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Line 3, leave out ("the people of") and insert ("a majority of the parliamentary electorate in")

The noble Lord said: I fully support my noble friend's contention that there should be a referendum. My amendment seeks only to suggest that it may be advantageous to make the drafting more specific and perhaps avoid the criticism of technical imperfection.

Citing, as my amendment does, the parliamentary electorate reminds us that it is not the executive, nor yet Parliament, but the electorate which must be the final arbiter when it comes to constitutional change. Noble Lords may take it amiss that my drafting excludes them from the referendum poll. No doubt they will tell me. In any case, words can be altered. However, until we have the proposed referendum Bill enfranchisement formulae will have to be made on an ad hoc basis.

There is no question that this Bill is of fundamental constitutional import. It alters the structure, character and balance of Parliament. It will significantly affect the balance between the executive and the legislature. It is the case that this Bill has that effect, no matter what comes later. Generally speaking, while I am not an enthusiast for referendums, I hold that they are entirely appropriate when it comes to constitutional issues. To hold a referendum will be to follow precedent, and only

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through a referendum campaign can we properly inform the electorate of the Bill's immediate consequences. It would be infinitely preferable to hold a referendum which embraces both the provisions of this Bill and whatever scheme of final reform Parliament may yet endorse.

However, since the noble Baroness the Leader of the House was not prepared to listen to my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, and unless the Government yet see the sense of withdrawing their intention to enact this Bill as a free-standing measure, that will not be possible.

In hoping that the Government may yet agree that the proposed referendum should be held, I was encouraged by the words of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey--who, sadly, is no longer in his place--in replying to my noble friend Lord Waddington on 17th March,

    "I simply do not accept that the ideal of democracy is to have a Parliament where the only direct chance of participation by the electorate is, once every four or five years, a vote on all issues combined together in the way which suits the political parties. Without saying that they should become a substitute in any way for parliamentary government, referendums as they have been used in the past few years, particularly in a constitutional sense, have been a valuable addition to, not a subtraction from, democracy".--[Official Report, 17/3/99; col. 792.] Surely this proposal for a referendum fits the case. I beg to move.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Waddington: I want to explain in simple terms why I am attracted to this amendment. The Government's whole case is that this is a two-stage process and that stage one, which will create, without the Weatherill amendment, a wholly nominated House, will not be with us long because it will be followed by long-term, second-stage reform. Every Member of this place knows perfectly well that it is not as simple as that. Those of us who have said often that there might not be a second stage pray history in aid. We all know perfectly well as politicians how enormously difficult it will be to get a second-stage Bill through the other place. As the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, well remembers, the difficulty was experienced in 1968.

I took the trouble to read the Second Reading debate in another place. Government supporters were all over the place. Hardly two of them agreed on what was the best solution in terms of a second stage Bill. We read in the papers that today, for all that has been said from the Conservative Benches, there does not appear to be much support on the Labour Benches for the idea of an elected second Chamber.

So the Government have to face up to the fact that in this current Bill we may be looking at a Bill bringing about a permanent change in the constitution of this place. We have to ask ourselves whether that would be a happy outcome for our country. I do not believe that it would be for one moment. I have often talked about the inadequacies of this Bill. I do not see how anyone in his right mind could contemplate a wholly nominated House without there being written into the Bill all kinds of safeguards against the abuse of power. I do not see

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how anyone in his right mind can say that our liberties would be secure if there was a second Chamber composed entirely of nominated Peers and the Prime Minister of the day still had in his hands the power to appoint as many Peers as he wished, of whichever party political complexion he wished.

So I am attracted by this amendment because I look at it as a way of avoiding the worst possible outcome. That would be the passage of this Bill without safeguards; the failure, as a result of opposition in the other place, to approve a second-stage Bill; and our being left with a wholly nominated Chamber with power still in the hands of the Prime Minister of the day to manipulate its composition. This amendment would prevent that enormity because, as I understand it, the public would be asked whether they were prepared to put up with the permanent solution of a wholly nominated Chamber. I do not believe for one moment that the public would subscribe to that as being a reasonable way of addressing our present problems. I have confidence that the people would reject that out of hand and would force the Government to bring forward a second-stage Bill which genuinely brought about lasting and sensible reform of this place.

