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Lord Richard: I was sitting next to my noble friend Lady Crawley, when she was on her feet. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, interrupted her and asked her specifically if she was saying that there should be no discussion of amendments to the Bill. The answer my noble friend gave was clearly "No", that that was not her view.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree: We were not talking about discussions, we were talking about amendments. The noble Baroness quite clearly was angry that there were amendments tabled on this particular point.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: The noble Baroness refers to her long experience in another place which, of course, we all respect. She will be aware that in another place amendments of this kind--indeed, there were suggestions of amendments of this nature referring to what we would call the second stage of reform--were ruled inadmissible by the Table in another place.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree: Everyone who has had experience in another place, which includes many in this House, is aware that amendments can be ruled unacceptable and not debated. There is no argument about that. That was not the case that I was making. I was trying to tell the noble Baroness--possibly trying to extend her education of the general system of government in this country--that there is nothing wrong with an opposition opposing it. It is as simple as that.

I very much want to support, even if briefly, my noble friends Lord Boardman and Lady Blatch in the two amendments. To proceed before a Royal Commission has reported seems to me to be not only putting the cart before the horse but putting the cart in a position when the horse is not even in the stable. What in the world is

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the sense of having a Royal Commission to report on something when half of what it is to consider has already been dealt with? What, indeed, if the Royal Commission decided, as some of us feel to be the case, that the hereditary Peers have served this House, and continue to do so, extremely well; that they do about half of all the solid, slogging work of the House and are, indeed, valuable? The Royal Commission might well reach the conclusion that it would be wrong to get rid of such hard working people who work for nothing.

It may also point out that in the main it is the hereditary Peers who provide the youth in this House, which is a very good thing. There are many other cases which the Royal Commission might discuss and conclude by saying, "Wait a minute. You should not really have got rid of the hereditaries. You haven't thought this thing through."

I am a little tired of hearing about the Labour Party manifesto. I remind the Committee that it has been reported that only 2 per cent of the people who admitted reading it knew anything about this suggestion. Of that 2 per cent perhaps only 1 per cent knew that there would be a one-stage Bill or even understood what that phrase might mean. After all, as I understand it, there were several other assurances in the Labour Party manifesto. It was not just a "one issue document" to which the people of this country overwhelmingly agreed. I am a little tired of being told that it was.

To go ahead without listening to the carefully thought through opinion of experts about this House and how it can be most effective seems to me to be absolutely absurd. Is not the Royal Commission going to look at how the House of Lords has worked all these years? If a Royal Commission is to be set up, I do not understand the sense in going ahead without listening to everything it might have to say on the efficacy of this House and the way business should be conducted here in the future.

Lord Bach: I have listened carefully to the remarks of the noble Baroness. May I take it from what she has had to say that she does not agree with the conclusions reached by the Mackay Commission set up by the leader of her party?

Baroness Knight of Collingtree: I am merely speaking to the two amendments as they are set down on the Order Paper. I believe that I am perfectly in order in doing that.

Lord Bach: Perhaps the noble Baroness will forgive me for coming back, and will answer my question. I think it is a fairly simple one.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree: The question asked had absolutely nothing to do with what I said or the two amendments. I am therefore perfectly in order in refusing to answer it.

Lord Desai: I have the greatest respect for the noble Lord, Lord Boardman, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, as they both know. In pushing the amendment they have argued that if it was passed it would somehow improve the Bill. However, they also

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say that all the amendment does is not to amend the Bill but delay its implementation. Amendment No. 113 states:

    "shall not come into force".

Therefore, it will not alter what the Bill says. It says, "Here is a Bill. Let us suspend implementation until January", in the case of the noble Lord, Lord Boardman, or--who knows when a joint committee of the two Houses of Parliament will be--let us say December 2000; that seems to be the consensus. Therefore, if we were to take their speeches at face value, they say, "Oh, no. We don't want to improve the Bill itself; the Bill is fine. We just want to delay its implementation".

Let us accept, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, pointed out, that the requirement that there be a resolution by both Houses of Parliament is intended to be a Trojan horse for the amendment of the Bill in a way which is not intended in the Bill as it is before the House. The purpose of the Bill is stated at the top; namely, to remove the hereditary Peers. That is its only purpose. If the resolution of the two Houses of Parliament is not to alter the substance of the Bill, what is the point of the delay? It does not improve the Bill; it just delays it. If it is going to change its substance, then in rejecting the purpose of the Bill noble Lords are going against the manifesto of the Labour Party. My noble friend Lady Crawley said that she objected to a delaying or wrecking amendment. Discussing an amendment is fine.

