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Lord Richard: My Lords, in principle I have no problems with what my noble friend has just said.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord the Leader of the House will help us a little further. Will he give the House an undertaking to consider sympathetically the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett? The House will have been pleased to hear that he is open-minded on this question. Does he agree with me that it would be sensible, if reform of the composition of this House is to be undertaken, for a reformed House at least to include a substantial independent element to take the place of the hereditary peerage if that is what the Government wish to abolish?

Furthermore, is the noble Lord prepared to consider whether, in the coming weeks, the time might be right for this House once again to debate the issue of reform? Is the Leader of the House sympathetic to such a suggestion? If so, is he prepared to make government time available for such a debate?

Lord Richard: My Lords, I am not unsympathetic to the idea of a debate. As the noble Viscount knows, that is a matter for the usual channels. It can no doubt be discussed in that particular forum. Regarding the rest of the noble Viscount's remarks, no, I am not prepared to go further than I have gone this afternoon in relation to the question put by my noble friend Lord Barnett.

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The noble Viscount asked whether the Government are in favour of an independent element in the House of Lords. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has said on a number of occasions that he is in favour of an element in this House which is dissociated from either of the political parties--in other words, that there should be a Cross-Bench element in a reformed House. We have stated that on a number of occasions. I hope it reassures the noble Viscount.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, leaving aside the question as to what ground the legislation might cover, first, will the noble Lord the Leader of the House confirm that we may expect a Bill in the Queen's Speech this autumn? Secondly, and more importantly in view of the comments made, I understood that the Government were committed to a joint committee of both Houses to examine the second stage of Lords Reform. Is that still the case? I make clear that on these Benches we are in favour of radical reform at the earliest possible moment so as to remove the hereditary element. But that by itself is not sufficient. It creates some serious problems which would have to be dealt with at the same time.

Lord Richard: My Lords, the noble Lord the Leader of the Liberal Democrats has expressed the terms of our manifesto very clearly. I confirm that the proposal for a joint committee on which the Labour Party was elected remains our proposal. I am delighted to note that the Liberal Democrats are in favour of the early removal of the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in this House. I can also confirm that, after the first stage, there will have to be a second stage.

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, does the noble Lord recall that, when I was Leader of the House of Lords 30 years ago, I was responsible for bringing forward a proposal that would enable hereditary Peers to come and speak in this House but not to vote? That was agreed by the leaders of all the parties, both here and in the Commons. The proposal was sabotaged by Back-Benchers in the Commons. Is that proposal still on the table?

Lord Richard: My Lords, speaking personally, I should not be in favour of a situation in which two Members of this House sat next to each other listening to a debate, one of whom had the right to vote and one of whom did not.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe: My Lords, will the provisions now being discussed for a Scottish parliament be reasonably consistent with the constitution of the United Kingdom Parliament, since such questions arise as reducing the voting age to 16; the abolition of a revising chamber; and other elements which seem to conflict with existing provisions in the British constitution? Can

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the noble Lord give the House any assurance that there will be some reasonable consistency in the provisions for a Scottish parliament?

Lord Richard: My Lords, the Government are committed to reasonable consistency in this, as in all other things. My noble friend asks whether there could be any constitutional division. I trust not.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, will the Minister assure the House that the Government have no intention of bringing in an age limit for Peers?

Lord Richard: My Lords, I should be a bold man to say that. This is one of the few places left where I am considered on the relatively young side.

Lord Merrivale: My Lords, can the Leader of the House say why Conservative hereditary Peers would not be an independent element in the House and have independent points of view?

Lord Richard: My Lords, perhaps I may go this far towards the noble Lord's question. I am quite sure that many Conservative hereditary Peers believe that they are independent. Many of them sit and listen to the debate believing they are exercising independent judgment upon the arguments put before them. The only trouble is that they invariably end up voting with the Conservative party.

Noble Lords: Order!

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I believe that there is time for another supplementary question since there are only three Questions on the Order Paper. Can the noble Lord tell us why he thinks it is necessary to have a revising chamber for English and Welsh legislation and some Scottish legislation, but it is unnecessary to have it for some other Scottish legislation?

Lord Richard: My Lords, I am happy to say that my sole responsibility is towards the revising chamber of the United Kingdom; namely, this one. As concerns Scottish constitutional development, if the noble Baroness wishes to put a Question down to my noble friend responsible for the subject, no doubt I can get him to answer it.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, does not the Minister consider the Scotland Bill to be a United Kingdom Bill?

Lord Richard: My Lords, of course it is a United Kingdom Bill. I am saying that my responsibility is in relation to this Chamber, not to any other one nor to any prospective Chamber.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I apologise to the House for coming back and I crave your Lordships'

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indulgence. Does the Leader of the House believe in the doctrine of the collective responsibility of the Government?

Lord Richard: My Lords, of course.

Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, perhaps I may express surprise that the Leader of the House was surprised at the support from these Benches for the reform of the House of Lords. Can I take it that he will implement the pledge given in 1911 by the Liberal Government that they would create a popularly elected second Chamber?

Lord Richard: My Lords, I regard our proposals for the reform of this House as unfinished business from 1911.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, will the Leader of the House give an intellectual response at least to rejecting the argument for considering the future of this House in the context of Parliament as a whole, determining its powers and functions and dealing with its composition at the end of the line, not at the beginning?

Lord Richard: My Lords, I think the noble Baroness has answered her own question. I see that as a process which is capable of infinite delay. I am not prepared to embark upon the process without first dealing with the immediate difficulty of the composition of this House; namely, the existence in it of an overwhelming preponderance of Conservative hereditary Peers.

Asylum Seekers

3.3 p.m.

Lord Renton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many people arrived in the United Kingdom in 1997 seeking asylum; how many of them have so far been granted asylum; how many have been rejected; and how many still await decision.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, 32,500 applications for asylum were made in the United Kingdom in 1997, of which 16,590 were made on arrival here.

I regret that it is not possible to provide information about whether decisions have been taken on applications made in a given year. However, 36,045 initial decisions were made on asylum applications in 1997. Of those, 3,985 (11 per cent.) were to recognise the applicant as a refugee and grant asylum; 3,115 (9 per cent.) were to refuse asylum but grant exceptional leave and 28,945 (80 per cent.) were to refuse both asylum and exceptional leave.

If I may assist the noble Lord further, as at 31st December 1997 there were 51,795 asylum applications awaiting an initial decision.

Lord Renton: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving those full details which cause great concern. Is

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he aware that the Geneva Convention of 1951 which governs the matter has failed to prevent a vast increase in oppression in various parts of the world? Since travel facilities are so much easier than they used to be, and since the United Kingdom has now become a haven for illegal immigrants, has not the time come for the Geneva Convention to be renegotiated?

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