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Going back to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, after the debates in both Houses responding to the charge made not just by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, but by others, that there is no progress, let those who are interested in an elected House demonstrate progress. Step one: let us have a debate on the White Paper; step two: let the Government come forward with draft clauses for consideration, perhaps in a pre-legislative scrutiny committee, which have been so successful in this House, or even in a Joint Committee, before Christmas.

There has to be an election in 12 months. We know the end game of this. After the next election, there will be a brand new House of Commons with 100 or 150 new Members of Parliament, almost whichever party wins. A Bill should be proposed in the House of Commons. The single most important outstanding issue, which is the electoral system, can be resolved only in the other place. If the Labour Party and the Conservative Party believe in first past the post, which

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I do, and I think most people in the Labour Party do as well, then that is the kind of senate that we would have. The Bill would then come to the House of Lords just over a year from now to be debated. It would take a long time and, although I would regret it very deeply, the Government might have to resort to a Parliament Act and therefore, before the centenary of the 1911 Parliament Act, we would have a statute for a 21st-century directly elected senate.

To those who make the charge that there can be no progress, I say that there can be, and I challenge the Government to accept my timetable, and they will find that the Conservative Party is very co-operative in helping to make it so.

Viscount Bledisloe: Is the noble Lord saying that if his party is elected at the next election, they will follow that timetable?

Lord Strathclyde: We would certainly co-operate with the timetable up to the next general election, but I have been at pains to explain that I cannot bind the Conservative Party thereafter, particularly since my right honourable friend the leader of the party has suggested that there may be many more important things to deal with immediately after the election. I have also explained, and I am happy to do so again—although I shall get the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, up again telling me that I am banging on and repeating myself—since I did not make myself clear the first time round, that because of this sense of frustration in the House, I will have to pass this on to my right honourable friend. He may be so impressed by the sense of urgency for an elected House and by the consensus between the Labour and Liberal Democrat Front Benches that he decides we ought to be able to come forward with a Bill.

Lord McNally: When the noble Lord does that, could he draw to Mr Cameron’s attention the precedent of Gladstone’s 1867 reform Bill, which Disraeli successfully scuppered before bringing forward a year later a far more radical reform Bill? There is a precedent for a Conservative Government ratting on previous commitments and being far more radical than any of the noble Lord’s supporters behind him could ever dream of.

5.15 pm

Lord Strathclyde: The only ratting that the Liberal Democrats know about is on their commitment to have a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. We will take no lectures from the Liberal Democrats on the question of ratting; they know more about it than the rest of us put together.

Viscount Bledisloe: Do I take it that the noble Lord’s answer to my question, if expressed briefly and clearly, would just have been no?

Lord Strathclyde: No, I have not yet had that discussion with my right honourable friend. It is not anticipated that there will be an election for at least another

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12 months, so there is an enormous amount of time between now and then for all political parties to decide what will be in their manifesto. Indeed, I am not sure that the Conservative Party has even started on that process, so it would be very strange if I were this afternoon able to make an absolute commitment.

I know that some noble Lords would like me to make an absolute commitment, because it would answer the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, about the frustration that nothing is happening, that there is no energy and that inertia has set in. I want to be part of rebuilding momentum. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and the Lord Chancellor, Jack Straw, are of the same mind—and, no doubt, so is the Prime Minister. I do not know why the noble Viscount is asking me these questions; he should be asking the Government. They are in charge; they are in control of the timetable.

Perhaps I may make my final point, because then I shall sit down; I have spoken for more than long enough. The Conservative Party would never have started on this process of reform without having a very clear idea of where it was going to end up.

Lord Howe of Aberavon: My noble friend may want an escape hatch at this point. We were being treated to fanciful speculations on his part, way detached from the great majority of his supporters in this House and roaming into the future. Then he was suddenly challenged by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, with his Gladstonian recollections, so there was a competition in fancifulness. Can we not address the substance of the amendments? My noble friend Lord Strathclyde agrees with my noble friend Lord Selsdon that we do not want an appointed House, so they have tabled and spoken to this amendment in order that the proposal may be rejected to avoid their fears being fulfilled. That objective coincides precisely with that of the noble Lord, Lord Steel. We do not seek an all-appointed House.

