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Lord Mishcon: I know that my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, will accept a sentence of mine as merely meant in jovial banter and nothing else, but I could not resist the thought, when he said that Dante had made purgatory transitional, that Dante had not been informed that the noble Lord was speaking.
I find myself in agreement with so much of what the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, has just said that I can cut my speech, your Lordships will be relieved to know, to a matter of a minute or two--it may be three. I believe that today's debate recorded in Hansard will be read with great interest by future generations and scholars of politics and that posterity will decide whether speeches were made by politicians or by statesmen. I believe that in this House the majority have the minds of statesmen and not of politicians. In that sense we believe in a spirit of compromise when that is for good, instead of enmity and controversy when they can be avoided. I believe that we are indeed fortunate--not unfortunate--that the two Front Benches (as a speaker said) actually talked and agreed on something--that is a blessing, not a curse--and that some wise men got together in order to think of a way in which there might be a meeting of the ways. That was a blessing for which we ought to be thankful and in regard to which we ought not to complain.
The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, is always great fun when he gets up to speak. I rush in when I hear that he is about to address the House because, although I know that I may not agree with what he says, he says it so charmingly. He said that the Government have turned full circle. Never has there been such a U-turn. All I can say is that I could not see much revolving myself when I heard that there was going to be no doubt about a commission which was already set up and which has to report by the end of this year. Following upon that report, which would be considered with as much speed as possible by the Government, the Bill would carry out a principle with which the noble Lord, very properly, might not agree, but which was the end of hereditary peerage representation in this House. If the full circle has operated by a move of a couple of degrees in order that centuries of our history may end in a civilised
I look with obvious affection at the Opposition Benches. I see that they too have reacted, in spite of an over-political speech that the Leader of the Opposition could not resist making, by saying, "We know the end of the day. We appreciate what is going to happen. Let us approach the end of this long era (a fine era, there is no doubt about that) in a spirit of getting as much sense as we can in the House of Lords when that Chamber is debating its own future". The amendment is a sensible amendment. I hope it will be passed.
Lord Rochester: I should first apologise to the Committee for intervening for I could not be here for the Second Reading of the Bill and this is the first time that I have taken leave to speak in Committee. I do so now, having been a Member of your Lordships' House for 44 years, and I speak as the heir of my father who, as a Liberal MP for Rochester, voted in favour of the Parliament Act 1911. Like him, I am a supporter of the principle that the right of hereditary Peers to be Members of this House should be brought to an end and I am thankful that I have lived long enough to play a small part in bringing nearer to completion the process of reform that he helped to begin.
In the debate on the constitution in July 1996 I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, that as far as possible reform should be on the basis of consent. At that time I thought that the best hope of finding consensus was some arrangement on the lines of the 1968 proposal to which the noble Earl, Lord Longford, referred earlier. Under that proposal, as he said, existing hereditary Peers were to lose their right to vote but retain the right to sit and to speak. I therefore have some residual sympathy with the noble Earls, Lord Longford and Lord Ferrers, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall, who earlier moved amendments on those lines. However, on at least two occasions the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, made it plain that amendments of that kind were unacceptable in principle to the Government.
Clause 1 now stands part of the Bill and we are left with the Weatherill amendment. What concerns me about that amendment is that, so far from there being a consensus, as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said earlier, the leaders of my party were not even consulted. I used to work in industry and there I learnt that if you want to gain acceptance of change it is best that you first consult those who will be affected by the change. This has not happened on this occasion. If it had, I suggest that the solution put forward earlier by my noble friend Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank might have been accepted. That was the proposal that all hereditary Peers should go, but that those making a significant contribution to your Lordships' proceedings should become life Peers. At the very least I suggest that the distribution between the parties and the Cross-Benches of the hereditary Peers who are to remain in the House during the transitional period might be different from those who are to appear
I have no personal interest to declare in this. By the time those elections are held I shall be 83 years old and certainly shall not stand for election. For my part, if this amendment is agreed, I will favour a distribution more in keeping with the Cook-Maclennan agreement: that over the course of the present Parliament there should be movement to a House of Lords where those Peers taking a party Whip should more accurately reflect the number of votes cast at the previous general election.
Whatever your Lordships' views may be on that point, it is clearly only now that, for the first time, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, is being debated. I am glad that we are to have a further chance to debate it in detail. That will give all of us the opportunity to consider what has been said today. I venture to suggest that before we next debate it there should be consultation through the usual channels aimed at achieving a measure of consensus on its detail.
After all, it was the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, who in the debate in 1996, to which I referred earlier, ended his speech on the reform of the House--I have informed the noble Lord that I would quote and echo what he said--by saying:
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: The noble Lord, Lord Barnett, gave a very clear account to your Lordships of why he felt the amendment was not acceptable. He referred to his "Chief Whip", which I found a little strange coming from the Cross-Benches. I understood that the Cross-Benches do not have a Chief Whip, but perhaps that was a slip of the tongue. We know that the amendment is the only amendment the Government will accept which will keep hereditary Peers in the House. It is likely to be the only amendment which will enable a number of our highly-skilled, energetic, experienced colleagues to remain Members of the House while important decisions are taken in the
Perhaps I may ask the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor a question, which he can answer when he comes to reply to the debate. I understood him to say in the course of his remarks that the hereditary Peers who would remain in the House as a result of the amendment would have more authority because they were elected. Perhaps he will explain to the Committee what on earth he meant by that. Whether or not the amendment is accepted, surely the House of Lords will remain a House of peers and we will all have equal authority. It may not be much authority--just the authority of our argument--but what did the Lord Chancellor mean by saying that? Does he think that hereditary Peers in general will suddenly become a group and that the elected hereditary Peers will consult before they vote hereditary Peers who are no longer here and thus will be representing a whole lot of people who are not in the Chamber? I cannot believe that he meant that. Why did the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor say that they would have more authority? Perhaps he might care to answer now. I found his remarks rather strange.
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