HL Deb 20 April 1999 vol 599 cc1113-28

(" .The purpose of this Act is only to alter the composition of the House of Lords and to extend the right to stand for election and vote for membership of the House of Commons, and therefore nothing herein shall be used to justify a reduction of the powers of the House of Lords, which are necessary to the effective discharge of its responsibilities.")

The noble Lord said: We have reached this moment rather sooner than I had anticipated. That just goes to show how difficult it is to predict the progress of this Bill, and indeed many others.

This new clause is another purpose clause. However, I do not wish to go over the same ground as we covered prior to the dinner break regarding the difference between a purpose clause and a preamble, or indeed the nature of such a clause and the desirability of including one in the Bill. That is a debate to which we shall return at another stage. We shall certainly work hard to find the right kind of purpose clause. We believe it appropriate that there should be one. We very much hope that it might be possible to convince the Government that that is right. I should also make it clear that I have no intention of pressing this amendment to a Division.

The main purpose of this clause is to probe the Government's thinking on the powers of the House of Lords. As I have said many times, while the composition of the House is important, what is even more important are the roles, functions and powers of this House, and in particular what will happen in the future to the powers of this House either in the interim stage or in the longer term.

On 23rd February, in a two-day debate that we held on the White Paper that had been published by the Government, an amendment to the Motion was carried by this House, by which the House urged Her Majesty's Government, in carrying forward the proposals in the White Paper to set as their objectives an increase in the independence of Parliament and an enhancement of its ability to scrutinise legislation and hold the Executive to account; and therefore specifically calls on the Royal Commission to reject the proposition in paragraph 7.26 of the White Paper that the available powers of this House might be significantly reduced".—[Official Report, 23/2/99; col. 955]

I am sure the House will remember the occasion well. Although a Division was called, the party of Government decided, for reasons best known to themselves, not to vote. They abstained in person and, as my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish said in reply to an earlier debate, on the whole accepted the premise behind the Motion that was passed. I was glad to hear that.

The effect of the Bill as drafted is, deliberately I presume, however regrettable that presumption might be, to exclude those hereditary Peers now in the House from having any say in the future powers or functions of the House. I regret that. I do not believe it is the right way to go about altering the nature of a sovereign Parliament. Also, I do not believe that the present House, with all its wisdom and experience over many years, should be denied an opportunity at least to have a view about future powers.

This amendment seeks not only to give the present House an opportunity to debate the issue now, and for the Government to give us an idea of what they believe the future powers of the interim and long-term House will be; it also gives us an opportunity to "mark the card" of the future House as well as pointing the Government in a certain direction.

The present powers are essential to the workings of the House. It does not use all of them very often. But sometimes, as on clear-cut issues, it does. One such issue arose recently in relation to the closed list. Then the House of Lords uses its powers. Even then, rightly, the Commons can override it. But when it does, the world sees and hears the windows being kicked out by the executive. I make no complaint about that. One of the purposes of this Chamber is to seek to embarrass the Government when it thinks they are doing something wrong.

We do not want to slide towards a situation whereby the executive—whatever executive—can capture effective, if not absolute, control of the House and reduce the powers of the Chamber and therefore the independence of the Back-Benchers. This amendment, albeit a declaratory one, puts a modest barrier in the way.

What will be the Government's view? They will say, "Why worry?", and, "Look at our manifesto". The manifesto states that, The legislative powers of the House of Lords will remain unaltered".

That offers good assurance. But again, I wish to probe slightly what that means. With this Government we have learnt, and it is a good thing to learn, that we need to look at the small print, as with so many other matters. It would therefore be helpful if the Government would inform the Committee as to whether that commitment refers to the interim House only, which is what the context of the manifesto implies, or whether it means for all time. If the Minister who is to reply does not have his copy of the manifesto, it does not matter. If he does not wish to answer in the context of the manifesto, I am happy. However, it would be good to have a view as to what the Government believe the long-term future is.

