HL Deb 22 February 1982 vol 427 cc795-807

6.33 p.m.

Lord Alport

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Alport.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [Bills to abolish Second Chamber subject to referendum]:

Viscount Eccles moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 18, leave out ("Commons") and insert ("Lords").

The noble Viscount said: The purpose of this Bill is to defend and, if possible, entrench two-Chamber government. That is what it is all about. But in Clause 1 we have one-Chamber government. Clause 1 says that if an abolition Bill has gone through another place—and I can imagine the kind of debate that there would be—and finally receives its Third Reading, at that point the referendum machinery shall be put into operation. In other words, your Lordships will have no chance to debate this Bill before the referendum machinery is brought into operation.

That cannot be in the proper parliamentary tradition. We are expressing our wish for two-Chamber government and here, in the very first clause, we are not to have it. Of course it is necessary for the people of this country—if they are to be asked in a referendum whether or not they want a Second Chamber, and the much more difficult question about our powers: whether they want them diminished—to hear what your Lordships have to say about that. It is extraordinary that we are not to have one single word of debate.

If we insert the word "Lords" instead of the word "Commons", it raises certain complexities of procedure. It is certain that an abolition Bill would start along the corridor in the Commons. It would then come to us and we might throw it out, in which case, of course, the referendum procedure would not work. Therefore, what must happen—and I do not, myself, believe that there is any chance it would happen, but let us suppose that it did—is that we should have the Bill here: we should have to speak to it exactly as we felt right, and I have not the slightest doubt that we should say some very hard things about those who wished to abolish this Chamber.

We would impress the public by our arguments. As we have two excellent Chief Whips, of course, the Bill would have to go through because, if we did not give it a Third Reading, it would go back to the Commons, having been thrown out by this House, and then the other procedure—which would only he a delaying procedure—would come into operation. However, we are quite good enough politicians to arrange that. The point of this amendment is that we must not allow a Bill to go through which cuts us out of debate on a great constitutional issue. I beg to move.

Lord Alport

It might be for the advantage of your Lordships—unless my noble friend would care to intervene at this point—to give my comments on the views of my noble friend Lord Eccles. On Second Reading my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter advanced the argument—which has now been repeated by my noble friend Lord Eccles—that this House should have a full opportunity of debating the terms of any Bill coming from the House of Commons and, as he has argued, that it should go through all its stages to Third Reading in this House before a referendum operates.

The principal object of making the holding of a referendum a requirement after Third Reading in the House of Commons, was to ensure that there should be no constitutional confrontation between this House and the other place. If their Bill proposing to abolish the House of Lords or to emasculate its powers as a Second Chamber were to be considered on Second Reading here, it could either be rejected—with the result, as my noble friend Lord Eccles has indicated, that the Parliament Act would operate, and thus the necessity for holding any referendum would be avoided—or, if it were given a Second Reading, it would be assumed that the House of Lords had endorsed the principle of the Bill. If, subsequently, it went through the remaining stages, with amendments, the final form of the Third Reading would be approved by this House, and the referendum would be on whether the House of Lords' version or the House of Commons' original was acceptable to the majority of the electorate.

As a result, there would be a direct confrontation between this House and the House of Commons, probably, as my noble friend has indicated, recently elected, and this House would be politically in a very disadvantageous position. As I said at Second Reading. the object of this Bill is to prevent the "Peers against the people syndrome which would give powerful ammunition to those who wished to see a unicameral parliament in Britain. I do not of course wish to impute to my noble friends any intention deliberately to move this amendment as a wrecking amendment, but I regard it as having, to all intents and purposes, that effect.

They have been very frank at Second Reading debates in voicing their opposition to this Bill, but on both occasions the principle of the Bill was endorsed by your Lordships without a Division. I was perfectly prepared on both occasions to accept any challenge to that principle in the Division Lobbies, but from such knowledge as I have of the procedures and customs of this House, particularly on a Private Member's Bill, it is not our normal practice to seek in Committee, or subsequently, to press amendments to a Division which strike at the heart of a Bill which has been accepted by the House on Second Reading without a Division.

