HL Deb 19 November 1997 vol 583 cc572-85

3.15 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead

rose to call attention to the value of cross-party co-operation on major national issues such as constitutional change and Britain's relations with Europe; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we all look forward to the almost unprecedented number of maiden speeches which will occur in this debate—four out of a total of 13 speeches. But that large number in no way diminishes the enthusiasm with which we look forward to them. I am glad that I have at least chosen a subject for debate which invites debuts.

I believe that I have introduced 12 Wednesday debates in the course of an almost too long leadership of the Liberal Democrat Party in this House. It may, however, be of some comfort to the House to know that this is the last time, following the election yesterday of my noble friend Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, that I shall lead in a "call attention" debate from this Bench. I shall, however, continue to discharge the general duties of party leader until the Christmas Recess. So let there be no premature obsequies.

The exact import of some of the subjects raised in the 12 Wednesday debates I have initiated escapes me with the passage of time. It is a little cryptic to find that in January 1989 I called attention to Her Majesty's Government's method of conducting relations with foreign countries. I suspect that the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, must have been engaging in a particularly notable piece of handbag-swinging diplomacy at that time.

However, there have been two main themes running through the debates raised by myself and some of my noble friends: first, the need for us to play a more constructive and effective role in Europe; and, secondly, the need for constitutional reform, pointing consistently in a more decentralised direction. Thus, right at the beginning came a Motion to call attention to the excessive concentration of power in the executive branch of government. I have never seen any contradiction between those two themes. It is just as sensible that what cannot be effectively handled at national level—which, in the global economy, includes interest rates, monetary policy and currency matters—should be dealt with on a co-operative basis higher up; as it is for what can be handled lower down, closer to the people, to be devolved to Edinburgh or Cardiff or to local authorities.

I always felt that there was something absurd about the previous government presiding over the most centralised state in western Europe and making it more centralised by their actions towards local government but at the same time drawing up their skirts in horror at any suggestion of further development in the European institutions; for instance, the single market. That is sometimes claimed to be one of the most proud creations of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, and one to which the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, who is to speak later in the debate, made a mighty contribution. He went out as her legate for that purpose, but proved to be a somewhat rebellious legate when he got there. He made a considerable contribution. I see a contradiction between that and the view that the single market would work better if it were not hobbled by frequent and often violent currency fluctuations.

In March 1992 we had a compendious Motion to call attention to the case for constitutional reform, including a fair voting system, fixed term parliaments, a bill of rights and control over their own affairs satisfactory to the peoples of Scotland and Wales. There has been a lot of progress in those directions in the past six months. I am not sure that fixed term parliaments is currently a lively issue, though there is a lot to be said for it. But for the rest, the issues are very much on the boil, including voting reform.

In the case of human rights and Scotland and Wales, much has already been accomplished. In the case of the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights, I must draw attention to the Motion of my noble friend Lord Holme of Cheltenham in December 1990 calling for precisely that, and also to the dedicated and persistent efforts of my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill on the issue.

The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and members of his party have been recently inclined to complain that the Liberal Democrats are showing a certain preference for the present over the previous government, as though it were some sort of toadying, quisling-like behaviour on our part. Much though I like him, I do not feel like a toady towards the noble Lord, Lord Richard.

Is it surprising, given our great and persistent attachment to constitutional issues, that we prefer a government which at least show signs of open-mindedness on these issues to the complete immobilism, like a sort of rigor mortis, which overtook the government of the last Prime Minister. Any suggestion of more say for Scotland or change in your Lordships' House, let alone electoral reform, was treated not merely as unwise but as a betrayal of the whole spirit and history of England. I was shocked by that. I felt that it was alien to the best traditions of Conservatism—from Peel, to Baldwin, to Macmillan. For instance, recent history is littered with Conservative schemes for the reform of this House, several emanating from the forebears of the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, himself, and a Home/Heath attitude to Scottish devolution which was much more constructive than anything we have seen recently.

This Motion seeks to bring parties together rather than tear them further apart. I hope to see the present Conservative Party return to those earlier and more constructive traditions. Before I turn to that point, I must mention three other Motions during the 10-year period. In March 1990 we moved to call attention to the inspector's report on House of Fraser Holdings plc. In June 1995 we called for an independent inquiry into the arrangements for the funding of political parties and in February of this year we returned to the latter subject with greater urgency, actually moving to resolve, and therefore voting upon the issue, that this House calls upon HMG to refer the issue of the funding of political parties to the Committee on Standards in Public Life. If those three Motions had been acted upon at the time they were moved, a great deal of trouble might well have been avoided.