From time to time we have heard how careful the drafting of that section of the manifesto was; so careful that only a few hours ago the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, said that no purpose clause was necessary. He may be right, but we shall continue to probe it at future stages.

It would be helpful if he or the Minister replying could answer the following questions. Does it mean, for example, that the powers over secondary legislation would remain unaltered? I suppose it could. Does it mean that the powers currently enjoyed by this House to delay legislation would remain, or would they be curtailed? Alternatively, does it mean that things would remain exactly the same? I take it from the quote in the manifesto that it might, but it does not entirely say so. Perhaps the noble Lord will confirm that. There is still room for suspicion because the Government have given conflicting signals on the powers of the House in the past.

One of the problems about the debate is whether the Bill is a stand-alone Bill or part of a two-stage process. It strikes me that there is a tension between the two objectives. There may not be that tension, in which case I hope the Government will explain why not. I am trying to find out what are the Government's objectives in all this. That will help us to do our job and scrutinise the legislation.

The noble Lord, Lord Richard, when Leader of the House, argued for a restriction on the power to reject legislation. If he did not do so as Leader of the House, I know that he has done so since. I wish to know what thoughts the Government have on that extremely important issue.

Following on from that, the terms of reference for the Royal Commission appear to leave out consideration of powers. I am glad to say that that has not been changed, although it has been clarified by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House. She laid out the position in our debate on the White Paper. Powers which according to the manifesto were to be unaltered were now to be looked at or, in the words of the Leader of the House, The terms of reference … must legitimately include looking at powers, especially in relation to the legislative function".—[Official Report, 22/2/99; col. 846.]

Again there is a tension between what the Royal Commission's clarified terms of reference are and the words of the manifesto that the powers remained unaltered. I wonder where we are on that.

That leads to the now infamous paragraph in the White Paper, Chapter 7, paragraph 26, which says that: A better approach might be to reduce the theoretically available powers".

The House has examined this in detail in the past and I do not wish to do so again. However, paragraph 7.26 suggests that for the future the Government would like to look at the powers, the ability to delay legislation approved by the House of Commons; arrangements to introduce the Parliament Act for Bills which start in this House; and also what they call "special" procedures where the second Chamber wishes to insist on amendments which have been considered and rejected by another place.

There is also the suggestion of formal conciliation arrangements between the two Houses; and, finally, the powers that I have already mentioned over secondary legislation. I cannot help but believe that there is something afoot. There may not be, but at this stage of proceedings on the Bill there is an opportunity for the Committee legitimately to probe what is going on, what is at the back of the Government's mind. That will lead us, I hope, to being able to frame suitable amendments at successive stages so that we can help and guide not just the Government but perhaps a future House as to what the powers should be. I hope that I have clarified the purpose behind the amendment. I beg to move.

The Earl of Caithness

Amendment No. 97 in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley has been grouped with this amendment. I wish to make clear that the note at the top of the grouping list reads: Although every effort is made to secure agreement to these groupings". No effort was made to secure agreement to this grouping. Neither my noble friend Lord Stanley nor I were approached in any way. We reserve the right to take the amendment individually at a later stage, should we so desire. It might be for the convenience—

Lord Carter

I understood that all the groupings up to this group, with Amendments Nos. 9 and 97, were actually agreed and so I have to apologise to the noble Earl. We were assured that up to Nos. 9 and 97 they were all agreed.

The Earl of Caithness

I am most grateful to the noble Lord the Chief Whip. I can assure him that no one has contacted me or my noble friend Lord Stanley on this matter. Therefore I think it might help the House if I talk to the amendment and to Amendment No. 97, but reserve the right to come back to it at a later stage should I feel it necessary to do so.