At the same time I can understand the argument that my noble friend has put forward that before the issue of the abolition of the second Chamber is committed to the judgment of the British electorate, this House in its corporate capacity should have the opportunity of expressing its views on the Floor of this House in general debate. This, I suggest, could be done with the maximum effect by means of full debate on a comprehensive Motion between the Bill having its Third Reading in the House of Commons and the referendum being held, which would not be less than three months after the order in council to hold the referendum had been promulgated. This would avoid the procedural hazards which my noble friends' amendment would produce. It would avoid any confrontation between the two Houses. It would enable your Lordships in dignified and measured terms to state the case for the continuance of bicameral parliament, or of a second Chamber with adequate powers.

My object in introducing this Bill in two successive Sessions was initially to ventilate a proposal which would, so I believed at any rate, protect our parliamentary constitution from being reduced to an elective dictatorship by some transient political aberration; to prevent that elective dictatorship from becoming permanent, by ensuring that a second chamber retains the major responsibility for maintaining under the Parliament Act 1911 the five years rule; and lastly to safeguard the historic balance in the constitution of the Crown, the second Chamber, and the House of Commons.

Your Lordships may now think that this is rather a remote possibility. It was not, as my noble friend Lord Eccles indicated in his speech on Second Reading last year, a remote possibility, and it may not seem to be so far fetched in two years' time. Of course if it is a decision of the electorate of Britain that they wish to give the elected House all powers to rule this country without the constitutional safeguards which at present exist and are exercised by this House, then they should, in my submission, be given a full opportunity to say so. But, in making that decision, it should be made, I maintain, without this House becoming involved in a referendum campaign and having to justify whatever may be its composition and constitutional powers of that time.

This Bill puts, and is intended to put, the onus of proof for the abolition of the second Chamber, or the emasculation of its powers, on the House of Commons, which is where it should be, and then to leave it to the nation to decide. If my noble friends' amendment is accepted the situation is completely changed. Either it becomes a direct confrontation between the Houses if the abolition Bill is rejected on Second Reading, or if it is carried through all its stages to Third Reading in this House the issue to be decided in the referendum will be whether the electorate will support the House of Lords as against the House of Commons.

The real issue will then be overlaid by political partisanship, all the emotive threat of the cry, "Peers against the People", and your Lordships' voices in justification of the consitutional proprieties, which you will have endeavoured to maintain throughout the passage of the Bill through this House, will be lost in the general hubbub of the ensuing controversy. Your Lordships would indeed be forced into the position of having to justify the continuance of a second Chamber, however composed, rather than that the House of Commons should justify to public opinion its proposed abolition or, as the case may be, the emasculation of its powers; or to prevent the permanence of an elective dictatorship, or to continue the essential role which this House plays as a revising and debating chamber.

Therefore, as I say, this amendment is tantamount to a wrecking amendment. I have tried to see if there is any way in which I could suggest a compromise with my noble friends, but I am afraid I have not been able to do so. In these circumstances I hope my noble friends will withdraw their amendment, or if they feel unable to do so that it will be rejected by your Lordships in the Lobbies.

6.46 p.m.

Lord Denham

I think it might be useful if I intervene at this stage. Perhaps before I speak about this particular amendment it would be helpful to make a couple of general remarks about the Government's role in this Committee stage as a whole. As your Lordships will recall, my noble friend the Leader of the House made a full reply for the Government at Second Reading last December. She made several more detailed points, if only to stress the very real difficulties which arise when an attempt is made to superimpose a referendum procedure during the passage of a Bill through Parliament.

She then went on to explain that the Government did not themselves propose to pursue any form of protection or entrenchment legislation during the present Parliament. This remains the position today, and my noble friend Lord Alport will, I am sure, understand that, and that given this position we cannot undertake to assist him with drafting advice or seek to perfect the Bill in Committee. Having said that, however, I have come here equipped with comments on the amendments, and I at least hope that these will be of some interest and help to your Lordships today.

