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Baroness Carnegy of Lour: I think I detected a wave of sympathy from the Government Front Bench when the noble Earl, Lord Perth, spoke to his declaratory amendment. I was very glad to hear that because I think a declaratory amendment will help. But I, for one, do not feel that a declaratory amendment alone will do the trick on this issue.

I echo the words of other noble Lords who have said that perhaps the solution to the problem enunciated by my noble friend Lord Renton is the right one. He enunciated a very important problem--a problem which exists because we do not know how the House will be constituted as time goes on. We do not know how many Cross-Benchers there will be; we do not know what the House will look like as time goes on if stage one lasts for a long time. When the Government Chief Whip replies I hope that he will be able to give us an assurance that the Government are looking at the problem enunciated in Amendment No. 25. If he does not do so, I am sure that other noble Lords will seek to ensure that an amendment will be made to the Bill to confront this problem.

Lord Strathclyde: I should like to begin by agreeing entirely with my noble friend Lady Young who said that this is one of the most important issues that we have had to address during the course of the passage of the Bill. Not only is it important, but it also deals with one of the most sensitive areas of the constitution.

I am interested in finding the solution to the problem raised by my noble friend Lord Renton of Mount Harry. The Parliament Acts have restricted the delaying power of the House of Lords over government Bills, but they

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have, however, specifically and deliberately left untouched the absolute power of the House of Lords to reject outright any Bill to extend the life of Parliament. It is widely known that many dictatorships have been democratically elected and then entrench themselves by altering the constitution, and the 20th century has a number of disturbing examples. That is not in question in our country at this time. Although it is easy to reject the proposition as fanciful--I think it probably is--it has happened in the past in England, as my noble friend Lord Renton of Mount Harry reminded us, in the 17th century, at a time of constitutional crisis and civil strife. It has happened in many other countries. That is why the constitutional protection is there--not because of what we think will happen but because of what is unlikely but could nevertheless happen in theory.

A sound constitution will provide against these dangers. In recent centuries, ours has most certainly done so. So what will happen after the Bill goes through without an amendment of this kind? We will have a second Chamber with the formal powers still to veto the extension of a Parliament, but the Prime Minister of the day will have the power to nominate a majority in that Chamber and the same Government could therefore present a Bill to extend its life and ensure a majority for the Bill's passage in the Lords. That is the fundamental point.

We have been told many times that the Bill is about removing the hereditary Peers. That is only part of the purpose of the Bill. The other part is that the Bill creates an interim House. So we should consider how that interim House will operate. The composition of this House will be decided by another place, most notably by the Prime Minister.

My noble friend has put forward a proposal which allows the hereditary Peers to be brought back in, as the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, described, from their dotage or from their nappies in order to deal with this issue. I agree with my noble friend Lord Cranborne that that is almost certainly not the best way of dealing with this problem. I should like to put this point to the Government: do they accept that there is an issue here and a problem that needs to be resolved? This is not an issue that needs to be resolved just because a Labour Government are in place. But do they accept that, for the long term consequences of the Bill, some kind of new safeguard needs to be introduced in this House to deal with the issue that was raised by my noble friend?

We are told by the Government--we have to accept it--that this is a stand alone Bill. There are no guarantees that we will go forward to a stage two. Noble Lords opposite have set up a Royal Commission to look at the future, but there are no guarantees that the Royal Commission's recommendations will be accepted; nor do I think there could be. So we have to deal on the basis that what is proposed in the Bill could stay with us for a very long time.

A number of other suggestions have been made by noble Lords today. There is the possibility of introducing a maximum number of Peers in this House. There is also another option. It is an option which the Government have found for themselves in relation to the

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Scotland Act passed last Session. In the Scotland Act the Government took the decision that there should be a qualified majority on constitutional issues. The Government obviously considered that option for the Scotland Act and decided to put it into place. I just wonder whether the noble Lord who is to reply can tell us whether that would be an acceptable solution to this problem.

As I said, I am not convinced that my noble friend has proposed the best way of maintaining the guarantee that currently exists and I very much hope that his amendment is not pressed today. But he has offered one solution. A voting threshold or a maximum number of Peers in the House are other ways. What we cannot have is no way of dealing with this problem. I look to the Government to impress us with their thinking and to give firm assurances that they will either join us or come forward with their own amendments at a later stage.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: Before the noble Lord, Lord Carter, rises to reply, I think I should point out that the situation is a little more serious than was outlined by my noble friends Lord Renton of Mount Harry, Lord Eden, Lord Strathclyde, and others. I say that because it is very unlike them, but the noble Lords, Lord Richard and Lord Graham of Edmonton, appear to have forgotten the Labour manifesto. Indeed, no noble Lord has mentioned the Labour manifesto. I suppose we can forgive the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, for not being entirely familiar with that document, but I am very surprised at noble Lords opposite who have opposed the amendment of my noble friend Lord Renton.

I say that because the Labour manifesto clearly said that the Government would in future appoint Peers to reflect more closely the proportion of votes cast in the previous general election. That must mean that if that part of the manifesto, to which we notice the Government are very committed, is carried through, a future House of Lords will be more sympathetic to and reflective of the government of the day. I should be very grateful if the noble Lord who is to reply to the amendment would deal with that very real problem.

Lord Carter: We have certainly had a very interesting debate and an interesting historical and constitutional journey. In replying to Amendment No. 25, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 106 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Perth.

The purpose of the amendments is to give hereditary Peers a continuing role as guardians of the constitution against the executive. That is a paraphrase. The clause has the effect of allowing the hereditary Peers to speak and vote on any public Bill which would extend the life of a Parliament or any public Bill which would restrict the constitutional powers of the Crown. Although hereditary Peers would cease to be members of the House of Lords, they would apparently be eligible to return to take part in proceedings on those two types of measure. There is no indication in the clause as to whether Writs of Summons would be needed for that

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purpose or whether they could simply turn up. The clause also contains no indication of the type of legislation to which paragraph (b) refers.

The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, seeks to allow the hereditary Peers to return to the House to vote in two circumstances. One is clearly defined and one is extremely vague. As I understand the noble Lord's amendment, it stems from two anxieties. The first is that this or a future government intend to subvert the constitution of this country; the second is that life Peers are not to be trusted to stop them. I have to tell the Committee that neither proposition has any basis in fact.

When I listen to these fears being expressed by the noble Lords, Lord Renton and Lord Crickhowell, the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and others, I just wonder whether noble Lords raised such concerns about the power of the executive and so on when the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, was Prime Minister with a very substantial majority in the other House. Perhaps they did. Indeed, at that time, despite the in-built majority of hereditary Peers, that Conservative government created twice as many Conservative life Peers as Labour life Peers. I just wonder whether there was any protest at the time and whether any concern was expressed about the constitutional dangers that might come about.

Perhaps I may deal immediately with the point about the intentions of the Labour Government. I know that noble Lords opposite do not like hearing quotations from our manifesto. We have stated that,

    "We are committed to maintaining an independent cross-bench presence of life peers. No one political party should seek a majority in the House of Lords". We have also said that in a transitional House we wish to seek only broad parity with the Conservative Opposition and a substantial presence of independent and Cross-Bench Peers. That could not be clearer. What is interesting--

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