the 20th century Parliamentary system.
A nominated House—if, as I believe, an elected Second Chamber must await the reform of Parliament as a whole—is the only alternative in terms of practical politics to leaving this House, in the expressive phrase of one of my Conservative Leaders, simply to rot. The idea that a nominated House is likely to be subservient to the Executive to a greater extent than a hereditary Chamber, must be fallacious. After all, men and women of substance and distinction, free of the need to safeguard an inheritance for their successors, secure in their tenure of an influential role in public life, untroubled by the need to compete for power and advancement in their careers, which an assured and privileged position in the community renders largely irrelevant, would have provided probably the most independent-minded Chamber in history. It is perhaps not altogether surprising that the existing unreformed House of Commons shrank from allowing a Second Chamber of this sort to come into existence.
An essential element in the proposals for reform in the No. 2 Bill was the presence in your Lordships' House of a strong group of Cross-Bench Peers and Peeresses. The position of our colleagues on the Cross-Benches is not an easy one, but under the No. 2 Bill it would have been of very great significance. Daring the debate in another place they were subjected to a good deal of wholly unjustifiable abuse. I am quite sure that 1279 they do not require any justification at my hands, for they are very capable of doing it themselves. But I must say this, however much it may run counter to the existing canons of political faith: an understanding of politics, the science of government and the best interests of the country is not necessarily a monopoly of those who choose to identify themselves with a Party or accept allegiance to some particular individual politician. It may well be, in view of the disfavour into which the established Parties have fallen, that in fact the centre of gravity of British politics will move to those who in this House and, more, in the great body of the electorate outside, approach government from a Cross-Bench point of view.
My Lords, as I have explained, my purpose in tabling the Parliament (No. 2) Bill as the No. 6 Bill in your Lordships' House was primarily to provide an occasion for a debate in which we might have an opportunity of trying to correct some of the popular misunderstandings of the problem of reform of the House of Lords, which must result from the debacle of the No. 2 Bill in the House of Commons. I felt, rightly or wrongly, that only a private Member, acting independently, could do this. To be quite frank, it did not seem to me in accordance with the dignity or the interests of this House that a project for constitutional reform to which we in this House were committed by a massive vote, following long inter-Party consultations and a distinguished debate, should be allowed to disappear unmarked amid a welter of mismanagement, misrepresentation and ridicule.
My noble friends who sit with me on these Benches perhaps do not agree with me. I make no complaint. They are as much entitled to their judgment of what is right as I am: we are, after all, Independent Unionist Peers, although perhaps some of us are a trifle more independent than others. If they think that the reform of this House along the lines to which this House is committed should be killed stone dead, that is their business. I thought that the No. 2 Bill should if possible be rescued; should be given, so to speak, the kiss of life. And that was the second object which encouraged me to table the No. 6 Bill.
1280 If the No. 6 Bill had been passed by your Lordships' House on Second Reading, it was my hope that I should have been allowed to resign the management of the Bill through all its subsequent stages to the Leader of the House of Lords, as Leader of the House of Lords. I hoped that, with certain agreed Amendments, the Bill might have had the active support of the Leaders of the Conservative and Liberal Parties here, and of a majority of Peers, of all Parties and of none. It could then have gone as a House of Lords Bill, before the end of July, to the House of Commons. I think that with the resolute support of a Government confident of their future, and a Conservative Front Bench capable of distinguishing between the tu quoques of Party politics and the real interests of our Parliamentary Constitution, it could have been passed into law before the end of next October.
I invite your Lordships to consider the beneficial effect which such a procedure would have had upon the reputation of your Lordships' House; the beneficial effect of the significance of the precedent thus established with regard to constitutional reform and of the profound impression this would have created in the minds of thinking men and women, who are no longer very patient with the tactics and the small change of the Party system. Frankly, I do not think that the House of Commons could have rejected a Bill remitted to it in such circumstances.
It may be that I am wrong in believing that these considerations have any relevance to the realities of contemporary politics. The No. 6 Bill has been withdrawn. The No. 2 Bill has been dropped As my noble friend Lord Carrington said, as reported in the Financial Times:It is very, very sad. We'll never see this again … It's just a wasted opportunity.Well, my Lords, we may not be able to do anything about this, "sad, sad wasted opportunity". But I thought, and I still think, that we can with advantage take note of what has happened; for, after all, the chance must come again. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House takes note of the present situation with regard to the reform of the House of Lords and its wider implications for the functioning of Parliament.—(Lord Alport.)1281
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ LORD BYERS
My Lords, I should say straight away that I welcome this opportunity to debate this subject, although when it was first mooted, and certainly in the form in which it was first mooted, I had grave doubts as to whether this was the right course of action. Therefore I want to say how very relieved I am that the noble Lord, Lord Alport, has decided to withdraw the Parliament (No. 6) Bill in favour of a general debate on the Motion. Apart from anything else, I think it would be quite wrong for this House to proceed unilaterally in this matter. I think it would be seen as an unnecessary challenge to the other place.
