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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am grateful to see the position of the Official Opposition. Indeed, had the noble Baroness been sitting in her more accustomed place on the Cross Benches, she knows that my personal regard for her would have caused me to think very carefully about the amendment, which of course I have. But I would remind the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, reflecting on the position as it will

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continue in the life of this country, that the rights and privileges attached to a peerage, as we all now know, are not limited to membership of this House. It is not right to say that all the rights and privileges of the hereditary peerage are being removed. Therefore, the title proposed by the noble Baroness would be a misnomer. I look for the full support of every hereditary Peer for the principled and considered stand which I have taken.

Baroness Flather: My Lords, that reply was very interesting. I cannot refrain from commenting on the fact that I have returned to the fold, which I left only temporarily, as the noble and learned Lord knows very well, in protest at something that happened. We all know what that was. I have never crossed the Floor, and I never said that I had left the party. I am extremely disappointed that the noble and learned Lord's regard for me has gone down as a result.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness a question. I declare an interest as a Cross-Bench Member. Just out of interest, will she tell us why she came to the Cross-Benches, and why she left?

Baroness Flather: My Lords, I should have thought that that is somewhat irrelevant on this occasion. It is not the subject of the amendment. As my rights are not being eroded in any sense, I am entitled to go to the Cross-Benches; I am entitled to return to my party of origin; and I am entitled to cross the Floor if I so choose.

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Baroness Flather: My Lords, thank you. It begs the question: had I crossed the Floor, would the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, have had yet more regard for my amendment apart from the regard that he has for me?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I should have had more regard for the noble Baroness, but not for her amendment.

Baroness Flather: My Lords, I am relieved to hear that. I would still press the noble and learned Lord to consider this matter again and perhaps come up with a better Title. I still do not feel that "House of Lords Bill" is an appropriate Title for this fundamental change to the constitution. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 27:

Insert the following new Preamble--
("Whereas it is expedient that provision should be made for bringing to an end the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords:
And whereas it is intended to further reform the House of Lords as soon as may conveniently be accomplished:

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And whereas it is intended, pending such further reform, to make provision for an approximate equality between the representation of Government and Opposition parties in the House of Lords, and for the maintenance of a substantial independent element in that House:").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we take a great deal of care of the fabric of this building. In that regard the Government have an admirable record of conservatism on which I congratulate them. We should take equal care of the fabric of our constitution.

Our constitution represents the accumulated wisdom of our peoples over hundreds of years. As such, it is in its very essence and purpose conservative. One might therefore think that it was under considerable threat from a Government who say that they abhor everything conservative. But that should not be the case.

The Government have an enormous programme of constitutional change in hand. If they expect to gain respect for the changed constitution from those who succeed the present one, they must want those who succeed to be conservative, at least with a small "c". The amendment addresses the question of maintaining respect for the constitution.

These days, constitutional change should be evidenced in a resolution of Parliament. The Government say that the word of the Prime Minister is enough. My noble friend Lord Cranborne has dealt with the limited life of the word of even the best of Prime Ministers. By their support for the by-election amendment, the Government have admitted the possibility that the interim House may be with us for a long time. The prime ministerial word is just not a suitable fabric for this part of the constitution. I introduce this amendment in order to put the promises that the Government have made, and reiterated today, regarding the constitution of the interim House on a proper constitutional footing.

As the noble Baroness the Leader of the House said earlier, Parliament is the guardian of our constitution. I agree with her completely. It should be Parliament that puts the seal on the promises that the Government have made, so that they may endure for as long as is necessary until the interim House is replaced.

A Preamble should present no obstacle to the Government. It has no legal effect. It does not affect the interpretation of any parts of the Bill. It will present no obstacle to any of the plans that the Government have outlined for the near or even slightly longer-term future. It is utterly anodyne so far as the Government are concerned, particularly because all that the draft contains is government policy, or to some extent an over-statement of government policy in the Government's favour.

I do not believe that the Government can have any objection to this addition to the Bill, except perhaps to wonder why it is necessary at all. For that I point noble Lords to the preamble to the 1911 Act. That part of the 1911 Act has been quoted endlessly by the Government on this Bill. I am sure that many of us have had it in mind as we have considered our proper relationship with the Government while our overwhelming presence in this House continued.

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Every change in the constitution of this House since 1911 has been in the direction set out in that preamble. It has been slow but sure; it is the tortoise that has overtaken our "heirs".

The 1911 preamble has commanded respect for the best part of a century. If those same promises and ambitions had been set out merely in the words of Lloyd George, they would have been long forgotten and ignored. Surely the Government, who are intent on doing so much to our constitution, want to maintain respect for it. If they do not respect the constitution as they change it, they are in danger of asking their successors to treat their own constitution with similar contempt. If, through the passage of this Bill, we allow it to become an accepted principle that the word of the Prime Minister of this country is enough to effect constitutional change, it will be dangerous not only for the longevity of the Government's own reforms, but for all of us. I beg to move.

Lord Kingsland: My Lords, I recall that earlier today the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor gave full support to both principles set out in the third paragraph of the preamble; that is, equality between the representation of government and opposition parties in the House of Lords and the maintenance of a substantial independent element in your Lordships' House. I can see no reason, therefore, why the Government should wish to oppose this amendment.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, returns to an issue that we have discussed before in various forms. He deals with the issue of a preamble to the Bill which he has raised in different debates. Without hinting that I necessarily agree with anything that the noble Lord says, perhaps I may say that he has played an intellectually energetic part in the progress of this Bill. I have enjoyed his contribution both on the Floor of the House and in private conversation with him. I believe that the noble Lord does not intend to press this particular amendment to a Division. However, in case he has changed his mind, or some other noble Lord takes it upon himself to move the amendment for him, it would be appropriate to repeat why the Government find inappropriate an amendment that inserts a preamble into the Bill.

Our objections are based on the ground of principle. I entirely accept that the words to which the noble Lord has spoken tonight reflect nothing that the Government have not themselves said several times. We intend to move to the next stage of reform and we pledge ourselves to both broad parity between the two main parties and a continuing strong, independent presence in the House. We do not, however, believe that provision needs to be made beyond the Prime Minister's pledges since these are, after all, matters for the exercise of the prerogative.

We have already been round this course several times in relation to purpose clauses. I can only repeat what I have said before. Acts of Parliament are legislative vehicles that are supposed to do something.

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They are not places for uttering aspirations. I accept that in the past--I recognise the noble Lord's point about the preamble to the 1911 Act--this practice was more common. There was a preamble to the Parliament (No. 2) Bill in 1968 that dealt with some of the same proposals now before us. But, on the whole, in 1999 that is not how legislation is drafted. We rely on the operative words of an Act to tell us what the legislation means, while the Long Title informs Peers and Members of Parliament about its subject-matter and purpose. Words that do not mean anything have no place in modern legislation, and that practice certainly predates the present Government.

To summarise, the preamble which the noble Lord proposes, while spelling out nothing more than the truth, contains one term which is self-evident, but is probably more properly dealt with in the Long Title to the Bill, and two terms which are simply descriptions of what it is intended will happen in future. Neither type of expression has any place in modern legislation of this kind. I am reminded of the strictures of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale--I do not see him in his place--on the prolixity of today's statute book which surely apply to the noble Lord's amendment. I beg him to withdraw the amendment.

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