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Lord Milverton: My Lords, I do not like to disagree with my noble friend, but I consider that some of us do come from common stock. My father came from good English yeoman stock. We are not all high-falutin aristocrats as my noble friend implied.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, that is exactly the point I make. The commonality and yeomanry should be represented in the Commons. This House is a representative of power and always has been. Do not let us kid ourselves that it is any different. That is why I want, and have always wanted, the House reformed. That is why I argue that the hereditary principle has had its day. As my last duty to your Lordships' House, I wish to make sure that what comes after me is better.

I ask the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor this question. I shall put down an amendment. If the Prime Minister were to say, "I will make the following people Peers for their lifetime. I will ask the following groups for their recommendation; and these will all be public", we should then have representatives of interest and power in this House. It is a different House from the House of Commons. That is the important point. If we were to go down that route, the patronage would be regulated and open. It is not hidden.

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I concede that in some ways the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, abused the system. She was helped by the fact that the Labour Party said for quite a long time that it would not recommend people for honours. Noble Lords may shake their heads, but that is true. Perhaps they were under-the-wire sneakers; I do not know. But I know that in the 1970s and 1980s the Labour Party decided not to put forward people for political honours.

My last point relates to the Weatherill amendment. There are many on my own side for whom I may not wish to vote. There are quite a few on the other side for whom I should like to vote. Is it not possible to have a method whereby Peers who are respected by their political opponents can be encouraged to stay so that I do not have to vote only for Conservatives. Because I am here on my honour, the old principle, and because the Whip lies remarkably lightly on my shoulder, perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Varley, that I have voted against two of the three-line Whips that we have had since 1971. I say with a certain amount of arrogance that I believe that I was right on all occasions. If it were possible to have the improvements to the Bill that I offer in a constructive spirit, I should not object quite so much to the fact that it has arrived here through half-hearted and slapdash thinking.

5.54 p.m.

Lord Hacking: My Lords, as the grandson of a Lancashire soap manufacturer, I am not sure how I fit into the recent interventions in our debate. Some of the debates on reform of the House of Lords have been great fun. We have enjoyed the past half hour of our debate today. Others have been somewhat tedious. However, they have been going on for a very long time. Since last October, this is the third two day debate that we have had on the Government's proposal to reform the House of Lords. If noble Lords take into account the fact that the second day of Debate on the Queen's Speech was almost entirely devoted to constitutional reforms, this is the fourth full debate that your Lordships have had on our reform.

That is not all. In the Statement on the White Paper on 20th January of this year, in the questions which were raised, we again considered reforms of your Lordships' House. Therefore this Bill is the fifth occasion since last October when we have considered reform of the House of Lords. By my calculations, if this debate ends at 3.15 tomorrow morning, if not later, there will have been no less than 434 speeches on the subject in your Lordships' House since last October, and in excess of 60 hours of debate.

Noble Lords will see that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is sitting on the Front Bench, as are the Leader and Deputy Leader. The Deputy Leader, my noble friend Lord Williams, has hardly left the red cushions during the long debates on reforms. My noble and learned friend and my noble friends have other things to do. We shall reach a point where they will be unable to participate in government matters because they are so involved in debates on this subject. My Lords, we must move on.

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It is of course painful for hereditary Peers to leave. Over the past 27 years I have had the tremendous honour and pleasure of being in this House. Of course, it is wrenching to witness the reconstitution of the House. The familiar faces and figures of us hereditary Peers will disappear from this Chamber, the corridors and rooms at this end of the Palace of Westminster. I believe that we shall be missed. But that is not a reason for not moving on.

I was particularly glad that the noble and learned Lord paid tribute in his opening speech to the role of the House. I was glad that my noble friend the Leader of the House paid a personal tribute to the role of hereditary Peers in your Lordships' House. This Government are not being vindictive. I have to say that because comments have been made in the debate about spite, the resurrection of class hatred, and so forth. That is not the role that my party is playing in the reforms which I support. If one wants evidence of that, it lies in the speech of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor who said that although we are only bound in terms of honour the Government are willing to co-operate over the Weatherill amendment. That will have the result of enabling the hereditary Peers to be phased out of the House over a longer period and in a more dignified way.

I do not intend to go again into the arguments about the principle of hereditary Peers, nor about stage one or stage two reforms. They have been fully argued. I believe that there should now be two objectives before us. The first is to make the transitional stage work. I hope, therefore, that my noble friends on the Front Bench will be willing to consider some limited amendments during the passage of the Bill. The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, made a good point when he suggested that there should be a right for life Peers to be able either to retire or resign their peerages. Those are sensible ideas that we should be examining during the passage of the Bill. Secondly, we should be pressing on with the overall objective of the Royal Commission considerations and going in to the second stage of our reform.

I turn to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold. I understand that he intends to press it to a Division at the end of the debate. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Harris, who said today that it was an entirely pointless exercise. Indeed, the amendment contains some strange propositions. First, it mentions changing the historical composition of the House of Lords for party political advantage. The noble Lord, Lord Varley, took up that point. My party is not doing that. My party does not seek to replace the majority in this House by taking over the majority position of the Conservative Party. All it seeks is a parity between the political parties. During our debates, that has been made plain time and again by the Front Bench speakers from my party.

Secondly, the noble Lord's amendment suggests that the process is taking place without consultation or consensus. I recognise the difficulty in achieving consensus, but it is hardly without consultation. We are well into the fiftieth hour of debate on the matter. It is more than that; my party has taken the first step and

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consulted the people. That is why the proposal was contained in our manifesto. To speak of consultation only within this House is inward looking; we should be talking also about consultations outside the House--

Lord Cobbold: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Perhaps I may point out that the consultation or consensus was on the role and composition of the successor House. That is the position before us.

Lord Hacking: My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord says, but his amendment does not define what he has just described. I urge him that to press the amendment at the end of the debate is a pointless exercise. I hope that he will not take up the time of your Lordships' House and all the officers and officials who support us by pressing the amendment and keeping us here another 20 or 30 minutes in the early hours of tomorrow morning. I hope that he will withdraw it.

6.2 p.m.

Lord Reay: My Lords, if there ever were a Bill covered by the Salisbury Convention as it has developed and been understood since 1945, it is surely this Bill. The Government's intention regarding the hereditary membership of your Lordships' House was set out in the clearest terms in the Labour Party's last election manifesto. Therefore, the Bill should surely be allowed a Second Reading. However, I agree with those who have said that from the start the Government should have tried to seek consensus, as Harold Wilson did in 1968. Therefore, for that reason if for no other, I intend to support the noble Lord's amendment.

It is hardly, under any perspective, a surprise that another attempt is being made to remove the Conservative domination of your Lordships' House by removing the hereditary Peers. Since the Wilson government was confounded in another place by this question in 1969, the issue has awaited the arrival to power of a Labour government with a sufficient majority in another place and the willingness to devote the energy to carrying out the policy. In this case, the zeal has been supplied by the Prime Minister's recognition that this was about the only item of old Labour policy which his Government could carry out without ruining the country. To him, therefore, it acquired a unique value in serving to unite his party harmlessly. It also, as my noble friend Lord Hesketh pointed out, contributed to replacing socialism with constitution-mongering, for want of a better term, as a raison d'etre for a Labour government.

I took part in the debate in your Lordships' House in November 1968 on the Wilson proposals and voted as part of the 5-1 overall majority (a 3-1 majority of hereditary Peers) in favour of accepting them. Although at that time I sat on the Benches below me, my views on this subject have not changed. If those proposals had gone through, this House would by now be well on the way to seeing the last of the hereditary Peers. So I accepted long ago the case for drastically reducing and even eliminating over time the hereditary element in this House.

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My title is a Scottish one. For a time my father was an elected representative Peer for Scotland, as had one of my ancestors been for 12 years in the 19th century. Under that system, which lasted for more than 250 years, Scottish Peers elected 16 of their number to sit in this House for the duration of each Parliament. Re-election was common, and there are Members of this House today whose fathers sat here for more than 40 years.

The purpose of that system had been to limit the influx of Scottish Peers into this House following the Act of Union in 1707. The same reason of limiting numbers went on to produce a different version of election for Irish Peers following the Union with Ireland in 1800. Irish Peers elected 28 of their number for life; so every election save the first was in effect a by-election which was conducted postally.

It would not be so very different in principle now to seek to reduce the number of hereditary Peers in your Lordships' House by introducing a similar system of election. So I will support the Cranborne-Weatherill amendment, or an improved version of it. I believe that the Government have been astute, strategically from the point of view of their long-term reputation in the country as well as tactically from the point of view of disarming opposition in your Lordships' House, in so quickly agreeing to a compromise on this issue.

However, with one grievance being dealt with, and more than 80 years having been taken in doing so, what happens next? Having extremely belatedly set up a Royal Commission, the Government are now expecting it to report in a rush. Last week, the Royal Commission issued a consultation paper containing a huge range of questions. I counted more than 120, many both profound and complex, to which it is inviting answers from all and sundry over the summer before making its own recommendations by the end of the year.

I do not see how it can possibly do justice to that task as it evidently interprets it. In fact, it would not at all surprise me if the Royal Commission itself were to make further transitional proposals, with full reform postponed for another day. Indeed, there would be good reasons for doing that. In the first place, we have our old friend, pragmatism. Having remedied the long-standing grievance, why do anything else? Why anticipate the next problem? Why not wait and see how the House of life Peers works out?

My noble friend Lord Carrington, in the powerful case he put yesterday for an elected Chamber, may well prove to be right that a nominated House will continue to be haunted by the stigma of illegitimacy vis-a-vis the House of Commons. But at least one feature will be different in the new House; there will not be the same built-in majority for the Conservatives. So why not let us see what difference that makes.

Incidentally, even in the very long term, I do not see how you resolve the problem that an elected House will challenge the House of Commons, but that anything else is less legitimate. If you want to maintain the supremacy of another place, and if you expect the two Houses to share the same tasks, or some of the same tasks, as they

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do at present, you have to have a less legitimate second Chamber. You just want one that is not embarrassingly illegitimate.

Then is it the right point in time to start major reform of this House, with constitutional movement underway in Scotland and Wales and in Europe? And is it the right point in the sequence? Should not reform of Parliament not start with the House of Commons? Neither do I see the Government having the stomach for a second, bruising round of House of Lords reform, this time with many life Peers as well as some in the other place lined up against them. What would be the Government's interest in doing that?

So I have difficulty in agreeing with my noble friend Lord Hesketh this afternoon who said that the destination is democracy, at any rate for the foreseeable future. For the time being at least I believe that the life Peers will be reprieved. But the Royal Commission is bound to propose something to justify its existence. I only hope that what it proposes manages to be neither divisive nor expensive. But even those two purely negative objectives will not be easy to achieve.

I have less difficulty contemplating the prospect of a House composed overwhelmingly of life Peers than do some of my colleagues. The wise, experienced and distinguished of the nation, appointed for life, without a retiring age, provide for me an acceptable foundation for a second Chamber and their presence here, even if only occasional, represents a constructive achievement of the past 40 years. I also believe that a House of nominated life Peers is likely to be more independent and less parochial than one indirectly elected by special interests.

Of course, there is the chore of Bill revision to be done, and party support to be provided. This House must also contain those willing and able to undertake such drudgery on both the Front and Back Benches. Many of these come, and will continue to come, from another place. In that context I welcome the idea of a new appointments commission to nominate Cross-Bench Peers and vet the suitability of all appointments as a protection against the development of excessive Prime Ministerial patronage in this regard. And if the House threatens to become too large, after successive efforts at balancing the parties have ratcheted up the numbers, why not an election from among the life Peers, conducted on a party basis? In any case, I do not believe that this Bill in its final form should have any part of it based on the assumption that there will be further legislation. If the Bill contains the Weatherill amendment, or a version of it, there must surely be a provision for by elections.

With the departure of the hereditary Peers there will be gaps to fill and not just those that Members opposite may long to see on these Benches. I believe that I should take this opportunity to refer to one gap in particular, about which I have some experience. On page 16 of the White Paper there is set out what is thought to be the four broadly defined functions of your Lordships' House. The third of these is described as being the undertaking of specialist investigation through the Select Committees of this House. The same committees carry out scrutiny of European Union legislation, which

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some have seen as an area that should be expanded as the European Union continues to acquire added importance over our lives. Even the Royal Commission consultation document asks, "Should the role of specialist investigations by Select Committees be maintained? Could it be expanded?"

But this committee system is today dependent on hereditary Peers--in the case of the sub-committee I chair--for over half its membership. I may add that they come from all parts of the House. They, no less than their life Peer colleagues, put in a very great deal of work and time on those committees. In my experience the attendance rate is extremely high. The Government will have to face up to the fact that the whole committee system will take a huge blow with the departure of the hereditary Peers. I should like to hear from the Minister the Government's thoughts on that question.

The departure of the hereditary Peers from your Lordships' House, as others have noted, is a hugely significant event. A page will be turned on 700 years of history. It is the hereditary Peers that have managed to maintain and hand on intact to their life Peer successors the style, manners and self restraint of the old British Parliamentary tradition which was lost in another place during the Home Rule struggle--to the detriment, in my view, of the position of another place in public esteem felt even today, perhaps especially felt today. Hereditary Peers can feel proud of this achievement. It is only fitting and precautionary that a strong contingent should survive into the next phase.

As this debate proceeds there seems to have been a growing recognition on the Front Benches opposite of the passions that this Bill arouses on this side of the House and among hereditary Peers in another parts of the House. I welcome that, but it reveals a contempt for history to have included no hereditary Peer on the Royal Commission.

