HL Deb 29 June 1984 vol 453 cc1150-4

11.26 a.m.

Lord Denham

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer which has been given to a Private Notice Question in another place on the Government's intentions about elections to the GLC and metropolitan county councils. The Answer is as follows:

"The Government are considering and will announce in due course how they intend to handle the question of these elections. There are a number of options for dealing with them, and we will make known our proposals in good time to enable Parliament to make up its mind on the issues. In the meantime, let me make it abundantly clear that we remain firmly resolved to fulfil our election commitment to end these unnecessary and expensive upper-tier councils".

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord the Chief Whip for repeating the Answer to the Private Notice Question put in another place earlier today. The vote yesterday was won on a fundamental issue of principle. On an earlier occasion the Leader of the House described a Government majority of 20 as being substantial. On that basis, I would submit that the vote yesterday was a massive defeat for the Government.

The Government should not attempt hastily to reject the decision of this House. To do so would be an unacceptable act of what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor himself has described as an "elective dictatorship". The Government's election commitment was not to transfer power for an interim period to an unelected body. I hope that the noble Lord will keep the House fully informed of any decisions that the Government intend to make on this matter.

Lord Wigoder

My Lords. I too should like to thank the noble Lord the Chief Whip for his repetition of that Statement. We are grateful to him for keeping us informed and we look forward to future developments with very considerable interest. At this stage I should like to raise two matters. First, can the noble Lord, Lord Denham, inform us whether the Government agree with the observations made by his noble friend Lord Whitelaw last night? The noble Viscount, after reflecting upon the matter for some hour and three quarters after the end of the Division, announced at col. 1096 of Hansard: The amendment that has been passed is not a wrecking amendment. I think that it is important to recognise that particular point". Is that still the view of the Government?

The other matter that I would bring to your Lordships' attention is this. Is the noble Lord, Lord Denham, aware that in the other place this morning one of his Conservative Party colleagues has apparently indicated that what this House did yesterday was totally undemocratic, and apparently he indicated that in future all good Conservatives should join with all good Socialists and together call for the abolition of your Lordships' House?

Lord Denham

My Lords, I should like to thank the two noble Lords opposite for their response. In reply first to the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, I cannot confirm what happened in another place because I thought it right to be in your Lordships' House at this time. I wish that noble Lords opposite could get their act together.

Noble Lords


Lord Denham

My Lords, in winding up not only for his Alliance friends but also, as he made quite clear, for the official Opposition, last night the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, said: This amendment is not a wrecking amendment at all. It is an amendment that is couched deliberately out of the terms in which the Bill itself is couched. It is not a wrecking amendment. It is a significant amendment, because it restores what I believe is the proper constitutional position." [Official Report, 28/6/84: col. 1066.] Later in the evening in another place. the right honourable gentleman who sits for Bethnal Green and Stepney said: The Government were defeated on an amendment which disembowels the entire purpose of the Local Government (Interim Provisions) Bill." [Official Report, Commons, 28/6/84: co1.12521 Which is it? It cannot be one thing before the Division and another after the Division.

Baroness White

My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that it is not proper in this House to quote verbatim from another place except the words of a Minister?

Lord Denham

My Lords, it is possible, I understand, to quote verbatim from words given from the Opposition Dispatch Box.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that while this House in Committee yesterday did its duty according to its lights, the result was to frustrate Government action for which they had a mandate?

Noble Lords


Lord Harmar-Nicholls

Under those circumstances is my noble friend aware that many of us will not be surprised if the other place, quite legitimately—as legitimately as our position—will "unfrustrate" it in order to put themselves in the position where they can carry out their mandate, and perhaps replace the existing words with the words put down in Amendment No. 10A by the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury? If that happens it will not be the first time that the Cross-Benches have cut across the rigid partisanship which clouds an issue and have the real answer in the interests of the nation.

