HL Deb 20 April 1999 vol 599 cc1128-52

(" .—(1) Except as provided by subsection (2) below, the holder by succession of a hereditary peerage of England, Scotland, Great Britain or the United Kingdom, shall not in right of that peerage receive a writ of summons to attend the House of Lords in any Parliament summoned after the commencement of this Act.

(2) Subsection (1) shall not affect the right to receive writs of summons to attend the House of Lords of any holder by succession of a hereditary peerage who had received such a writ in right of that peerage at any time before the date of commencement of this Act.

(3) Any holder of a hereditary peerage or peer of first creation to whom subsection (2) of this section applies, may by notice in writing to the Lord Chancellor within one year after the commencement of this act, disclaim his membership of the House of Lords; and thereupon subsection (2) shall cease to apply to him and any writ of summons to attend that House previously issued to him shall cease to have effect.

(4) In any Parliament summoned after the commencement of this Act, the temporal members of the House of Lords shall compose members possessing full voting rights (in this Act referred to as voting peers) and other members; the voting peers shall consist of peers of first creation and not less than one hundred hereditary peers nominated by the holders by succession of hereditary peerages whether in the peerage of England, Scotland, Great Britain or the United Kingdom.

(5) A peer who is not a voting peer shall not be qualified to vote—

  1. (a) on any question to be determined by the House (including any committee of the whole House); or
  2. (b) as a member of any committee for the consideration of any Bill or Measure or of any instrument or draft instrument.

(6) Nothing in this section affects the right of any peer to move any motion or to take part, otherwise than by vote, in any proceedings of the House or any committee of the House.

(7) In this section— peer of first creation" includes a peer upon whom a life peerage has been conferred under any enactment; and

"vote" means give voice upon question put or take part in a division.")

The noble Lord said: It is extraordinarily confusing for me because I am not quite sure what all this is about. It is a fairly simple Bill about what need not necessarily be a confused subject. I go back to the words of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, who quoted Churchill and said that he was the one who had set in motion the desire to reform. In my 36 years in this House I have been longing for the day of reform.

Churchill always read his speeches, which is something I was told one should never do. When he was getting on a bit and at a Conservative Party conference, he read the first page and then turned it over. It did not fall over properly and he began to read the same page again. Everyone said, "The old man has lost his marbles". But halfway down he said, "You know, I seem to have heard that somewhere before and it was rather good, wasn't it? It was worth repeating".

As I said, some people in my early days told me that I should always speak without a note and should have all my speeches stuffed in different pockets. But in order to gain his ideas Churchill would drink champagne in the morning and cognac in the afternoon and he would have the courage to carry out his ideas. I believe that noble Lords opposite are lacking both in champagne and cognac.

I am in an embarrassing position. I could not work out why I should move an amendment. I want to make it clear that I have not discussed my amendment with anybody on any Front Bench. Except for the Public Bill Office, I am probably one of the few who really understands it. As my text I take Command Paper 37/99. I was born in 1937 and it is now 1999. A White Paper then cost 3s. 6d. When I came to your Lordships' House we had no allowances. Then the cost rose to something like £4 14s 6d, which to the gentlemen of this world was called four guineas. When we came here I thought that the four guineas meant that one counted out how many hours the House sat and one proportioned one's claim against that.

The amendment I have put down today is stage two of the reform of the House of Lords. Many noble Lords opposite should be grateful for the fact that stage one was the introduction of life Peers in 1958. Stage two was the Labour Party proposals—I do not know whether we call it the Labour Party, but the proposals of the party represented by noble Lords opposite—was to reform the House in 1968.

My amendment is effectively the Bill of 1968 with a few little jigs in it. It says in the first subsection that hereditary Peers shall not have the right to sit after the time has expired. It also says in subsection (3) that people shall have the right to resign. It states that Peers will be divided into voting and non-voting Peers. I have added a little bit which says that hereditary Peers shall have the right to nominate 100 people because I could not think of how 96 or 97 worked out.

I was only 25 when I came to the House. I now have to read something which comes from the Command Paper, paragraph 25. It says: Two main principles emerge from the examination of these suggestions. The first is that if a reformed House is to have the influence which an effective Second Chamber requires, it must possess a degree of genuine independence".

When this White Paper came before the House, we gave it a majority of 195 and it received something like 160 in another place. However, the other place, about which I shall speak no more in derogatory terms, did not have the courage to implement the proposals, which were soundly based and which could possibly have been amended. None of us hereditary Peers has ever accepted that we have a God-given right to be here. The only problem is: who do we report to? We certainly do not report to a prime minister.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, who is having a conversation on the Front Bench—something which would never have been done in my day—had the nerve to point out that he was one of the first generation. In a nice charming way he said that he was appointed by a prime minister who is no longer in office. Therefore. he is second generation; and, in my book, he may well be deemed to be hereditary. Nevertheless, I have a great regard for him as an advocate, as I do not have the ability to repeat the words and the terminology that he uses.

I feel quite passionately about this. The second stage of reform in my lifetime was aborted by a government which did not have the courage to try to push it through in another place. In my view, that was the second stage and, therefore, we should now have reached the third stage. I believe that 30 years is a long period of time. I had my first involvement in all of this because I really wanted to be an independent. I did not like the idea of being told what to do; but, if you do not have the courage to know what you should do, you sort of sit quietly and feel that it is better to be on the Back-Benches. I have always preferred to be up here looking down on the masses rather than looking up at them.

My worry is that the 1968 Bill was fair and constructive. It provided that hereditary Peers would stay for life. It did not say that anyone would be nominated, but it said that Peers would be non-voting. However, that did not mean they could not participate in debates or could not give of their knowledge. To my way of thinking, this particular Government are saying, "We are worried about the votes. We want the votes, not an independent House. We want to have a balance'". But who decides that balance? I do not know the answer.

However, I have another worry. As I said on Second Reading, I later became a director of a group within a research company. I took over from a really great man who did a lot of work for the Social Science Research Council and the Labour Party, Mark Abrahams. After the aborted 1968 Bill, we undertook a free study for the Labour Party to look into reform of the House of Lords. We consulted 320 Peers, both hereditary and otherwise. I kept much of the information of the research company. I did so because intellectual property belongs to the people who pay for it. We paid for it ourselves. I re-analysed the data with knitting needles and with Hollerith cards over part of last weekend. I sat and went through all the PDVN material that I could find about this House and came to a number of quite interesting conclusions.

The first conclusion was that the party opposite want to get rid of hereditary Peers for a political reason: they do not want to have an inbuilt majority of other people. They forget that some of us can have independent views and that some of us do not kow-tow to Whips or to political bodies. Indeed, some of us stay away when we feel that a vote is embarrassing and does not accord with our political feelings.

