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However, this again emphasises to this House how we have been treated on this Bill in this wash-up. Here is a very important proposal which was thought through very carefully, as we understand it, in the other place, and now the Government are retreating so fast and furiously simply because this does not meet the party political interests of the Conservatives. It is so extraordinary. This provision did not introduce any change to our constitution; it was simply to ask the public whether they thought it was appropriate to consider a change to our electoral arrangements. That principle was so persuasively argued by the Lord Chancellor in the other place. We are disappointed that it has proved impossible in this House, at this stage, to maintain that position.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I hear clearly what the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, says. We understand and share his disappointment. We are committed to a referendum on AV-watch this space-but we are also committed to trying to get an important Bill through Parliament and, being realistic, this is the way to do it.
Earl Ferrers: The noble Lord has said that this will be removed from the Bill. I congratulate him on doing that. After all, this is a constitutional Bill, and the altering of the constitution is a great and impressive thing to do. It requires more time than just wash-up. It is derisory to think that a major change to the constitution could come about as a result of an agreement in a wash-up. The fact that the Liberal Democrats always want an alternative voting system is like a mania. They always want it, irrespective of the arguments. The fact is that most people, other than the Liberal Democrats, do not understand how it works and do not realise that there are 12 alternative systems and each of the 12 provides a different answer. You cannot just say, "Let's have an alternative voting system", because it depends on which one you choose, and on which one you choose depends the result of the vote. I am thrilled that the Government have at least seen sense over this.
Lord Elton: On a procedural matter, one cannot speak in this House unless one speaks to a Motion. The Motion is that the amendment be agreed to, so it requires to be withdrawn when we get to the end of our discussion.
Lord Bach: My Lords, perhaps I may say how thrilled I am that I have thrilled the noble Earl. I have to agree with him that this is a matter that needed considerable discussion-I will go that far with him-but I do not want anyone to be under any misunderstanding: the Government are committed to a referendum on alternative voting.
Lord Bach: My Lords, with the leave of the Committee, I shall speak also to Amendments 23 to 26. I can be very brief with this group of amendments. They give effect to the conclusions and recommendations made in respect of Part 4 by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. The committee's report speaks for itself. Unless any noble Lord wants further details, if the Committee will allow me, I will leave it at that. I beg to move.
(5) A statutory instrument containing an order made under this paragraph in consequence only of a scheme under paragraph 12 is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of the House of Commons."
Lord Tyler: My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Bach, generously said at the beginning of our proceedings on the Bill this evening, my noble friends and I did not agree to the complete exclusion of Part 5, which relates to matters of considerable concern to this House and to issues on which this House has taken a view on innumerable occasions in recent years, not least when we were discussing the Bill brought forward by my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood, which was supported by many Members on other Benches in your Lordships' House.
Clause 53 deals with the ending of by-elections for hereditary Peers, but also within this group we have Clauses 54 and 55, which deal with the extremely important issues of the exclusion and suspension of Members, which, as many Members of your Lordships' House will recall, caused us considerable concern in recent months when we found that the powers that we had on those matters were not substantial and were not sufficiently up-to-date in many people's view. We also have Clauses 57 and 58, which are tidying-up matters, and Schedule 8.
At this hour, I do not propose to repeat the arguments that we have advanced previously, not least earlier yesterday-I suppose about nine hours ago-on the issue of the extended discussions that have taken place over a long period about the hereditary principle and what the noble Lord, Lord Bach, as recently as on Second Reading, described as the farce of the hereditary by-elections. We believe that it does this House no good to perpetuate farce of that nature. We believe that the Government were absolutely right to tackle this issue in this Bill and to pick up the proposals put forward so persuasively over many months by my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood. Therefore, we are disappointed that, under pressure from the Conservatives, who seem to think that preserving the hereditary principle is the big issue of the wash-up, the Government have given way on this issue of principle. We imagine that Members of the other place will be equally disappointed when this Bill goes back to them if the Government's proposals go through. On that issue, we are resolute.
