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Lord Chalfont: My Lords, will the noble Lord, Lord Richard, give way? It is true that I do not like this Bill; it is a bad Bill. I have said that many times before and he has said what he said tonight many times before. But may I make this point? The Labour Party and the Labour Government may have made up their mind what they want and what they are going to get. That does not mean that the rest of us should lie down and accept it.

Lord Richard: My Lords, I have not suggested that for an instant. Of course one should have healthy, lengthy, protracted and rigorous debate. But at the end of the day, when the Government have made their position absolutely clear, I am saying to the House tonight that to pass this amendment is a clear denial of the Government's right to get their legislation. It is not a difficult point to grasp. I am sure that even the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, understands it. Indeed, I know he does because it is precisely the point that he would have made if he were standing in my position tonight.

I want to make just one other point. Much of the confusion on the other side of the House in relation to this Bill comes from a desire to confuse stages one and two. I have a firm view about stage two. I believe that we will not reform this House properly unless we have a considerable, directly-elected element in the new House. I have never made any secret of that. Indeed, my noble friends Lord Barnett and Lord Peston said very much the same thing this afternoon.

But that is not the point tonight. That is the central argument that will take place when the Royal Commission has reported. Tonight we are saying farewell to the hereditary Peers' right to sit and vote; no more and no less. An attempt to put that back for another three years is a mere attempt at delay, and

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delay, and delay. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, shakes his head. But that is what he wants to do; to delay the Bill.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, I nodded.

Lord Richard: My Lords, I am sorry; the noble Lord nodded. That is much more important than a shake in this instance. Of course he wants to delay the Bill. He does not like it. He does not want to see it implemented. But we on these Benches like the Bill. We want to see it implemented. We have a public manifesto. We had a mandate at the last election. We have an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons. We have had it in this House for nine months. With great respect to the hereditary Peers, for whom I have considerable admiration, the time has come that this Bill should now pass

Lord Sandys: My Lords, I have attempted to speak on this amendment six or seven times. As I may be the first hereditary Peer to speak on it after nearly 59 minutes of discussion I should perhaps declare an interest. I shall be brief, as colleagues will be pleased to know.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Richard, for enlightening us on much of the situation. I should like to quote from his helpful speech over a year ago, on 14th October 1998. It is the only speech as far as I can see--I have researched this carefully--from the Government in relation to timing. Amendment No. 18 concerns timing. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Tebbit for bringing it forward. It is not a killer amendment. It is an amendment of sophistication. Last year the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said this:

    "I do not envisage legislation on the report of the Royal Commission until the first or second year of the next Parliament, so that the whole process would take around four years. As I said earlier, in many ways the issue of the hereditary peerage and its right to sit and vote in this House in some ways resolves itself into a question of timing. Should that step be taken at the beginning or at the end of the process? In all candour, I have heard no convincing arguments for postponing it. Indeed, when pressed, the opponents to the Government's proposition seem to condense the point to one of not being able to trust the Government to do what they say".--[Official Report, 14/10/98; col. 947.]

It was very helpful of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, to give us a time-scale because we had had none whatever until that time--that was about six months before the Bill was introduced in your Lordships' House. That time-scale clearly indicates that the Government had quite a long time-scale in mind.

This amendment, which is such a very good one, would allow time for further consideration and, indeed, would assist my noble friend Lord Wakeham who will almost certainly ask for an extension of time. I remind your Lordships that the first public hearing was held on 12th May. It really stretches credulity to a great extent if my noble friend is expected to report by 31st December, or thereabouts, knowing that the subject has nearly 90 years of history behind it. If he is going to devote enormous care, as I am sure that he will, to certain reports which came before his own Royal Commission, he will be looking at the Bryce

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commission of 1917-18. If any noble Lords have looked, as I am sure that they have, at its recommendations and the sense of balance and objectivity which come from the words of Lord Bryce and his commissioners, they will realise what a very difficult task has been placed in the hands of my noble friend Lord Wakeham.

I support this amendment. I do not believe that it is a "killer"; I believe that it is an enabling amendment.

