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Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Longford, makes an extremely valid point. He asked whether we will benefit from the legacy of the hereditary peerage. I agree with his answer that the best way for the successor House to benefit is to accept the 92 hereditary Peers currently provided for in the Bill and for them to continue into the new House--perhaps for a very long time.

Turning to the amendment of my noble friend Lord Dartmouth, many of the essential questions he raised were discussed in an earlier debate. I responded to them when we discussed the amendment of my noble friend Lord Tebbit. The essential difference between the two amendments is that my noble friend Lord Dartmouth proposes that this House should come back into being if certain things are not done. I suggest to my noble friend--I am sure that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, will make the point more forcefully than I--that that is even less realistic when it comes to the likelihood of the Government accepting an amendment.

However, my noble friend makes a good point about a more democratic future House. He is quite right to follow the line of the report produced by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern

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and the evidence given by our party to the Wakeham commission, and to say that, in considering stage two, an elected House, or an elected element to the House, cannot be excluded as the Government clearly seek. It is such a fundamental point. That is why the Government have spent the whole of this debate, from when it started, from the moment they were elected, not wanting to discuss stage two. My noble friend has done us a service by reminding us of just how much the Government seek to duck that issue.

Sadly, that is as far as it goes. I hope that my noble friend will not press his amendment. I look forward to the reply of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn. If the amendment was agreed to, I suspect that it would be ultimately counter-productive. In the light of the decision of the House on the earlier amendment, I trust that my noble friend will not press his amendment.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for his support in my opposition--which he correctly anticipated--to these amendments. Both noble Earls spoke of the contribution that hereditary Peers have made to the history of this Chamber. I have on several occasions said that my personal belief is that that is so; some hereditary Peers have contributed very significantly, not only to the life and work of this Chamber but also to the life and work of the nation; so have some life Peers, and life Peers may well do so in the future. I am hopeful and confident that they will. So there is nothing between the two noble Earls and myself about the past contribution made by the hereditary Peers.

I sense in the Chamber that your Lordships would like me to follow the example of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and be relatively brief. I hope that I am not being disagreeable or discourteous when I say that this amendment simply could not work under any circumstances. If one examines it, one realises that the House would have to reconstitute itself after three calendar years following the coming into effect of the Bill as an Act unless a committee of both Houses had reported, and a Minister of the Crown had introduced into either House a Bill providing for the election of at least one-third of the Members by those entitled to vote in a parliamentary election. It simply could not work. The amendment would automatically bring this House back into life three years after the Bill was passed. That could happen in the middle of a parliamentary Session, or it might be at the tail end. Bills might be going through your Lordships' House. It would be completely unmanageable.

Many noble Lords have observed that they may wish to stand for election to the other Chamber. They might well have been elected, and then they would be ejected from that Chamber to return to this place. Even a moment's scrutiny demonstrates--I hope that I say this courteously to the noble Earl, Lord Dartmouth--that it is not workable.

I do not stand on those comments alone. I am entirely in accord with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and I shall put this as briefly as I can. We have traversed this ground many times before. The

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House has indicated its view and I do not believe that I can do the House any further service by expanding upon the objections.

The Earl of Dartmouth: My Lords, I rather thought that someone would say that we must keep the Weatherill amendment, and I am glad that the noble Earl referred to that. However, the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, made it clear in his remarks that the 92 surviving hereditary Peers by virtue of the Weatherill amendment are in effect 92 hostages to good behaviour. I should make the point that the Weatherill amendment ensures only a very short-term survival of those 92 hereditary Peers, and has been achieved at a very heavy price. That comment would be borne out if one attended a Labour Party constituency meeting.

Previously, the hereditary peerage had some slight reputation in the country for being public-spirited, disinterested, altruistic and selfless. I shall quote from a speech made by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, on 11th May, when she said:

    "The publicity which the noble Viscount's action received at the time"--

that is to say, the action of the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne--

    "was such as to make the people of this country think that it"--

namely, the Weatherill amendment--

    "was entirely a ploy by some of the hereditary Peers to save their own skins".--[Official Report, 11/5/99; col. 1129.]

That is something we should bear in mind, because I am afraid that that is how it looks. By reason of the Weatherill amendment, as a group the hereditary peerage has now lost that regard and the small respect in the country which previously it had enjoyed. I wish that my noble friends would take full cognisance of that fact.

Since they have come to power, this Government have been trashing our constitution in a dangerous and irresponsible manner. Sometimes it takes place in a relatively minor way, such as the compulsory closed party lists for the elections to the European Parliament. Sometimes it takes place in a more major way. I refer to the rules for referenda which consistently tilt the playing field in the Government's favour. The latest and most blatant example of this has caused even the Government's own appointed ethics committee to protest. More seriously, the Government trash our hard-won constitution most of all in their open contempt for both Houses of Parliament. This disreputable Bill is the most important example of that contempt.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, is right to say that in practice this amendment would probably be unworkable, but that is precisely the point. The purpose of this amendment--

Noble Lords: Oh!

The Earl of Dartmouth: No, my Lords, it is so that the Government keep their promises and introduce

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stage two. It would ensure that the Government do not have a House of supine appointees run by the control freaks at No. 10 Downing Street.

The purpose of the amendment is to hold the Government to account and to make them keep their promises. My noble friend Lord Strathclyde urged me not to call a Division. Normally, I would not have called one. However, in today's Daily Telegraph the editor rightly said that noble Lords should support the amendment. Under the circumstances, I think that it would be wrong for me not to give them this opportunity.

On Question, amendment negatived.

10 p.m.

Clause 8 [Interpretation and short title]:

Baroness Flather moved Amendment No. 26:

Page 3, line 36, leave out ("House of Lords") and insert ("Removal of Hereditary Peerage Rights").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Dartmouth, is a difficult act to follow but I shall make a short and simple speech on this short and simple amendment. It requires almost no explanation. It is quite clear what it purports to do. I feel strongly that the term "House of Lords Bill" has very little meaning in itself. As there will be more House of Lords Bills, it has even less relevance. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, has already said, the basic point of the Bill is exactly as I have described it in my amendment--the Removal of Hereditary Peerage Rights. I think that it is only right and proper that the Bill should be called by the proper name and should give an indication of what it is going to achieve.

I hope that the Government will consider this an appropriate thing to do as just calling it the House of Lords Bill is neither here nor there--it could refer to the improvement of the building or the replacement of the carpets. The Long Title will have to be very long, but I believe that the Short Title should have the correct description of the contents of the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Kingsland: My Lords, I rise briefly to say that I think that my noble friend Lady Flather is absolutely right. Indeed, earlier today I recall one noble Lord saying--I cannot remember who but certainly he spoke from the direction of the Government Front Bench--that the Bill is about the removal of hereditary Peers or the disposal of the hereditary peerage. So I ask noble Lords on the Government Front Bench: why not be absolutely open, honest and frank about what you are doing and change the title of the Bill?

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