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That undertaking was time limited to the extent that it would last only until full and complete reform of your Lordships’ House had been achieved. There is no need, I suggest, for the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, to refresh his memory on the matter because the undertakings were referred to in your Lordships’ House, and any noble Lord who wishes to refresh his mind on them can go to the columns of Hansard for that purpose. I am in absolutely no doubt that the undertaking that was given to secure the passage of the 1999 Act, and for no other reason, was to the effect that the 92 hereditary Peers would remain until House of Lords reform was complete, and that as noble Lords sadly passed away they would be replaced in the by-elections that were arranged.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, perhaps I may ask my noble friend a question. He will remember that the undertaking was given by the noble and learned Lord on Privy Council terms and that that was regarded as important by your Lordships’ House. I wonder whether he has considered how that will affect that undertaking in the future as opposed to one which was given as a normal part of the debate.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I believe that an undertaking given on behalf of the Government of the day, whoever it may be, to secure the passage of legislation is binding on that Government for so long as they remain in office. Although there have been elections since, the Government have remained in office and therefore the undertaking continues to be binding upon them. Indeed, I do not think we need to press that point because the Government have reiterated the undertaking and their adherence to it much more recently than that.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, the noble Lord said that he was going to address the question I put to him a few minutes ago—whether he was arguing that the undertaking given on the Floor of the House, whether on Privy Council terms or in any other manner, was binding on the whole of your Lordships’ House or only on the Government of the day.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I think it is certainly binding on those who gave the undertaking—the Conservative Party and the Labour Party. If the noble Lord feels that the Liberal Democrats were not part of that undertaking and therefore are not bound by it, he is entitled to take that view. But the House, I think, would take the view that the undertaking was binding on all those who are affected by it.

Lord Strabolgi: My Lords, the undertaking was given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, on the understanding that the main reform would follow very shortly afterwards, probably in the next Session. That was nine years ago. We are now told that no further reform will happen in this Parliament—that makes it 11 years—and it will not be taken as first business in the next Parliament, so we are getting on to a very long period.

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Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, is correct: it was generally expected at the time that the Government would bring forward further legislation for the reform of your Lordships’ House. That they have not done so is, frankly, a matter for them. It is not for me and not for others; it is a matter for the Government alone. They are not prevented from bringing forward legislation except, apparently, by other legislative priorities—those considered more important.

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, surely it is a basic principle of our constitution that no Parliament can bind a successor Parliament.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I am not entirely sure that that is correct in the context we are discussing. I believe that the undertaking given by the noble and learned Lord the then Lord Chancellor, entered into with my noble friend Lord Salisbury, is binding on the Government for so long as they remain in office. But that is an academic question because the Government much more recently have declared themselves to be bound. They have repeated the undertaking and therefore continue to be bound by it. Whether or not the noble Lord is right, the Government have accepted that they continue to be bound by the undertaking. I regard that as right and satisfactory.

My principle objection to the Bill is that it rides against the undertaking that was given that the by-elections would continue for so long as we remained essentially an unreformed House. In due course I hope that the Government will bring forward considered legislation for the reform of your Lordships’ House. Whether that leads to an appointed House or an elected House is a matter for the Government to decide and propose—I look forward to hearing about it in due course—but, for the moment, we have the House as it is, largely unreformed.

I turn now to the question of amendments to the Bill. During the consideration of the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, a novel doctrine—one I reject absolutely—was introduced to the effect that amendments could only be tabled if they fell within the principles of the Bill as defined by the promoter of the Bill. Amendments to the Bill may be made in accordance with the Long Title of the Bill, and the Long Title of this Bill—I shall read it again to your Lordships—is to:

Lord Avebury: My Lords, what the noble Lord says is a novel doctrine is nothing of the kind. I beg him, as I did earlier, to discuss these matters with the Clerks because he will find out that he is wrong.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I am greatly obliged to the noble Lord. I have been a Member of your Lordships’ House for just as long as him, and perhaps rather longer. I have consulted the Clerks on matters such as these on hundreds of occasions over the past 44 years, I think it is, that I have had the privilege of being a Member of this House, so I dare say that I know as much about it as any noble Lord. Of course I always take the advice of the Clerks, as necessary,

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but it is only advice and ultimately it is a matter for the House to decide what kinds of amendments can be allowed.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, it is not necessarily a matter only for the House. If the Clerks believe that an amendment is not in order and a noble Lord insists on tabling it, they have occasionally written to the Lord Speaker and, before that, to the Lord Chancellor. The effect of the letter, in the only recent case that has occurred, has been to persuade the noble Lord in question to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I am afraid the noble Lord is not even correct in that. I have on occasions tabled amendments which were against the advice of the Clerks. What actually happens is that the Leader of the House advises the House that the amendment is contrary to the advice of the Clerks, and then puts the matter to the House as to whether it should be allowed. In the end, as I said, it is for the House to decide whether amendments are within the provisions of the Standing Orders or not—and my contention as of now is that any amendment to the 1999 Act would be authorised within the provisions of this Bill, the Long Title of which I have already read twice to your Lordships. Whatever the noble Lord may think, if he gets a Second Reading of his Bill today, as I dare say he will, and if he then refers the Bill to a Committee of the Whole House, as I dare say he will also, I shall most certainly table large numbers of amendments because it is a very bad Bill.

The Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, which we were considering previously, also has a number of very serious shortcomings and I took the liberty of tabling a large number of amendments to that—which caused no difficulties with the Clerks, may I add. To be fair, the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, has one or two small points in it with which I do not necessarily disagree—for example, the exclusion of Peers who may be committed to prison and so on. Those are reasonable provisions which may or may not find the light of the day, but they are certainly worth considering.

Sadly, the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has no such merit to approve it; it is a thoroughly bad Bill. I hope that he will not proceed to a Second Reading with it but, if he does and it comes to a Committee of your Lordships, I shall seek to amend it in a great many ways which I hope that he and your Lordships will find acceptable.

12.09 pm

The Earl of Erroll: My Lords, I, too, offer my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, on his birthday. It may help your Lordships if I remark that I share an office with the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, who is a little bit younger still. He is certainly the youngest hereditary left in the House, although he is not the youngest Member of the House any longer.

I find this Bill, and another Bill that I am thinking of, proactively pre-emptive and pernicious. They pre-empt the party manifestos. One of the more sensible ideas that the Government have had was to say that, since it is all so difficult, why do we not let the parties put in

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their manifestos what they would like to do and let the country decide? I thought that we lived in a democracy, so I think that it is rather a good idea to let the country take some view on this. I am sure that it will get teased out at the time of a general election, when we might get a feel for what the electors think about the whole thing and about how the legislators should get to their position. I am being careful what words I use here.

The trouble with the Bill is that it results eventually in a totally appointed House. I have a great problem with that. I have heard a suggestion that some appointed Peers had hoped that perhaps such a reform would take away pressure for any further reform. That brings me to the real point: what happened at the last stage of reform was that Parliament could not decide as a whole whether it wanted an elected or an appointed House or a mixture of the two. If we had got rid of all the hereditaries, we would effectively have ended up with the results of the Bill: a rump of the appointed Peers and a method of appointing new ones. Parliament clearly did not want that; if it had, it would have agreed to it at the time. To pass this Bill would be to go against the wishes of Parliament as expressly declared the last time we had a proper vote on this subject.

The purpose of retaining hereditary Peers here was to try to force a proper second stage. The fact that it has been difficult does not matter; it just proves that it is a difficult issue to get around. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, was elected to stay here with that purpose, which he is now abrogating. I find it difficult that he should have stood for election to this House on the grounds that he wanted to get rid of the hereditaries when the very purpose of his position here is to ensure that we have a properly debated and thought out second stage reform that does not accidentally result in something that we did not want.

I may as well declare my position for two minutes, although I do not want to extend the debate, which has gone on for an awfully long time already. My own feeling is that we have to end up with an elected House—perhaps not totally elected, but primarily so—because nothing else has any democratic authority. Anything else will end up with Peers being appointed by senior bureaucrats, which will not give the House the authority that it needs in order to retain some power. All residual power will eventually be removed. That would be the structure we bequeathed to our grandchildren—and do we really want unicameral government by the Commons? I do not know; your Lordships may well want that. We all talk about the supremacy of the House of Commons. Maybe we like that.

I am not going to have a long argument about what we should have; I just do not think that this is the right way to go about it. I am quite sure that this would produce a talking shop. If we look at how Parliament arose and think back to Magna Carta—I know that this is not exactly how Parliament arose, but this is what happened in principle—we see that we had a monarch who executed wars; the nobles said, “If we’re paying for it, we want to have some say over it”, and we ended up with a legislature trying to control the powers of the Executive.

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Unfortunately, we now have a situation where the Prime Minister, who is head of the Executive, is also the leader of the majority party in the other place. The monarch has also abrogated their powers to the Prime Minister, so suddenly we have the modern manifestation of the monarch sitting in another place. When there is a large majority, as there was under a previous Conservative Government and there has just been under a Labour Government, we find that the Executive can exert unwarranted control over another place. At that point we need a second Chamber with some powers to say to another place, “Hang on, maybe you should think again about these issues”. I would be very sad if we bequeathed a system to our grandchildren in which that power disappeared. I am certain that, if we were to pass the Bill, that would be the inevitable result in 20 or more years’ time. I hope that we do not vote ourselves into oblivion.

