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Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, is the position that the liability of the landowner will be no different to the liability as it now exists as regards trespassers to deter the laying of mantraps, or is a greater duty of care to be imposed? I did not understand what the noble Lord was saying.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the noble Lord's presumption is correct. There will be no difference in

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liability in kind as compared with the current liability in relation to trespassers or to anyone else who is there not by explicit invitation.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, does the Minister accept that there are bound to be some difficulties concerning land over which people have the right to roam? I know the Countryside Agency is mapping the areas, but there will be some on the margin. Does he further accept the undesirability of what insurers may demand of landowners? I refer to signs mushrooming up everywhere saying, "Beware cliff", "Beware deep ditch". Does the Minister not feel that that will be an undesirable outcome? Is it not a pity that the Government will not give more time to working with landowners on such issues?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the noble Baroness is correct. A detailed mapping exercise is envisaged as part of the process of introducing the right to roam. In some areas it will be a complex task. In relation to warning notices, it is already the case that, where landowners are or ought to be aware of hazards, they have a duty to point them out. That will remain the case. I do not anticipate a large number of notices appearing all over our open countryside, which I believe is the nightmare envisaged by the noble Baroness. There is already a requirement on landlords in that respect.

Lord Ackner: My Lords, is there anything in the proposed legislation to stop the landowner exhibiting a notice disclaiming all liability to those who wish to roam his land?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, there is nothing to stop him displaying it, but there is in existing law a liability which he cannot escape.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, does the Minister not consider that those who ramble actually have responsibilities themselves in this regard? Surely the responsibility should not be placed on landowners. Will the noble Lord also agree that his honourable friend, Mr. Bennett in the other place, who I understand is a keen rambler himself, acknowledged only last Friday that ramblers have a responsibility and should not expect to be able to sue the landowner for accidents that they might have caused? I believe he also acknowledged that the matter needs sorting out.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, my right honourable friend Michael Meacher and all spokespeople on this proposed legislation have always emphasised the responsibility of the ramblers as well as that of the landowners. However, this potential situation can be exaggerated. If we take the kind of land which, in a sense, is more or less the equivalent of National Trust open countryside property, which has had 50 million visitors over a five-year period, we can see that there were precisely 47 incidents only one of which ended up with a settled claim amounting to less than £2,000. Therefore, I hope that noble Lords will not exaggerate the problem.

Baroness Young of Old Scone: My Lords, in passing this very welcome legislation to allow people to fall into

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badger holes should they so wish, can my noble friend assure the House that the Government will also pass accompanying legislation to ensure that the protection of sites of special scientific interest is enhanced and properly assured while access is increased?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am not entirely sure that I accept my noble friend's description of the legislation. However, it is certainly the case that landowners and the statutory agencies will be able to indicate where there is danger to wildlife or natural features. Closures and restrictions with the authority of the statutory agencies would be appropriate in those circumstances.

Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, where damage is caused by a rambler to an SSSI, can the Minister say whether that damage would have to be put right by the landowner at his expense?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, in normal circumstances and in terms of existing legislation, I believe that the answer to the question has to be yes, whether the damage was caused by a trespasser or anyone else.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, does that mean that a landowner of an SSSI can actually keep people off that land? Further, is the Minister aware of the number of hectares that are covered by SSSIs and, consequently, the number of often very beautiful parts of this country that will not be available to the public?

