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Lord Avebury: My Lords, only an amendment that amended Section 2 of that Act would be in order, but I suggest to the noble Lord that if he wants to test it, he should go to the Public Bill Office and table his

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wide-ranging amendments. I have already had the privilege of receiving detailed advice from the Public Bill Office, and I suggest that the noble Lord does the same.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I am very much looking forward to amending it, and amending it substantially, in Committee.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, we will see about that when the time comes.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I am afraid that I rise to support my noble friend Lord Strathclyde. If the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, thinks that this new doctrine, expounded originally by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, that amendments to any Private Member’s Bill can be made only in accordance with the principles of the Bill as set down by the promoter of the Bill, then I am afraid that both noble Lords are bitterly mistaken. The Long Title of the Bill is absolutely clear. It is not confined to Section 2, as the noble Lord may imagine; it is: “Amend the House of Lords Act 1999”. It does not confine itself to any particular passage in that Act, and I assure the noble Lord that if this Bill receives another reading, as I dare say it will later on, I for one will table large numbers of amendments to deal with a number of defects, as I see them, in the 1999 Act.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, the noble Lord is frivolously wasting the time of the House when he has every opportunity to test whether his opinion or mine is correct by going to the Public Bill Office and seeking to table his amendments on the conclusion of Second Reading. Might I suggest that in order to avoid detailed discussion on this matter, noble Lords reserve their judgment until they have had the opportunity of doing so?

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I strongly object to the noble Lord saying that an intervention of mine, which was wholly serious, was frivolous. It was nothing of the sort. If anything is frivolous, it is the noble Lord’s Bill.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, we will see about that. After all, that is what we are here to discuss. If the noble Lord will allow me to get on with my speech, he is welcome to make his speech later on and to try to put down whatever amendments he likes.

As your Lordships know, the 1999 compromise settlement on the composition of the House was that 92 hereditary Peers, elected by their colleagues voting within party groups, were retained. That was the deal made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg.

Lord Geddes: My Lords, what the noble Lord has just said is not strictly accurate. The 92 were not all elected by party groups; 15 of the 92 were elected by the whole House.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, that is perfectly correct. Seventy-five were elected by your Lordships, there were 15 chairmen of the committees and two royal officers of state.

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As I was saying, that was the deal made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, and the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne—now the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury. It was subsequently modified by the Weatherill amendments so that until the next stage of the reform process, whenever a noble Lord dies there is a by-election within the remaining hereditaries of his group to keep the number constant.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I did not intend to speak but I happen to know, because I was told by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury—the then noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne—that that was not modified. That was part of the verbal deal made between him and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine. I only intervene. I am not speaking. I have said more than enough and I am leaving this debate. I just want to get that straight on the record. That was a deal between those two Members of the House and it has to be honoured.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, the noble Lord may have a very good memory, but others may think that there is some doubt about this, in particular, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. In Committee on my noble friend’s Bill, he said:

That is a departure from the original bargain made between the noble and learned Lord and the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury—the then noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne.

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, there have been a number of interventions.

Noble Lords: Order.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, he was on the back row. Yes, he can speak.

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, I am all right in the middle of the back row.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: Absolutely.

Lord Lea of Crondall: A number of noble Lords opposite have quoted a so-called deal between noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine. Can I assume that if the noble and learned Lord says that their interpretation is not correct, they will remove all these objections?

Lord Avebury: My Lords, that is a good question, which we may come to in Committee. I have spoken to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, and I hope that he will have refreshed his memory by looking at the correspondence and the papers by the time we are in Committee. Therefore, let us not waste any further time arguing about precisely what the bargain was. Let us get on with talking about the Bill as it is.

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It surely cannot have been the intention of the two noble Lords that a very large number of hereditary Peers should have the right in perpetuity to confer membership of the legislature on some other hereditary Peer who belongs to their party, a process which has had no parallel since the pocket boroughs were abolished in 1832.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord for interrupting him yet again, but he simply cannot go on saying these things that are not based in fact. The by-elections took place only after the end of the first Session of the following Parliament and only because a stage two reform had not taken place. I am sure that noble Lords will speak to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg. His view, and those of others in the House—if one re-reads those debates, one will see this—was that it was extremely unlikely that the by-elections would ever take place. They took place only because that Bill did not come forward.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, the noble Lord confirms the expectations that people had at the time that the process of by-elections would be a purely limited and temporary phenomenon. At the time, that was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, the then Leader of the House. So I thank him very much for strengthening the case that I am making. It was never the intention that the supply of hereditary legislators, by means of these elections in which the right to vote is confined to the handful of hereditary Peers, should continue indefinitely, a process which I submit is bizarre, irrational and undemocratic. It was sold to the House only on the basis that it was a short-term, temporary fix. So far, it has lasted for nine years and on the most optimistic assumptions, it will continue for the next three.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords—

Lord Bach: My Lords, I do not want to be a spoilsport. I know when the House is having fun, I hope as much as anyone, but this is a Second Reading. It is important that the mover of the Bill should be allowed to make his Second Reading speech without too many interruptions. Of course, interruptions are allowed, but noble Lords will have an opportunity to make their own speech and be able to answer back. I hope that noble Lords will forgive me, but it is time to allow the mover of the speech to get on. Then we can move on with the debate. I hope that this is not a wrong interruption.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords—

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for what he said.