Let me say straight away that my noble friend Lord Eccles' amendment is intended to meet a criticism of the Bill which my noble friend the Leader too made at Second Reading: that as drafted the Bill denies this House any opportunity to debate a Bill before the referendum takes place, and therefore denies the electorate the chance of hearing the views of the one body of people who might, in the circumstances, know what they are talking about. As she said then, there can he few Bills on which this House would be more entitled to express a view than on a Bill to abolish, or restrict the powers of this House.

My noble friend Lord Alport said that he had drafted it in this way in order to avoid any direct confrontation with another place. With very great respect to my noble friend, it is difficult to imagine that a Bill to abolish this House could pass, or develop, without some slight tension between the Houses. This is not a wrecking amendment, and if I may presume to make a suggestion to correct my noble friend on procedural grounds, I cannot accept that it is in any way improper for this House, having given a Bill a Second Reading, to reject or to pass an amendment to the Bill, as I think my noble friend was suggesting.

I think that the amendment as drafted does not quite achieve what my noble friend hopes that it does. His hope was that it would make it necessary for the referendum to take place after the Second Reading in this House. In point of fact, the Bill as drafted makes it necessary that the referendum takes place before the Second Reading in this House.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

Before the Third Reading.

Lord Denham

Before the Third Reading in this House. The Bill as drafted makes it necessary for the referendum to take place before the Third Reading in another place, and therefore before the Second Reading in this House. The amendment as drafted only makes it necessary for the referendum to take place before the Third Reading in this House. The Government of the day, had they such a mind, could in fact hold the referendum before the Second Reading in this House. That would comply with the terms of the Bill were my noble friend's amendment accepted.

Lord Alport

It says it shall not proceed beyond Third Reading in the House of Commons, which means the House of Commons will have taken it to Third Reading.

Lord Denham

Before or after Third Reading, the fact is that it would be before Second Reading in this House. That is a slight defect of the amendment, but nevertheless I must say, speaking personally, that I prefer the Bill with the amendment than as it stands.

6.51 p.m.

Lord Stewart of Fulham

I confess to no great enthusiasm for the Bill, but we must recognise that at this stage it has received a Second Reading; so my attitude towards the question whether we should have the words "Lords" or "Commons" in line 18 may be described as one of malevolent neutrality. I find some real difficulty here and I did not find the Government's exposition entirely helpful. It says the Bill shall not proceed beyond Third Reading in the House of Commons or, if the amendment were accepted, beyond Third Reading in the House of Lords. There would be a Third Reading then, in whichever House it is, in either case; it would be after the Third Reading that the referendum would step in.

Lord Denham

Not necessarily.

Lord Stewart of Fulham

That is how, to a layman, the Bill reads. It cannot be denied that it would be perfectly legal and proper for the Bill to go ahead so far as Third Reading in either the Commons or Lords, wherever it turns out to be, before the referendum.

Lord Denham

My advice is that the amendment as drafted, if included in the Bill, would make it possible for a Government to hold the referendum before Third Reading in this House, before even Second Reading in this House; it says that the Bill will not proceed beyond Third Reading without having had a referendum. It does not say at what stage that referendum must take place. It could take place even before Second Reading in this House. It is a minor defect which possibly could be put right with drafting.

Lord Stewart of Fulham

I follow that, and it means that the referendum could be stepped in at almost any point, provided it comes immediately after Third Reading, that being the latest point. If so, then the whole argument to which we have been listening—whether it should be the Commons or Lords—has to be thought out on different assumptions than those made by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, and the noble Lord, Lord Alport.

Something else worries me. The noble Viscount took it for granted that the Bill would be bound to start in the Commons. I wonder if he is right? I agree that a Bill to abolish this House is not very likely to start in this House, but, rather significantly, the Bill refers to Bills to diminish the power of this House and it does not say, as one amendment suggests, "diminish substantially": the smallest limitation on the powers of this House would bring such a Bill within the ambit of the referendum position. I do not find it absolutely impossible to envisage circumstances in which a Bill to make a very minor alteration in the powers of this House might actually initiate in this House. I agree it is very unlikely, but we have learnt on many occasions that it is wise when drafting Acts of Parliament to be quite certain what we mean.

