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Lord Trefgarne: I agree with the noble Lord. We should not follow the Royal Commission's recommendations hook, line and sinker. But I hope that it will be a stage in the process towards a consensus and I believe that there will be a Joint Committee of both Houses to consider the Royal Commission report in due course. I welcome that.
However, the Government ask us to agree and accept that what is contained in the Bill is something temporary. Indeed, from time to time it is not exaggerating matters to say that the Government have sought to defend some of the shortcomings in the Bill by reference to the fact that they will be in effect for a short time only. If they are to be for such a short time--many of us have doubts about how short that time will be--it is right that we should have some form of arrangement to review the situation, and perhaps to revert to the status quo ante. Perhaps other arrangements should be put in place if, in the fullness of time, the Government do not bring forward proposals for a fuller and more acceptable reform of this House.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: The noble Lord has indicated that he is not opposed to reform. In this debate, reference has often been made to the Labour Party manifesto. It is quite clear and unambiguous. Perhaps I may draw the noble Lord's attention to the manifesto upon which his colleagues fought the election in 1997. It stated:
"Radical blueprints for reform...should be rejected...the current arrangements work extremely well in practice...fundamental changes which have not been fully thought through--such as opposition proposals on the House of Lords--would be extremely damaging. We will oppose change for change's sake". Could the noble Lord tell the House when he changed his mind? Was it on the way to the polling station or to Damascus?
Lord Davies of Coity: I was a little surprised by the noble Lord when he said that the Bill is not a reforming Bill. I should have thought that the removal of the right of the hereditary Peers to sit and vote in the House was of itself a stand-alone reform, apart from any further changes.
Two comments made from the Opposition Benches in support of these amendments staggered me. One suggestion was that this House would be a vacuum. It cannot possibly be a vacuum. More than 500 Peers will be left in the House and its duties and responsibilities will continue until any change is proposed by the Government.
I also found strange the reference to governments changing their minds. Of course, governments change their minds. In recent years, one of the biggest changes was on the poll tax. Governments elected by the people can afford to do such things in changing circumstances.
Perhaps I may address specifically the question of Amendment No. 110F. My noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton interjected and referred to it being somewhat precipitate in view of the fact that there is to be a Royal Commission and a Joint Committee of the two Houses and that this Bill will commit the Government to taking action in advance of the conclusions of those bodies. However, I believe it goes further than that. The Bill commits the Government to an Act of Parliament before any recommendations have been produced. It may be that the new House will not require an Act of Parliament, so why, at this stage, should the Government be committed to introduce an Act of Parliament when one may or may not be necessary?
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, as ever, made a wise and thoughtful contribution, which reminded us of his long and enormous experience. He spoke of there having to be a period during which both Houses would have to attempt to reach a consensus on stage-two reform. Does the noble Lord believe--human nature being what it is and the problems that we can foresee being what they are in relation to the decision on the future House--that it may be a good idea, at some point, to have a Sword of Damocles hanging over the head of the government of the day who will have to make the decision? It may not be the date that my noble friend is suggesting in his
Lord Callaghan of Cardiff: I would want to think about that. I believe that we shall have great difficulty in getting this through a second stage. I keep saying that to anybody who will listen to me. That does not mean that we should not start it now, and that is why I support the Bill. I hope, when we look at it again, that there will be a coming together of the three major parties in order to achieve a second stage. Of course, my noble friend was right when he indicated that, even with the removal of the hereditary Peers, we shall carry on. There is unlikely to be a substantial revolution in the House when the hereditary Peers step down.
However, I do not think that that is sufficient. We need to have a second stage, but that will demand the utmost goodwill between the parties. We had that in 1968. The basic trouble with the 1968 situation--apart from the fact that it was wrecked--was that it was from the top down. It was started at the top by the parties, and both Houses were told what had to be done. However, one House rejected it, which it was perfectly entitled to do. This time, the process has been started in a better way.
I was very much in favour of the Royal Commission, although I have interrupted to say that we must not take that as the words of the Medes and Persians. However, I am in favour of that if it helps to begin the creation of a consensus on the issue. It will then be the responsibility of the parties to consult their members and to go as far as they can in consultation. The leaders of the parties will have to meet together in order to produce a scheme of reform. Only in that way will matters go through; otherwise we shall be left with this.
Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, is at his most avuncular, pleasant and witty. If that had been the attitude of his right honourable friend the Prime Minister and others in the other place who embarked upon this legislation in a most malicious and spiteful way and who rounded on my noble friends who are hereditary Peers, dismissing them with contempt, and if the atmosphere had been one in which he was attempting to promote consensus, we might have had an opportunity to reach a consensus. However, until that attitude changes, I doubt that that will occur.
Lord Elton: Perhaps I may return to address the Privy Council Benches opposite, although formally I address the Government Front Bench. There was a great deal that was attractive and persuasive in what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan. We would all look forward, with great relief, to a period in which there was consensus between the different parties in another place and here, however difficult that is to achieve. To arrive at that situation, we have yet to get past the point where it is in the interests of any of them
Lord Acton: With great respect, the Conservatives have either had an absolute majority or have dominated this House since the days of Pitt the Younger. I find the noble Lord's assertion absolutely extraordinary.
Lord Elton: I find the noble Lord's own assertion extraordinary. I am not here defending the past, as I said before. Noble Lords opposite are united in saying that the past was a very bad thing. Constitutionally, they said it was an outrage. If I agree with them, is that so horrid? It may astonish my noble friends on this side of the Chamber, but looking at it independently as an impartial legislator for a moment, it seems to me that there should be a second House of Parliament which cannot by any means, easily or indeed at all, fall into the pocket of the leader of the executive of whatever party.
I cannot really see that it befits noble Lords opposite to say that "it was a dreadful thing when you did it, so let us now be able to do it". It is either dreadful for all of us or it is dreadful for none of us. I thought that we were achieving consensus by the idea that we should go forward to a House produced on a different basis which would be secure from that abuse which, as the noble Lord has said, was an abuse.
If that is so, there will come a moment, if we do not have Weatherill, when the executive in power at the moment--of whatever party--will be able to command a majority in this House and that party will see no advantage in going forward. The others will, but they will be in a minority. Therefore it seems to me that Weatherill is essential and if we are to allow the transitional House to persist over a period during which Weatherill could be eroded, as has been pointed out, over time, then we are taking a grave risk. That is why I think that one of these amendments is attractive.
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