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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, it is not outside the competence of the Government. The problem with e-mail is that one cannot determine the time of receipt. In order to prove that, we sent the noble Lord an e-mail this morning. We cannot say what time it arrived and he has not yet acknowledged receipt of it. We are trying to overcome that. Using a server-to-server system can be a means of providing Answers to Parliamentary Questions.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, how long does it take to answer a Written Question and what advantage is there in an e-mail Answer?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the time that it takes to answer a Written Question varies from department to department. I can see that e-mail could provide a nice back-up way of getting information.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, do the Minister and his colleagues in the Government welcome

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correspondence by e-mail? If so, could they publish their e-mail addresses in an easily accessible form, such as in the Palace of Westminster telephone directory?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, many ministerial e-mail addresses are published in readily accessible form. I am not sure whether they are in the guide to which the noble Lord referred, but I shall look into it.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, bearing in mind that Questions for Written Answer from Members of this House to the Government may be of great interest to individual Members but that they are also a mechanism for holding the Government to account, and that Answers are now published on the internet as well as in Hansard, because of Hansard's input into the internet, should not such a development be welcomed?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I am grateful for those remarks. However, we shall, of course, continue to publish all Written Answers in the paper form of Hansard.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister can help me with regard to Parliamentary Answers to Written Questions. Are the Government satisfied that giving a Parliamentary Answer by referring a noble Lord to a website address is a suitable and proper Answer to a Written Question in your Lordships' House?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I am not sure to what Question the noble Lord is referring. Whether or not the Answer is suitable depends very much on the Question.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, as we have a little time, may I refresh the noble and learned Lord's memory? He answered a Question from me by simply referring me to a website rather than answering the Question as asked.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, my memory is more fallible than that of the noble Lord. I am not sure to what Question he is referring, but if he will draw my attention to it, I shall immediately write and explain why I answered in that way.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, pointed out, Written Answers are published in Hansard on the internet. All that is required from the Government--all that I am asking of the Government--is that they throw a switch and a copy appears in my mailbox. That does not require more than a moment's thought by somebody. Surely the Government need not take two years to say "yes" to that.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, we are doing more than just providing an e-mail Answer. We

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are trying to find a means whereby we can time the Answer and also have it as an actual way of answering the Question.


2.58 p.m.

Lord Carter: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m. my noble friend Lady Jay of Paddington will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement being made in another place on the Berlin European Council on 24th and 25th March and on Kosovo.

In view of the long list of speakers for the debate which is scheduled to take place this afternoon and tomorrow on the House of Lords Bill, it might be helpful if I indicate to the House that, while the debate is not time limited, if the average time taken by each of the Back-Bench speakers was seven minutes, the debate would conclude at a reasonable hour on each of the two evenings--using "evening" in this context as a term of art.

As always, in all such matters I can only offer guidance. I remain in the hands of the House. I should say, however, that as a second day has been agreed for this debate, it will be in the interests of all noble Lords who are sitting through the two days for the proceedings not to be unduly extended into the small hours. No doubt your Lordships will agree that it would be particularly regrettable if noble Lords who might have contributed to causing the House to sit later than it otherwise would have done did not remain for the winding-up speeches.

I can only repeat that the time at which the House adjourns tonight and tomorrow night is entirely in your Lordships' hands. A list of speakers will shortly be available but it might be helpful if your Lordships knew that the first six speakers are to be my noble friend the Leader of the House, the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, the noble Lord the Leader of the Liberal Democrat Peers, who will be followed by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, to move his amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and my noble friend Lord Richard, in that order.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, why is the noble Lord the Chief Whip always asking for restraint? Does he realise that some noble Lords are going to be obliged to be restrained for the rest of their lives? Why therefore should they be restrained on the Bill which is perforce to restrain them?

Lord Carter: My Lords, in the two-day debate on the White Paper, which ranged considerably wider than the Bill, the average speaking time for the Back-Benchers was seven minutes.

Lord Acton: My Lords, can my noble friend say when it is proposed to take the Statement?

Lord Carter: My Lords, we are not entirely sure. We are still waiting for the final Statement to be cleared from the other place and it will be subject to agreement between the usual channels as to when we take it.

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Lord Elton: My Lords, if the Statement is not cleared by the time the sixth speaker sits down, we shall be in ignorance as to whom the seventh speaker shall be.

Lord Carter: My Lords, good try! But the list of speakers will be available shortly. We will then know not only who is to be the seventh speaker, but also the 76th.

House of Lords Bill

3.2 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to acquaint the House that they, having been informed of the purport of the House of Lords Bill, have consented to place their prerogatives and interests, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

It is a great privilege to open this Second Reading debate. It is always a privilege to speak from this Dispatch Box or, indeed, from any place in your Lordships' House. The greatest privilege is to be a Member of this House of Parliament. The Bill before us concerns that privilege. It establishes in statute that no one can assert an inalienable right to automatic membership of Parliament. No one can inherit a preordained, reserved seat in this House. Membership must be a jealously protected individual privilege.

The Bill marks a profound change in our parliamentary system, a profound change which the Government feel is long overdue. The Bill is an historic document. Like many historic documents, it is simple and straightforward. It has a clear purpose and it expresses that purpose in a direct and expedient way. Perhaps I may briefly describe its clauses, and as regards this Bill I can be very brief.

Clause 1 removes the right to be a Member of this House by virtue of a hereditary peerage. Clause 2 removes, as a consequence, the bar on hereditary Peers being parliamentary electors, candidates or MPs. Clause 3 governs the repeal schedule which itself consists of the provisions of the 1963 Peerage Act made redundant by the Bill. Clause 4 provides for the commencement of the main provisions of the Act at the end of the Session in which it is passed. It also provides for an order-making power which might be needed to enable provision to be made regarding the entitlement of hereditary Peers to vote in parliamentary and European elections. Clause 5 is the interpretation and Short Title.

As I have just said, the Government believe this change to be both historic and long overdue. Perhaps I may quote to your Lordships from an earlier speech on this theme:

    "The quarrel between a tremendous democratic electorate and a one-sided hereditary Chamber has often been threatened, has often been averted, has been long debated, has been long delayed, but it has always been inevitable and it has come at last".
That was Winston Churchill MP speaking 90 years ago in 1909. Two years later in 1911 this House agreed to an Act of Parliament which said that the hereditary basis

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of its membership was unsustainable. In 1948 and in 1968 proposals for reform were made; all were frustrated.

It is worth considering the political environment in which the first reforms were proposed, nearly 90 years ago. In 1911 some men had two votes; a few still had none; no woman could vote, let alone stand for Parliament. There were still university seats in the House of Commons. Since then the political and social landscape of this country has been transformed. But in this Chamber we still confront an ossified system whose days were apparently numbered in the 1900s. In this, the last few months of the 20th century, the Government believe we must finally close the political chapter of the 19th century.

