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Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, perhaps I may--

Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, I am the only Member of your Lordships' House who has provoked the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, to intervene. I give way to the noble Lord.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, if the noble Lord had been in his place late last night he would have seen me intervene in the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton. I am troubled by the noble Lord's speech. He said that the party in opposition has no ideas about the future of the House of Lords. The noble Lord's party was in opposition for 18 years and it has no ideas about the future of the House of Lords.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, never spoils a good quote by being accurate. I did not say that the noble Lord did not have any ideas about what his party should do. I said that it had lost all confidence. I understand that. I tell your Lordships' House this. If my party was led by William Hague I would give up hope of ever being in government again. So I do not blame the noble Lord's party for giving up hope of ever being in government again. That is one of the features that has struck me during the course of the debate.

Another feature has come through to me during the course of the debate. I thought to myself--and I said it to colleagues sitting next to me--that when my noble friend Lord Callaghan sat down after his speech we could have taken a vote then. Nothing that has been said by any side in the argument since 3.20 yesterday afternoon has altered the opinion of those who were for or against the Bill. Those who were in favour of the Bill at 3.20 yesterday afternoon are, at 5 o'clock today, still in favour of the Bill, and those like the noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, and I suspect 99 per cent. of the Cross-Benchers, are still against the Bill. I must say that all the sympathy I have had for the Cross-Benchers in the seven years that I have been here has been ever so slightly dissipated during the course of the debate. I am sounding that as a warning just in case they push me beyond the brink and I lose all my sympathy for them. So nothing has changed.

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There have been some illustrious speakers before me. They have failed to persuade those who are against the Bill to change their views and be in favour of the Bill. There have been some illustrious speakers on the other side of the House who are against the Bill but they have failed to persuade those of us who are in favour of it to change our minds. I am not conceited enough to think that I can change views in the comments that I make today. Therefore, I shall confine myself to one final comment. This Bill is not about people. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, in his opening speech yesterday, reeled off a number of illustrious Members of your Lordships' House. He referred to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, my noble friend Lord Strabolgi and the noble Countess, Lady Mar, who now occupies the Woolsack. I yield second place to no one in my respect and my affection for all three who were mentioned yesterday. But the Bill is not about people. The Bill is about a system--a system that can no longer be sustained.

In my usual fashion I shall reduce the issue to a simplicity and give a fictitious example. In the mansion house in a rural village this morning, the Lord and Lady Brown welcomed the safe arrival of their first-born son. That first-born son is born to rule. In one of the cottages in the same village, Jimmy and Jessie Brown welcomed the safe arrival of their first-born son. The profound difference is that that son is born to be ruled. It is no longer possible to defend that system. I welcome my Government's commitment to honour their manifesto pledge to abolish that system and I give the Bill my full support.

5.6 p.m.

The Earl of Stockton: My Lords, I congratulate my noble neighbour the Earl of Devon on his maiden speech and, like other noble Lords, trust that in the few weeks that remain to us we will hear from him again.

This is a sad little Bill, a cheap little Bill, a cowardly little Bill, a runt of a Bill in the litter of government constitutional reform. The Government came to power with the largest majority in another place ever to have been enjoyed by any administration in the history of elections in this country. They were filled with the zeal of reform, pledged to transform the constitution and the institutions of the nation to take us into the new century, the new millennium under New Labour. They had a plan, or so they said, which would sweep away the outmoded fuddy-duddy systems of the past and replace them with the New Way. Like your Lordships, like the whole country, we waited with bated breath for the vision to be made flesh, for the dream to become reality, for the rhetoric to be given substance--and we are still waiting.

And this sorry little Bill is what your Lordships' House is being given. Sad, because the Government have missed the opportunity to look at the whole of our democratic system. The rhetoric and instincts of New Labour are to question the relevance of Parliament as a whole. Did not Mr. Peter Mandelson in a speech in Holland before the last election, pose the question as to

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whether there were not better ways than our existing parliamentary democracy of conducting the relationship between the Executive and the electorate? There were howls of protest and hoots of derision, but it was, and is, a question worth asking. Is a system that evolved even before the invention of the steam locomotive still valid in the age of mass interactive communication? How sad that such an opportunity for serious analysis of both Houses of Parliament has been lost.

Cheap, because the Government by their own words have shown the Bill in its true light: petty, vindictive and time serving. Locked away as they are in a tight and giddy little circle delineated by Shepherds Bush, Nothing Hill, Islington, Greenwich and Oh so important Millbank, the Government became aware that out there in the Labour heartlands were millions still holding to an older, deeper and perhaps more genuine vision, and they would need to be placated. In their lust for power, New Labour has slaughtered the sacred cow of socialism and trampled on the beliefs and shibboleths of old Labour. So, to placate the dogs of the Left, they have thrown them the bone of the hereditary peerage.

The Bill is cowardly because the Government have turned back from the brink of the complete and revolutionary abolition of all titles, decorations and pomp and circumstance. Perhaps there is still an agenda to do just that, to reform every aspect of our society in the same way as history is being rewritten for our schools. Is there not an irony that, as we approach the two-thousandth birthday of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, the history that we learned, divided into BC and AD, is becoming irrelevant. Is it to be replaced, I wonder, by BB and AB--before Blair and after Blair? In my youth, at that most hated and despicable of educational institutions, Eton College, I debated constitutional reform with such redoubtable figures as the late Willie Hamilton and the late Emrys Hughes, both of whom the noble Lord, Lord Ewing of Kirkford, will remember.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, Willie Hamilton is still alive.

The Earl of Stockton: My Lords, I refer to the former MP, Willie Hamilton.

While I may not have been entirely persuaded by their arguments, I was moved and impressed by the purity of their vision and the fire in their bellies.

I have been made painfully aware, not least by my noble friend Lord Marlesford, of the illegitimacy of my position as the last created hereditary Peer and the inadequacy of my contribution to your Lordships' House. I should therefore favour a totally elected upper House on a regional basis across the entire United Kingdom. Notwithstanding the warnings of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, I shall be endeavouring to ensure that the Royal Commission comes to the same conclusion.

I shall not re-tread that well-worn path made by your Lordships for long hours through the legal and constitutional thickets that the Bill seeks to gloss over,

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save to remind your Lordships that the devil is in the detail, and that the Government are beginning to learn that to sup with him you need a very long spoon.

5.12 p.m.

Lord Carew: My Lords, I, too, wish to add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Devon on his excellent maiden speech. I have known my noble friend for many years. He and his family have done as much as anyone in contributing over many years towards the success of our British Three Day Event teams at both Olympic and international level.

While on the subject of a maiden speech, I made my mine some three and half years ago. In my opening remarks I advised the House of a quotation from a famous 17th century French duke, who said: "No man should speak longer than the period for which he can sustain the act of love". The successor speaker, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, kindly congratulated me on being able to speak for six minutes. With the ageing process, my speech today is destined to be shorter.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord. The actual quotation is that, "No man should speak longer in public than he could make love in private". I suspect that the noble Lord is way beyond his time.

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