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Other issues still await the complete and comprehensive reform proposals that we are looking to hear about from the Minister in a few minutes time. I take one example, hot from the press today: the Senior Salaries Review Body issued a statement of which I have only the BBCs analysis and summary, but it is of relevance. It is headed, Some Lords would like sick pay. I do not know which Members of the House made that suggestion to the SSRB, but it is relevant to this debate that the SSRB, as the BBC summary reports, says:
There are, in the amendments, some other matters to which the noble Earl may not yet have given his attention. I take one at random; it may interest the right reverend Prelate, who is on the Bishops Bench. It is suggested by the noble Earl that, in future, we are all to be called senators in a fully appointed House. Are the Bishops to be called senators? I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Goodhart, who had to leave the Chamber just now. The role of the Bishops in the House is completely missed by the amendments.
These are premature amendments. I hope that there will be a general feeling throughout the Committee that that is the case. I am relieved to hear that my noble friend Lord Steel and his colleagues who promote the Bill also feel that this is inappropriate for this Bill. He and his colleagues have, on so many occasions, referred to the Bill as transitional, incremental and as dealing with short-term problems. In this House, short-term problems seem to me, as a comparative newcomer, sometimes to stretch over decades. Even given that, it would be wrong to include this amendment in this Bill.
The issue, as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, has already said, is that we are expecting very soon a White Paper from the Government, after years of digestion of the issues. I hope that the noble Lord will tell us what the new year means in this context. Is it early spring, mid-spring or Cornish spring, which is earlier than spring everywhere else in the country? I hope that we will see the White Paper in March. I further hopeI hope that the Minister, when he responds, will give us some indicationthat, when it comes, there will indeed be draft clauses for pre-legislative scrutiny. I hope that they will be submitted to a Joint Committee for that pre-legislative scrutiny. In this House, we all recognise that ignorance of the way in which the two Houses co-operate is manifest. It was certainly true when I was serving in the other place. Therefore, it would be really helpful if, when those draft clauses come forward, they are subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by both Houses.
My noble friend Lord Steel thought that the fact that Ken Clarke, with whom I have worked on these issues, did not expect to see the full comprehensive reform in his lifetime was a good reason for making rapid progress in some directions. I would simply say that new Clause 1 is the wrong direction in which to make rapid progress. I hope that the Committee will endorse the general view expressed in Amendment No. 2, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Richard.
Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: If a Member introduces a Bill, it should be debated properly. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, has put down an interesting Bill, to which noble Lords are entitled to table amendments. It is wrong for some noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Bledisloe, to try to close down discussion on the issue.
We are dealing now with Amendments Nos. 1 and 2, which are related to each other. In my rather curious position as a recycled Peer in this establishmentrecycled inasmuch as I am here by quasi-democratic situation, as an elected hereditary PeerI support the amendment tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. It is interesting that the new body should be called a senate, with senators; he is quite right, and I hope that that will happen in due course. He is also right to say that there should be a de-linking of the peerage and the legislature. I hope that these things will happen in the fullness of time.
By the same token, I entirely agree with the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Richard: it is sometimes entirely for the House of Commons to
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The interesting contribution made by the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, adds yet another piece of timber to the increasingly complicated pile that is now before us. I think that we should go back to the approach made by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, fortified as it now is by his colleague the noble Lord, Lord Tyler. It has grieved me a great deal to see a great historic partythe Liberal partydiminished as it is, as divided as it has been on so many questions. But it seems to me that we now have the glimmering of an agreement, because they are both saying that propositions of the kind promoted by the noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Richard, are running ahead of the game.
We should address the real thing: the four propositions, as summarised in the Title, have an intrinsic merit of their own. They are almost all built on analyses put before the House in a series of reports. None of them can really be challenged on its merits. They are all improvements of an existing state of affairs. As the noble Lord, Lord Steel, has emphasised many times, it is a step forward and, to that extent, it may or may not be a transition. But at least it is something that coherently and comprehensively propounds four changes that would help the House to gain in authority, to work better and to remove certain anomalies that should be removed. We should be delighted to commend the two young and sparkling members of the Liberal party, the noble Lords, Lord Tyler and Lord Steel. I am all for it. Three cheers for this astonishing alliance.
Baroness Quin: Like the mover of the amendment, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, I was not able to be present at Second Reading, but I read the account of the debate, and I have listened carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Steel, has said today.
