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Baroness Park of Monmouth: The reason I wished to intervene earlier to support the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, is precisely the same reason as that given by my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour. A sword of Damocles is not an unhealthy idea. My concern is that, as time goes on, the country is falling apart in relation to constitutional issues. New situations will arise with the creation of a Parliament in Scotland and an Assembly in Wales; new and important issues will come up. It is important for the stability of the country that there should be strong reasons for the Government to move as soon as the Royal Commission has reported and the all-party committee has discussed the matter.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I can but worry about this group of amendments and perhaps I might be so bold as to put my concerns to my noble friend Lord Peyton in the hope that he feels in a more conversational mood. When the sun comes to set, or as the time limit approaches, the Government, in good faith, may not be ready to bring forward a sensible stage two plan which would answer the needs of the United Kingdom and its devolved parts; in other words, a plan that would meet the interests of the nation at the time. But the prospect for the Government of having to have all the hereditary Peers back might be so disagreeable to them that they may be tempted to rush through Parliament a Bill which is even worse than the Act which this Bill will create. I wonder whether my noble friend Lord Peyton has thought of such an eventuality, and perhaps he will deal with it when he comes to reply.
Lord Northbrook: I want to pinpoint something said by the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan. I appreciate his views on this amendment and I wonder whether he himself has thought of a timescale for this sunset clause; in other words, to which amendments, if any, he would agree in relation to the time.
Earl Ferrers: I wonder whether, when the poor noble Lord replies to this debate, he will consider the difficulty in which he finds himself. None of this would have occurred if there had been a proper Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, said in a very understandable and agreeable way that when the second stage comes he hopes that it will have the approval of all parties and that we have to try to find the right answer. If the Government had done that in the first place, we would not be in this situation. Because they did not; because they suddenly produced this Bill which the noble Lord, Lord Desai, says will be an improvement--I do not know why he considers removing 600 people will necessarily improve things; it may do, but that is only a question of opinion--we are entrenched in this difficult debate.
When the Government produce a Bill saying, "This is what is going to happen and we do not know what is going to happen afterwards", it is not surprising that awkward amendments such as this are tabled. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, is very capable of dealing with awkward amendments. But I hope that when he does so he will agree that it is a difficult situation created entirely by the Government themselves.
Lord Strathclyde: Certainly the most significant speech of the day was made by the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, who brought his usual wise words to the debate. I entirely agree with the noble Lord in what he said about consensus. That is why we have consistently been opposed to the Government's approach and maintained that we should have no stage one without stage two. This whole subject needs not only consensus but also wide public debate. If there were wider public debate--and it is the responsibility of all parties to produce that--we might reach the desirable conclusion mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart.
The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, may not have said so exactly, but I believe that he said by implication--and it is a very important point--that reform of this House should not belong to any one party. Again, that is the problem about the Bill with which we are dealing. This is very much Labour Party policy. The other comment that the noble Lord made, and to which my noble friend Lord Ferrers just referred, was the fact that there will be a great deal of difficulty in reaching stage two. Indeed, that is becoming increasingly obvious on all sides of the Chamber. I believe that that is the thinking that lies behind the amendment.
I should point out at this stage that, although the amendment has been tabled in my name and in that of my noble friends on the Opposition Front Bench, this is of course a repeat of Amendment No. 94. My noble friend was unfortunately absent from the Chamber when we reached that point very late on Thursday evening. I should also point out that I am talking to all the amendments in this grouping--namely, Amendments Nos. 110F, 110G, 110H, 115, 120, 135A and 135B. All these amendments have the same intention; that is to say, to press the Government to move on to the
As the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, pointed out, there is a range of possible dates involved. For example, Amendment No. 120 speaks of such a date taking effect on presentation of any proposals from a Royal Commission which further affect the hereditary peerage. Amendment No. 110G talks about the sunset being the end of this Parliament, while Amendment No. 110F states the date of 31st October 2001 and Amendment No. 110H would mean autumn 2002. Amendment No. 135B speaks of the end of the next Parliament and Amendment No. 115 would mean the end of the first Session of the Parliament after next. It is for this Chamber to debate and determine which of these dates it prefers.
However, despite the fact that a range of propositions up to the autumn of 2002 stand in the name of our Front Bench, I find myself most attracted to what I envisage is the aim of Amendment No. 115, proposed by my noble friend Lord Elton. It seemed to me that the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, felt rather the same way, although he then went on to say that he did not think the Bill needed any sunset clauses at all.
The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, also made what I thought was an extremely good point and one which I had not thought of before; namely, that hereditary Peers who had been elected to the House of Commons would then find themselves in an awkward position. However, I hope that the drafters and my noble friends will be able to find a way round that problem. Nevertheless, it is an obvious flaw in the amendments that are currently before the Committee.