The British constitution is a living organism which has for centuries won admiration, even from Britain's enemies. I believe it was Napoleon who once said,

    "If the English Constitution were destroyed, the civilisation of the world would be shaken to its foundations".
The constitution needs to be treated with respect, and not have ill-considered, so-called reforms thrust upon it by government either seeking party advantage or acting first and thinking later, whether in the name of modernisation or of any other slogan. We are obliged to give this Bill a Second Reading, but we are equally obliged to scrutinise it thoroughly and, where necessary, amend it despite any threats from the Government during its later stages.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am sure the whole House will have appreciated the reasoned way in which the noble Lord, Lord Reay, presented his case, but passion as regards this issue is not to be found only on one side of the argument. In a sense, we are all hereditaries in that we have an inheritance. I was one who sat on his father's knee who had lived in the same town and worked alongside Aneurin Bevan. His mother's brother had been chair of the miners' lodge

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which inducted Aneurin Bevan into politics. Therefore, I am sure that noble Lords will recognise that I have a certain inheritance of which I am proud. It might be called in that hackneyed term a certain aristocracy of labour. I am quite sure that my father would have been surprised to appreciate the amount of support that has come from the other side of the House as regards the argument. Sometimes it has been expressed in less than entirely serious terms. The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, presented the case with some force. The noble Lord, Lord Reay, made an important contribution to our debate.

Perhaps I may emphasise one obvious point. Much has been made of the fact that the Front Bench Ministers in this House and the Prime Minister are acting against the dictates of some rather rabid political creatures in other parts of the Palace of Westminster and in the other place. Perhaps I may do my best on this occasion by offering some representation of their position. I am newly minted as a Member of this House who came just after the last election because of boundary changes, I hasten to add, rather than because of political defeat.

I emphasise that I have not met anyone in my party in the other place, and neither have I met anyone in this House who, whatever their shades of perspective on a whole range of issues, does not subscribe to the obvious proposition that in this modern age there is no defence of the hereditary principle. It is not a question of dogma but of political principle against a background of what other modern, democratic nation has any concept of the hereditary principle playing a full part in its legislation. England, which is the mother of parliaments, has never been able to export to others the particular feature of inheritance.

In a sense the political parties have long since given up on the issue. The Liberals fought the issue in 1911 and they have been principled on that position for the whole of this century. My own party took the argument further in 1948 which significantly changed in the Parliament Act of that time the relationship between the two Houses. Not even the Conservative Party in the other place has stayed true to the concept of the hereditary principle. I take the most obvious point that it was a Conservative government which introduced life peerages. Conservative Prime Ministers have promoted to this House life Peers and not many hereditaries. The hereditary Peerage system has been used with very great restraint indeed. When people have been elevated to this House it has been as life Peers because Conservative Prime Ministers have not believed that the hereditary principle would stand the test of public acceptability.

If one looks at the debates on this Bill in the Commons in the past couple of months, it is quite clear that the Conservative Front Bench is not prepared to sustain the argument that the hereditary principle should continue. Nor has there been any assertion from the Front Bench here that, should this legislation become the law of the land, any future Conservative administration will set out to dismantle it and restore the hereditary principle in this House.

We should recognise that this House has many virtues. I have recognised certain aspects of that in terms of the courtesy of the debates and the way in which we

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express ourselves on issues. But we should not thereby underestimate the significance of those issues to the country outside. We are not a cosy club debating issues to ourselves; we are part of the legislature of our nation. It has been attested that one of the great dangers may be that the Labour Party is now proposing to seek to create a majority in the Upper House to buttress its overwhelmingly majority in the Lower House. But we should recognise that it is quite clear that that is not the intention.

It has been indicated clearly that the Government intend to create a number of life Peers to ensure that there is parity with the Conservative Party. What on earth is wrong with that? It may be suggested that a majority in both Houses may have appalling consequences for the British constitution. I should point out that for most of the twentieth century, that has been the case--a majority Conservative administration in the Commons buttressed by an overwhelming Conservative majority in this House.

That is why we cannot take seriously the viewpoint that this House has been a massive guardian of the peoples' liberties. What about peoples' liberties in terms of the very significant change in the 1980s as regards the relationship between central and local government? That was epitomised by the concept of the poll tax, but local government was brought severely under the constraint of central government. That was effected by a Conservative administration. I cannot recall the extent to which a challenge was laid down by this House on that particular shift.

Another great interest of the British people, much less popular than local government but extremely important in relation to the nation, is the trade union movement. That was brought down by a considerable onslaught on its freedoms and liberties. And let us remember one obvious point about trade unions: even the Arthur Scargills of this world were elected to their posts. The trade unions saw their powers savagely constrained, cabined and confined by legislation which depended on an overwhelmingly majority in the Lower House. That was scarcely contested by the Conservative majority in the Upper House.

I do not believe that the people of this country look to this Chamber for the defence of their freedoms in the way that has been suggested in some of the rosier interpretations of the work of this Chamber. Indeed, the hereditary element has not been a constraint on autocracy but has been a constraint on the evolution of our democracy. I say to my noble friends on the Front Bench that many of us look upon the Weatherill amendment with considerable anxiety and suspicion. After all, we are arguing a case of principle with regard to the hereditary peerage and the Weatherill amendment contemplates that, in the interim, there will be a continuing role for the hereditary peerage.

There will no doubt be an improvement because of the elective process. That is an excellent development. But there are many of us on this side of the House who will still require a great deal of persuasion with regard to that particular principle. A crucial aspect in that persuasion will be the length of the interim period.

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The only way in which that case can be sustained effectively is if there is an indication that the Royal Commission, preparatory to the presentation of a case before the electorate in our manifesto at the next general election, proposes significant change.

If my noble friends on the Front Bench should blanch at that a little, they should think of the problems of the Front Bench on the other side too, when they equally must address themselves to a changed situation as a result of the Royal Commission.

I do not wish to detain the House long on what I recognise is an extremely arduous day, so I end with one statement. At the moment I am the sole member of an organisation called ABHOL--Anything But the House of Lords. The aristocracy will continue to enjoy a certain degree of privilege through their wealth in this country and their social prestige. Everyone loves an aristocratic Lord except when that Lord is exercising political power. That is why the Upper House, following the Royal Commission's proposals and the legislation of the next Labour Government, must surely change its name from the House of Lords.

6.26 p.m.

Lord Coleraine: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, has made clear that both Front Benches have their problems. I join in this debate not with any valedictory feelings, because I believe that there is work to be done, there are mountains to climb and perhaps a few dragons to prick. I should not oppose the Second Reading of the Bill, which incorporates one important reform that I support wholeheartedly. When the White Paper and the Bill were published, Mrs. Beckett told the other place:

    "The presence of the hereditary peerage has weakened the legitimacy and effectiveness of our second Chamber for two main reasons--because the principle is wrong and because the results are unbalanced".--[Official Report, Commons, 20/1/99; col. 909.]
I am well satisfied that the present balance of power within the Chamber, with a Conservative bias resulting from the hereditary peerage and the ability of my party to summon its supporters to Parliament as and when it wishes cannot be sustained if challenged, and it has been challenged.

It is relevant also, but little more than broadly relevant, that warning of the proposed changes was given by the Labour Party in its election manifesto. It would have been quite unbelievable for this Bill to have been introduced without the electorate having been made aware, at least formally, of what was proposed. Nevertheless, the fact that mention of the reform is tucked away in the manifesto may be relevant to consideration of the Salisbury convention, but it is not of itself a sufficient reason for Parliament to accept this Bill or any other Bill having the same effect. As for the Salisbury convention, its sustaining purpose fell with the introduction of this Bill, even though the benign doctrine is treated as not entirely spent.

Having said that, it is clear from the speech of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that the message has switched. It is the hereditary principle and

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not the political balance on which we should now concentrate and on which the Government are now concentrating. That recognises that the Government see that there is strength in a claim that hereditary Peers should remain here and not vote. At the same time, it makes clear that the Government intend to resist any such move.

Nevertheless, I hope that in their proclaimed search for consensus and a quiet life, the Government may come round to the merits of an interim House in which hereditary Peers speak but in which their voting rights are limited or curtailed. That one reform would have my unqualified support because I can think of no other way in which to bring about a proper balance in this House. Sir Patrick Cormack moved an amendment along these lines from the Opposition Front Bench in the House of Commons. I hope to support my noble friends on the Front Bench when the time comes for a similar amendment to be moved in this House.

It is plain, even with the removal of voting rights from hereditary Peers, that that would, of itself, politicise the House. It would create an entirely different House; a House where the balance between the parties becomes significant and controversial in a way in which it was never controversial before; a House with characteristics which cannot now be foreseen. The conventions--not just the Salisbury convention--which have operated to temper the lack of balance between the main political parties until now would no longer have any rhyme or reason. There is simply no way in which an intellectual case can be made that the present proposed reforms should or could possibly be self-contained and not dependent on further future reforms.

This is, in fact, half admitted by the reference in the manifesto to the need for a review of the arrangements for the appointment of life Peers. Unfortunately, that review in the manifesto was only too predictably left to the future. The time is now right to put arrangements in place that will take the political balance of the House out of the hands of the Executive, from whichever political party the Executive is formed. Let patronage be limited. Let Tony Blair and the other party leaders nominate life Peers, but only that number of life Peers that will be settled by an independent process set out in the Bill. That point was strongly made by my noble friend Lord Waddington.

It is clear, is it not, that this section of the manifesto, this reference to the Bill being a sufficient reform of itself, was put together with a large measure of intellectual languor? The hereditary basis on which the House of Lords has drawn its membership over so many years has served the country well. No matter that the heredity principle, as a basis for selection of members of a legislative assembly, is indefensible in principle, no credible case is or can be made for change until it is shown that what is put in its place will work better and more effectively. I know that that is not a thought that will commend itself to the Government. The argument from the other side is that hereditary Peers should shut up and go quietly and that anything is better than a House containing hereditary Peers.

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I am sure that hereditary Peers will join with life Peers in scrutinising the Bill. While we are here we all have a duty to try to improve the Bill. It is not the case, self-evidently, that the removal of hereditary Peers will bring, at a stroke, a more legitimate and effective House. That is the myth with which the Government seek to deceive.

Much can be done to the Bill. In the circumstances of uncertainty surrounding the second stage of reform, we must look carefully at how to make the first stage reformed House at least as good as, and if possible better than, the unreformed House. The shame is--my noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil hinted at this point--that we have to waste so much public time doing what the Royal Commission should be doing, and that could happen again in the next Session, although by then we may have the report of the Royal Commission to consider in relation to the Bill, as should have been the case now.

The claims made by hereditary Peers that they should remain temporarily are not based on the records of their forebears, even though that may be why they were here in the first place. Their claims are based on the fact that hereditary Peers, and many among us, have sat here for many years, have a wealth of experience on parliamentary matters, have learned from debates and scrutiny of legislation and from participation in the committees of the House. That experience should not be discarded.

Perhaps I am expected to say a few words about the Weatherill proposal. I shall have a chance to look at the detail later. However, the terms offered to the House are, indeed, the constitutional "sleaze" of this Government. They are not so much a stick with a carrot wrapped up in a brown envelope, as political blood money, coupled with moral blackmail. The Executive simply has no business threatening one House of Parliament in terms that amount to:

    "Legislate as we wish or the hereditary Peers will go down without even a lifeboat for some of you to cling to until that too sinks".

6.34 p.m.

Lord Charteris of Amisfield: My Lords, I hope I may be forgiven if I begin my speech by misquoting a famous passage from the New Testament. I refer to verse 1 of Chapter 13 of St. Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians:

    "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not [brevity] I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal"
I promise to be brief. This has been a marvellous debate, and everything that can be said about this position has already been said with a great deal more eloquence and expertise than I can muster.

However, one point, as far as I know, has not been mentioned. I have mentioned this before in your Lordships' House, but it bears repetition. First, I should declare a personal interest. For 28 years I worked with the greatest happiness in the Queen's private secretary's office. During those years I came to honour, indeed, to love, the institution of the Monarchy. It is a vital and important part of our system, based wholly on heredity.

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If all rights of hereditary Peers to sit, speak and vote in the House are abolished, I believe that will expose the Monarchy. It will be the only establishment based on heredity. I do not for a moment say that the Monarchy will be threatened by what will happen. I do not think it will be threatened for some time, and I hope that I shall be as dead as a haddock before it is. However, I believe I am right in what I say. For that reason I hope that the Royal Commission will remember that point and that it will not abandon the possibility of retaining an element of hereditary Peers who can flourish in the House, as they have done for 700 years.

6.37 p.m.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, reading through my speech a few minutes ago to ensure word perfect delivery, I was struck by how familiar it all sounded. I had heard a great deal of it from previous speakers last night, this morning and this afternoon. For that reason, I have put a large amount of it into the wastepaper basket and have kept only the salient features.

There can be no more important subject to be discussed in the House of Lords than the constitution of this country. It is at the very heart of our country and provides the framework on which our laws and our great institutions are based. Despite the record of our constitution to deliver an unparalleled period of political stability, we do not believe that it should be set in stone. Indeed, it has been a continually evolving structure. However, change is incredibly significant and it should be embarked upon only with very careful consideration. That includes the issue of the composition of your Lordships' House.

It has long been a tradition of Parliament when considering constitutional issues to attempt to proceed on the basis of consensus. Regrettably, I believe that the Government have taken the opposite approach. Whether one likes it or not, this House is an integral part of our parliamentary system. The Government's proposal to deny a large proportion of the Members of this House any role in determining the structures of the successor body must by its very nature be said to preclude any opportunity of consensus. If there was a legitimate claim that this House was not competent in undertaking its role as a revising Chamber, the former argument might hold some water, but that is not the case. Almost every speaker in this long debate has complimented the House on its work. I believe that it stands any comparison with that of another place. Indeed, we have heard those sentiments expressed from the Government Front Bench.

The key point is that many Members of this House during this debate and in previous debates have expressed the view that they now believe that the time has come to consider changing the composition of the membership of your Lordships' House. Among all the qualities exhibited by Members of this House, surely those of duty and responsibility stand foremost. I share the view expressed by so many speakers that if there is to be change, surely this House as presently composed should be involved in that consideration. I firmly believe that it is the right and the duty of those who sit in this House as presently composed to advise on and to

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discuss the revised structures for Parliament and to vote for those which they consider, according to their conscience, will serve the country best.

However, the Government are seeking to deny them that right. I believe that they are picking a fight where none is necessary. They are choosing to portray this process as a battle between privilege and the people. If they really were seeking to strengthen the link between Parliament and the country at large, surely they would have come forward now, after all the time taken to consider the issues, with proposals to establish an elected House. How, in the light of that, could a House consisting purely of appointed Members be considered preferable?

