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The noble Lord, Lord Richard, chided me for not addressing the amendments, but I return to the point that I made at the beginning: the Bill is not a whim of mine. Various people have said that I want the House to debate the things that I want to debate. Not at all. The Bill, which has very narrow and specific purposes, is the result of work done by many Members of the House, of whom I am merely the spokesman. Way back in the first Second Reading that we had in July, people thought I was making a joke when I said that the reason I was the spokesman was that I missed the meeting at which that decision was taken. It was not a joke; it was absolutely true. I am simply the servant of a large group of Members who feel that there are four issues which do not brook further delay.
In light of the trouble that we have had recently on cash for peeragesa problem which has afflicted all three parties for a very long time and about which the public are extremely annoyedthe first issue is whether we should deal with the creation of a statutory appointments commission. The Conservative reform task group has said yes, the Government have indicated that they are in favour of it, the Select Committee in the other House has now said it is in favour of it, and on that narrow point we have put this forward in the Bill to deal with the cash for peerages question.
The second issue is the hereditary by-elections and I shall respond immediately to what the Minister asked me. I consider that the undertaking given about retaining the hereditary Peers is important, but I do not think it applies to the amendment. I think the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, was correct when he said that it did not apply to the issue of the by-elections. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, referred to the dignity of the House. I do not see how it impresses the public or increases the dignity of the House to have people coming into the House because they are hereditary Peers elected by two or three other people. That simply will not wash in this day and age.
Lord Trefgarne: I wish to make what I understand to be the position on the by-elections absolutely clear. In 1999 an agreement was reached by the present noble Marquess, Lord Salisburythe then Viscount Cranborneand the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg. The agreement was that there would be 92 hereditary Peers in the House until such time as stage 2 of the reform was complete. In order to ensure that 92 remains the correct number, there have to be by-elections for that purpose. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, has confirmed that the by-elections were part of the agreement.
Lord Steel of Aikwood: I am attempting to reply to Amendment No. 1. I am explaining why I invite the House to reject Amendment No. 1 and to reject all amendments which fall outside the narrow scope of the Bill. That is not to say the amendments are improper or in any way unconstitutional; of course they are not. They all have interesting topics and, as I have indicated to the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, I am in favour of many of them. But they are not within the narrow confine of the Bill, and if the Bill is to have any chance of succeeding we have to restrict ourselves to the subjects of the Bill. If we go wider, frankly, the Bill is dead in the water. It will not go anywhere. We are not going to come here every Friday for the whole of this Session to discuss this issue to the exclusion of everything else; that is simply unrealistic. We have to decide this in facing this first amendment, which falls outside the narrow purposes of the Bill.
I was in the middle of describing what those narrow purposes are and reminding the House that the hereditary by-elections came into being as a result of an amendmentthe Weatherill amendmentto the agreement that had been made. It was not part of the original agreement to retain the hereditary Members, and the by-election system has been crude and unacceptable. It has lasted much longer than was foreshadowed at the time.
Lord Howarth of Newport: I am grateful to the noble Lord. Does he agree that it might reasonably be argued that the measures in his Bill would constitute stage 2 of reform, which would not be to preclude a further stage 3?
Lord Steel of Aikwood: That is a very fair point, but the issue of the hereditary by-elections is quite an important one. The question is whether we still believe that Members should enter this House by virtue of heredity. I do not believe that in this day and age public opinion believes that is right, and the other Chamber of Parliament certainly does not. It is an important issue.
The third part of the Bill deals with the ability of Members to retire from the House permanently. It deals with both reducing the numbers of the House, which is desirable, and reducing our average age. The fourth and minor part, which no one has touched on today and is not all that important, is simply to bring this House into line with the other House in saying that those who transgress the law, to the extent of suffering a year in prison, should not be lawmakers.
Those are four very specific, narrow, limited points, on which there could be many amendments. Amendment No. 1, however, like many others, falls well outside the Bill. For that reason I beg the House to reject it and all others like it, otherwise the Bill will be going nowhere.
Lord Steel of Aikwood: I have already dealt with that point. I am not suggesting that the amendments are in any way improper or that they are out of order; I am simply saying that they are outside the narrow scope of the intention behind the Bill. If we go on pressing those amendments
Lord Denham: The noble Lord, Lord Steel, has probably not yet realised that the scope of a Bill in this House is wider than it is in another place. The scope in this House is whether an issue is covered by the Long Title of the Bill. Anything that is within the terms of the Long Title is within the scope of the Bill.