Without any safeguards at all this Bill is an enormity. If the Government had come to this place with a worked-out scheme and a Bill which provided for the abolition of the hereditary peerage, but which at the same time provided for the kind of safeguards which I mentioned in a speech the other day, taking entirely out of the hands of the Prime Minister the power to nominate people for peerages; and if there had been another safeguard in the Bill providing for a referendum in case of rejection by the second Chamber of a Bill which radically altered our constitutional safeguards I would not be making, with some passion, this speech today. But the Government have not tried to meet those points. All they have done is to throw before this House a Bill which will take away many of the safeguards against abuse which exist in this country at the present time.

No one can tell me that a wholly nominated House without a hereditary peerage would not be more easily manipulated than a House in which there is a large number of hereditary Peers. No one really believes that for a moment. Once the hereditary Peers have been removed and only a limited number of life Peers remain, with one party having a marginal advantage over the other, it would be very easy to create enough Peers not only to make sure that one can pass any legislation that one wishes but also to enable this House to vote for a Bill which extended the life of a parliament. That is the very safeguard which the legislators in 1911 recognised had to be left in the hands of the second Chamber.

I earnestly ask the Government to address these problems. I do not say that this is the only way in which those problems can be addressed, but I refuse to believe that we do not have the public on our side when we say that we cannot leave this as merely a simple exercise to get rid of the hereditary peerage and then leave it to the government of the day to decide on the composition of this place. That is the effect of this Bill.

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Lord Chalfont: I rise briefly to express my support for Amendment No. 1, as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. I think I can be mercifully brief because I have, before now, made my views known: I do not agree in any way with this Bill. Indeed, I do not believe it to be necessary. I believe that this House works perfectly well as it is. However, all those arguments are long past and gone. We can see what the Government have in mind and that they have a very good chance of bringing it about.

However, there is one thing that I believe we ought to do. As other noble Lords have said, we ought to find out whether the people of this country really want this change. We start off, as the noble Baroness the Leader of the House said earlier, with the fact that this is a manifesto commitment by the Labour Party which won the election for which that manifesto was published. I do not think that anyone contests that at all; nor do people contest the fact that a manifesto commitment has a very special resonance and status in Parliament and in your Lordships' House. But I do not believe that anyone sitting on that Front Bench, or on any of the Benches behind it, really believes that a great number of people who voted for the Labour Party in the last election did so because it was going to abolish the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords. I believe that we should find out whether that is what people want.

I have already said that there is no need for the Bill. In fact, I would go further than that and follow other noble Lords in saying that this is a dangerous Bill unless the Government are prepared to say, before they bring the legislation into effect, what will take the place of the present House of Lords when the hereditary Peers have been removed. Is it to be a nominated House? I should have thought that that would be the worst possible solution. Is it to be a mixture of nomination, appointment and election? Alternatively, as has already been suggested in many quarters, is it to be a fully elected House? We do not know the answer. I therefore join other noble Lords in saying that without that knowledge this simple Bill is a mistake--and a dangerous mistake.

We apparently thought it necessary to seek the opinion of the people about the governance of London. We thought it necessary to have a referendum about an assembly in Wales. We also thought it necessary to have a referendum about a parliament in Scotland. I would not argue with any of those decisions. But if those constitutional changes were considered important enough to ask the people of this country to support them, why on earth are we not prepared to ask them for support for the abolition of the hereditary peerage in this House? There is long constitutional history behind it; it is fundamental change to the constitution which leaves Wales, Scotland and London looking like trivialities in the political debate and argument of the day.

If carried, this amendment would have no impact on any other amendment. There has been a great deal of talk today about the Weatherill amendment; indeed, there have been criticisms and adumbrations of it. All I can say is that if this amendment were carried, it would have no impact upon that amendment at all. Anyone who believes that it would can be reassured in

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that respect. The referendum would not have any impact at all on the proposal to create a transitional House; nor would it have any effect as regards pre-empting the Royal Commission.

I turn now to my final point. If there is to be a Royal Commission and perhaps a Joint Committee of both Houses to decide upon and recommend the eventual shape, size, composition and powers of this House, would it not be best to wait for that to come forward before engaging upon this half-baked and totally controversial measure? I believe that the Government have already begun to realise that this is not the way to go about changing 1,000 years of history. I very much hope that noble Lords will support this amendment.

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