I have already expressed my own deep disappointment at the Government's decision not to proceed with the Parliament (No. 2) Bill in the Commons. Having devoted so much of the time of another place to that Bill, and having got through the bulk of the controversial clauses, it seems to me inconceivable that the Government should have lost their nerve so completely. But since they have done so, I do not think it is for us in this House now to take unilateral action. However, there are a number of points which I should like to make, as briefly as possible, to your Lordships, if only for the sake of the Record.
First, all parties to the Conference made a sincere and genuine attempt to obtain an agreed scheme. We all thought it right to get an agreed scheme, because this was to be a major constitutional reform. To attempt agreement naturally meant some form of compromise, some give-and-take, although, speaking personally as a member of the Conference, I must say that I found the differences between the Parties were nothing like so great as I had expected when we entered the Conference itself. But because we wanted to get an agreed scheme it was clear that we had to work outside the glare of publicity, and had to avoid the parties to the Conference striking attitudes in public from which it might be difficult, if not impossible, to withdraw or to retreat. But because we met privately we have been accused of being parties to a conspiracy—a conspiracy of the Front Benches against Parliament as a whole. I can only say that this is totally untrue, in both fact and intention
1282 Next, we have been told that the schemes have not been thought out with sufficient care. All I can say is that a very great deal of hard thought and research in depth was undertaken, first by the three-man committee, assisted by the excellent civil servants in charge of the studies and assisted, too, by the various Departments which were consulted and other interests with whom the matter was discussed, including, of course, the main conference itself. I can only say that if the background papers are published, as I understand they will be in thirty years' time, the charge will be seen to be as futile as I personally, as a member of the three-man committee, know it to be.
My Lords, the scheme we produced could not hope to satisfy everybody—no scheme of reform will do that—but it did provide a workmanlike arrangement which faced up to and mitigated some of the problems of patronage which are inevitable in a nominated system. I could confuse the House with plenty of statistics on this subject, but I will leave it to somebody like the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to say a few words on how much, in fact, we reduced the possibilities, particularly of Prime Ministerial patronage, by the various arrangements which we put forward. I hope that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack will expand this subject, because I have no doubts; and if the background papers were produced I think they would be quite conclusive. But as the noble Lord, Lord Alport, was speaking, I could not help feeling that perhaps in 1911 we in the Liberal Party missed a glorious opportunity in not going ahead and creating those 300 hereditary Peers. We might not then have had this trouble at the present time.
The scheme also provided for the transition from an hereditary system to a House of relatively full-time voting Members, while still preserving a place for those people whose contributions are very important but who cannot assume responsibility for full attendance. This was not an easy solution to discover; and a great deal of hard research and thinking went into the proposal. Also, we provided the machinery for studying the way in which the scheme itself, as it developed, could be changed if the Houses so wished. I must say, my Lords, that I was absolutely staggered 1283 that it failed to commend itself sufficiently to another place to defeat the well-organised filibuster of that militant minority in the Commons. And why the action of forty or fifty Members of another place in frustrating the desires of the rest of the House of Commons should be hailed as a victory for Parliamentary democracy, escapes me completely.
My Lords, I have asked myself continuously since that time: what went wrong? I think it is very difficult to find a real, satisfactory answer, but the first thing that went wrong, I believe, was that very few people, in both Houses and outside the House, bothered to read the White Paper or to understand the Bill. But this did not stop them pontificating on it. I was defeated in the Liberal Council, and when I asked the mover and the seconder of the resolution if they had read the White Paper—at that time the Bill was not out—they confessed that they had not. They had seen a few reports of it in the Manchester Guardian and one or two other papers. This, I am afraid, is what happened in the Commons. too, and other places.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? If it was as he says, can he explain why so good a Liberal as Mr. Grimond voted against the Second Reading?
§ LORD BYERS
Yes, my Lords, I can. I can explain that quite simply. So far as I know, he has very advanced views on the reform of the House of Lords—views which I do not share. I do not think I am in any way misleading the House when I say that I think his views are that he wants a completely elected Chamber, and I do not accept that.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord for giving way, but I do not think it is irrelevant, for this reason. The noble Lord sought to describe the opposition in another place as a filibuster. I say it was opposition on its merits, and so say a great many people in this House. All I am suggesting—
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord will allow me to intervene. I think he is generating a little heat. Indeed, I think he is to some extent falling into the error of which he accused his noble friend. I think it might be better if the noble Lord, Lord Byers, who seems to be making a very good-tempered speech, were allowed to continue to do so.
§ LORD BYERS
I am sorry the noble Lord the Leader of the House is trying to get the temperature down: I was beginning to enjoy it. But if I may just reply to the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, the fact is that there is a very big difference—because I watched and listened to a number of these debates—between the filibuster which took place and the views, the sincere views, of people in another place who hold views different from those I happen to hold; and if only the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, could have contained himself for one moment—actually, he has allowed me to refresh my memory from my notes—I was just coming on to that point. I think that one of the basic problems is the fact that the views held on the reform of the House of Lords vary very widely indeed, and genuinely and sincerely. There is the view of some of the Left Wing that one House is quite sufficient and that the second one is superfluous. There is the view that the second House in a democracy must be an elected one. That is certainly very popular in my own Party; and it is tenable if one is prepared to see power shared with the other House and possibly find the second Chamber becoming more powerful than the first—and as a Parliamentarian who has been in both Houses I do not accept that as being a proper role for the House of Lords.