Lord Whitty: No, my Lords; it does not mean that. Indeed, no reading of what I said could mean that. I have indicated that in certain specific circumstances where there is obvious danger to sites or to wildlife, the statutory agencies will have the power to introduce some restrictions. That is all I have said. In general, SSSIs will be available for access to the vast majority of people in this country. After all, that is what the legislation is about.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, how can a person be liable for damages in respect of something that someone else has created?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I fear that that situation arises in many walks of life. Unless you can actually catch the perpetrator, it is unlikely in this or in any other circumstance that the responsibility for repairing that site can be removed from the its owner. That is the situation. As the noble Baroness pointed out, the responsibility of ramblers themselves will be part of this approach, as will the responsibility of the statutory authorities to protect such areas in particular.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House the name of the independent assessors to whom he twice referred in answering my Question? Further, can be say what agricultural experience they have?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, at this moment I cannot give the House the information required. However, I shall write to the noble Lord. I can say that they were,

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in general terms, experts in the insurance business rather than in the agricultural business. Indeed, I assume that agricultural insurance is a major area of concern to landowners and a major area of expertise within the insurance industry.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, leaving aside the question of SSSIs, can the Minister tell the House whether a landowner might have any legal redress against a rambler who caused damage--perhaps even wilful damage--by starting a fire and otherwise causing damage to his property?

Lord Whitty: Yes, my Lords. If he could identify the perpetrators, he would certainly have redress.

Road Traffic Regulation (Cycle Parking) Bill [H.L.]

11.33 a.m.

Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to amend Section 63 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984; and for connected purposes. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a first time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a first time.--(Lord Rotherwick.)

On Question, Bill read a first time, and to be printed.

Academic and Academic-Related Staff Pay and Conditions Bill [H.L.]

Lord McCarthy: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to make provision with respect to the remuneration, recruitment, retention and other conditions of employment of academic and academic-related staff; and for connected purposes. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a first time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a first time.--(Lord McCarthy.)

On Question, Bill read a first time, and to be printed.

House of Lords Bill

11.35 a.m.

Second Reading debate resumed.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, it is only the rare Bill which deserves the name "historic". This is one. It will bring centuries of history to an end. No longer will membership of this House be a birthright. In the eye of history what will amaze is that this birthright for 750 families, a right to sit and vote in a legislative chamber of Parliament, endured until the twilight of the 20th century.

It would be churlish to bring so long and colourful a chapter to a close without an appreciative backward glance. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Crown's chief Ministers routinely sat in this House. Despite the other place's assertion of financial privilege, even the

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Lord Treasurer sat here. Often only one or two members of the Cabinet sat in the Commons. After the establishment of a recognised office of Prime Minister in the 1730s, Members of this House filled that office often, until the end of the 19th century. We recall, from the last century alone, the Earl of Liverpool, who served George IV as Regent and King for 15 years; the Duke of Wellington; and, into this century, the third Marquess of Salisbury, who presided for a total of thirteen and a half years over three administrations.

The influence of Members of this House was vast. Until the 1832 Reform Act, some had a major influence on elections to the other place. There were powerful electioneering Peers: the first Earl of Lonsdale; the Dukes of Rutland and Newcastle, of Devonshire and Norfolk. In 1827 Earl Grey, later to be another of this House's Prime Ministers, made such a long, masterful and, it must be said, venomous speech about Canning, that Canning seriously considered taking a peerage just for the privilege of getting up in this House to respond to it. The "situation" of Lord Melbourne, another Prime Minister, was described in 1837 in John Croker's letter to Sir Robert Peel as,

    "the most dictatorial, the most despotic, the world has ever seen".
He went on to claim that his power exceeded even that of Cardinal Wolsey--but perhaps I should not have recalled that.

Major ministerial posts were held by Members of this House throughout the 19th century; and by no means simply those which are in effect reserved to Members of it. The post of Foreign Secretary was rarely held by a Member of the other place between 1827 and 1905. That may have seemed appropriate then, when the wealthy and aristocratic were among the few in the country who had travelled. Indeed, what great Foreign Secretaries some of them were. When Lord Rosebery held that position, he would sing "Rule Britannia" while working on his ministerial boxes. He said it put him in the right frame of mind. I have considered the possibility for myself, but have decided that there are places where it might be misunderstood.

