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Lord Nunburnholme: I am reminded of Matthew Prior, who said,

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The first Chamber should always be discouraged from displaying an adversarial manner except when driven to it, and then its powers should be awesome against individuals, Cabinet Ministers and even the Prime Minister. The use of impeachment should be reintroduced in extreme cases. I rest.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: It will not be too long before I rest too. We have had a good debate and a good-hearted debate on a serious and emotive problem and I appreciate the spirit in which this matter has been discussed.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Strabolgi): Perhaps I can interrupt the noble Lord. The Committee is now considering Amendment No. 2 and that must be disposed of before we return to Amendment No. 1 because it is an amendment to Amendment No. 1. Unless the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, has other things to say on Amendment No. 2, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Gray, to deal with his amendment.

Lord Gray: I do not need to say very much. My noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway indicated that he is prepared to accept my amendment. If it persuaded the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, and his party to accept the main amendment, I might have withdrawn it. Instead, I commend it to the Committee.

On Question, Amendment No. 2, as an amendment to Amendment No. 1, agreed to.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: I apologise to the Deputy Chairman; I wanted to take my rest too soon. I am grateful to the House for accepting Amendment No. 2 as consequential.

I thank all Members of the Committee for the spirit in which this matter has been discussed. With respect to the views that have been expressed, I do not believe that if Amendment No. 1 were to be carried it would be contrary to the Salisbury convention. I am not prepared to accept a view to the contrary because this situation has never arisen before and I therefore cannot accept that advice.

This is a Cross-Bench and Back-Bench Conservative amendment and we therefore had to have a majority view as to whether we would divide the Chamber tonight or take the advice of my noble friend Lord Cranborne to take a rain check and come back on another day. By a majority we have decided to take that advice. I often take the advice of my noble friend Lord Cranborne, often when I do not agree with it--I do not agree with it tonight--and am still content to do so, largely because he is supported by my noble friends Lord Ferrers and Lord Crickhowell. In those circumstances one begins to wonder whether one can do other than once again thank the Committee for the spirit in which this debate took place and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment No. 1, by leave, withdrawn.

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Lord Mackay of Drumadoon moved Amendment No. 3:

Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause--

Purpose of Act

(". The purpose of this Act is to create a more legitimate and more democratic House of Lords.")

The noble and learned Lord said: In moving this amendment, with the leave of the Committee I shall speak also to Amendment No. 4 and Amendment No. 5 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, with which my amendments are grouped.

Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 raise the issue of whether it would be desirable to have a purpose clause on the face of the Bill. These amendments seek to probe the Government's general attitude to such a suggestion and to the specific purposes incorporated in the amendments tabled in my name and that of my noble friends.

The desirability of Bills containing purpose clauses is a topic which arises from time to time as individual Bills undertake their legislative passage through your Lordships' Chamber. Indeed, the whole topic was the subject of an Unstarred Question asked by my noble friend Lord Renton which led to a short debate taking place in your Lordships' Chamber back in January of last year.

As many Members of the Committee will be aware, purpose clauses, or statements of purpose or principle as they are sometimes referred to, were the subject of a recommendation of the Committee on the Preparation of Legislation chaired by my noble friend Lord Renton many years ago. Recommendation 15 of that report was in the following terms:

    "Statements of purpose:

    (a) should be used when they are the most convenient method of clarifying the scope and the effect of legislation;

    (b) when so used, should be contained in clauses and not in preambles".

It is important to note that when considering this topic and making a recommendation about it, the members of the Renton committee were concerned not only with the scope of the legislation but also with its effect. It may be said by the Government in response that the scope of this Bill is limited. No doubt it could be said that all that this Bill does is to end the membership of the House of Lords,

    "by virtue of a hereditary peerage"-- Clause 1--and, furthermore, enact certain other minor provisions consequential on that change. I readily concede that on one view the scope of the Bill could be accurately described in such narrow terms. But when the possible effects of this Bill are considered, it is an entirely different matter. The potential effects of the Bill are far more difficult to identify and define. Whatever the difficulty in doing so, the need to do so is of paramount importance. It is not merely what this Bill states that is of significance. The topics it does not deal with are of almost equal importance. It is because of that that it can confidently be said that if there was ever a Bill where the effects of the proposed legislation are uncertain, this is such a Bill.

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On any objective view of the situation, independent observers have every reason to be concerned as to what the ultimate effects of the Bill will be. That is why the questions arise sharply, first, whether there is a need for a purpose clause and, if so, what they should contain.

