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The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I of course acknowledge the contribution made to the House by Cross-Benchers and I hope that I made it clear in the Statement that I acknowledge the contribution made by hereditary Cross-Benchers. Indeed, I acknowledge the contribution made by all hereditary Peers to the proceedings of this House. However, I do not believe that it is right that the hereditary principle should determine who can take part in the second Chamber.
After the failure to reach consensus, the time has come for a change to be made. Because no consensus has been reached between the two Houses, it would be right to ensure, first, that the hereditary principle
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, referred to particular office holdersto Cabinet Secretaries and various others. We believe that they make a significant contribution to the House and that it is right that they should be offered life peerages at the point when their service to the nation has come to an end. We do not believe for one moment that that undermines the principles of this paper.
Lord Waddington: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor recognise that many of us feel that he must be fully aware that what he proposes is in clear breach of undertakings given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, his predecessor as Lord Chancellor? Will he go away and read in Hansard, col. 1092 of 11th May 1999, when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, said:
Is the noble and learned Lord seriously suggesting that the Bill will bring about stage two reform to which the former Lord Chancellor referred? Of course not. Stage two reform was the full-scale reform referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington, in her Statement of 20th January 1999, to which I also refer the noble and learned Lord.
After this mean little Bill becomes law, will we not be left with a House composed entirely of people who owe their presence here to present-day patronagea House less independent of government and less effective as a check on the executive?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, of course I have read in detail the debates of 1999 and, of course, I am aware of what was said by representatives of the Government at the time. I am in absolutely no doubt that there is no breach of any of those undertakings whatever.
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, in relation to those undertakings, the position is that attempts were made to reach a consensus. This House rejected any elected element and voted for an appointed-only Chamber.
The Lord Bishop of Worcester: My Lords, this is not a moment for any of us on these Benches to express our personal opinions about these particular proposals, but only to ask that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor remain aware that the commitment of the Church of England throughout the process has been to ensure the best House for the service of the nation and to play its part in that. Although I note that the proposals make no change in the position of the Bishops in the House, I draw his attention to the fact that we have consistently said that the issue of the representation of the faith communities and of the Christian denominations as a whole in the House remains to be resolved. I do not believe that we have made any difficulties about proceeding with reform in that respect. I should therefore like some assurance that that aspect of the reform of the Lords, which I admit is perhaps not the one that engages most people's attention most of the time, will not be forgotten or kicked into the long grass for a long time.
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, as the right reverend Prelate says, the proposals make no change in the position of the Bishops because there is no consensus on that. The points that he makes are important and need to be considered when we seek to build a consensus for a way forward beyond this Bill.
Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, does my noble and learned friend accept that one of the problems about failing to have any consensus about the membership of the House is that there is in fact no consensus about what the House should be doing? Unless we resolve precisely the status of the House in relation to the other place, the argument about composition will go on for ever. In passing, I shall make a wry comment. The Front-Benchers for the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats have stated clearly that they wish to see a much stronger House of Lords. In fact, they wish to upset the balance that has existed for many years whereby the other place is pre-eminent and cannot be wholly challenged. The thirst of the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats for the accretion of power to this Chamber is in direct relation to their unrealistic prospects of ever having power in the other place.
Lord Marsh: My Lords, I declare an interest as one of those involved with the Weatherill amendment. Certainly in my case and that of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, the discussions took place in the clear belief that there was a need to find a basis whereby we could reach an agreement that would enable us to move on with the question of the future of the hereditary Peers. That has been the major issue throughout this long debate. We have all known that this was Labour Party policy since long before the 1997 general election, but we thought that we could now reach an agreement. These were off-record, Privy Council discussions.
The reality is that there has been no progress whatever since that time, and we are as divided now as we were then. In retrospect, I think that it was naive to believe that it would be otherwise. For 18 years, the Opposition could have put through any change they wished, with a majority in both Houses. I had thought that we had got past that position, but we clearly have not. I now think that we have reached a stage where, although many of us will not like the decisions that are being reached, this has gone on for so long that we demean the status of the House. I think that it should now be a priority that we get on with a job that we should have been able to deal with some years ago.
Lord Howe of Aberavon: My Lords, I ask the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to approach the same central issue on a more practical basis. I would certainly welcome a decision in favour of a manifestly independent new commission by statute, if that is in line with the recommendations of the Joint Committee. Is he aware that the Joint Committee also expressed its view that there was no consensus about introducing any elected element? I welcome the Government's acceptance of that, not least because it represents the wishes of a huge majority in the House.
Does the noble and learned Lord now recognisethis is the important pointthat there has been a huge change in the circumstances surrounding the commitment to get rid of the hereditaries given in an election some years ago? Is that not implicit in what is stated in the Government's response to the last report of the Joint Committee, with their purpose being,
Against that practically important assertion and against the background of the noble and learned Lord's glowing tributes to the role played by the hereditary Peers, on which we all agree, and the difficult questions that would arise if they are removed and we suddenly have to fulfil the roles that they fulfil for us, would it not make complete sense to maintain their presence in the Chamber? It is not sufficient to thank them as they disappear into the mists of time. Would it not make senseeven if the Government are currently determined, for reasons which I think are misguided, to sweep them awayto ensure their continued presence here along the lines proposed, admittedly for different reasons, by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, and others? What on earth is the practically sensible point of getting rid of people who have played such a crucially important part here and also maintain a balance of the House that is about right by the standards recognised by the Royal Commission?
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