Earl Grey's Cabinet in 1830 included no fewer than 13 Peers and sons of Peers. Disraeli's administration of 1874 and Gladstone's of 1880 were divided equally between Members of each House. Even in this century, Members of this House have continued to serve in the highest offices of state. Lord Curzon, Lord Halifax, Lord Home, in his first incarnation, and the noble Lord, Lord Carrington--to whom we had the privilege of listening yesterday--between them filled the office of Foreign Secretary for well over a dozen years.

During the 19th century, the powers of the two Houses really were equal. Even taking account of financial privilege, this House could and did intervene on, and even reject, every kind of measure, including financial measures. The only weapon of a Prime Minister faced with an intransigent House of Lords was to threaten to ask the monarch to create more Peers of his party.

The powers of this House were whittled away over the years. The great Reform Bill of 1832 was designed to end this House's control over the membership of the

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other place. In the 19th century the political divisions between the Tory and increasingly radical Liberal parties grew. Thanks to William Pitt's policy on creations, the Tory Party already enjoyed by that time the entrenched dominance it sustains today. Matters came to a head when this House, in defiance of every convention, threw out the 1909 Budget as part of its attack on the radical agenda of Lloyd George. The result was the 1911 Parliament Act. That removed your Lordships' powers to block the passage of Bills passed by the House of Commons for more than two years, except for Bills to extend the life of a Parliament.

But the question of political balance is not what this Bill is about. The Conservative dominance in this House will not be removed even after this Bill has passed. What this Bill is about is the hereditary principle itself. It is about the central contemporary case for removing the right of hereditaries to sit and vote; that membership of this House must be a privilege to be won, not a right to inherit and enjoy.

In 1884, Lord Salisbury said about this House's rejection of the Franchise Bill,

    "the question is not what the House of Lords are, or how they got there, but whether they did right or wrong".
That may have been true then, but it is not true today. The question today is the hereditary principle itself.

Through all our debates, on and on, about this subject, the arguments against the Government turn on process, not substance. Yet this Bill is about principle. It recognises that this House cannot maintain its legitimacy in the eyes of the people of this country without a membership based on merit, not right. Let me quote from a book written in 1909,

    "Why should five hundred or six hundred titled persons govern us, and why should their children govern our children for ever? I invite a reply from the apologists and the admirers of the House of Lords. I invite them to show any ground of reason, or of logic, or of expediency or practical common sense in defence of the institution which has taken the predominant part during the last few days in the politics of our country.

    "There is no defence, and there is no answer, except that the House of Lords--the unreformed House of Lords--has survived out of the past. It is a lingering relic of a feudal order. It is the remains, the solitary reminder of a state of things and of a balance of forces which has wholly passed away".

The noble Baroness, Lady Jay, yesterday quoted Winston Churchill, as I have just done today, when he was President of the Board of Trade. The principle of heredity in this House is an anachronism. I have heard nothing in all of our debates on this subject that has succeeded in refuting that.

In 1888, before he became another of the Prime Ministers from this House, Lord Rosebery tabled a Motion that would have deprived hereditary Peers of an automatic right to vote in this House. He did this because he found the principle of heredity anachronistic in the modern, 19th century, world. He was supported by several noble Lords. But he did not prevail. That was 111 years ago. That was six years after married women first won the right to own their own property. That was 30 years before women got the vote. The last thing this Bill is is premature.

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Let me come to what, provided it becomes part of this Bill, will become known to history as the Weatherill amendment, although it has a prior provenance. The noble Lord's amendment would provide for the interim retention of one in 10 of the hereditary Peers, 75 out of the existing 750, plus 15 hereditary office-holders, until the second stage of House of Lords reform has taken place. The amendment reflects a compromise negotiated between Privy Councillors on Privy Council terms and binding in honour on all those who have come to give it their assent. Like all compromises it does not give complete satisfaction to anyone. That is the nature of compromise.

