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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt the noble and learned Lord, and he knows that I do so with great reluctance, but it is only right to point out that we are not the majority in this House: we are simply the largest party. We have six members more than any other party. Mighty as those six are, they do not give us a majority.

Lord Donaldson of Lymington: My Lords, I chose my words without due care and attention. I meant that there are more Members of this House taking the Labour Whip than there are taking the Whip of any other party or indeed those of us on these Benches who have the privilege of taking no Whip from any party, which is a freedom that I relish.

I still say that the origin of the Salisbury convention was when there was an overweening majority in this House, which has gone. It is true, as the noble Baroness says, that Labour does not have an overall majority—heaven help us if it did, or if any other political party did. This House is much more valuable with a balance of parties, and, I suggest, an in-built swinging majority of the Cross-Benchers, but that would be a minority view.

I add one last word about the hereditary Peers. I understand the argument that there can be no possible justification for people taking their seat in this House simply because their father had a seat here. That has gone. We now have about 90 elected hereditary Peers. As long as there are any hereditary Peers it is going to be said by ill-disposed and ill informed people that this is a House of hereditary Peers. When a taxi driver drove me here the other day, he said, "Was your father a Member?". I immediately said, "No", and explained that I was a life Peer, as were the majority of Members of this House.

That is a problem of perception rather than reality. The 90 hereditary Peers that we have render yeoman service to this House, and one can get rid of the perception problem by making them all life Peers. That will not alter the balance of this House but, as I said, it will produce a perceived democratic solution to
 
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a perceived problem and one can then get rid of the elections, which, in theory, are a complete nonsense. They stem from the arrangements that were made when the remainder of the hereditary Peers left this House.

I apologise for having made some inconsequential remarks but, unless and until the Government tell us where they are going, it is difficult to make consequential ones.

6.41 pm

Lord Desai: My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble and learned Lord. I want to speak on House of Lords reform but, before I do that, I shall speak briefly on the identity cards and terrorism legislation.

I welcomed the idea of identity cards long before it became government policy. On talking to people, I have found that, although in opinion polls the majority are for identity cards, there are lots of misgivings, especially among the young, about what the cards are meant to be. There is also a fear among ethnic minorities that, if identity cards are introduced, they will be stopped more often than the white majority population. That is the reality.

I have been disturbed to hear all the remarks about "hoodies". Suddenly, fashions are being used to target one minority or another and, before we know it, the police will be in every shopping mall asking for the identity cards of all those wearing hoods. Who knows? Next time it might be those wearing ermine robes and then where will we be? Therefore, although I believe that legislation on identity cards is good, there must be a lot of preparation to set people's minds at rest that the cards will not be used as a way of persecuting minorities rather than establishing for us a guarantee against terrorists or other people.

Secondly, I welcome what was said in the gracious Speech and in the explanation by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor about the terrorism Bill. During our long debate on the Prevention of Terrorism Bill, we more or less arrived at a consensus that, as soon as that Bill was out of the way, we had to start work on the next one, which would be about acts preparatory to terrorism. I welcome the fact that a Joint Committee will be set up for both Bills, and we should discuss that.

During the debate on the Prevention of Terrorism Bill, I took the view that, whatever its merits or demerits, the legislation had to be granted to the Government because the matter was urgent. Having said that, I felt that we also had to give a guarantee to citizens that we were working on something much better. I hope that in the 18 months of this Parliament we can come forward with a better Bill and reassure citizens that, contrary to what was falsely reported, we are not about to take away all their ancient liberties.

I am slowly and cautiously wading my way from areas of agreement to areas of disagreement. On House of Lords reform, I have long been a champion of an all-elected second Chamber. Perhaps my experience of the debate on the Prevention of
 
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Terrorism Bill dented my confidence a little in an all-elected Chamber. I now see that an appointed Chamber has certain merits, and I doubt very much that an elected Chamber could have done what we did. I shall have to modify my preference for 100 per cent-elected membership in favour of a slightly smaller number.

It is not at all possible to separate the composition issues from the power issues. The two are interconnected. Following implementation of the first phase of reform, the House has become more assertive of the limited powers that it has. That has been a good thing. For a long time, this House hardly ever asserted its limited powers to make the other place think again. We have done so more and more since 1999, and I doubt whether on any such occasion it could have been said that the House was being frivolous or bloody-minded. This House has that merit.

Given that, I think that the 60-day rule for Bills is liable to create more trouble than benefits. By and large, most Bills do not take that long to pass through Parliament. If one sets that standard, much energy will be diverted. I have been almost as long in opposition as I have been on this side of the Chamber. Time is the only weapon that the Opposition have against the Government. I hope that I shall not be back there in the foreseeable future but, if I am—before the House is reformed and if I am still here—I would like to have a lot of time on my hands to harass the government. Therefore, I think that the 60-day rule is probably unnecessary and, if insisted on, will waste a lot of energy.

Some thought must be given to the size of the Chamber. As we add an elected element, we will have to get rid of some people. I do not think that sufficient thought has been given to that problem. Even if we decide to have a House with, say, 50 or 60 per cent of its Members elected, we shall only be able to achieve that steadily—not immediately, unless we can get rid of about 300 sitting Life Peers. I do not think that we could possibly have a Chamber of 1,000 Peers—that would not do us any good—and so it would be good to think through the transition process. We should take stock of the number of sitting life Peers and see how we can reduce their number steadily over the period of two or three elections so that, by the third election, the House will be, say, half elected and half appointed or three-quarters elected and one-quarter appointed. That transition must be worked out in as gentle and efficient a way as possible.

Lastly, I turn to my constant obsession—that is, the Bill containing a provision on religious hatred. I shall not repeat all that I have said—I have opposed such a measure twice—but I hope that, when the legislation comes before us, it will be a free-standing Bill. It should take account of the report on the subject by the Select Committee of your Lordships' House. It should also take into account the kind of amendments that the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, tried to make. After the religious hatred clause fell through on that occasion, I had a large postbag, receiving many letters from children in Sunday school thanking me for saving Christianity, which was not my original intention.
 
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Many people were misinformed or afraid that we were about to stop the propagation of any religion and that we were about to attack freedom of speech.

When I read the House of Lords judgment in the Mandla case carefully, I see that it says that Sikhs constitute a racial community because of their common cultural heritage—that their religion defines them separately as a racial group. I do not think that you can use that judgment to do that for every religious community. It is not possible. You cannot say that Muslims constitute a racial group because they are all Muslims; that would be to say that there was no difference between race and religion, which would be nonsense. If it were true, why add religious hatred when we already have racial hatred?

There has to be a lot of careful thinking and altered thinking about what you mean by religion and how you define it, because that is a can of worms. I had better not go any further, because I shall only get myself into more trouble.

6.50 pm


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