I think it is important that we spell out clearly the powers of this House. I would go one stage further than my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, because I should like to introduce an amendment at a later stage, spelling out those powers. The reason I would like to do so is very simple. What is happening is not a gradual evolution of the House like the Life Peerages Act; it is a major, sudden change in the composition of this House. We are fortunate in the powers and the functions that we have at the moment, and I think it is important for a successor Chamber to have those spelt out for it.

After all, we know who will comprise the membership of the second Chamber in its initial stages; but we do not know what is going to happen after that. We have absolutely no control over the Prime Minister or the appointments committee. There could be a sudden influx of 100 or 200 new Peers who know nothing about the powers and functions of this House, and at that time there will be no hereditary Peers to guide them in such matters.

The second point of the amendment put forward by my noble friend Lord Stanley and myself is to help the Government. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said at an earlier stage that he wished to fulfil the manifesto in full. The simple amendment in our name does exactly that. As my noble friend Lord Strathclyde has just said, the Labour Party manifesto contains the single sentence: The legislative powers of the House of Lords will remain unaltered". I think it would be helpful to the Government to fulfil their manifesto in full and to have this on the face of the Bill.

At Second Reading I talked a little bit about the composition of the House and the inbuilt Labour majority of regular attendees. I will come back to that at a later stage. That in itself makes it necessary to spell out the powers, because the powers that we do have, as your Lordships will know full well, can be very inconvenient and very embarrassing to any government.

Let me just spell out some of them. First, we have the revising function. That is an important function because any of your Lordships, from whatever part of the House you come, can table and move amendments. No control is exercised by the party whips over what one can do or over the time one can do it: one can do it at any hour the House is sitting. I think that that is an important freedom of this House. It is not like the other place; and these differences are to be treasured and protected.

There is also the power to initiate legislation. That again can be done by the Government or by individuals, as my noble friend Lord Cranborne said earlier. He has put a Bill before your Lordships' House, and I believe that is an equally important right that should continue into a successor Chamber, and should be spelt out on the face of the Bill. Of course, although one has the power to initiate legislation, one should also bear in mind that another place has the ultimate veto over whatever legislation we introduce here, and so that is the appropriate check to our particular bower to introduce legislation.

There is the contentious, but very important, power to reject a Bill presented by another place at Second Reading. That is an incredibly important power to be taken forward into a successor Chamber. It might be embarrassing for the government of the day, but I believe that the Parliament Act should be enforced more often because if this second Chamber, which I believe should be a stronger Chamber than we have at the moment, is to pull its weight, it must be able to reject a Bill at Second Reading, make the Government think again and, if necessary, bring it forward under the Parliament Act and justify that to the country.

I move on to the important powers that we have with regard to secondary legislation. Here I should like to try to strengthen the powers of our successor Chamber. We talked earlier this afternoon about our inability to question matters involving secondary legislation and to alter them. I believe that a second House should he able to do that. We should be able to look at the detail, amend it and send it back to another place. When it comes to scrutiny, the successor Chamber must never lose the right to make the Government answer to this Chamber, whatever may be its composition. That only stops short of the House having the power to enforce a change of government.

It is important that these powers are well known. It would be better if they were placed on the face of the Bill in the appropriate form so that the successor Chamber would know what it could do. I believe that if we move to a reformed second Chamber it should be able to use the powers a great deal more often and effectively than we have been able to. My noble friend Lord Cranborne observed—I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, also said it—that on many occasions one of the weaknesses of this House was that it was not able to use the powers available to it. Surely, if we are to carry out this revision, albeit with a long stage one, it should be clear to the successor Chamber what its powers are and that it can use them however embarrassing and inconvenient that may be to the government of the day.

Lord Richard

I have listened to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, in speaking to this amendment and, having done my best, I am unable to follow them. If there was any provision in the Bill which dealt with the powers of this House, no doubt the amendment would be relevant and apposite and it would be worth while the House debating it. There is nothing in the Bill about the powers of the House. There is no suggestion in the Bill that the powers of the House should be reduced.

