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I fear that this Bill will delay stage 2. It might be a useful hook for the Government to use to say that, actually, there has now been a little reform of the House of Lords, that the hereditary Peers are going to wither, that there are no more elections, and that we do not need to do anything very much in a hurry. That worries me. It is a fundamental flaw of this Bill.
The Earl of Caithness: That is true, not as many, but things have changed. However, we did suffer defeats and I had to go back and see my fellow Ministersrepresenting constituents in another place. I got a severe earful the following morning as to why the House of Lords was behaving so badly.
The Earl of Caithness: I am glad that it has not changed. It just shows that Ministers in another place have no idea of the relevance of this House or how it works. Those Ministers gave me such a hard time; it was their Bill that we, the unelected House, were destroying, their Bill that we were amendingtheir Bill. Now an awful lot of those Ministers with whom I served and for whom I have huge respect are sitting in this House supporting this Bill. We should not stand back and say, Now that we are here we are good enough. This Bill is to perpetuate the House. We have today the House of Lords trying to perpetuate itself and next week we have the House of Commons trying to increase its salaries, and neither of these two days in Parliament is any good for the political process.
There is a lot more that I would like to say but it would be wrong for me to say it now. I repeat that I am extremely grateful to all your Lordships. I shall consider what has been said. I like what the noble Lord, Lord Richard, suggests. However, I shall just say to the noble Lord, Lord Steel, that I have had to alter a lot of my amendments and not table some of the amendments that I wanted, but I shall speak to the amendments tabled in my name, as they are relevant and it is important that they are discussed. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The Lord Speaker: Perhaps I could make it clear, as the Front Benches agree that it would be helpful, that Amendment No. 2 was an amendment to Amendment No. 1. Leave to withdraw was sought but was not unanimous. Therefore, the amendment was negatived.
(1) There shall be an independent committee which shall prepare a report setting out at least three options for the naming of the second chamber of the Parliament of the United Kingdom and its members.
The noble Baroness said: Some of the ground in my amendment has already been covered, so I hope to be brief. Following the interesting debate that we have just had and consistent with the points made by my noble friend Lord Richard, my amendment is not intended in any way to pre-empt the White Paper but
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The amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Dubs might achieve a similar aim. However, in so far as it contains the name Lords, the same confusion is perpetrated, which I should like to avoid. Some may say that once all vestiges of the hereditary principle in membership of your Lordships' House have gone, my purpose would be achieved, as the British political genius would enable any arrangements, no matter how contrarily named, to be pragmatically and effectively operated. But our constitutional arrangements are a part of our culture. They are for all our citizens to understand and value, and are of particular importance in the current climate of disaffection with politics. They are taught in schools. There is widespread confusion about what the House of Lords is all about, neatly encapsulated in the typical cartoon of the ermine-clad, coroneted old buffer, which is of course completely inaccurate.
I am for a much more transparent and intelligible name for the second Chamber. The amendment proposed by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, might fit the Bill. When the matter was canvassed during Harold Wilsons Government, the most popular name was senate. As noble Lords have said, it is a common name for a second Chamber in francophone countries and in the USA. But a change of this nature happens only once in a very long while, and we should apply ourselves to seeing whether there is not a feasible British term. I propose that the Lord Speaker should set up a committee; then we can see what British constitutional genius can come up with. I beg to move.
Viscount Astor: The noble Baronesss amendment is certainly intriguing, because it suggests that the report should set out at least three options. We have heard about the obvious one, which is a senate. There are different senates in different countries around the world. The American Senate is a very powerful institution, while the Senate in Canada is less so. A senate can be powerful or not.
Viscount Astor: That may, indeed, be the case, but I was referring to the fact that senates have differing powers. They can be appointed or elected. In different countries around the Commonwealth there are different ways of doing it.
One concern is that the amendment suggests that there should be three options. If we are going to appoint a committee, it ought to come up with a recommendation, rather than a number of options.
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While it may be a good ideaand I think it isfor us to discuss what this House could be called in the future, to do so by way of this amendment will produce a number of confusing options and no certainty or agreed way forward. According to the amendment, the committee will be appointed by the Lord Speaker, which is, I am sure, a good idea, but it seems not to take any notice or cognisance of what the Government or, indeed, what any White Paper might say. While the idea is intriguing, the amendment does not make any sense in the context of the Bill, and would need radical reform before it could be considered for inclusion.
Lord Howarth of Newport: I would like to make two brief observations on my noble friends amendment. I remind the House that the founding fathers of the American constitution engineered the US Senate as a device to restrict the skittishness that they predicted would characterise the House of Representatives. That seems to sit a little oddly with the proposition, which we hear on all sides, that we must respect the primacy of the House of Commons.
My other observation is that, while the model of a committee to determine the future name of a second Chamber may be, as proposed by my noble friend, appropriate when the time comesand I do not think that the time has yet comeit does not need to be established by statute. It can simply be done by any of the normal devices for setting up a committee.
Lord Trefgarne: I have some other concerns about the amendment. It is suggested that the Lord Speaker should chair the committee. I confess that I was not in favour of appointing a Lord Speaker to your Lordships House, but the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has filled the position with considerable dignity and skill since she was appointed. However, if she were to take over the chairmanship of this committee, she might run the risk of getting into quite serious controversial difficulty, which would detract from the important independence attached to her present position. Therefore, to appoint the Lord Speaker of the House of Lords as the chairman of this committee, as is proposed in subsection (2) of the amendment, would be a mistake.
Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: I would like to support my noble friend, but I, too, have my doubts too about the wisdom of this course. In 2002, I was on the Joint Committee on the future of the House of
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Lord Elton: I have two points on which I should like clarification. First, if this was enacted as printed, presumably that Chamber would come into existence before a name for it was chosen. How would you refer to it in the interim? Secondly, the position regarding Members of the other place is rather more stringent than my noble friend has suggested. The only way into this committee would be through subsection (3), which is divided into two paragraphs. Under paragraph (a) all have to be Members of this House and under (b) none of them can be a Member of either House. I wonder whether the exclusion of Members of the other place is deliberate or accidental. If it is deliberate, I wonder why it was done.
Lord Desai: Many people have made interesting suggestions about the amendment of my noble friend. My feeling is there are, after all, not that many names that one will be able to put forward. The Witenagemot is the only one I can see which will be a winner if we do not have a senate. But we are missing a great chance. This should not be done just by Members of the House of Lords or just by Members of the House of Commons. We should consult the people. We should bring in outside opinion and consult the nation to see what they would like us to be called. Why should we decide? At least a lot of people would find out what we do and how we should do it.
Lord Strathclyde: The noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, is less prescriptive in this amendment than my noble friend Lord Caithness was in his. That makes me wonder exactly what sort of House the noble Baroness would like to see. As is well known, I favour a stronger House, which is why I rather like the idea of a senate. At least, I did until the noble Lord, Lord Richard, reminded us that the Senate of Canada is an appointed House. But I like to think that the name senate is authoritative, which is one of the reasons why I favour it.
The noble Baroness is right that we have to consider a new name as this will no longer be a House of all Lords, as I explained in the earlier debate. But I cannot follow her, and neither have other noble Lords, in suggesting that the right place to decide on a future name is on some committee. I should like to see us being more confident than that. Parliament already gives far too much responsibility to other bodies and takes on far too little for itself. If there is to be a new
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The noble Baroness also says in her amendment that we need experts to decide on a name. I was hoping that she might tell us who those experts might be. Will they be lexicographers, experts in all languages? We could be the Athenian boule or the Indian Rajya Sabha or even our own medieval Great Council. In fact, the Great Council is not such a bad name. How many undiscovered terms are there in the dictionary for a Chamber of Parliament? Those experts could be historians or constitutionalists. Even people such as Professor Vernon Bogdanor or Dr Meg Russell could decide for us. No doubt being eminent historians, they would tell us of the difficulties they had in the 1650s when the House of Lords had been abolished and his Highness Lord Protector Cromwell decided that the Commons needed a balancing Upper House to stop it running amok. A written constitution could not help as much against abuse of the primacy of the Commons in those days. They had to turn to a reborn House of Lords.
They did not decide a name in 1657 before the House was created and summoned. Then the Commons spent weeks debating whether to recognise it and what it should be called. With masterly originality the House of Commons eventually concluded that it should simply be called the other House. I hope that no one here would advocate a repetition. Under Protector Richard Cromwell it became the Upper House, but that too lacks a little in style.
In other words, I am not sure what these proposed experts could bring to the table that we could not do perfectly well for ourselves. Some terms are too foreign for some; for the rest, the choices are limited. Either we stay where we are with the House of Lords or, if we reform the House and exclude classes of Lords, I do not see why we should look much further than a senate, although I know that even to say that would be controversial in this House.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Ferrers about the exclusion of the Lords Spiritual from membership of the committee. Perhaps the noble Baroness had a specific reason for excluding them, but I think that we should always hear from them. In my experience, theologians are without parallel in finding words to bridge gaps.
I, too, am convinced that the Lord Speaker should not be the person to choose the committee. I would be prepared to agree that she could chair it, but to give the chairman power to appoint his or her committee is not good practice. How large should this committee be and who would decide on behalf of each party group who should be the members? The noble Baroness suggests that the Lord Speaker should decide, but the Lord Speaker is not intimate in her knowledge of the Conservative or Liberal Democrat groups, or even the Cross-Bench group in this House. A Conservative or Liberal Speaker would have exactly the same difficulty with other groups in the House. Should the names come from leaders, chairmen or convenors of the groups, having consulted with their members as appropriate? In short, the amendment seems to set up an elaborate machinery involving people from outside Parliament over whom your Lordships House will have no control either as a House or through party groups to do relatively little. If we need a new name, the field of choice is relatively small.
Surely when the time comes we should grasp the nettle, debate it and decide it ourselves. I hope that the noble Baroness, when she sums up, will withdraw her amendment; and, if she wishes to proceed, she should consider further how it might work, taking into account the points raised in this short debate. I am happy to join her and others in coming to a finer conclusion as to how this could be moved forward.
Baroness Thornton: I would like to say a few words in support of my noble friends amendment. The thrust of it is right because, as other noble Lords have said, we need to decide ourselves; we have been discussing on the Back Benches what we might be called, and other noble Lords have also done so. There is a range of names, other than senate, that we could consider. It is important that the discussion starts in this House and that the suggestions for our new name should come from this House. The thrust of this argument is the right way to go.
Lord Tyler: Earlier the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, said that she found herself in the unusual and uncomfortable position of agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. I find myself agreeing with
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I have been very taken by the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Desai. It may be that one of the television channels would like to open up the issue in the way in which they are so adept. They might even make some money to help towards the costs of running this place. As long as the matter was up front, and they explained precisely the cost of all the calls, I am sure that your Lordships House would receive such funding with enthusiasm.
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