However, we also believe that Clauses 54, 55, 57 and 58 have the real merit of simplifying and clarifying what powers we have in this House to deal with the problems that have been so apparent over recent months. This is, if you like, the IPSA problem so far as this House is concerned. The IPSA provisions in this Bill will go through and no doubt will give some confidence-at least, one would hope so-and increased trust in the way in which the other place deals with its disciplinary procedures. However, unless we have Clauses 54 and 55 in particular in this Bill, this will be unfinished business and we will go into the election and the new Parliament with the House of Lords not having cleaned up its act. There is a real issue of principle, as well as of trust and of confidence in the parliamentary process and in your Lordships' House in particular.
Lord Steel of Aikwood: Before we do that, I register again my acute disappointment that, after three years of debate on what I call running repairs in this House on the four issues, the Government picked up three of those issues in this Bill but, at the last minute, we are not going to get even those. I can say straightaway that the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, and I did not intend to move the amendment on a statutory Appointments Commission, despite the fact that it received universal support at Second Reading, for the simple reason that, although we would have done so had this Bill gone through the normal Committee procedure, we believe that it is not right at this late stage to try to introduce a new measure into the wash-up.
It really is quite extraordinary that we are going to make no progress on the other three issues tonight. I think that I understood the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, to say that, if a Conservative Government were elected, they would proceed with the disciplinary measures. If I understood him correctly, it is a pity that he does not go further and embrace all three measures. The retirement
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"It was never our intention that the remaining hereditary Peers should remain Members of the House for ever. When this interim arrangement was reached, as well as the immediate benefit of the agreement, we accepted the argument that the presence of the remaining hereditary Peers would act as an incentive to further reform. That has not happened ... So the context for reform has clearly and significantly changed. The circumstances which gave rise to the original arrangement over the remaining hereditary Peers no longer apply".-[Official Report, 18/9/03; col. 1058.]
If that was the position of those on the government Front Bench in 2003, how can it still apply in 2010? It simply does not make sense. If the Government are saying, "Oh well, we have to agree because the Conservative Opposition do not like this provision", I remind them that it was perfectly clear in all our debates that those on the Conservative Front Bench did not carry all those on their Back Benches with them. Not only are they giving in to a minority, but they are giving in to a minority within a minority in seeking to remove this provision from the Bill. It is deeply sad that this is happening. I will say simply that, if these provisions are not brought back before the House when the election is over, I intend to reintroduce my Bill for the third time.
Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, it is deeply regrettable that the opportunity has not been taken to pursue these modest measures that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, has so helpfully tabled on a number of occasions for your Lordships' consideration. Today, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said to the country that it would be the intention of a future Labour Government to reform the House of Lords root and branch and that there should be an elected second Chamber. He has also made it clear that, following the removal of the hereditary principle, the introduction of an elected Chamber should take place by stages and that at least a further two general elections following the one about to take place would need to have occurred before that transition was complete. On the other hand, Mr Cameron has said that reform of the House of Lords would be a matter for a third term of a Conservative Government.
On any basis, we will continue with an appointed House for a considerable number of years to come. It is therefore important to realise that what the noble Lord, Lord Steel, has termed as running repairs, but which are significant reforms, are necessary to make an appointed House respectable and effective in the way that surely all of us desire that it should be. That must be in the interests of Parliament and the Government of this country. It really matters that these changes should be introduced.
It is pretty cynical to decline to implement reforms that have been extensively debated and clearly make sense, in the context of an appointed House, in order to present the appointed House as somehow disreputable. That is not a proper way to treat this House of Parliament. It is a great shame and greatly to be deplored that the Government have decided not to act on what they had previously intended to do, for which, I believe, they would have had extensive support across the House, with a real possibility of achieving these changes.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, it is a particular pleasure to support the Government yet again, because they have been sensible over this. We have really got to get this thing right. A lot of absurd arguments have been put forward on one side. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, has said, "After all, I put this thing forward once, twice, three times and why should it not be made law?". That is his bad luck. The law of the country is not just changed; you do not change the constitution because one person happens to be fairly persuasive and obdurate about it.