Viscount Mountgarret: My Lords, I, too, do not like the phraseology used of a "killer amendment". I must take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, in this respect. I am not sure that it is within the remit of your Lordships' House deliberately to seek to frustrate the Government's policy which has been clearly laid down. However, I believe that this House should--and does--assist the Government genuinely and sincerely to try to enact legislation in a right and proper fashion.

The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, very kindly referred to me as his noble friend. I am very honoured to feel that perhaps de facto I am, although politics does not permit that. None the less, the noble Lord did make reference to the fact that this amendment is almost exactly the same as the one that I, with the great assistance of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, put forward in Committee. A number of arguments were deployed then; indeed, we got flak from the Government who said, "All you want to do is to delay the whole thing". That is not true. It is not a question of wanting to delay the whole thing: there would be no delay if only the Government had taken the Bill step by step.

For the life of me, I cannot see how anyone who runs a business or any enterprise can make dramatic changes to the entire set-up without giving thought to what is to replace it. That is all, no more no less. Unfortunately, the Government were incalculable and said, "No, we don't like this; we don't agree with it". I then withdrew the amendment in the hope that the Government would give the matter a little more thought. But, alas, it was not to be. So, on Report, I tried a different tack; namely, relying on the question that hereditaries had received their Writs for this Parliament and, therefore, by right ought to be here for the remainder of the Parliament. I later learnt that that was to be referred, very sensibly, to the Committee for Privileges for it to adjudicate thereon. The answer has since come back, "No, that is not correct".

I cannot speak for the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, but that is the reason why I withdrew the amendment that I intended to move on Third Reading. However, I am delighted to see that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, is raising the matter and is able to deploy the magnificent arguments in the lucid style for which he is so well known. I feel that he should be given maximum support.

There is an expression,

    "fools rush in where wise men fear to tread".

I would not like to be accused of suggesting that noble Lords in the Labour Party are foolish, or that they are fools, either in the particular or in the generality. That

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would be wrong. However, they are acting in a foolish way in not thinking through what will come next after we trot out into the twilight. Some will go to Church and sing:

    "Dear Lord and Father of mankind, forgive our foolish ways".

The efforts of the Almighty will be greatly taxed if He is to forgive the gross foolishness of this, if it is proceeded with in this manner. For that reason, I feel that your Lordships' House has a duty to support the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, and consider where we are going, what we are doing and how we are going to do it before this Bill comes into force.

7.45 p.m.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede: My Lords, I want to respond to a number of points that have been made in this fairly lengthy debate. A number of words have been used which, speaking as a hereditary Peer, I found quite offensive. The noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret, spoke of the Government acting foolishly and the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, spoke of uncivilised behaviour. He also spoke of losing expertise from the House, which is certainly true in part, and of losing dignity. I have to say that I believe that to be wholly untrue. I have sat through most of the proceedings on this Bill--

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, I never said that this House had lost its dignity; I said that I hoped that it would not. We must be accurate about these things.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede: My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord if I misquoted him. Indeed, I agree with him. It is right that this House should not lose its dignity, but I think it is in danger of doing so because it is not accepting the often repeated words of my noble friends on the Government Front Bench. They have repeatedly said that they recognise the individual contribution of many hereditary Peers; but that the Government will stick by their manifesto commitment and their intentions, which have been as plain as a pikestaff for as long as the Labour Party has been in existence. So I really cannot see that there is any objection to the Government's intention.

The Government have been consistent and determined. When the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, started toying with the idea of invoking the European Convention on Human Rights, it very nearly took my breath away. I am a parliamentarian in the Council of Europe, which, of course, is the custodian of the ECHR. I was in Bucharest last week and talked to some Romanian parliamentarians. When I explained to them how I became a member of the British legislature, they just could not believe it. It was completely beyond their comprehension that there were hereditary Peers anywhere in the British legislature. Therefore, to talk about the ECHR, which, as I said, is the custodian of human rights, is beyond my understanding.

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In conclusion, it is worth repeating that the reason for this Bill is a matter of privilege--it seeks to abolish the hereditary privilege which is wrong in principle. For that reason alone, the Bill should pass. I hope that it will do so quickly.

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