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Lord Peston: I speak as someone totally in support of the Bill as I first read it, in particular the essence of the Bill which I believe to be Clause 1, which states,

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Like several of my noble friends who have spoken, I do not regard Clause 2 as improving the Bill at all. But--and for me it is a "but" of overwhelming importance--my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor has told your Lordships that he, together with the noble Viscount the then Leader of the Opposition discussed what could be done to amend the Bill to move it forward. There seems to be a certain amount of disagreement as to the nature of that agreement. However, the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, has already told us that Clause 2 corresponds precisely to what he thinks he agreed to. I am sure that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor will say the same, and possibly Lord Weatherill will also confirm that, whatever comments we may make, this is the agreement they reached. The Committee will also recall that two weeks or so ago we voted on this matter.

It therefore seems to me immensely difficult, whatever one's doubts about Clause 2, to do anything that would imply that that agreement was no longer in effect. I do not resile from the fact that I do not like Clause 2, which I do not believe improves the Bill. Even if one accepts the rather ingenious arguments of the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, about the incentive system built into the clause, it is my hope that we shall move to reform of the new House without this incentive system.

But we are honourable men and women, honourable Peers. This agreement has been reached, and, a fortiori as I understand it, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has shaken hands on this matter--again, I ask my noble and learned friend to confirm that. Therefore, I do not remotely see how the Committee can move away from that. I say that with no great happiness.

I was a little unhappy with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, because of his choice of words. As far as I know, none of us was consulted on what for shorthand purposes I would call "the deal". I first knew about it when everybody else knew about it, but it had not occurred to me to use the words "shabby affair" about it. I do not like that expression being used. I had not thought of it as hole-in-the-corner or seedy. I just thought that it was something that I did not agree with at the time. But very decent people agreed to it in good faith, with a view to moving the Bill forward, and it seems to me that at this stage that is what must happen. In particular, I do not see how the Committee could possibly vote--and the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, will decide whether he wishes to test the opinion of the Committee--to ask certain of our leading figures, not excluding the Prime Minister, essentially to rat on a deal. I simply do not think that is how we can behave.

Therefore, I do not stand back from the view that Clause 1 is what I really support, but at this stage we must regard what has happened as the end of the matter.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Weatherill: I have very little to add to what the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and the noble Lord, Lord Peston, have said, other than to confirm that a consensual agreement was reached. I now understand

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that the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, was not party to it, although I had anticipated that he had been when we were negotiating. I can understand that the noble Lord and his colleagues are unhappy about keeping as many as 90 hereditary Peers in the transitional House, and that they do not accept the basis on which we arrived at that figure. But let me remind the Committee, perhaps for the last time, how the figure of 90 was reached.

As I explained in introducing the amendment that is now Clause 2, we believed that it would be appropriate to retain one-tenth of the total hereditary peerage--that is, 75--elected by the three main parties and the Cross-Benchers in proportion to the strength of the peerage in each grouping. On top of that, we felt that it was also appropriate to retain a further 15, being the number of hereditary Peers who currently serve as Deputy Speakers and Chairmen. I have nothing to add, other than to underline what the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, said about the importance of the Committee Chairmen in the House of Lords.

That brings the total number of excepted Peers to 90. The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, seeks to reduce that number to 75. He has suggested that if hereditary Peers are to serve as office holders they should be chosen from among the 75, not in addition to them. But, to put it at its very simplest, that was not the basis on which the consensual agreement was arrived at.

I wholly subscribe to what the noble Lord, Lord Peston, said about this matter. It was an agreement to get us over a difficult problem of how the House would continue to work in the interim period, and I hope that the whole Committee will accept that.

Earl Ferrers: The Committee will be very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, for having put down the amendment, because, as he said, it gives us an opportunity to discuss again the whole principle of what is behind the Bill. Certainly it never had such a discussion in another place. If a Bill of this complexity, with its far-reaching results, comes to the House of Lords, it is right that we should have an opportunity to consider it.

Yet again the absurdity of the position the Government are in is shown, when they bring in a Bill providing that all hereditary Peers must go and in doing so slag off the hereditary Peers, and then when it is halfway through the House of Lords they say "Now we want to keep a hundred hereditary Peers". That is a complete turnabout; having slagged off the hereditary Peers, the Government have not actually said "They are quite good fellows", but they have almost insinuated that.

The question then is how to choose those hereditary Peers. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, does not like the idea of their being chosen by their number. He seems to think that it would be better for the House of Lords to choose those hereditary Peers who are to remain. I do not have his exact words, but his inference was that he knew of no other parliamentary Chamber in the world where somebody could be elected and then be there for life.

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It is very funny that when the electorate had rejected the Social Democratic Party, and threw them all out, all the leaders of that party ended up in the House of Lords, in a legislative Chamber. Now, of course, they are the good boys, because they are appointed. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, says that it is quite wrong for hereditary Peers to choose the 92 who are to remain, and that the life Peers should choose them. I do not see that there is any particular virtue in those people who have been appointed saying that they are the blue-eyed boys, the authentic creatures, the grade 1 people, and that they should appoint the hereditary Peers.

The fact is that the Bill is a mess. First, the Government said "No Peers", then they said "A hundred", and now they are in a tangle as to how we get a hundred hereditary Peers. The simple answer is that if 90 per cent of the hereditary Peers are to be removed, those hereditary Peers who will be, as it were, disenfranchised should presumably be the ones to say which hereditary Peers should represent a particular party or group. I see nothing wrong with that.

I understand why the Liberal Democrats are upset--they were not party to the discussion. That is always very peeving. Secondly, after the voting they will apparently have only three hereditary Peers, which is also a cause of grievance. But I do not see any argument for saying that the life Peers should appoint the hereditary Peers. Goodness knows how far down the scale of patronage we shall go if that happens.

Lord Lucas: I am sorry to say that I do not find myself in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Peston. I understand that my noble friend Lord Cranborne and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor have bound themselves together in the agreement--back to back, one hopes. But the agreement does not and should not bind the rest of us.

We are here to consider whether we wish, as a Committee, to adopt the agreement. We must be free to discuss its individual aspects, to propose amendments and to try to convince both sides--because we cannot expect one side of the agreement to move without the other--that things can be changed and that this agreement, which was conceived among a relatively small number of people, with relatively little discussion, is surely capable of improvement. There must be something that we are allowed and expected to do here, and we must expect those who entered into the agreement to listen to us carefully and be prepared to move their position if we present an argument--and win the argument--that what we propose is better than what they have agreed and better achieves the best future for the House of Lords.

I do not agree with anything which this group of amendments proposes. However, I strongly defend the right of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, to propose the amendments and the right of the Committee to consider them. I strongly urge on those who regard themselves as parties to the agreement that they should take seriously the deliberations of this Committee.

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