It is no discredit to any individuals to argue that the continuing system discredits Parliament and must be changed. Anyone with any knowledge of our history understands the immensely important role that the hereditary peerage has played in this country's counsels. I know my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor intends to address this more fully later in the debate. It may also be of assistance to the House to know that, though we are not in the Committee stage of this Bill, my noble and learned friend will also speak about the possibilities of a later amendment to retain temporary membership for some hereditary Peers.

Suffice it for me to say at the beginning of this debate that many hereditary Peers continue to play an active, distinguished part in the proceedings of this House. I am delighted to acknowledge that personal contribution, and to pay tribute to those numbers of hereditary Peers who are extremely worthy recipients of the privilege of membership. Indeed, I have no doubt that most Members by birth recognise the privilege that their inherited right confers. The fundamental point is that the birthright itself can no longer be sustained.

The British are justly proud that we have often led the world in establishing the principles and practice of good government. But we are now alone among advanced democracies in permitting hereditary membership of Parliament. I am not encouraged to discover that the only other parliamentary assembly which has a system anything like your Lordships' House is the Lesotho Senate.

I have also heard some hereditary Peers lament that this Bill means that they will lose the opportunity to serve their countrymen; that their efforts are somehow no longer needed. That, I have to assure the House, is not the intention. After all, Clause 2 of the Bill will enable the hereditary peerage to be elected as Members of the other place. Clause 4 even provides an order-making power to ensure that ex-Members of this House are enfranchised as quickly as possible. They will enjoy all the same rights as all the rest of the citizens of this country.

I must say to the House that there has been some unease at the hints given in our previous debates that somehow hereditary Peers are imbued with a unique sense of duty and public responsibility. A sense of duty, I suggest, unites and motivates all the active Members of this House. Public service is a tradition which spreads

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widely into our community. It extends far beyond the privileged Chambers of Parliament and has always done so.

My noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn spoke, I thought, most movingly at the end of the debate on our proposals last October about his own ancestors and the service that they had given. He described their quiet, obscure service, one to the country in the trenches of the First World War and one to his local community as its village schoolmaster. There are thousands, millions of people in this country who can make the same claim to ancestors who lived lives of decency, duty and service, and who exhibit the same qualities in their lives today. All those same opportunities are now open to those hereditary Peers who will leave us. I am sure that many will take them up.

Even at this late stage of our parliamentary history the Government do not suggest reform for reform's sake. This Bill is part of our determination to change our country's institutions so that they are fit for the 21st century, to achieve a new constitutional settlement.

I know very well that some of your Lordships are suspicious of the word "modernising". Perhaps I may attempt to explain it in this context. Modernisation is nothing more sinister than allowing our institutions to develop to reflect the changes in our society. That it seems to some to create an upheaval is, frankly, a symptom of how far some of our institutions had been left behind. Let me offer the House some examples. We ratified the European Convention on Human Rights in 1951. This Government have just passed legislation to incorporate it into our law.

There has been a century of administrative devolution in Scotland, with much longer separate education and legal systems. This Government have responded to generations of what one might describe as "alienation" north of the Border by introducing the Scottish Parliament. In Wales, 35 years of administration devolution has now led to an elected Assembly. In London the Government have addressed the issue of a single voice for the nation's capital. We are introducing the new Greater London Authority.

At Westminster, the Government are making changes to enable better scrutiny of legislation, and introducing new measures to reflect the lifestyles and responsibilities of MPs in the 1990s.

We are looking at ways to improve the delivery of the Government's own policies. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for his pertinent question on this during Question Time. They will indeed build on the technological developments of recent decades. Tomorrow we will publish a White Paper, Modernising Government, which will set out a strategy for implementing change. These initiatives are not based in ideology but in a pragmatic wish to achieve relevance and contemporary authority for our institutions of government. This House cannot be immune from that process of reform.

It is a coherent programme of renewal and modernisation. True, it does not spring from some absolutist theoretical master plan. It is pragmatic, but that is not at all the same as incoherent. It has an

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overarching aim--to achieve a maturer democracy with different centres of power, where individuals enjoy greater rights and where government is carried out closer to the people. What unites the reforms is that they are sensible incremental responses based on liberal constitutional principles.

That is the Government's position. It is clear, it is straightforward and it has been supported by the electorate. It is reflected in the clear and straightforward Bill which we have before us today.

However, what is unclear is the position of our political opponents. In the 1997 general election campaign, Conservative candidates were told to support hereditary Peers as, "an asset to democracy". "It is important", said their campaign guide,

    "to support the hereditary principle in its own right."
I am sure that there are noble Lords opposite who still promote that policy.

Yet, as the Bill before us today progressed earlier through the other place, Conservative spokesmen were extremely reluctant to defend the principle of a birthright to a seat in Parliament. Continuously pressed from the Government Benches the final position seemed to be that the Conservative Party rejects the hereditary system--just as it did, theoretically at least, in 1911 and indeed in 1968--but also rejects the present Bill.

Members of the Conservative Party dislike the present Bill, apparently, not because they support the hereditary peerage but because they do not support the Government's process of reform. The simple question must therefore arise. If the Conservative Party opposes the practice not the principle of reform, why did it not in all its years of government power--during its last administration of 18 years and during its, roughly, 45 years of power since 1911--bring a reform Bill of its own? Why not produce a solution which it did find acceptable? Why do nothing? The answer is easy to answer; it is as simple as the question. The status quo suits the Conservative Party extremely well.

It is worth rehearsing the party political figures in this House again, not least because I note from the draft list that I have been privileged to see, several speakers who have not taken part in our earlier debates on the subject. I know that the noble Earl, Lord Devon, will make his maiden speech tomorrow. We all look forward particularly to hearing his contribution.

The simple numbers are these. There are 475 Conservative Peers and 175 Labour Peers. Of the 475 Conservative Peers, 302 are hereditary Peers. Only 18 of the 175 Labour Peers are hereditary Peers. The Conservative Peers can defeat the Labour Peers in every Division; indeed, in this Parliament they need only to field 37 per cent. of their available strength in order to defeat the Government every time.

I know that the Opposition will reply, "But we don't defeat you in every Division; we exercise restraint". However, that is not the point. It cannot be right for one party, and one party alone, always to be able to have its way, whether in government or in opposition and regardless of the result of a general election. But, say

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the defenders of the status quo, Conservative governments were defeated too. That is right, but not so often and usually on the votes of life Peers.

In the 1995-96 Session under the last administration, the Conservative government won 91 per cent. of Divisions in this House. Two thirds of those victories were victories only because of the presence in the Division Lobbies of Conservative hereditary Peers. All 10 government defeats would still have been defeats on the votes of life Peers alone. By contrast, in the 1997-98 Session under the present Government, the Government lost 38 whipped Divisions. In all but five of 33 losses, we were defeated only because of the presence of hereditary Peers in the Opposition Lobbies.

Of course, the party opposite is exercising a degree of restraint compared with the position when there was last a Labour government. In the period 1974 to 1979, the Labour government were defeated an average of 68 times per Session. By contrast, Conservative governments between 1979 and 1996 were defeated an average of 13 times per Session.

