HL Deb 16 July 1987 vol 488 cc1156-7

3.18 p.m.

Viscount Mountgarret

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the lifetime of a parliament should be extended to seven years, such legislation not to take effect until the expiry of the present parliament.

The Minister of State, Home Office (The Earl of Caithness)

No, my Lords.

Viscount Mountgarret

My Lords, it is difficult to thank my noble friend for that lengthy reply, but I thank him anyway. Would the Government agree, with the present average lifetime of a parliament, that legislation—particularly controversial legislation — seldom has time to work its way through the system, and that a different Administration can, and often does, repeal such Acts enacted by its predecessor before as it were, giving the baby a chance to live? This, in turn, leads to a go-stop effect.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that some policies of course take longer to mature, but against this there is the overriding need for the Government to keep in touch with the feelings of the electorate, and I think that recently we showed that we were in touch.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, will the noble Earl agree that, contrary to the length of time advocated by the noble Viscount, the Government have in fact introduced a tendency towards four-year parliaments? Would they consider going a stage further and seeking fixed terms in order that we may avoid the damaging pre-election uncertainties that we had the last time?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, if the noble Lord would care to look back a little further, he will find that between the 1918 and 1987 general elections the average life of a parliament, excluding the war parliament of 1935 to 1945, was four and a quarter years.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, will the noble Earl agree that in contradistinction to the view held by his noble friend, the Levellers probably had it right in 1643 when they opted for annual parliaments? By and large, shorter parliaments are better.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I think that the 1 year and the 3 year parliaments did not prove to be successful.

Lord Bottomley

My Lords, in suggesting the extension of a parliament to seven years, the noble Lord said that it should not apply to this parliament. Is there any likelihood that legislation will be introduced to shorten the life of this parliament?

The Earl of Caithness

No, my Lords, we have a lot of work to do in the next five years and we look forward to receiving the noble Lord's comments as legislation progresses.