It gives less than perfect satisfaction to my party, which two years ago won the largest popular majority this century, on a manifesto containing this pledge:

    "As an initial, self-contained reform, not dependent on further reform in the future, the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords will be ended by statute."
That meant and means all hereditaries. If the Weatherill amendment passes, that pledge will be delivered in two stages, not one--90 per cent. to go now, 10 per cent. on the completion of stage two, rather than all now. The compromise itself trespasses on the patience of the Labour Party, not least in the other place.

Let me attempt to explain its rationale. We have always intended a stage two reform to a reformed upper House. Others questioned our genuineness. Although I know as well as anyone the honesty and firmness of our intention, I was not offended by those who claimed to perceive a risk that removal of the hereditaries might prove to be the only reform to take place. All who have assented to this compromise would justify it in their own ways, but I believe what it comes to is the following.

First, a compromise in these terms would guarantee that stage two would take place, because the Government with their great popular majority and their manifesto pledge would not tolerate 10 per cent. of the hereditary peerage remaining for long. But the 10 per cent. will go only when stage two has taken place. So it is a guarantee that it will take place. Secondly, the hereditary Peers who remain will have greater authority because they will have been elected by the whole of the hereditary peerage within the party, Conservative, Labour, or Liberal Democrat, from which they come, or, if they are Cross-Benchers, by all the hereditary Cross-Bench Peers. A nice element of the compromise is that to stand in an election will be a novel experience for the 75. But I have to say clearly that the compromise was that the elections in the several constituencies would be of hereditaries, by hereditaries, for hereditaries, who would remain until the completion of stage two. The rather invidious proposition that life Peers should have a vote in these elections and pass judgment on the comparative merits of their hereditary colleagues is contrary to a compromise which is binding in honour.

Thirdly, to insist on fulfilling the manifesto pledge by one step, not two, would bring down the curtain unceremoniously on the whole of the hereditary peerage, many of whom, and whose forebears, have given so much to this House and to public life. The compromise will enable the elected 75 to participate in

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our counsels and to vote as the stage two plans are developed and debated. It will allow those who do not stand, or who are not elected, to depart with dignity, not querulously, and without rancour.

The noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, has authorised me to say that he intends to table the amendment to allow 92 hereditary Peers to remain in the House as soon as the Second Reading of this Bill has been completed. This will be on Wednesday.

The Clerk of the Parliaments has been preparing, in conjunction with representatives of the political parties in this House and the Cross-Benchers, a paper which will in due course be laid before the Procedure Committee. This paper deals with how the Weatherill amendment can be made to work in practice. In order to assist your Lordships, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House and I have invited the Clerk of the Parliaments, and he has agreed, to place a copy of this paper in the Library of the House on Wednesday. It should be stressed that the paper will go to the Procedure Committee and cannot obviously be said at this stage to represent recommendations which the Procedure Committee will, in due course, make to the House.

But I have to say this as frankly and as clearly as I can: the number 75 is not a floor on which to try to build greater numbers by amendment, but a ceiling which has been agreed. Neither in this House nor in the other place will the Government accept any greater number. We would regard support for any such amendment, or abstention on any such amendment where abstention assisted its passage, as a breach of the compromise. Nor would the Government contemplate anything other than outright rejection of any amendment whatsoever designed to delay the implementation of our manifesto pledge, whether by delaying its introduction; making it dependent on some other event, such as approval in a referendum; making its operation temporary; or by any other means. None will be accepted, either here or in the other place. Nor will the Government tolerate any material disruption of their legislative programme, through exchanges of messages between both Houses signifying continuing disagreement, or by any other means, when they have a manifesto commitment so clear and firm and so strong a popular endorsement for their manifesto.

I wish no one to be left in any doubt: if events take place in this House which are incompatible with the letter or the manifest spirit of this compromise, and the progress of our legislative programme is materially prejudiced, then the Government will not hesitate to treat the compromise as having failed and, if need be, in a spirit of sorrow, not anger, will invoke the Parliament Act to implement their manifesto pledge in full and with the least delay. A statesmanlike endeavour would have failed. The verdict of history would go against those who made it fail. The patience of the country would be exhausted, and the country would be on the Government's side.