The insults that have started to emerge, when this House has normally been a friendly and co-operative place in my lifetime, have really put my [tackles up. Indeed, insults began to be directed towards us. Let us look around the Chamber. Do people realise that the families of some noble Lords have been here for 20 or 30 generations? All of them have served this place well or badly, but they have served it. It should also be realised that of those who are here today many have been here for over 50 years, others for over 30 years, and some have only been here for a few years. It is not the length the service that necessarily counts; it is the commitment to what one believes in and to whom one reports, if anyone. According to my Letters Patent and according to consultations that I have had, I believe that I report to Her Majesty the Queen, and that I do willingly. However, I do not report to the House; nor, I believe, do other people here. We have a courtesy and duty to each other.

What I have done—it has amused me—is to study this previous information 30 years on. I regret that the reform has not taken place in those 30 years.

The Earl of Longford

I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but is he aware that that was an initiative of a Labour government?

Lord Selsdon

The noble Earl will know that I said that. I worked for a Labour government and later I became part of the economic team assisting George Brown when he was in the DEA. The noble Earl will know that my uncle was Stafford Cripps, who had a large amount to do with the Labour Party. I am being non-partisan in this matter. As I said in my Second Reading speech, I would willingly speak from those Benches opposite, where Peers are often bankrupt of ideas and of proposals for a constructive future.

I should like to see a reform of this Chamber. However, if I were an intelligent thinker, I would ask why people want to get rid of the remarkable wealth of knowledge, experience and relationships that exist not only nationally but worldwide. I refer again to the little document, Towards a Peerless Future. I thought that I might distribute that document to people. It is interesting to note that, if one is a civil servant or a Member of the Government, one "deposits" something in the Library. However, if one is a private person, one does a private placement. You "place" a document in the Library.

The document contains a matter of some interest. I agree on the matter of the voting rights, although I still believe that the Weatherill amendment has certain things to commend it. However, it is wrong to get rid of the hereditaries unless you know what you are getting rid of. Over the past weekend I considered 501 life Peers and Peers of first creation, as they seem to be lumped together. I went through all their backgrounds.

It is interesting to note that in general life Peers have a wider range of interests than Conservative Peers, but much less experience. I have studied those backgrounds and knowledge to try to work out what we could keep and what we could lose. I shall not go into the great grandeur of the past, but I believe that that has some validity. I do not refer to my family, as I am only the third generation to sit in this Chamber. I have only been here for 5 per cent. of the total Parliament. Peers may have inherited their fathers' seats or those of relatives who died in the war. They have served this nation and they deserve to be treated in a better way than is proposed.

In the note that I shall circulate, noble Lords will find some interesting comments about age. We know full well that, had there been no new life Peers appointed in the past 30 years, there would be only 20 life Peers sitting in this Chamber today and, by my calculation, there would be only 170 hereditary Peers. Death takes its toll and the Chamber would have reformed itself already. I do not think that age is an acceptable criterion for judging the contribution that an upper Chamber can make. The Committee will know that on average 50 per cent. of life Peers are over 70. However, the younger element believe there should be no retirement age. Like me, they appreciate the words of great men from whom I have learnt so much. The average age of those in this Chamber has risen and risen. If stage two of the 1968 reform is deferred to now, 30 years later, let us hope that if there is to be a stage three, it is not deferred for a further 30 years.

As my noble friend Lord Strathclyde pointed out earlier, we would all willingly co-operate to ensure that the right kind of reform is carried out. Those of us who are hereditary Peers know our place. We know that we have no right to be here. We may have tried to earn that right and we may say that we have done our duty. Some of us try to do that, but this is a difficult time. I should hate to see a mistake made that cannot be corrected. I do not believe in trying to argue that a life Peer is better than someone else. We all have diverse and extraordinary experiences. The problem is that the other place, the executive, the Government, or whatever we may call it, has denied us the right to reform ourselves and to improve the contribution that we can make to society. I should like to see that contribution improved whether or not I am here.

The purpose of my amendment—it is not a cunning amendment—is simply to say to noble Lords opposite, "You nearly got it right in 1968; now you have got it wrong. Have a look back; 30 years in 700 years of history is nothing. If only you could think again. But you need the will and support of the House and the relationships of the Members of the House that stretch worldwide. You could have it on a plate if you did the right thing". I beg to move.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux

I wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 14, 29 and 109 standing in my name on the Marshalled List. Briefly, the amendments are concerned with the way in which the hereditary Peers should leave the House of Lords, in a manner that does not weaken the House of Lords. Amendment No. 109 is a complementary amendment to introduce a weighted voting system that ensures that there is a fair and balanced voting arrangement between the government party and all the other parties during the period in which the hereditary Peers will be leaving the House of Lords.

So far, the debate on stage one has been very confusing. That is due mainly to the fact that there is not a strategy on how we should approach the issue. In arriving at my proposals, I have attempted to produce a stage one strategy and then to determine what solution best meets that strategy. I believe that that approach leads to a good degree of objectivity.

Perhaps I may start by listing what I think should be some of the key elements of our reform strategy for stage one. First, the hereditary principle is not sustainable and must therefore go. That is now a widely-held view in the House and is also a government manifesto commitment. Secondly, the passage of the Bill must not weaken the House by rapidly depleting the number of Peers at a time when the House of Commons, certainly from my 15 years of experience there, is weak and is failing in many ways to bring the executive to account, which is the key purpose of the parliamentary system. To weaken the House during a period of reform is nothing short of absurd. I cannot see the case for rapidly ridding the House of a large number of Members. I do not know what the case for that is. Certainly, it could undermine the Government's constitutional reform programme, which has been successful so far.

Thirdly, neither the Government nor the rest of your Lordships' House should take an absolutist or rigid approach regarding the speed at which the hereditary Peers leave the House of Lords. We should all recognise that there are conflicts of interest between the executive and the Labour Party and the House of Lords—that is inevitable—but neither side should take a steamroller approach. Instead, we should go for consensus. That means accepting that there are conflicting interests, but there must be compromise on both sides. Fourthly, I do not believe that it is sensible for one party to have a large overall majority in this House. That must be dealt with immediately in this Bill.

Fifthly, we must minimise the risks of reform by avoiding a Big Bang approach. As I said at Second Reading. the House of Lords is about people, not buildings. If we suddenly deplete the number of people in this House very substantially, I defy anyone in this Chamber to tell us exactly what the consequences would be. It is not a question of hereditary Peers. If it were life Peers who had to go, I should treat the matter in exactly the same way. I do not distinguish between hereditary and life Peers.

