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Baroness Jay of Paddington: Where is he?

Lord Henley: My Lords, he is here behind me. I apologise to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House. I am probably obscuring him.

It will be his job to wind up on behalf of these Benches a debate in which, by then, we shall have heard from some 98 speakers. It will the job of my opposite number, the Government Chief Whip, to wind up on behalf of the Government.

My job this evening is to put the House to bed. That will be formally done by the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip, but it seems rather extraordinary that, in putting the House to bed, so many noble Lords opposite already seem to have put themselves to bed. There were many occasions when we were in government when I rose to speak at this time of night and suddenly saw a massive influx on to the Benches opposite. On those occasions--at Committee stage or whatever of various Bills--I seem to remember that I went down to defeat, after defeat, after defeat. Noble Lords opposite, or at least the few noble Lords opposite who happen to be here, should remember that, even with the so-called massive majority that we enjoyed, it was very easy, and happened with great regularity, for Conservative governments to be defeated in this House.

I do not want to go through all those who have spoken this evening. We have had many excellent speeches from my noble friends and from noble Lords on the Cross Benches. We have even had one from a noble Lord on the Liberal Democrat Benches and one from the Government Back Benches, which I heard. I greatly enjoyed those from my noble friends Lord Denham and Lady Young and from my noble friend Lord Jopling and my noble kinsman Lord Eden. I could go through the

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whole list of my noble friends and stress how well they have spoken. All I can say is that it has been difficult to put them in the appropriate order--one of the few pieces of patronage that the Opposition Chief Whip has. I am grateful to them all for being so tolerant and for bearing with me and accepting where I put them on the list.

We have another day of debate tomorrow. We shall listen to my noble friend Lord Cranborne and the noble Lord, Lord Richard, two former Leaders of the House, opening the debate. There will be further former Leaders and further distinguished speakers from the Privy Council Benches and other parts of the House.

I start by referring to the opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Judd. He and I have been involved with many Bills together when I was in government and he was in opposition. We are friends outside this Chamber and we get on very well. I and many others on these Benches were grateful for the remarks that he made about the part that hereditary Peers have played in the proceedings of this House over the years. We are grateful that he took the trouble to stress that we have played a major part and that many of us have contributed a great deal to this House. It was encouraging to hear remarks of that kind from the Benches opposite.

They were so unlike the remarks that we heard, for example, from the Leader of another place in the debate there. I recommend to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House that the tone of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, might be more appropriate as we come to the end of hereditary peerages in this House--should the Bill, when we come to it, ever get through--than what amounts to more or less the open class warfare that we heard from some others in another place.

As I have implied, it is sad that so few of his noble friends spoke in the debate. I understand that there will be a few more tomorrow. I also understand that my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition referred to the fact that a number of noble Lords opposite--the noble Lords, Lord Graham and Lord Haskel, and others--withdrew their names from the list of speakers over the weekend. When my noble friend Lord Strathclyde made those points, the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton--who is not in his place--intervened. He said that, speaking with the years of experience that he felt he had as a Chief Whip, he recognised, as he put it, what had happened. He seemed to imply that some sort of Chief Whip's operation had been put into place by myself. I can give a categoric assurance, as was made clear by my noble friend Lord Clitheroe who spoke earlier today, that no such operation took place. At no point did I make any effort to encourage speakers individually to speak.

The list, like Topsy, simply grew, and it grew because there is a great deal of interest not so much in the future of ourselves--those of us who speak as hereditary Peers--but in the future of the House. This debate has not been a continuous whine or whinge simply for preserving the rights of hereditary Peers. Obviously some noble Lords are concerned about the rights of hereditary Peers, but what we have heard is a statement of the facts from many speakers who are concerned to

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see that when this independent House goes it is replaced by something as good as, or better than, what they leave behind.

The noble Lord the Government Chief Whip and the noble Baroness the Leader of the House will be aware that this has been what I described as a thoughtful debate. I think that I should not use the past tense on this occasion as we are scarcely half-way through the debate. The list of speakers has been very impressive. Among those who have spoken, or are about to speak, there will be some 18 former Cabinet Ministers and some 25 Privy Counsellors and two Bishops. Yet from the Government Back Benches--I do not know whether it is due to pressure and I do not make such an allegation against the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip--we have so far heard one noble Lord and we are due to hear four more. From the Liberal Democrat Benches, we have heard just one speaker.

In opening the debate the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal implied that we have been wasting time on this matter in previous debates and are doing so in this debate, time that could have been better spent on what she considers to be the Government's priorities. She mentioned the Health Bill and the problems of the homeless. It was the Prime Minister himself who earlier this year said that the priorities of this Government are health, education and welfare. I, and I imagine many of my noble friends on these Benches, could not agree more. But perhaps I may remind the noble Baroness and the House that it is the Government, and the Government alone, who have caused this problem and it is the Government who have wasted the time.

It was only in October, some 18 months after the election, that the Government agreed to a Royal Commission. It was only this month that the chairman of the commission, my noble friend Lord Wakeham, was appointed and the other members of the commission were appointed following his appointment. As we heard from my noble friend, the commission will not now be able to meet until 1st March and it is now expected to have to report by the end of the year. Perhaps I may ask the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip, when he comes to answer, how it will be able to respond by the end of the year, bearing in mind that, of all the other Royal Commissions that have reported, very few have been able to report in the amount of time that has been allocated.

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If the Royal Commission had been appointed back in the summer of 1997 when the present Government came to office, as my noble friend Lord Jopling suggested, it would have been able to report by now. We could now be watching another place debating not the measure it is debating but the substantive Bill itself. I have to say, therefore, that it is the Government who have been wasting time by bringing forward this White Paper as late as they have and by bringing forward a Bill which, by their own admission, is a mere temporary measure.

The Government say that there are pressing priorities. We have heard from the Prime Minister that the pressing priorities are health, education and welfare. But they have brought forward a measure which, even on their own claims, could be superseded during the lifetime of this Parliament. I put it to the House that if anyone is wasting time it is the Government.

Tomorrow we shall continue this debate on the White Paper and, as important, the debate on the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde. It is important to remind ourselves that the House is debating the future powers and functions of this House. What we are not debating at this stage is the Bill itself, which--sadly, and wrongly--looks forward only to the composition of this House. We shall have more to say about composition when we debate the Bill. I put it as a warning to the noble Lord the Chief Whip and the noble Baroness the Leader of the House that we shall look forward to considerable time at Second Reading and at later stages of the Bill to debate that adequately.

In the meantime, we look forward to further debate on the lines I have mentioned: on the functions and powers of the House as it is to be reconstituted following the Royal Commission. On another occasion, I, like others, look forward to debating the composition of the House. But sadly, it is the Government who insist that we should debate the composition at this stage. And it is the Government who are wasting our time.

9.35 p.m.

Lord Carter: My Lords, in moving the adjournment of the debate until tomorrow, perhaps I may, on behalf of the usual channels, thank your Lordships for adhering to the suggested time limit. It has enabled us to finish at more or less exactly the target time. I beg to move that the debate be adjourned until tomorrow.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

        House adjourned at twenty-four minutes before ten o'clock.

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