It would have been a great mistake if the Government had undertaken a huge change-let us make no mistake, it is a huge change-in the wash-up. These things take a tremendous amount of care and thought before great decisions are arrived at. It is all very fine for the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, to say that he thinks that the whole thing is a farce. What makes a hereditary Peer any worse than he is? He was only appointed by someone. He scratched someone's back and someone said, "All right, I will appoint you". Hereditary Peers have not been appointed by anyone other than the Almighty. The noble Lord cannot just go around saying, "I have been appointed, so I am going to wash everyone else out of the system". The presence of the hereditary Peers-I say this with a great deal of modesty and I exclude myself-does a great deal of good. That is because their presence retains the House of Lords as it is. Once you get rid of the hereditary Peers, it will be a free-for-all. Someone may say, "There are no hereditary Peers. Let us have them all elected".
Earl Ferrers: There you go. I cannot think why the Liberal Democrats cannot keep their mouths shut for half a minute. They want it all to be elected. They do not realise that the House of Commons will hate it or that there will be terrible antagonism between the Lords and the Commons, with the Lords saying, "We have now been elected. O House of Commons, we have got just as much right as you have". We have heard that the House of Commons will not give up one jot or tittle of its power, which is quite understandable. Who will want to be elected here to have no purpose or raison d'être?
The Liberal Democrats have got this mad feeling that you have to change everything. With the greatest of respect, I would ask them to leave something alone for a minute. One of the things that they can leave alone is your Lordships' House. At least the Government
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Lord Bach: Let me be brief in my response. On Clause 53 and the appointment of hereditary Peers, I should make it absolutely clear that we want to end the farce of hereditary by-elections as soon as possible, but the question is at what price. If we had insisted on that clause in this wash-up period, the price would have been no Bill, which it is hoped there will be by the end of tonight, and there may well have been no other Bills that the Government wanted to get through in the last few days of this Parliament. So one has to make a choice.
There is also an argument in relation to what can and cannot be debated at length in the wash-up. The noble Earl has a point there. But let there be no doubt about the fact that we are against the hereditary principle, and when we are re-elected, we will make sure that the hereditary principle goes.
Lord Bach: Moving on to the other elements in Part 5, which are all a bit different from the one I have just talked about, again we had to make a judgment given the very limited time we have to get through some of the important parts of this Bill: Part 1 on the Civil Service; Part 2 on treaties and other parts, including one that is of particular concern to Members of this House in relation to their status; and we also need to get through the IPSA clauses. We had to make a judgment, and the judgment we have made is that it is best, for the moment at least, not to continue with Part 5. If we were to continue with it, the legitimate discussions that would have taken place, even though they would have found a pretty broad consensus around the House, would inevitably have taken longer than we have got in order to get the Bill to another place.
Lord McNally: I agree fully that the Minister is being realistic in the circumstances, but this House, including some Members on his own Back Benches, deserves an explanation from the Leader of the Opposition about why it has held a gun to the head of the Government on Clauses 54 and 55. We understand that the Opposition want to go into this election defending the hereditary principle, and good luck to them on that, but why on earth do they want to keep out of this Bill measures that are essential to the good reputation of this House? I just do not understand. Rather than be the fall guy for the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, I think that he owes this House an explanation of why he does not want Clauses 54 and 55 in the Bill.
Lord McNally: I really do not want to hear from the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, who clearly has not read the Conservative slogan for change. It is going to come as
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I will say this about the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. Just when I am getting really sleepy and thinking, "It's about time we pack it in", he intervenes and the old adrenaline comes in, so I think we could well go on until dawn.
Earl Ferrers: I was only going to try to help my noble friend Lord Strathclyde because I thought that he and the noble Lord, Lord McNally, might like to know why we do not want the clauses. The answer is that there is not enough time. You cannot alter the constitution in a wash-up rather like doing the washing up in the sink. You are changing the constitution. With the greatest of respect to him, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, does not seem to understand that if you alter this, you will alter the whole philosophy of the House of Lords. People in the House of Lords will become elected and people in the House of Commons will hate a second elected Chamber. We have to decide that slowly and carefully, not in the three minutes of a wash-up. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, who, after all, is an enormously intelligent person, will be able to see that.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I had not intended to speak in this debate, but I really must congratulate the Government on their wisdom in accepting that these clauses should not go through today. I am surprised, in fact, that the Liberal Benches, having argued previously that there has not been time to discuss other matters such as the referendum on AV, should even be contemplating passing these clauses, which are fundamental to the House of Lords and require a few days' discussion, in the wash-up.
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