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Lord Hooson: The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said that the presence of the hereditary Peers was not due to patronage. Perhaps I may respectfully say to him that patronage was exercised in favour of his and their forebears. It may be a lesser distinction.

Lord Strathclyde: Perhaps I may correct the noble Lord. I said that it was not due to existing patronage. I agree with the point the noble Lord makes.

Lord Hooson: I did not hear the word "existing" when the noble Lord uttered the words. However, what he said will be in Hansard without doubt.

I am against the amendment in principle. This is the sorriest day for the Government in this Parliament so far as concerns this House. The consequential amendment, Amendment No. 152, would amend the Bill to,

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    Was that what the Government fought the last election on? Was that what they had in mind? No rational case can be made for an amendment which aims to perpetuate the right of certain selected hereditary Peers to continue to sit in this House by virtue only of being hereditaries. Why? The sole justification for the Government's acceptance of this skilfully negotiated and entirely unjustified deal is to help the smooth passage of government business in this House by avoiding a threatened and prolonged campaign of obstruction on the Bill. I should have thought more of the Government had they proceeded under the Parliament Act.

The Government are giving way to what might be called constitutional blackmail. The price is a perpetuation of the hereditary principle for a selected 92, not apparently based on ability, talent, wisdom, experience and dedication but primarily on whether they are from a certain Conservative section of hereditary Peers and, to a lesser extent, from the Cross-Bench section.

A noble Lord: And Liberals.

Lord Hooson: There will apparently be two Liberals.

Noble Lords: Ah!

Lord Hooson: It does not matter whether there were one or 100. The principle is wrong.

How does that square up with the Government's undertakings and manifesto? Why should a democratic country accept a deal such as this? I wish to make my position clear. Like my noble friend, I agree that over the years I greatly admired the dedication, ability and skill of many hereditary Peers. I am all for rewarding such talents by seeing many appointed life Peers on the completion of the Bill into law. There is everything to be said for preserving proven abilities in the selection of life Peers; but there is nothing to be said for the perpetuation of the hereditary principle as a qualification in itself for sitting in this Chamber.

This was referred to by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor as an agreement to ease the transition. Perhaps I may remind him that the Parliament Act 1911 was the last transitional Act in this sphere. It clearly established the supremacy of the elected House of Commons. No longer was it possible for this House to reject the Budget, as it had done; or to throw out the Irish Home Rule Bill, as it had done. It confined this House to a delaying power and to its useful and valuable roles in scrutinising and improving legislation and, as has often been pointed out, providing useful and beautifully conducted debates on a variety of interesting subjects.

But let us not forget that the Parliament Act 1911 is unfinished business. Many attempts were made to change the preamble and the other House resisted them always. It states clearly,

    "And whereas it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot immediately be brought into operation". It was to be a transitory thing. That was 88 years ago.

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I do not believe that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor can really believe that he will have the Royal Commission's report and an Act brought into being perhaps in the next Parliament which will complete this process. There will be a great deal more debate when the Royal Commission's report is produced. In the meantime, one asks oneself: what contribution does this amendment make to the process of having an acceptable second Chamber in a democracy, whether it is a nominated one or, as I believe that it should be, an elected one?

It is a pity that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, is not in the Chamber, because of ill health. He made such a great contribution to our thinking on constitutional reform, especially, or almost solely, when he was in opposition. I refer to his Reith lectures and the books he wrote on the subject. Last evening I read his essay on the future of the House of Lords, in his book on The Constitution. I quote the words he there used:

    "The only question is not whether the second chamber does a useful job of work, but whether an elective second chamber with increased powers is not desirable in order to save our liberties from the perils of elective dictatorship". We have seen more evidence of an elective dictatorship in the course of the past 20 years than ever before. I believe that we have seen it under the present Prime Minister. We saw it also in particular under the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher. There are perils to that. At present devolution is taking place, and changes are taking place in Europe.

The Earl of Longford: Who would these elected Members be? Would they be people who could not get into the House of Commons?

Lord Hooson: I do not have to go into that question at present. Various schemes have been put forward for an elected House. An elected House would need to have greater powers than this Chamber has at present. It may be necessary for a second Chamber to have those powers.

Earl Russell: Will my noble friend agree that some of us might prefer this place to another?

Lord Hooson: I have no doubt whatsoever, as the noble Earl knows, that this is a most agreeable House to be in. It is very civilised, and one may prefer it. But there is a serious point at issue. It seems to me that the Government have been derailed. They have achieved a consensus on the terms dictated by the Conservative Party, and have accepted it. It is a sorry day in the history of this Government. I think that they will live to regret it.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Barnett: My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor was right when he said that not everyone will like a compromise of this kind. I find myself in that position. I do not like what is being called the "Weatherill amendment", although it should have

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been, as we know, the "Cranborne amendment". After all, the noble Viscount was sacked for dealing with it in the way he did.

The Bill itself is simple and straightforward. As my noble friend Lord Richard said, what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said about making a bad Bill better is, frankly, totally untrue. It makes a simple Bill much worse. No one can doubt that it is a simple Bill: it simply gets rid of all the hereditary Peers. That is not making it complex, but I understand why my noble friend has felt it right to have a compromise. However, the amendment is complex and ill-thought through. Frankly, it is something of a shambles, as I hope to explain.

It is based on one major false assumption: let me refer to it briefly. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor said--and I believe him--that the Government will press ahead strongly for a second Chamber: that is, a different second Chamber. The major assumption that there will be a short transitional period is wrong, for a number of reasons. Let me just explain why I think the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, was rather cleverer than many thought--not me--because with his pedigree there was never a chance of there being an ill-trained spaniel. He was a very well-trained spaniel indeed! He knew that the hereditary Peers he was going to keep in this second Chamber would be lasting for rather a long time.

Let me just explain briefly why. Let us assume that the Royal Commission agree--which is a bit of an assumption, even under the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham--and let us assume that the joint committee of both Houses agrees--and they will have to be chosen rather carefully by the Chief Whips for that to happen--and let us assume that the House of Commons itself agrees, which is rather a rash assumption. Let us assume that the Cabinet agrees. After all, we have seen in paragraph 5, Chapter 7 of the White Paper that the only Government commitment is "to respond to the proposals". Let us assume that everyone agrees and we are now approximately in the middle of the year 2000. They then proceed to draft legislation in three or four months, ready for the last Session of this Parliament.

Can anyone seriously believe that that is what is going to be done? Of course not. That is just one reason why it will not happen in this Parliament. In the next Parliament, assuming that we still have the same size majority in another place, although it may not be quite as big, it is possible that there will be other priorities. So in my view there will be no rush, despite my believing that the Government and my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor want to honour the commitment they genuinely went into. There will be some 600 noble Lords left in this House and there will be 600 in another place. There will be 1,200 different views of what kind of second Chamber there should be.

The idea that we will get all that in the next Parliament in the first few Sessions frankly, beggars belief. So in practice it will be deferral, deferral, deferral. I hope I am wrong--I see that the noble

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Viscount wants to intervene; I am happy to let him do so in a moment--but I fear that I am right and there will not be a proper second Chamber very quickly.

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