We have all been debating this matter for years and years. The way that this House has developed and is developing even today is incrementally, with broad consent at each step, as it did when life Peers were invented; and as it did when, in a rather complicated way, the bulk of the hereditaries were removed. We have now reached the point when further steps can and should be taken on which there is almost universal agreement. The points set out in the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, have emerged from discussion in committee after committee. Each of them has been supported without difficulty.

There is no passionate cry, even from my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, to maintain the pattern for entry of hereditaries to the House. There is no opposition to the proposal to enable Peers to retire. There is no opposition to the House being able to exclude Members. All that is consensual; it is an area where we can make real progress without committing ourselves one way or the other on the further future. We all agree that we do not want the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Selsdon. May we not proceed on that basis by carrying forward discussion on the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Steel?

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Lord Williamson of Horton: The cascade of amendments before us, including Amendment 1A, are almost all intended to change or add substantially to the Bill. For myself, I do not believe that the Bill will carry the weight of the amendments; and I do not think that it is intended to do so. That is my basic position.

Amendment A1, the basic amendment that we are discussing an amendment to, is intended to identify very simply the main provisions of the Bill so that it is easy to judge whether they are desirable. That is what it is about. My name has been added to Amendment A1 because I think these provisions are desirable and because I have for many years generally favoured a statement of the purposes of a Bill at the beginning of most legislative proposals. That is my position. It is very simple.

If the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, looks at Hansard tomorrow, he will see that he used the phrase “hidden purposes”. I have to tell him that there are no hidden purposes as far as I am concerned; I find it extremely difficult to decide on my purpose, so a hidden purpose is quite beyond me. The various other references to me, such as the colour of my tie, by the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, are quite irrelevant. I am wearing this tie because I invited my wife to lunch today and she particularly likes it. That is the explanation. My position is quite simple on all these matters, including the substance of the amendment. Amendment A1A goes too far and should not be supported, but Amendment A1 is to be supported.

5.15 pm

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My name has also been added to this amendment. I think I made the points that I wanted to make in rising to the fly, perhaps unfortunately, of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. I re-emphasise that I made it clear at Second Reading why I support this—I say this to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, rhetorically, because I do not intend to invite an intervention. I suspect that the noble Lord does not understand the process of thought that leads some of us to believe that incremental reform is worthwhile and worth pursuing. I hope that I made that point at Second Reading.

I have rather lost track of this afternoon’s debate. We have been involved in an almost single-handed therapeutic session in which the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has sought to understand the inner workings of the psychology of all of us who support the Bill and the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Steel. My position follows exactly that of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, in that I see this as a useful contribution to the purpose of the Bill, but I have supported and will continue to support an elected element in this House. I see the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, as a wrecking amendment and will have no hesitation in voting against it. I will also vote very happily for the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and will not concern myself with the fantasies, as they were appropriately described by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, about the psychology or the long-term theoretical objectives of either the noble Lord, Lord Steel, or the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde.

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Lord Hamilton of Epsom: Unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, I have always supported an appointed House. I feel rather guilty about not having contributed to the Bill before now, but I have been very much led by my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth and all the work that he has done. I pay enormous tribute to him for that work. He has done a fantastic job in putting forward the case for an appointed House and in pointing out the very serious dangers of an elected one. Having said that, I originally went along with the idea that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, should put forward a Bill on this.

At the time—this concept emerged a very long time ago—we were seriously beleaguered. Members on both Front Benches stated that they believed in an elected House and that this was an important thing to have. We then reached the point at which Gordon Brown became Prime Minister, and there was a serious worry that he might want to make some left-wing gesture and start talking about legislation to reform our House with an elected element. Of course, things have changed since then, and quite dramatically. I argue that Mr Gordon Brown must be incredibly in favour of an appointed House. He has filled our House with a whole mass of people: so-called experts from all walks of life. The noble Lord, Lord Myners, was here only a moment ago; sadly, he has just left the Chamber. We would not have his presence and all the wisdom that he brings from the City, if it were not for the fact that he could be appointed to this House.