I turn to the cross-party aspects of today's Motion, and Europe in particular. British policy towards the European Community or Union has been bedevilled by not being handled on a more cross-party basis. Europe has been a dangerous issue for British parties and British politicians for around a quarter of a century. It gravely damaged the Labour Party in the 1970s and nearly destroyed the Conservative Party in the 1990s. The individual leaders have suffered even more. The failure in 1963 of the first British application, with de Gaulle's veto, effectively destroyed the end of Harold MacMillan's premiership, and Harold Wilson's shift of position in the early 1970s took a great deal of the zest off the latter part of his leadership.

Mrs. Thatcher fell on this issue and much of Mr. Major's premiership was rendered a nullity by it. None of those governments managed to pursue a consistent policy which commanded either success or respect in Europe. That was partly due to a lack of confidence of successive Prime Ministers that they could carry their parliamentary parties with them along a more constructive line. Yet from the 1960s, through the 1970s and the 1980s, there was always a substantial pro-European majority in the House of Commons. Only in the last Parliament did it somewhat fade away. But it was always a cross-party majority. Party managers and party whips hate cross-party majorities. They upset the simple rules of adversarial politics. But when cross-party majorities can be achieved, they settle issues a good deal more satisfactorily because they are more broadly based and are less liable to be reversed later by crude party votes.

No doubt in the near future—perhaps a little earlier than is commonly assumed—we will face another referendum on Europe. That will inevitably be fought on a cross-party basis. There are many powerful Conservatives who are just waiting to break ranks and no doubt there are some—some present today—members of the Labour Party and maybe even one or two Liberal Democrats who will do so too.

I welcome the cross-party basis. As 1975 showed, there is something exhilarating about people previously kept apart by the rigidities of party politics working together when the issue is one on which they spontaneously agree. Those who are enthusiastic about national referendums should not doubt the loosening effects which they have upon the structures of party politics. When Mr. Benn propounded the "wheeze", as it then was, of the referendum in 1971-72, he saw it as a great device for doing down the Conservatives. But, in fact, in the context of that decade, it had the reverse effect. Not only did it produce a great majority for, rather than against, Europe, but it was, I think, a necessary condition for the creation of the SDP—I doubt whether it would have happened without the referendum campaign—and therefore for the Liberal Democrats in their present form.

Just as with Europe, constitutional questions are much better settled, if they can be, with at least some cross-party element in them. God knows, we move slowly enough on constitutional change, so no one could say we should only proceed by unanimity, which would be a recipe for total immobilism. But the firm acceptance of irreversibility in constitutional change is also desirable.

Franchise extensions over nearly two centuries provide a very good example of party intermingling. The Whigs did the Great Reform Act of 1832, but the Tories did the 1867 one. The Liberals, as the Whigs had become, did the 1885 one. The Conservative-dominated but Liberal-led coalition did the big 1918 extension of the female franchise and the Conservative ended the process with the "flapper" vote in 1928.

On our relations with Ireland, historically the most traumatic British constitutional issue, the Conservatives bitterly opposed three Liberal Home Rule Bills but then participated fully in the 1921 settlement. It settled relations with southern Ireland. Had they, as they half veered towards in 1885-86, done a Home Rule Bill themselves then, they might have settled the Northern Ireland question at that stage as well.

Even on the question of the powers of your Lordships' House, quite a lot of Conservatives voted in the last resort for the Parliament Bill of 1911. No one has remotely talked of reversing that. If a semi-consensual solution to present issues could be found in relation to your Lordships' House, I would rather welcome it. But much Labour tolerance and much abandonment of Conservative rigidities would he needed for that.

After nearly 50 years in one House of Parliament or the other, 50 years which will be up at the end of April next year, and having led with great pleasure one party in this House and one of its tributaries in another place before that, and having 15 years before that been fairly near at times—I shall not put it higher than that in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff—to leading a different and a bigger party, my conclusion is that parties are necessary instruments of state: sometimes good servants but almost never good masters in politics or in the service of the state. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.34 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard)

My Lords, I should like to begin my remarks by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, on his speech and on his choice of subject for today's debate. It is timely, it is challenging, and, if I may say so, the noble Lord moved it, as we would expect him to, with a historical sweep and a penetrating political analysis. I shall have some more to say in just a few minutes on the substance of what he said.

