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Lord Graham of Edmonton: I cannot speak for the Government but there are priorities and matters which need to be dealt with. If this matter had been dealt with in the first Session, the Government would have been criticised for doing so. Whatever the Government do, there is a counter-argument. I accept that. But as a business manager, I can well understand the priorities. Members of the Committee opposite who have served in Cabinet and on committees will realise the impossible job faced by business managers when priorities are being decided. I have no objection whatever to my Government deciding that there were priorities more important than the passage of this Bill in the first or second Session. But we have now reached it. We have now reached the third Session.
I am puzzled by the lack of confidence which Members of the Committee opposite have in a two-stage process. The first stage is the Royal Commission which is to be headed by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and peopled by men and women of some experience. We do not know what they will propose and we may or may not like what they propose. But that has been built into the procedure. The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, has pointed out the difficulties, which I accept, of sticking to a 31st December timetable. But eventually, we shall have the product of their considerations. The members of the Royal Commission are not untutored and unaided. They are experienced people. Everyone in this House has had the opportunity to explain to the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, how they see matters for the future.
When the Royal Commission makes its recommendations, it has been agreed that there should be established a Joint Committee of both Houses to consider those recommendations. I have more faith than Members opposite in the sagacity of their colleagues who sit in the House of Commons. The Joint Committee--comprising Members from both sides of this Chamber and the other place--will have the benefit of the Royal Commission's findings when it meets. Without interference from the Government, the committee will make proposals to the Government. After the proposals have been made, the Government will react by making their proposals, which will comprise the next stage.
At every stage Members of the Committee are trying to avoid, at all costs, the implementation of the first stage. I believe that the Minister who replies will be well advised to stick to his or her brief and to recognise that people in the country voted for a manifesto which the Government are trying to carry out. As far as I am concerned, the people of this country deserve the best.
Lord Waddington: I take it that the noble Lord is not arguing that a delay in implementation until a fixed date would be a breach of the manifesto undertaking, particularly when one has to bear in mind that there is
Lord Graham of Edmonton: I am not arguing that at all. I understand the amendment and I said that as far as I am concerned this is part of the delaying tactics of the Opposition to avoid the implementation of the first stage.
Lord Waddington: Surely the noble Lord realises that at least one of the amendments proposes the postponement to a fixed date. Therefore, there can be no question, if that amendment is accepted, of indefinite postponement of the operation of the Bill.
Lord Harding of Petherton: I recognise the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, but I do not believe it is a valid argument. He says that the Bill was forecast in the manifesto and, therefore, it should be implemented. However, in the country people do not recognise that that is the correct way to proceed. Whatever was in the manifesto, as other noble Lords have said, people do not read the minutiae of a manifesto and they believe that the opinion polls have been held. The public believe that a second stage should be outlined before the first stage is implemented. These amendments go some way towards that.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: The argument is put that people who vote in general elections not only do not always agree with what they have voted for, but they also have ideas of how such matters should be implemented.
Perhaps I may remind the noble Lord of the situation in 1983, when he no doubt supported his party at the polls. The Conservative Party manifesto deals with local government saving ratepayers' money. His colleagues used that argument in the House when they abolished the GLC. The manifesto states:
I do not speak for other hereditary Peers on these Benches; I speak purely for myself. I accept that hereditary Peers should not be legislators, as do other Members of my party and some other Members on these
Lord Newby: Our approach to the Bill has two principal strands. First, we believe that the time has long passed when hereditary Peers should have a legislative role. Secondly, we believe that the House of Lords should be reconstituted on a more democratic basis. Noble Lords will recall that those are the two principal strands in the Preamble to the Parliament Act 1911. Therefore, we believe that the time has long passed for both strands to be implemented.
As my noble colleague Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank explained several days ago, we are concerned that events may mean that stage two is delayed. In our view, that is absolutely no reason to suggest that the implementation of stage one should be delayed for a minute longer than necessary.
Lord Newby: My understanding of the Preamble of the Parliament Act 1911 is that this Chamber should be reconstituted as soon as practicable on a more democratic basis. In the 110 times that I have heard it quoted and the number of times that I have read it myself, I may have mistaken what the words say and mean. However, my understanding of the Preamble and the intention of those who passed the Parliament Act was that within a reasonable amount of time this Chamber would be reconstituted on a more democratic basis.
That Act was passed 88 years ago and I believe that this series of amendments would have the effect of delaying further the implementation of part of what lies behind the Preamble to the Parliament Act 1911. Therefore, I believe that we should get on with it, and that any amendment that delays further the implementation of what lies behind that piece of legislation passed 88 years ago should be rejected.
Lord Waddington: The noble Lord is getting himself into a terrible tangle. A few moments ago the noble Lord was saying that by passing this Bill we would implement the Preamble to the Parliament Act 1911. He went on to put his gloss on the wording of the Preamble and he got it more or less right. The words refer to the House being reconstituted on a more popular basis. Surely, he is not suggesting that the passage of this Bill will have the effect of reconstituting this House on a more popular basis.