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Lord Monkswell: My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will be very glad to learn the noble Lord's proposition for a reformed House of Lords. Even though his eight minutes are now up, I am sure that we will give him a few extra minutes in which to explain his ideas.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the noble Lord must contain his patience for a few minutes more. I shall explain to the House exactly why the Tory Party will put thought before action rather than the reverse, which has been so prevalent in this Government.

We are left with a process which is muddled and confusing. Having sat on their hands for 21 months, the Government have demanded an answer from the Royal Commission in less than half that time. If the Government are in such a hurry, why do they not use the current parliamentary Session to deal with their priority business and leave the next Session of Parliament to

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bring forward a properly thought-through plan with the consensus on which the noble Baroness tells us she is so keen. The process that we are currently going through is another classic example of action before thought; slogans before sense.

When we look at the White Paper we see in those pages a paradox which strikes right at the heart of the government's thinking. Throughout the White Paper the Government talk of "legitimising" the House. Chapter 1 states,

    "The present House of Lords suffers from a lack of legitimacy because of its anachronistic and unrepresentative composition".
One might think that the Government wanted a stronger House made more legitimate by reform. But compare that with a passage in Chapter 7.26 which states baldly,

    "A better approach might be to reduce the theoretically available powers".
It is never explained why the Government believe these powers to be theoretical or why they should be reduced. The paradox is that the Government believe that they can legitimise the House and reduce its powers all at the same time. The noble Baroness has not answered the question put to her by my noble friend Lord Lamont. Of course there are conventions in this House, but they are there precisely because there were, first, hereditary Peers in this House and, secondly, because post-1945 there were very few Labour Peers. That situation changes as soon as the noble Baroness and her party have the parity that they crave.

The Government's approach is wholly unacceptable to me and my party. What is the point of being a member of a legitimised and invigorated House of Lords when its ability to do anything has been weakened? I can imagine that there may be those who would still wish to be a member of such a House. But let no one doubt that this "new" House would only fit the popular stereotype of a House which is a weak and irrelevant body, with no chance of ever being able to influence important issues of the day. How can that be a worthy or lasting successor to the 700 years of service from this House?

It is easy to destroy, but hard to build. This House, and all its powers, can be scattered to the winds by one sweep of the Executive's mighty hand. How are we to replace a Chamber which is hard-working, inexpensive and effective? That surely is the critical question. No one following the sadly shallow debates in another place over recent weeks will have found an answer. With some honourable exceptions the debates reveal more about the inadequacies of another place than about our own. The cure for those who doubt the charge that we shall never get to stage two should be to look at Hansard to see just how confused are Members of another place.

"One can have any House that one wants as long as it is not the way it is and it does not have any power". That is the radical rallying cry from another place. A few brave souls mentioned an elected House. But too many are unicameralists or are just preparing their own nest for the future to want to build a strong, independent and authoritative chamber in place of the present one. It is as though our elected politicians have had a collective

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loss of confidence. The terms of reference of the Royal Commission refer to the House of Commons remaining pre-eminent. That is fair enough. But it speaks volumes about the Government's own insecurities on this subject that the Royal Commission is forbidden from even discussing an alternative. Am I alone in my amazement at the revelation by Mr. Peter Mandelson that his was the lone voice in the Cabinet sub-committee calling for a Royal Commission? Where were the voices of the then Leader of the House and the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am sorry to intervene. I do not wish in any way to undermine the noble Lord's argument. Mr. Mandelson was not a member of the sub-committee when I and the Chief Whip were members. He held that post in his previous incarnation as Minister without Portfolio.

Lord Richard: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for giving way. May I assure him that there were voices inside the Government machine in favour of a Royal Commission. I made that very clear very early on in the process. I have no reason to dissent from that.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I am delighted to hear the noble Lord put the record straight. It was right for him to do so. He was also right in his initial instincts. I did not mean to accuse the noble Baroness of anything. I was referring to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and to the Government Chief Whip, who will no doubt wish to put the record straight tomorrow evening.

In some respects this insecurity prevalent in another place is not surprising. The long-term effects of Labour's continual attacks on the integrity of MPs is coming home. That is what has given the Prime Minister the opportunity he so relishes to run the country directly by inspired leak and injunction as the mood suits him. Last year, when Peter Mandelson made a speech in Bonn asking the question: "Is this the end of representative democracy?" he was saying something extremely significant about how the Labour Party views government and the parliamentary process.

All the necessary warnings are in place. We must declare here and now that the powers of this House and the responsibilities of Parliament should be reduced no further.