As I understand it, the noble Viscount wants to be sure that this House debates and votes on such a Bill before it goes to referendum, while the noble Lord, Lord Alport, does not want that to happen. I am suggesting that in trying to get their objectives by using the words "Commons" and "Lords", neither of them can be quite certain that their objective will be achieved. If the Bill starts in this House then, as the Bill now stands, we shall certainly have a debate in this House before the referendum comes along. If we alter it as the noble Viscount suggests, we should then have a situation in which the referendum would come along after this House had pronounced but before the Commons had pronounced; because it could not proceed beyond Third Reading in the Lords without a referendum; and if the Bill had begun in the Lords, then the moment it had got its Third Reading in the Lords, one would have to step in with the referendum before it had ever begun in the Commons, and I do not think the Commons or the general public would like that.

It should not be too difficult to alter the wording so as to make sure that whichever way we decide—whether with the noble Lord, Lord Alport, or the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles—having decided which of their two solutions we want, we at least word the measure to make sure we get it, but at present 1 do not think we shall.

6.56 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

The Committee is indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, for clarifying two important aspects both of the Bill and of the amendment. On his first point, I agree with him that the Bill as it stands would bring in the referendum procedure even for a trifling reduction in our powers, and that is ridiculous. It is however a defect of the Bill and not, I suggest, a defect of the amendment. We then come to the more substantial point Lord Stewart made on the amendment. I agree with what he said as to the effect of the amendment, if accepted, in a situation in which the abolition or enfeeblement measure originated in this House. I think we can dismiss as a hypothesis about which we need not bother the concept of an abolition measure proceeding very far here; it is extremely unlikely that it would pass Second Reading, except in the situation in which Mr. Wedgwood Benn had carried out his plan to create 1,000 Peers, and if that were to happen then any safeguards of this sort would be wholly irrelevant and lost in the general confusion.

In the case of a Bill dealing with powers, if the amendment were accepted, we should—whether the Bill originated in the Commons or the Lords—have a good chance of securing the important point to which my noble friend Lord Eccles attached great importance; that this House had an opportunity to debate the matter before it went to the people. Unless the Government of the day took the extreme step, where the Bill originated in this House, of taking the referendum right away—which would be a step so outrageous that I suggest the Government would prejudice their own case fatally with a fairminded electorate—then, if it is taken after Third Reading here, this House will have had an opportunity to debate it, and therefore the object will have been secured in that the point of view of this House will have been able to be put before the people, and that is a very important aspect of the matter.

If we move in this direction, further polishing the amendment at a later stage to deal specifically with the Bill initiating in this House is a matter well worth considering. But I suggest the Committee would be well advised to accept my noble friend's amendment, particularly in view of the attitude adopted by my noble friend Lord Alport, who does not want—he is perfectly plain about it—this House to have an opportunity to debate the matter before the electorate votes in the referendum. He is perfectly frank about that. He said, I thought with a touch of naivety, that he was anxious to avoid a confrontation between the two Houses. But if the majority in one House seeks to abolish another House, I should have thought the risk of confrontation was pretty high.

Lord Jacques

As I understand it, the noble Lord, Lord Alport, did not want a confrontation, but he did want the issue discussed in this House, and he said that it could be discussed on a Motion.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My noble friend said that the issue could be discussed on a Motion. He did not wish us to discuss the Bill. With great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, who has considerable experience, not least as one of our deputy chairmen, there is all the difference in the world between debating a Bill stage by stage, with the general principles on Second Reading, the details in Committee, and some further details on Report, and taking a one-day general debate. That applies not least from the practical point of view, in that the media are given an opportunity several times to put forward to the people the views expressed in this House. That is why, if we are to have this procedure, I attach great importance to the point that we should secure, as the amendment, even in its present form, secures, that this House has the opportunity to discuss the matter before it goes to referendum.

