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Lord Marsh: My Lords, I had no intention of taking part in this debate for a variety of reasons, but a misunderstanding may well have emerged. It has already been stated twice that this particular amendment, which may be good or bad, is a crucial part of the agreement. I am perfectly prepared to give way to the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, if he seeks to deny that.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, as usual, obviously I have not made matters clear to the noble Lord in particular and the House in general. What I hoped I had made clear was that I regarded the question of by-elections as a crucial detail. However, if my memory serves me right, that was not a matter upon which the Lord Chancellor and I were at one during the course of agreeing the overall Weatherill amendment. That matter was left for future resolution.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, then there is obviously no need to make the point that I intended to make. This amendment may be good or bad, but it certainly was not agreed by some parties to the Weatherill amendment. Notice of that was given to both sides some weeks before the Bill ever entered the House.

Having risen to my feet, I should like to say a few words about the amendment. One fear that has run throughout the debate is that the Government have some reason for wanting to kick the ball into touch and move to a wholly appointed House. I and many other noble Lords are very much in favour of a largely appointed House. Other noble Lords take a fundamentally different view: for example, that it should be overwhelmingly an elected Chamber. That is precisely the key issue on which the Royal Commission has been set up to make recommendations. It seems to me to be sensible to wait until that point before we decide.

How valid is this fear? We are talking of the possibility of a considerable number of those who remain being struck down by bubonic plague or some other illness. One by one they go down like skittles until we run out of people to whom we can turn. But everybody in the House knows that--I am sure that the Leader of the Opposition agrees--the likelihood is that the Conservative Party will win the next election. In that case there will be no problem. Even in the unlikely event that the Conservatives did not win the next election and the Labour Government were returned with their majority, together with the Liberal Democrats who support them on this issue, cut to less than 100, for what possible reason could they fail to proceed with the intentions of the Bill?

Scottish and Welsh devolution and the Greater London Bill would be out of the way and this one issue would remain. Would the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and the noble Baroness the Leader of the House come before the House and say that they were terribly sorry but they could not do anything further about the removal of hereditary Peers from the House of Lords because the Scottish (No. 2) winter feed-stuff

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Bill was holding up the programme? They would have to deal with it. Therefore, I believe that this is a false issue.

3.45 p.m.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, almost invariably in this debate I have agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Marsh. However, on this occasion I believe that his normal lucid grasp of affairs has slightly slipped. Harold Macmillan said, "Events, dear boy; events, dear boy". The 1911 Act was supposed to lead to proper reform. I take noble Lords through the following possible scenario. The Royal Commission is split. Historically, Royal Commissions have not always been unanimous. That holds up the matter. A joint committee of both Houses then considers the matter. As has been said, such committees are not renowned for being smooth-talking bodies that produce agreements fairly easily. It does not happen like that.

I try my hardest not to make any party-political points. I am interested only in what comes after me. I want the future House to command respect and authority and be able frequently to kick any government where it hurts most. If the then government have to use the Parliament Act, so be it; let them. If this House in its new form can throw out delegated legislation, so be it. The government will then have to justify themselves.

As I understand it, the reform of the House is intended to give this place greater authority. My noble friend Lord Cranborne has done his country an enormous service in ensuring that stage one will have more authority. Noble Lords opposite will not be able to say that all the hereditary idiots like Onslow--there are lots of others, but I shall not name any names--are in the House. This is the sand in the shoe if they do not proceed with it.

The noble Lord, Lord Barnett, said at Committee stage that he did not like the Weatherill amendment but saw it lasting. The Government have nothing to lose either by accepting the amendment or giving a rock solid undertaking to put a proper by-election procedure into Standing Orders. I see the force of the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, about putting the matter on the face of the Bill. There is much greater force in putting the commitment to a by-election procedure on the face of the Bill. That does not go against anything that anybody has said before. I hope that Fabius Maximus Cunctator does not have to come out of retirement, but I remind noble Lords that the football season starts fairly soon.

Lord Waddington: My Lords, I am surprised by the confidence of the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, that a second stage Bill will follow shortly after the passage of this legislation. I am now allowed to refer in debate to what has been said in another place during this Session. The noble Lord, Lord Marsh, perhaps has not read the report of the debate in another place on 9th June. Mr Robert Sheldon, a former colleague of the noble Lord, is a man of enormous experience in these matters. Those of us who were in the other place in 1968 will clearly recall how Mr Sheldon was one of those who engineered the government's discomfiture and forced them to abandon

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all progress on the Parliament (No. 2) Bill. Perhaps we should consider what Mr Robert Sheldon said in the other place:


    "My view of the proposed legislation, as it comes back from the House of Lords, is that it would produce a transitional House; these are the first steps. My expectation is that that temporary scheme is likely to become permanent. I am sorry to disagree with some of my colleagues, but, as time goes on, the enthusiasm for constitutional reform is not likely to increase. In my experience-- I have seen a fair amount of such matters in my time--that enthusiasm is likely to terminate fairly early on".--[Official Report, Commons; 9/6/99; col. 668.] Noble Lords would be very foolish not to heed the words of that acknowledged expert.

When we are considering all the amendments before the House, we should proceed on the assumption that, whatever may be the intentions of the Government, there is no way in which the Government can guarantee that there will be a second-stage Bill because the matter is not entirely in their hands; and there are a great many experts in the other place and here who have experienced Bills designed to bring about constitutional reform who recognise the difficulties with which the Government will be faced, and know perfectly well that governments tend to have other priorities. I therefore support the amendment.

Noble Lords: The Lord Chancellor!

Lord Lucas: My Lords, this is Report stage.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, in the light of the contributions your Lordships have made, and with the leave of the House, it might be for the convenience of the House--I shall not give way at the moment--and of assistance to the House to know the position that the Government are minded to adopt.

Lord Denham: My Lords, I hope that the noble and learned Lord is not making a winding-up speech because, this being Report stage, if it is a winding-up speech no one can speak after it, so the debate could not continue after the noble and learned Lord speaks.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, perhaps I may repeat for the benefit of the noble Lord, Lord Denham, I think that it may be for the convenience of the House if I were to indicate the position that the Government are minded to adopt in the light of the various useful speeches that have been made.

Let me make some things absolutely plain. As I have said many times before, the Weatherill amendment is a purely transitional measure. It was on that basis that the Government supported it; and if the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, will forgive me, no matter how loudly he may whistle in the wind, it is to be hoped that that is the position. He may find that activity of whistling in the wind sustaining for the present, but I can assure him that it will not sustain him for very long.

I also have explained that Clause 2 of the Bill is not about keeping open the principle of hereditary membership of your Lordships' House. That is why, as

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a matter of principle--and I want to make this absolutely plain at the outset--we do not accept by-elections in which all the hereditary Peers, including those by then excluded from the House, could vote. But perhaps it would be convenient if I indicated my position in relation to what the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, said.

All that we ever agreed in terms of replacements was fastest losers. We did not get further than that. So I can confirm that what the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, has said is correct. We did not proceed in our discussions beyond that stage. We did not discuss a point in time when fastest losers might cease to be an effective proxy for contemporary popularity, precisely for my part because I contemplated, and do contemplate, phase two preceding that time. It is not for me to say what was in the noble Viscount's mind, but I can confirm that we did not discuss the subject matter of this amendment.


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