However, before I move on, I hope the House will think it appropriate that I should mark a recent sad event. Lady Llewelyn-Davies, the former Government and Opposition Chief Whip, died recently after a long illness. There are, inevitably and rightly, strict rules in this House as to when formal tributes should be paid. I thought, however, that I might be permitted to pay a personal word of regret and of sympathy to my noble friend's family and to her many personal friends. She was the first, and so far the only, woman to have occupied either of those posts or indeed to have run a Whips' Office in either House. She did so with great distinction. Her grace and her charm will be warmly remembered by all of us who knew her. It is a sad loss and we shall all miss her greatly.

Perhaps I may say, too, in advance of dealing with the Motion, how much I am looking forward to the maiden speeches of my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, a title with a somewhat Braveheart ring about it, and of the noble Lords, Lord Goodhart, Lord Razzall and Lord Blackwell. I hope that I will be in a position to hear them all, but perhaps I may, in advance, apologise to them and to the House as I shall have to be away from the Chamber briefly to attend the meeting of the Procedure Committee which takes place this afternoon.

As many Peers know, and indeed as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, has just retold us, the noble Lord has just announced his intention to stand down as leader of the Liberal Democrat Peers with effect from the end of this year. We learnt yesterday that the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, is to be the new leader of his party. I take this opportunity to welcome him warmly to his new post. This is, as the noble Lord again said, very probably the last major debate in which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, will lead his Benches in this House. We naturally look forward to hearing a great deal from him in the future but it would be right for me to spend just a few minutes saying one or two words about his truly remarkable career.

For the past nine years he has led his Peers with authority, with wisdom and always, if I may say so, with elegance. The whole House has benefited from his long and distinguished experience. He has achieved the highest distinction in letters as well as in politics. As a historian and biographer—not least in matters connected with this House and with this Palace—he is essential reading. By my count he so far holds no fewer than 26 honorary degrees and doctorates from institutions of learning in Britain, Europe and America. He is, of course, Chancellor of the University of Oxford.

As a politician, his parliamentary career so far has spanned very nearly half a century since he first became a Member of another place in 1948. In what might be called his "early period", he was twice one of the most distinguished Home Secretaries of modern times, a formidable Chancellor of the Exchequer and a distinguished Deputy Leader of my party. In his "middle period", as President of the European Commission from 1977 to 1981, he made an enormous contribution both inside that body—not always an easy task, as I can myself attest—and he made an enormous contribution to the growing warmth in this country towards the European Union. Since then, in his "later period", he has been on a political odyssey, sadly no longer as a member of my party. He has since been a leading member of no fewer than three political parties: the Social Democrats, the Social and Liberal Democrats and the Liberal Democrats. In fact, if I may say so to him, I am told that the nameplate on his door in this House tells us that he still leads the second of those parties rather than the third. Now, in his latest phase, we find him charting a friendly course of good counsel and constructive engagement with his former party. On behalf of the House, may I say to the noble Lord how much we have appreciated his contribution. We look forward to very much more of it.

Turning to the noble Lord's Motion, the case that he has put has lessons for members of all parties and of none. His fundamental contention is that, where those in public life have similar objectives, they should concert wherever possible to achieve those objectives. I agree. The first draft of his Motion spoke of the benefits of "non-confrontational politics". I agree with that, too. Politics can be a rough trade, but it has an objective—to do better, as we see it, for the people we represent and for the country as a whole. Without that aim, politics would simply be a scramble for power for its own sake. But quite often the differences between the parties are relatively small and the dispute is often about means rather than ends. Wherever that is the case I believe that it behoves those of us who practise this trade to seek common ground when we can in the interests of good and durable government. If I may say so, this House and the way that it operates without rigid rules is perhaps a good example of how that approach can work in practice. Since the new Government were elected in May we have sought to work within that approach and to preserve the spirit of co-operation in this House and we shall, of course, continue to do so.

The noble Lord's Motion points us towards two key areas of government policy, and if I may I shall deal with Europe first. There is no more important single long-term issue facing this country than that of the nature and the extent of our relationship with Europe. The aims which drove the original Common Market to prevent any repetition of the two world wars which began on our continent are still inspiring ones—certainly, they still are for me.

