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Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I hope that she is, anyway. I fear that her attention appears to have wandered when my turn came. However, as I now conclude, I beg her, if it is she who is to answer the question, to listen carefully to the following five propositions about the Bill and to say whether she does not agree with any of them and why. These propositions emerged in our debate last week. I did not press her on the answers then, so I feel that I should do so now.
Secondly, does she agree that under Clause 2 as drafted a number of excellent hereditary Peers will be entirely excluded from your Lordships' interim Chamber while a large number of less excellent appointed Peers will stay on with full powers?
Thirdly, does she agree that one of the most unsatisfactory aspects about the present composition of your Lordships' House is the preponderance of Conservative Members and that Clause 2 does not solve this problem?
Fourthly, does she agree that we should respect as much of the Government's election manifesto for the interim House as the Government themselves now intend to do after they have conceded the principle that 92 hereditary Peers can stay on?
If the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal agrees with any of these propositions, particularly the last one, I humbly suggest that she and the Government should work with the House to find a clause which meets them all. Clause 2, as drafted, meets none of them.
Lord Weatherill: The hour is late. I shall not rehearse again the background to the amendment which could properly be called the "Cranborne" or "Weatherill" amendment, whatever noble Lords wish. It sought, and seeks, to overcome a short-term problem which we all recognise; namely, to carry on the work of the House with regard to the contributions made by 75 hereditary Peers, particularly those who do such
As we all know, this proposition was supported a fortnight ago by a majority--said to be the largest for many years, as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch--of 351 to 32. I hope, therefore, that Members of the Committee will agree to support it again tonight.
Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: I do not want to prolong our discussion either. Whatever our previous intentions, we have no wish now to delay the further progress of the Bill. As we have been reminded, we shall have in due course a Report stage. The noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, among others, reminded us that there will be discussion in the Procedure Committee and then an opportunity for the House further to discuss the Standing Orders.
I would say only this to the Lord Chancellor for his consideration: one of our difficulties, which became very plain today, is knowing what the agreement between himself and the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, actually comprises. This evening, on the question of by-elections, the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, said, "If my memory is accurate". He was somewhat uncertain about what he and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor had agreed. At one stage, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said that he was glad that the veil had been lifted a little on the agreement. It would be helpful to the Committee to know what was agreed; the matter on which there is little opportunity to improve, for the reasons we now understand; and what area is left for the scrutiny of the House and upon which the House will make its own decisions.
We take our medicine, the Weatherill medicine, under protest. However, there is still surely room, round and about that agreement, for the House to take a view of its own. Just before the dinner break this evening, I raised the question with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and asked him to consider it. I do not ask for a reply this evening, but my question was very much focused on how far there was an agreement about how elections should take place in the separate groups. All the indications I have is that there was no such agreement. Therefore, that is a legitimate area on which the House can decide.
If we know what the original agreement was and may assume that it is not a moving agreement, being made up as things go along, it will be much easier when we reach the further stages of the Bill. Every Bill is capable of improvement. I believe that round the central core of that agreement there are improvements which your Lordships' House could still make.
Lord Monson: A great many noble Lords--mainly, but not exclusively, on the Government Benches--laughed when the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, asserted that a great many noble Lords had abstained in the vote on the Weatherill amendment. However, one reliable national broadsheet established that over 200 noble Lords who were present on the day abstained from
Lord Strathclyde: This is a rotten little Bill; it has always been a rotten little Bill and remains one now. However, it has been marginally improved by the insertion of Clause 2, formerly the Weatherill amendment.
It is still not too late for the Government to get this Bill right. But in order to get it right they should withdraw it; they should wait for the Royal Commission headed by my noble friend Lord Wakeham to make its recommendations; they should wait for Parliament to review those recommendations in a joint committee of both Houses. They should then, having had a great public debate and achieved broad consensus between the parties, come forward with a properly formulated Bill to reform this House, a reform for which we have waited nearly a century. That is almost certainly the best way of achieving a proper reform of this House.
My noble friend Lord Pearson may well, in a few moments, give us an opportunity to reconsider a decision that this Committee has already made on Clause 2. I hope that that decision is not reversed. If he does call a Division, I shall support my earlier decision to support this clause.
The Lord Chancellor: I welcome what came a moment or two ago out of the mouth of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. I realise that at an earlier stage in his mercifully short observations, which I shall try to emulate for brevity, he had to go through the motions.
On 11th May we agreed to make the amendment that has now become Clause 2. We agreed to it by a massive majority of 351 to 32. Prior to debating the amendment, we considered a number of other amendments which
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. But have we been wasting our time today? Supposing the Committee had divided and agreed an amendment of any noble Lord which proposed devastating changes to the Weatherill amendment by way of increasing the number of Peers, would that have been possible? The Government may reply that they would have overturned it in the Commons. But I hope that our being here all day has not been a complete waste of time.
I must point out to the Lord Chancellor that he did not answer any one of the five questions that I posed to him or his noble friend the Lord Privy Seal. I feel once again that one is being told, "Bang, bang! You are dead and we are not playing". In those circumstances, for the moment I reserve my position to come back at Report stage.
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