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Lord Renton: I hope we will!

Lord Campbell of Alloway: The noble Lord says he hopes we will. There are many Lords who hope we will and many who hope we will not, so that is not a very constructive contribution to an objective debate. I apologise--I should not have said that. When this arrangement was made, the vast majority of the people--I am sure this is what matters to every noble Lord wherever he sits; the view of the people, the state of current opinion--were of the opinion that this House should remain as constituted with the hereditary Peers until a successor House has been set up. That is the current state of public opinion which was reflected in the "no stage one before stage two" approach which, if

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noble Lords remember, commended it to the majority of your Lordships' House for month after month after month. The only side to which it did not commend itself was the Government.

Also, when this arrangement was made so long ago in good faith, there were no preconditions. Now, Amendment No. 31 is presented as "take it or leave it". I use the words of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, repeated more than once, "take it or leave it without amendment". What will happen? Is that relaxed or is it not? Is the 90 a maximum? If an amendment says 100, do we get the Parliament Acts? Where do we stand? I do not believe anybody knows. That matter has not been made plain. If it is plain to anyone, I hope that some noble Lord later in the debate will explain the position.

Quite apart from that amendment, the condition is also that the Bill is not otherwise amended. What about the other amendments, such as the referendum amendment to which I shall return on Report, and that this Bill passes your Lordships' House by consensus? This amendment and the implementing provisions, the Clerks' proposals, were drafted on the instructions of Government in a form acceptable to Government for the convenience of Government. We may call it the Weatherill, Carnarvon, Tenby amendment or anything we like, but it is a government amendment. It is a massive U-turn on their own manifesto commitment beggaring political probity which no doubt will find its own way into the Guinness Book of Records.

Yet, by some arcane arrangement between the leaders of the parties and, I am told, three Members of the Cross Benches over the past few days (as will be apparent from the voting list at the conclusion of the debate) the whole of my Front Bench have made common cause with the Government Benches. There will be a full-fig turnout of a sort of Vatican guard for the mandarins on the Cross Benches.

The position of the Liberals is always somewhat dodgy but I think it has been explained fairly plainly by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, that they will not do anything tonight but will do something later on. As to the spiritual Benches, with long memories of transitional arrangements, perhaps some right reverend Prelate may care to remind Members of the Committee that at one time Purgatory, as depicted by Dante, was but a transitional arrangement. Even if there was to have been no free vote--and there is not a free vote--is this order of ordained exhortation confined by this unholy alliance under a joint command in deprivation of our ethos of independence, wherever we sit in this House?

Has not this formidable muster somewhat overstepped the mark and sorely abused and pre-empted fair consideration of the merits of the argument on this matter of principle; arguments which, until this debate, have not as yet been heard? Some of the questions of principle arising are whether a lifeboat should be made ready--I am not giving numbers but dealing with principle; numbers will come back on re-committal--to receive self-appointed, self-selected hereditary Peers, deputy chairmen and others, the Earl Marshall and the Lord Great Chamberlain and, if so, whether the

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proposed system of self-selection and self-appointment is acceptable. Those are clear matters of principle which are for noble Lords' decision today.

There are many ways in which to retain an hereditary element in a successor Chamber by appointment without derogation to Clause 1 of the Bill, such as would be the wish of many noble Lords, not all, but assuredly myself. Representations to such effect have been made to the Royal Commission and are under consideration. It would be wrong, in my submission, to seek to pre-empt in any way the work of the Royal Commission.

There is a clear division of opinion in your Lordships' House on the proposed system of self-appointed self-selection which, if I may say with respect to my hereditary friends, has a semblance of being slightly elitist and would not be readily understood by the people.

In any event, the setting up of a transitional House lacks the broad assent of the people. People--I say this meaning what I say, not to cause offence--could well look askance at this as an in-house stitch-up with the Government for some ulterior purpose which, indeed, to some extent it is. If so regarded, it could render Amendment No. 31 unacceptable in principle.

Another question of principle arises. The noble Lord, Lord Barnett, touched upon this matter. An imperfect arrangement has been sought to be reflected in an imperfect amendment, sought to be implemented by wholly imperfect proposals as yet, as the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, stated, not in final form.

This Bill was presented on 17th May. The 13th draft of the proposals was made on 25th March. We await the final draft, be it the 14th or the umpteenth. That final draft has to be considered by the Procedure Committee, and the report of the Procedure Committee then has to be approved by your Lordships.

This is a matter for Members of the Committee. But is it an appropriate or acceptable manner in which Members of this Chamber should be invited to discharge their legislative role on a constitutional provision of some importance? In those circumstances, subsection (4) of the new clause is wholly unacceptable. Is this yet another objection in principle?

One may ask: why this laboured resort to Standing Orders? It is said that it gives a greater say; that it is convenient. With respect, I do not accept that. It is a device to avoid hybridity of a legislative provision for disparity of treatment of private interests of hereditary Peers as a class or category. Let us not bother with what is said; that is essentially why it had to be done. But is this not a pre-emption of the work of the Royal Commission? Could not the efficiency of the amendment be neutralised by resort to patronage?