I am grateful for your Lordships' attention to a speech which I hope your Lordships will accept has been marked by absolute frankness about the Government's

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intentions; sincere appreciation for the historic service that the hereditary Peerage has given, and is continuing to give, to the House and the country; and a plea for statesmanship in the closing of a long chapter.

11.54 a.m.

Lord Kingsland: My Lords, people who succeed to rights tend to respect the rights of others. That is why the peerage has played such a crucial part in the development of our constitution. Without the peerage we would have no constitutional government in this country; without the peerage the executive in our early, medieval and modern history would have been an absolute executive and individual rights would never have developed in the way they did.

If the hereditary peerage has served its constitutional purpose in those respects, the principles that it has promoted still play a crucial part in our democracy. If the Government are going to remove the hereditary peerage from your Lordships' House, then the least they can do is to put in place a contemporary system to ensure that the objectives that were achieved all those centuries ago will endure.

I see absolutely no sign whatever in this Bill that the Government intend to do that. Even in the 1911 Parliament Act there was at least a purpose clause setting out the objectives for a more democratic House of Lords. The Conservative Party has been accused of spending 18 years in government and doing nothing about reform to your Lordships' House. But what about the 18 years the Labour Party spent in opposition? It had plenty of time to think about what it would do. But we see today that the Labour Party has not the faintest idea what it intends to do for stage two reform.

Or is that actually right? Your Lordships' House had the chance to debate the content of the White Paper some weeks ago; and it will not have failed to come to your Lordships' attention that the Government suggest in that document that they seek both a more legitimate and a less powerful Chamber.

What an irrational objective; a Chamber whose delaying powers will be reduced and whose power to reject secondary legislation will be removed altogether. That is really a recipe for unicameralism, for the dominance of the electoral mandate; and for the absolutism of government.

Democracy is a crucial ingredient in our society, but it is not the only ingredient that makes up a free society. We were a free country for 250 years before we were a democracy. Freedom involves minority rights as well as majority interests, and the protection of the individual. Will we achieve those things from the interim House that is presented by this Bill?

That House will be based on patronage, with not even an upper limit for the number of Members who will serve in it. Moreover, I am afraid that it is likely to prove a supine House. When it comes to consider the stage two that we are promised, will it really look at that objectively? Will it not think more of its own self-preservation?

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This is not the way to run parliamentary government. To have an executive which has real status in a democracy, the parliament that selects that executive must also have status. That is why it is crucial that any change to your Lordships' House enhances the status of this Chamber and does not reduce it. I look in vain for any such guarantees in the Bill.

In the Opposition's view, it is absolutely crucial that one amendment to this Bill should be a timetable setting out exactly when stage two is to come into place. We know that the Royal Commission will report soon--if not within a year, then within 18 months. Will the Government guarantee that within a fixed short period thereafter they will move to introduce a stage two Bill in another place? Will the Government undertake that the stage two Bill shall contain proposals which are within the recommendations of the Royal Commission?

Or will they not? If they give no such commitment in this debate we shall know what the Government are really at. And what they are really at is well represented by the closing remarks of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor today. He suggests that your Lordships' House should be bound by some deal done outside your Lordships' Chamber; and that if your Lordships' do not respect it then the deal will be abandoned by the Government thereafter. Your Lordships' House may not be an elected one but its unelected status is the result of democratic choice. It is another place which has continued to ensure that your Lordships' House is composed as it is at the moment and has the powers that it has at the moment. Your Lordships' House is just as legitimate as another place and it is your Lordships' duty to deal with amendments in exactly the same way as your Lordships would deal with any other amendments coming before your Lordships' House. To do anything else would be to resile from the great tradition of your Lordships' House .

I ask the noble and learned Lord to think again about what he said in the closing passage of his speech. I can assure him in any case of one thing. We will courageously vote for what we believe are the correct amendments to the Bill and, if need be, oppose the Bill altogether.