I note that the noble Lord has said once again that this is a limited Bill and a sensible measure. While there are many things with which I agree, I remain somewhat suspicious of the description of it as a limited Bill. That is partly because of the distinguished career of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, himself. He has not really been well known for introducing small, insignificant Bills in his career. I feel that many people who support the Bill do so partly because they agree with it but also partly because they hope that it will kick into the long grass any other reform of the House of Lords, including electing it. For that reason, I remain somewhat suspicious of the Bill, despite the fact that I agree with many points in it.
The noble Lord, Lord Steel, also pointed out that many of the amendments seemed to go wide of the Bill. In that sense, I agree with him. When the Bill was put forward, the matters that were concentrated on at Second Reading were more limited than many of the amendments before us today. None the less, the Title of the Bill is the House of Lords Bill, and, as has been pointed out by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, amendments would not have been accepted if they had not been valid.
Despite the important issues that many of the amendments raisethey should be given an airingthere are in the Bill many aspects that people would want to consider in a lot of detail. It is difficult, on the face of it, to understand the rationale behind many of the details, for example the proposal that at least four of the members of the Appointments Commission should be privy counsellors. I am not sure why that is. Those are the kinds of detailed issues in which people have a valid interest.
The noble Lord appealed to us to be expeditious, and one of the good aspects of this House is that it does not go in for filibustering. Despite the public image at times of elderly Members of the House of Lords wittering on, in fact most Members of the House seem to speak with admirable succinctness. I hope that I shall be one of that number. Nevertheless, there are many details in the Bill that it would be wrong to gloss over in a too-hasty consideration. For that reason, although I understand the noble Lords desire not to go too wide and deal with matters that are not the Bills main focus, there is every reason to give the Bill proper, thorough scrutiny.
Lord Elis-Thomas: I speak in support of Amendment No. 2 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and to emphasise that in my experience of constitutional reform there are a number of requirements for such progress. It is never a good case that the constitutional reform is undertaken by those who themselves are to be reformed, because that does not result in an appropriate constitutional context for that activity.
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We cannot proceed effectively through a reform of this House by seeking to produce a Bill of our own making that we then present to the House of Commons as a package and say, This is what we want done to ourselves; please can we have your support?. That seems to be a totally impossible avenue, especially given the history of the issue over the centuries, as we have heard.
I therefore support strongly the emphasis in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, that a proper report has to come from the Government based on an indication of the policy of the UK Government and the support of the House of Commons. I do not see how it is possible to proceed without that. As part of that, I also argue that the time has come to take the debate into a much more serious pre-legislative scrutiny than perhaps we have normally for legislation in both Houses of the UK Parliament. That is to open up the matter to a proper public discussion of the role of the upper Chamber of the United Kingdom Parliament.
We have had reports from the Government, but we have not had the proper democratic dialogue about what the House could and should do. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, presents us with the opportunity that any report emanating from the Secretary of State should be the subject of a proper public scrutiny. By that I do not mean a No. 10 website into which people send e-mails. I mean proper electronic consultation and debate throughout the kingdom about the role of this House and then perhaps there can emerge a public consensus about what a 21st century second Chamber looks like in the context of the United Kingdom. I hate to disagree among the college of retired or about-to-be retired presiding officers of assemblies in these islands, but the noble Lord, Lord Steel, is premature in the matter.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: Colleagues have spoken tonight about missing the Second Reading debate. I go back to the Second Reading debate that took place in 1998. When I spoke on the second night I spoke as speaker 223 out of 240 people and I spoke at 2.20 am.
I have been in this House for 23 years. When I came here I was imbued by my early belief, as a Labour politician, that the solution was to abolish the House of Lords, not fully appreciating that, It ain't what you do, its the way that you do it that counts. What we and many people in the country really want is a changed Second Chamber. Today we are debating how we get to that situation. I am all in favour of what I call the conspiracy theory. The first stage did not come about as a result of an open, democratic discussion but as the result of a deal done behind the
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For the life of me, I have tried to understand the need for urgency in this matter. I do not dispute the motives of anyone, not least, of course, those of my long-time friend the noble Lord, Lord Steel. Many Members have imbued their speeches today with impatience that some things can be done. I simply ask the House to bear in mind the major happenings in the recent past. There were the votes in the Commons, which came out firmly, although not all-party but substantially across the House, in favour of a Second Chamber that was either wholly elected or majority elected.