Does anyone seriously believe that if that situation had been reversed--had Labour had three times as many Peers as the Conservatives and won as many victories--they would not have acted? I do not underestimate the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher. I am sure that she would have brought in a Lords reform Bill in her first administration. So, to justify retaining its huge majority, the party opposite has produced elaborate arguments for delaying any change.

Today that argument, as I noted earlier, rests on opposition to the Government's methods of reform--the step-by-step approach. My noble and learned friend Lord Falconer will speak to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, which advances this position, when he replies to the debate tonight, and the House has had the opportunity to hear the noble Lord move his amendment.

However, simple observation suggests that the opponents of this Bill do not want to be caught arguing on principled rather than pragmatic grounds for the retention of a hereditary element in Parliament. So, instead, they argue that we are wrong to deal with one issue without dealing with all the rest. The difficulty with that approach is that we know from history what the end result is likely to be. We have had several attempts already this century to deal with the whole package. Indeed, I have already referred to them. None of them has got anywhere.

The reason is that supporters of the hereditary Peers are always the wild card. Those who do not want to see any change, for whatever reason, join, for example, with those who fear an elected House of Lords to defeat that idea. They then join with those who think an elected House is the only solution to defeat a nominated or mixed House. But no reform ever wins.

We simply do not intend to play the game that way again. This time, the first question is: do you believe that the hereditary Peers any longer have a place in Parliament? The answer can be simply, yes or no. Then we move on to the same question which can clearly be

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asked about the next stage; namely: do you agree with proposals for further reform? Again, the answer is yes or no. Each question is separately decided on its own terms, debated on the arguments which apply to it, not to some hypothetical alternative.

That is why we set out in our 1997 election manifesto the two-stage approach, and that is the approach on which we have a mandate from the country. In our earlier debates on this subject I have heard some noble Lords suggest that this mandate is irrelevant and that of course no one read the detailed manifesto, understood it or voted on the basis of it. I must say that I find that a dangerous, as well as an insulting viewpoint. I believe it is not one that the Opposition Front Bench endorses.

One thing is indisputable: this Government were overwhelmingly elected on the commitment to govern in the interests of the many, not the few. I can think of few Bills which more clearly fulfil that commitment than the one before us today.

The Government and the party to which I am proud to belong are dedicated to the improvement of our society and its institutions. This basic philosophy is true of New Labour, of old Labour and, indeed--as some Members of your Lordships' House prefer to describe themselves--of original Labour. We are all rooted in our egalitarian, democratic tradition. Our strength of commitment to reforming the House of Lords springs from that tradition. It has been part of our policy for 100 years.

Twice before when we have had commanding majorities in the House of Commons, we have attempted one stage, one-off, full-scale reform. Twice before we have been unsuccessful. So, this third time we are embarked on a different approach. We will deal with each issue in turn. This Bill to end the rights of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in Parliament is a radical and historic first step. It is consistent with the founding principles of the Government's heritage; it is consistent with today's determination to renew Britain for the 21st century. This time reform will succeed and I commend it to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.--(Baroness Jay of Paddington).

3.21 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the noble Baroness's speech heralds the start of an extraordinary debate with around 180 speakers over two days, four government Ministers, dozens of former Ministers and, I am delighted to say, a decent turnout from the Labour Party. I welcome Labour Peers to this debate. Last month in the debate on the long-term future of this House, Labour Peers were conspicuous by their absence; today they are out in force. The whole House awaits their contribution on a matter which, if passed, will have more far-reaching consequences for this House than any other this century.

I also mention the speech we are to be denied this afternoon; that is, the speech of my late friend Lord Beloff, who died a week ago today. He was the champion of the unfashionable cause. He feared no conventional wisdom and your Lordships' House as

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well as the nation is poorer for his death. Lord Beloff was a powerful defender of the hereditary principle, but he was above all a lover of liberty who feared the growth of executive power. That was why he so opposed this Bill. I recall some of his last words to your Lordships in the debate on the White Paper a month ago and I hope that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House will enjoy them. He said that government policy was presented as "modernisation" of Parliament, but its true motive was the marginalisation of Parliament. In that, as in so much, Lord Beloff was right. I share that fundamental objection to this Bill.

This afternoon, we have been treated to an intriguing spectacle. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House has had to do an impossible job. To no one's surprise, she has done it well, with the skill and certainty for which she is renowned. Using all the skills at her disposal, she has done a creditable job in introducing this particular Bill to your Lordships. After all, it is a rare art to be able to do something with a straight face which is so palpably absurd.

Am I the only one in this House who believes that there is something perfectly ludicrous in what we are doing today? We are in a wonderland where nothing is quite what it seems. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House has spent 20 minutes explaining the thing which is not. Another place has spent six weeks debating a Bill they all know will not become law. When it returns to them, they will have little time to debate the changes and to decide whether or not to accept them. This whole saga has an air of unreality to it. No one knows quite how it will all end, least of all the Government, although it would be changing the habit of a lifetime for them to start something they know how to finish.

But one thing is for sure; no one expects this Bill in this form to become law. This Bill starts with a simple purpose; that the hereditary peerage should be removed from this House. That is all. There is no reason, no purpose and no vision for the future--sadly the noble Baroness has not taken the opportunity to give us much of that today either. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House says that the Government are removing privilege. However, when I look around all the Benches in this House I am conscious as much of a sense of duty as I am of privilege. Noble Lords opposite say that the hereditary principle is an affront to democracy. However, in the conflict over the European elections Act, which House stood up for people's power, and which for party power? Whatever may befall this House, at least it can say that it never agreed to the removal of the voters' precious right to choose their MEP by name.

The Government say they are creating a more democratic House, but where is the democracy in a letter from the noble Baroness's right honourable friend the Prime Minister dispensing his patronage? For ancient privilege, read modern patronage. That is the future of this House drawn by this Bill. However much the noble Baroness's right honourable friend the Prime Minister may boast that he is giving up patronage, let noble Lords opposite reflect on the following. The Prime Minister has already created more Peers more quickly than any prime minister in modern history. He is the first modern

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prime minister to create more than half new Peers from his own party. And when this Bill is through, because the House will be smaller each act of patronage will have a greater impact on the balance of the House than anything seen before. I am certain that this House will not want this Bill to proceed without having examined the power of patronage, what that may mean for the freedom of our Parliament and how it may be circumscribed.

Let us also be in no doubt as to the effects of this Bill. This is the Bill that gives the Prime Minister what he yearns for more than anything else; control of a House that has defied him. This is the Bill that will deliver a House more likely to approve the major constitutional changes for the future; namely, proportional representation for another place and the introduction of the euro. This is the Bill that removes an important degree of independence from this House, and with it experts on a whole range of subjects and interests who will not easily be replaced. Where will your Lordships be without the perspicacity and persistence of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, on social security, or the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, on our national heritage, or the noble Countess, Lady Mar?

