HL Deb 11 November 1999 vol 606 cc1464-8

4.23 p.m.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, hoping not to extend the confusion, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn. In moving the adjournment I want to pay tribute to all those who have worked so hard to ensure the efficient running of the House and, very importantly—and I say this with great emphasis in view of the past half-hour's proceedings—the orderly completion of business; not a small feat in these last crowded days and hours.

Every year at this time we say that this has been a very busy Session. I do not believe that any noble Lord on any side of the House will challenge me when I underline that and say that this year has been no exception. A total of 35 Bills supported by the Government have reached Royal Assent and although we have avoided all-night sittings, we have often sat very late. I believe I can say that we have all spent many pleasant evenings becoming better acquainted with one another, which has been to our mutual satisfaction and certainly to the satisfaction of the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, and his Refreshment Committee. I do not see him in his place, but I know that he would agree.

Throughout, we have been exceptionally well served by the loyal and dedicated staff of the House. They help us to make our time in the building both comfortable and worth while. I am sure all noble Lords here today will wish to join me in congratulating them on both their professional dedication and diligence and their friendly support during this long Session.

This is the last time the House of Lords will sit in its present form. In a few minutes Royal Assent will be given to the House of Lords Bill to turn it into the House of Lords Act. A reform that has been discussed for more than 100 years will finally take effect. In the last year of the 20th century, this can only be right. The step-by-step approach towards this achievement was the proper one. By undertaking reform in that way, we succeeded where others before us have failed. Full consideration of the next steps of reform will now be possible once the Royal Commission, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, has reported at the end of this year. I am sure that we all look forward to examining his proposals with the dispassionate, detailed appraisal that characterises the best work of your Lordships' House.

Although many hereditary Peers will have left us, we should today look back as well as forwards and respectfully acknowledge that in this House hereditary Peers have served honourably and have held the highest offices of state. When he spoke on Second Reading, my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor rightly paid detailed tribute to the history of those hereditary Peers who throughout the centuries have served the nation with distinction. Some hereditary Peers who have held high office most recently will continue to be Members of your Lordships' House, either as life Peers or as elected Weatherill Peers. Their role for the next transition period continues.

In future, of course, those hereditary Peers who are no longer Members of your Lordships' House and who want to continue a political life will have the chance to be elected to another place or be made Members of this House because of their own achievements. These are opportunities which I am sure will be widely enjoyed.

Away from politics, as your Lordships know, individual hereditary Peers have achieved much in their chosen professions. Again, I am sure that they and their heirs will continue to do so.

In speaking so optimistically about the future, I must repeat that the Government do not denigrate the past. We understand and appreciate the contribution of individual hereditary Peers to the Chamber and to the country over many centuries. We are simply saying that what may have been appropriate 800, or even 200, years ago is not appropriate now.

Of course, change is always a difficult process and particularly for those most closely involved. That has been true for many hereditary Members of the House. I sincerely believe that most have the grace and the realism to accept that this change is necessary. We have seen, for the most part, moderation, dignity and authority throughout this parliamentary Session. We have been given a timely reminder of the part played by the hereditary peerage in the counsels of this nation.

My earlier words at Third Reading, which some said were a little brusque, were to say: "Thank you and goodbye." Let me say this afternoon that that gratitude was sincere, genuinely meant and properly merited. The friendly goodbyes we offer are also simply meant. We wish you all very well.

Moved, That the House do now adjourn.—(Baroness Jay of Paddington.)

4.28 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, it is a rare occasion on which I rise and wholeheartedly concur with a Motion moved by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House. I join her in wishing that this debate will be relatively short before the ceremony of the Prorogation.

Noble Lords will be unsurprised to hear that I have never run a marathon. I think I never will, but this Session has been its political equivalent. It has been an enormous struggle which is now at an end. This has been one of the busiest Sessions in living memory, and yet it was this House which again sat for longer, and for more days, than our colleagues in another place.

I too join the noble Baroness in thanking the staff of the House. They have all played their part in the way that this House expects. They have showed continuous and unfailing decency and courtesy throughout the process, which sometimes has been as uncomfortable for them as for us. In particular, I pay tribute to the Doorkeepers who have served us well. Today there was an impromptu gathering of some Members of this House in the Chamber at 11 o'clock and the Doorkeepers organised it extremely effectively. I also pay tribute to those who work in the Refreshment Department who have been gathering signatures and saying final words to Peers who have become friends over the past few years. I pay tribute to the staff of the Parliament Office and the Clerks who put up with endless inquiries about the Bill and the amendments. I also refer to the Judicial Clerk who, unusually, was dragged into the debate by virtue of the legal challenge and the proceedings before the Committee for Privileges. Those who witnessed it know that it was handled superbly.