My sixth point is that the Government, in formulating policy, should not treat our hereditary colleagues as if the Government were a bad Victorian employer. As I also said at Second Reading, I believe that a number of our colleagues who are hereditaries are hurting as a result of the way they have been treated so far. That is not in my view what the Labour Party stands for.

My seventh point is that the solution to reform must be simple. Complexity does not help at all. There are two parts to my proposals. The reason I put them forward in that way is that I believe them to be simple.

My eighth and final point is that we should also, during this stage, improve the democratic legitimacy of the House by having a voting system that reflects the proportion of seats held by the government party to those held by other parties in the House of Commons. That would diminish the large Conservative majority and would help the Government to get its business through. However, there is a win-win solution in this, and I believe that everyone can benefit.

I now turn to the two amendments that are central to my suggestions. My proposal in Amendment No. 29 is that this House would initially remain as it is now in terms of membership, but on death an hereditary Peer would not be succeeded by his heir. The information produced for me last year by the Library indicates that, with that policy, there would be an enormously rapid decline in the number of hereditary Peers. After the first Parliament the reduction would be 20 per cent.; after the second Parliament 35 per cent.; and after the third Parliament 51 per cent. That amounts to a reduction of just under 400 hereditary Peers over the period.

The reason for that rapid decline is that the graph resembles, as mathematicians will be aware, an exponential curve. I understand that it is against the rules of the House for me to attempt to draw pictures in the air. That approach would remove hereditary Peers in a way that I believe meets the strategic needs of the House and the Government. I shall place a copy of the letter, dated 13th March 1998, in the Library, in the event that any noble Lords wish to see the detail to which I have referred.

I now turn to Amendment No. 109. This is the second part of my proposal. It introduces into the House of Lords a weighted vote system to ensure that the total number of votes eligible to be cast by Members of the House belonging to the government party in proportion to the number of votes eligible to be cast by all other Members of the House reflects the number of seats held by the party or parties of government in the House of Commons in proportion to the number of seats held by the parties in that House. I am sorry that that is so complicated, but it has to be said that the concept is simple, it is proportional.

What does all that mean? It means that initially all Peers would have a vote. It is quite possible that on a particular voting occasion the Peers on the Government's side might have, for example, 1.3 votes to reflect the effect of the general election in the House of Commons. The Government would get their business immediately and the House of Lords would be spared removing large numbers of Peers in one go.

It is easy to scoff at such matters. I do not mind it. However, I believe that, as trustees of the House, we ought to think what is in the interests of the House. Although politically it may not be acceptable to some people, I believe that to go about it in a rash way could be damaging. I believe that it is my duty to say what I think is right in terms of ensuring that the interests of the House are preserved.

Lord Monson

Perhaps I may say what a pleasure it is to follow the noble Lord, Lord Randall. His comments are thoughtful, sensitive and, above all, constructive. His proposals will be worth studying in detail.

It is a pity that such an enormous portmanteau of semi-related constitutional amendments, son-e of considerable complexity, are being taken so late in the evening. It is a pity, too, that the grouping is a trifle eccentric, if I may say so. My Amendment No. 23 and possibly other amendments in the grouping make no sense at all without the paving Amendment No. 16 in the names of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and myself. But for some reason it stands on its own further down the list where it, too, makes no sense in isolation.

The purpose of Amendment No. 23 is to meet all the legitimate grievances of the Labour Party, whether that party be in government or in opposition, concerning the present composition of the House. I stress the word "legitimate" as distinct from the doctrinaire grievances.

Labour has long complained—and I have long sympathised with its complaints—that it is too often defeated by the in-built Conservative majority (with a capital "C") and on other occasions by the rather larger in-built conservative majority (with a lower case "c"). Although the defeats, when Labour is in government, are nearly always reversed speedily enough in the other place, nevertheless they are an irritant to Labour. No one enjoys being irritated time and time again.

This amendment would therefore bar most hereditaries, or all hereditaries, depending on the progress of Amendment No. 31, from voting on government Bills but not from voting on Private Members' Bills, which are not, I submit, a legitimate concern of the Government; nor would it bar them from speaking at any stage of any Bill.

In its effects, the amendment falls, on the one hand, more or less mid-way between Amendment No. 27 in the names of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and my noble friend Lord Moran and the closely related Amendment No. 60 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine—neither of which would permit hereditaries to vote on anything at all—and, on the other hand, some of the amendments in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Selsdon, Lord Randall and Lord Pearson of Rannoch, which would appear to give hereditaries restrictive but still fairly extensive voting powers at the cost of greater complexity.

I believe that this amendment is both moderate and workable and I invite the Committee to consider it. May I also, en passant, commend the modest amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, Amendment No. 30, which seems not only extremely reasonable but almost unchallengeable from the point of view of principle.

Lord Crickhowell

The speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux, was brave and helpful. He complained about the confusing way in which these matters have been handled. He then proceeded to give the most effective response possible to the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, had chosen to treat us. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, had decided that the best way of dealing with the Bill was to say that, because they had decided to make it a simple Bill, no one should be allowed to debate anything that might improve it. No alteration could be made; no suggestion could be put forward or, if it was, it would be casually dismissed without argument.

This evening we have two attempts by my noble friend Lord Selsdon and the noble Lord, Lord Randall, to try to make sense of a thoroughly bad and negative Bill and to try to build into it the kind of transitional arrangements which are the proper way in which to move towards substantial constitutional change. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Randall, produced some compelling arguments for not weakening the House. He produced equally compelling arguments for not rushing ahead to an unknown destination, a subject which we discussed earlier. I thought that he was right to express doubts about the consequences which so many of us have addressed in earlier speeches. We will certainly remember the phrase that he introduced about treating colleagues "like a bad Victorian employer". That is all I want to say about those particular speeches on that amendment, except that I think they deserve the most careful consideration.

However, there is another cause of confusion and I should like to take this opportunity to complain about the way in which all these amendments have been grouped. I know the situation has been made somewhat better because a number of noble friends have chosen to withdraw their amendments at this time, as is their right, and to bring them forward and debate them separately. I believe that my noble friend Lord Marlesford proposes to do that and I was glad to have the intervention right at the start from my noble friend Lord Clanwilliam. Also, I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, intends to move his amendment.

