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Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: Please wait. Noble Lords do not have to do so, but if they wait they will hear where the future lies. If the amendment is lost, good riddance. I say plainly, good riddance. I believe that I say it on behalf of some Members of your Lordships' House who will vote for it out of party loyalty. That would be the end of the matter. But if it is carried, we shall wait until the Motion that the clause stand part, after the clause has been re-committed, meanwhile tabling our own amendments to the new clause proposed in Amendment No. 31.

3.45 p.m.

Viscount Bledisloe: Before the noble Lord sits down, he said that if the amendment is passed there will still be hereditary Peers here in 10 years' time. Does he say it because he does not expect stage two to happen for 10 years or because he expects the Royal Commission to recommend that some hereditary Peers should be retained?

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: At this time of considering deals, I am looking forward neither to the future of the Government nor the recommendations of the Royal Commission. The noble Viscount will remember why we are debating what has happened. The Government wanted to get the Bill through, so they decided to make a deal. The deal breaches the principle of the Bill. As I understand it, the Labour Party recommends to the Royal Commission not an elected nor even a partially elected second Chamber, let alone a predominantly elected second Chamber. If at that stage it is to be a non-elected Chamber, then all my political instincts tell me that when the moment comes there will be a proposition that will prove acceptable to the government of the day whereby those 92 hereditary Peers will stay on as a hereditary element, self-contained in the long term. I may be wrong, I hope so, but that is my prediction.

The Earl of Carnarvon: In the late autumn of 1994, I went to see the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, to ascertain whether he would consider setting up a study of the second Chamber. At that time, he thought that it was for the Opposition to come forward with their ideas. I asked: "Would you mind if I set up a study?" He said: "No, I should like it very much and look forward to its recommendations".

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On 1st February 1995, a group of us got together: the late Lord Bancroft, sadly missed by all of us, the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, and Mr. Douglas Slater. We met on 1st February 1995. Our paper discussed the history of your Lordships' House, the practice and the possible future. We made no recommendations, but in our paper we intensely disliked two bites at the cherry.

During 1996, we met quite frequently. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, is always extremely courteous; he was very poker-faced. When the election took place, the Cross-Bench Peers elected the noble Lords, Lord Weatherill and Lord Marsh, as well as myself to continue discussions with the then Leader of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and, later, with the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, as well as the Chief Whip, the noble Lord, Lord Carter. We met on many occasions. On 19th November last year, I received a call from the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, asking whether he could see me urgently. The next day he came to Highclere, and explained the discussions and arrangements which he proposed and which he put to the Government. As they were considerably better than anything my colleagues or I had produced, I thought it was an excellent idea. It was put into an amendment which we believe is extremely good.

On 2nd December last year, we introduced the whole idea to the media. Noble Lords know the result.

I believe that the amendment before the Committee today should be supported, as it will maintain a group of Peers who are well versed in the running of your Lordships' House and will be of great help to the country in debating the Royal Commission's report when it is presented. For those reasons, I very much hope that your Lordships will support the amendment.

Viscount Cranborne: As the substantial number of your Lordships still in the Chamber mutely--or mostly mutely--seem to represent, we have come to a crucial moment in the consideration of the Bill in your Lordships' House. Members of the Committee know that we must now take an important decision in principle: do we effectively throw this legislation out as a matter of principle, knowing full well that the Government have the majority in another place to force it through under the Parliament Act? Alternatively, do we accept a compromise proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, with his usual elegance, which will give at least an incentive (which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, again elegantly, acknowledged this afternoon) for the Government to proceed to stage two of reform of your Lordships' House as quickly as possible? That seems to be the simple essence of the question which lies before the Committee this afternoon.

With the Committee's permission, before I add my two-pennyworth to this debate, I would like to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, and his colleagues--a formidable triumvirate if ever there was one--for the extraordinarily dispassionate way in which they have discharged what I know has been a delicate

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and difficult task. If it does not strain the day-to-day exigencies of party politics, perhaps I may also say to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that, although he may feel that I unnecessarily took exception to the tone which he adopted the last time we considered these matters at Second Reading, I have always found our conversations not only hospitably conducted but most agreeable occasions on which he has always matched what he had undertaken in private with what he said in public. I pay tribute to him for that, particularly in the light of what I thought was the extremely helpful way--I agree with my noble friend Lord Strathclyde--in which he introduced his remarks this afternoon. The Committee knows full well that I shall do my full best to persuade the Committee to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill. I shall not try to indulge in a "false" on the one hand or the other about this.

I take this view with something of a heavy heart. As my noble friend Lord Strathclyde has said, and as so many of my other noble friends have pointed out consistently in these debates, this is an extremely bad Bill. The press know that. I do not believe that there is any serious journalist outside the Daily Mirror and occasional parts of the Guardian, but not wholly, who supports the idea of a two-stage reform. My party knows that it is a bad Bill and Members of the Committee know that, on the whole, it is a bad Bill, with the exception of those whose party loyalty makes them deny that proposition. I suspect that, in the deep watches of the night from time to time when all of us have some kind of confrontation with reality, even the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor might just for a second wonder whether that is the right approach.

If the Government had been interested in a reform which produced a genuinely independent House, as has so often been pointed out by everyone who has become interested in these matters, they would have proceeded very differently. The Government know that any reformer of this Chamber--and I, like the noble Lord, Lord Richard, count myself among such people--has to face two questions: how should the House be reformed and how does one build a consensus behind the first question? It is clear to me that, having lived with the question of the reform of your Lordships' House ever since I had the honour to become Leader of the House in what seems aeons ago, the answer to question two in practical terms is just as important as the answer to question one. That is simply because, in our experience, everyone has a completely different answer to the first question and simply cannot understand why their answer does not command universal support.

An honourable and sensible course, as my noble friend Lord Strathclyde so eloquently set out today, would have been to set up a Royal Commission in 1997. It would have reported by now, even if it had taken twice as long as the Royal Commission proposed and commissioned by the Government and chaired by my noble friend Lord Wakeham. It would then have been possible to build a national consensus behind a piece of legislation which, if the Government were wise, would have been submitted to a referendum for approval or disapproval as a post-legislative referendum conducted,

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I hope, under the Neill committee rules. I hope that from now on we shall always seek referendums under those rules. I hope that the Government will not have the nerve or the impudence to use pre-legislative referendums as they have in the past. Instead they adopted the two-stage approach.

With the greatest respect to the noble and learned Lord and his colleagues, this is where I am tempted to be more than a little insulting to the Government. It seems to me that the two-stage approach is the only way in which a Prime Minister (who is clearly uncomfortable with an independent Parliament) can establish control over the one House of Parliament which he does not dominate. He is aware, as we all are, that the route to control is through a nominated Chamber--not, I hasten to add, that life Peers are not independent. Everyday we see in this House that that is not a sustainable proposition.

As I have tried to make out in previous debates during the Committee stage, a nominated Chamber is open to manipulation by an unscrupulous Prime Minister.


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