Lord Gordon of Strathblane: I thank my noble friend for giving way. It might be quite important early on to nail that point. With the greatest respect to the party of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, it is notable that in that vote a majority of Labour MPs voted against 80 per cent election and even more remarkably, considering it was in their election manifesto, a majority of Conservative MPs voted against it. So the idea that somehow the House of Commons has given a clear signal is very wide of the mark.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: I hear what my noble friend says. That is his interpretation of the vote. In a democracy, it is the vote that counts and on that night the vote in the Commons, on the options available, turned out that way. I understand the mess they got into the previous time when they had seven options and did not agree with any of them. I am not making a meal out of the Commons decision but let us envisage that this Bill, either as it is or when it is amended, goes to the other place. What kind of reception will it get? We are talking about valuable parliamentary time. Looking the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and others in the face, I believe that we are being very indulgent. I believe that we all know that this will not be resolved unless and until we have, from the Government, after open or secret discussions, something that they believe has the chance of being carried.
The noble Lord, Lord Steel, with support from other Benches, is talking about cutting out from our debates extraneous matters. However, for those who table them, they are not extraneous; they are absolutely central to what they want, although I do not want them. Quite frankly, my experience tells me that we need to await the next time, which I hope will not be too longI think it will be in not this Parliament but the nextwhen all parties nail their flags to a combined mast and they go to the country and the issue is carried. When that comes to the Commons and to the Lords, I hope that there is agreement. It will not be easy or quick.
This House has the opportunityI hope it is not futileto examine ways in which the House might be improved. I support my noble friends amendment but I am pessimistic enough to believe that nothing
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Earl Ferrers: I do not often agree with the noble Lord, Lord Graham, but I do on the limited issue that this is neither the right time nor the right place to start monumental alterations to the constitution. When I saw the list of amendments, I thought, Goodness gracious, here we go again. It is fine for the noble Lord, Lord Steel, to ask, Do we want to discuss all these extraneous items? but he only wants to discuss the things he would like. The noble Lord, Lord Graham, is quite rightthese are not extraneous items. When I first saw these amendments I thought that my noble friend Lord CaithnessI regret to say that I was absent during his speechhad taken leave of his senses. I do not know whether his senses have caught up with himI think they probably have. Then I saw what he meant; if you remove what used to be called Peers and you are left with an appointed Chamber why should you call it the House of Lords? There will be no Lords there. This perfectly good argument is particularly germane to this Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, said that we need change in order to preserve the dignity of the House. That is the most absurd suggestion. You have only to listen to what was said about the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Billit was absolutely amazing. The standards of debate here exceed those in any other Chamber in the world. To say, therefore, that we need to increase our dignity is absurd.
We are in danger of forgetting that the dignity of the House of Lords is very high. Some people get injected with the idea of changethat we must have change. In order to find a reason for change they say, Lets improve the dignity. I do not support that argument.
This is not a suitable subject for a Private Members Bill. I have always thought that. It is all very well the noble Lord, Lord Steel, saying, Lets decide the amendments we would like to decide. That is not the way to handle Billsheaven knows, he ought to know that. The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, said we were looking forward to reform and that the promoters do not like some of these amendments. It does not matter what the promoters like. Once you let this cat out of the bag it attaches itself to all sorts of things and other things get attached to it. If this Bill were ever to get to the House of Commons, it is open season for anything to get changed there.
The Earl of Sandwich: I want to respond in one sentence to the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, who spoke of the desire of some of the promoters of the Bill to extend the long grass. A growing number of us believe that this government White Paper is already in
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Lord Trefgarne: I have never been opposed to reform of the House of Lords. In fact, my views are not far removed from those of my noble friends Lord Strathclyde and Lord Caithness. However, the Bill sets in place an appointed House for many years into the future, and we are therefore entitled to consider how the appointments might be made and whether the Bishops might all be Members of the House in the future. Therefore, I am very sorry to have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Steel, that I have no intention of withdrawing my amendments; indeed, I must warn him that I have many more to table if, as I expect, we do not reach the bit on Bishops tonight. That would be a very important change to the composition of your Lordships House. I happen to be in favour of the leaders of other religious faiths becoming Members of the House, together with various other people, so I am afraid that I can offer the noble Lord, Lord Steel, no comfort in that regard.
As my noble friend Lord Ferrers made clear, once the cat is out of the bag, we can, and shouldit is our dutyseek to amend the Bill if we think that it is right to do so. I think that it is right to amend it if it is to go forward, and I should also be in favour of ensuring that the Government honour the undertakings that they gave about the by-elections for hereditary Peers. However, although that is important, it is not the main issue for me. The Bill sets in place and enshrines an appointed House. That may be what a number of noble Lords want. If so, so be it, but in that case let us get the arrangements for the appointments right.
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