Finally, my noble friend Lord Alport said, rather astonishingly, that he regarded this amendment as a wrecking amendment. As I indicated, he was not prepared even to consider it in another form. I really fail to understand why he should take that view, for, after all, the amendment accepts for this purpose what, as understand it, was the main principle of his Bill and what he indeed told us on Second Reading was the main principle of his Bill—that there should be a referendum before this House was abolished or seriously weakened. Moreover those of your Lordships who recall the Scottish and Welsh devolution Bills, will remember that the referendum under those Bills was to be held at an even later stage than our amendment suggests; it was to be held after all stages in both Houses had been concluded. Therefore, the fact that we do not agree with my noble friend Lord Alport on the crucial question of the timing of the referendum does not make it a reasonable charge for him to say that this is in any sense a wrecking amendment. Indeed, I would go further. It indicates that we are trying to put the Bill into a more practicable form.

There is one further point which I think bears on this question. In quite a purple passage my noble friend said that the onus should be on the House of Commons to put the case to the people. In any law court that I have known if the onus of proof in a criminal case is on the prosecution, it is at least the normal practice to allow the defence to be heard before the jury considers the verdict.

7.3 p.m.

Lord Wade

I wonder whether I may join in the debate from this end of the Chamber. At the beginning of a Committee stage of a Bill of this importance it is not unusual to go a little wider than the actual wording of the first amendment, and I think it helpful to have a somewhat general discussion of this nature. If I am at fault in that respect, I hope that I shall be forgiven, but I think most noble Lords realise that this happens on the first amendment, and I am only trying to be helpful.

First, I would congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alport, upon having secured a Second Reading. He has devoted a great deal of time to producing the Bill, and he has now enabled your Lordships to study it in detail, for which we are thankful to him. I know something of the hazards of Private Members' Bills, and I hope that he will be successful in enabling these discussions to take place. I express my personal regret that I was unable to be here at the Second Reading. On the occasion of the Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Alport, was good enough to mention my apologies. I was snowed up. From the very moment I said that I should like to attend the Second Reading the snow continued without ceasing, so I was unable to be here.

Perhaps I may make my own position clear. First, believe that there is real value in a second Chamber. Obviously there is a case for a reform of the second Chamber, and I think that that will come. But there is real value in a second Chamber. Secondly, I think that there are serious dangers to the parliamentary system in single-Chamber government. I do not think that it would be to our advantage to have single-Chamber government, and I think it might well lead to a one-party state—a point that was mentioned on Second Reading.

I have some doubts about a referendum as a procedure in general terms. I think that it is contrary to our traditions, but there are occasions when it is appropriate, in particular where a constitutional issue is involved—

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Baroness Young)

It is very important that the noble Lord, Lord Wade, should make his points, but we are on the Committee stage of the Bill and I would ask him to direct his points to the particular amendment that we are debating, which is the one that has been moved by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles.

Lord Wade

I entirely agree. The purpose of the first amendment is whether or not the word "Commons" should be replaced by "Lords" , but I think that before the Committee stage gets under way one must have some indication of the background. However, I have dealt with that and noble Lords have been been kind enough to listen to what I had to say.

The difficulty as I see it is this. First, one must be sure, as sure as one can be, that the other place, that Parliament, which consists of two Houses—the other place and the second Chamber—is in favour of a referendum. I am very doubtful as to whether one can devise legislation that would clearly spell out when a referendum should take place. That is the first point that we have to consider.

Assuming that there is to be a referendum, the important question is: at what stage should the referendum take place? It seemed to me that that is part of the issue which has been raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. The difficulty I see is that, if there is to be a referendum on a general principle which is understood by the electors to whom the question is put as a general principle, it can be either before the Bill is introduced or after both Houses have had the opportunity of considering it. Personally I am not in favour of introducing a referendum halfway through the parliamentary stages, for one very good reason—and I sincerely hope that the Government Front Bench will accept that this is relevant to the amendment. The point I am getting at is as follows. The voters are to be asked to answer a question. I am not going to discuss the two questions in the schedule; I have doubts about them. When the question is put, the persons answering it know precisely what it is they are being asked. Assuming that the Bill goes to both Houses of Parliament—and of course that includes the normal procedure whereby amendments may be made during the passage of the Bill in the second Chamber—then the electors who have the opportunity of giving an answer to the question on a referendum must know what it is they are answering.