We have heard that there are no guarantees of what stage two would entail. Indeed, the Government have no idea about what they see at the end of this process. They are embarking on an incredibly important strategic review of the constitution with no idea of what it will look like at the end. All that the Government know is that they must immediately address, without further delay, the issue of hereditary Peers and this House.

I am of the opinion that a wholly appointed second Chamber would be easier for the Executive to control. Without any firm commitments on the face of the Bill, it is easy to imagine this issue being kicked firmly into the long grass. That has serious implications for our parliamentary system as a whole and, I believe, for the country at large. I believe that we need a confident and strong second Chamber with a will to oppose the Government where it sees fit and to support them similarly. I am not convinced that the Government share that view.

I turn to the so-called Weatherill amendment. It is possible that that might constitute one means of modestly improving the Bill. But it is not the only one and I do not believe that we should see it as the only possible means of improving the Bill. I join in congratulating those who have been attempting to engage the Government in a dialogue about constitutional change from within this House. However, I for one certainly do not feel bound in any way by a deal made in private between individual Members of this House. In that regard, I was saddened to hear this House effectively being threatened by the Government Front Bench with sanctions if it fails to comply with their wishes. We were lectured on statesmanlike behaviour. I do not believe that threatening this House of Parliament falls within the meaning of "statesmanlike behaviour".

Surely the Government are now faced with an excellent opportunity to bring forward wide-ranging reforms of Parliament to strengthen an institution which has declined in importance and influence in recent times. There is widespread agreement that this reform should extend to the membership of your Lordships' House. That consensus comes, to some considerable degree, from the very Members of this House who are involved. However, the Government have decided to put aside that good will and to proceed on a unilateral, confrontational basis. I believe that that is a very dangerous strategy indeed. Our aim must be to seek a

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stronger and more accountable House than is currently the case. I do not believe that this Bill will achieve that aim.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Greenway: My Lords, I begin by congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Devon, on his very fine maiden speech. The noble Earl happened to be at school with me and he lives just down the road from me in Devon. We have been friends for many years and I should like to say what a delight it is to see him in this House at last.

The noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, was the previous shipping Minister. It has not passed my notice that in the course of this long debate there have been several nautical references. The noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, who spoke a few moments ago referred to a lifeboat and I believe that yesterday the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, referred to the anchor of the Cross-Benches. Many noble Lords who have been Members of this House for some time will know that my particular area of interest is maritime affairs. Over the 23 years that I have been privileged to be a Member of your Lordships' House, I have endeavoured to do what I believe is best for the various maritime industries of this country.

I always remember the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, saying when I had been a Member of this House for only a short time that those Peers who did not speak very often but nevertheless brought a certain expertise to the House were just as valuable Members of this House as some of our more venerable Members who may have held high office in this country. I am only sorry that the noble and learned Lord is not with us today. I would have been most interested to hear his comments on this Bill.

It has been mentioned in some places that there might be a certain element of illegitimacy in relation to the hereditary Peers. I have never felt that my membership of this House is in any way illegitimate. In fact, I have been a Member of this House as of legal right. I did not choose to be born the son of an hereditary Peer. In a way, therefore, I have no control over the fact that I am here. Nevertheless, if I am to be swept away with every other hereditary Peer, I feel that after serving for nearly a quarter of a century in your Lordships' House, that will be with a clear conscience.

What worries me most about the Bill and the Government's intentions is the effect on the stability of this country. That stability has stood us in good stead over the centuries. We know that devolution is afoot, but we still do not know how it will work out in practice. That is one essential destabilising element. This Bill is another. To return to a nautical theme, any mariner knows that if you rock the boat once, you are in slight danger, and that if you rock the boat twice, you are in even more danger. I hope that the Government are not rocking the constitutional boat to the extent that that will result in something that none of us would want to see.

Against that background is the distressing situation in the Balkans. None of us knows how that will work out. We have a discredited US President, with two years left in office. And who is to say what will happen if we have

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another financial blip caused by some unforeseen event and the euro stock market tumbles. Where will that leave us?

Life at the moment, and especially at the end of a century, is not as stable as some of us might think. We must bear that in mind as a background to this Bill. Europe has been referred to by one or two noble Lords. That does not inspire any right-thinking person with confidence in view of what happened recently. Efforts to make Europe larger is fraught with even more danger.

We have heard a lot about the present weakness of the House of Commons. There is an inherent element in this Bill of making this House weaker as well and that is also, in my opinion, not desirable set against the background that I outlined. A further weakening of Parliament at this stage is not advisable.

I turn to the future composition of this House. The Royal Commission must look carefully at two specific elements; first, to retain the independent thought which has been an element of this Chamber over many centuries; secondly, to retain the independent expertise which is at present widely disseminated among the hereditary Peers. I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Desai, from the Government Benches yesterday, who called for a greater Cross-Bench element in this House. That is something which I support. I have sat on the Cross-Benches all the time that I have been in your Lordships' House and believe that the Cross-Benches are where a lot of independent thought comes from in this House. We have heard talk of a fully elected House. I do not know how we can have an elected House with a Cross-Bench element. That is something at which the Royal Commission will have to look with great care. It has a difficult task on its hands and I wish it all the luck in the world.

We are obviously going to have an interesting Committee and further stages of this Bill, and I look forward to them with great interest.

6.52 p.m.

Baroness Hooper: My Lords, there is an air of unreality about this debate, and about the other debates which led up to it. When there are so many urgent humanitarian, social and other problems in this country and throughout the world, it seems absurd that we are now employed in the business of dismantling an institution which has served and continues to serve this country well without any particular popular pressure to do so. Are we really going to let that happen?

I noted that my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, in his opening speech, referred to a "wonderland". I realised then that that is how I felt; like Alice in Wonderland or Alice through the Looking Glass where everything is topsy-turvy and out of sequence and--dare I say it?--where the red queen lurks around the corner shouting "Off with their heads!".

Some speakers on the Benches opposite have said that they have been embarrassed and even felt ashamed to have to admit and explain that they belong to an unelected House which has a substantial number of Members who owe their place to the hereditary principle. In my travels around the country and

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throughout the world I have always found that once I have clearly defined what democracy means--freedom of speech, openness and transparency of government, guardianship of human rights and maybe also having elected representatives--and gone on to explain the checks and balances between our two Houses of Parliament, the expertise and continuity the hereditary principle gives to our proceedings, a lot of people from a lot of countries wish that they too had inherited a similar institution. And in spite of all the complimentary things that have been said about hereditary Peers, I still fail to see how a wholly appointed House can be more democratic than our present House. The awful thing that faces us is that once the present composition is changed, we cannot turn back the clock. It therefore behoves us to progress these changes as carefully and sensibly as possible.

In the course of this debate and those that preceded it we heard many fine speeches from all sides of the House; I listened to many though not quite all. I believe that some progress has been made. In that I may differ from some of my noble friends, particularly my noble friend on my right. We know that the Government have already made one concession by agreeing to set up a Royal Commission. There are criticisms of the commission's all too narrow terms of reference and its allotted timetable. Nevertheless it remains a concession. I believe that there are bound to be other concessions at later stages in your Lordships' House. There will have to be, not least to answer and address some of the interesting legal issues and complexities raised yesterday by, among others, my noble friends Lord Glenarthur and Lord Chesham.

But the most important advance that we have seen is the change in the Government's approach. In the debate on the White Paper a few weeks ago, I and others criticised the style and the timetable of the proposals contained in the Bill. It was very pleasing therefore to hear the noble Baroness the Leader of the House acknowledging the work and contribution of hereditary Peers when she opened the debate yesterday, as did others at later stages in the debate. The trend has, on the whole, continued today and was continued by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor this morning, at least at the start of his remarks. It is important and necessary to make such acknowledgement. It is doing justice to those who have contributed over the centuries to create this mother of Parliaments.

Having said all that, we are still faced with this Bill which, if it goes through, will mean that as early as the State Opening of Parliament this November, we could be faced with a dramatically reduced House and a great gap which will not be filled by the proposals contained in the Weatherill amendment. Though it is important to give that amendment our full consideration, because it seems to be our only chance to make the transitional period tolerable and indeed leave the door open, nevertheless it is not a solution.

My main plea to the Government today is to ask them not to insist on rushing through the implementation of this Bill. Surely we should at least wait for the Royal Commission to report, in order to consider all the possibilities for a stage two. The manifesto commitment

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can be kept, indeed has already been kept, by putting this issue on the agenda and exciting an interest even outside your Lordships' House. Surely too it is implicit even in a manifesto commitment that reforms be carried out properly and thoroughly and not at break-neck speed.

We must build in safeguards, and I shall certainly support any amendments that do so at later stages of the Bill, especially those that build in a longer time factor. This is not just the end of an era, but the end of many eras. It is right, therefore, that we should deal seriously and thoroughly with this Bill. And in acknowledging the significance of the House of Lords and its role in the past, we should also hope and work for a better future for the second Chamber.

6.58 p.m.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, in the short time I have been here my respect and affection for this House has grown strongly and quickly; for its atmosphere, its friendliness, its staff and many of its parliamentarians--including hereditary Peers.

As a former trade unionist, therefore, I join in expressing my gratitude to both past and present active hereditary Peers for the significant contribution which they have made and continue to make for the wellbeing of public life in this country When they go, they will be missed in a whole variety of different ways. This will be a different House and, for a period, as with any radical change, there may be some unforseen difficulties and even possibly a temporary decline in our performance. That is often what occurs when we have major changes. Therefore, to ease those changes and to aid the passage of hereditary Peers, I, for one, will want to give support to the Weatherill amendment for the transitional period.

Whether or not we will get the amendment and its sensible, pragmatic way forward is out of our hands on this side. It rests with hereditary Peers principally. It rests with them to decide just how they see their duty. In my opinion, if agreement cannot be reached it will be a great pity, not just for the country but also for hereditary Peers. To conclude on a sour note, contrary to the traditions of the House which they themselves have helped to build, would be a sad day indeed. Therefore, I hope that wisdom will prevail over emotion. But, if it does not, the House will nonetheless survive and it will continue. Any initial difficulties, even if there are gaps as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, will be filled in one way or another or in due course.

After all, only two years ago many people were arguing that this country could not be run by an inexperienced Labour Party and Labour Government. Yet here we are, still riding high in the opinion polls, with a feeling around that it is Labour which is the party of natural government. The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, reminded us this morning that, when addressing such issues, we should not be so introspective but should endeavour to look over a wider front and take into account what is happening outside this Chamber.

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I do not think that we should ignore what has happened in a very short space of time within the Conservative Party itself. Here I address my remarks principally to the Conservative Party rather than the Cross-Benches. The Conservative Party is going through a quite radical change at present as it seeks to democratise itself. I applaud the reforms that the party is putting into place--for example, in trying to be more welcoming to women, to ethnic minorities and, yes, even embracing gays and devolution.

It is no surprise to my mind that the Conservative leadership continues to equivocate to some degree over whether or not it would abolish hereditary Peers' rights in the House of Lords. I would welcome a response to the very pointed question which my noble friend Lord Ponsonby posed yesterday to Conservative Peers about where the party truly stands on the issue. It seems to me that there is a contradiction if, on the one hand, the party is seeking to be more inclusive, democratic, open and representative than it has been in the past, while, on the other hand, it is seeking to retain parliamentary rights for a grouping with few women, few members of the ethnic minorities and comprising people who are mostly engaged in farming, the Armed Forces and the higher echelons of the civil and diplomatic services of whom only 1.4 per cent. can claim to have been workers. It simply will not add up and will not convince the public as regards the change which is currently taking place within the Conservative Party if hereditary Peers dig in and fight to the last ditch. I hope that that will not happen.

What I have said might sound rather harsh, but, as we in the Labour Party have learnt only too well through bitter experience, the facts have to be addressed. I wonder just what the party opposite--or, more accurately, perhaps I should say the party opposite in the other place--really wants for the future of this Chamber. Plenty of allegations have been made that this Government do not know where they want to go. I suspect in due course that people will find that they do.

I may be misreading the signals about the Conservative Party, but I rather sense that it is edging itself inch by inch towards calling for a wholly-elected second Chamber. Personally I hope that members of the Conservative Party will go for it. I do not say that because I see, or want, a wholly-elected second Chamber as being the appropriate outcome for stage two; indeed, at least in the short to medium term, I do not see that. If such a policy were adopted by the Conservative Party, it would put pressure on our Government to resist any temptation to perpetuate the transitional House and delay second stage reform. There are some concerns among Back-Benchers in this Chamber that that could conceivably happen.

I am in favour of a part-appointed/part-elected House, with all the difficulties that that may bring. But I should like to see the part-elected element of the House increasing over the years to a majority of the House. Despite all the virtues of this marvellous place, someone like myself who comes from a background of having a job, while following legislation being passed in another place and in this Chamber steered by hereditary Peers, and then moving from a permanent post to go through

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the experience of being subject to elections for 14 years, gradually saw the merits of the electoral system. Yes, there are dangers and fears with elections, but, on balance, strength comes with it.

The democratic deficit in this House arises from its lack of representation, the width of it and the absence of elections; but, most importantly, it stems from its absence of accountability--a word which is rarely used around this Chamber. So there will be opposition to a shift in this direction which I personally advocate. It will come from a whole variety of quarters of the Opposition, not least the Weatherill group in the transitional House. If I understand the hereditary Peers well--and I congratulate them on the way they have managed to survive almost through to the next millennium--I imagine that they will not want to change quickly from the interim arrangement. In any case, I suspect that many of my fellow life Peers may prove to be equally as tenacious in hanging on to their rights if and when they have to face up to reform of life peerages.

Of course, the House of Commons will be the strongest opponent of the kind of changes that I have been mentioning. However, as many people are increasingly coming to realise, reform is also needed there. Devolution will change the landscape of the House of Commons. Your guess is as good as mine at this stage as to just how it will do so. But, over time, I believe that it will have a significant effect and will lead to outside pressures on the Commons which will be beyond its control and which may require changes of some substance.

