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Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, with all the caveats surrounding the sympathy that all of us feel for the victims, which the Minister amply demonstrated in the course of both his speeches, there is an alternative for the reasons that a number of us have suggested: that we do not introduce the Bill, and we do nothing.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, there you have it. Because of the agony of the families, the Government are not prepared to do nothing. It is as simple as that. Our motive for bringing forward the Bill is the agony of the families. It is to lessen that agony so that they can give their loved ones a decent burial.

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I appreciate the honesty of the noble Viscount. He said that the alternative is to do nothing. I think that that is the position in which the Government put the House. Having considered the arguments, I hope that the House will support the Bill. I commend it.

Lord Dunleath: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I listened with great care to what he said. I asked one question to which I do not think he gave an answer. If he can do so I should be grateful. If these people are caught and convicted of these crimes which occurred before the Good Friday agreement, what is the situation with regard to their sentences? Are they eligible for early release? I understand that they are. Perhaps the Minister can confirm that.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, that is not within the Bill, but I understand that the crucial date is 10th April 1998. If they committed offences before that date, they would come within the scope of the legislation. If they committed the offences after that date, they would not come within the scope of the legislation.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, will the Minister answer the question that I raised about what happens if the commission receives a malicious notification of remains?

Lord Dubs: My Lords, it is an independent commission set up to make decisions on the basis of information. If it decides to take action, it will decide how to do so sensitively. Each case must be decided on the basis of the information. The independent commission will decide how to tackle that. I believe that the position is clear and I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House of Lords Bill

5.50 p.m.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.--(Baroness Jay of Paddington.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The Deputy Chairman of Committees in the Chair.]

Clause 4 [Commencement and transitional provision]:

[Amendment No. 115 not moved.]

Lord Trefgarne moved Amendment No. 116:

Page 1, line 13, after ("shall") insert ("not")

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 116, I shall speak also to Amendments No. 117, 118, 119 and 121. Earlier in the Committee stage, we considered a number of so-called "sunset" amendments suggesting what might happen if the Government's proposed stage

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two to the reform of your Lordships' House had not come to pass within various times. A number of suggestions were made, none of which found favour with the Committee.

Amendment No. 116 makes a slightly different suggestion and relates to what might happen in any event. We suggest that the words on the Marshalled List, particularly in Amendment No. 117, might well be included in the Bill. It proposes that by 1st September 2001, or earlier on the dissolution of the Parliament in which the Act is passed, the House of Lords Act will come into force.

Amendment No. 118 makes a similar proposition, but is related to the work of the Royal Commission.

I do not wish to speak at length on these matters because they have been touched upon in earlier debates. I hope that the Committee believes that the concept is worth consideration. I beg to move.

Lord Waddington: I did not expect to be able to speak so soon, but I wish to preface my remarks by saying that I was deeply shocked by what I considered to be the intemperate and undignified remarks made by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor this afternoon. I believe that he will regret having spoken in that way. He is not supposed to be just another knock-about politician; he holds a very high office. I am a life Peer and I very much resent the idea that hereditary Peers come here to look after their own interests and that no one, apart from hereditary Peers, is interested in the Bill. That is complete nonsense.

I believe that the Bill is a constitutional enormity and I believe as strongly as any hereditary Peer here that it is entirely wrong that we should be required to debate it late at night. We are entitled to have our views considered with care and we should be entitled to be respected for our opposition to a Bill which anyone should recognise is of immense importance. Any Bill which drastically changes the composition of one of the two House of Parliament must be important.

There can be no guarantee that any second stage reform will get through the other place. I have made my views on that known on many occasions. I fear that there may not be a second stage. I remember vividly, as will many former Members of the other place, the experience of 1968. I know what Members on the Front Bench know; that the whole idea of a two-stage process was born of the fear that there might be a repeat of what happened in 1968. No one has made a secret of that. There was the fear that if one bundled together in one Bill both the abolition of hereditary Peers and an involved scheme for a reformed House of Lords the debate might go on interminably. It might become apparent, as was the case in 1968, that there were as many opinions about what should be the shape of the new House as there were Members of the other place. There was the fear that any such comprehensive Bill would run into the sand in exactly the same way as the 1968 Bill. That was the thinking behind the Government's decision to have a two-stage reform.