Europe poses for us enormous and significant choices—on employment, the environment, transport and agriculture. Following the Chancellor's announcement on European monetary union, the electorate may be invited to make perhaps the most important decision for a generation in a referendum. For all these reasons I am delighted that we have been able to discuss with the Liberal Democrats our priorities for Britain's forthcoming presidency of the European Union. We were able to find broad support for our plans. We were able to establish a shared determination to shape a national consensus around our joint view that the United Kingdom should seek to play a leading role in Europe. It is already clear that a great deal of important business will be done during our presidency.

This country has a strong and immediate interest in a successful start to the process of economic and monetary union. We want to see a process which starts on time and with as wide a participation as is consistent with a strong and sustainable currency. On economic reform the Government wish to promote agreement in the European Union on the basic principles necessary to make Europe more competitive for the future. We shall take forward in our presidency work on the next round of enlargement of the European Union together with reform of the common agricultural policy and of the structural and cohesion funds. We shall take practical steps in the war against crime and drugs. We shall pursue a heavy agenda on environmental matters and work for effective and substantive co-ordination of European Union foreign policy on the major current issues.

In seeking a consensus in the country on Britain's role, it is extremely important to us that the Liberal Democrats have given their substantive support. Would that the Conservative Party had been as constructive, though I do begin to detect dangerous signs of what I believe some in the Conservative Party seem to regard as the virus of consensus in Mr. Clarke, Mr. Heseltine, Mr. Temple-Morris, and like-minded Back-Benchers. I hope that the virus spreads and that others become similarly affected.

I turn now to constitutional matters. As the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, reminded us, a Cabinet Committee chaired by the Prime Minister was established on 22nd July to consider issues of joint interest to the Government and to the Liberal Democrats. Such inter-party co-operation is not unique. It has happened before. But it is important to see it as it is: Ministers remain the only decision makers, and thus are properly and solely accountable for those decisions. This is not a pact, nor is it a coalition. It is a committee which enables the Government to explore with a party with which it shares many common aims, how those aims might be achieved in what we perceive, jointly, to be the national interest. The aim was expressly to move away from old-style confrontational politics. The early focus of that committee has inevitably been on the government's programme of constitutional reform, as set out in our manifesto put before the country at the last election, and based on agreements reached in opposition with the Liberal Democrat party.

Our agenda is a substantial one and it was partly referred to by the noble Lord in his speech: first, incorporating the European Convention on Human Rights so that British people no longer have to go to Strasbourg to enforce their rights; secondly, a referendum Bill and White Paper on a strategic authority for London consisting of an elected mayor and an assembly; thirdly, regional development agencies on which legislation and a White Paper will be announced this Session; fourthly, freedom of information on which a consultative White Paper will set out proposals for legislation, putting an end, we hope, to secrecy for secrecy's sake; fifthly, an independent commission on the Westminster voting system to consider the best alternative to the first-past-the-post system to be followed by a referendum; sixthly, proportional representation for the European elections—a Bill is already before the House of Commons; seventhly, reforming the procedures in another place. The modernisation of how the other place deals with legislation and holds Ministers to account has been the subject of a report from my right honourable friend the President of the Council and may have consequential implications for this House. It is a matter on which I am this afternoon asking the Procedure Committee to take a view. The eighth issue is devolution. Following the referendums on 11th and 18th September, the Government will introduce two devolution Bills, which will doubtless receive close and proper scrutiny in your Lordships' House.

So it is a substantial agenda but it is one on which we believe that it has been right and profitable to the country to consult closely with the Liberal Democrats. The Government have benefited considerably from their involvement and not just in thrashing out policy details. Discussions such as these signify an understanding, on our part at least, that there are issues which transcend party considerations.

There is one issue which, as noble Lords may perhaps have noted, I have so far omitted from the list of the Government's comprehensive constitutional programme. I have done so deliberately because I wish to underline the lesson of this debate in relation to it. That issue is, of course, the reform of this House, a policy overwhelmingly endorsed by the electorate and discussed in opposition with the Liberal Democrats. In the spirit of the terms of this Motion I believe that the Opposition needs to answer one straightforward question. Does it support the removal of the rights of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in a reformed House? It seems to me that that is the fundamental issue. It seems also that the leader of the Opposition, Mr. Hague, has grasped it. He floated the idea that fundamental opposition to our plans should be dropped. He was promptly attacked by his chairman, the noble Lord. Lord Parkinson. I believe that the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, has argued publicly in the opposite direction.