In her speech, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House made much of statistics. I learnt a long time ago that when it comes to the House of Lords you really can prove almost anything you want by using statistics in your favour. The noble Baroness points to two particular problems. The first concerns the voting statistics. She will know that even in the past few weeks, Divisions have been lost by the Government on majorities of fewer than five. That is not the success of this side of the House; it is a failure of her noble friends. Secondly, if the issue is one of balance--I accept that that is an issue--is there not a better way of dealing with that rather than by this Bill?

This Bill removes from this House significant personalities and characters who have served their nation in Parliament, often at a sacrifice to alternative careers. In particular, it removes my noble friends Lord Carrington, Lord Belstead, Lord Jellicoe, Lord Gowrie, and even the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, who was a distinguished Labour Leader of this House. They, among so many others, will be excluded. All were deemed worthy enough to be Cabinet Ministers, but not good enough for new Labour's new House of Lords.

Let us take just one example; that of my noble friend Lord Carrington, whose speech I look forward to hearing later. A long proponent of reform in this House--though not of the half-baked plan we are supposed to be considering this afternoon--his political career sounds almost unbelievable, so distinguished is it. A former High Commissioner in Australia, a Minister in a variety of government departments, Secretary of State for Defence, Secretary of State for Energy, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Chairman of the Conservative Party--the list goes on. But I have no desire to weary your Lordships or embarrass my noble friend further. I would not even have mentioned my noble friend if it had not been for his extraordinary intervention last Thursday in the debate on Kosovo. I cannot but wonder that, if the Bill

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goes through, this House will lose that wisdom, knowledge and experience collected over so many years and put to such good use in so many different ways. And why is my noble friend to be excluded from this House in the future? Has he done anything wrong? Should he, or any of the others I have mentioned, be ashamed? No, my Lords. Those who should be ashamed sit opposite. Shamed, because they choose to exclude my noble friend Lord Carrington not for what he has done or achieved but because of where he was born.

We are opposed to the Bill for three main and related reasons: it has no vision; it has no principle; and it is part of no strategy at all. First, it offers no vision as to the future second Chamber that the Government tell us this country and this Parliament need; secondly, it makes it less likely that we will ever go on to a second stage reform; and therefore, thirdly, it misses the best chance this century of finding consensus across the parties for a fully reformed, strong, independent and effective second Chamber, by which few hereditary Peers mind being replaced.

For several generations this House has accepted the need for reform, yet it is another place that suffers from a collective schizophrenia. For 30 years, another place has prevaricated, stuck in a mode of, "Don't know what to do so let's not think about it". What thought has taken place is of the "If you make them more powerful they will take power from us" variety. Only recently has the debate become more focused. It will not have escaped your Lordships' attention that only last week an Early Day Motion was presented in another place calling for a fully elected House.

Some of those questions will have to be addressed. One cannot cast the hereditary peerage into oblivion without casting the life peerage into doubt. One cannot alter the House of Lords radically without altering the House of Commons too. This House's present duty cannot be thwarted by this Government's fear of the future and hatred of the past.

In contrast to the Government's position, our duty has always been clear. The constitutional landscape we will inherit from the Labour Party will be substantially different from the one we left behind. No one yet knows what effects the new devolved legislative bodies will have on the workings of Parliament, let alone the coherence of the United Kingdom. But it is increasingly clear that we will need to rebalance the constitution to take account of the many and varied changes that have taken place. At its heart, our philosophy is based on strengthening Parliament, to make representative democracy work better and to give government greater authority as they go about their business. The Bill, however, does none of these things. It makes it less likely that we will get the long-term reform that my noble friend Lord Wakeham will shortly propose.

It is not yet too late though for the Government to think again. What is required is not a spectacular U-turn, but a carefully thought through policy decision to await the report of the Royal Commissioners, allow a joint committee of both Houses to sit and then, between the

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parties, decide on the way forward. Still now, at this late hour, I urge the Government to consider this option: it is not yet too late.

During the Bill's passage through your Lordships' House, we will propose and support a number of amendments designed to improve it. I have referred already to some areas that we will want to examine. But one in particular we will support is loosely termed as the "Weatherill amendment". I will not go into its provenance now, nor will I delve into the detail, but the House might expect me to say a couple of things. Perhaps I may first express a wish that the draft amendment and an explanation of the mechanics of the process of election will be made available as soon as possible. That is important if it is to receive support from your Lordships. Nothing succeeds more in a vacuum than rumour and counter rumour. The sooner the House sees what is proposed and understands it, the better.

Secondly, the amendment fulfils two objectives. The first is that we should not allow the Government to create a wholly nominated house of patronage in stage one. That is because we might be stuck with stage one for a very long time. The second is that, in view of the Government's intense antipathy towards the hereditary peerage, the amendment makes stage two a more realistic possibility than would otherwise be the case. But the Government should be under no illusions. The amendment falls well short of making the Bill acceptable. It still fails the first test of creating a more effective second Chamber, better able to check the power of the Government.

In the weeks ahead, we will need to debate a wide variety of issues that arise from questions and matters that are not properly covered in the Bill. The Bill is masterly in its brevity, but it omits much of substance and relevance to the future House. I urge the Government to listen carefully to the arguments put forward and to join us in as far reaching a debate as possible. One cannot rule out from consideration of the future of something so great as our Parliament, more than a half of one of the Chambers of that Parliament. That would be to imagine one could score a knife across one of the great arteries of our history and leave the body politic unharmed.

One of the hallmarks of the debate in another place was Members' inability to discuss a range of issues that need to be aired in Parliament. So I trust that there is no thought of curtailing the debate in this House. The Government have not always been generous on time. The House will know that it was in the face of opposition that the Government insisted on this Second Reading debate in the week before Easter and would not listen to reason when I pointed out that the debate is likely to finish in the small hours of Wednesday morning. The Government believed that I was seeking to delay the Bill. I was not. But what it means is that the nation, over their cornflakes, will be denied a report of the reply of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, to the debate. I cannot help but believe that the Government do not want anyone to hear the noble Lord's defence of the Government, which is a pity,

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because the noble Lord normally does a good job for his political masters and I am sure his speech would merit prime time.

Furthermore, it is possible that a Division will take place at the end of the debate. For obvious reasons, we will not support the Second Reading in the Division Lobbies but neither will we support moves not to give the Bill a Second Reading. The Bill deserves proper scrutiny and that is what we will give it in the remaining stages.

The amendment on the Order Paper tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, is, however, a different matter. It is a non-fatal Motion. It will, I hope, deeply embarrass the Government if it is carried, and if it is called at the end of the debate I will support the amendment and encourage my noble friends to do likewise.

I can find nothing in the Bill to commend to your Lordships. I regret that we are now dealing with it at Second Reading. The last time we discussed this issue, in the debate on the White Paper, my noble friend Lord Cranborne said that we should not be mawkish. He is right. But this moment should not pass without reflecting briefly on the work of the hereditary peerage. We are witnessing in some instances more than 700 years of continuous service to this House washed away on a tide of modernisation. Does it not strike your Lordships as both remarkable and significant that one of the most widely respected Members of this House, the noble Countess, Lady Mar, should hold one of the oldest titles of us all? I sincerely hope that the descendants of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will still be giving public service in the year 2884.