Amendment No. 115 works best because it proposes that legislation for proper reform of the House would have to be presented not by the end of this Parliament, nor by the end of the next Parliament, but by the end of the first Session of the Parliament after next. That means a date unlikely to be before the autumn of 2006 and perhaps even as late as the autumn of 2008. It would provide the whole of another Parliament for the party opposite, were it to win another term of office, to legislate again on this House and then for my own party to present proposals, were we to win the election after that. However, were my party to win the next election and not satisfy the House in the next Parliament with another Bill on reform, the party opposite would still have another Session of Parliament in which to act. No one could suggest that this would be to press the Government--or, indeed, any government--too hard, unless the party opposite expects to lose the next two elections.
The purpose of all these amendments is not to save the hereditary peerage; its purpose is to guarantee a real and lasting settlement of the future of this House. I agree with my noble friend Lord Ferrers that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, who is to reply to the debate, has a difficult job. But the Government's response will show whether their attitude is principled or expedient. If they truly intend to act as they profess, and as the
How the Government respond on the various questions of timing will also tell us how long term their plans are. I agree with noble Lords who have said that Amendments Nos. 110G and 110F might be too swift and pressing for the Government, but I wonder whether they can argue convincingly that the amendment of my noble friend Lord Elton would be too hasty.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: I am very fond of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, as he knows. Indeed, I believe that everyone else in the Chamber shares my admiration for him. I have always tried to follow his lead. The inclination to do so by simply saying, "The arguments that I have heard are without merit and it would take much too long for me to explain why", is quite a temptation.
The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, with a noticeable lack of conviction, put forward an amendment standing in the name of four Opposition Front-Benchers. In fact, he seemed to be running away from it faster than I was about to destroy it. That is quite surprising. He then asked me about principle or expediency. Perhaps, as they say, he misspoke.
The noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, asked four questions: when will the second stage be brought about? How will it be elected? I think he also added in parenthesis the word "selected". Who will be in it; and with what powers? The answers to all of those questions, which I readily accept are legitimate matters of concern, are those issues we have identified and to which we wish the Royal Commission to attend. The Labour Party has put forward its evidence to the Royal Commission. After all, the commission has been given a timetable which most of your Lordships regard as quite difficult. After the Royal Commission has reported, a Joint Committee of both Houses will consider the matter and, thereafter, Parliament is to have a view.
I rely on what the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, said; indeed, that is a proper way of going about the attempt to find consensus. Let us not forget that the Royal Commission is chaired by a former Leader of both Houses of Parliament, who was a senior Conservative. It has those of great independence of mind upon it. We have not attempted to pack the commission and have given it a free remit with our undertaking, which cannot be reneged upon, that the matter should go to a Joint Committee of both Houses. These are important matters of constitutional change. I revert to what the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, said: we have gone about it with a proper, considered and, I believe, fair and generous approach to constitutional change.
That being so, these amendments are simply devices. They are not workable devices; they are based on the premise that we do not mean what we say. Of course, that comes as a great shock to anyone who has ever been in a modern government. However, what we have
However, I reiterate that we regard this as a matter of principle. We have bound ourselves to the Weatherill amendment, which is expressed and described in that way but which is essentially the Government/Cranborne compromise. I believe that when the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, spoke about that, he had a good deal of objective common sense to offer this Chamber. This is not an ungenerous thing to do, particularly when one bears in mind--I am not crowing or gloating but simply pointing this out--the size of the majority in the other place. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, that political parties have too much power. That is why careful thought has to be given to opting simply for a wholly elected second Chamber as I believe that would depend entirely on party political patronage, because you cannot run elections in a modern society without that.
I believe there is a good deal of moral worth in what the noble Lord and others have said. We do not want a genetically modified House of Commons sitting as a House of Lords. I believe that we have been fair in our approach. We have given an undertaking time and time again. I have said this, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has said it, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House has said it and my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer has said this on every occasion when we have been challenged. The Committee is entitled to say this sotto voce and, with the usual seemly politeness, to demonstrate it. However, we could not have demonstrated it more clearly and more fairly. I see that the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, is present. I do not believe that any Member of your Lordships' House considers that he would have entered into the arrangement I am discussing without being satisfied that it was an honourable compromise in a difficult situation.
Viscount Cranborne: I am most grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene. In view of what he has said, I reiterate once again my gratitude to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and to his colleagues in the Government for what I have found to be the entirely honourable and straight way in which they have dealt with the negotiations and for the way in which they have honoured their commitment, as I hope I made clear earlier last week. I pay tribute to that.
However, in the light of what the noble Lord has said, I hope he will answer what I thought was the implied question from his noble friend Lord Callaghan. The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, is more than able to speak for himself, as the Committee knows. But I understood
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