From this confusion it emerges that the policy is "under review". I hope that the Opposition can soon resolve where it stands. I say this to them, and I hope very clearly. If they are prepared to accept that accident of birth should no longer give a right to sit and vote in this House, then we can have a sensible discussion about reforming our Chamber. If they are not prepared to accept that, then it seems to me that they have little to bring to that discussion. If the noble Viscount will allow me to pull his leg for a change, he needs to make his mind up on one other issue. On the "Today" programme on BBC Radio 4 on 9th October, he claimed that our proposals would "emasculate" the House. A little later he said that they would "give it more authority". That is a difficult dual concept for a brain as naïve as mine to understand. I do not see how the noble Viscount can have it both ways. If the House is emasculated it seems unlikely to have more authority in the future.

Wherever those of goodwill wish to work with us to achieve common aims, we welcome their contribution. Constitutional reform and our approach to Europe are only two examples of the areas in which we seek a new approach to party politics. After barely six months in office this Government are making great strides in forging a national consensus on our society's aims for the future, and I say again that we welcome the contribution that the Liberal Democrats are making to that process. We look forward to more of it. We invite parliamentarians and others of all parties or indeed of none to join us in this great project of taking this country forward as a leading nation into the millennium to come.

3.50 p.m.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, before I begin, I should like very much to echo the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal in respect of the late and very much lamented Lady Llewelyn-Davies. I know that the noble Lord, as so often in matters appertaining to this House, is entirely correct when he says that we do not want to devalue the currency of paying tribute. However, although I was not fortunate enough to know Lady Llewelyn-Davies as well as I would have liked, it is perfectly plain from the extraordinary affection in which she was held in all parts of this House irrespective of party allegiance that some rules at least are only good when it is clear that they should occasionally be broken—and this is one of them. I should like to echo the tribute which the Lord Privy Seal so eloquently paid to Lady Llewelyn-Davies. I was only fortunate enough to meet her twice and I have to confess that within about five seconds I was utterly seduced not only by her charm but by her extraordinary beauty. I can well understand how the noble Lord, Lord Carter, as the present Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms, might find himself at a serious disadvantage because, although we know that he is a man thoroughly imbued with charm and skill, I think that he and I would agree that he is not nearly as beautiful as his predecessor—

Lord Carter


Viscount Cranborne:

—as any of his predecessors.

I echo what the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal said. Lady Llewelyn-Davies will be sadly missed and I only wish that I had been fortunate enough to have shared more time with her in this House while she was still active in it.

Like the Lord Privy Seal, I should also say how much I am looking forward to the very large number of maiden speeches that we are to hear later—some from our side of the House and some from the other. Again, like the Lord Privy Seal, I hope, in spite of commitments elsewhere in this House later today, to be able to listen to all of them.

I turn now to the Motion that we are discussing. As always, I was hugely impressed by the high-mindedness of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, which was so eloquently echoed by the high-minded attitude of the Lord Privy Seal. I cannot in any way hope to emulate such high-flown rhetoric or such admirable sentiments. I fear that I am only a hereditary machine politician and, as a result, I have no option but to say what is in my mind. I can only apologise to both noble Lords for what they may feel may be something of a come-down after the extraordinary virtuosity that we heard earlier.

I have to confess that I have been much interested by the history of the Motion now before us. The Lord Privy Seal mentioned that it had another incarnation. Unless I am much mistaken, it began its existence on the Order Paper in somewhat different terms from those that we see today. In the Minute of 11th November, for instance, the Motion for today in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, read as follows: To call attention to the value of non-confrontational politics and cross-party co-operation".

I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, as a noted scholar who has experience of tricky textual analysis, will agree that the Motion that he introduced today with his customary style and brio, is drafted in rather more restrictive and somewhat less sweeping terms than that. Today we are invited to support a Motion only when parties co-operate "on major national issues". The noble Lord even helped us by citing a couple of examples in relation to Europe and constitutional change.

I have to ask the House in all seriousness why the noble Lord modified the terms of his Motion. After all—again, I say this in all sincerity—someone of his political experience and proven mastery of the English language in both its spoken and written forms will undoubtedly have considered extremely carefully what he meant to convey before he sent an emissary to the House authorities bearing the terms of his Motion for inclusion in the Minute. So, we can perhaps dismiss at once the unworthy thought that I have to confess had occurred to me that a Peer of the noble Lord's distinction in both parliamentary and academic fields had made a drafting error. No, I fear that the explanation that appeals to me for this uncharacteristically hurried adjustment to the terms of the Motion arises from rather lower politics than the noble Lord led us to believe. Like so much that is low in politics, I fear that for that explanation we must look to another place.