As I say, those pressures will be beyond the control of the House of Commons just as hereditary Peers in this Chamber have to face a changing world. I hope that hereditary Peers will take all factors into account, including the changing nature of their party, in reaching decisions on how to respond to this Bill to which personally I will be giving strong support.

7.9 p.m.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, there is probably no right time and probably no wrong time for the reform of any parliament anywhere, unless there has just been a revolution, which I am glad to say has not happened in this country. However, I wonder whether this is a wise time for this reform. Just coming into being is a new Scottish Parliament which we have not had for a couple of hundred years, and a new Assembly in Wales where there has been no Welsh government as such for much longer. We also have a new Assembly in Northern Ireland. These will put new strains on the constitution of this country as a whole.

Originally the Government were not considering setting up a Royal Commission until after this Bill had been passed and put into effect. However, they have established a Royal Commission, which I understand has to report by the end of this year. I believe that is one of the shortest times ever allowed to a Royal Commission to consider a subject of such great importance. I wonder whether it will have time to carry

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out all the research, hear all the evidence from witnesses it needs to hear, and then come forward with well thought out and well argued suggestions.

Despite that, we shall go ahead. I feel that it is our duty in this House to endeavour to ensure that what follows this House in its present composition does at least as good a job, and preferably a better one. There must be a large, independent element. I do not mean by that just the Cross-Benchers, for whom I have a great deal of respect; I mean an independent element in all the parties as well. We know that in the other place the Whips rule. I have been told of Members crying because they have felt that their consciences have made them go against the instructions of their Whips.

In this House our Whips cannot instruct us. We are all independent, even if we take a Whip. When I came to this House some 22 years ago I intended to sit on the Cross-Benches, but I was advised that I would get more information if I took a party Whip. Therefore I chose what I considered to be the least bad of all the political parties in the House!

In my time here there have been three, three-line Whips imposed on the party whose Whip I take. I am rather proud to say that on every single occasion I have voted the other way because to impose a three-line Whip means that often the argument has not been won. In this House the argument has to be won. On one occasion, at the invitation of the father of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, I acted as a teller when my own party had imposed a three-line Whip. I happened to be standing in the Division Lobby beside the noble Lord, Lord Denham, who was at that time the Conservative government Chief Whip. He asked me, "Roger, do you really know what you are doing? Have you thought it out?" I replied, "Yes, Bertie, I have". "That is all right", he said. That is the kind of acknowledgement of independence that we have in this House.

I have never been a Member of the other place and I do not particularly wish to be. However, I understand that to go against the Whips there is a serious crime indeed. Members need the support of their party to get themselves re-elected at the next general election; we do not. I hope that at any rate a large part of the House that follows this one will have an independent element that will continue from one election to the next without having to seek the support of any party for re-election. It is important that Members of this House can look beyond the next election and do not just consider electoral advantage but can consider what is best for the nation as a whole, not just for themselves or for their party.

I feel that under the previous administration a mistake was made. The House was out of balance. I believe that more Labour life Peers should have been created. I am told that there was a time when they were not agreeable to this but I may be mistaken. Nevertheless there was a long period when Conservative life Peers were appointed, but no Labour life Peers.

I believe that another mistake as regards all sides of the House is to make ex-Members of the House of Commons life Peers in this House. They are all trained to do as their Whips tell them. One of the important

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aspects of this House is that all Members should think for themselves. Under the previous administration I moved a number of amendments concerning disability on various Bills. I have done that in this Parliament. I remember that on one occasion a Conservative life Peer said to me, "I like what you are trying to do. I thoroughly approve of the amendments that you propose to move, but if you divide the House I will vote against you". I divided the House, he voted against me, but if I remember correctly, I won.

The new House should not reduce the powers of delay. Under the Parliament Act the maximum period of delay is a year. The European elections Bill does not really count because that concerned a disagreement between the two Houses. However, during my time in the House the Bill that was thrown out was the War Crimes Bill. It was thrown out at the end of October, or early November, on the first occasion; it returned to this House in the next Session--I think in the January--and was thrown out on Second Reading. It became law a few weeks later under the Parliament Act. Therefore even a delay of a year is effectively a delay of only a few months. A year in the life of a parliament is 20 per cent.--that is a long time--but in the life of the nation it is nothing but a mere flick of the fingers.

7.17 p.m.

Lord Clifford of Chudleigh: My Lords, as a fellow Devonian I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Devon, on his maiden speech. At the same time I commiserate with the family and friends of the late Lord Beloff, who contributed so much to this House.

As we are in the second day of Holy Week I wholeheartedly share the alarm and dismay expressed by the Church Synod and several right reverend Prelates and noble Lords that a debate of such constitutional importance should be held in a week rightly dedicated to honouring our national faith and our families. This is a family week--the Government keep telling us, as did the previous government, that they are a family government--and is recognised as such by another place, which after the 1998 modernisation of the House of Commons' procedure, takes time off to coincide with school half terms. The House of Commons will abandon the Palace of Westminster tomorrow, Wednesday 31st March. In the eyes of the Church and of the majority of people this timing is an example of offensive institutionalised discrimination. Like the elected Members of Parliament, both life Peers and hereditary Peers have children or grandchildren. I note a bias against the belief, the rulings of the faith held by the majority, in favour of the agnostics' idolisation of materialism.

Her Majesty's Government either have not read the Coronation Oath taken by Her Majesty the Queen or have no respect for it. There are three oaths. One of the oaths asks Her Majesty whether she will:

    "solemnly promise and swear to govern the Peoples of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, Pakistan and Ceylon, and of your Possessions and the other Territories to any of them belonging or pertaining, according to their respective laws and customs".

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Another oath is to:

    "maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel".
She also commits herself to give the utmost of her power to maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by the law, and that she will maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England and the doctrine, worship and discipline of that Church.

Just as the Monarch takes the oath while placing her hand on the Holy Bible, so, too, do hereditary and life Peers when they take the Oath of Allegiance. It is worth while noting that we also have to read out our Letters Patent. For hereditary Peers they state:

    "Our heirs and successors ... and grant unto him the said name, state, degree, style, dignity, title, and honour"--
and so on. In another part it says that the,

    "male aforesaid, and every of them successively may have, hold, and possess a seat, place, and voice in the Parliaments and Public Assemblies and Councils".

If children can no longer be encouraged to inherit the moral--that is the Church--line and the civil obligations, are not Her Majesty's Government in conflict with their own programme of civic responsibilities? The Church, Commonwealth and Government feature strongly in the obligations imposed on the Monarch when taking the Coronation Oath. Were this legislation to be placed in the statute, Her Majesty's Government would surely be obliged to rephrase the Coronation Oath and the Oath of Allegiance taken by your Lordships, not only to avoid the embarrassment caused to Her Majesty but to avoid conflict with the Church.

I should point out, too, that the Privy Counsellors--a circle of which also operates in Brussels--have split allegiance because they have given an oath to the Queen and then they say that they commit themselves through oath of allegiance to Brussels. Did I read that the Leader of the House had stated that the Queen and the Prince of Wales have consented to place their prerogative and interest in the Bill at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill? Surely that is approval that the Bill should be debated, not a consent to its merits.

When Her Majesty the Queen took the Coronation Oath, she began, as I have already quoted, by solemnly promising to honour the law and customs of her Commonwealth states. Their allegiance is to the Monarch, not to the House of Commons, and one must ask whether a seal of approval must be obtained from the next Commonwealth conference for such major constitutional changes.

The position and the service of hereditary Peers should not be retained for their own interests but for the inalienable interest that they hold for the nation and, of course, for their responsibility towards the Sovereign. It can be argued that Her Majesty's Government's intention does not fall within the bounds of the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949, for if Parliament--the Monarch and the House of Lords, as well as the House of Commons--is so weakened that it will be unable to protect adequately the rights and the freedoms of the British people, we would become vulnerable to the unrestrained will of an overmighty executive.

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Perhaps we should take note of Article 138 of the Italian constitution. It states:

    "Art. 138 is intended to prevent any modification of the constitution that works to the advantage of one political grouping at the expense of another, or that effectively amounts to an infringement of the principle of equality. Thus it would be inadmissible for a political force that had achieved a majority in Parliament to seek to draw advantage from the situation and change the form of government from Parliamentary to Presidential, for instance by granting full powers to the Prime Minister and divesting Parliament of its functions".
That is the Italian constitution, not ours.

Another point to bear in mind is Asquith's Quinquennial Act. This was fascinating because it was designed to prevent the Act, pending other legislation, being used to tend towards a unicameral Parliament--which the current House of Lords Bill undoubtedly does. The 1949 Act was a secondary, delegated piece of legislation, I am advised, and no certificate was issued for that Act.

I have already stated my agreement with Her Majesty's Government that there should be balanced partisan voting powers within the House of Lords: 50 for each party and 75 for the Cross-Benches. But I differ from Her Majesty Government in that I think all Peers should be allowed to speak. This would ensure that the broadest spectrum of national opinion would be heard by the select few voting Peers. If we were to designate a limited number of hereditary Peers--91, for example--those Peers may be subject to accusations of betrayal by other hereditary Peers.

For such a constitutional change as this major House of Lords reform, two paragraphs in a 40-page Labour Party manifesto can scarcely be designated as a mandate from the people. A referendum is required--or would such a move dislocate the real goal of this constitutional rearrangement: the swift, unimpeded move towards absolute cover underneath the umbrella of sovereign Brussels? Let us not forget that infidelity to truth destroys dignity.

7.28 p.m.

The Earl of Radnor: My Lords, I wish to touch for a few moments on democracy in relation, first, to your Lordships; secondly, to the Bill that is before us; and, thirdly, to the future. There will be no mention of commonality, meritocracy, and so on, which constituted the very amusing speech of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow.

The word "democracy" has been bandied about in the debate and I have put my mind to wondering how it applies, first, to we hereditary Peers who are about to get the sack. I am not a Cross-Bencher. I have been a fairly radical Conservative. I tried to persuade myself that we are reasonably democratic by virtue of the fact that we have no power over the electorate. I thought hard about that. The Parliament Act lies behind what we can do. We cannot make people do things. We can delay and we can alter, but another place always has the final word. However, I did not completely convince myself. I felt there was a nasty suspicion that we are not quite pure democrats. I then looked at other noble Lords and wondered where they all stand. They have been placed

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here for one reason or another--good work, intelligence, feats either of daring or in business. But what in the world is the difference? I think that neither we, the hereditary Peers, nor other noble Lords are democrats or a part of a democracy. We are some kind of oligarchy, meritocracy or accident of birth. We should bear that point in mind when we consider the future.

As far as concerns the Bill and democracy, few noble Lords on these Benches do not now realise that the Government have a majority of 179 in another place and had two lines in the manifesto about this proposal which quite a lot of people are thought to have read. That is fair enough. The point was rubbed in last night. That is fine, as far as it goes. It gives the Government the right to produce this totally inadequate Bill and to get rid of the hereditary Peers who have worked here for quite a long time, and it gives them the opportunity to pass the buck to a very competent, I am sure, Royal Commission, whose members, like many noble Lords, are appointed.

What about the future? I have heard every kind of suggestion one can imagine--mishmashes, pot-pourri, and so on. Some people want members appointed and some people want some of us to elect members. Other people--this is the Weatherill agenda--wish to carry on for a little longer. I think that that is quite a good idea and may be better discussed when we come to the appropriate stage of the Bill. I reluctantly decided that democracy should rule. Democracy comes at a price. The price would be that over a period we, the hereditary Peers, would disappear. But so would all other noble Lords.

I heard the noble Baroness the Leader of the House or someone else of importance say that no one had discussed any plan in detail, so I thought that I might do that for your Lordships. To me the answer is perfectly simple. We would have a democracy in this Chamber, with all its deficiencies. The constituencies throughout the country could be used perfectly well. We would have senators, or whatever one would like to call them, elected, as they are in the United States. So many would be elected every third or fourth year and it would roll on in that way.

Everyone is worried about the other place being distressed by the fact that the second Chamber would have too much power. The senate that I have in mind would have precisely the same powers as the House of Lords has now and would not touch supply or money. That would avoid the embarrassing situations one sees on Capitol Hill when the Senate blocks the President's budget. It would be as simple as that. Other people seem rather distressed that such representatives of the people might even wish to be paid. I see nothing wrong in that. But that is how I think we should go on.

Before I conclude my remarks, I should like to talk a little about the past. I have sat in your Lordships' House for 30 years precisely. It was very difficult getting here because my father had lost the Patent and it cost me a fortune in solicitors' bills before it was found on the top of a cupboard. But here I came and here I have felt very privileged. I have enjoyed every moment of it when I have not felt nervous.

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I am glad to see that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, is in his place. He will remember that I brought a number of issues to a vote and won some of them. In one Division the noble Lord took the Teller's baton from me because I think he thought that I might lose it by falling over in the Division Lobby. I won one of those Divisions against my own side by 53 votes. So much for the in-built majority. It is not always there. I think that the most exciting political moment in my life was when we--I was going to say "rubbished"--voted down the paving Bill of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, for the abolition of the GLC. The Gallery was full of people and they just gave a great shout and went out to their parties. So we have not abused our power. We have used it very well.

However, there is a sea-change. It would take a little time to put my plan into action because of the way one would elect such a senate. But I think that something of that kind should be considered by the Royal Commission. I had wished that such a proposal would make up the second half of the Bill that is before us.

7.38 p.m.

Lord St. John of Bletso: My Lords, as the 129th speaker in the debate, this is not a time to repeat many of the arguments for and against reform of your Lordships' House. It is a time to face the reality of reform in a constructive and practical manner. As hereditary Peers, we face a stark choice of either opposing the Bill, and thereby having a stay of execution for a short period, followed by complete abolition of all hereditary Peers, or reaching a compromise to retain many of the well respected virtues and talents of a limited number of hereditary Peers in a transitional Chamber pending the introduction of stage two of House of Lords reform. While I support the move to modernise Parliament--I refer both to your Lordships' House and to the other place--the key must be, certainly for this House, to ensure that there is an improvement not just in the functions and composition of your Lordships' House but also in the powers and legitimacy of this Chamber.