What we have on the other side of the Chamber at the moment is an attempt to pre-empt either the deliberations of the Royal Commission or perhaps even the legislation that may have to be introduced after the Royal Commission has reported and its report has been considered. This is so wide of the issue before the Committee this evening that, frankly, it is somewhat strange.

I fully understand what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, seeks to do. He wants a statement from the Government now which will enable him the better, as he sees it, to conduct the political battle that may be joined when the Royal Commission comes to stage two. That is a perfectly legitimate tactic on his part, but the Committee should recognise it for what it is. There is not a scrap of merit in the argument. It is good old political evasion on the part of the noble Lord, with no merit in it at all. If the Bill said anything about powers then it would be relevant. But, in the absence of the Bill saying anything about powers, if this measure is passed and the House is reformed, what will be the powers of the House? They will be precisely the same in future after the Bill has been passed as they are now. With great respect, I believe that the Opposition should be a little more precise as to what they seek to do.

Lord Elton

If the noble Lord can be persuaded to raise his eyes a little further down the road than the next year or two, I believe he will see matters in a different light. That is the light in which I and my noble friends see the current debate about the powers of the House. I tried to express something to that effect in the debate on Second Reading. Hereditary Members of your Lordships' House see themselves as the rearguard, or final trustees, of a mechanism that is designed to protect the electorate of this country from the excesses of an over-powerful executive.

Lord Avebury

What gives the noble Lord the right to speak for the whole of the hereditary Peers in this House?

Lord Elton

Those who disagree with me, such as the noble Lord, will tell me so, but to satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, I rephrase my remarks. I believe that I am in company with many when I see my functions and theirs as protecting the electorate from the excesses of an over-powerful executive of any party. I speak approximately two years after the arrival of noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite. I remember how I felt two years after I arrived there, secure and confident in the belief that the country would always be conducted on familiar lines properly arranged by my friends who saw things as I did. The only thought that I leave in the minds of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, is that the day will come when this House May be required to protect the electorate from the excesses of a party other than their own. It is in order to ensure that this House does not fall below the level of authority that enables it to check an executive in that way that my noble friends, I believe, are tabling these amendments. In abandoning our trusteeship, we want to be sure that that security remains.

Lord Richard

The noble Lord interrupted what I was saying. I shall continue. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, will forgive me if I do not follow him down the somewhat bizarre path that the hereditary peerage in this House is the basic guarantor of the liberties of the British electorate. That seems an astonishing proposition, which I would have great difficulty in following.

The noble Lord asks me to raise my eyes and look a little beyond. With great respect to the noble Lord, that is a criticism which is ill directed. I have tried to raise my eyes; and I have tried to consider what is likely to happen in a few years' time. I hope that the noble Lord—here comes the commercial!—will have the opportunity to consider my views when he purchases the modest piece of literature now on the bookstands.

The important point is this. The Bill is nothing to do with the powers of the House. The Bill is about the abolition of the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in this House. The issue of its powers will no doubt concern this House in great detail, and with considerable passion in months to come. But the Opposition cannot today pre-empt the possible legislation that the Government might wish to introduce after the Royal Commission has reported. With great respect, that is not on.

Lord Skelmersdale

Powers are an issue. I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Richard, says, with all his authority, on the subject of powers not being a part of the Bill. But with powers go rights and obligations. As we all know, they are circumscribed in this House by the Salisbury-Addison rules or conventions (call them what one will). If the result of the Bill is—as it could well be—that the powers that exist, mostly by statute but also to an extent by Standing Orders, are no longer to be circumscribed by the Salisbury-Addison rules, it is a legitimate subject for discussion.

Lord Richard

An amendment could be tabled dealing with the Salisbury-Addison rules. That is not the amendment we are considering at present, which has nothing to do with the Salisbury-Addison convention. That is a convention between the two sides which the House has adopted. The amendment deals with the rules and powers of the House. There is nothing in the Bill about that. There is nothing in the Bill about Salisbury and Addison, with respect.