After this Bill is passed, it may well be that people look back on the House of Lords in the 20th century and regard this as the Golden Age. I, for one, hope they do not, as it will mean that our successors in this House will have failed. And so shall we. We shall have failed in our desire to leave behind something stronger, something better, and something that will be worthy of its predecessors. Our responsibility is for the future. But it is how we deal with our future that our past will be judged. Our duty is not to mourn what is passed but to provide for the future. That is, in the end, what is so wrong about this Bill. It gives no thought for the future; it is an ignoble Bill, and it will stand for all time as a monument to how not to progress parliamentary change.

3.40 p.m.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, in October last and again in February we held two long debates on the reform of this House. I do not propose to cover quite the same ground today. We were all totally familiar with the issues before this Parliament commenced because they had been brought into the sharpest focus by the Government's manifesto commitment, which was referred to earlier by the Leader of the House. That commitment was plain; legislation would be introduced in this Parliament. The principle of excluding the hereditary peerage from the House had been discussed from every angle, with many

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Peers, some of whom are normally silent, contributing to the argument. We know that strong and differing views are widely held.

There is also an awareness in all parts of the House, and certainly on these Benches, that severance from this place will be a painful personal experience for many colleagues, some of whose families have served here for generations. I do not dissent from the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, about a sense of duty. For those of us who stay there will be a genuine sadness in losing friends with whom we have worked from day to day and others with whom we have profoundly disagreed. After this Bill has been enacted, your Lordships' House will be a different place. Whether it will be as congenial, only experience will show.

The Bill before us has no more than five clauses and the weight of the Bill is carried in only one of them, Clause 1, dealing with the purpose of the Bill. The Bill is concerned entirely with what we must call the transitional House, not with what may come after, when the Royal Commission has reported.

I want to say now that four or five days in Committee and two or three days on Report--not much more--would be, in my view, an adequate allowance of time. If the Bill were taking longer, I should need to be persuaded that that was not the result of deliberate delay and disruption. That could be a decisive consideration--although not the only one--in what these Benches eventually decide about what we have now come to call the Weatherill proposals.

Before ridicule catches fire, perhaps I may remind noble Lords that this House took four days in Committee and two on Report on the Access to Justice Bill. The Bill was complex, and was controversial across all Benches; it had 80 clauses. More to the point, the Bill that is before us today has had four days in Committee and none on Report in another place. We often pride ourselves that debates in this House are characterised by substance, not rhetoric, that we address issues directly and without tedious repetition. It would be a pity if that reputation were in tatters by the time this Bill completed its passage. It would diminish this House.

I fully recognise that some Members of the House are still bitterly and passionately opposed to the Bill. It is, they say--as they are entitled to--a bad Bill, mean and obnoxious. But the logic of such a view is plain. Whatever the conventions, whatever the pressures, whatever the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, may say, noble Lords who are opposed to the principle of the Bill should speak against it today and tomorrow, as many intend to, and vote against the principle, which means voting against Second Reading tomorrow night. The amendment standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, is a soft and evasive action, as the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, confirmed. To vote against Second Reading would be the bold and honourable course. It would be a step that measured up to the occasion as they see it. It is what I would do if I were in their place.

But I am not, and I welcome the Bill. It is wrong that in a representative democracy Members of the second Chamber should arrive here not on merit--even when

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that may have turned out to be great; the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, gave a long and uncontroversial list of distinguished Peers who arrived on the hereditary principle. It is wrong that they should arrive by random selection at birth, and change is long overdue.

I have nothing further to say about the Bill as printed. I wish to turn to what the Bill does not presently contain--principally the Weatherill proposals--but also briefly to the political balance in the transitional House, and with it the appointments commission, both of which were referred to in Chapter 6 of the White Paper that we debated some weeks ago.

The Weatherill proposals came in a press release dated 2nd December and were described as "a cross-bench peers' initiative". Almost four months later, that press release is the only authorised text that is publicly available; and it begs almost as many questions as it answers. That is because the initiative was not really a Cross-Bench initiative at all. The signatories, the noble Lords, Lord Weatherill and Lord Marsh, and the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon--I make no complaint or criticism--were acting as a vehicle for, or in the knowledge of, an agreement that had already been reached between the Prime Minister, with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor acting as his agent, and the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, then leader of the Conservative Peers. Only the Lord Chancellor and the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, can tell us precisely what the details mean and how the proposal is meant to work.

The nature of the deal is simple. The noble Viscount said, in effect, "Let 100 hereditary Peers survive through the transitional House and I will do my best to ensure the smooth passage of the Bill". The noble and learned Lord the Lord the Lord Chancellor replied: "Done, although the numbers are a bit high". So they settled on 75, which is 10 per cent. of the hereditaries, on the due date, 14 (or 15) Deputy Chairmen and two special cases.

I do not object to a political deal of that kind, subject to the small print. But it is much less acceptable and a lot more complicated than the previous understanding--which I fully supported--that a number of hereditary Peers, and again I refer to the distinguished list mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, who have played an active part in the House should become life Peers when the Bill receives Royal Assent. We on these Benches shall find difficulty in supporting the deal if it fails to deliver the Bill without wasted time and unless the details are convincing.

Meanwhile, I would ask the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, when he speaks tomorrow, to set out clearly the precise terms of the agreement that the Government are prepared to honour. I am asking for something rather more on the record to replace the press release of 2nd December. Nominees of all parties and from the Cross-Benches have been informally helping the Government to find suitable administrative and procedural means to implement the Weatherill proposals, should it come to that. Their report is now ready and I assume that in due course it will be made available to the whole House. Here I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said. But important

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policy questions remain, which I hope the Government will answer, on matters which can eventually only be decided in this House.

The proposals allow for one-tenth of hereditary Peers staying on, 75 in this general group. I had assumed that that meant 75 Peers chosen on merit, once and for all. But I now understand that later vacancies among the 75 would be filled by bringing back into the House Peers who had already departed, thus raising the staying-on proportion to over 10 per cent. What is the case for that? In effect, it means a self-perpetuating block of representative Peers with the right to constant replenishment. I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will explain why that is justified.

If each party is to retain one-tenth of its hereditary numbers, which is what the Cross-Bench Peers suggested, why should each party not be free to decide how to select them, either by the vote of its own hereditaries alone or of all its Peers, especially when all Peers--not just the hereditaries--are to be allowed to elect the Deputy Chairmen? Again, I should be grateful for an explanation.

As for the Deputy Chairmen, unless this is, as I fear, just a rather clumsy device to bump up numbers, what evidence is there that the 14 or 15 who seem to be required to sit on the Woolsack cannot be found from among life Peers or the 75 other hereditaries who stay on? And what happens to a hereditary Peer who is elected to serve as a Deputy Chairman but who later chooses, for good and sufficient reasons, not to do so or who turns out to be unsuitable? Does he leave the House, which is the obvious and proper course, or does he become a Back-Bencher? Who fills his vacancy: another hereditary Peer who has left the House, one of the others staying on or a life Peer previously judged to be unsuitable or unavailable? Whatever the merits of the Weatherill 75, I can see no case for the proposals with regard to Deputy Chairmen.