As a founder member of Common Sense for Lords Reform, an all-party group which was set up some six months ago, committed to reform, provided that it is a change for the better, I believe it is essential that there is a clear message and that the best available talent is attracted to the reformed second Chamber. We uphold the value of the bicameral legislature, with strong checks and balances on the other place, but believe that such powers should not be changed so that your Lordships direct or effectively block the will of the other place, but that mainly persuasive powers should remain. Many of those who have argued fervently, like the noble Lord, Lord Davies, for reform of the Lords have quoted those times when your Lordships have, so termed, "defeated" the Government and thereby the will of the people. But the reality has rarely been a defeat for the Government but more a delaying mechanism for further consideration.

One of the main objectives of Common Sense for Lords Reform has been to improve the perception and knowledge that the public has of the workings and value

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of this House. I was interested in the remarks yesterday by the noble Baroness, Lady Perry. The noble Baroness referred to the public perception of the Lords as a Chamber of old Peers nodding off in their seats. We all know that that could not be further from the truth. Noble Lords are indicating that sometimes it is! Over the past six months this all-party group has commissioned regular opinion polls which have established the views of the electorate regarding reform of this House. The results have clearly indicated that the public is more concerned about reforming the House of Lords to improve the performance and powers of the upper House than simply removing the anachronism of hereditary Peers. The noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, was right when she said yesterday that better government is our goal. I agree with the noble Baroness.

At a time when the Government have a huge, indeed a whopping , majority in the other place, it is surely not in the public interest in a bicameral legislature for your Lordships' House to be a nodding donkey for all legislation that is referred to it from the other place.

I was pleased to see in the Government's White Paper, Modernising Parliament, that they recognise the value of maintaining an independent Cross-Bench presence. Certainly the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, made a strong case for retaining a strong number of independent-minded Members of this House. The value of Cross-Benchers should never be underestimated. On many occasions the Cross-Benchers have held the balance of power and have swayed the will of this House, based on their specific expert knowledge and experience.

I took exception to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Varley, earlier in today's debate that the Conservative Party, with its large number of hereditary Peers, can always beat the Government. The noble Lord gives no credit to the Cross-Benchers, who generally have a poor voting record, but, with 28 per cent. of the membership of this House, effectively hold the balance of power.

I support the call from the noble Lord, Lord Richard, for a balance to be struck at stage two of Lords reform between an elected and a nominated House, ensuring continuity of the experience of this House as well as securing the broad band of special interests represented in this Chamber.

The contribution of youth in your Lordships' House should not be underestimated. I refer, for example, to the work of my noble Lord Freyberg, who has done sterling work over the years for war widows and the arts, and a recent entrant to the Cross-Benches, my noble friend Lord Listowel, who has been representing the plight of the homeless.

There have been many calls during this lengthy debate for the Government to move swiftly to stage two of Lords reform. While I support those calls, I hope that the Government will ensure that full and adequate time is allowed to the Royal Commission so that a lasting solution can be reached rather than simply a quick fix. Speed should not override the need to get the end product right.

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In conclusion, reform is not an option. It is a reality. We should swim with the tide, not against it. The Government have made a modest concession in agreeing to change their insistence in their election manifesto on retaining no hereditary Peers to agreeing to 91 during the transitional period. As hereditary Peers we should be idiotic to look that gift horse in the mouth. We should accept this "phase out" rather than "get out" solution. It is literally a question of survival of the fittest now, or mass suicide for hereditary Peers later. We should support the Weatherill amendment in Committee and work hard to make it work.

7.46 p.m.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, there will surely be no doubt in the Government's mind now that your Lordships judge this to be the saddest and most worrying Bill that any of us have ever seen. Like many noble Lords who have already spoken, if the Bill made changes for the better I should support it. I am not asking for a delay, and I believe that other noble Lords on this side of the House are not demanding delay. We are demanding that any change should make this House more effective and better than it presently is.

Those who seek to destroy the composition of a House which has served our country faithfully and selflessly for seven centuries have a duty to show us precisely why and how that House is failing, and precisely what is to be put in its place. Surely that is not an unreasonable demand. Yet the Government have failed both litmus tests. In so doing, they have proved that their motivation is purely party-political.

The Government certainly cannot claim that there is public clamour for what this Bill demands. I say that with some confidence. I was a Member of the other place for some 31 years. No one is better informed as to what the public demands than MPs. Some 30 or 40 letters come in every day; one has to address meetings; there are surgeries, social functions, phone calls and day-to-day contact all the time with thousands of our own constituents. Never once, in all the time that I represented a constituency in the other place, has anyone demanded the abolition of the hereditary principle in the House of Lords.

Government Ministers have described this House as an old-fashioned club. Well, that just shows how little they know. I suppose that as even the PM does not bother to attend his own House very much, it is expecting a lot to ask that Ministers should sometimes come and listen to us. But if they did, they would know better than to call us simply an old-fashioned club.

I have been here for only about 18 months but I have constantly marvelled at the high standard of debate here--far higher, more erudite and better mannered than in another place and more independent, too.

I believe that it is a huge advantage that Peers are not beholden to constituents or to parties. They have far greater freedom to speak and vote as they really feel. They would undoubtedly lose that freedom if they were elected, as some are demanding.

Sometimes New Labour is unable to suppress the intentions and beliefs of old Labour. One such time was last November, when a group of Labour MPs standing

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at the Bar shouted and cheered when the Queen read that part of the Gracious Speech which heralded this Bill. Their bitter political enmity was as evident as their bad manners and their ignorance as evident as their inexperience. The hereditary Peers do excellent service and should be thanked, not derided. I could not help wondering how many of those jeering MPs would attend, let alone speak and vote, if no salary were paid to them.

Does the House of Peers fail to do its duty in scrutinising Bills or advising amendments? No. Do our committees fail to function? No. Is our Question Time badly attended or lacking in input? No. Do we waste public money? No, apart from a few little difficulties over wallpaper, we certainly do not. Is there public demand to change us? No, there is not. Our one fault--our only fault--is that hereditary Peers are often Conservative, though they have often voted against Conservative governments in the past and, however they vote, they rightly cannot prevail against the elected House.

So many times those who try to make the case for this Bill say that they do so on the grounds that it is wrong that people should be able to introduce or to thwart Bills on the basis solely of who their father was. I do not disagree with that. But this House has no such powers. That is the crux of the matter. This House has a job and a duty to study what the Commons decides and, where it is thought right, to suggest changes or amendments. If the other place does not like those changes, it has complete and democratic powers to vote those changes down. The only power that this House has is to prevent any House of Commons perpetuating its life, and even the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, agrees with that. I believe that that is absolutely right. However, a different picture is presented as the reason for this Bill, and I think it is a phoney reason. Nothing that is done in this House can thwart or block the wishes of the House of Commons, so what is all the fuss about?

If the reformed House of Lords is to have greater powers, it will be a greater threat to the Commons. I read a recent article by a Member of the other place, a Mr. Kenneth Clarke, in which he advocated an elected House of Lords. He agreed that that new House would have to have greater powers. One power that he suggested was the right to hold up a Bill for two years. That would really be power, and I cannot see the House of Commons agreeing to it.

On the other hand, to give fewer powers would be a dangerous step indeed, particularly with an all-powerful Government like this one. And who would bother to stand for election, with no pay and no extra powers? I cannot imagine that anyone would bother.

Apart from that, another set of elections would put huge burdens on constituencies. I wonder how many people understand how much constituencies are stretched and how much they already struggle to cope with local elections, European elections and parliamentary elections, let alone with any referendums. They have very little money and very few voluntary workers. I should like to hear a comment from them as to how they would feel about having another set of elections.

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How would we ever have Cross-Benchers if this House were to be elected? I can think of only one independent MP elected in the past 50 or 60 years. It is not popular with the electorate to stand as an independent. And yet I believe that our independents here, our Cross-Benchers, are absolutely essential. I would go to my death to defend their right to be here.

I will not go into the extra cost that the taxpayer will have to meet as a result of this additional set of elections. That point was referred to by my noble friend Lady Platt.

I come finally to my greatest fears about the implications of this Bill. The Government think that no seat in this House should be held by heredity. What about the Throne? It is held solely on the hereditary principle. This very long debate has shown that the future of the Throne is in doubt. We have had reference to it during the course of the debate. In answering the debate on 23rd February, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, who I am sorry to see is not here at present, stated:

    "Our manifesto made it abundantly clear that we have no plans to replace the monarchy".--[Official Report, 23/2/99; col. 1093.]
"Yet" hangs in the air. If he meant that the Government had no plans to replace the monarchy at all, I think perhaps it would have been wise to say so. I do not regard that as a pledge that the Monarchy is safe.

A Labour MP from Birmingham recently made a telling speech, stating that it would be "totally illogical" to get rid of the hereditary Peers and not go on to extend that principle to the Throne. No less a person than the Deputy Prime Minister said in the course of the debate on the Greater London Authority Bill last December, as my noble friend Lady Miller reminded us last night:

    "Later in the Session, we shall at long last start to remove the hereditary principle from our system of governance".--[Official Report, Commons, 14/12/98; col. 623.]
Note the word "start". This Bill is only the start. Where do you go on to? If you get rid of the hereditary Peers, and that is only the start, where do you go next, except to think of the Throne?

The noble Lord, Lord Acton, tried to soothe these fears last night with a rather rambling history lesson on Sweden. He said that there was still a royal family in Sweden, although the hereditary system had been banished from governance. He omitted to tell the House that in Sweden the Royal Family was not involved in governance anyway. Our Royal Family is. If it is not to continue to be involved in governance, there is no parallel with Sweden or anywhere else. I am concerned about that. Just as in opening the door to devolution the Government have made possible the break-up of the United Kingdom, in destroying the hereditary principle here, they may well be unable to withstand the demands of many of their own members for an end to our monarchy. Many of them do make those demands, as I well know; they always have and I believe always will. I am therefore extremely concerned for the future of our Queen, our House and our country.

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8 p.m.

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, as a relative newcomer to this House I am honoured to be able to take part in this debate. I am also delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Knight of Collingtree. Although I enjoyed her contribution I did not agree with very much in it. But there is one matter for which she and her colleagues have my wholehearted sympathy. She referred to the burdens that would be placed on constituency parties if there were more elections. That may cause noble Lords on the other side of the House all kinds of problems.

For a House that is famed for its courtesy and graciousness I have been astonished to hear noble Lords on the Benches opposite and those to my far right refer to the occupants of these Benches individually and collectively in the following terms: "cuckoos"; "tame poodles"; "party hacks"; "cronies"; "envious"; "mean-minded"; "fraudulent"; "pigs in pokes" (or swine of some kind, but I am afraid that I did not catch the exact term); "illegitimate" (whether wholly or slightly was not clear to me); "paltry and petty"; "sad and cheap"; and "cowardly". Where I come from in Yorkshire the use of such language would be regarded as rudeness. Such ill-tempered debates generate more heat than light.

To reflect further on the debate so far, a somewhat cheeky image keeps popping into my mind which I shall share with noble Lords. In the past few days I have had in mind the famous sketch in "Monty Python" in which two men try to outdo each other in describing their relative poverty and dreadful family backgrounds. In your Lordships' House the competition appears to lie in antiquity: the number of ancestors who have been beheaded and the number of generations who have taken their father's place. Antiquity is not of itself a virtue. Every generation must learn from its history and then make its own past, which is what we are doing today. As distinguished and honourable as many of the noble histories and their connections with this House have been, the wonderful memories and nostalgia that we have heard today and yesterday are not the basis upon which a modern democracy can be founded.

Some noble Lords opposite have suggested that because democracy is still a relative newcomer on the British political scene it is not wholly to be trusted. Therefore, to win an election overwhelmingly proves nothing. Indeed, they may even say that what the Government seek to do here is proof of just how unreliable democracy can be. Further, it has been suggested that manifesto commitments mean nothing in themselves; they are an optional extra that a government may or may not take up as they choose. That will not do. This Government have a democratic legitimacy to bring forward this Bill. The matter of which we speak tonight is democracy and accountability. This Bill is not a full stop in the process of reform and modernisation; it is rather an important comma. It is so important that it may even be promoted to a semicolon, but a full stop it clearly is not.

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8.3 p.m.

Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach: My Lords, this has been a very long debate and on the ground of pure self-interest I shall be brief. The reason that this Bill is contentious is that it is being introduced as part of a process of reform that is clearly unsatisfactory. As we debate this Bill we have no idea what the future membership of this House may be; nor, more importantly, do we have any idea of the principles upon which membership will be founded. Such uncertainty does not generate confidence in what the Government seek to do. On the other hand, as has been clear from a number of speeches from this side of the House, many believe in reform. There is a widespread perception that the House as at present constituted lacks legitimacy and hence authority and as it stands it needs reform. As someone who is a committed Conservative I find it very hard intellectually to defend the status quo. I believe that reform at some stage is inevitable.

However, that is also the problem. When one calls into question the legitimacy of the hereditary principle it also calls into question the legitimacy of every other Member of this House and the manner of appointment. Legitimacy is not something that can be easily established by the conclusions of a Royal Commission or even by the passing of an Act of Parliament. Legitimacy requires broad acceptance outside this House: in the other place, among commentators and with the people of this country. I am convinced that inevitably it will take time.

I suggest that the distinction drawn by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in his opening speech--namely, that opposition to this Bill has been on grounds of process, not substance--is unfounded. It is very difficult to distinguish process from substance. The concern on this side of the House is not the self-interest of hereditary Peers who want to defend 700 years of history; rather, the concern is the nature of our parliamentary democracy and the uncharted territory into which we are moving. For all the goodwill and trust that we have in the Government, we have no idea what will happen. I believe that that is a legitimate concern. This is not based on self-interest; rather, it is based on public interest.

However, in my judgment the Bill is almost certain to be passed. In that context I should like to make three points about reform. Although this Bill is a major break with tradition reform need not abandon tradition totally. In this context it is clearly feasible, and I hope possible, that something similar to the Weatherill amendment can become a permanent feature of the stage two process of reform. It would be quite wrong to adopt what Edmund Burke termed the "abstract geometry" of the French in deciding the future composition of this House and perhaps advancing to a wholly elected second Chamber. I believe that legitimacy can be established without resort to a wholly directly elected Chamber.