However, it is extraordinarily unhelpful to come to the House and expect us to absorb and bring together our thoughts about a set of wholly unrelated and unconnected amendments. We have been dealing with subjects far removed from one another. My noble friend Lord Selsdon was dealing with Peers' voting rights and with Peers who are without voting rights. We were to have a set of proposals from my noble friend Lord Clanwilliam about members of a wide variety of elected bodies having the right, after a given period, to receive a writ of summons. We have had the—

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

If the noble Lord will allow me, as has already been said from this Front Bench, it is open to any noble Lord to ungroup any amendment from the grouping which has been suggested. We try to achieve agreement on groupings. If we fail, there should be no problem. There is no reason to take up the time of the Committee to complain about groupings.

Lord Crickhowell

I think there is every reason to take up the time of the Committee at this point, because it may mean that we will have a less disastrously unsatisfactory grouping of amendments presented to us at later stages of this Bill. I think one is entitled to protest about the grouping of a whole series of amendments which have no connection at all with each other and which cannot be intelligently and sensibly debated together. It is not helpful to the Committee. I hope that it will not occur on another occasion, and I say to the noble Lord that if he wants to speed up the proceedings on the Bill this is not the way to do it. That is all I intend to say. I was about to finish and if the noble Lord wants to delay the Committee further, of course I will give way. However, I have made the point that I wanted to make. I think that this has been unhelpful and I hope that a real effort will be made on future occasions to get a more sensible grouping.

Lord Henley

Perhaps I can assist the House on this occasion. We have a number of groupings under Amendment No. 10. I and other colleagues tried to advise the noble Lord the Chief Whip and others that it would be better if they were ungrouped. That was not accepted and we now have them there. I remind the Committee and my noble friend of the words at the top of the groupings list Although every effort is made to secure agreement to these groupings, they remain informal and not binding. It is therefore open to any Peer to speak to an amendment in its place in the Marshalled List". I therefore encourage any of my noble friends to speak on this matter if they so wish.

10.30 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am grateful to the Opposition Chief Whip. That was all that I tried to say. I hope that his wise words will be taken into account by his colleagues.

Lord Crickhowell

I am grateful to the noble Lord for his remarks. The simple point is that when we come to the House prepared to speak we do not have the slightest idea which amendments will be separated in this way. Therefore, for the remainder of the Committee stage it is an extraordinary inconvenience that should not arise.

Earl Ferrers

I have a great deal of sympathy for my noble friend. When I saw all of these amendments grouped together, some of which were punctuated by my own, I became lost, but I was a good boy and went along to ask if I could de-couple my amendments. I de-coupled the whole lot so effectively that I de-coupled two that should not have been and they had to be coupled again. It is impossible to decide how one's own amendments relate to all the other complicated amendments that have been tabled. The answer is to take the Captain of the Yeomen of the Guard at his word and unhook all of the amendments that we do not want to be grouped in this way. That is a lot simpler and will make the debate a great deal easier.

I enjoyed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux. He said that hereditary Peers must go. I thought that that remark was fairly rich. Someone who has been in the House for perhaps 12 months decides that everyone else who has been there for years must clear out. I admired him for his fortitude in recognising a good thing. It is funny how a lot of noble Lords on the other side of the House long to come here and as soon as they arrive they seek to kick out everyone else in a most delightful way. My noble friend Lord Selsdon said that hereditary Peers knew their place and when to go. Maybe he knows his place and when to go. All I can say is that I know when to go, and it is not now.

I just hope that your Lordships, particularly the Government Front Bench, who, I know, admire the noble Lord, Lord Randall, will take cognisance of his advice and do things slowly. It is a great mistake to upheave the constitution and at a stroke, to use a famous phrase adopted by one of the predecessors of the noble Lord, Lord Williams, remove 700 people from Parliament. Whether or not they attend does not matter, but that is what will happen. It is pretty stringent stuff.

I find it hard to agree with Amendment No. 109 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall, which provides that the proportion of government seals in the House of Lords must reflect that in the House of Commons. For example, what happens if one has the misfortune to have a monster Labour majority in the House of Commons and a very small Conservative minority, as happens now? One creates a whole lot of extra Labour Peers in this House. Noble Lords shake their heads. Perhaps they will desist because it puts me off. If I have got it wrong they can explain why. At the next election five years later there is a monster Conservative majority and a 'very small Labour minority and one has to create a whole lot of new Conservative Peers. Therefore, it grows like Topsy. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Randall, is becoming very anxious. Obviously, I have got it wrong. If he wishes to interrupt then, as the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, said to me courteously the other day, I shall be quite happy to give way to him.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux

I am very grateful to the noble Earl for giving way. It has the opposite effect. The weighted voting system that I have mentioned does not require any change or flood of new life Peers to create a balance. The system, which is incredibly simple, does it all for you.

Earl Ferrers

It must be a simple system if I cannot understand it. The noble Lord said, I think, that people had 1.3 votes. I find that very complicated. It is a matter that requires a great deal of studying.

While I am not accusing the noble Lord. Lord Williams of Mostyn, of talking to his noble friend, perhaps he would be kind enough to address his mind to this problem. We want to know where we are going in the reform of your Lordships' House. If we knew where we were going, we might be able to say, "We shall go along with it", with perhaps some criticism of the proposal. But the real criticism is that we not know what is happening. That is what everyone wants to know; and that is what the country wants to know too.

You cannot just upheave a second Chamber of Parliament and say, "Here we are. We shall not tell you what will happen because we don't know", It is deeply irresponsible.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

The noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux, has spoken to a number of amendments. One concerns a voting system which, so far as I can make out, would make this House virtually a carbon copy of another place. I wonder whether it is worth having this House if that is so.

Another of his amendments proposed, I think, voting and speaking Peers, if I have not got him wrong That is the same as some of the proposals for reform of this House in the 1960s. If I am not mistaken, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, wanted speaking Peers and voting Peers. It is a nice idea but I am not sure that I should be prepared to come here if I did not have a vote. I think that it would be a waste of time.

I very much appreciate Amendment No. 29 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux, proposing that those of us here now should retain our seats for life. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, has suggested that in the past. That is a suggestion that I would go along with, particularly as I have always loved being here and should like to feel that I could stay here until the great Reaper culled me.

The Earl of Longford

I followed with great respect and some puzzlement the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. In all the years when he was a Minister and I sought to oppose him he slapped me down with unfailing precision. He was the most formidable opponent I have ever come across. Now the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, former chairman of a borough council, is much tougher, more astute and wily. He is not so easily intimidated, so I suppose he will put up some sort of show.

I was under the impression that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, was going to propose an amendment similar to the one I propose; namely, that life Peers should speak but not vote. I did not hear him suggest it. He seemed concerned with wider matters.