11.59 a.m.

Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, I very much agree with the point made by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor at the beginning of his speech when he recognised the major contribution made by hereditary Peers both in the present House and in previous centuries. There will be no sneers from these Benches about the contribution made by hereditary Peers. Indeed, it would be remarkable were there to be any given the fact that 24 of our colleagues are hereditary Peers. But the blunt reality is that their day has passed. It is impossible to justify a system which gives male children born in the right bed the right eventually to become members of the legislature. The Bill before us today deals with that situation and we give it our unqualified support.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jay, referred yesterday and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor referred today to the substantial victory achieved by the Labour

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Party in the 1997 general election. They are entirely right. Of course the Labour Party received the support of only 43 per cent. of the electorate, a point not made by the Conservative Party because of its enthusiasm for the first-past-the-post electoral system. But the reality is that both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats made it clear that they would support a Bill of this character involving a two-stage process. If in fact the votes of the two parties are put together, as indeed it is right to do, they secured the support of 60 per cent. of the people of this country.

Having said that, I must express our continued concern about the details of what is described as the Weatherill amendment. As my noble friend Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank made clear yesterday--and we both emphasised in the previous debate we had on this subject--we were not consulted in any way by those responsible for setting down these proposals. We are therefore not committed to them. However, we do not reject them out of hand for the moment at least. We merely want to ask a series of questions about the details.

Perhaps I may give an indication of some of our concerns. First, there is the formula under which a number of hereditary Peers will remain in the House. There is nothing new about that general idea. It had always been expected that a number of the more active hereditary Peers would remain in a reformed House. We see no difficultly about that. But what will be suggested in the Weatherill amendment is rather different. It is that electoral colleges will be established in which hereditary Peers, and hereditary Peers alone, will be given a vote to determine which hereditary Peers will remain in the reformed House. Why should only hereditary Peers be given such a vote? As I have already indicated, many hereditary Peers play an active role in this House. But many do not. Yet the latter group will have a vote while active life Peers will not be given a vote. I find it difficult to understand how such a policy can be justified.

Secondly, we have the curious position of the Deputy Chairmen. Many hereditary Peers have made a significant contribution to this House in that capacity. But what precisely is the justification for another 15 hereditary Peers being elected to hold those positions? As I understand it, they will be elected by the whole House. But given the political make-up of the House, it is not difficult to anticipate what the result of such an election will be--close to 15 more Conservative hereditary Peers in a House which already has an overlarge number of Conservative Peers.

That brings me to the ration of hereditary Peers for each of the parties. There will be two for the Labour Party, three for the Liberal Democrats and 42 for the Conservatives. In other words, for each Liberal Democrat hereditary Peer who will be allowed to stay in the reformed House, there will be 14 Conservatives; and that in a House with a continuing heavy Conservative representation. I look forward to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, explaining that arithmetic to us at the end of today's debate.

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No fewer than nine of my hereditary colleagues sit on our Front Bench, as high a proportion as any party in the House. Hereditary Front Benchers in the Conservative Party will not have the slightest difficulty about being elected by this process, but that will not be true as far as concerns the Liberal Democrats. The Government will recall the words of the Cook-Maclennan agreement, published before the last general election. It said:

    "Following their removal"--
that is, the hereditary Peers--

    "we should move, over the course of the next Parliament,"--
that is, this Parliament--

    "to a House of Lords where those Peers who take a party whip more accurately reflect the proportion of votes received by each party in the previous general election".
On that basis, the Conservative Party will remain heavily over-represented even after the hereditary Peers have left us, and then they will receive this special top-up of 42 more hereditary Peers. Again, no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, will deal with that point when he comes to reply.

