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The Lord Chancellor: No, my Lords; it would not. The noble and learned Lord rightly accepts that circumstances have completely changed from 1999. As the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, made absolutely clear, my party made it clear time and time again that the hereditary principle should not be the basis upon which people sat in the House. It is no longer appropriate or sensible, if we are looking for a sustainable and acceptable House, that part of the membership is based on the hereditary principle. With no discourtesy to the hereditaries themselves and no diminution of our acceptance of the important role that they have played, surely the time has come to change the provisions. The hereditary principle should no longer play a part in deciding who sits in the second Chamber.

Lord Weatherill: My Lords—

Lord Elder: My Lords—

Lord Renton: My Lords—

Noble Lords: Weatherill.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, if we hear first from the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, it will then be the turn of the Labour Benches.

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Lord Weatherill: Thank you, my Lords. As one who had some input into the legislation in 1999 that created the present membership of your Lordships' House, I share the concern and sadness expressed by others. However, I must say to the House—I would fail in my duty as a former Speaker not to remind the House—that a government with a majority have a right to get their business. That has to be measured against the equal right of an Opposition to criticise and improve. I hope that I did not hear an implied threat from the Front Benches opposite that the Opposition would persist in other areas as well. That would be irresponsible opposition.

Throughout the passage of the House of Lords Bill, I fully accept that the then Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, made it plain that the election of the 10 per cent who are with us now was a first stage of the reform of the House and that they would remain until stage two was completed. The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, cited Hansard. My reference from Hansard is to when the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said:


    "But the 10 per cent. will go only when stage two has taken place".—[Official Report, 30/3/99; col. 207.]

As has been endlessly repeated, stage two has not taken place.

I recognise that the election of a noble Lord to sit on the Labour Benches with an electorate of three is an absolute nonsense and is possibly—almost certainly—the reason for today's Statement. In February, I introduced the House of Lords (Amendment) Bill, referred to by the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers as option 1A. It was designed to overcome the further election of hereditary Peers to your Lordships' House. I did not proceed because there was some opposition from the Conservative Benches, but had I been able to do so with the support of the House, that would have overcome many of the problems that we face today.

I hope that that will be one of the considerations taken into account when consultations are taking place on further reform. In saying that, I salute the hereditary Peers, who have done such an excellent job in your Lordships' House. I should like to see them continue to do so.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, I was not sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was implicitly threatening to cause difficulties for the Government in getting our business. That would certainly be contrary to the way in which this House has always operated in the past. I see that the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, is nodding his head behind the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, so I take it that he is indicating on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that he intends to disrupt the business of the House.

As for the other points made by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, as I think that I made clear in response to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, the position is now

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very different from that in 1999. We believe that the time has come for steps to be taken to remove the remaining hereditaries.

Lord Elder: My Lords—

Lord Renton: My Lords—

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I think it is the turn of my noble friend Lord Elder.

Lord Elder: My Lords, in expressing my welcome for the Statement, may I assure my noble and learned friend that many on this side of the House will view it as a sensible next stage, in the circumstances where the other place has not shown any clear view on reform and this House has voted for precisely what it will now get? I find it slightly surprising that others should be so opposed to what this House voted for as the solution.

Can we have further clarification on whether the Opposition really intend to seek to use anger on this issue to try to deny the Government their right to legislation? On one minor but important point, my noble and learned friend said that finance and supply were of course matters for another place. Does that statement have any implications for the current trial whereby the Economic Affairs Committee of this House considers certain technical aspects of the Finance Bill and reports to this House on them?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, the first part of my noble friend's question is for the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and those on his side of the House. I must leave it to him to answer it, but he appears to suggest that there will be disruption.

As for the second part, as I said in my Statement, the traditional role of this House during the course of the Finance Bill is an example of the system working well when it works in the traditional way. The House has an opportunity to consider the Bill on Second Reading, but its powers have been constrained by the Parliament Act 1911 and Commons financial privilege, established through resolutions passed in the 17th century. In answer to my noble friend's specific question, the Government would not want any extension of the role of the House or its Committees in that matter.

Lord Renton: My Lords—

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay: My Lords—

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it is the turn of the Liberal Democrats.

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay: My Lords, my questions are about the effect of the proposed changes on the party balance in this House and thereby, inevitably, on its ability to act as an effective check on the government and a revising Chamber.

Several noble Lords have rightly said that the hereditaries are among our most active and effective Members. They are also by far our most active voting

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Members. For example, if we consider all votes in contested Divisions during the previous Session, on average the Government obtained 54 per cent of the vote and the Opposition 46. If the hereditaries had been removed, at a stroke that proportion of government votes would have risen from 54 to 60 per cent. That is the real significance of what the Government are trying to do; they are trying to neutralise the Opposition in the House of Lords.

Obviously, we on these Benches are in favour of a significant elected element to the House, but we are not in favour of flouting the will of the Commons. If I may say so, a lot of nonsense has been talked about there being no clear view from the Commons. One clear view from the Commons was that it was not in favour of an all-elected House.

On the question of party balance, I listened carefully, as I always do, to the noble and learned Lord. We heard some carefully phrased words about how the new statutory independent appointments commission will operate. We heard that it will recommend numbers and timing of appointments, but one key question remains: who will finally decide on the numbers of different party appointments to be made after the commission has suggested that it is time to nominate some more? For all the talk about having regard to this and that, unless the Prime Minister is prepared to give up that power, ultimately, his fingers are still firmly on the lever of power. What is the Government's intention on that point?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, the statutory appointments commission should decide the numbers as between the parties. As I understand the Liberal Democrat position, they would not want that to happen; they would want that power to remain with the Prime Minister. That is why they oppose the Bill. I understand that the Liberal Democrats are also opposing the removal of the hereditaries.

Those points are made clear in the Statement and the consultation document. That is why we say that we are making it a House in which the patronage of the Prime Minister is dramatically reduced; that is why we say that we shall make it a much more modern House in the way that it operates.

Lord Renton: My Lords, I venture to intervene because I think that I have had longer experience of service—continuous service—in both Houses than any other living person: 34 years in the House of Commons and 24 years with your Lordships. I have seen tremendous changes take place during that time.

There was a time when the membership of the House of Commons contained a vast array of people of distinction and with real talent and experience. Now, alas, it is not quite the same. To give but one example, in 1959, there were 30 Queen's Counsel in another place. The number did not decline much until about 15 years ago. But in your Lordships' House we now have a great array of talent. For example, for hundreds of years, the posts of Attorney-General and Solicitor-General were held by Members of the House of Commons, but during the past six years the present

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Government have been unable to find an Attorney-General there and we have had the advantage of an Attorney-General in your Lordships' House.

What is to be done? We must realise that democracy has its limitations. Do I not know? I have fought and won 10 general elections. I never thought that more than a third of those who voted really understood the issues. House of Commons membership is now a full-time job. That limits the number of people with experience and expertise who can be there. Therefore the future composition of your Lordships' House must fill the gaps which now exist in the House of Commons.


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