Be that as it may, I now propose the scheme referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon: the 1968 scheme. It was the brainchild of the Clerk Assistant at the Table, the late Henry Burrows, my old golf partner. I have mentioned before how he irritated me on occasions, but he was a wonderful friend. Henry Burrows invented the two-writ plan under which hereditary Peers would speak but not vote. The scheme was simple and was approved by the Labour Government. I hope that no one will say that I am a Labour heretic, because for once I am absolutely in line with traditional Labour policy. This is Labour doctrine and for more than two years it has been accepted by the Labour Government with enthusiasm. It was the doctrine of the Labour Cabinet, led by Harold Wilson, the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, being perhaps its most distinguished member. It was Labour Party doctrine in the good old days, and it still is.

The scheme was accepted by the Conservatives and by the Liberal Democrats, most of whom were in the Labour Cabinet at that time. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, certainly was. Some of our strongest members then shifted their allegiance and perhaps they will shift it back. They are mobile people. At any rate, the scheme was accepted by everyone, but was ultimately sabotaged by a strange cross-party combination in another place. At that time, I had resigned from the Cabinet on an educational matter. If I had not done so on that issue, I suppose I should have done so on this one. If the scheme were adopted now, it would not interfere with the Bill. The Bill could go forward and the scheme could be tacked on; it would be a supplement.

I agree with what was said so well by the noble Lord, Lord Randall, and I, too, pay tribute to the work of the hereditary Peers. I should be a coward, a traitor, if after 50 years I did not do so. I refer not to the distant past but to today, when the hereditary Peers are a most valuable element. Anyone who does not know that does not know much about this place.

What is to be done? With the help of the Chief Whip, I stayed up until three o'clock in the morning. I was provided with a couch and stayed up five hours after my usual bedtime in order to vote for the Second Reading. I showed my obsequious loyalty on that occasion. Nevertheless, something has to happen. We must ensure that the values of the old Chamber—not the old historic Chamber but today's Chamber—is carried on into the new one. My proposal represents a clear way of doing so.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

I wish briefly to support the spirit of everything the noble Earl has said. I find it most moving, entirely constructive and wholly right. It is the only occasion in 20 years that I have been able to agree with anything that the noble Earl has said. However, on this occasion I mean everything that I say. He speaks from the heart and there is sense behind his proposal. There is no logical reason why all the problems of three-line whips, Peers from the hedgerows and one thing and another should not dissolve if there is no vote. We need their integrity, experience and independence. I support the noble Earl with all my heart.

Lord Moran

I speak briefly in support of Amendment No. 27, spoken to by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, to which I have put my name. During our debate on 23rd February, I said that I was unhappy about the Weatherill amendment because I believe that those who negotiated that agreement with the Government got a very poor deal. It would have been much better if they had argued and obtained a solution on the lines of the noble Earl's amendment. After all, that was the arrangement agreed between the parties in 1968, when it was supported by your Lordships on a vote of 251 to 58.

I realise that the proposal has been put forward in the other place and rejected, but it seems to me that it is the best solution. I am afraid that I part company with the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy on this. I consider that it is much more important to be able to speak in this House and to express one's views than it is to take part in votes.

Perhaps I may consider the matter of conservation, in which I take a great deal of interest. Two noble Earls, Lord Selborne and Lord Cranbrook, both have great authority in the field of conservation, and it is valuable to the House to be able to hear their views—much more valuable than them being Conservative Peers who may occasionally vote in the lobbies. Sadly, we may lose that contribution.

To allow hereditary Peers to speak and to take part in Committee work, which a great many do, would be useful. I believe that to deprive them of the vote would be reasonable and would meet many of the objections of the Labour Party to the enormous Conservative majority. I strongly support the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Longford.

10.45 p.m.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

Before the noble Lord sits down, would he really be happy to move an amendment and not to be able to vote for it?

Lord Moran

I think so, yes. As I say, I think that that should apply to the vote in this Chamber across the board.

Lord Sawyer

I too thought that the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux, was sensibly and carefully argued. However, to a large extent, it was mistaken and misplaced.

I do not intend to take up time with a detailed rebuttal of the nine points made by the noble Lord, Lord Randall. On one or two of his points, I find it hard to understand how Members of the Committee can see this as a complicated Bill. It seems to me to be a simple proposition for a self-contained reform to end the rights of hereditary Peers. I do not think it is a revolutionary concept. I have campaigned for this all my life. It is not something that I have come to the House of Lords to do, although, those who sat on the Labour Benches before me would have liked to vote on this legislation. This measure has been the Labour Party's aim since its birth 100 years ago, so it is not new. Therefore, I believe it is difficult for the Committee to argue that we are acting like a Victorian employer. We have given 100 years' notice of the improvement and change that we intend to make.

Basically, it is about equality and fairness. Perhaps those hereditary Peers who feel injured by this measure should reflect on the outside world. People in the wider society do not expect to advance themselves, to get a job or to make their way in society on the basis of the merits of their father, their grandfather or their great grandfather. They expect to be able to do that on the merits of their own achievements. If that is the case in wider society. is it not right that those who act as legislators or politicians should proceed on the same basis? Fundamentally, I believe that that is extremely simple and I think it is on that simple basis that this Bill should proceed.

On the new voting system, I believe this is probably the wrong place to introduce that. There may be merit in arguing that case with the Royal Commission, which will look at the rules of the reformed House. That will be the proper place to put forward that case.

I do not accept the argument advanced by my noble friend Lord Randall that the depletion of hereditary Peers would weaken the ability of your Lordships' Chamber to conduct its business effectively. I cannot accept that almost 500 life Peers, with all their experience and knowledge, do not have the ability to master the intricacies of the legislation in your Lordships' Chamber. That argument does not run.

Finally, the most important argument advanced by my noble friend concerned Amendment No. 29 and involved extending the length of time that hereditary Peers could sit in your Lordships' Chamber. I say this to my noble friend. He, along with myself, were good party men. We fought elections on manifestos.

Manifestos are important. If this Chamber continually denigrates the role of manifestos then we will damage the political process. We will damage the confidence of the electorate in the party system.

We all fight elections on manifestos and we know that none of them are read line by line by the voters. But we also know that the newspapers run our manifestos, as do television programmes. Lines and clauses are explored by commentators, and people understand the general spirit of intent of the manifestos. Therefore, it is important that, if the next election and elections thereafter are to be fought on the basis of manifestos, we do not do them any more damage in this debate.