Finally, I come to the question of patronage. It really was a little rich to hear the complaint of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, when he addressed the House yesterday on this issue. Perhaps I may remind the House of what he said. I quote:

    "The Prime Minister has already created more Peers more quickly than any prime minister in modern history. He is the first modern prime minister to create more than half new Peers from his own party...I am certain that this House will not want this Bill to proceed without having examined the power of patronage".--[Official Report, 29/3/99; col.17-18.]
I welcome that. I look forward to a discussion of the issue in which I hope the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will participate.

Let us examine the question of patronage. Let us examine the records of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, and Mr. John Major. The noble Baroness appointed well over 50 per cent. more Conservative life Peers than Labour and Liberal Democrat life Peers put together. Mr. Major's record was only marginally better. But again he appointed more Conservative Peers than Labour and Liberal Democrat life Peers added together. By those means an already overwhelmingly Conservative majority in this House became even more dominant. I find it a little odd that in those circumstances the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, should complain about the misuse of patronage. In the House of Commons his complaints would have been characterised as sheer humbug. In this House I shall not dream of using such extreme language. I merely say that the Leader of the Opposition has uncharacteristically marginally over-stated his case.

The reiterated statements from the Conservative Benches that somehow Mr. Blair has behaved improperly in this matter are absurd. The Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats have been grossly under-represented in this House, and by deliberate decision of two successive Conservative Prime Ministers. Mr. Blair has simply begun to rectify, at long last, that imbalance to take account, rightly, of the result of the last general election.

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Later tonight--or more probably in the early hours of tomorrow morning--the House will divide on the amendment moved yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold. It speaks of the need for consultation and consensus before the composition of this House is changed. As we all know perfectly well, there is not the remotest prospect, nor was there ever a prospect, of consensus about the future of the hereditary peerage. Tonight, the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, will of course carry his amendment without the slightest difficulty, because the Conservative Party in this House will be in the Lobby with him. But the exercise is entirely pointless. It will in no way affect progress on the Bill. It will be, as Aneurin Bevan said in a very different context, merely an emotional spasm.

12.11 p.m.

Lord Weatherill: My Lords, first, with great sincerity, perhaps I may place on record my high regard and respect for the many hereditary Peers, especially those on the Cross-Benches, who regularly attend and participate in the work of your Lordships' House from motives of service.

Nevertheless, it is an established principle that a government with a majority have a right to obtain their business. But that has to be balanced against the equal right of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition to criticise and improve legislation--but not to obstruct it. So I hope there is no truth in the article that I read in today's Daily Telegraph that is headed:

    "Rebel peers aim to delay Lords Bill 'for years'".

Over many years in the other place I was involved as a Whip, both in government and in Opposition, and latterly as Speaker, in seeking to resolve problems when they arose, but also with that principle in mind. As the Lord Chancellor said in his opening remarks, the agreement that we have come to with the Government is a compromise. It was in that spirit that, with two of my Cross-Bench colleagues, the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, and the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, we sought a formula which would enable Her Majesty's Government to carry out their manifesto commitment, but to do so in a consensual way which would enable the work of this House to proceed in good order in the interim period before the second stage. We therefore started discussions, first with the noble Lord, Lord Richard, when he was Leader of the House, and with the Chief Whip, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and latterly with the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, and with the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, who was then Leader of the Opposition.

Although the amendment which the Lord Chancellor mentioned is to bear my name, it is only right that I should place it on record that I pay tribute to the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, for the major part that he played in the discussions and eventual negotiations which have brought the amendment into being.

Furthermore, I must stress that throughout our discussions we have never claimed to be acting on behalf of the Cross-Benches. All Cross-Bench Peers are free and independent. Indeed, the Lord Chancellor will

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recall that during the course of our discussions he once said to us: "How many Cross-Benchers can you deliver?", to which the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, who was present, said, "Three". That is the truth, but I hope that there will be a few more.