Lord Burnham

In the past few moments the noble Lord, Lord Richard, has said several times that the Bill has nothing to do with the powers of the House. Does the noble Lord accept that he would make these Benches a great deal happier if the Bill had something to do with the powers of the House?

Lord Richard

First, it is not my function to make the Benches opposite feel happy. Indeed, I have spent most of my political life attempting to do precisely the opposite. Secondly, once we start talking about the powers of an eventual Chamber after the second stage, this Bill will take a great deal of time in consideration. That may be precisely what the Opposition want.

The Earl of Caithness

My amendment has nothing to do with the powers of the successor to the successor chamber. It relates purely to the powers of the successor chamber.

The Earl of Onslow

What I love about the noble Lord, Lord Richard, is that he moved a Motion of no confidence in the previous government. It was a lovely thing to do, and it had nothing to do with powers. Having said that, I am afraid to say that I slightly agree with him. This Bill is not concerned with the powers of the successor chamber, but it is undoubtedly true that as a result of the passage of this Bill this House will automatically become more powerful.

It will become more powerful because the noble and imperial Lady Jay will not be able to say, "Ah, those silly ass hereditary Peers like the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, we do not have to listen to their argument. Should by any chance there ever be a Conservative government again, they will not be able to haul in vast hordes of marquesses and dukes of ancient lineage who only normally come here to vote against poll tax amendments".

Therefore, the House will become much more powerful, which is excellent. It is a good idea and I welcome it. But it is also worth putting on record that it is extremely easy in this House to bring the process of government to a halt. Every time the Chairman of Committees or the Lord Chancellor puts a question, one has only to say, "Not Content" to call a Division. It is not even necessary to appoint Tellers, and Fabius Maximus Cunctator is made to look like Linford Christie, he goes so fast. Therefore, we must accept that the Bill will make the House of Lords more powerful. With great respect to my noble friends Lord Strathclyde and Lord Caithness, I recommend that. I hate to agree with the noble Lord. Lord Richard, but on this occasion I do.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden

I know that the Government and all noble Lords wish to get on, but I believe that my noble friends are justified in suspecting what, for want of a better phrase, I might call "unfinished business" in the Bill. It cannot be irrelevant to our debates that that thought should find expression in the amendment, otherwise it would have been ruled out of order and the authorities of the House would have declared it irrelevant.

Therefore, in opposing the amendment, it is not sufficient to say that there is nothing in the Bill about powers. No doubt it is regarded as relevant because of the words in the Long Title, and for connected purposes". Whatever the reason, the amendment has not been held by the authorities to be irrelevant.

When one is dealing with the objection that we cannot debate what shall be the powers of this House once the Bill is enacted, it is easy to overlook the fact that the amendment provides only that nothing in the Bill shall be used to justify a reduction in the powers. It does not deal with the question of what the future powers will be, only that nothing in the Bill shall be used to justify a reduction. No doubt the wording can be improved and put into more obscure language, as the lawyers like, but that is the purpose. Therefore, the matter is so easily resolved. All that is necessary is for the Front Bench opposite to say, "We shall not use anything in the Bill to justify a reduction of the powers. That does not prejudice us against whatever we do by separate means later". Everyone would be happy and we would all get on.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

Inevitably in a Bill of this kind there will be some reminiscing. I am delighted to welcome back to the Back Benches my noble friend Lord Caithness. We last moved amendments together in 1981, when, unfortunately, he was so misguided as to join the Front Bench. He could not continue to harry his own Front Bench, which we did even though from the, opposite side hereditary Peers are not supposed to harry their Conservative Front Bench. We are told that that is the case.

My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay in his report suggested that the powers of your Lordships' interim Chamber should be the same as they are today. My problem relates back to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, when on the previous amendment he was questioned by my noble friend Lord Mack ay on what the Labour Party manifesto did or did not say about this matter.