My noble friend Lord Randall fought election after election in Hull on the basis of manifestos. He made promises to the voters and said he would deliver to the voters on the basis of manifestos. That was quite right. This manifesto makes it clear that the Labour Party, if elected, would move quickly and speedily to remove hereditary Peers from the House of Lords. Therefore the proposal put forward by my noble friend is against the spirit of intent of that manifesto.

"I do not know how long it would take", says my noble friend—three Parliaments, and 51 per cent. of hereditary Peers would still remain. That would not be acceptable. It would not be within the spirit of the Government's intentions or the Labour Party's manifesto. It is quite clear that we were elected on the basis of taking this step now, and take it now we must.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux

Before my noble friend sits down, I should like to point out that when I stated in my speech what I felt were the strategic points on which any proposal should be based, I said that I supported the manifesto; and that part of the reason for putting forward the weighted voting system with the skew proposed was to meet some of the wording of that manifesto.

I make it absolutely clear that I regard the manifesto as inviolate.

Lord Sawyer

If that is the case then it is important that my noble friend supports the Government. The Government's proposals are based directly on the party's manifesto and his proposals would negate that.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I wonder whether I could intervene at this stage and try to be helpful with respect to the current position. If I am right in my reckoning, three other Members of the Committee still have amendments to be spoken to in this long group—a group which my noble friend Lord Henley and myself felt ought to be disentangled. Unfortunately (I do not blame anybody) they were not disentangled, and that is a great pity.

We are now getting into a confused situation where a number of topics on the same general subject—it can hardly be otherwise given the scope and the nature of the Bill—are addressed from different points of view. The amendment of my noble friend Lord Selsdon is the principal amendment in this group. He made his usual excellent speech. Then we have the interesting but different amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Randall. I suspect that I am put forward by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde whenever the mathematics become complicated because, as some Members of the Committee will remember, it makes the d'Hondt formula seem remarkably simple. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, spoke to his amendment. In the same group we still have the amendment of my noble friend Lord Coleraine.

Lord Coleraine

I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. I should like him to know that, following representations from the Front Bench, I shall be disentangling my own amendment from this group.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

That is the point I am coming to. My noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch has an amendment in this group, too, which is quite different in degree. That may well be untangled as well. I am supposed to be replying to the debate, but I do not know whose amendments are still in and whose amendments are out.

What I intend to do is as follows, and if it does not suit the Committee I reserve the right to come back later. I shall reply to the amendment of my noble friend Lord Selsdon. It will then be up to the Committee to decide how it wants to proceed, and up to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, who is to reply, to decide how many of these amendments are still in play and how many he replies to.

As I recall, having had occasions like this when I sat on the Government Front Bench, immediately after Amendment No. 10, if my noble friend decides to withdraw his amendment, we shall, unless the Committee adjourns for the evening, go on to Amendment No. 11. We shall then come back to Amendment No. 14 in its order and can resume the debate on that amendment, and so on. That is the principle on which I shall proceed. Therefore, I shall discuss only the amendment of my noble friend Lord Selsdon.

My noble friend made his usual excellent speech, impressively without notes. Perhaps we should consider another amendment providing that any hereditary noble Lord who speaks eloquently and without notes ought to be given a free right of passage into the new House, because it is an excellent example, which I tried to emulate when I was on the Back Benches. When I became a Minister I was told that as every word became gospel I had to read it all carefully and not ad lib; the Box became very nervy if I ad-libbed too often. It is a serious point that my noble friend is an example to us all in his ability to make a speech without notes.

My noble friend has returned to the 1968 Bill which, as a number of Members of the Committee who were here at the time have continued to remind us, was accepted by the House of Lords but rejected by the House of Commons because of the issue of a competing power source, a point I mentioned earlier in the day. My noble friend has suggested that following that Bill is the correct way to proceed. In other words, all the existing hereditary Peers remain but when they pass on, their heirs do not succeed them to the seat in the House of Lords. There is a great deal of wisdom in that.

My noble friend adds that at the stage of this Bill's being passed any hereditary Peer who wishes to do so can resign his seat. He may wish to make it clear that he does not wish to take part any more or that he has not taken part in the past and wants, so to speak, to clear the numbers. He may also wish to compete for a seat in the House of Commons, although that is a rather risky route.

The Earl of Longford

The noble Lord is aware, is he not, that under those proposals hereditary Peers, though they could come and speak, would not be able to vote?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I was about to come on to the fourth subsection in my noble friend's new clause, because that tries to address the problem, which I understand and have never pretended that I do not understand, of the Labour Party's irritation about what it sees as the Conservatives' in-built majority.

My noble friend Lord Strathclyde mentioned the Pensions Bill and some issues which were brought in which were never there to begin with and were never intended to be there. If I had tried to complain on the same basis as the Government are now complaining with regard to this Bill I would have been laughed out of court as well as thumped quite conclusively in the Division Lobbies, as indeed I was. I make no complaint. It is a tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, that she succeeded in these matters. I had better not go too far in case any Members of the Committee think I enjoyed being thumped by the noble Baroness, as I was on a number of occasions, figuratively, of course.

My noble friend's amendment deals with that problem by saying that 100 hereditary Peers nominated by the others should be allowed to have full voting rights. That is not terribly dissimilar to the Weatherill amendment, which we shall come to later. It is a very interesting and ingenious amendment. It is a pity in many ways that in 1968 the other place did not accept it.

It may well be that its time has passed. Occasionally I catch the mid-morning plane to Glasgow. When I arrive there, it is a beautiful morning. I arrive by lunch time but I realise that if I had only got up earlier, I could have had the whole morning there. But, of course, one cannot put back the clock on a Bill any more than one can do so in relation to the plane that one catches.

Therefore, I accept that the time may have passed in relation to this matter, which is a pity. But if the Government were ever to have second thoughts on how to proceed on this issue, my noble friend's amendment offers a very good way forward, for which there is considerable precedent. Although I cannot speak for all Members of the Committee, I believe that his proposal would merit the same warm endorsement today as it received in 1968.

I speak only to my noble friend's amendment. I hope that what I have suggested may be the best way forward in dealing with this over-large group of amendments.

11 p.m.

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton)

Left in this group are Amendments Nos. 10, 14, 23, 27, 29, 52 and 109, all of which have been spoken to. I intend to reply to those amendments.

Lord Rowallan

I have not yet spoken to my amendment.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

The amendments which have been degrouped, which have not been spoken to and to which I do not intend to reply are Amendments Nos. 18, 26, 30, 61, 64 and 153. We have received indications that some amendments should be degrouped and the noble Earl, Lord Clanwilliam, was kind enough to indicate at the beginning of the debate that he did not wish to speak to his amendment. It is wrong that I should deal with those amendments. It is right that I should reply to the amendments which have been spoken to. I shall not, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, has done, merely treat the matter as an? la carte menu from which he selects those to which he wishes to reply.