Of course, I hear the accusation, not least that of the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, that the Tory Party is repenting at leisure after years of undermining the parliamentary process and that this is a deathbed conversion to reforming the constitution. The answer to those accusations is simple. The Tory Party believes in the parliamentary process and we believe in parliamentary strength and stability.

This House is changing. The die is cast. It can never be the same again. But that does not mean that we should plunge forward in haste or stagger blindfolded, as the Government do, groping in the dark for a solution. The future of this House bears the most careful thought, and the fullest, most open debate. As Conservatives, we

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believe in doing the thinking first. That is why I look forward to reading the deliberations of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern when they are published next month. That is why, when we as a party have decided on the way forward, we shall be making a presentation to the Royal Commission.

Soon we shall be faced with a narrow and offensive little Bill that seeks to remove the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords. It is a Bill that evades the big questions and betrays the spitefulness of small minds.

This debate, however, is not about that; it is about the big questions. It is about the long-term future of this House of Parliament and about whether we should mark our ground in defence of the principle that this House's ability to scrutinise and amend legislation and to ask the executive to think again should not be reduced. I find it hard to believe that any current Member of your Lordships' House would wish to see that happen.

I hope, even after the speech of the noble Baroness, that the Government may yet feel that they can accept this amendment. If the noble Baroness clings to her belief that my amendment is unnecessary, why cannot she accept it? But if the Government cannot, I shall ask the House to agree it, by Division if necessary. The amendment is broadly drafted, and I trust that the principles behind it will appeal to the widest possible group in the House. Tomorrow night will be the first, and conceivably the last, time that the House as currently composed can make a positive statement about the role of the House in the future, and in particular not to allow a lessening of its powers. I hope therefore that, if it comes to a vote, I shall be joined by all those who believe that at the very least no government should agree to any proposal that leaves this House weaker than before. I beg to move.

Moved, as an amendment to Baroness Jay of Paddington's Motion, at and insert "; urges Her Majesty's Government in carrying forward the proposals in the White Paper to set as its objectives and 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.".--(Lord Strathclyde.)

3.51 p.m.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, when the White Paper was published on the 20th January I was doubtful whether there was much new for the House to discuss, coming as it has between our two-day debate last October and the Bill when it arrives from another place presumably after Easter. But on closer examination there is more to say about the White Paper, including about the transitional arrangements, than I suspected. This debate is clearly justified on those grounds alone.

Above all, however, on developments as historic, far-reaching and sensitive as these it is absolutely right that Members of this House, often directly affected by

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them, should have the maximum opportunity to express their views. In that spirit I believe that it should be mainly a Back-Bench occasion when the Government should carefully listen. I must say to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House that although I share her sense of priorities when she refers to homelessness and health I do not believe that that is a fair comparison in a matter of this constitutional importance.

There will be questions of a specific kind appropriate for the Government to answer. Perhaps a few of them will be asked by me. I hope that the ministerial arrangements--at the moment it appears that only the Government Chief Whip will reply--will allow for replies to important questions that arise in the course of this debate. I would much prefer to see them answered by Ministers in the Chamber--that is the best way to proceed--but I accept that that will not happen.

What I did not expect from the noble Baroness--and do not expect and would not want from the Government Chief Whip when he winds up--is any further attempt by the Government to influence the Royal Commission; nor should the Government pronounce views of their own on matters that the Royal Commission is to consider, thus anticipating its conclusions. That is for a later stage when the Royal Commission has reported. The noble Baroness said that there would be nothing new from the Government Benches. That turned out to be the case, and I welcome it.

The Royal Commission is safe rather than innovative. It carries no whiff of "epoch-making", but I wish it well. Despite having previously urged a quick report, I believe that it deserves some flexibility if a few more weeks will ensure a more thorough and considered document. Despite the observations of the noble Baroness this afternoon, she may want to take a rain check on that just in case.

I remain puzzled, however, about whether the Royal Commission can consider powers as well as the role and functions of the second Chamber. When I asked that question of the Leader of the House on the 20th January, having read the terms of reference of the Royal Commission, she explained why the Government had been careful,

    "not to open up the rather difficult area of powers".--[Official Report, 20/1/99; col. 591.]
But on the same day in another place the President of the Council, Mrs. Beckett, said in reply to a similar question:

    "As for the powers of the replacement Chamber, they would be a matter for the commission to consider".--[Official Report, Commons, 20/1/99; col. 915.]

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