Lord Steel of Aikwood: I could not disagree with the noble Lord. It is exactly the same in the House of Commons. For connected purposes covers everything. A herd of cats could run through this Chamber for the whole of this Session if noble Lords wanted, and there is nothing we could do to stop it. All I am saying is that the reality is that either we confine ourselves to the four purposes of the Bill or we do not, and if we do not the Bill is going nowhere. For that reason, I oppose the amendment.
Earl Ferrers: The noble Lord, Lord Steel, said in his opening speech that it all depends on whether we are going to confine amendments to the four purposes of the Bill. He has now said it again with great emphasis. I think he is wrong. As has been said by many people, if the Bill is put down then amendments can be put to it and they are perfectly justified. If you take the noble Lords view, who is going to decide what is within the narrow confines and what is just outside them? I suppose it would be the noble Lord, Lord Steelbut that is a very bad way of conducting a Committee stage.
Lord Steel of Aikwood: I think it is perfectly obvious which amendments fall within the scope of the four purposes of the Bill and which are new matters that have been brought in. Those new matters are certainly connected to House of Lords reform in general, I do not dispute that, but the minute we go wider than these four points, the Bill cannot realistically proceed through to the other place. That is what I hope to achieve. If the House disagrees, we can go on discussing amendments about the number of Bishops, separating peerages from honours and so on for ever more.
Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe:Earlier, the noble Lord, Lord Steel, argued that the change that had taken place since Second Reading was the Administration Committees report. Would he not agree that that report goes wider than the four issues that he is endeavouring to ensure that we stick to
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Lord Steel of Aikwood: I quite accept that the report deals with issues other than those in the Bill. All I am saying is that it gives support to the issues in the Bill, and is thus quite a hopeful sign.
Lord Bach:If the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, will forgive me, it may be the feeling of the Committee that, although we are in Committee and the noble Lord is absolutely entitled to intervene, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, should tell Members what he intends to do with Amendment No. 1.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: I am sorry, but may I ask the noble Lord, Lord Steel, something that arose the last time around that I do not really understand? Does it come to this? The noble Lord said that the Bill will go nowhere if we do not do something. That something was to deal with a series of amendments that the Table has accepted as relevant to the Bill. Well, we cannot do that.
Lord Steel of Aikwood: It is entirely up to the Committee, as I have explained over and over again. Either we stick to the four purposes of the Bill, or we enlarge it on to other areas, which is perfectly proper. I am not saying that it is improper. The noble Earl is perfectly entitled to put forward an amendment to change the name of the House, but it is not part of the original purpose for which I was asked to speak in putting forward this Bill. If we go on addressing amendments of that wider kind, then we are simply not going to get the Bill through.
Lord Howe of Aberavon: Can I take the great risk, as a really non-procedural character within the House, of recalling that a feature of which we are most proud is that we are a self-regulating House? I think that what the noble Lord, Lord Steel, is really saying is that he cannot challenge the fact that the amendments are all there. They are within the connected purposes, and the Clerks have allowed them to be tabled. If we deal with them all as a mountain of additions, which they could be, to the Christmas tree that we are already considering then it is quite clear that, in reality, the Bill will get nowhere. It will not finish within the time available.
What happens depends on how the Committee regulates itself. If everybody responds that way to the plea of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and refrains from discussing all the amendments on the Marshalled List, then we might have a chance of making it. I get the impression that it is fairly unlikely that all those who put their labour into drafting these amendments, and putting them on the Marshalled List, will wish to restrain themselves in that way, but the noble Lord, Lord Steel, is probably quite right to say that the Bill will get nowhere. It depends entirely on how we all behave, which is the thing that we are most proud of.
The Earl of Caithness: I first thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, but I will pose one question to the Minister. He needs to answer the question absolutely clearly, and on the record, that his noble friend Lord Howarth of Newport posed to him. Does the Minister consider this Bill to be a stage 2?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: As I said when I repeated my right honourable friends statement, no definition has ever been given of stage 2. What is clear is that last Februarys White Paper led to votes in both Houses. The Government then decided to go through a procedure of establishing a joint working group that will lead, we hope, to the publication of a White Paper and an expectation that party manifestos at the next election will reflect as broad a consensus as possible. There would then be legislation. That is the best definition that I can give of stage 2.
