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Lord Harris of High Cross: My Lords, I can truly say that I yield to no one in my admiration and, from a distance, my affection for the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan. I cannot understand why he excites himself in this manner. This Bill is put forward as a way of allowing the Government time. In my view it is put forward in the interests of the Government. It is buying time for them to perform a very important function which is entirely missing at the moment from their programme.

I emphasise that a vote for this amendment is in no way a vote against the Bill, which is preserved in every particular. The Weatherill Amendment is preserved in aspic. We are simply saying that the Bill should come into full operation at the end of a Parliament rather than in the short order which the Government have chosen.

It has not been mentioned in all our long debates, as far as I can recall, but the main reason for some delay is the present state of public opinion, understanding and education. Whatever view we take about the so-called mandate, whether we regard it as a wholly bogus proposition or as holy writ, as the Labour Party regards it, opinion polls have repeatedly suggested that there is no full-hearted enthusiasm for the mutilation of the present House before knowing what is to take its place. In this House we have enjoyed endless debates over many months. We have had remarkably interesting and instructive speeches from all quarters. But the electorate does not bury its head in Hansard to try to follow the intricacies of the argument.

I strongly welcome the announcement by the editor of the Daily Telegraph that that paper is reinstating a parliamentary report as a regular feature, which has been dropped from most other papers including The Times which was once regarded as the paper of record.

My anxiety is that the Government, for their own party reasons, is racing ahead of public opinion and understanding. A major job of education has to be done in the next year or two whatever emerges from the Wakeham report. I call in support a rather unusual ally. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, on the Liberal Democrat Benches made a remarkable speech at Report stage on the issue of a referendum. Of course, the noble Lord was on the wrong side on that matter. But the remarkable thing about his speech is that it is an all-purpose economical one which does just as well when it is stood on its head. For example, he said that the issue of hereditary Peers had been settled in 1910 because two general elections were fought on that particular matter. That is absolutely correct. But to compare that with a brief mention in a mandate including 200 or 2,000 more succulent pledges in 1997, is quite a different story.

On that occasion the noble Lord said that in 1910 the elections had been concerned wholly with the issue of hereditary Peers and not just majoring on it. The important point I want to emphasise is that the noble

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Lord said that the problem with a referendum is much more serious than the matter having been decided 80 years earlier. He said,


    "It will be extremely difficult to explain to the public what it is all about".--[Official Report, 10/4/99, col. 1052.]

That is the state of innocence of the public. They would be unable to face a referendum, according to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, because it would be difficult for them to understand what it was all about.

I have taken that matter very seriously because it puts the mandate in a rather diminished mode. The intellectually convincing case for this amendment is that it leaves the Bill intact in its present form, complete with the Weatherill safety boat. It allows time for Her Majesty's Government to consider their constitutional arrangements for the future, to heed the Wakeham report and, above all, to engage in an urgent, continual and sustained effort to educate the electorate in these constitutional matters.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, there is a defective thread in the arguments advanced by the noble Lord, my noble friend Lord Tebbit and the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. None of them appears to recognise that no stage one before stage two suffered an unnatural death by slow strangulation at the hands of the great cross-party contrivance to ratify the deal, to confirm the Weatherill amendment and its implementation under Standing Orders.

I opposed that unsuccessfully. I stood by on no stage one before stage two throughout the Bill, but unsuccessfully. I have not changed my personal views. But I defer to the will of two-thirds of this House. It has to be accepted that although many of us at one time--and I, alas, still--believe that the only answer is no stage one before stage two, another answer has been found and ratified by the House.

Amendments Nos. 18, 20 and 21 have substantially the same effect as a set of amendments introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Mountgarret, and myself tabled in the wake of the 15-minute speech--perhaps less than that--of the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, on 30th June at about midnight. That amended Clause 7(2) and has caused a multitude of problems. It was not fully explained at the time or since. The object of the amendment to Clause 7(2), in substantially identical language to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, was to force the Government to have a meaningful debate if the matter was not referred to the Committee for Privileges. The Government opposed the application to send it to that committee. Your Lordships decided that it should. The matter was put to the committee and in the result the noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret, and I withdrew our amendments.

The purpose of this amendment, in almost identical terms, is otherwise. If I heard the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, aright, he said that in one way or another this Bill has to be opposed or has to fall. I have forgotten quite how he put it. This amendment is one way. A vote against the Bill do now pass is another. I am grateful that the noble Lord nods in agreement. So this amendment is a killer amendment, and let me explain why.

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On the practicality of the situation, if this amendment were to be carried into the Bill, as I understand the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, and other noble Lords opposite, the Government would simply remove the Weatherill amendment when it goes to another place and take the Bill as it is. Frankly, why should they do otherwise? I am looking at the practicalities. I do not want them to do that, but why should they not?

I want to take one other short point. The situation is that the House agreed by a massive majority the terms of the sale of the successor entitlement. Having agreed them, how can we now renege on them? Having granted, as we did, planning permission for the erection of a new House which is now near to completion, will it not be seen by the people as being rather quixotic to serve a demolition order now. I speak only in deference to the view of the House. My personal opinion was always and still is otherwise.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Richard: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, when he addressed the House a few moments ago, said that we should avoid acrimony; that we should read the rule against asperity. I wish the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, had taken his advice. In a few short minutes the noble Viscount accused his party of "rigging" two referendums. He used the phrase, "I do not trust them further than I can spit and I cannot spit very far". I hope the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, will address his remarks to that side of the House as well as looking at this side.

If I may say so, the noble Viscount did not express himself tonight with his usual "elegance", as he so fondly describes the speeches of others. His message is sometimes distorted by the elegance with which he expresses it. But I assume that what he was telling his colleagues on the Conservative Benches was that he was not in a position to support his noble friend Lord Tebbit in his amendment.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell, is absolutely right; this is a killer amendment. If it is carried I sincerely hope that the Government will treat it as such. I have no great love of the Weatherill amendment. My views on it were made clear when it was passed. If the Weatherill amendment has to go because of the way in which the Opposition behave, so be it; then the Government have at their disposal the Parliament Act. If we have to use the Parliament Act, I shall not be discontent that the Bill should go through in that way.

However, I am determined about one thing, so far as I can influence it; that is, that the Bill will go through. Noble Lords on the other side of the Chamber should be under no illusion about this. The Labour Party has spelt this out for years. Indeed, when it came to the last election we could not have been clearer about our intentions in relation to this House. Not only did we say what we wanted to achieve; we also said the way in which we were going to achieve it.

We said that we would do it in two stages. We said that the first stage would be the abolition of the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote. We said that thereafter

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there would be a test of public opinion. I concede that the manifesto said that that would be done by a joint committee of both Houses. Later on the Government came to the conclusion--rightly so--that it should be done by a Royal Commission. We said that when the results of that public consultation were out, we would consider them and bring forward proposals for further representative and democratic reform.

The matter could not have been clearer. Nobody who looked at that manifesto--I am sure noble Lords opposite did--could have been in any doubt what the Government were proposing. We have done exactly what we said we would do. For the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, to say that the Bill is in a mess only proves that he does not like it. For those of us on this side of the House, the Bill is proceeding in a somewhat protracted way through Parliament. It has been down the far end. It came up here and is now going through its proceedings in the House of Lords. I trust that tonight it will leave the House of Lords and go back to the House of Commons.


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