In addition, there was the strategic mistake of trying to carry a reform designed as an inter-Party or consensus measure unilaterally, as the Prime Minister did when he broke off the talks after the Vote on the Southern Rhodesia Order in this House. But, my Lords, that is not the responsibility solely of the Prime Minister or of the Labour Party, because, if I may mention it, in the debate on that Order I predicted—and it was not difficult to predict—what might happen if the Conservative Party took 1285 that Order to a Division and negatived it. In Volume 293, column 561, of Hansard I said:If there is an adverse Vote to-night, it is likely to distort completely the natural progress towards the reform of this House which we could be so near to achieving.Then I said:… if the whole weight of the Conservative Party, animated by its Right Wing, is mobilised in the Division Lobby to defeat the will of the elected representatives of the people, not only will this reform be jeopardised but certain other things must inevitably follow.First of all, there will be a strong demand from important sections of the Labour Party and the Liberal Party that a sine qua non in any reform shall he the elimination of hereditary Peers from taking part in any of the proceedings of this House".I then went on to regret that, because I believe they have a very important part to play in the new House which was devised for them in the reform scheme. I then said:Secondly, I would say that in the past ten to fifteen years the proponents of a one-Chamber system have been losing ground very fast indeed. I am afraid that it there is an adverse Vote to-night, their arguments will be fortified. I can tell the House one other reaction which is predictable—that is, that in the Liberal and Labour Parties the already strong movement in favour of an elected Second Chamber will gain further ground. To many of us this would not be the proper course to take, because we do not see this House as a rival to the House of Commons. But what the Conservative Party is in danger of doing to-night—and I hope it will not do this—is to revive all the old phobias about the House of Lords and to poison the climate of co-operation which has been established in the past year".My Lords, I felt that strongly at the time. I felt I had to say it; and I am very sorry indeed that it turned out to be true.
If one adds to these reasons the seeming lack of enthusiasm for the measure by the Government and their handling of the matter in another place, one can see how the dice came to be loaded. I am only afraid that the way in which a limited number of Members of another place—and they were very few, but very vocal—ridiculed this House and some of its Members has done a great deal of damage to the relationship between the two Houses. I do not think it is out of order to say that, because I think it is a most important factor for the future. I think that the denigration by one House of another so blatantly and so con- 1286 tinuously damages the fabric of Parliament itself and strains the relationship which should exist if Parliament is to function as a whole.
§ VISCOUNT DILHORNE
My Lords, could the noble Lord answer a question? I am trying to follow his remarks about denigration with the greatest interest. Does he not regard it as denigration of Members of the other House by alleging that they indulged in a filibuster?
§ LORD BYERS
My Lords, I am not alleging it; I am stating it. In many cases I was in the Gallery watching; and it was done very professionally.
I am particularly disappointed myself at the out-turn of events. I had seen the reform of this House as a prelude to the reform of the Commons and to a new era of collaboration between the two Houses in the interests of greater efficiency and better democracy. What needs reform is not merely the Lords, but the whole of Parliament and the close relationship between the two Houses and the relationship between Parliament and the Executive. These are the things that I was hoping that we were going to start. No one Party will ever be able to do this by itself or carry it through. I still hope that we may be able to make some progress along that road.
I believe that we ought to create to an all-Party vehicle to study the problems in depth and to put forward various alternatives for public debate before attempting to put them into practice. It will take a long time; but we ought soon to make a start. The prospect of sitting in an unreformed House of Lords, uncertain of one's powers, under threat when Labour are in power, ignored by the Conservatives when they are in government, is a prospect which holds out no pleasure for me. I must say that at the very least the problem should be put to the constitutional commission: but I am not hopeful that we shall get anything like as good an arrangement as one worked out by people with first-hand experience, very largely of both Houses. It occurs to me from reading to-day's papers that the Bill on trade union reform may either be dropped or reduced to something much less controversial. I seem to remember that the reason for not proceeding with the Parliament (No. 2) Bill was the pressure on Parliamentary 1287 time of important legislation which had to be brought before the House. If either of these things should happen—either that the Bill be dropped or that it should become less controversial—I wonder whether we might not be able to proceed with the Bill in the Commons at the stage that it has reached.
If that happens I would plead with all Parties to make sure that their followers really understand what the proposals are and will give a strong lead to them. Failure to achieve this reform is to me, and to those of my generation who agreed with me, an unmitigated tragedy. There is so much that our generation, apart from others, could contribute to make such a reform work effectively; there is so much knowledge of Parliament in this House which could be harnessed towards really first-class reform that I hope we have not seen the end of this in my lifetime.