Perhaps I may deal first with the noble Lord, Lord Richard. I hope to make him happier about the amendment being outside the Bill. I often did so in the past, much to the irritation of my Front Bench. Members of the Committee will remember that the manifesto, stated that the House should be able to revise and improve legislation and, be more democratic and representative". I find it difficult to understand how it can do both. For powers to revise and improve a different sort of person will be needed, and not necessarily the kind of person who will be needed to make the Chamber more democratic. I find that difficult to comprehend. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Richard, can tell me how that can be done. He has obviously read his manifesto.

On balance, I should prefer the House to be, in some form or another, more democratically elected. I do not defend my position as a hereditary Peer. I never have done and neither did my grandfather in 1911. My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern made some useful and interesting points on that. If we follow the line of thought in the manifesto that the House should be more democratic, its powers must necessarily increase, as my noble friend Lord Onslow said. History reminds us that any democratically elected body always wants, and indeed gets, more powers. Therefore, it is important to have the Government's and your Lordships' views on future powers for the interim and the future House.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

When my noble friend Lord Caithness was in Government I was rarely in agreement with him. I used to cause him a great deal of trouble. Therefore, in a remarkable turn of events, I find myself entirely in support of what he has said. My noble friend was trying to inject something into the Bill that should be there. Subsequently, he was attacked by the noble Lord, Lord Richard.

I have frequently been castigated by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, who is extremely adept at doing so. He is a powerful and an effective operator and it is easy to be squashed by him. I think that my noble friend Lord Caithness does well to stand up to him. He should not worry about being squashed by the Government on this occasion because, ultimately, it is important to achieve the correct Bill.

Lord Elton

I apologise for having interrupted the noble Lord, Lord Richard. Each of the noble Lord's paragraphs has such an air of finality that I expect each to be the last.

I have a simple point about powers which I did not make, although I should have thought it was fairly obvious. If the hereditary peerage is removed from this House, it will be a relatively simple and not lengthy business for a prime minister to appoint a working majority in this House in favour of the executive. At that time the House will lose all power to check the executive. It is for that reason that amendments have been tabled to put that power of patronage of the prime minister into commission.

As the Bill stands, it would need merely 35 or 40 new Peers of the colour of the politics opposite to give effective control to the executive. I am sure that, if we were in power, the Benches opposite would resent that as much as we would.

Lord Marlesford

Perhaps I may intervene briefly. It is clear to me that the powers of this House stem from statute, from convention and from Standing Order. The way in which the conventions and Standing Orders are written and followed is very much a function of the composition of the House. This Bill changes the composition of the House. Therefore, it seems to me to follow that that could considerably change the powers of the House. Partly for the reasons given by my noble friend Lord Onslow, if I were the Government I should probably like something that states that this Bill does not change the powers, because, with the departure of the majority of hereditary Peers, there would be some danger of powers being increased rather considerably.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

We traversed this ground a little earlier this evening. It is not a case of being squashed by my noble friend Lord Richard of Ammanford; it is a case of listening to his analysis. It is precise; devastating and overwhelming. No argument has been addressed to dispute his analysis.

Perhaps I may cover one or two points. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, in assuming finality in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Richard—finality is not a concept with which I associate Committee in this Chamber—said that he was troubled about there being a working majority in favour of the executive. Oh dear! How long has it been that there has been a working majority in favour of the executive? Thirteen defeats per Session under the Tories, 49 since the last election.

I always listen to what is said with varying degrees of incredulity. That one will not run. With great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Elton—I always listen with particular care to what he says, as he knows, and always try to respond to it either in debate or by letter—I take his point that he and others of a similar view, though not of a unanimous view (pace the noble Lord, Lord Avebury), regard themselves as having a duty. I do not disrespect or disregard that.

I simply say to the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, that when Fabius Maximus had discharged his required duties to the state, he retired to his farm. The noble Earl and I have the same recollection of O-level history. I am just underlining the fact that I listen to what the noble Earl says; he did retire, and rightly so.