I accept the wisdom of the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, that we must recognise the supremacy of the other place. It is precisely because of that that I am so strongly opposed to a wholly elected second Chamber. I merely repeat what others have said.

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Such a Chamber must inevitably come into contact with the other place if it is elected. I see no way out of that. Imagine that both Chambers have large majorities of the same party. I believe that that would only lend further weight to the notion of an elected dictatorship with Parliament's ability to call the executive to account being correspondingly weakened. Surely, that must be the most important constitutional reform needed in this country at present.

The result of having a partly elected, but also a substantially appointed, second Chamber will be described as a fudge. It will be a fudge. But what matters is not how it is described but whether the reformed Chamber is independent, effective and therefore works.

The reform of this House is but one of many reforms that is being introduced by the Government at present. Some of us wonder how those reforms can fit together. I am strongly supportive of devolution, especially for Wales. Reform of the House offers the Government a great opportunity to ensure that the fragmentation of the United Kingdom is halted and prevented by providing a mechanism through a reformed House, so that those parts of the UK that are devolved will have representation in our Parliament here and the process of devolution has a unity in the country--rather than leading to fragmentation. The House is primarily a scrutinising and deliberative body and both functions would be far stronger if more devolved areas of the UK were represented in the House.

My final point concerns the representation of religious bodies. I am sorry that there are no bishops present here. If the hereditary principle no longer has legitimacy, how long will it be before the bishops of the Church of England are evicted from this Chamber? I could construct a good case, in terms of declining numbers and the influence of the Church, and make an argument in that direction. I am delighted that under the transitional arrangements, they will continue to be represented. I am opposed to disestablishment because society derives great value, despite the secularisation that there is, from the many influences of the Anglican Church--parish life, social work and education--and from the symbols that it brings to the heart of national life. I hope that will continue and that representatives of other Christian Churches in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland can be represented in this Chamber.

I value also the contribution from those of other religions. That was clearly demonstrated last Wednesday in our debate on marriage when the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln spoke, followed by the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, and the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed. Ours is a multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-ethnic society. Without being mawkish about the future, this House could be used in a positive way to include representation.

The Bill marks the end of an era. We face a highly uncertain future. We are accepting an enormous amount from the Government on trust. While I enjoyed the opening part of the Lord Chancellor's speech, including his intellectual defence of the Bill, I became dismayed by the closing section, in which he deliberately and intentionally stamped his foot in what I thought was an

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intimidating manner on the passage of the Bill through the House. As he did that, I could not help feeling that if this were a rugby field, I would have expected to see a yellow card raised. I do not believe that is a helpful platform from which to invite the continued trust of Members of this House as the Bill proceeds. I hope that the noble and learned Lord will match his admiration for the contribution of the hereditary peerage that he stated so eloquently this morning with a degree of patience, to recognise the genuine concerns raised by the Bill in the public interest, not private interest, because it marks such a break with the history and traditions of this country.

8.13 p.m.

Earl of Buchan: My Lords, I will also address your Lordships briefly--although not as briefly as my noble friend Lord Kintore, who took only two minutes; or the noble Lord, Lord Charteris of Amisfield, who took three minutes. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, for introducing the amendment. Whether or not I support it depends on the speeches that are to follow and whether I am still awake at half-past five.

I cannot speak for other hereditary Cross-Bench Peers, but I could have been charmed, cajoled or even induced by monetary considerations. I certainly would not use any word as coarse as "bribe"--say, further expenses to the end of this Parliament or more travel expenses, enabling me more cheaply to move to Scotland--to support the Bill. Like other noble Lords, I will not be threatened into supporting the Bill. It is a great pity that the Government have chosen a confrontational stance. It has stoked up false animosity in another place towards this noble House, with spinners' sneers and the like. I was almost contemplating a crash course in ditching, but I do not know that will be necessary.

There was in the Lord Chancellor's speech an interesting Freudian slip. In respect of the great Liberal reforming government of 1909, the Lord Chancellor referred to Lloyd George's government, but he did not become Prime Minister until 1916--when he manoeuvred Asquith out of the job. Campbell Bannerman was the Prime Minister who initiated the attempt to reform this House and his successor was Asquith.

I will, in passing, refer to the wretched business of the manifesto. I am afraid that manifestos have a poor name. I suspect it is due to that wretched document, the Communist manifesto. Look what trouble that caused. Manifestos, in the journalists' merit table, stand just below Viz and not noticeably above Hello! People do not rate manifestos at all highly, so I am sorry that there are so many references to that aspect. Other noble Lords made the point that the issue was not a prominent feature of the manifesto.

I refer to a speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, in the debate on parliamentary democracy. She was complaining--and I so agree with her--about the one move that the Government made as soon as they came to power that has caused more trouble than any

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other. I refer to the passing of control over interest rates from politicians to the executive--the Bank of England. Interest rates were raised continually and unnecessarily, causing pain and discomfort throughout the country. There was no mention of that in the manifesto.

I was going to take the Leader of the House to task for being so disturbed by the number of noble Lords speaking in this debate. We have the right to speak. I am asked from time to time by people outside the Chamber why, when great issues are debated--defence, foreign affairs, finance and constitutional affairs--so few Government supporters are to be seen on their Benches and so many on the Cross-Benches, Conservative and Liberal Benches. It is not for me to draw any conclusions.

Noble Lords will, like me, have read acres of print from Hansard on this subject and I will refer quickly to three or four references. On 22nd February the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, referred to the possibility of an emasculated, illegitimate second Chamber. That is a real possibility. The noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, made an excellent reference in his first speech last October to the simple point that it is impossible for him to be here and there at the same time. We all know that the noble Lord is an eminent geneticist at Hammersmith Hospital. There is a problem for new Members of the House in working and being here at the same time.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester confirmed that the Church of England would be submitting to the Royal Commission some words on the position of the bishops in the new Chamber. Let us hope that voice is loud and clear--unlike some of the cracked trumpets that come from Church House.

I did not think that I should learn much new from the debate. Noble Lords on the Government side made that point too. However, the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, made a novel point. When speculating on how the new House should be constituted, he used the phrase "random selection", a quite new idea. But as those noble Lords and noble Baronesses who have had a classical education well know, Xenophon was chosen not by promotion, nor by democratic choice, but by lottery. So there is a precedent for random selection in this House.

What to do, my Lords? My family is proud of the contribution we have made over the years to the workings of this noble House, and in another place, in Edinburgh prior to 1707 before that assembly was hacked down by the English. I hope that it will be replanted, although I am suspicious of the bizarre, politically correct, franchise system that will be in operation. Thus, since we have been around since 1469, in the year 2468 I hope that we shall be quietly and discreetly--no £1 million "Mandeldome" for us--preparing a family party. In that year I suspect--I hope that I am making an unduly melancholy prediction--that if this Government carry on in this way they will merely merit on some dusty distant record a passing reference under the composite motion, "Socialism and spite".

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8.22 p.m.

Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, at last we have reached the last page of speakers! I wish to begin by saying that I find the title of the Bill most striking. Known colloquially as the Reform of the House of Lords Bill, the word "reform" does not appear. It is the absence of that word that strikes me. Perhaps it shows that the Government realise privately how far this wretched Bill is from real reform.

I have always believed that reform meant improving an existing institution with changes for the better. But I cannot accept that anyone believes that this Bill will achieve that; otherwise why have the Government very belatedly set up a Royal Commission to consider the future of this House? I believe that all Members of your Lordships' House are threatened as the Government salami slice each group perhaps to achieve a hidden agenda. Their commitment to having a House that is more democratic is laughable if they really believe that denying access to our hereditary colleagues will fulfil that aim.

Many of those Peers have given decades of loyal service to this House and have unquestionably made a huge contribution. It grieves me considerably when disparaging and unfair criticism is directed at them. I should like to take the opportunity to add my tribute to those who were brought up to assume that it was their duty to attend and to take part in the daily round of this House. Many of them have done so most assiduously and, let us not forget, often at financial cost to themselves.

Whenever hereditary issues are raised, I am reminded of the time when Lord Wilson of Huyton chided Lord Home of the Hirsel for being the 13th Earl. Lord Home replied that we should not forget that he was the 13th Mr. Wilson. Heredity has been the backbone of this country over the centuries. We have all witnessed small family businesses which have grown and developed with each generation into the national and international companies which make such valuable contributions to our economy. Many of your Lordships belong to such families, including at least one Member of the Government Front Bench. I was therefore much amused to read that the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, had said on 14th October 1998 at col. 968 of the Official Report that she would not employ a hereditary plumber. I found that astounding as I always take note of how long a firm has been in business, and if the name includes "and Son" I think it is a bonus. The son has probably watched his father from a young age, learned his skills in a practical way, and then joined the family business. So if the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, needs a plumber, perhaps she had better look for a hereditary one because I am sure he would serve her well.

This Bill is the latest, and in my humble opinion, the worst, of the Prime Minister's initiatives on modernisation. I am pleased that the Lord Privy Seal understands that some noble Lords are suspicious of modernisation. The Prime Minister tells us that in this way the Government will create a country of which he can be proud. If he is not proud at the present time, that

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is his problem. Our problem is that he is irresponsibly playing about with our constitution for his own ends. If the right honourable Member feels so strongly about the future of your Lordships' House, why did he not show enough concern to set up a Royal Commission until forced into action by pressure from outside his party? We welcome this belated move but cannot help but criticise him for his dithering and inability to react to public opinion.

In the changed circumstances it is therefore difficult to comprehend why we need a stage one. My noble friend Lord Wakeham and his colleagues were set the almost impossible task of reporting by 31st December of this year. The first meeting took place on 1st March, since which time a detailed programme of consultation and public hearings has been announced. To report by the end of the year therefore seems to be an impossible timetable to achieve though no doubt the report will be available soon after. Surely Parliament would be far better served by having the benefit of the views of the Royal Commission. The Government seem determined to plunge us into the unknown, they are in such a hurry to have this measure on the statute book.

The Conservative Party is not against change, as we have demonstrated over the years. It was a Conservative government that created life Peers, including women for the first time, and changed legislation so that hereditary women Peers could take their seats. We believe in genuine reform and not just change for the sake of party dogma.

It seems strange that there has been much discussion about the Weatherill amendment, which as yet has not seen the light of day. When a similar amendment was proposed by my honourable friend Mrs. Eleanor Lang, those on the Government Benches voted against it; and yet we are led to believe that if it is passed in this House the Government will support it. It shows that the Government are playing party politics with the Bill. I am pleased that the Prime Minister did a U-turn when he agreed to the 91 hereditary Peers remaining for the interim period after the Bill had passed, but I feel most strongly that it was gerrymandering to deny the Weatherill amendment in the House of Commons.

This is a short Bill, tightly drawn, which will always be remembered for what it does not say rather than for what it does say. Hereditary Peers in the House should not be denied by the wording of the Bill the opportunity to give the House the benefit of their wisdom on the future shape of the House in the weeks ahead. I believe that it is our duty to amend it as and where we can to ensure that we make a bad Bill a slightly better Bill. If that means days and days of debate, then so be it. I am sure that we on this side of the House are ready to engage in that argument as the Bill makes its way through this House.

8.28 p.m.

Lord Moran: My Lords, in a debate on 14th October last year, I argued that this House was at its best when it was least political as in the work of its committees. In the debate on 23rd February, I explained why I was not impressed by the Government's current proposals and

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why I thought that the deal negotiated with the Government by three of my noble friends and the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, was unsatisfactory.

I shall not repeat what I said then except to add that my dissatisfaction with the deal has been strengthened by the way in which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor told us threateningly this morning that we must support it unamended or face total extinction. I still believe that the best solution which would meet the Labour Party's legitimate complaint about the imbalance of the present House would be to allow hereditary Peers to speak and work on committees but not to vote. On this, I very much agree with what was said today by the noble Earl, Lord Longford.

In the October debate, incidentally, I asked for confirmation that the Government had no intention of tampering with the power of this House to veto a Bill extending the life of a Parliament. The Government Chief Whip has kindly sent me confirmation of this in writing, for which reassurance I am grateful.

I wish to make just two points. First, I am struck by the stupendous irrelevance of this Bill. The present House may well be theoretically indefensible, but it works pretty well. Reforming it can scarcely be described as an urgent necessity. But there are any number of far more urgent problems facing us today. The RAF is in action over Serbia; massive and barbaric ethnic cleansing is taking place in Kosovo; there is a risk of a wider conflagration in the Balkans; the future of the European Union, NATO and the United Nations is all in the melting pot; and with the single European currency, we shall soon face decisive questions about our future in Europe and as a sovereign independent country.

Moreover, we have serious domestic problems which cry out for government action. We have the highest divorce rate in Europe; a widespread use of drugs; a high level of crime, especially juvenile crime; and of illiteracy. Our agriculture is in deep crisis, while much of our wildlife is in steep decline. Once a great seafaring country, we now see our merchant navy and the number of men who man it dwindling to almost nothing. More and more of our industrial firms built up by British enterprise have been sold off to foreigners. In the light of all that, what are we doing? We are debating a half-baked, half-complete reform of this House. Could anyone maintain that our priorities were sensible?

My second point is the need for this House to play a proper part in calling to account the Government of the day and in opposing them when they are wrong-headed. At present, apart from a handful of independent spirits, the House of Commons scarcely offers any real criticism of the Government. That is left largely to the press. But this House has a part to play and should not hesitate to play it. We have a powerful, dominating, and in some ways domineering, Government. They have rammed through constitutional change in Scotland and Wales which begins to look as though it is leading to the dismemberment of the United Kingdom. In Northern Ireland, the unrequited release of murderers, snipers and bombers--250 of them so far--amount to a suspension

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of the ordinary rule of law that so many lives have been given to defend. Is this the time to plan the replacement of this House by a wholly nominated body?

I believe that the Government's proposals will weaken the second Chamber, make it more political, less independent and less respected. It may well end up by being like the House of Commons; a body which does whatever the Government want. That would increase the already excessive power of the over-mighty executive and, in my view, be exceedingly unfortunate.

8.32 p.m.