12.14 pm

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, it is interesting that so far—and we have been talking for 45 minutes—no one has touched on the merits of removing by-elections. It is odd that in 2008 the axiom of the Bourbons, who learnt nothing and forgot nothing, seems to be the guiding principle of many people on the Benches opposite. Obviously there are other factors that go into what Parliament may now wish to do. I shall mention one that has also not been mentioned: the Labour Party manifesto. That manifesto was pretty ambiguous about what a more representative Chamber would mean, but it was not at all ambiguous that this Parliament would remove the hereditary principle. To put it in very simple terms—as would be used in Lancashire—this is the best offer that the hereditary Members are ever going to get.

Lord Strathclyde: No, my Lords. Very soon there will be a White Paper for a wholly elected senate. Some of us would quite like to stand for that.

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, that is all very well for the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, on his secret committee with the noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and Jack Straw. In the interests of democracy and the democratic revolution, the Committee for Public Safety is going to produce in secret the same stitch-up, the same problem of honour—

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, in thanking my noble friend for his kind remarks, I point out to him that the White Paper will be subject to full consultation, on which it is hoped that the political parties will then be informed, leading to manifesto pledges that will then lead to legislation—soon after the next election, we hope.

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, only this week, on Monday, in a reply to Sir Patrick Cormack in the Commons, Jack Straw said that it was not in the interests of public inquiry that there should be any public scrutiny of the work of the Joint Committee by way of publishing its minutes. That is precisely the sort of deal, if you like, that is a total affront to democracy and the total antithesis of it.

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Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lea, is a distinguished member of the Labour Party, about which he is complaining so vigorously. Why does he not make these representations to his own Chief Whip and to Mr Straw himself?

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, I do not know why the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, would not conclude that I am already doing that as well. Of course I am. I thank the noble Lord for saying that I am a man of honour. The question needs to be addressed by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, the noble Earl, Lord Strathclyde, and others who take the view that he does. The fallacy is that he is removing a scenario that is illegitimate. If the White Paper—

The Earl of Erroll: My Lords, I took umbrage at the same thing as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, when the noble Lord, Lord Lea, impugned my honour by suggesting that it was in my personal interests to vote for this because I would stay here. I do not see myself in this House for political advantage—unlike, perhaps, some others. The noble Lord is suggesting that hereditary Peers all think the same way. I am here in order to see a better Parliament come out of it, not in order to have my own seat in the Lords kept warm. I dislike any suggestion that we have the same motives as some other people.

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, that point is not apropos of anything that I said.

The Earl of Erroll: My Lords, it was exactly what you said earlier. You suggested that it was the best deal that the hereditary Peers were going to get, which suggests that I am interested only in my longevity here, not in leaving a better Parliament behind me.

Lord Bach: My Lords, again, I play the spoilsport. I have to remind noble Lords of the Companion, which says:

I repeat,

It continues:

I am conscious that some extremely senior Members of this House are present and taking part in this debate. Everyone wants the debate to flow and these are important matters, but it is worth all noble Lords remembering that this debate—of all debates—should be in accordance with the conventions of the House.

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that clarification.

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The problem with the doctrine of this Bill contradicting what may or may not be on the Hansard record as having been agreed between the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, is that it presupposes that they defined the scenario that would constitute stage 2. I can give noble Lords a perfectly plausible scenario, which I think is the most likely as we stand here today. There will be no big bang or finality and, until one happens, the noble Earl, Lord Strathclyde, the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, and others—not for any Machiavellian reason, but because this is their understanding—have, like Mr Gromyko, a veto. Any time they say “Nyet” that is it. There is no discussion in this Parliament at all. I put it to the noble Lord that that is an impossible situation. Let us look at the merits of the matter. I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Strathclyde, on being 48 today.

Noble Lords: He is not an Earl!

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, I am sorry, I promoted him. I am not used to this hereditary business. In 50 years’ time, in 2058, he will be 98 and he may pop off. If we have not finished stage 2 by then, his progeny will be candidates—

A noble Lord: No!

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, they would be potential candidates. On the Gromyko principle, that would be that. We could not even discuss it, whereas I would be quite surprised if my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath would give accord to the assertion made five minutes ago that, if there were an incremental approach in the White Paper, if the Labour Party manifesto on this point were implemented and if finality had not been reached on every point by a big bang, the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, would be able to say, like Mr Gromyko, “Nyet”. It is patently obvious that that is absurd.

I now turn to the argument that these by-elections are a hostage for a stage 2 deal. On the political merits of the matter, is this a wise approach? Is it not about time that, instead of fiddling around in secret, we had a bit of straightforwardness and transparency about how people think that these matters will go forward? I have heard nobody say that, other than in interpreting a deal, there is any merit in continuing the by-elections.

This year, we celebrate 50 years of the life peerage. The Lord Speaker, if I may say with great respect, is doing a fine job of putting on events to mark the 50th anniversary and the life peerage system has been a great success. People out there in the country looking at it would recognise that. Now is certainly the time to do the minimum and meet the commitment to remove the hereditary principle. I commend the Bill to the House.

12.26 pm

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