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Lord Shepherd: When my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor winds up, will he confirm the statement of the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, that if an amendment is passed changing what is called the Weatherill amendment, then that is a dead duck as regards the proposals before the Committee today? I must tell my Chief Whip that it is quite clear, not only from the course of the debate but also from conversations with fellow Members, that there is much concern on our side of the Chamber about the Weatherill proposals. I certainly do not approve of those proposals.
Having persuaded my grandson that it is right and proper that hereditary Peers have no place in a parliamentary assembly as we enter the year 2000, I am now expected to support an amendment that will keep some of them in the House of Lords. I will not say that they will be in the House on a nearly permanent basis, but I share the view of my noble friend Lord Barnett that they will be here for some considerable time unless, regrettably, they pass away.
I will support the Government tonight, because, unlike the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, I do not know who was behind this or who may have given support to the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, in his efforts to find a solution acceptable to the Committee. My own opinion, having been a Chief Whip, is that this is the sort of agreement that Chief Whips would enter into and then perhaps find their leader equally eager to accept, solely for the purpose of expediting legislation. Noble Lords
Therefore, being a former Chief Whip, I will support the Government. But it is very important, before we go into a long Committee stage, to know the Government's position in regard to the suggestion of the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, that if any efforts to amend the Weatherill amendment were successful, then the amendment would fall and there would be no hereditary Peers in the House of Lords. I suspect that some of my noble friends--I mean my real friends--in the Committee think that that would be a very good idea.
I have no intention of standing for election. With the prospect of my standing for one of two seats, the chances are not very great. Of course, if one is a Cross-Bencher the chances are marvellous. But then we shall see whether or not the Cross-Benchers have a Whip.
I support the Bill. I believe it should be passed. I tell my noble friends who think like me that this is a bad amendment, but if it is a price worth paying to get the Bill through, so be it. Therefore, I suggest that if there is a vote tonight we vote for the Government and see the Bill through to its conclusion.
The noble Lord said that the Committee would discover whether the Cross-Benchers had a Whip of any sort. That is something that has always intrigued people who do not sit on these Benches. I have to say that throughout the discussions we--the three of us--guaranteed three votes. Nothing else. We have never taken a vote on this issue on the Cross-Benches; the Cross-Benchers will make up their own minds and I know for a fact that a number of them are strongly opposed to the amendment. The great thing to be borne in mind about the Cross-Benchers and the possibility of their voting together is that we do not know which way we will vote before we get here, so nobody else does.
Underlying this there has been a constant theme ever since the beginning of the debate about the possibility that the amendment was part of a plot to lock in, in perpetuity, an element of the hereditary peerage. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, referred to that. I do not know what the rules are about conducting a little private business on the Floor of the Committee. He said that he would guarantee that the hereditary Peers would still be here in 10 years' time. I will take a bet with him and anybody else in this Chamber who takes that view, and I would like to get it recorded and sealed at the earliest possible opportunity.
Lord Marsh: The Committee is entitled--the Houses of Parliament and the Government are entitled--at the end of the day to call for a vote, and the Government can use the democratic majority to decide what they will do next. The whole point of the myth of the judiciary riding to the rescue like the United States cavalry in a bad B-movie is that it overlooks the fact that Parliament can do what it wishes. If the Government wished not to take notice of a Royal Commission, they could do so. I simply make the point that, in my view, there is no possibility of any Labour government continuing the hereditary peerage. Indeed, I expect that would be the case also in relation to the Conservative Party.
However, what I find rather depressing is the realisation that in a year's time, whether it is in White's or the Bishops Bar, we shall still be arguing about House of Lords reform. The debate will have moved on. The future of the hereditary Peers will no longer be an issue. But, controversial though that is, this time next year it will be seen as the easy bit. It is highly controversial and emotive and one understands that, but it is the relatively easy part of the reform of the House of Lords because it is a clear issue.
In a year's time, we shall face a multitude of complex issues which will determine whether future generations will consider the reformed Chamber a tribute to our collective skill, foresight and wisdom or a tragic waste of a unique opportunity to take an objective look at that part of the parliamentary legislative machine and see how we can improve it.
The two key issues are the composition and powers of the Chamber. They are extremely easy to define but they are infinitely more complex than the matters which we have debated at great length in recent months. Should the new Chamber be directly elected? The noble Lord, Lord Richard, and I have been discussing that for some years now. He is strongly in favour of a directly-elected element. I believe that that will have a deleterious effect. The more Members who are elected, the worse the effect will be. I support the view that any ambitious young politician, given a choice, will want to be a Member of the House of Commons. If he cannot get in there, he will want to be a Member of the Scottish Parliament. If he cannot get in either of those and he has children, with school fees and a mortgage, he will want to be a Member of the European Parliament. Therefore, there is a fundamental clash.
The powers of the new Chamber open up a major issue as we move towards what is, in my view, a quasi-presidential system. People on all sides of the House are uneasy about that. The issue of powers could justify a Royal Commission on its own. That is the size of the problem which we must address once the fundamental question of the hereditary peerage has been settled one way or the other.
What motivated the coming together of our disparate group--apart from the charm, and elegance of its members--was a belief that a formula which could provide the basis for a consensual approach to the interim stage was crucial. Many noble Lords have argued passionately about how many hereditary Peers should remain and the logic behind the amendment. It is quite right that it is a deal which was done to determine whether the people concerned were able--and this did not include the Cross-Benches--to find a sufficient commonality of purpose at least to get started. We agreed that it did not make a great deal of sense to throw out in one go a number of hereditary Peers who play a major role in and are respected Members of this House. To go into the complex negotiations for stage two, having deliberately deprived ourselves of the assistance of some of those people, seemed absurd. That was accepted eventually by the Government, as part of the deal.
What is the realistic alternative? We have heard that various Acts were not right; that the Bill would be abandoned at the last minute; that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and the Chief Whip were terrified of the Parliament Act and so on. The Government will have their Bill. In this country it is good that not one of us has any doubt that a government with a clear majority, come what may, will achieve their will, unless it is an issue which strikes at fundamental values.
The only issue before us is how the Government will get their way and how this will be proceeded with. We are moving now to the major issue, which is what sort of second Chamber we bequeath to future generations. In my view, it is as grand and as awe-inspiring as that.
If the amendment is carried, the Government will not have a free ride throughout the interim period. The issues are too important for that. There will be major and justifiable disagreements. But I hope that they will take place against a background of rational discussion and a consensual atmosphere.
I do not believe that, on the evidence of the past few months, we ever stood a chance of rational consideration of stage two without having first got stage one out of the way. It was always unreal to believe otherwise, and nothing that has happened since has changed my mind.
What is the alternative to the amendment? It is the Parliament Act. That is what it is there for. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, asked whether the Government will use it. The Parliament Act exists because, at the end of the day, we all agree that, unless it is absolutely monstrous, the Government should be able to put through their business. What then will be the result of that? We shall go into those negotiations and discussions with a bitterness and an anger which, in my experience, is almost unprecedented in this House in modern times. There will be no consensus because both sides will be locked in an unedifying party political fight which they will know one side will lose in the end, but they will carry on the fight simply because of the emotions involved. If that happened, we should have missed a great opportunity. None of us would have had much cause to be proud of the result. I believe that this place deserves more than that.
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