I should ask a lot more questions of this kind if time allowed because the deal and the Weatherill proposals are riddled with anomalies. There will be room for endless argument, especially about what should be written on the face of the Bill and what should be given effect in Standing Orders.

The Government will plead that the transitional House will not last long, and I believe that they will say that in entirely good faith. But no one can be sure. Elections are lost as well as won; priorities change. It could well be that, if vacancies are to be filled, there will be many new faces among the 75, called back for duty, before further reform arrives. And, who knows, if there were another deal the 75 (plus 14 or 15, plus two) might even be carried over to the second stage of the reform and go on for ever and ever. For the Conservative Benches, that would be a happy outcome, and I should not blame them for rejoicing. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, would be a hero of our time, a very clever fox if ever there was one. But for many of us that would be an unsatisfactory settlement, the prospect of which is opened, at least in part, by the proposals that we expect to be presented to us before the Bill has completed its passage.

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I turn briefly to two other aspects of the transitional House, both referred to in the White Paper but not, for obvious reasons, in the Bill. They are relevant to a wholly nominated House or a predominately nominated House, if the Weatherill proposals are accepted in one form or another.

The White Paper referred to progress towards ensuring that the political composition of life Peers in the transitional House more accurately reflected the proportion of votes cast for each party at the last general election. It reminded us that the balance in January when the White Paper was published was way out of line as there were 172 Conservative life Peers, 157 Labour life Peers and 45 Liberal Democrat life Peers, which bore no relation to support for the parties in June 1997. I think it was accepted on all Benches that that distortion could not be immediately remedied in a House of reasonable size, but the Government promised that the movement would be firmly in that direction.

The distortion, which is bad enough already--I have referred to the figures, and they are not in doubt--will be greatly increased if the Weatherill proposals are implemented; and the need to remedy the imbalance will become that more urgent. I hope that, on behalf of the Prime Minister, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, who I understand is to open the debate tomorrow, can give an unequivocal undertaking that the process of remedying the imbalance will proceed without conditions in accordance with the principles set out in the White Paper. We should be grateful to hear that.

As for the appointments commission, perhaps the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will be kind enough to say whether there has been any development in the Government's thinking and when the commission will be appointed. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, referred to "patronage"--a perfectly reasonable expression to use. Noble Lords on all sides of the House have been concerned with one of the consequences of stage one reform. The Prime Minister will decide the overall number of nominations, whatever the appointments commission will do. For that reason, it would be helpful to know what principles will guide him, given the questions of balance and the optimum size of the transitional House.

It would be nice to believe--and it may still be possible--that this Bill will be debated vigorously but without rancour. We on these Benches should be content to see it pass unamended, subject to reasonable scrutiny. Great historic changes are often the consequence of one small step. This is a short Bill but it is one small step towards making our parliamentary democracy complete.

3.57 p.m.

Lord Cobbold rose to move, as an amendment to the Motion, That the Bill be now read a second time, at end to insert ("but this House regrets that the Bill radically alters the historic composition of the House of Lords for party political advantage, without consultation or consensus on the successor House's role and composition and without making it more democratic").

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The noble Lord said: My Lords, we have so far heard the views of the three main political parties on this most important constitutional Bill. I address your Lordships as an independent hereditary Peer. I acknowledge that my presence in this Chamber by accident of birth is hard to justify. However, I, and, I am sure, most of my fellow hereditary Peers, feel a strong sense of duty and of awe in participating in the work of an institution that has such a long and honourable tradition of service to this country; an institution which continues to serve the country well, at very modest cost, and an institution which is respected throughout the world.

I, and, I suspect, most hereditary Peers are not against reform. Far from it. But what really sticks in our throats is being summarily removed from your Lordships' House without prior public consultation or consensus as to the future House's role and composition.

If hereditary membership of your Lordships' House has any value, it must surely be as a long-stop guardian of the British constitution and of the rights and liberties of her people. I believe that before allowing ourselves to be ejected from the House we have a paramount duty to the British people to satisfy ourselves that a successor second Chamber would be better, more efficient, more democratic, more representative, more effective and more respected than your Lordships' House is today. This Bill, if passed, would prevent our doing that. That is the crux of my objection to the Bill and why I believe the measure should be strongly resisted by noble Lords on all sides of the House, be they hereditary or life Peers, Bishops or Law Lords.

Naturally, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House reminded us again of the commitment to abolish the right of hereditary Peers to sit in this House contained in the Labour Party election manifesto. In spite of that, I do not think that a single noble Lord in this House today believes that more than a handful of people were persuaded to vote Labour at the election as a result of that commitment. The motive of the Labour Party manifesto's stage one-stage two split appears to the cynical to have less to do with reform than with Labour's understandable desire to eliminate as quickly as possible the inbuilt Conservative Party majority in this House. But many less radical and more acceptable methods of eliminating the problem have been suggested in our recent debates, and will no doubt feature in our discussion today and tomorrow.

The Bill is quite simply an act of political vandalism and an insult to the work of your Lordships' House as presently constituted. When we are gone, the transitional House will be no more representative or democratic than the existing House. Furthermore, as the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, said, there is no guarantee that the transitional House will not be extended indefinitely if the findings of the Royal Commission prove to be unacceptable to the Government or the House of Commons. To remove hereditary Peers will break for ever strong historical links and threaten the traditions, pageantry and mystique of a 700 year-old institution that is part of the fabric of this country. It will also expose to threat the hereditary principle of the monarchy.

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It is much easier to destroy a reputation than to build one. I cannot believe that the British people really want to take these risks. They should at least be asked directly, perhaps in a referendum and not just in the small print of an election manifesto. It is tempting to vote against the Bill at this early stage. However, I believe that that would be wrong and that we should on this occasion properly honour the conventions of your Lordships' House and give the Bill a Second Reading but with the strong reservations set out in the amendment, reserving the right of all Peers to take up the fight at later stages of the Bill. I beg to move.

Moved, as an amendment to the Motion, That the Bill be now read a second time, at end to insert ("but this House regrets that the Bill radically alters the historic composition of the House of Lords for party political advantage, without consultation or consensus on the successor House's role and composition and without making it more democratic").--(Lord Cobbold.)

4.2 p.m.

Lord Carrington: My Lords, a great many years ago, long before any of your Lordships were Members of this House, the grandfather of the present noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, in the last five years of his life, used to get to his feet and say in a quavering voice, "My Lords, as this is the last speech I shall have the honour to make to your Lordships I ask for your indulgence". As this is probably the last speech I shall make after 54 years in this House I crave your Lordships' indulgence, although I doubt that I shall be as uncontroversial as was Lord Bledisloe.