Viscount Blakenham: My Lords, in order not to be repetitive, I intend to confine my remarks to three minutes. The case for removing the voting rights of hereditary Peers is overwhelming. A built-in majority for one party is unjustifiable. The fact that this hereditary majority is semi-dormant and predominantly male only makes matters worse. The argument, "If it works don't fix it", does not hold water when there are other workable alternatives, a number of which have been put forward in the debate. The skills and varied expertise of the hereditary Peers should not be underestimated and I do not do so. But neither should those of the life Peers.

During these past 15 years, for five or six I have sat on Select Committees. I know that the contribution of the life Peers has been predominant on those committees. We have the opportunity to create more life Peers from a wide pool of talent--there is a whole nation from which to choose--and we should be prepared to take the first step.

Like most Members of this House, I believe that not knowing what the new make up of the House will be is unsatisfactory. However, it is self-evident that it would not be possible to gain a unanimous view. We have a government commitment that after some political appointments, the future appointment of life Peers will in principle be largely independent of government. We also have a Royal Commission which will recommend the way forward. Moreover we have the opportunity of nominating 90 hereditary Peers who should be able to influence an acceptable outcome during the transitional period.

I turn to the amendments put forward by noble Lords. I support that put forward by my noble friend Lord Weatherill, but not the others. First, I do not believe that reform is being conducted primarily for reasons of political advantage. For years, all parties have agreed that the House of Lords should be reformed, but to date no government have grasped the attendant nettle.

Secondly, I believe that the accepted and vital role of this House is to amend and improve proposed legislation and that any move which would greatly strengthen perceived legitimacy would result in a much more radical, and in my view undesirable, change in constitutional practice.

As regards the amendment put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Archer, I worry that it might cause delay and confusion which I am sure the noble Lord did not intend. The voting rights of hereditary Peers are not

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being removed because the majority of them fail to attend and vote. Part of the problem is that they occasionally do.

Noble Lords will understand from what I have said that I am not at one with the Opposition view on this matter. The reason I am speaking for the first time from the Cross-Benches relates primarily to the medium-term position that the main Opposition party has taken on Europe and European monetary union. Reform must start somewhere. Finally, I say that trust sometimes produces better results than suspicion and I suggest that we would do well to travel the route of reform with a little more hope.

8.37 p.m.

Lord Wrenbury: My Lords, I have felt some disappointment that the combined brain power of this House has been unable either to find a justification for the hereditary principle or to devise any formula for its future composition which is a manifest improvement on the present position.

As to the first point, it occurs to me that all hereditary Peers are the product of a marriage. Marriage, as we all know, is a lottery in which absolutely any girl of childbearing age can take part. Are we really saying that a Member of this House, selected in this haphazard manner, has less good democratic credentials than someone hand picked by the Prime Minister? I suggest not.

As to the second point, since no solution is in sight, it seems to me common sense to vote against the Bill until someone can come up with a proposal that commands a general consensus. To suggest that every item in the manifesto represents the declared will of the majority of the people of this country is as ludicrous as suggesting that a customer has a choice in the selection of dishes on a table d'hote menu. There is no choice in a party political manifesto. You either accept the whole thing or you lump it. That is why the opinion polls are clearly telling us that this particular measure is something the majority of people were not aware of and do not want.

I have been sitting in this House since 1948, before the Prime Minister was born, and at a time when the Marquess, whose speech gave rise to the Salisbury Convention, was in his heyday. Much as I used to admire him, I should not wish anything he said to be treated as more than a convention which can be put aside in a proper case. For the reasons I have already given, it cannot seriously be claimed that the country has expressed any view on this matter and therefore we should all feel perfectly free to consider it on its merits. The Government should try to get their own way through the normal voting procedures and not rely on a convention which never had a constitutional issue of this magnitude in mind.

I detest the common practice of speaking passionately against a Bill and then failing to vote against it. I do not believe that the first Duke of Wellington would have thought much of it either. Let us stop playing politics for once and consider the merits of the Bill. If, like me,

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you consider it to be a bad Bill, then vote against it at this stage rather than trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear in Committee.

Much as I respect the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, I do not consider his proposed formula will lead us anywhere useful. It seems to be based on two false premises, the first of which is that the function of this House is to play party politics. That is wrong: the function of this House is to act as guardian of the rights of the people, which has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with commonsense and integrity. If the Parliament Act 1911 were being enacted today, it is not just the life of a Parliament over which this House would be given a veto, but a whole range of other matters in addition. How absurd it is that the sovereignty of a free people should be accorded less protection than the life of its Parliament. This Chamber has increasingly demeaned itself by playing party politics and should look to a worthier role; otherwise the very people who should be here to protect our national interests will not think it worthwhile to attend.

The second fault that I have to find with the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, is that it seems to assume that those who attend most regularly are the most valuable Members of this House. If the criterion for membership is having first-hand knowledge of specialist subjects, then that assumption must be incorrect because one does not gain, or indeed retain, first-hand knowledge of anything by sitting on these well-upholstered Benches. Industry is always admirable and Committee work has to be done, but wisdom, if that is the quality we are seeking, will surely only make an appearance when it has something really useful to contribute or when it feels a clear duty, for the good of the country, to turn up in order to speak or vote. Being a Member of this House is not about power, but about service and when it ceases to be that, it will forfeit the respect of the British people.

Looking to the future, we must decide whether we want to see an elected or an appointed Chamber. If it is to be elected, then for purely practical reasons the candidates must offer themselves on a party ticket because there is no other method of distinguishing one candidate from another. Independents do not usually succeed in political elections because their personal qualities are not known to the electorate. Therefore, if the Second Chamber is to be elected it will inevitably be run on party political lines.

But since we also seek a Chamber which is not a carbon copy of the first and which has real political clout, it might be worth considering whether it should not be composed of runners-up in every constituency election. The perpetuation of the concept of a seat for life in the Upper House could then cease.

Alternatively, if we seek a Chamber composed of independent experts, then it is absolutely inevitable that they will have to be appointed. That begs the question of whether anyone will wish to be appointed, knowing that they will be taking on an obligation of unremitting toil, coupled with an almost complete lack of political clout. An hereditary Peer is willing to fill this vacuum because he sees it as his inherited duty to do so. But who

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would take on such an obligation starting from cold? I believe that when the hereditary Peers depart most of the glamour, romance, attraction, tradition--call it what one will--of sitting in the Upper House will disappear with them and it will not be easy to find suitable replacements.

Finally, there seem to be good legal reasons for voting the Bill down at Second Reading and they are these. No one doubts that Parliament consists of three elements; namely, the Monarchy, the House of Lords and the House of Commons. Neither, I imagine, would anyone dispute the proposition that none of these elements is capable in law of abolishing the other unilaterally. It may well be possible for the people of this country to effect any change they like, but as regards our unwritten constitution if we are to work within the law then I suggest that Parliament is one and indivisible. It would make as much sense to imagine God seeking to estrange Himself from the Holy Ghost as to imagine the House of Commons seeking to abolish the House of Lords. In both cases there is a Trinity, counting the Monarchy, and in both cases that Trinity is indivisible.

It is also vitally important that this should be so, because what safeguard of the rights of the people would the House of Lords provide if it could be abolished by the House of Commons? Then I ask, what is the difference between abolishing an institution and abolishing the entire membership of that institution? An institution, like a company, cannot function without members. And although the present Bill relates only to the hereditary peerage, the power which it purports to exercise must surely be equally exercisable in regard to all other Peers. On that basis, the House of Commons would clearly have power to abolish the House of Lords by the back door and since any attempt of this sort would clearly be unconstitutional it must follow that a partial exercise of that same power is also unconstitutional.

Parliament must be capable of reforming itself by mutual agreement of all three constituent parts. But for the reasons I have given attempts at unilateral reform of one House by another, purporting to rely on the Parliament Act, must be unconstitutional. If those two proposals are right then we could be doing ourselves enormous harm by voting for the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, since that involves giving the Bill a Second Reading, which in turn might be taken to amount to consent sufficient to bring the Parliament Act into operation.

I agree with the sentiments expressed in the amendment, but because of this potential legal trap I, and I hope other noble Lords, shall not feel able to support it. I believe that the only safe thing to do is to deny the Bill a Second Reading and have plenty of time to think again. It is for that reason that I strongly advocate throwing the Bill out on Second Reading.

8.47 p.m.

Lord Ashbourne: My Lords, it is getting late and I am going to try to beat the target of the noble Viscount, Lord Blakenham, when he said that he would be back in

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his seat in three minutes. I am going for two-and-a-half minutes so this is really a bonus for noble Lords and they can tick off how many minutes it is to dinner time more successfully.

This Bill is really about the reform of Parliament and not merely the narrower focus of reforming the House of Lords. As the noble Lord, Lord Richard, so aptly put it yesterday,

    "In reforming the Second Chamber our aim should therefore be to strengthen Parliament as a whole".--[Official Report, 29/3/99; col. 31.]
I entirely agree with that. Is it not essential that we have a strong Parliament to stand up to the executive and, from time to time, to say, "Think again, think again; perhaps you have got it wrong"? The removal of the hereditary Peers will inevitably affect the status of the Monarchy. When the House was debating the White Paper on the future of the House of Lords I well remember the noble Lord, Lord Charteris, making one point. It was an occasion such as this when there were many, many speakers spread over two days. He said that he was concerned about the effect of the removal of hereditary Peers on the Monarchy. I share that concern.

Finally, the hereditary principle is entirely scriptural. It is supported by the genealogy of the Lord Jesus and by his first recorded words in Luke, Chapter II, verse 49. He said,

    "How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?".
Are there not now men and women in this House who have been faithfully going about their fathers' business of contributing to Parliament for generations?

8.50 p.m.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, listening to this long and interesting debate, I am sad that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, summarised the position, it has sometimes fallen below the normal standards of this House. I have been drawn to thinking of the similarities with George Orwell's Animal Farm but with a greater involvement of turkeys debating whether they should vote for Christmas. Here we have two distinct groups of turkeys at present living in relative harmony. Some of the turkeys are voting for Christmas because they know that their sacrifice is for the good of the whole flock or public. Some say that their longevity is so vital to the ongoing viability of the turkey farm that they must remain until they die, which means less revenue for the farmer. Then their eldest chicks will take over the rule of the turkey farm, and they believe that without ongoing advice from them and their eldest chicks, who are nearly always male, of course, the farmer and the other turkeys will start to wreck the farm and will not look after it in the way in which they have become accustomed.

We then have the other turkey friends who are genetically engineered. They are such fine specimens and are therefore likely to be able to operate with more democratic legitimacy. They are engineered so that they cannot have children and the farmer must buy or create new and even more intelligent birds. Some of the GM birds believe that the old-fashioned ones deserve their

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fate; some argue that they should be preserved. But in all that, it feels that we are having a re-run of the early chapters of that book because the arguments, long into the night, sometimes appear to be at variance with the ideas which their proponents seem to promote or others seek to oppose.

I am an hereditary Peer and my title goes back to the 1400s. I shall not give your Lordships a history lesson. We all have something in common; that is, we have not earned the right to sit in the House of Lords through our own achievements or appointments. Many hereditary Peers have given great public service to the country because they happened to have a seat in this House. It is good that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor and my noble friend the Leader of the House have paid eloquent tribute to their work. But that is not a reason for continuing the system indefinitely and is certainly not an argument for saying, as so many speakers from the Opposition have argued, that only hereditary Peers can preserve the democratic traditions of this country. Many hereditary Peers opposite appear to infer that life Peers are somehow less able to preserve those traditions and provide essential scrutiny of government legislation and the brake on the power of the Executive that I certainly believe is required.

Life Peers in this House have been appointed by nine Prime Ministers of both major parties. Those life Peers believe that they are here for life. Some have loyalty to a party and others less so. I suggest that life Peers are just as able, if not more so, to discharge those functions. To suggest otherwise is an insult to the many life Peers who are active in this House and who are just as independent and willing to cause trouble for their party if they feel the desire so to do.

There are two important matters for the future. The interim House must include those with experience of all walks of life, professions and religions. Some noble Lords opposite have suggested that only hereditary Peers have the specialist knowledge needed to scrutinise legislation in a proper manner. There is a large number of hereditary Peers who have that specialist knowledge and their contribution is greatly welcomed. But if it is considered so valuable, I presume it is possible for them to be appointed life Peers in the normal way. But I could list many life Peers who have as much, if not more, specialist knowledge, and they contribute greatly to the work in your Lordships' House.

My noble friend Lady Gould said earlier that the House is a long way from reflecting the current multi-ethnic society in which we live. She is absolutely right. This Government have made strong efforts to redress the balance in your Lordships' House. However, the number of women here is still lamentably low. The number of different races and religions which make up our population today is woefully unrepresented. The noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, suggested that other religions should be better represented. But we have a long way to go.

The imbalance is exacerbated by the presence of hereditary Peers, who are generally male, generally white and frequently with a main interest in agriculture, shooting, fishing, not roaming or being compensated for

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allowing others to roam, as we heard this morning. I have even received a letter from the Country Landowners' Association saying that the countryside is at risk if hereditary Peers are abolished since there will be no representation of the countryside in Parliament and most Members of Parliament represent urban areas. That is quite extraordinary. Are there no Members of Parliament representing rural areas? That is an astonishing comment on how the Conservative hereditary Peers see themselves as guardians of the countryside.

I detect a feeling that they see themselves as guardians of our society, our way of life, our Monarchy and, presumably, to keep the place warm until the electorate comes to its senses and re-elects the party whose natural role it is to lead and govern; that is, the party opposite. I really believe that the representation in your Lordships' House must be multi-racial, reflecting the society of today with different religions represented and many more women.

The content and experience of this House can be widened and deepened by the proposed appointment process. Many noble Lords opposite have suggested that the present Prime Minister is a control freak and that he will fill the House with placemen and reduce the ability of the House to scrutinise legislation and act as a brake on the executive.