Lord Boardman: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I said, or intended to make clear, that we are talking about the constitution of this House, which we hope will last for centuries afterwards. It is not unreasonable to have a delay of eight or nine months--which is the time for the Royal Commission to report--in order to set up what we believe to be the best constitution for this House. The delay is in order to have the considered report before the die is cast.

7 p.m.

Lord Desai: With respect to the noble Lord, that is not what the amendment says. It does not say that when the commission has reported we will have another Bill incorporated into this Bill and we will consider that. His amendment says that the Act shall be as it is when it is enacted.

So the noble Lord is not talking about a second stage in these amendments, and nor is the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. They say: "It has been agreed that this Bill should go through as it is, but somehow, for various reasons--the atmosphere is not right; we are waiting for Hurricane Mitch or whatever else it is; we have waited 700 years--we are going to delay its implementation". But either the delay is going substantially to change the Bill and this is therefore a wrecking amendment, or it is otiose. We have reason to believe, therefore, that these amendments should be rejected.

Lord Crickhowell: The central issue for many of us in relation to this Bill is that we object to passing a constitutional Bill which leaves us in a black hole.

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I suppose it was characteristic of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, that he should speak so firmly in support of a vacuum. But I am bound to say that he is a little foolish if he urges us to fire the heavy guns. I can assure him that I feel no inhibitions, either because some deal has been done in which I was not involved or indeed because of any interpretation of the Salisbury convention, about firing guns. But I shall fire them at the moment of my choice and not at the moment of choice of the noble Lord.

I always feel that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, is desperately regretting that moment when he left the Labour Party and is seeking his way back as rapidly as he possibly can. But then his whole life, to use that immortal phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, earlier, has been the development from a correct premise to a wholly fantastic conclusion.

I turn to the more realistic and sensible, but not very convincing, argument of the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley. She hung her hat solely on the manifesto pledge. One of the difficulties I have about the manifesto pledge arises from a criticism made by the Labour Party about the Conservative Party when it asked, "Why did you not get on with reform when you were in government?". The Labour Party had 17 years or so to work out its proposals for constitutional reform and all it was able to come up with was this simple, short manifesto commitment and this simple, short Bill. All the great brains, the think-tanks, the advisers that were working away for the whole of the 17 years, could not produce more. All the information I can get out of government, government departments, advisers in government--one still has a few ways to sift what is happening within government and government departments--is that the Government still do not have the faintest idea what is to follow this Bill and are relying solely on the Royal Commission to give them some ideas.

There is therefore a pretty strong case, when we are dealing with a constitutional Bill of this importance, to say, "We will not recklessly get rid of what we have at the moment until we can be pretty certain that we know what is going to follow on; at least until we have seen what the Royal Commission has had to say and Parliament has had an opportunity in both Houses to debate it". We know now that the issues are pretty complex, even if we did not know it before. We now have the report of the Mackay commission, which was referred to by a Member of the Committee who has now left the Chamber. That did not reach any final conclusions; indeed, on perhaps the most difficult issue of all, as to whether or not to have an elected Chamber, it gave two options and left the matter for further debate and consideration. That is a subject about which some of us have strong views which no doubt we will present in due course.

If we had had doubts about the complexity of the issues, we could not have after reading the consultation paper issued by the Royal Commission with the innumerable questions it asks. And again, if we had had doubts about the matter, we could not have any after reading the views of the noble Lord, Lord Richard. In

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the short time since he left government he seems to be able to go far further in reaching firm conclusions about the future than his colleagues did over 17 years.

I do not have any hesitation in pursuing these issues. I shall not have any hesitation in firing the heavy guns in due course, at a moment of my choice and that of my colleagues. Of course, if the Liberal Party wants to start tabling amendments and joining in the fun, it is welcome. But I expect that it will withdraw from the battle as it has withdrawn from serious battles whenever they really begin.

In relation to the views of my noble friend Lord Onslow, I do not see anything in these amendments which makes me worry about the introduction of the Weatherill amendment, whether or not I favour it. I do not express a view about that now, though I may do later. It does not inhibit or prejudice the acceptance by this Committee of the Weatherill amendment and therefore, because I am not prepared to accept at any stage of this Bill that we should allow the Government on the strength of their manifesto commitment to leave the constitutional arrangements of this country in a vacuum, I shall strongly support the amendment of my noble friend.

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