There are a number of possible reasons why there is concern about what the potential effects of the Bill may turn out to be. First, the Bill is being presented to Parliament as the first stage, but not the only stage, of a major reform of your Lordships' House. It is presented in paragraph 20, Chapter 2 of the White Paper as a first step in the process of reform,

    "But it is far from the only reform necessary". On that basis, it brings about a change in our constitutional arrangements which is not designed to be permanent, however long it may last. Secondly, there are different schools of thought as to how long we will have to wait for stage two to come along.

The Bill's enactment will bring into being a transitional House which is to be of unknown duration. The transitional House is referred to in such terms in the White Paper in not a little detail in Chapter 6, but finds no mention whatsoever in the provisions of the Bill itself. No one can say for how long the transitional House will exist, because, while the Bill's parliamentary passage is taking place in tandem with the work of the Royal Commission, which has been set a very tight timetable, no similar timetable has been identified, let alone accepted, by the Government as to when the stage 2 proposals will come forward in the form of a Bill which will effectively bring the transitional House to an end.

A third reason is that the White Paper acknowledges that the transitional House will have a different complexion in addition to a different composition. The White Paper is right to do so, even though there remains a measure of uncertainty as to whether or not the Bill will include a Weatherill amendment, in whatever form such an amendment may take. However, having highlighted the fact that the House will have a different complexion, the White Paper fails to address the consequences of that different complexion. Somewhat naively, it limits its discussion of the functions of the transitional House to a very bald statement that those functions will continue to be to question Ministers and to give its consent to, and where appropriate to revise, legislation. There is no other discussion of what the powers and functions of the House should be and, most important of all, how they might be exercised.

I doubt whether any Members of the Committee believe that if hereditary Peers are no longer to take part in our deliberations the House of Lords will function as it does at present. In the light of the reasons that the Government themselves have put forward for ending the rights of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in the House, is it not perfectly possible that the transitional House will feel that it is much more democratic and more legitimate than the House as presently constituted? If Members of the transitional House were to think in such terms, would they not be justified in doing so, because, if they did, that would accord with various statements made by Government Ministers in support of the Bill?

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I refer in particular to what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said on Second Reading. When referring to hereditary Peers who might remain in the House in the event of the incorporation of the Weatherill amendment, he said that such hereditary Peers would have a greater authority, because they would be elected by the whole of the hereditary peerage within their party. The Leader of the House, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, said, when we were debating reform of the House of Lords, back in October last year:

    "any change which produces a fairer balance ... must make this House more democratic." A little later she said,

    "I have no hesitation in asserting that the transitional Chamber will be more legitimate than that we have today."--[Official Report; 14/10/98; cols. 923 and 925.] I suggest that, armed with such support from such strong quarters, members of a transitional House may well feel that they have more democratic right, more democratic legitimacy, than is sometimes accorded to Members of the House of Lords at present.

Against that background, when another place approved the Bill without any amendment to its terms, was that what its Members intended should be among the consequences of the Bill becoming law? Is it suggested that when the Bill passed through another place that place accepted that at least some Members of the House of Lords would be entitled to consider that they had a greater authority than they enjoy now? If a transitional House accepts that such a view may be held in the future, does not that raise very sharply the question of whether the Bill should leave the House of Lords without clarification as to whether it would be right to do so?

There is a further reason for suggesting that a purpose clause would be valuable. Many hold the view that over many years the hereditary Peers have formed one of the more important independent elements of the House of Lords, if not, indeed, the most significant element. That element has to be removed in furtherance of the manifesto commitment about which we have heard so much. When that happens, is it possible that those Members who remain in the transitional House will seek to compensate for the removal of that important independent element? If they do, and if they seek to flex their parliamentary muscles in doing so, how is another place likely to react? Again, that is a matter that should be clarified to guard against the risk, spoken to so fully by my noble friend Lord Waddington, this afternoon, that a purely nominated House might be subject to ultimate control by the executive of the day.

A final reason for suggesting uncertainty requiring to be clarified is to be found in Chapter 7 of the White Paper, which discusses what the stage two House might look like, how it might be composed and what powers and functions it might have. In that chapter there is a theme which has found some support among a number of Members of the House of Lords--that although the House might have an increased legitimacy, that might be accompanied by a reduction in its powers. I do not seek to pre-empt the outcome of that debate, because it is likely to be a long and stimulating one, which will not be resolved until after the Royal Commission has

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reported and the Joint Committee of both Houses has met and considered what form stage two reform might take. But if there were to be any suggestion that a transitional House might have reduced powers, and that came to be accepted over the next year or two, or possibly longer, that would inevitably have consequences for how the debate about the stage two House would fall to be resolved.