I said that this had been a difficult Session. It is certainly the most difficult Session that I have seen, and it is probably one of the most difficult of the century. But it is worth reflecting for a moment on the past. This House has inflicted no evil in its history and much good has been done by it. Many people, including the weak, the unheard and the politically unfashionable, have come to this House when the doors of another place have been shut to them by the prevailing majority—of all governments. One matter that has characterised this House in the time that I have served it has been its courtesy, humility and instinctive sense of what is just and what is false and what counts in the long term rather than the passing fashion of the hour. The reason for that lies not in the fabric of the building but the fibre of the people who have worked so hard and long in this place and given of themselves fully and freely in service to the nation. I salute those of all parties who are being excluded from our ranks today.

This is not a time for recrimination but a time for resolution that we who stay will be worthy in every way of those who go, that we shall not rest in the battle to achieve genuine and lasting reform and we shall practise the virtues of modesty, courtesy and a willingness to listen as much as we talk. Then, those of us who return next Wednesday may begin to be half-worthy of the great and ancient House that is being dismembered today.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank

My Lords, I associate these Benches with everything that has been said by the Leader of the House and by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, about how well we have been looked after by all the staff during a tiring, difficult and sometimes very fraught year. As to the business, we have had a lot of it, and probably too much. Alas, some of the legislation has left us inadequately scrutinised. But these are matters to which we should return on another occasion. Today is very special as is recognised by both those who will be here next week and those who leave us today.

It has been said by all of us in one way or another that this marks the end of an era. That may well be history's verdict. But the much more human consideration is that it will be the end of a way of life for many men and women—mainly men—who spend a good deal of their time in this place and serve it with a great sense of duty, as others have done before. Those of us who remain and come after must remember that. The strong feeling on these Benches—it is shared on all sides of the House—has been one of anticipated bereavement in these restless and uncomfortable days and for that reason we have found it a very difficult place in which to be.

We are saying goodbye to friends and colleagues. We are also saying goodbye to people we know less well. I shall be saying goodbye to faces that are familiar but to which, even now, I cannot easily give a name. Nevertheless, I say goodbye. I want them to know the sense of privilege that I have had in sharing this place with them.

The Lord Bishop of Lincoln

My Lords, I associate the Archbishops and. Bishops on this Bench with the sentiments expressed by the Leader of the House this afternoon. It is perhaps appropriate that a successor of someone who signed Magna Carta and, to his cost, knows a little about it, should be the spokesman for this particular Bench this afternoon. On behalf of this Bench, I add my thanks to all those in this House, particularly the hereditary Peers, who always treat the Bishops with courtesy and understanding. Having been here this week, I am conscious of the sense of bereavement to which the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, referred. Bishops are not unfamiliar with it, but it does not make it any easier to deal with.

This afternoon, quite deliberately, I spoke the psalm to pray that, The Lord shall preserve thy going out, and thy coming in: from this time forth for evermore". That was not chosen lightly. I add my own thanks to the House and say farewell to those who will not sit here in future. I thank the Officers of the House who, as always, treat us so well and support us so generously.

Lord Weatherill

My Lords, this is a historic day but also a very sad one. Naturally, I am pleased that the amendment which bears my name has been agreed by both Houses of Parliament by such substantive majorities. Nevertheless, it is a sadness to say farewell to so many friends who have graced this place and who in many instances have contributed greatly to its work over the centuries. Though largely unsung, their labours over the years—indeed, the centuries—have upheld our democratic freedoms and contributed to the health and welfare of our country. It is right that tribute should be paid to them and to their forebears for their dedicated services. I echo the remarks of the Leader of the House, the Leader of the Opposition and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln in gratitude to the staff of this House, those who are often seen and those seldom seen, who serve us so well.

I am a relative newcomer to your Lordships' House. I came here only in 1992 after 28 years in the other place, which is dominated by the clash of adverse opinions. In the words of John Stuart Mill, Truth emerges from the clash of adverse opinions". The adverse opinions in your Lordships' House are less raucous but no less effective. The hallmark of your Lordships' House has been, and is, courtesy. I hope that we shall not lose it in the new House of Lords which inevitably will be much more political than the present one.

The role of the Cross Benches will inevitably change in that those of us who remain, in particular the 28 hereditary Peers who will remain on our Benches, are more likely to become working Peers. We have not been so called in the past although I must pay tribute to the work that all of them have done.

This is the last time that I shall speak in my role as Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers, a post that I have held now for five years. So I should like to pay tribute to and express thanks for the support and friendship of those on all our Benches, but particularly on the Cross-Benches; and especially to the hereditary Peers. They and their forebears have made a massive contribution over the years, indeed over the centuries, in defending our country's democratic freedoms, from the Magna Carta to the Bill of Rights to the present day. The hereditary peerage has served our country faithfully and well; and it is right that we should thank them and salute them for their services.

I understand that there is a book in the Commons which seeks to discover which of the hereditary Peers will be the first Prime Minister in the new millennium. I suspect that this is not the last post, but reveille. I suspect that the hereditary peerage will continue to serve our country well in the future as they have in the past.

Lord Carter

My Lords, I commend the Motion that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 5 p.m. to receive the Royal Commission.

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

[The Sitting was suspended from 4.32 to 5 p.m.]