Noble Lords: Order.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords—

Lord Avebury: My Lords, having been very generous in giving way so far, I shall accept that advice and refrain from doing so from now on, so that we can get on with the debate. I am looking forward to hearing

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what the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, and others have to say. We can pursue all the matters that they wish to raise when we are in Committee.

This figure of 10 per cent, which was agreed in 1999, is not sacrosanct. In October 2000, there were 695 Members of your Lordships’ House in total, compared with 734 today. The noble Lords who are insisting that the 10 per cent figure should be set in stone for all time should, logically, be agitating for the election or appointment of more hereditaries to balance the intake of more life Peers in the mean time. However, if they consider that minor variations in the 10 per cent are permissible within the original agreement, obviously the infinitesimal reductions that will take place as a result of the abolition of the by-elections can equally be accommodated.

Even if the two noble Lords who cut the deal now say that the Weatherill amendment, as well as the original retention of the 92, was binding in honour on them, what about the rest of us who had nothing to do with that private bargain? To say that we have no choice but to accept the letter of what was carved up without our knowledge or consent is utterly intolerable. That bargain, which was taken over by the then Government, was a breach of the Cook-Maclennan agreement on constitutional reform, as my noble friend Lord Lester pointed out. Let us not talk about honour.

The practical argument for the by-elections, advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, and others, is that they act as a catalyst for the further reform of the House. Catalysts stimulate change and the by-elections have had no effect on the rate of change, which is now dependent on reaching the mirage of a consensus that allows us to embark on second stage reforms.

The cross-party talks have continued in a desultory fashion since October 2006. In the Statement made by the Secretary of State, Mr Straw, in July 2007, they were expected to lead to a White Paper around the turn of the year, accompanied by draft clauses that would form part of the eventual Bill. That timetable has slipped badly, first, to early in the new year—in the Minister’s speech at Second Reading of my noble friend’s Bill in November—and then with the Secretary of State “working to gain consensus” on a White Paper which is now due “before the summer Recess”.

Those delays reflect the difficulty of arriving at agreement on any of the issues, even if the committee is composed, as it may be, of people who share the Secretary of State’s views and prejudices, as the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, claims in a letter to the Times. Her letter, and that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, which criticises the notion of a consensus that he says ignores the judgment of those best qualified to consider such questions, reminds us that an agreement reached by a small group behind closed doors may be vehemently opposed when it comes to be presented on the Floor of the House for approval.

In 1969, Harold Wilson found that to his cost in another place. He had thought that he would get cross-party agreement rubber-stamped by Parliament, but he was forced to abandon it after 21 sitting days

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on the Floor of another place, as I well remember, having taken a small part in those debates of 39 years ago, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will be aware.

It would be rash to assume, therefore, that whatever formulae emerge from the cross-party talks will be slavishly copied into manifestos and enacted by whichever party wins the next election. Even if the all or mainly elected solution can be agreed—and my impression is that many noble Lords and perhaps many in the Commons have on reflection backed away from the idea—there would still be difficult problems to solve, such as how to make the transition. If all the existing life Peers are dismissed, would it be by sudden death or, if not, would the proportion of elected Peers be ratcheted up to 80 per cent or 100 per cent over a number of Parliaments? I only mention this as an example of the controversial issues that the all-party committee is having to address and the unlikelihood of unanimous conclusions being reached on all of them.

Your Lordships have been frequently reminded over the past 97 years of the preamble to the Parliament Act 1911 which states that it was,

It would have been unfortunate if the reforms since then, including the 1949 and 1999 Acts, had been rejected on the basis that nothing should be attempted until Parliament was ready to implement that principle. I suggest that it would be naive today if, banking on the second stage to complete the 1999 proposals, we denied ourselves all opportunities to tidy up some of the loose ends on which there can be no argument whatsoever on merit.

Of course I agree with my noble friend Lord Steel that this is not the only thing that is wrong with the composition of your Lordships’ House as it is presently constituted and that in an ideal world his recommendations, and those of the Select Committee on Public Administration in another place, should be enacted as interim measures. But the very fact that the Select Committee made these proposals for certain reforms falling short of stage two indicates that as far as that committee is concerned, we are perfectly entitled to act incrementally rather than waiting for the whole package to mature. This is also the view of the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, the honourable Member for South Staffordshire, and their colleagues who prefer the gradualist approach in the campaign for an effective second Chamber.