Your Lordships may have noticed that on Monday 17th November the Liberal Party had a half-day debate in another place, introduced by Mr. Simon Hughes. The subject of that debate was Britain's key public services. The terms of the Motion, while taking a ritual side-swipe at the last government, which is something that we take entirely as a compliment, were not complimentary about the present Government. I am sorry to have to add—I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, will be doubly sorry to hear this—that neither was Mr. Simon Hughes.

I assume that some channel of communication exists between the Liberals in your Lordships' House and those in another place. I imagine that it is some sort of super high-minded highway, if I may put it like that. Would it be too fanciful of me to imagine an exchange between those channels of communication, the burden of which might be as follows, although I am sure that the actual language used would have been more stately and perhaps more polysyllabic than my imagination, poor as it is, can muster? The Liberal from the other place might have said something like this, "We have half a Supply Day on Monday. After all, it suits the Labour Party to give us one because they can't win Winchester and want us to have a go at it. If we attack the Government, we don't look to the Winchester voters as though we are Labour stooges any more. After all, this Ecclestone business means that they are not walking on water any longer and it might suit us to put a bit of distance between us and them. As we still present ourselves to the public as being whiter than white, we don't want to get splashed with Labour mud, do we?". I imagine to myself that the Liberal in your Lordships' House might have said something like this in response, "That sounds perfectly reasonable. There is one small difficulty though. We have been pretty big on cross-party co-operation with the Government in our House and our Leader is already closely associated with it, as is our Chief Whip. In fact, not only is Roy Tony's guru on PR and Europe, but he has a Motion down next week saying what a good thing it all is". The House of Commons Liberal might have said, "Well, that's a bit awkward, but no one notices very much what happens in your House so perhaps you can get away with it". The reply might have come, "Well, I'll tell you what, we could modify the Motion a bit and say that co-operation only really works for the great issues like Europe and the constitution". The reply might have come back, "Do what you think best. I have to run now because there is an idiot here I have to hose down who wants to say something about site value ratings although that's all a bit out of date nowadays".

I am sure that something like that exchange must have occurred—without my imaginative bells and whistles. The rewording of the Motion has all the hallmarks of a hurried Whip's solution which inevitably will have to be made to do—

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead

My Lords, I hope that it will not disappoint your Lordships or insult my honourable colleague in the other House if I say that I was totally unaware of the Motion tabled by Mr. Simon Hughes. I changed my Motion entirely on my own initiative because I thought that noble Lords needed to be directed to slightly more concrete images. I thought that mentioning Europe and constitutional issues might attract one or two more Peers to speak.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, as so often I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, for putting me right on these matters. Obviously, my imagination has run more riot than it should have done, but I am deeply shocked to find that there is so little communication between the Liberal Party in both Houses. We very much look forward to the resulting dropped catches, particularly when the noble Lord has dropped the reins of leadership of his party in this House.

Be that as it may, when the revised Motion is considered—however it was reworded and for whatever motives—particularly in conjunction with the speech of Mr. Simon Hughes, which unlike the noble Lord I have had the advantage of reading, it begs a number of questions. For instance, what constitutes a major national issue in the eyes of the Liberal Party? Clearly, Europe and constitutional matters do—the noble Lord has told us that for himself—but not by implication key public services. From his speech Mr. Simon Hughes believes that key public services are an extremely important issue, but assuming that he had compared notes with the noble Lord—which I had assumed until corrected—it did not appear to be sufficiently important to indulge in cross-party co-operation, at least in the House of Commons, although it might be so in your Lordships' House.

Put like that, the Motion of the noble Lord does not really seem to stand up. All of us, including I imagine the Liberal Party, believe that key public services constitute an important issue. We are in no doubt that the electorate also believes that. The difference between us and the Liberals is how best they can be delivered. Incidentally, it appears to us that the Liberals are still in the dark ages of tax and spend, and we have moved on. Even the Labour Party has moved on a bit. Therefore, the Liberals have ended cross-party co-operation on this issue, at least in the other House, however important that issue may appear to them to be.