Lord Denham

My Lords, this House has often in the past exercised its undoubted right to ask another place to think again. This is what your Lordships did last night. When my noble friends were in opposition we never even claimed parity with another place, let alone superiority or domination, and now extravagant things are being quoted. I do not believe everything I read in the papers, but may I quote what was said of the Opposition Chief Whip last night: Labour's chief whip, Lord Ponsonby, said amid popping champagne corks: With a majority of 48 it would be quite foolish of the Government to try to overturn the judgment of this House'. It is quite proper for your Lordships to ask another place to think again, and sometimes it does think again; but it would be totally improper to deprive another place, just because your Lordships have passed an amendment, of even the opportunity of considering it.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, may I remind the noble Lord the Chief Whip that we on these Benches have no responsibility whatsoever for anything that is said by a Labour Member in another place. To be told to get our act together with them is something we do not accept.

Lord Denham

My Lords, the act was fairly firmly together last night.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, could my noble friend clarify one matter? In so far as the events under consideration took place in this House, would it not have been more proper for the substantive Statement to have been made here and repeated in another place? Can this he so in future on this particular matter?

Lord Denham

My Lords, there is always the delicate matter of comity between the two Houses. I understand what happened in this case was that a Private Notice Question was put down in another place and was allowed by Mr. Speaker, and was therefore repeated here. I do not think that this interferes in any way with the comity between the two Houses.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords in the matter of comity. may I inform the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip in the House—as he was good enough to correct me a little while ago in a fluent moment in a speech because I summarised what a former Conservative Minister had said in another place—that the rule of the House is apparently: The content of a speech made in the House of Commons in the current session may be summarised, but it is out or order to quote from such a speech unless it be a speech of a Minister in relation to Government policy. For once the Chief Whip has erred, no doubt quite innocently.

Lord Denham

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord. I assure him that it was totally innocent and out of a mistaken belief which I shall not fall into again.

Lord Galpern

My Lords, can the noble Lord explain to the House what we are to understand by the declaration by the Leader of the other place that the Government would test the strength of the other place against that of the House of Lords?

Lord Denham

My Lords, I have the exact words here. My right honourable friend said: The House will realise that the Bill will return to this House so that it may pitch its authority alongside that of the other place."—[col. 1253] The end of the quotation—because it is unfair to take things out of their context—is: Furthermore, fair-minded Members will recognise that the Government will wish to take a due and measured course in considering their judgment."—[col. 1253] This House, if I may say so, has pitched its authority alongside another place. Is the noble Lord opposite denying another place the right to return the compliment?

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, when the Government consider this question next week, will they consider that their mandate was part of a mandate containing many more even more important issues, and certainly that it contained no element within it to provide that the Government would abolish an elected body before deciding what was to go in its place? In considering that will they also take into consideration that all measurements of public opinion since then have shown that the vast majority of people want to retain these bodies, including possibly even a majority in the noble Lord's own party?

Lord Denham

My Lords, I hope that noble Lords opposite, and their right honourable friends in another place, will refrain from issuing promissory notes as to the status of this House which they do not intend to redeem in full when they themselves are next in power and in a position to do so.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord the Chief Whip will not recall it, but if he reads Hansard he will see that I used the same words that he used in my speech. My contribution was to get the Government to at least think again. Throughout our country this morning this is the top political issue. Could not the Government Front Bench in this noble House state clearly, honestly, and categorically that in view of the vote last night they will most sincerely think again, taking full cognizance of the views expressed in this House, of councillors of all political parties who agree with the majority view last night, and consider that to be something which they must think about deeply and arrive at a fair and just decision, taking into consideration all the views that I have mentioned?

Lord Denham

My Lords, that is implicit in the original Statement that I repeated.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, is it not possible that after another place has considered what happened and that when it comes back to this place, the other 95 noble friends who voted on Second Reading might decide to return and support the Government?

Lord Denham

My Lords, of course everything is possible.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he recollects that during the last Parliament the amendment on school transport was passed against the Government's wishes by an even larger majority, and in that case the Government bowed to the clear view of this House? Will they now follow that excellent precedent?

Lord Denham

My Lords, I must make it absolutely clear, and I think that this is beyond doubt, that it is the privilege of this House to ask another place to think again. It does think again. On occasion it agrees with this House, and on many other occasions—and particularly in the times when noble Lords opposite are in power—it disagrees with this House. That is the constitutional position, and there is no possible way in which your Lordships can suggest that this House should invariably be dominant over another place.