There have been many comments made by noble Lords opposite to the present allegedly presidential form of government. In fact, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, suggested, if I heard him right, that we are heading for an elected dictatorship.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, I recall the long years of the administration of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher; there were then many occasions when I had similar thoughts. Many people made similar comments about politicians in those days; that she was acting as a president; that her Cabinet were a group of "yes men", and they were mostly men. We have already heard that over many years, the previous government appointed life Peers in much greater numbers than the then Prime Minister permitted other parties to do. Therefore, I believe that my right honourable friend the present Prime Minister is to be commended on proposing for the first time a system in which no one party should have an overall majority in your Lordships' House and that there should be an independent commission for appointing Cross-Bench Peers.

Given the imbalance which will still exist even after the hereditary Peers have gone, it is reasonable that that should be put right at the first opportunity in view of the commitment which the Prime Minister has given.

As regards the Weatherill amendment, I can see some advantages in such a compromise if it will enable the legislation to go through more quickly. But it will exacerbate the imbalance between the parties. I was rather surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, suggest that if one of the 90 Peers dies or is no longer able to attend, the next one on the list would automatically step into his shoes. I do not believe that that is right. The Weatherill amendment has some

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advantage because it ensures that the transitional House does not lose some of the experience of some hereditary Peers, but to perpetuate that for ever is wrong. As the 90 elected hereditary Peers pass on, they should not be replaced.

I believe that the role and responsibility of the House in the future needs careful consideration. It must not be diluted. I suspect that another place will not wish to see too much competition in the democratic element. I should like to see some regional representation, be it elected or otherwise. I do not see why regional representatives should not sit alongside life Peers, just as life Peers and hereditary Peers do at the moment.

The Opposition appear to be intent on blocking this Bill by any possible means. They do not seem to accept that its inclusion in the Labour Party's manifesto is relevant. For my part, I shall work to help to achieve the change by stages, which is what I believe the country needs. The Bill is the first step. We, or our successors, will have plenty of opportunity to debate future stages.

9 p.m.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, it was with great pleasure that I heard my noble kinsman, now my noble friend, Lord Blakenham speak for the first time tonight from the Cross-Benches.

My father served in your Lordships' House for 65 years on the Labour Benches and as Chairman of Committees. Prior to that he served as a Labour councillor in the LCC and before that he distributed literature in support of the workers during the General Strike. The view that the strongest have a responsibility to the weakest underpinned his whole life. Some time after he died, my sister found a letter on his desk from a German Jew, writing to thank him for making it possible for him to have grandchildren. My father had acted as an advocate for him in the 1930s when he had to leave Germany.

My fear is that, if the constitution is botched, the weakest in society will pay the highest price. Consider that one in five Britons is unable to find a plumber in the Yellow Pages. Last year in just one hostel for young homeless people in London, 1,000 16 to 18 year-olds needed help. Britain has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies in Europe.

I have worked with young people on housing estates in several London boroughs. I sense that there is something rotten in this British state of ours. Families no longer function. One can expect to be fed upon by needy parents, brothers and sisters. The family is no longer a secure place in which to grow up for many young people. Why should that be? It could be the result of the excellence of this nation in years past, leading the industrial revolution and dominating the world for 150 years. Excellence has a price and the poor pay it.

However, there are many who believe that if the economy is effective, competitive and if we engage in the new global economy, such wounds will be healed and the opportunities offered will heal that damage. That is to dream. Certainly the less damaged will benefit from

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such a future, but there will be a hard core--as there is in the US--of "ghettoised", underprivileged people. Such families need support, not just in terms of finance, but through well thought-out services which can help them and give them employment opportunities. The endeavour has to be holistic and well focused.

Somewhere at the top there has to be an intelligence to focus the funding of such services to those really in need. Accept the Bill as it stands and we risk eternal conservative--with a small "c"--government. The removal of voting Peers, the resulting increased authority of the upper House and the expectation among many Conservatives--with a big "C"--to wish for a fully elected upper House, with a strong check on the lower House, means that controversial legislation will have an uphill struggle to make it on to the statute book.

We may be in peril of facing the middle-of-the-road American style, "majoritarian" democracy, where people get on with their business and care for their families, but those at the very bottom rot in ghettoes. Bread and circuses are not enough. I believe that we need a strong executive. An executive which has signed away its powers has no capacity to address the profound ills which are so hard to see, but which I believe exist.

Let us not forget the tower blocks that were to be the solution to the slums. That was the big idea. We were to begin from zero with machines for living. They were cheap and they were in a modern style. However, the consequences were not thought through. Flat roofs leak; lifts to the 15th floor fail; concrete weakens; and pensioners die from hypothermia when boilers fail. That new beginning has turned into a lasting blight. It was done with the best of intentions, but has had tragic consequences.

To remove 40 per cent. of the active membership of your Lordships' House is to make a revolutionary change. Has it been thought through? Where are the reports from business consultants regarding the function of this House and the hereditary Peers? Where are the reports from constitutional academics and from sociologists on the consequences? Where are the profound, in-depth studies? I went to the Library when I first became a Member of this House and I looked for them, but they are not there. They are nowhere to be seen.

I deprecate the Bill. It is too much of the heart and not enough of the head. I ask the Government for reassurance that the Bill, if enacted, will not lead to the constitution that I have described, one which harms the most vulnerable, one akin to that of the United States.

9.7 p.m.

Viscount Addison: My Lords, when I spoke on House of Lords reform on 23rd February I touched on the question of the rural voice in policy and legislative scrutiny in this House and the other place. In this Second Reading, I wish to press the Government to ensure that our rural areas are represented effectively in any future Chamber. Whether Members are appointed or elected, proper representation must be guaranteed. I underline again the need to maintain sufficient independent expertise on agricultural, environmental

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and financial matters. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, will be interested to know that at present much of that expertise and experience is represented by hereditary Peers who live outside the M.25 and who come from the far corners of England, Wales and Scotland. Will that still be the case if this Bill goes through all its stages without amendment? How will the intermediate House maintain the same credentials?

If the procedures of the current House are changed, the country will be the loser. The revision of the Environment Bill in 1995, with its technical amendments tabled from all sides of the House, raised scientific issues with far-reaching implications of which there was no adequate consideration in the House of Commons.

The expert Select Committees must be retained and expanded upon. They should certainly be expanded to scrutinise policy within the European Union.

There are no guarantees in the Bill that appointments of Peers to the House in the transitional stage will be on the terms set out in the White Paper. Will the Government confirm that they will conform in practice to all the terms set out in the White Paper?

The noble Baroness the Leader of the House in her opening speech yesterday spoke of the principles of Labour government, such as the improvement of society and institutions. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, spoke of making local democracy legitimate and credible. I am confident that hereditary Peers have not impeded progress on any of those fronts. Sadly, and like many other noble Lords, I still have not had answers to some questions that I put forward in February's debate. That underlines the need for amendments to the Bill to tease out answers to the festering questions that the country will ask sooner or later. This House must ensure that all those inquiries are answered before it is too late so that all the facts and ideas can be adequately reviewed by the Royal Commission.

Of course, the Royal Commission's consultation paper poses more questions than answers, but those questions (and our questions) must be answered. The preface to the consultation paper states:

    "The Royal Commission has been asked to report by 31st December 1999, which represents a challenging timescale for a complex, multi-faceted task".
The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, underlined that point yesterday. Will the Government confirm that they have "asked" the Royal Commission to report rather than "told" the commission to report and, if that is the case, whether or not more time will be given to the Royal Commission if it deems it necessary? The country deserves to have a proper job made of reform. No stone should be left unturned.

The noble Lord, Lord Desai, said yesterday that history has proved that putting two stages of a Bill together has never worked, and I bow to his superior knowledge on the subject. However, would I not be right in thinking that an unbreakable link must be cast and forged between the two stages so that the synergy between stages one and two can be seen not only to exist, but to have fruitful meaning?

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I return to the passing of this Bill and the 60 days before the submission of the Royal Commission. The passing of stage one before knowing the prospects of stage two is as if the Government do not want the country to know the possibilities of stage two before stage one of the Bill is passed.

When the hereditaries go, so too will the Salisbury-Addison Convention. Not only is there no destination for the stagecoach on which we are to embark, but also there is no concise timetable for that stagecoach. I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold.

9.14 p.m.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, I rise to thank my noble friend Lady Jay the Leader of the House for the elegant way in which she introduced this debate yesterday. I also thank my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor for his forceful speech this morning. I am sure we all pay tribute to my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton for the way in which he wound up the debate last night, and we look forward to my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn winding up this marathon debate at some time tomorrow morning.

The theme of my contribution this evening concerns the difference between perception and reality. I want to speak about the background to the Bill; to say a few words about the Bill; and to say something about the Weatherill amendment and the reasoned amendment to this debate moved by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold. But before I do that, I pay tribute to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for injecting into this two-day debate what I would describe as the very kernel of the functions of Parliament. He spoke about the economic and social circumstances of the dispossessed in our society, and I pay tribute to him for doing that. That forms the basis of all that we should be about in Parliament.

I pay tribute also to his grandfather, the one we knew as Billy Listowel, a member of the Attlee government. I suspect he would have been a little sad to hear his grandson speak in this House on the basis of, "We should only go forward on the basis of a management plan". I suggest that Billy Listowel would have said, "To hell with management plans. We are concerned with speaking for our people, the working people of this country". He was part of a government that did not just speak, but also acted. We all owe a debt of gratitude to those ancestors of ours who changed the face of this country, the way it was organised, the priorities of our society.

I listened yesterday to the noble Earl, Lord Russell. He said that the object of the House of Lords was to reduce executive power. It is easy for a Liberal Democrat--someone in permanent opposition--to say that. But we are here gathered in Parliament to deliberate upon the great affairs of state and I suggest that we are all summoned here by Her Majesty the Queen to give our counsel; in other words, to give advice. We are here to speak for ourselves and no others. We sit by virtue of duty and it is also a great privilege.

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I was astounded by the noble Lord, Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, who suggested that it was the right thing to do as a placeman of the Prime Minister to do that Prime Minister's bidding. I feel that we are summoned on our own recognizance to speak for ourselves and not for any party outside this House. I was scandalised by that suggestion.

Until January 1985 the House of Lords was known to be a major impediment, and abolition was seen to be the solution. In a funny sort of way I pay tribute to the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. One might say he is a cunning old dog--well, he is a Cecil; he would be! But in this century alone there have been a number of stages of reform of this House of Lords. In 1911 we had the Parliament Act, which restricted the ability to deny the House of Commons to two years. In 1948 that was reduced to one year. In 1958 we had the Life Peerages Act, which enabled life peerages to be created. In 1963 there was the Peerage Act, which allowed disclaim of title to sit in this House of Lords. In 1964 there was the introduction of expenses for Members of this House, which did have an effect. On that basis, by my calculation, we are at stage six, and the Bill in front of us is just the next stage in this progressive evolution over the present century alone. Who knows what the next century will provide?

I was talking about 1985. On 23rd January of that year the House of Lords started to be televised and the great British public liked what they saw: sensible old buffers having sensible and civilised debates and, subsequently, defeating the nasty Conservative government on rare occasions. However, there is a problem with that perception. The debate on that day was to,

    "call attention to the need for Her Majesty's Government, in this new year of 1985, to develop economic and social policies which unite the nation; which aim at directly creating employment rather than reducing taxation; which give new life to national pride in our welfare state and encourage motives of social responsibility rather than self interest".--[Official Report, 23/1/85; col. 228.]
I contributed to the debate on that day; indeed, it was my maiden speech. We spoke for the country. Speaker after speaker, not only from this side of the House, spoke in support of the Motion and against the thrust of Tory government policy. We won the argument. I can remember going to our Chief Whip afterwards, the late Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, and saying: "We are winning the argument. I hope that we put it to the vote". He responded by saying that we would lose the vote. So we did not put the Motion to the vote on that day, but on many subsequent occasions in the succeeding 12 years when we had won the argument we did put questions to the vote. However, more than nine times out of 10 we lost the vote.

So abolition dropped off the political agenda, but we still have the problem of Tory hegemony in this House of Lords. The real problem for Parliament is that there is a clash between the perception of the House of Lords as a good thing and the reality that, on more than nine occasions out of 10, this House has supported nasty anti-social Conservative legislation in the Division Lobbies. The problem continues to this day. Every day

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the Conservative Opposition play with us. It is like a cat playing with a mouse, ready to pounce any time that it likes. It is wrong.

The idea of getting rid of the right of hereditary Peers to vote was suggested: at a stroke, 750 Peers, with only 2.4 per cent. taking the Labour Whip, would be removed. That would do two things. First, it would reduce the size of the House to more manageable proportions for self-regulation to enable it to survive; and, secondly, it would reduce the distortion of the House and enable it to reflect more closely modern British society. It is to be hoped that that would also reduce the gap between perception and reality. That suggestion was taken up by Tony Blair. It was then agreed by the Labour Party Conference and subsequently by the Labour Party membership. Finally, it was put to the British people in our manifesto and massively endorsed.

I heartily endorse the Bill and wish it good speed in its passage through your Lordships' House. Having said that, I join with others in paying tribute to many hereditary Peers who have contributed to public life as Members of your Lordships' House. In particular, I should like to mention the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Shepherd, both of whom were distinguished former Leaders of the House.

I have two comments to make about the Weatherill amendment. First, I hope that we could consider selection of the 10 per cent. of the hereditary peerages by seniority on the basis of the date of taking one's seat, rather than election. I say that for a number of reasons. Unlike 300 years ago with the Scottish peerage, and 200 years ago with the Irish peerage, there is now no homogeneous body of the hereditary peerage, as there was in those days. We risk losing the contribution of experience, knowledge of the world, and wisdom of our older Members. Most significantly, over recent times we have developed the convention that Peers speak only for themselves and for no outside interest, so how can they speak for others?

Secondly, if the second stage of reform is to be more significant than gradual evolution, I take up the careful words uttered by the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, and put the suggestion more boldly; namely, that any further significant change in the composition of the House of Lords should be put to the people in a general election. In that case the remaining hereditary Peers should go by the end of this Parliament.

I said earlier that I would say something about the Cobbold amendment. However, I do not need to say anything because the noble Lord, Lord Desai, said it all yesterday. Having made these points, I assure the noble Baroness the Leader of the House that she will have my support for this timely measure.

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