None of the questions raised in relation to these amendments has the slightest connection to the Bill. The Bill is quite short; it is quite plain. I go back to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, said. We occasionally need a purpose clause if it might be required for interpretative purposes if there is ambiguity. One can peruse this Bill with any sort of microscope or eyeglass. There is no ambiguity in it. The fact that it contains no ambiguity may be what causes heartache and concern. Heartache and concern there may be, but ambiguity there is not.

There is nothing in the Bill that affects the powers of this House. Whether or not those powers may be deployed in a different way in the future is an entirely different question. All Members of the Committee know it to be commonplace that we have notional powers which we rarely exercise. The figures that I gave indicate that the rareness of the exercise sometimes may be coincident with the colour of the present incumbent government.

It is idle to ask what we are going to do about stage two. We are now discussing a Bill that deals with stage one. Many Members of the Committee will feel that that is disagreeable. It may be. That is what the manifesto said and that is what we are delivering. We were chided earlier by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, for saying one thing and doing the opposite. No one can say that about this Bill. It is in the manifesto and it is transposed almost literally into the Bill.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

The Minister says it is disagreeable for us to consider what the future holds. Is it not also slightly irresponsible?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

It is not irresponsible to consider in its appropriate place at the appropriate time what the future may be. I simply contend that this is not the time or the place. At the moment an attempt is being made to introduce a device which has nothing to do with the purpose of this Bill. The plain purpose of this Bill is to stop hereditary Peers sitting in this House by—I quote myself since, as the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said, no one else will—the capricious donation of birth. That is what we intend to do. There is nothing in law which increases or delimits the powers of the House of Lords. That being so, my noble friend Lord Richard is absolutely right: these amendments are nothing to the point; they are of interest in a different connection, in a different context, it may be in different forums. It may be that when we come to the debate on stage two they will be pertinent. At present they are not.

My only surprise is that other things have not been included such as "Wouldn't it be a good idea to have a purpose clause that supported Mom and apple pie?". These amendments are in the same category. They are expressions of desire, of hope, of ambition for the future. They are not unworthy for that reason. But they are not appropriate for the reason that I have set out and for the reasons that were set out with absolute authority by the noble and learned Lord. Lord Simon of Glaisdale, earlier.

There is nothing in the Bill that touches on our powers. Therefore, these amendments are properly described as not relevant. That is not to say that I do not recognise and do not sympathise with the point very moderately put by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on this occasion and earlier, and I recognise the feeling with which the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, addresses these matters.

But—I say this as politely as I may—this is not the occasion to try to alter the Bill. I recognise what has been said. I recognise that the speakers believe in the virtue and validity of what they have said. There may be value in what they have said, but that is the occasion for further debate. It is not the occasion at the moment. The amendments have nothing to do with the Bill at all.

9.45 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

I listened with interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, said. He mentioned the number of Divisions. I know that the noble Lord is not ungenerous, and he will of course recall that on many occasions, as is worth stating for the record, amendments were accepted when we were in government. I certainly accepted an awful lot of amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, in particular, with whom I debated on numerous Bills. Not only did I accept them, but when they were redrafted by the Government I put them back down on the Marshalled List, with his agreement, in his name. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will be generous in accepting that there is another dimension—not only the defeats that the Conservative Party suffered but the number of amendments that we accepted that never went to a Division.

Secondly, I should like to ask the noble Lord why, given what he said, the manifesto says, The legislative powers of the House of Lords will remain unaltered", when referring to phase one.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

Because, first, that is what we intended to bring about, and, secondly, that is what we have brought about: in the Bill.

Lord Strathclyde

I am rather disappointed and surprised by the attitude that the noble Lord. Lord Williams of Mostyn, has taken. He has a great deal of experience in the House of Lords, both in Opposition and as a Minister. He normally conducts himself with great skill, but he has not addressed himself to practically a single point that I made.