The Earl of Caithness: I am grateful for that, as it comes as close to being a yes as the Minister can give without saying so. Unless he wants to contradict me, I take it that this Bill is not a stage 2 in the eyes of the Government.
The noble Lord, Lord Richard, who withdrew his amendment, was absolutely right: he did not like my amendment, because my new clause would pre-empt the White Paper. However, this Bill pre-empts the White Paperthat is what is so utterly wrong. I would not have an amendment if we did not have the Bill. I therefore understand his amendment and rather support it.
The nub of our debate is the point of my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway. He did not like Amendment No. 1, because the composition of the House was being challenged, which broke the spirit of the Cranborne deal. A lot has been said about the Cranborne deal. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, supported by my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, said that the election for hereditary Peers was not part of the original deal. In the very short time since he said that, I have tried to do some research. I happen to have with me a Library Note on the Weatherill amendment. It quotes Viscount Cranbornenow the noble Marquess, Lord Salisburywho said that,
That underlines one of the main planks of the noble Lords Bill: he does not like the elections, whether or
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Lord Higgins: It is important that we get this clear. The noble Earl quoted from the speech of the then Viscount Cranborne. Can he say what the reply of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, was to that specific point?
The Earl of Caithness: I cannot, because I have not done that amount of research; I just happened to have the note beside me when the noble Lord, Lord Steel, raised that point. It has certainly always been my clear understanding of those debates in 1999 that the elections for the hereditary Peers were designed to keep 92 hereditary Peers, for better or for worse and whether one liked it or not, until there was a stage 2.
Lord Gordon of Strathblane: Would it not be rather bizarre, considering that this House has on several occasions, by majorities usually of three to one, pronounced itself in favour of an all-appointed House, if we did not regard an all-appointed House as a legitimate stage 2? Surely the problem is that some people think that stage 2 must be the last stage of reform, whereas anyone with any sense knows that every human institution is in perpetual need of reform. Stage 2 need not preclude a stage 3 or a stage 4.
The Earl of Caithness: Until the Government say that this is stage 2, I am working on the basis, with a White Paper coming up, that a further stage is coming along which will be stage 2. I agree with the noble Lord: I do not see that being the end of the story. I am sure that, in due course, there will be further Bills reforming the second Chamber. As I said at the beginning, I hope that it ends up a totally elected one.
This Bill is breaking that fundamental principle. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, and the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, that however carefully this Bill is drafted and whatever the dignity and respect in which this House is held, it would be held in considerably less respect if it broke, by a Private Members Bill, one of the binding agreements of the Government and the Opposition of 1999. That is why the 1999 Bill succeeded in the way that it did and was allowed to go through the House. If a lot of us had not believed that the election of hereditaries was part of the binding agreement, our debates and reaction to the 1999 Bill would have been very different.
Lord Howarth of Newport: Surely by any reasonable definition the reforms that would be enacted by this Bill, if it became an Act of Parliament, represent a substantial instalment of reform and could only be regarded as stage 2?
The Earl of Caithness: If the Government decide that it is stage 2and they are the same Government who made the binding commitmentthat is a different story. That will be debatable when that comes along. We will have to agree that. My memory from the 1999 discussions is that there was going to be a major stage in situ. I see the noble Lords, Lord Desai and Lord Richard, nodding because we can all recall those long hours spent into the night.
On his first intervention, the noble Lord, Lord Steel, quoted as support for his Bill a couple of paragraphs from the summary of Propriety and Peerages. I will also quote a paragraph from that summary so that I am consistent with him. Last year, the report argued that,
That is exactly the basis behind Amendment No. 72, which is grouped with Amendment No. 1. I hoped that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, would welcome this amendment. After all, he set the precedent by dropping his title when he was Presiding Officer in the Scottish Parliament and then came back here, while Presiding Officer, and took his title back.
In support of my amendment, my noble friend Lord Strathclyde has said that we must not forget that there are a lot of Peers outside this Chamber who are not Members of this House. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, in the wonderful way that he does, has said that this is a wonderful English compromise. I like the idea of an English compromise proposed by a Scot against a Scot who does not like it, but, besides that, let us call it a British compromise. It does not solve the problem but makes it less urgent. That is another reason for me putting down the amendment against some points in this Bill.
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