I hope it may be helpful if I remind the House of what exactly the proposal is. First, one-tenth of the hereditary peerage--that is 75--would be elected from its own number to remain in the House until the transition to stage two is complete. We envisage that those 75 would be divided among the parties and the Cross-Benches according to their respective strengths on the day of our announcement, 2nd December 1998. That is: two hereditary peers from the Labour Benches; 42 from the Conservative Benches; three from the Liberal Democrat Benches; and 28 from the Cross-Benches.

Secondly, 15 hereditary Peers, the number who serve as Deputy Chairmen, would be elected by the whole House to be available to serve in that and other capacities in the scrutiny of legislation and in the working of the House. I know that my noble friend the Lord Chairman of Committees would find it very hard to fulfil his duties without the assistance of the hereditary Peers who serve on the Woolsack and as Chairmen of Committees. Finally, the two hereditary officers of state, the Earl Marshal and the Lord Great Chamberlain, would also retain their seats until stage two is implemented.

Those are the broad principles of our proposal. Since then, considerable effort has been put into working them up into a proper legislative proposal. I am very grateful for the assistance of the House authorities, and officials and colleagues in other parties, in this. We envisage that the proposal will have effect in the following way.

We propose to table an amendment for early consideration in Committee which would provide for a maximum of 90 hereditary Peers, plus the Earl Marshal and Lord Great Chamberlain, to be excepted, by or in accordance with the Standing Orders of the House, from the operation of Clause 1 of the Bill, which removes the right to be a Member of this House by virtue of the hereditary peerage. That exception would be for life, unless a further Act of Parliament provided otherwise. The amendment would provide for a Standing Order which would operate in anticipation of the Act coming into force.

The purpose of that Standing Order would be to provide a means of identifying the 90 hereditary Peers who would benefit from the amendment. We envisage there being provisions within it for two separate elections, that of the hereditary Peers ready to serve as Deputy Speakers or Committee Chairmen, and that of the party representatives, which would take place in four separate sections. The number of places available for each group would be specified in the Standing Order. I repeat them: two from the Labour Party; 42 from the Conservatives; three from the Liberal Democrats; and 28 from the Cross-Benches.

For these elections, hereditary Peers would be required to register with their group separately as a candidate, and also as an elector. Hereditary Peers would have to register separately as candidates in the

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election for Deputy Speakers and Chairmen, for which, in contrast to the party elections, the electorate would be the whole House. I hope your Lordships will agree that, since they are to be Officers of the House, it is right that they should be elected by the whole House.

Peers who have not taken the Oath or who are on leave of absence should not be allowed to vote or to stand, but sufficient notice would be given of the elections to enable a Peer to qualify himself by taking the Oath or rescinding his leave of absence.

The conduct of the elections would be the responsibility of the Clerk of the Parliaments, whose certificate that someone was duly elected and thus excepted from Clause 1 would be conclusive. This latter provision would be on the face of the Act.

Our original motivation for making these proposals was twofold. First, we wanted to find a way of allowing stage one of the reform to go forward with as much consent as possible, recognising that the Government had a clear manifesto commitment behind them. Secondly, we hoped to provide some kind of reassurance of the Government's seriousness of intent to proceed to stage two. We therefore envisage this arrangement being temporary until what the Government call stage two of the reform of your Lordships' House is laid down in legislation.

We did not think it worthwhile to establish an elaborate by-election procedure for a scheme that may last only two or three years. The Standing Order would therefore provide for vacancies to be filled from the runners-up in the relevant elections. The Standing Order would provide that, failing all else, a vacancy should be filled in such a manner as the House resolves.

That is a brief explanation of how we envisage the amendment which we intend to propose will operate. We hope that it will be useful to the House in considering the Bill. It is a genuine attempt to balance the principles with which I opened my remarks: the right of the Government to carry out their manifesto commitment and the equal rights of the opposition parties. In the meantime, it would ensure that the work of your Lordships' House would be carried on in the interim period in good order. As the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor indicated, the amendment has the support of the Government. I hope that it will commend itself to the House as a whole.

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