The main point that he makes is as follows. I hope I paraphrase him correctly and, if not, no doubt he will wish to put me right. He is saying that the powers are not in the Bill and therefore we should not he discussing powers. I have just been reminded of a point by my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, who, when he was Minister spoke at considerable length on the Pensions Bill, which will be remembered by many Members of the Committee. The Pensions Bill, not surprisingly, was to do with pensions. One of the matters that it was not to do with was war pensions. I do not remember noble Lords opposite twisting and agonising about whether they should vote on the question of war pensions. I do not believe that the question was raised at all. There was a vote on war pensions. The Government lost and they accepted that position. There is no way that my noble friend would have used the, I am sorry to say, rather pathetic argument of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn. The noble Lord is going to put me right now.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

This is a one clause Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will be able to remind me how many clauses were in the Pensions Bill.

Lord Strathclyde

I am not sure what that has got to do with the argument used earlier by the noble Lord. He has introduced an interesting constitutional device: if a Bill does not include a matter which the Government do not wish to discuss, that matter may not be discussed. My noble friend said from a sedentary position that he would have loved to have been able to use that particular argument.

When I held the position currently held by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, there would have been a huge amount of ammunition in my rather humble armoury. The party then in opposition would not have won anything.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

Was there any amendment to the Pensions Bill in the form of a purpose clause?

Lord Strathclyde

It was a failure on behalf of the Opposition not to think of such a thing. It is a credit to my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, who has introduced that whole question.

I do not wish to quarrel with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, who suggested that there is not much ambiguity in this Bill. But I wish to test this with the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, because it is my view that, while there may not be much ambiguity, there is certainly a great deal of uncertainty for the future.

We are looking at a Bill which will create an interim House. That interim House will wish to find the new boundaries of its powers and to decide whether or not to use them. I echo the remarks of my noble friend Lord Marlesford, who said that the important point about the powers of this House is that they come from convention, statute and Standing Orders. No doubt the conventions and the Standing Orders will be the path by which the interim House will wish to discover the boundaries of its powers.

The noble Lord, Lord Richard, may have thought that I was making a political point, but I believe that it is a far more important point of principle for Parliament to know what is the Government's view about those powers. The Government have made two statements: one in the manifesto and one in the debate on the White Paper, which was mentioned by the noble Baroness. It is a very simple question. I merely want to know which statement applies: the one in the manifesto or the one in the White Paper. There must have been a discussion in government about the powers of the interim House.

One has only to look at the example that we presently have before us. Election campaigns are ongoing in Scotland and Wales. Parties standing in those elections wish to increase the powers of the parliament and assembly. The Government have explained in some detail in this Chamber and in another place why they do not wish to extend those powers. They have made their position abundantly clear. But they have failed to do so in relation to the future of this House.

Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, says that we have no right. But it is legitimate to ask the question and it is right for the Government to give an answer about how they envisage the Chamber that this Bill creates. This Bill is not just about the removal of hereditary Peers. It creates a new House of Lords. I am not asking questions about what will happen in the long term. I am not trying to generate a debate on the report of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern. I am asking what is the Government's intention, once this Bill is passed, on the powers of the interim House.

The noble Lord, Lord Richard, has remarked upon his book, Unfinished Business. We have some more unfinished business here. The question is not the scope of the Bill but its effects.

I am extremely disappointed by the reaction of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn. I would like to give him another opportunity to reply to me, but if he cannot do so I am honour bound to try to bring forward a similar amendment at a subsequent stage so that we can get the answer that this House deserves as regards what is in the Government's mind. On the basis of what I have said and the commitment I gave earlier on, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Clanwilliam

It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I refer now to some of my amendments. Amendments Nos. 18, 26, 64 and 153 have been inappropriately grouped. I have asked for them to be regrouped. Therefore, I suggest that I speak to those amendments later.

Lord Selsdon moved Amendment No. 10: Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause—