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Baroness Blatch: I can answer that directly. In an interregnum House without the Weatherill amendment, 750 Members will immediately leave. After examining the daily attendance over the past four or five years, and seeing who attends from the beginning to the end of business enabling the House to fulfil all its duties, including committee work, I believe that there will be difficulty in expecting the 300 or 400 who are left to do so. Even with the Weatherill amendment, the number will not be much higher. I believe that the number of Members who will be expected to attend daily in order to meet the obligations of the business of the House will present a difficulty. It is incumbent on Ministers to give us their intelligent guesses as to the likely attendance in the House with or without the Weatherill amendment.
Baroness Crawley: I listened carefully to the commencement argument put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Boardman, and to the attendance argument put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, which have been ably answered by my noble friend Lord Graham. However, I am irresistibly drawn to the conclusion that these amendments are quite deliberately delaying tactics. They are an attempt to put the Bill as it stands on the back burner, on the long arm, as far away from becoming legislation in this parliamentary Session as it is possible to get away with.
What is so admiringly blatant about the amendments, which are designed to delay the removal of the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in this House, is that they are proposed in the teeth of a manifesto pledge
Lord Norton of Louth: Will the noble Baroness tell us precisely what wording in the manifesto Amendment No. 112 does violence to? The amendment does not affect the stand-alone element, because the Act would have been passed. It does not affect removing the hereditary Peers' right to sit and vote; that would have gone by the Act; and it does not make it dependent on further reform, because it is merely awaiting proposals. So the amendment is neutral about what follows, and does not do violence to the words of the manifesto commitment.
Baroness Crawley: I believe very firmly that the spirit of the three amendments does do violence to the spirit of the Salisbury Convention, by inevitably delaying the Bill which, as a stand-alone Bill--a very clear, very short, 25-line, stand-alone Bill--should be able to go through in one Session.
Lord Norton of Louth: I was not aware that the Salisbury Convention was in the manifesto. With which part of the manifesto does the amendment conflict? As it stands, I cannot see that it does. I was going to
Baroness Crawley: I am holding the section from the manifesto to which I referred. It states that the Bill is a stand-alone Bill which does not depend on any further reform, as the noble Lord has just stated. Therefore, amendments that call for delaying the Bill until further reform is decided, by whatever mechanisms are available in the future, are very much delaying tactics.
The Earl of Onslow: I am infinitely impressed by noble Baronesses who say "I have listened with great care" to the arguments advanced by my noble friends Lord Boardman and Lady Blatch and then produce a wodge of paper, several pages thick, so obviously written in about 0.5 of a nanosecond, as opposed to being prepared from the outset. So, with the greatest respect to the noble Baroness, I strongly suspect that her speech had been written before she listened to the argument. We have all done it--there is nothing to be ashamed of--but do not try to con us.
Baroness Crawley: The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, has many qualities, but I did not realise that he was, as it were, an angel or a ghost on my shoulder, watching me in the many hours between my looking at the amendments and speaking to them, and knowing whether certain parts of my speech were prepared before or after. I am amazed at his qualities.
There is another point to make about the amendment, an amendment with which I am not in agreement. I would have been completely in agreement with it, had it not been for the Weatherill amendment. The noble Baroness says that we must not pass wrecking amendments, and that the matter was in the manifesto. The manifesto says quite categorically that the Government will get rid of the hereditary peerage. Lo and behold, they have agreed to an amendment, with which I too am in complete agreement, which drives more than a coach and horses through the original Bill. As wrecking amendments go, it is the whole Royal Mews--state landaus, the Irish state coach, the lot.
Therefore, we have a Bill that is genuinely capable of a little bit of improvement. I have been on record as wanting proper reform. Those of us who want reform look for a little more of the spirit that the Government have shown over the Weatherill amendment. I do not mind the fact that it needed the ability of a Byzantine theologist to make the Weatherill amendment work in line with the Labour Party manifesto. I do not hold manifestos up as holy writ. But we should give the Government credit for what they have done. Yes, let us try to make sure that their appointment system is more satisfactory afterwards; but if we accept this amendment, we shall be asking a bit much of them. Had it not been for the Weatherill amendment, I would have
The point about the whole Royal Commission and the Bill is surely this: if the Royal Commission reports quickly and its recommendations are passed quickly, that is all right but, if not, we must make sure that the Bill itself is a stand-alone measure.
I totally agree with my noble friend Lady Blatch that to pass an Act of Parliament which results in one House of Lords having lasted 700 years and another lasting 15 months is a fairly silly way of doing things. But we have agreed that. We must also ensure that, if the interim House lasts for more than 15 months or further change is postponed (because of what Harold Macmillan described as "Events, dear boy"), the Bill is as good as it can be. With the greatest respect to my noble friends Lord Boardman and Lady Blatch, I do not think that it matters whether or not that is done after the report of the Royal Commission. Therefore, I would not support them in this. The noble Baroness who has just spoken has completely missed the point of what has been discussed and what her own side has agreed to do. Let us give the Government credit. I am afraid that I cannot support my noble friends Lady Blatch and Lord Boardman.
Lord Monson: I cannot agree with the noble Earl. When the Bill was first conceived a couple of years ago nobody, whether in or out of government, knew that a Royal Commission was to be set up, still less that it would be required to produce its recommendations by 31st December this year, a mere eight months hence. On the contrary, it was assumed that any recommendations for major reform would take years rather than months to produce. On that assumption, it was not unreasonable to frame the Bill so that the hereditary Peers could be got rid of before the end of October this year--that is, if one accepts the Government's general arguments against the hereditary Peers, which I do not. However, the fact that the Royal Commission has been charged with making its recommendations in eight months' time changes things utterly. It enables, in theory at any rate, a much smoother, less abrupt and more logical transition to take place. However, the Bill as it stands unfortunately fetters the Royal Commission and may pre-empt its recommendations.
After all, the commission could very well conclude that the good governance of this country, the optimum handling of legislation and the restraint of the currently excessive powers of the executive all require the continued presence in Parliament, either permanently or for a limited period, of some or all of the hereditary Peers currently sitting in the House of Lords. But unless these amendments are agreed to, however strongly the commission might consider this to be the best option, it would not be entitled to make such a recommendation. This is a crazy state of affairs. Accordingly, I strongly support the amendments.
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