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However, once this Bill is enacted the Government have nothing to fear. The hereditary Peers will be going and nothing will be able to change that. The advantage of at least some of these amendments is that the Bill would not come into effect until a little later. Those who are now Members of this place would be able to have a say in the debates on the Royal Commission's proposals. I believe that that would be highly beneficial because we have a great deal of wisdom and experience in this place. I believe that they should be entitled to express their views on any reform which is proposed by the Royal Commission. But even if I am wrong on that, what do the Government have to lose in delaying implementation? They will know that the Bill has been passed and that hereditary Peers will be going in due course. They will be able to tell the country that they have not been asking people to buy a pig in a poke. That is why I object so much to the measure.

We are told that we should, with dignity, give our approval, or at least be muted in our opposition to the Bill, because in due course there will be a second-stage reform. But we are not told what that second-stage reform will be. I do not believe that that is treating the House with respect. I believe that the least the Government can do in such circumstances is to delay the coming into force of the Bill so that those who are now Members of this place will be able to take part in the debates on the Royal Commission's report. All of us will then know what will take the place of this Chamber.

The Earl of Dundee: I support my noble friend's amendment. The arguments for taking stages one and two together are very sound and well known and I shall not rehearse them. However, today it might be helpful to address two different if related aspects of the question. First, to what extent does the incorporation of the Weatherill amendment within the Bill enable stages one and two to be considered together? Secondly, what is the best way now of redirecting the Bill to that end?

As we have heard, one argument which has been adduced for creating two stages is the difficulty hitherto of succeeding in carrying out reform of the House of Lords at all. The last serious attempt floundered in another place in 1969. For that failure we share no blame whatever. This House strongly backed the Labour government's Lords reform proposals in 1968. During the debate on this Bill, if there is one single point which should be repeated several times a day, perhaps rather loudly, it is that one.

The fact remains that in spite of solid support here, that Bill floundered in the other place and, therefore, not without justification, the architects of this Bill have felt "once bitten, twice shy". To make sure that this time the reform goes ahead, the Government have put in place two stages which, otherwise, would appear to be illogical and unnecessary.

Nevertheless, the Weatherill amendment has altered the position. It addresses the two main issues of Lords reform: approximate voting parity between the main political parties, and restriction of the parliamentary rights of hereditary Peers. However much fine-tuning it

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may require--and many of us may believe that it requires quite a lot--that is not to under-estimate the achievement of the Weatherill amendment.

Nevertheless, in terms of the proposal of my noble friend Lord Trefgarne, the point about the Weatherill amendment is that it can cause to relax those who until now have been anxious that yet again Lords reform would not go through. For there was nothing shy or diffident about the vote in its favour. Nor, as a result, can the implementation of stage one be delayed for very long.

That brings me to the paradox of this matter. If the only sensible argument in favour of stage one has been to propel Lords reform once reform has become duly launched and inevitable, then there is no longer any point in stage one. That position, if nothing else, has been brought about by the Weatherill amendment. And once we have acknowledged that fact, it becomes clear that if only for the peace of mind and good health of my noble friend Lord Wakeham, let alone the best solution for Lords reform, stage one and stage two ought to be taken together.

If we agree with that proposition, the question then is: how do we direct the Bill to that effect? There are two constructive ways of so doing. The first opportunity is at the next stage of the Bill when, on recommitment, amendments to the Weatherill amendment are considered. A number of these amendments are useful and, by improving the Weatherill amendment, will also improve the Bill. Thereafter and secondly, if the Bill is withdrawn until the Royal Commission has reported, then, in the light of its advice, stage one and stage two can be considered together within the appropriate legislation.

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