So far as I can see—and I have endeavoured to study this Bill very carefully—the referendum should either be on a principle before the Bill passes through Parliament, subject to a referendum, or after both Houses of Parliament have had the opportunity to express an opinion and, if necessary, to amend it. I do not see how any electors to whom a question is put could decide yes or no about a Bill which might still be amended in one or other of the Chambers, which in all probability would be the second Chamber.

The difficulty about the amendment before us is precisely that. As I see it, it does not take adequate account of the possibility of amendments being made in both Houses. It also raises the question as to whether it is one which requires a referendum in accordance with the terms of the Bill. But I see the point put by the Government Front Bench about the Lords and the Commons. I agree that if there is to be parliamentary procedure at all on a Bill both Houses of Parliament should have an opportunity to express an opinion and make amendments. But those to whom the question is put must know what the question is, and until you know precisely what the question is I think the referendum, I will not say will be of little value but it cannot achieve its desired object, and it could lead to further trouble afterwards.

I therefore hope, without my going into it in much greater detail—I could take it clause by clause of the Bill—the noble Viscount and the noble Lord who have moved this amendment will see the point that if you wish the House of Lords (or call it the second Chamber) and the lower House to discuss and, if necessary, amend a Bill and then have a referendum, the electorate must be in a position to know what the question is that they are being asked to answer. Under those circumstances, I hope the noble Viscount and the noble Lord will see fit to withdraw this amendment. I agree with the arguments about both Houses, but I hope they will see fit to withdraw this amendment because I can see all kinds of difficulties arising from this Bill if it is amended in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, wishes us to amend.

Under those circumstances, my view would be that it would be advisable and helpful to withdraw this amendment and to proceed to discussion of the other parts of the Bill without giving a final answer on the point which has been raised; namely, whether both Houses of Parliament should have the opportunity to express their views on a Bill which leads to a referendum.

Viscount Eccles

I think I can help the noble Lord, Lord Wade, because that is exactly what I put the amendment down to do—to give your Lordships' House, as well as the other place, a chance to debate the Bill. Noble Lords will see that if we leave it simply at the Commons then the referendum would take place without any debate in your Lordships' House. So the noble Lord is on my side. He must be all the more on my side because the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, overlooked the fact that his rather amusing little proposition about a Bill starting in your Lordships' House has no effect, because if he looks at the provisions of this Bill he will see that even if a Bill did start in your Lordships' House the referendum could not be held without a certificate from the Speaker. The Speaker is not going to give his certificate until the Bill has been debated in the Commons; so the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, really does not arise.

Lord Stewart of Fulham

With great respect, I think it does. In the event—and I agree it is very unlikely—of the Bill starting in your Lordships' House, it cannot go to the Commons and the Speaker could not give his certificate. It could not go to the Commons because you have got to have the referendum before it goes beyond the Third Reading in this House. So it starts here and it is only your Lordships' House which has any word about it.

Viscount Eccles

I really think the noble Lord is wrong. You cannot have a referendum until the Speaker has given his certificate, and therefore the Bill would go from your Lordships' House to the other place without a referendum because the conditions would not have been fulfilled.

I want to say very little, except that the idea that this is a wrecking amendment never entered my head. The idea that one would avoid a confrontation of a kind which would be bad for the national interest, bad for our Parliamentary institutions, if both Houses debated this Bill really does not seem to me to make sense. The confrontation will come anyway if there is an abolition Bill. I merely want to see that the Bill is examined in detail and your Lordships' views on this matter are given in detail, which would give those people who are on our side far more ammunition. Therefore, so far as I am concerned, I would ask the Committee to divide on this amendment.

Lord Alport

If I am allowed to have a final word on this matter, I should like to say this. I think a great deal of our discussion so far during this Committee stage on this amendment has not really faced the realities of the political situation in which Parliament and the country would find itself at a future date. My own personal view is a very simple one, and I think it is held by a number of others. It is that the real issue that is going to face your Lordships' House in due course is not one of amending its powers, really, although we have included that in the Bill, but is a question of abolition and a straight, flat question that your Lordships' House, the second Chamber, be abolished.