For those reasons it is important that this issue be addressed, and now. Accordingly, these amendments have been tabled in the hope that the Government will indicate whether they think it would be valuable to have a purpose clause in the Bill, and, more important, in order to give the Government an opportunity to indicate where they stand on a number of the issues on which Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 focus.

Do the Government accept that the transitional House will be more legitimate and democratic than the House as presently constituted? Do they accept that the composition of the transitional House will increase the independence of Parliament, and in particular the independence of this House from the Government of the day? Do they accept that the transitional House will enjoy an enhanced ability to scrutinise legislation and to hold the executive to account?

In the hope that these questions will be answered, I beg to move.

5.45 p.m.

The Earl of Onslow: I am delighted to see the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, back on the Front Bench, wearing imperial purple, which will thrill all our hearts.

The Bill before us is quite extraordinary in that the Government have in effect agreed to a wrecking amendment. By that I mean that the Bill has been completely changed by the Weatherill amendment. I welcome this, because the original Bill was a bad Bill. The Weatherill amendment has made it a very considerably better Bill.

Everything that I shall say during the Committee stage will, I hope, ensure that any influence that I have is exercised so that the Bill will be a much better Bill, so that if peradventure--or "Events, dear boy" as Harold Macmillan used to say--it is possible or probable that there is no stage two then when stage one goes through the House of Lords it results in a Bill and a House of Lords which can do their job and stand the test of time. It is well known to the Committee that I have always been a reformer and have wanted reform. I shall not go anywhere near any ditch for the hereditary Peerage. We have passed our sell-by date. I want to make that absolutely clear yet again. I shall probably have to make that point again and again, otherwise I shall be accused of feathering my own nest.

Another interesting aspect of the Bill is that the powers which your Lordships have are considerable. But when we have been reformed, even under stage one, those powers will be used much more legitimately. I say "hoorah" to that because I see nothing wrong in the House of Commons saying that it will invoke the Parliament Act. That is what it is there for. If the House of Commons does not agree with us digging in our toes

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when we are reformed, so be it. It will be said, "We do not agree with the Lords and we are prepared to stand up in public and justify our use of the Parliament Act". The Commons will not be able to use the excuse that it is all those Earls, Marquises and Dukes of ancient lineage coming out of the woodwork because they will not be in the woodwork. Most of the active Peers will still be here. That is the glory of what my noble friend Lord Cranborne has done: he has kept the majority of the hereditary active Peers here, or probably 60 per cent. of them. That is a marvellous deal and that is why I describe it as a wrecking amendment. Any government who are prepared to accept a wrecking amendment to their own Bill must surely be congratulated on the wisdom and foresight of their behaviour. I mean that with a slight sense of irony but, equally, totally genuinely.

Let us say that, peradventure, stage one passes and, probably even less likely, there is a Tory government at the next election. Good God, a Tory government will have trouble with this House compared with the position in the past. I suggest that that is good. That is why we need a purpose clause: to make clear what we want from the House of Lords. I suggest that it should not be a democratically-elected House because that would impose seriously upon the will of the House of Commons. It should be a House of influence; a House of the powerful; and a House of the great and the good.

The reason for that is that we shall have legitimacy but not democratic power. The House of Commons is the chamber of the commonality. It is the Chamber of geographical regions. It is from there that it draws its power, and long may that be so. That has been the case in our constitution since the Middle Ages. This House is the Chamber of the influential.

I want a purpose clause. I do not know whether this is the right one. In my small way, I shall try to make sure that any amendment in my name makes the appointment to this House more transparent and more open to criticism and that it represents, where it can, real power and influence so that it has legitimacy. Stage one may last for many years. I do not in any way accuse the Government Front Bench of being anything other than completely sincere in wanting a stage two, but "events, dear boy, events", intervene. Therefore it is essential that stage one can stand alone and it is perfectly all right for the House, under stage one, to continue for the next 25 years. That is why it is essential to have a purpose clause.

I hope that the Government will accept that. They may not agree with the wording of this amendment, but I ask them to accept the need for a purpose clause which sets out what we want from the House of Lords. That is what I want.

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