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Lord Wedgwood: My Lords, it would seem I enter this debate almost literally at the eleventh hour. I simply did not believe that we would ever reach this point. Perhaps I underestimated the extent to which this Government are committed to altering the composition of your Lordships' House before a credible option for reform has been presented and considered--many noble Lords have already mentioned that tonight.
I have learnt that we have a government devoid of principle that psychobabbles its destructive way with spin doctors and an army of special advisers. On these Benches we have been slow and plodding to respond and are now faced with the possibility of a shameful and disastrous end-game. It is our duty to reject this Bill. I say that as the great grandson of a distinguished soldier who represented Newcastle-under-Lyme for 35 years as Liberal and then later Labour Member of Parliament. He was finally elevated to your Lordships' House in 1942 on the recommendation of the then Labour leader, Mr Attlee. Ironically, the peerage was created in order to strengthen Labour's representation in the House of Lords which was considered disproportionate.
Like many other noble Lords, I have a business life outside the hallowed halls of Westminster. An earlier great-grandfather than the one I mentioned, by the same name, started a business in 1759. I am proud to represent that business around the world, especially as the company is still a major source of employment in the same area near Stoke-on-Trent. It also happens to pay the bills and keep a roof over my head. So I have responded to the Writ of Summons, obviously not for personal gain, but out of an acute sense of duty; yes, the type of duty encouraged by family and education;
Lord Wedgwood: My Lords, the noble Earl will have his time. This is not the Commonwealth of Australia where the people will soon decide if her Majesty the Queen is to remain Head of State. If this Bill is enacted, how long will it take before the monarch is scuttled out of Buckingham Palace in the next step of the first president of the "People's Republic of England" and a vice-president like Peter Mandelson. Jonathon Friedland's ghastly book, Bring Home the Revolution, is a blueprint for such a scenario. So perhaps the day is not so far away.
Many noble Lords have correctly asked the question of why the Government are so determined to enact the Bill before the Royal Commission report, and again we have heard today from many on that subject. We can only guess at their motives. It remains unclear what the Government propose in terms of the future composition and envisaged role of the second Chamber within the legislature. At the very least, it is our duty and responsibility to ensure that, if the current system is to change, it must be a change for the better. Without that assurance, we can only bring shame upon ourselves if we depart from Westminster with the tail between our legs--or, as a Member of another place suggested, with "a boot to our rear-ends". The picture of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House and other noble Lords opposite applying their ample-sized boots makes for quite a scene.
Some of my noble friends appear to have succumbed to the ridiculous side-show in the form of the Weatherill amendment. Certain would-be "TULIPs"--that is, temporary unpaid Lords in Parliament--have been required to express in writing why they should be elected. Has anyone stopped to think how pathetic this appears to the rest of the world? This demeaning act has made a laughing stock of this House. The would-be "TULIPs" have no doubt considered what is the better of two evils: to give in to what they consider to be the inevitable or to accept a back-room deal so that they can remain, but without any assurance. What a disgraceful compromise. I ask my noble friends: where is your mettle? We are not respected for doing business through ill-thought-out deals and half measures. No, we are applauded as a revising Chamber, which delivers in a non-partisan manner like no other second Chamber of Parliament. Why? Because we believe in duty and principle; and we are unpaid.
It would be foolish to think, if this Bill is enacted, that the subject of remuneration will not rear its ugly head. Heretofore not an issue, it will be a travesty for your Lordships' House and the nation. How do we think the electorate will respond to the prospect of even greater costs at Westminster and the sheer greed of its incumbents?
My noble friends bound for Hatfield tomorrow in coaches and people-carriers might reflect on events. As the watchdog of the constitution, we could wish for a group of loyal, if ill-trained, spaniels as opposed to a bunch of Mr Blair's poodles. I had the great privilege of serving in The Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment). I am proud to say that after a hotly contested campaign to save the regiment--a regiment raised in 1633--from amalgamation, it is still the first regiment of foot and stands at the right of the line. The motto for this regiment which I used in my maiden speech is one that I use again tonight--I hope, not for the last time--because I believe it is most appropriate, "Nemo me impune lacessit".
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I think that my noble friend Lord Bragg is perhaps associating himself too formally with the Bishops' Bench. I am afraid that he cannot speak from there. I think that the House would like to hear the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd.
Lord Shepherd: My Lords, we have had a long and by and large good natured debate through the many series on this Bill. I say to the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition that his speech tonight in a sense--I hope he will forgive me for putting it this way--was a coming of age. I thought that it was a statesmanlike contribution and showed leadership to his own party under very difficult circumstances.
I could be honest and say that I do not like this Bill. I am a hereditary Peer. The Bill means that my grandson will not be able to follow me in this House and cannot enjoy the privileges that I have had over some 40-odd years. I think that I speak for my noble friends on this side of the House when I say that we feel no anger in regard to the hereditary Peers who sit on the other side of the House, not only now but also in the past. In some ways I may have had more friends on the other side of the House than I may from time to time have enjoyed on my own side. I believe that the hereditary peerage within this House, our system without a Speaker and loose rules have meant that we
I believe that the greatest contribution that we hereditary Peers can now make this evening is to bring this debate to an end with a degree of grace and hope that whatever may come may be better but certainly not worse than what we hand over to. I do not believe that an extended debate will be helpful. This is not necessarily the end of the process. We have to consider the messages from the House of Commons. However, I think that in the interests of the House we should leave here tonight with a sense that what has been of the past has been of good report, that we who have served in the House as hereditary Peers can leave with honour, with a duty well done, and that we leave without animosity. I think that the sooner this debate is brought to an end, the better.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I follow the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, in what he has said. I hope that when this Bill comes to an end we shall leave without animosity. The noble Lord said that this has been a good natured debate. I am not so sure that it has been so all the way through. I can understand anyone--I hope that noble Lords opposite can understand this--who feels aggrieved at the thought of 600 years of history coming to an end. People get worked up and feel incensed. But at the end of all that we must have a House which works, and, for goodness' sake, a House which is happy and content. Happy the Houses which smile at each other. Far too often there has been a tendency for vitriol to creep in.
I regret the Bill as much as any noble Lord on this side of the House; I wish it had not come to pass. I object to the fact that one does not know what will replace your Lordships' House. That is a great mistake. But we are at the stage, that the Bill do now pass, and either we pass it or we do not. I believe that if we were to vote against the Bill in any great measure it would meet with the most appalling disapproval of another place, of people in the country and of the media as a whole.
That is not our job. Our job has been to try and improve the Bill where we can and, having done our best, we should let the Bill go through with relative contentment. Whatever happens in the future, for those of us who may be here--and none of us knows who will be here--I hope that we will get back to the happy state we had before, where we all tried to co-operate and work together. In the end, that is the only way a revising chamber such as your Lordships' House can ever operate.
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