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Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have supported the amendment. I believe that my noble friend Lord Trenchard asked whether it would be better for new hereditary Peers not to have a vote in effect until elected. I agree with that, and I tried to mention it in my introductory remarks.

The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, said that there was a massive vote for Weatherill and he wanted to stay with it and support it. That is fine. However, some of us abstained and some voted against it. But, surely, the fact that the Committee has supported Weatherill in a massive vote last Tuesday does not mean that it cannot be just one step in the right direction. We are at Committee stage and that is what it is for. I do not understand the position of the noble Lord.

Lord Haskel: My position is very simple. That discussion is over and the Committee has made a decision.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: The Committee has not made a decision if it wants to improve upon it. That is the purpose of the Committee stage and there is no point in arguing about that.

I believe that the speech of my noble friend Lord Peyton was the most disappointing that I have ever heard him make. I have always enjoyed his contributions but on this occasion he contented himself with agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Haskel. It was a sort of "bang, bang, you're dead and I'm not playing" speech that I do not believe contributed much. I can only leave him with my disappointment that he did not regale us at length with his reasons for disagreeing with the amendment when no doubt he listened carefully to my few words in introducing it.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: In the course of 33 minutes my three noble friends made it clear to me that the amendment had very little merit. I did not propose to take up a lot of time on where the merit should have been.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: If when we are in debate we say that something does not have merit usually it behoves us to say why not. Neither the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, nor my noble friend Lord Peyton troubled himself to do that.

My noble friend Lord Strathclyde from our Front Bench felt, rightly, that the Government would find the Cross-Bench element of this amendment too high to bear--perhaps because he has himself been a Chief Whip. I do not pretend that the numbers in this amendment are necessarily right. That is what Committee is for. Those numbers can easily be adjusted on Report, to meet any of the real objections made so far.

I conclude by referring to the kind remarks of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House. She got it wrong when she reported me as saying that my

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amendment was radical and a pipe dream. I did not say that. I admitted that my amendment was radical but submitted that it was still worth serious consideration by your Lordships. I said that a House of Lords composed entirely of truly independent, Cross-Bench people was alas a pipe dream. Such a House would be in the best interests of the British people, although I understand that it does not go down very well in the goldfish bowl of Westminster.

I made it very clear in my introduction at least twice--if not three times--that it was a proposed solution for the interim House and that I had taken the interval of seven years just in case the interim House lasted for that length of time. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor himself agreed that it might last for five years. If five, why not seven? I said that we should be prepared for seven. In further response to the Leader of the House, I also said that the Labour Party might not need to hold the very first election. It could easily have 200 Peers many of whom would qualify for the new House without an election, especially when the Labour Party might have no fewer than 43 new Peers in the pipeline. My remarks mentioned only the 24 who would be necessary to allow the 200 Labour Peers to continue without an election.

I am extremely grateful to noble Lords who have supported the amendment. I am disappointed that leading Members of your Lordships' House cannot bring to bear the flexibility which this amendment requires. Perhaps they will be good enough to read in Hansard what I have actually said. Maybe I shall bring this matter back at Report stage, but in the meantime I thank the Committee for its patience and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil moved Amendment No. 110F:

After Clause 3, insert the following new clause--


(" . This Act shall cease to have effect and the repeals referred to in section 3 shall be ineffective on 31st October 2001 unless, before that day, a subsequent Act has been passed by both Houses of Parliament to make new provision for membership of the House of Lords.")

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, first, I should like to thank my noble friend the Chief Whip--it is unusual for me to do such a thing--for his courtesy in taking on this matter temporarily last Thursday night when matters moved at inconceivable and unprecedented speed. The amendment attempts to deal with the anxiety frequently expressed in Committee that the transitional stage will last much too long and that there will be infinite delay in establishing a second Chamber. In no bad faith or attempt to deceive anyone, I am concerned that what the Government hope will happen may not happen--and that we shall be left with the unsatisfactory interim arrangements much too long.

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My noble friend Lord Alexander of Weedon would have seconded the amendment but he is in Ireland today for a longstanding engagement. The third name to the amendment is that of the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, who is no longer in his place, and the fourth is the noble Lord, Lord Bridges--so I can claim that the amendment has Cross-Bench support.

Four important issues have not yet been settled, which is what makes us all so anxious about the Bill. I hope that the Government have learnt that when a half-measure is opposed, that does not shorten proceedings but tends to lengthen them because it makes people curious about what has been left for the next round. The Government have suffered much from that procedure. I have the feeling that interest in this stage of the Bill is not what one would call "throbbing" and that long speeches are not the best way to endear oneself to the Committee--and I have always wanted to endear myself to your Lordships.

The four questions of serious concern are: when will a second Chamber be established; how will it be formed--by what process; who will be in it; and what powers will it possess? It is in everyone's interest to answer those four clear, simple questions as soon as possible.

The Bill concerns the whole of Parliament, yet we have never really heard any mention of the House of Commons. All we hear about is that the other place is a democratically elected assembly. That may be so, but it cannot be claimed that the House of Commons behaves in an extremely democratic way. With rare exceptions, the other place behaves with extreme docility when faced with not-all-that-ferocious Whips. That does not seem particularly appropriate in a Parliament whose duty is to fetter, control and watch the executive. Sometimes it appears that people suffer from the belief that the only duty of Parliament is to provide the executive, but there is another, ensuing duty: to watch it carefully and ensure that it does not get up to absolutely intolerable mischief.

As to the question of when the new second Chamber will be established, I will say in fairness that the Lord Chancellor's acceptance of the Weatherill amendment (and the manner in which he accepted it) did something to soften my anxiety. The noble and learned Lord gave me the impression that the Government are sincere in wanting to end the transitional stage as soon as possible. My anxiety remains because the best laid plans of mice and men often do not come to fruition.

By what constituency will the new Chamber be elected? We have been told all along--I am not a wholehearted supporter of this proposition--that the supremacy of the House of Commons is of first importance. When the other place behaves in a democratic fashion, I go along with that--but as it often fails to do so, one has to be careful. I strongly suspect that the option of an elected or partially elected second Chamber will not be followed because it could be seen as posing a future threat to the House

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of Commons. It would be a bit odd if an attempt to make your Lordships' House more democratic produced a totally nominated Chamber. I suspect that that is what we are going to end up with, and I shall be interested to hear the Minister's reply on that point.

As to who will be in the new second Chamber, all Prime Ministers tend to have plenty of friends and one is always anxious because not all of them are terribly desirable. I am concerned that we do not have a second Chamber comprising poodles--rather tame and well- behaved poodles at that--to go along with the government of the day.

One of my objections to the Bill is that it will leave political parties with more power. I am not sure what they will do to preserve the position of Cross-Benchers, which is very important, but I fear that we shall find ourselves saddled with a second Chamber in which the political parties are more powerful and important and enjoy more prestige. They have quite enough already and ought to be shorn of some of it.

My last anxiety, on which we have received little guidance, concerns the powers that the new Chamber will have. If those four important points are left unanswered, Parliament will be in a serious state of jeopardy.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: I am following the noble Lord's argument closely. He is asking my noble friend the Minister to second-guess the recommendations of the Royal Commission. We need to wait until that commission reports and gives us the benefit of its inquiries. We need to wait until the Joint Committee of both Houses, into which the other place will make its input, has met. Then we need the Government's reaction to all that. I am puzzled that the noble Lord, who is well experienced, is inviting the Government to say in detail now what they would prefer to happen, when all they have done so far is indicate the principle.

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