I come back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. Can any assurance possibly be given that the setting up of this transitional House will ensure enactment of stage two? No guarantee could possibly be given. As Members of the Committee appreciate, it is a matter for Parliament, not for an undertaking from the Front Bench opposite. Will not the setting up of this transitional House be but a stepping stone to nowhere?

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The scale of criticism of this amendment is on record. It is not acceptable to many Members of this House; it is not acceptable to many honourable Members of another place; it is not acceptable to the Liberal Democrats; it is not acceptable to many members of the Labour Party who object to derogation from the principle of Clause 1 of the Bill as confirmed by Clause 152 which cracked the mould of the Title for this purpose.

We who oppose operate under no exhortation and under no command. We are an assorted body of opinion on the Back Benches and on the Cross Benches. We shall be counted on the merits of the argument in the Division tonight. We maintain that, on objective examination, the amendment should be rejected in principle on the basis of the reasoning deployed not just by myself, but also by the noble Lords, Lord Barnett and Lord Rodgers. And we expect no response. We shall defer to the composite wisdom of your Lordships' Chamber. All I can say is: we know not today, as we stand rope in hand in this place, for whose neck it is intended. But on the morrow the people shall decide.

5 p.m.

The Earl of Longford: I wish to speak.

Lord Cobbold: Perhaps I can place on record my views.

The Earl of Longford: I have been trying to speak all afternoon.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: As the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, has his name to the amendment, we should perhaps hear next from him.

Viscount Tenby: I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House. As one of the mandarins whose name is attached to this amendment, I should like to speak briefly to it.

It may be thought ironic by those who study the political scene that someone with my name and background should be supporting an amendment to get hereditary Peers into the Chamber. I remind Members of the Committee that there are family precedents for that too. Whether or not the wheel has turned full circle, it is an amendment to which I am pleased and honoured to put my name.

The reason, to paraphrase 1066 and All That, is because it is a thoroughly good thing, combining, as it does, the British spirit of compromise with the pragmatism which is necessary to ensure that this Chamber operates efficiently and with as little disruption as possible during the interim stage of reform. As an American politician once famously remarked,

    "someone must fill the gap between platitudes and bayonets". Although I would not attempt to claim that the so-called "Weatherill amendment" answers to such colourful imagery, the fact remains that on an issue where feelings run high and are deep seated, a little constructive adjustment may provide a breathing space and bridges and rescue something from what might otherwise be a fatally damaging engagement.

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The Government are to be congratulated on responding so positively to the terms of the amendment. I remind Members of the Committee on all sides of the Chamber that it is the only amendment of substance on the table. It is there to be picked up and run with; but it will not survive either adjustment or mutilation. If it fails, all hereditary Peers will vanish with the passage of the Bill. That is the bottom line. No "ifs" or "buts" or legal wheezes from suddenly eminent and authoritative constitutional lawyers will change that stark fact of life.

Once, as I fervently hope, this amendment is on the face of the Bill--thanks to the commonsense of Members of the Committee--I would ask for a similar awareness on the part of the Committee in not trying to tack on to it consequential administrative arrangements which are the subject of future amendments to be discussed on recommittal. It is proposed at present that these should be the subject of Standing Orders, as my noble friend Lord Weatherill and others have said. These are decisions which should be taken by us and are not, surely, the concern of another place. It is with great respect that I differ in that regard from the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, who made exactly the opposite point.

Hereditary Peers are already Members of your Lordships' Chamber. We are debating the removal of that right. Therefore it must be right that under the Standing Orders of this Chamber your Lordships should have the determining say in the arrangements by which we agree to reduce the number of hereditary Peers by as much as 90 per cent. I have to add that in view of recent examples from another place of Members' knowledge of and sympathy with this Chamber, the case for keeping these matters as part of a Standing Order seemed to me absolutely irrefutable.

I am pleased that my noble friend Lord Carnarvon put the record straight about the involvement over some years of Cross-Benchers in the matter of Lords reform. As a member of his group in 1995 I recall the feeling I had at the time that we were ploughing a lonely furrow. Few appeared interested in what we were doing with the honourable exception of those expert witnesses from all parties who gave evidence to us. It is also true to say that certain distinguished bodies, like, for example, the Constitution Unit, were giving much expert thought to the problem. But of real interest from any of the main parties there was not much sign.

Listening at Second Reading and in Committee to successive opposition speakers declaring their undying commitment to reform of this place, together with the desirability of not starting the process of reform before the report of the Royal Commission--a position with which, in the best of all possible worlds, I agree--I was struck by a doubtless unworthy and cynical thought, heightened by "the best form of defence is attack" strategy exhibited by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. Why, given this commitment, did not the then Conservative government embark on such a course themselves when they had the opportunity to do so? The report of such a

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commission would now be safe in our hands and I am sure that we would have been happy to provide it with our findings, such as they were.

However, that is not the point today. Nor is it, in my view, appropriate in any way to discuss the second stage of reform during this debate, unless it unavoidably relates to the Bill. There will be plenty of time to do that in the future and to deal with this monumental problem. For the present, let us concentrate on the interim arrangements, and let us by our actions today in supporting this amendment--whether or not we agree with the Government's strategy--show that we are responsible and anxious to continue the good work for which this Chamber is rightly commended. I ask Members of the Committee, with all the fervour that I command, to support the amendment.

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