If my noble friends' amendment is accepted, as I have already said, then it means that, in the event of a Bill coming to your Lordships' House to abolish this place, the assumption that I made in drafting this Bill is that it would be defeated here. But if the Bill was introduced into the House of Commons, passed through its stages there and came to your Lordships' House, and then on Second Reading was defeated here, as it would be, frankly, then the Parliament Act would operate and there would be no referendum.

Therefore I have said to my noble friends that, although I do not think they intended it, the practical effect of their amendment is to wreck the main object of this Bill. For anybody to suppose that your Lordships' debate on the Committee stage is going to have a powerful effect in the emotional circumstances which are likely to exist when an issue of this sort comes before Parliament and before the country, is giving credit to your Lordships for something which I do not think anybody outside your Lordships' House would really accept.

My noble friends are really talking about a situation which I regret to say does not in this present day exist. Therefore I say, without any disrespect to my noble friends, that this amendment in fact cuts out the heart and the object of this Bill. The object of this Bill, as I tried to make clear to your Lordships earlier, is to ensure what I believe to be a vitally important part of our constitution; that is, the continuance of a second Chamber with adequate powers. The issue when the time comes will not be whether our powers are reduced, but whether or not a second Chamber itself will exist. Therefore, I am afraid that I must oppose this amendment and, as my noble friend Lord Eccles has said that he will not withdraw it, let us see what happens when we divide in the Lobbies.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

It is normal practice in this House for those supporting an amendment to have the last word; and I thought that my noble friend Lord Eccles had been exercising that right when he waited before he rose for my noble friend Lord Alport to rise. As that turned out to be a misapprehension, I will not detain the Committee for long. But I cannot allow my noble friend Lord Alport to get away with the reiteration of his obsession that this amendment is a wrecking amendment. Take the situation which he adumbrated. An abolition Bill comes to this House. It would then, having passed the Commons, if this amendment is in force, be open to this House either to throw it out on Second Reading or, if they decided to show greater wisdom than to ask for its destruction under the Parliament Act, for this House not to throw it out on Second Reading but, having that confidence in the people about which my noble friend Lord Alport spoke so eloquently on Second Reading, to let it go to the later stages in order to get the advantage of a referendum which as my noble friend obviously thinks—for this is the purpose of his Bill—would result in the salvation of this House.

Therefore, I say that, so far from this being a wrecking amendment, it is an amendment which seeks to make better sense of the referendum proposal and, if I may repeat it once more, to save this House from being condemned unheard.

7.23 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 48; Not-Contents, 11.

Avon, E. Jenkins of Putney, L.
Aylestone, L. Kennet, L.
Banks, L. Kinloss, Ly.
Bathurst, E. Long, V.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. [Teller.] Loudoun, C.
Broadbridge, L. Lyell, L.
Brockway, L. McGregor of Durris, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. McNain, L.
Burton of Coventry, B. Marley, L.
Caccia, L. Melchett, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. [Teller.] Monk, Bretton, L.
Mottistone, L.
Cathcart, E. Napier and Ettrick, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Orkney, E.
Craigavon, V. Rochester, L.
Denham, L. Sandys, L.
Eccles, V. Sherfield, L.
Evans of Claughton, L. Stamp, L.
Ferrers, E. Strathcarron, L.
Fortescue, E. Terrington, L.
Hampton, L. Wade, L.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Winstanley, L.
Hooson, L. Winterbottom, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Young, B.
Hylton-Foster, B.
Alport, L. [Teller.] Noel-Baker, L.
Ardwick, L. Ross of Marnock, L.
Bacon, B. Thurlow, L.
Greenwood of Rossendale, L. Underhill, L.
Jacques, L. [Teller.] Wells-Pestell, L.
Jeger, B.

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Alport

It was my promise on Second Reading that I would not take up the time of your Lordships unnecessarily over this Bill. In these circumstances, since, as the mover of this Bill, my view is that the heart of the Bill has now been taken out, I beg to move that the House be now resumed.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.