Clearly, Mr Gordon Brown has been converted into believing in an appointed House. I have always had my doubts about my Front Bench on this issue, which I think says one thing and probably believes another. But the last thing I want to do is impute that it is in any way not being straightforward. There are dangers in bringing this Bill forward for the simple reason that it raises these issues all over again. Let us suppose that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, succeeds and gets this Bill into the other place. The chances of it not being amended seem very small and it could be amended in a way that we would all find extremely uncomfortable.

I do not support this Bill in principle. In particular, I have started to change my mind on abolishing the election of hereditaries. We are an incredibly old House. The one advantage of electing hereditaries is that it brings younger people into this House, which mainly benefits these Benches. It would be a great pity to abolish electing hereditaries and the average age would go up even further than at present. Those are my reservations. I apologise to the House for taking so long to state my position, but that is where I now stand.

Lord Dubs: I have an anxiety that when this debate finishes and I go outside, someone from the public who has been listening will say to me, “What was all that about?” I honestly do not know how to answer that question. I have heard different motives attributed to the Bill. Some of the supporters, who are good friends of mine, of this first amendment say that they believe in a largely elected House, as do I. Some supporters clearly believe in an all-appointed House. I do not quite understand how one Bill can square that circle.

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Baroness Jay of Paddington: I am sure that my noble friend was here earlier when the point clearly was made that this is not about the long-term composition of the House. This is about making some incremental changes to the existing House before we come to a position where—I would agree with my noble friend, although he might go further than I—we would have, I would say, an elected element, and he would say, an all-elected House. But that is not what this Bill is about, and this purpose amendment precisely states that. If the wrecking amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, was not under discussion, it would not be relevant.

Lord Dubs: I am grateful to my noble friend for that. If she were the only person supporting the amendment, I would say that that is fine because I have total confidence in her views and judgment, except for one thing. Other Members of this House interpret the Bill differently. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, obviously does. That is my difficulty. If everyone supporting the first amendment is rejecting the proposal by the noble Lord, Lord Steel—apart from the noble Lord himself—perhaps we will begin to see where we are going.

I want to put a question to the noble Lord, Lord Steel. Would he support inserting in Amendment A1 a paragraph (e), “to prepare the way for a totally or largely elected House?”. If the amendment said that, I would begin to understand what the Bill was about, but short of that, I am not sure.

I am prepared to read Hansard again and again to see whether I have made a mistake in interpreting what is being said. But I am confused and I think some Members of the Committee share my confusion. Someone said that this is a matter of running repairs. I had a discussion with an eminent Member of this House, who is not here at the moment, who accused me of making the best the enemy of the good. I would never do that and I believe in an incremental approach, provided that the good is the good. If I was totally satisfied of that, I would go along with this.

However, my main point is to say how concerned I am about the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon. We would be getting a decision made which as an unelected House we have no right to make. The Commons clearly said that it wants either a 100 per cent elected House or an 80 per cent elected House. To put forward that amendment and make a decision on a Thursday afternoon just like that, ignoring what the Commons said, is wrong and flies in the face of what the House of Commons wants. The Commons should win any argument of this sort.

In future, when I am asked, “What did you do on the Steel Bill, Daddy?”, I will be hard put to respond. It seems that people who agree with me and those who do not will have been on both sides of the barricade. I am confused, but I am certainly clear that the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, should be defeated.

Lord Desai: I will tell my noble friend Lord Dubs what the point of all this is. In a marvellous scene in George Bernard Shaw’s “Man and Superman”—the

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Don Juan in Hell sequence—the old man says to the young man who has just arrived that,

We are here because every year we have a Bill and we debate it; and we shall go on debating it until we get something better, which I hope will be very soon.

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My noble friend referred to Bills and eternity; I could not think of a more apt description of the Marine and Coastal Access Bill.