I say at the outset: I have no objection whatever to the reform of your Lordships' House. I have been advocating reform for the past 40 years from both these Benches and the Benches opposite. I am on record, sometimes to the dismay of my noble friends behind me, as saying that I do not believe that the hereditary principle is the right way to compose a second Chamber; nor do I believe that one particular party should have a permanent majority in it. My quarrel is not with reform of the House of Lords; it is with the manner and style in which the present Government have gone about it.

Previous governments seeking to reform your Lordships' House have always tried first to achieve cross-party agreement among Members of the House of Lords and another place. They have either constituted a committee for this purpose or set up a Royal Commission. A previous Labour government asked Mr. Crossman to chair a committee to decide what should happen to your Lordships' House. Incidentally, that committee came to a conclusion not very dissimilar from the interim proposal of which we heard today which is halfway towards what some of your Lordships want. The proposals were agreed by the Conservative Party, the Labour Party, the Government; in fact, one thought, everyone. But the Bill was destroyed by a future Leader of the Labour Party, Mr. Foot, in another place.

It may be asked why the Government decided upon this course. They have been forced into setting up a Royal Commission. But why did they start the process?

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Although it is a fairly unpleasant thing to say to noble Lords opposite, I believe that the Government felt it necessary to take some action before the election to propitiate the unreformed socialists in their party. After all, who cares whether or not hereditary Peers stay in the House of Lords? It had nothing whatever to do with reform of this House. Purely from the party political point of view, the advantage to the Labour Party of a House as at present composed is incalculable. For 10 years I was Leader of the Opposition in this House. Whenever there was a dispute between the two Houses no one ever discussed whether this House was right on the issue. The only debate was about whether this House had the right, composed as it was, to challenge the will of the people. So it suited the Labour Party very well. On the occasions when we challenged another place we were obviously overruled. But did the Government really suppose that after eliminating the hereditary Peers, a wholly nominated House, composed either as of now, and therefore equally likely to be disregarded by another place because it is not elected, or, even worse, one made up of more Peers who support the Labour Party, would be acceptable?

As for style, it is a great pity that noble Lords opposite are so dismissive of hereditary Peers. I am glad that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House made a brief curtsy in their direction today. I say without offence that some of us who are hereditary Peers believe that a number of noble Lords opposite who are basically placemen of a Labour Prime Minister are no more qualified to sit in this House than we are.

Why has this House not been reformed over the past 90 years? The reason is that no one has been able to find a solution. There are all kinds of drawbacks to any proposals. Do we have a wholly nominated House composed no doubt of the great and the good, or some great and all good? Would it really be effective or credible? Would it necessarily do the job that your Lordships now do any better? More particularly, would it not be regarded by another place in exactly the same way as your Lordships are now? I can hear the cry from down the Corridor, "Who are these people to challenge the elected representatives of the people?"

Is the House to be wholly elected? If so, would it be a challenge to the government of the day in another place? Would it have such powers as to disrupt another place and the Government's programme if there were a dispute between the two Houses? Indeed, if it were not given more power why would anyone bother to belong to it?

In the light of the history and the difficulties of the reform of this House, there is probably no ideal solution. For my part--I do not suppose that many of your Lordships agree with me--I would have a wholly elected House. I would have a House elected on a different basis from that of another place, at a different time, and having regard to the regions. I would give it the same power as your Lordships have at present but with one addition, although I confess that I would not like to draft the amendment. It would be that the new House would have the power to call a referendum if

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there were any proposals made by the Government of the day which touched on the constitution of this country.

One of the objections I have to the manner in which the Government have proposed the Bill is that it is not good enough, on the basis of a large but temporary majority, to tamper with the constitution without trying to get the agreement of the other parties. I have explained what I would do, but I must confess that I do not think it will happen. I shall tell the House what I think will happen, and I say this with great regret. There will be a mish-mash of nominated and elected, no doubt a sprinkling of religious leaders, and it will all be a muddle. I do not think it will be any better than your Lordships' House at present and, what is much more important, it will be no more credible to another place.

4.11 p.m.

Lord Richard: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. I would say two things to him at the outset. First, he is wrong when he says that the motive for this Bill came out of some sense that the Left wing of the Labour Party had to be propitiated. As someone who was involved in opposition, and in the early part of this Government in producing this policy, I can tell your Lordships that it sprang far more from a recognition that the composition of this House was grotesquely unfair and also that the day of the hereditary peerage had clearly gone. Secondly, perhaps I may say that the noble Lord's own record of wishing to reform this House is well known. It does seem to me to sit somewhat ill, however, with the attitude of many of those sitting behind him, and indeed with the speech we heard from the Leader of the Opposition this afternoon.

I welcome this Bill; it is right, it is timely and I fully support it. It is important, however, to try to establish the parameters for this debate. It cannot be solely about the rights or wrongs of removing hereditary Peers, nor can it be solely about the advantages or otherwise of the Weatherill amendment. There is a wider debate to be held and I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has partly opened it up.

This is in many respects a paving Bill. There are good reasons for looking beyond the issue of hereditary Peers. First, as the Labour Party manifesto made clear, this Bill would be the initial stage of a process. What the second stage should be is currently before the Royal Commission. We in this House should in no way usurp its role; but it will be for Parliament to approve, or not, proposals when they come forward. In debating this Bill, the House now has the opportunity to lay down markers as to its own future, and indeed to consider how it would wish its representatives on the subsequent joint committee to approach these issues. Debate on this Bill will be the only opportunity that the House has to play such a formative role.

We can spend a great deal of time arguing about whether it is right to remove hereditary Peers from the second Chamber. Or we can do what I hope we will do: that is, look forward and at least start the cross-party debate about what the future shape of this House should be.

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When I previously spoke on this subject, I detected a growing feeling in the House that what is needed is some indication of the eventual outcome. There is, too, a new mood afoot in the House of Commons. The notion that what one House gains another must lose is increasingly being seen as over-simplified. Almost a third of all Back Benchers across the parties, 143 MPs, have tabled an Early Day Motion calling for the second Chamber to be based on election. I welcome that development, even though I do not go all the way with the solution that they suggest. The principle that our political institutions should be based on democracy is surely welcome. So is the recognition that it is now, when the issues are yet to be resolved, that Parliament can make a contribution on a matter which is central to its own future. We in this House should choose to respond positively in this way and in the way in which we deal with this Bill. It is in that spirit, rather than in the somewhat negative terms of the reasoned amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, that I hope we can approach this issue, especially given our normal approach to Divisions on Second Reading.

As I said in the last debate we had on reform, there are three reasons this House needs to be reformed. First, the rationale for an aristocratic House has disappeared. Secondly, there is a huge, grotesque, political imbalance. Thirdly, and most importantly, despite much good work, our lack of legitimacy in this House means that the Lords cannot do its job as well as it should.

The rationale for an aristocratic House has long past, as many recognised even in the last century. We should recognise, as I do and have done in the past, the contribution which hereditary Peers and their forebears have made to the history and the governance of this country. Of course they will want to debate the issues concerning them. That is perfectly natural and understandable. If I were in their position, I imagine that would be my reaction too. Today is the fulfilment of a manifesto commitment, but we must move the discussion on. In our debate on 23rd February, I thought I detected some support for that view.