It has been an interesting debate marked by two factors. First, the speech of my noble friend Lord Randall of St. Budeaux was extremely good and he is entitled to a full and detailed reply. Underlying his speech were all the issues raised in the debate, including the extent to which the hereditary peerage should be protected in some way in relation to the successor House to this House.

The second striking aspect of the debate was the ability of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, to prevent the Committee from hurtling into an unpleasant debate about procedure. He restored a good mood to the Committee merely by the quality of his speech, on which I congratulate him.

Perhaps I may deal first with the speech of my noble friend Lord Randall. It set out the principles. He identified seven principles to underlie the basis of his speech. First, he said that the hereditary principle is not sustainable and he said that that is the widely-held view of this House. With respect to him, I agree.

Secondly, he said that the Bill and the effect of its changes should not weaken the House. With respect, I agree with that. The effects of the Bill as we propose it will leave 500 life Peers. It will take away the in-built Conservative majority. It will have the effect of providing a more legitimate House, which I believe will be stronger rather than weaker than the one which currently exists.

Thirdly, he said that we should not take up an absolutist position in relation to speed. His proposal means that after three Parliaments, 50 per cent. of hereditary Peers will no longer be entitled to sit or vote in this Chamber. On our calculations, it would take 60 years to get rid of or to remove the hereditary Peers from this House. I appreciate that it is a distressing topic for hereditary Peers. I agree that normally, an absolutist position should not be adopted.

Lord Coleraine

I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for giving way. But he is missing the point that any amendments which have been spoken to today are time limited for the period of the interim House. Most of us who have spoken accept that it is an entirely new ball-game when the second stage is reached. It is not relevant to discuss what may happen when the last hereditary Peer dies in 60 years' time.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

That is not the way in which my noble friend expressed the matter. He pointed out that three parliaments would have to go by before we got rid of 50 per cent. of hereditary Peers. I apologise for using the expression "get rid of". There is a rather crude aspect to this. Perhaps I should use the word "vaporised", which was the word used by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. It does not seem to me sensible to approach the matter in that way.

Fourthly, he said that there should be no large overall majority for one party in this House. We agree and our proposals affect that. Fifthly, he said that to minimise the risk of reform we should resist the big bang. With respect, the effect of our proposals leaves 500 of the existing Members of this House in place. That does not sound like a big bang to me.

He said that, sixthly, hereditary Peers should not be treated badly. I agree, but there is an underlying principle in relation to this Bill, which is that the age of the hereditary legislator has gone. That necessarily involves depriving them of the right to legislate on the basis of who their parents were. That does not involve treating the hereditaries badly. That should be done with respect and sensitivity. However, if that is the underlying principle and what we are going to give effect to, then the consequence is that they should be removed in the most sensible way possible.

The noble Lord's seventh proposition was that the solution must be simple. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, described his most impressive opponent as the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, but he could not understand the proposal that the noble Lord, Lord Randall, was putting forward. I understand that its effect is that there will be weighted voting rights as regards hereditary Peers. I understand that Members of the government party would have, under the present arrangements and on the basis of the present majority, something in the region of 4.49 votes per Peer. That does not sound simple or sensible. It does not sound as though it would appeal to the public at large.

Going through the seven points that underlie the noble Lord's speech, I believe that each one can be demonstrated either to be wrong or flawed or reflected in the Bill which we propose.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I am surprised that the noble and learned Lord does not see any good sense in 4.49 votes. I would have thought that a member of the Labour Party would have been quite at home with a block vote.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

We prefer the idea of one man one vote rather than one man and 4.49 votes.

Having dealt with the principle, I shall now deal with the particular amendments which have been advanced. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, touches on many of the most important issues that have been raised in the earlier debates. He attempts to compress an entire alternative Bill into one single clause. I do not believe that it is clear what, if anything, of the Government's Bill would be left if his amendment were to be accepted.

What must be clear to the whole House as a result of this debate is that this amendment undermines the very foundation of the Government's Bill and therefore it is not acceptable to them. We prefer our own Bill which, as the noble Lord will understand, has as its fundamental proposition that the age of the hereditary legislator has gone. There are many different elements to the amendment, all of which have been debated in quite some detail. I do not intend to address each individual point in the same level of detail, but I want firmly to rebut the underlying principle that governs all the provisions of the amendment that the hereditary peerage should continue to be a basis for membership of the House of Lords.

I recognise that the noble Lord's new clause imposes significant restrictions on the rights of the majority of hereditary Peers and that it prevents membership from being passed down from father to son. Nonetheless, at the heart of it is the conferment of continuing membership for all existing hereditary Peers.

The Earl of Longford

Perhaps I may interrupt the noble and learned Lord. I do not know whether he is going to refer to me before he sits down. But can he explain why the Labour Party in the 1960s was ready to accept the principle that I have suggested to the Committee tonight, supported by other speakers, that hereditary Peers should speak and not vote? Why does the noble and learned Lord not feel that it is even worth mentioning now?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

I am sorry, but I was going to come to that. The House is well aware that the Government have said, in a spirit of compromise and consensus, that they are prepared to row back from the basic policy in relation to hereditary Peers to the limited extent proposed under the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, and others. That will be debated later in this Committee.

If the Weatherill amendment were accepted, it would mean that nearly 90 per cent of hereditary Peers would go now and 10 per cent in stage 2. It was explained at some length on Second Reading why the Government were minded to accept that proposal, thereby splitting the delivery of our manifesto pledge into two distinct stages. I do not believe that there would be much point in repeating what was said in relation to the Second Reading debate.

It is true that the Weatherill amendment envisages the selection of a limited number of representative hereditary Peers. The noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, suggests electing 100 among their number to retain full voting rights. The noble Lord's proposal would also allow the remaining 650 hereditary Peers the option of staying on for life and retaining their sitting rights. I repeat: that is simply not compatible with the Government's fundamental purpose in relation to the Bill.

I do not propose to deal at any length with the detailed provisions of the noble Lord's amendment beyond making the two following points. First, I am sure that Members of the Committee are aware that a similar amendment was proposed by the Government in 1968. Indeed, that is the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Longford. Under those proposals, there were two qualifications for holding a voting writ; namely, being a created Peer and having attended at least one-third of the sittings of the previous Session. Therefore, there was already the difference that only created Peers could even begin to qualify for a voting writ. That is not the case with the noble Lord's amendment.