If, however, your Lordships sit back and wait for what is coming down the track from the secret cross-party talks, you will have only yourselves to blame for not having lifted a finger towards any of the reforms that are necessary to make this House more credible while retaining its unique blend of practical experience in many fields of national life and great expertise in the business of legislation. The Ruritanian customs of hereditary by-elections have long outlived their only useful purpose of persuading the Tory Front Bench

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not to obstruct the 1999 Bill. Let us take one small pace towards legitimacy by abolishing the by-elections now.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Avebury.)

Lord Richard: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord will have taken actuarial advice on this matter. How long does he think hereditary Peers will last in this House on the basis of his Bill? In other words, how long will it take for them to die out?

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I have not taken actuarial advice, but there are hereditary noble Lords who are a great deal younger than I am so the process would take several decades. But that is not the point; it is not that the hereditaries should continue indefinitely because they may well be swept away by further reforms such as that of my noble friend Lord Steel. This is a purely short-term and interim measure.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, I gather that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is 48 years old today. As we all hope and expect him to live a very long life indeed, one can assume that the by-elections would last for 50 or 60 years.

11.53 am

Lord Addington: My Lords, despite the potential problems of longevity, I hope that I might now be allowed to speak. I take some of the blame for this Bill, if blame be due. It was a short conversation in the Prince’s Chamber that initially got the thing going. Roughly, the exchange was as follows. My noble friend asked, “Shall we do something about this ridiculous series of by-elections?”. I said, “Yeah, go on, then”, or words to that effect. My noble friend, needing no encouragement, rapidly went away and did it. We and those on the Labour Benches differ slightly on this. I recall that in the last debate I had prepared anecdotes about rotten boroughs and how four of us have to sit down for a little chat about who we would like to join us to make a group of five, but the Labour Party beats us because only two or perhaps three noble Lords discuss who they want.

The system produces one or two parliamentary anomalies. My noble friend Lord Glasgow, who spoke in the last debate, is the only Member of Parliament who has been elected with 100 per cent of his electorate not only turning up to vote, but voting for him. Four of us did it. We can jump up and say that this is a great system—I probably will later—but it is an absurdity. It looks silly and it is demeaning to Parliament as a whole. We may produce some decent people from the system who work hard—we hereditaries punch our weight in this House in terms of contribution and effort—but that is about it. We have got to get a move on.

We hear a great deal about stage 2—stage 1A—which gives us another 25 shots at it, and it is the sort of system where you can have another go. Also, does one Parliament now bind the next? I am sorry, but the

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people who made this deal are, first, not here, and secondly, not in office. We would not do this with anything else. We need to look at ourselves as we are seen from outside.

I shall not speak for much longer because before the debate began there was a slim chance that I would have to leave before the end, but that chance is now growing slightly. The essential element here is that, as my noble friend said, it was a deal done because it was convenient at the time. Anybody who wants to build it up to be something more is, in my opinion, trying to rewrite history. Just because someone made a deal in the past, that does not stop us doing something now. Let us get on and be realistic. This Bill provides a way forward so that at least we will look slightly less silly and do not give journalists this very easy strap-line once every two years.

11.57 am

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I have listened to the last words of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, with some dismay. He appears to think that undertakings given in honour are binding for perhaps a short period and in the end can be abandoned. What sort of a society is it in which honourable people enter into agreements in good faith and then in a short time, without the circumstances changing, it is suddenly decided that those agreements are of no consequence? Let me remind your Lordships—

Lord Avebury: My Lords, the noble Lord is talking about undertakings given in honour being binding. Surely they are binding in honour only on those who undertook them and not on the rest of your Lordships’ House.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I was just about to come to the undertaking and explain, as I see it, how it came to pass and to assert that it is indeed still binding. I ask noble Lords to cast their minds back to 1999. At that time, your Lordships’ House was some 1,200 strong, of whom 700 or so were hereditary Peers. The Government, as they were entitled to do, brought forward a measure to remove the hereditary Peers forthwith and without qualification. It became apparent during the consideration of that Bill in your Lordships’ House that that proposition was unlikely to find favour with the hereditary Peers as a body, not just the Conservatives, so the Government understandably came to the view that the Bill might well not pass this House because of the votes of the hereditary Peers. Of course they could have forced the Bill through by the Parliament Acts, but for reasons best known to themselves, I suggest properly that they decided that that was not the way to proceed. Discussions took place between the then Leader of the Opposition in your Lordships’ House, now my noble friend Lord Salisbury, and the noble and learned Lord the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg. An agreement was reached which secured the passage of that Bill through your Lordships’ House. The essence of the undertaking that was agreed by the noble and learned Lord and my noble friend was that 92 hereditary Peers would remain in the circumstances which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has described.

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