The truth of the matter is that the noble Lord is playing the oldest game in the political book. As he has reminded us, he has been writing that book for a number of decades so he ought to know it. It is called monopoly politics and it has exactly the same stultifying effect on the political market as commercial monopolies have on the commercial market. In this House, graced as we are by the presence of both the noble Lord and the Lord Privy Seal, we are in this instance dancing the commissioners' quadrille of consensus in Europe.

The noble Lord and his friends in the Labour Party are convinced that this country should become part of western European political union. It must therefore be in their interests to emasculate Parliament, which is the only institution that is still able to hold them to account. In order to do that it is necessary to develop a rhetoric that is powerful enough to achieve their objective, just as it is essential to undermine the party system in order to do so.

Like all effective rhetoric, it relies on a few simple and emotive words. Some of the words that are used in the service of this cause are "modernisation", "inevitable" and "chauvinism". Like much effective rhetoric, more often than not it does not deign to answer detailed arguments that support another view; rather, the tactic is to build a consensus that is designed to appear so powerful that any opposition appears puny and marginal. The result is a political monopoly that, on great questions like Europe, the constitution and perhaps even key public services, is able to brush aside any genuine debate. In the end, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, implied in the course of his remarks this afternoon, politics is indeed about great issues. As he rightly pointed out, they can and often have split parties, including my own.

I maintain nevertheless that parties form and reform and flourish around great issues. The only real danger of any living polity arises if those issues are smuggled though undiscussed. One of the best ways of doing that is by the establishment of the monopoly that I have described. In the commercial world the great nationalised industries produced a similar effect which resulted in bankrupt enterprises across the British industrial landscape. The noble Lord's tactic will produce exactly the same effect across our political landscape. If he doubts me, he has only to look at the favourite subject of his honourable friend Simon Hughes: key public services. I submit that for far too long the political parties have not dared to break the political consensus on public services. The result is that we have saddled ourselves with a dependency culture—to do justice to the Labour Party, it has recognised it particularly in the person of the admirable Mr. Frank Field—that risks destroying society, and we pay nearly £100 billion a year for the privilege.

One reads with interest that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, writes on page 336 of his autobiography: There is no doubt that standing out against the apparent chauvinism"—

one sees that word again— of one's own party is a good recipe for attracting international acclaim".

I do not begrudge the noble Lord one jot or tittle of the international acclaim that he has garnered. I know him well enough to realise that that is certainly not the reason that he takes the view he does on Europe and the constitution. Indeed, on page 617 of the very same volume he states that he believes sovereignty to be an almost total illusion in the modern world. Therefore, his beliefs and the acclaim come to exactly the same thing. I know that the noble Lord holds that view sincerely. Nevertheless, it must be comforting to find that all bureaucrats in Europe agree when many who believe in parliamentary government take exactly the opposite view. The difficulty for those who disagree with him is that he wants to impose a political monopoly to get his own way. It is therefore surely significant that when it does suit his party its passion for cross-party co-operation goes the way of all flesh, as it did with Mr. Simon Hughes last Monday in his debate on key public services; in others words, the Liberals will co-operate with other parties when it suits them and their political interests to do so. The victim is rigorous debate and parliamentary government. I am tempted to suggest, with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, that he would do well to resign from the other club at once because he is in serious breach of the rules of that institution if he persists in what he has said this afternoon.

I end my remarks on a slightly different note. I apologise to the noble Lord for being late for reasons that I hope he well understands. I apologised to him beforehand. Before I came in I understand that he enjoined noble Lords to eschew tributes to him. I shall do so. However, on this last great occasion of his parliamentary career as Leader I should like to make a few remarks. I welcome and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, who is entirely suited to his new task. In particular, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, for the extreme good humour, tolerance and kindness that he has shown me personally not only across the Floor of the House but in our private relations which I have always found extraordinarily agreeable during the three years or so that I have had something to do with the management of your Lordships' House. I have enjoyed our relationship even more than I have enjoyed the noble Lord's books, and that says quite a lot. Your Lordships may have noticed that we disagree politically in terms of policy and in visceral political instinct, if I may put it in that way, but I hope that the noble Lord will feel that our personal relations have nevertheless always remained of the warmest and will continue. Certainly, they do on my part. Perhaps a little prematurely, I wish him the most agreeable of retirements. Like the Lord Privy Seal, I express the hope that he will continue to make regular and distinguished, if constantly misguided, contributions to our debates.

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