We have an historic opportunity to reform our Parliament of the kind which occurs only once in several generations. We have to grasp that opportunity. This Bill is the first step towards a fully reformed House. That is the basis on which the Government have brought it forward and everybody should work to ensure that there is indeed a second stage; that Lords reform does not remain unfinished business for another nine decades. In winding up this debate, I am sure that my noble friend will wish to take the opportunity to repeat that the Government intend to move to a second stage with all deliberate speed. He needs to refute the claim, heard recently, that the Government intend the nominated House to remain in place for at least 15 to 20 years.

When we last debated this issue, I set out some principles which I suggested should underlie our approach to reform. I do not propose to repeat the speech I made on the last occasion, but I make just two points.

The central challenge for constitutional reform in Britain has to be the planned reduction of centralised executive power. That is the basis of the rest of Labour's

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constitutional programme. In reforming the second Chamber our aim should therefore be to strengthen Parliament as a whole. We now have a situation where, however frenetic and pressurised life might seem to be to those inside government, the Executive dominates the primary Chamber at Westminster--the House of Commons--more than in any other similar system. That is why the overseas examples given in the White Paper, from countries in which the Executive is weaker than ours, expose the issues but do not provide the answers.

The need to reduce or counterbalance that centralised power is at the core of our policies to promote the rights of the citizen, to devolve power to the nations and the regions, to give voters a choice of voting system, to make the workings of government more open to scrutiny and to provide local democracy. Yet that language and that approach to this issue is not yet on the lips of Ministers. It needs to be.

Lords reform will inevitably make the second Chamber more troublesome, but provided the second Chamber is legitimate and credible, that is right. Otherwise we might as well have a unicameral system of government. But a better balance with the Commons is not the same as challenging its supremacy. The right package should leave the Commons pre-eminent as the only wholly elected House, strengthen it in relation to the power of the Lords, and reinforce it as the sole source of a government.

The objective of our reform, therefore, should be to strengthen the second Chamber to the point where it has the legitimacy vis-a-vis the Executive to perform its functions without threatening the position of the Commons. That seems to me to require, first, that both Houses have democratic legitimacy appropriate to their functions; secondly, that their membership puts them into the right balance with each other; and, thirdly, that within that balance the second Chamber has adequate powers to perform its functions. The present powers are substantial, but they are largely unused. It might well be better to have powers which are theoretically lesser but actually more useable in practice.

Perhaps I may follow the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, for a moment in looking at the possibilities of composition of this House. There are only three. It can either be nominated, indirectly elected, or directly elected. It could be a combination of one or other of those. Nomination can claim the possible advantage of continuity and of bringing a range of expert opinion into Parliament. But the basis of a wholly nominated House would remain patronage, notwithstanding the commendable reduction in the Prime Minister's role. Someone other than the electorate would take the decision. Only the non-party Members in your Lordships' House could claim to be independent, and even that would be compromised if we were to introduce "functional constituencies" of the kind seen in, among other places, Hong Kong and which to me carry something of a pre-war corporatist echo.

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There is, too, the danger of swapping one elite for another. There is no reason why those in poverty or unemployment, and those from ethnic minorities, should regard a life Peer as representing them--nor indeed anyone other than someone for whom they voted.

A wholly nominated House would be the weakest option as the Constitution Unit's study for the Canadian Senate makes clear. There, an ineffective body has been left with strong powers on paper which it cannot use--a situation familiar to Members of this House, and one which holds a natural attraction for any government.

In a wholly nominated House, while not having a majority, the government of the day could expect to be the largest party. With a little support from the Cross-Benches that should be enough to see it through on most occasions. Where it was not, it would be a straightforward matter automatically to overturn the view of the second Chamber on the basis of its lack of legitimacy, also a familiar situation which we have here. Indeed, the second Chamber has been unable to function as it should for nearly a century precisely because of its lack of legitimacy. To create another body with the same problem would simply replicate the existing imbalance not between the Commons and the Lords but between Parliament and the Executive.

Let me say a few words about indirect elections, about which I am bound to say I am equally enthusiastic! I think that that is an inherently unsatisfactory system in that elections from one body affect the outcome of another. It is especially unsatisfactory where, as here, a body with narrower responsibilities nominates to a body with wider ones which Parliament has. The result is a huge accountability gap. To whom, for example, would a regional Member for the north-west be accountable on trade and industry, defence or social security?

Let me deal with the "constitutional glue" point for a moment. It is said that it would strengthen the Union, with the second Chamber acting as a counter balance to the devolved institutions. The objective is understandable, but the method proposed has hidden dangers. It will revive the West Lothian question in a particularly precise form. Members of the Scottish Parliament elected to deal with devolved matters would suddenly acquire a wider remit with the two Chambers added together than the English Members of Parliament themselves. Asymmetry is inherent in devolution, it is true, but giving wider powers to indirectly elected Members who would not be electorally accountable for how they use them compounds the issue. It seems to me that indirectly elected Members would still lack the standing of elected ones.

The striking fact in the White Paper about indirectly elected models is their weakness. Germany is the exception. But the Bundesrat is not a parliamentary body in anything like our sense. It is effectively a forum in which the federal and regional governments negotiate with officials wielding votes.

So the Government's preferred option--they seem to me to have steered the Royal Commission in that direction--is too weak to allow the second Chamber to do its job. Direct election is clearly distinct from indirect

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election and, crucially, it would produce a second Chamber with the legitimacy to perform its functions. If a second Chamber is to have the power to ask an elected government to think again, it should not only have the power to do so but also be accountable for the exercise of that power. Therefore, I think that it is right in principle. It seems to me that that is why 143 Members of Parliament have supported it.

I wish to make three further points. First, there is the need to avoid a direct challenge to the supremacy of the House of Commons. Secondly, one should consider the value of nominated, independent Members. Thirdly, one should consider the need to avoid one party being able to command a majority. Of those three, I think that the challenge to the supremacy of the Commons is probably the most important.

A partly elected, partly nominated House meets those objections. First, its composition would be less legitimate than the House of Commons. Secondly, it would retain Cross-Benchers. Thirdly, arithmetically it would be almost impossible for one party to control. I think that we should set out, too, an objective and a date. Those are proper things to say to the Royal Commission, the House of Commons and the Government. As I have stated, the objective is that reform should strengthen the second Chamber to the point where it has legitimacy to perform its functions without threatening the Commons.

As to timing, on the claim that the transitional House will last from 15 to 20 years, we should commit ourselves to an indicative timetable into the next Parliament. I do not see why the Government should not say at this stage that the second stage should be introduced not later than the second Session after the next election; that is, at the latest, five years after its introduction.

After two decades of ideological government on a minority of the vote, when the role and standing of this House and the need for it were recognised as never before, we should be on our guard now against repeating by design the very weaknesses that have been handed down to us by history.

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