The Government’s position on House of Lords reform has been discussed by a number of noble Lords in this opening debate on the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel. I hope that I will not test the patience of the Chamber if I restate that the Government are committed to a comprehensive reform of your Lordships’ House. We will base our proposals on the White Paper, which was produced as a result of cross-party discussions and consensus, and we would welcome a wide-ranging debate on what it contains. As I have said to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, on a number of occasions, I look forward to debating in the very near future the White Paper and comprehensive reform of your Lordships’ House.

I know that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, is not a great admirer of the White Paper. Alas, at Second Reading he said that the Government’s proposals were not imminent and that the White Paper was extremely vague on fundamentals. He spoke rather a lot today about wind. I was not quite sure whether it was the offshore wind variety of renewables or the greenhouse gas emissions variety of cows, about which my colleagues in Defra are so concerned at the moment. We are in a period of debate and discussion on Lords reform and we have made it clear that we will not introduce comprehensive legislation before the next Parliament. This is because we think that on so fundamental a decision as the reform of your Lordships’ House, we have to proceed by cross-party consensus. I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Steel. The White Paper contains within it many provisions which are the result of cross-party consensus.

I was interested in the helpful suggestions of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, about the timetable that the Government should adopt. As I have already said, we would welcome a debate. We have always said that we would consider publishing draft clauses in the light of the response we receive to the White Paper, and that remains the position. The noble Lord said that the Conservative Party would never have started from here. The problem, of course, is that the Conservative Party would never have started at all. If the party opposite had been at all serious about Lords reform they surely would have used their 18 years in power to bring forward proposals. We welcome the clear determination of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, to persuade his right honourable friend the leader of the Conservative Party to change his mind on the urgency of Lords reform. No doubt he will keep us all informed of the progress he makes.

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The noble Lord will know that the statutory Appointments Commission was part of the proposals contained in the White Paper. It clearly would make sense that if the option of an 80 per cent appointed House was to be adopted, a statutory Appointments Commission would be necessary. The drafting of the noble Lord’s Bill is extremely helpful in allowing us to debate the nature of a statutory Appointments Commission and we will look very carefully at the proposals the noble Lord has made in that respect.

5.30 pm

Hereditary by-elections are difficult to defend. That was the point of the agreement made back in 1999 in order to encourage comprehensive reform of your Lordships’ House. The Government could not support the proposals made by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, however, because he described them as being kind to the hereditary Peers. We know that under his proposals it would be at least 2040—it could well be 2060—before the last hereditary Peer left this House. Much as I love the hereditary Peers and the contribution they make, we cannot support a proposal that would allow them to remain until then.

I turn to the third pillar of the noble Lord’s purpose. As with a number of other parts of the Bill, the allowance of Peers to retire is consistent with the Government’s intention on the provision of resignation, attendance requirements and the enfranchisement of Members after fundamental reform. On resignation, the Government’s intention is that Members of a reformed second Chamber should be able to resign in a simple but formal process. On disqualification for lack of attendance, again, we accept the principle; again, such proposals were contained in the White Paper.

On the question of the proposal to exclude Members from the House, there is little doubt over the consensus around Part 4 of the noble Lord’s Bill. The lack of a provision to disqualify Members who are convicted of a serious criminal offence puts us at odds with the rules of another place for no good reason and has caused damage to the reputation of your Lordships’ House. We agree that we must act on this, and we will do so swiftly. Serious criminal conviction is one area where we are considering what legislation could be introduced as part of the Government’s support—

Lord Grocott: I am surprised, although the Minister is a good friend of mine, and encouraged by what he has said: of the four planks of the Bill, he has stated from the Government’s perspective that he supports three of them in principle and that the debate is just about the fourth. I put it to him, as someone who has taken more legislation through this House than most people, that if you start with a Bill three-quarters of which you are strongly in favour of in principle, surely that is a good basis on which to say that you support the Bill.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Not entirely. I am saying that the Government’s own proposals for fundamental reform are clearly stated in the White Paper, and there are elements in the noble Lord’s Bill that are entirely consistent with what is contained there. I have also said that we will consider carefully the debates in your

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Lordships’ House and what is in the Bill. We have also said—I was about to finish this—that on serious criminal conviction and expulsion from your Lordships’ House, we are considering legislation as early as possible in order to support the House’s reform of its own disciplinary regulations.

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