Secondly, there are other flaws in the amendment. Under the 1968 proposals, a voting writ, once lost, could not be recovered in the same Parliament. The proposed new clause does not contain any such safeguards to ensure that those who qualify under it continue to give proper service to the House; nor does it contain any allowance for legitimate absence during the qualifying Session. The other problem with the clause is that it would make continued membership of the House dependent upon something which happened in the past but which, at the time, carried no such implication.

It is worth making the following point in addition to those points. There was a genuine case in 1968 for retaining the services of the hereditary peerage, both for the sake of continuity and to preserve sufficient numbers to carry out the business of the House. Now there are no longer those grounds, or any others, for maintaining the hereditary presence in that way. So there are very considerable differences between 1968 and the present position.

As for the proposal to introduce a system of voluntary retirement set out in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, that may well be a consideration for the Royal Commission when drawing up proposals for the longer term. However, we are not proposing any changes of that kind in the transitional phase. I give way to the noble Lord.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord. I can understand the Government's intention and determination to achieve a balance by means of this Bill, but can we take it that the House of Lords will not be unbalanced by the creation of new life Peers in the interval between this legislation and the implementation of the Royal Commission?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

It has been made absolutely clear that the creation of life Peers after the passage of the Bill will not be used to lead to an unbalanced House. Indeed, we have made it absolutely clear that we take the view that no single party should have a majority in this House. That is unlike the present position, where, unquestionably, it is unbalanced. We have said throughout that that will not be the position after the passage of the Bill.

I hope that I have dealt adequately with the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon. I believe that I have also dealt with the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux, in some detail in my response. So far as concerns the suggestion put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, I should say that his amendment, like most others in the group, has failed to grasp the reality of the Government's position. We object to the fact that the hereditary peerage means that the Conservative Party has a built-in majority over our party in this House, regardless of which party is in government. However, that is not the sole ground of our objection. We object, on principle, to the idea that heredity alone is a sufficient basis for membership in any form of a legislature. So, again, the noble Lord's proposal would fall foul of the basic proposition that underlies this legislation.

We do not say that all hereditary Peers are bad or incompetent legislators; indeed, we have made that absolutely clear. We have always said that we expected some of them to be invited to remain in the House on the basis of their own achievements. We have now said that we are content to see those Peers identified by the mechanism proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, but that does not undermine the basic principle of our stance.

Our manifesto commitment—I am sorry to have to draw attention to it again—was to end the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote. If we had meant that we intended to end only the dual right, and that allowing either one of them to remain would be a fulfilment of the manifesto, we should have said so. If we had thought that allowing hereditary Peers to sit but not vote was adequate, that is what our manifesto would have committed us to. Once again, I am afraid that I must urge the Committee not to accept this amendment, which is incompatible with the principle of the Bill.

I believe I have dealt with the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Longford. As I have indicated, I know it is the same as the one proposed in 1968. However, time has moved on. In 1968 the life peerages had existed only for 10 years. Even taking into account the presence of a much larger number of hereditary Peers of first creation. there was then a real question of whether the Chamber could cope if all the expertise of the existing hereditary Peers was removed in one go. The then government were prepared to phase them out by allowing the existing Members to sit and speak but not to vote. In 1999, however, things are very different. We have had life Peers for over 40 years. There is an enormous number of experienced life Peers in this Chamber. They are more than capable of sustaining the work of this Chamber and they bring sufficient accumulated wisdom of the world, both inside and outside the Chamber, to ensure that our debates continue to be as well informed and effective as they have always been.

As I have already said to my noble friend Lord Randall and to the noble Lord, Lord Monson, these proposals do not fulfil our manifesto commitment. They do not even come sufficiently close to it to be acceptable. Again therefore I must urge the Committee not to support them.

I think that that deals with all the amendments that have been spoken to in this debate. I urge Members of the Committee either not to move or to withdraw their amendments.

11.15 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

The noble and learned Lord has talked in global terms about the number of life Peers. However, does he not agree with me that the number of those life Peers does not give a true reflection of the number of life Peers who attend and work in the Chamber? The number of life Peers who attend on a regular basis—that is over 50 per cent. of the time—is under 300. If you take away the hereditaries—we cannot now consider the Weatherill amendment; we are considering the Bill as it is—there will be a 100 per cent. increase in the workload of life Peers.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

I do not know the precise figures with regard to the number of people who attend and work regularly as life Peers, but, even if it is 300, that would still make us one of the biggest second Chambers in the world. A figure of 500 would make us the biggest second Chamber in the world. I am completely confident that there are enough people who devote themselves to this Chamber as life Peers to make it work effectively.

Viscount Mountgarret

At this late hour I do not wish to detain the Committee long, but it concerns rue greatly that every time we come to the argument about this Bill the Labour Party spends its time referring to the manifesto and what it has undertaken to do in the manifesto. If someone is prepared to use the same argument time and time again to try to justify his cause, one has to call into question whether the cause is justified. I say that because the Labour Party is indeed carrying out its manifesto commitment. I do not think that anyone disagrees with that. I do not think that we should disagree with that. It is not a case of what one is doing, but of how one is doing it. That is what causes many people in this Committee grave concern.

Earlier today the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said that he felt like a metronome going this way and that way. There are 13 amendments grouped with the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, and I too feel like a metronome going tick, tock. I do not know what we are actually discussing. As the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said, you do not just because you do not have time to debate the matter properly tear up and kick out 700 people and try to lump them together.

One amendment refers to actions taken by a Minister of the Crown. I believe that is Amendment No 23. Amendment No. 25, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, refers to almost the same thing with regard to a Minister of the Crown.. However, that has not been grouped. So I do not know whether or not we are grouping these amendments. It would surely be better to deal with each point as it comes up so that it can be given careful and due consideration, which is the very thing that the Royal Commission was set up to do. We are here trying to do the very thing that the Royal Commission has been set up to do. We just cannot do it in the space of a few days' debate. It is wrong.

Perhaps I may refer briefly to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Randall. I am much taken with it. It has much merit and much thought behind it. I am only surprised that the noble Earl, Lord Longford, did not put his name to the amendment. It reminds me of the position of the Irish Peers. Being an Irish Peer myself, I want to make this point. Twenty-four Peers of Ireland were allowed to represent the Peerage of Ireland in your Lordships' House until 1922. When the arrangement with Ireland came to an end, the need for having representative Peers of Ireland was extinguished. Yet those Peers who had been elected were permitted to remain on for the rest of their lives. It was only a few years ago—I cannot remember how many—that the last representative Peer of Ireland died. He was not replaced and so none is left. There are some hybrids like me who are fortunate enough to have an English Peerage.

I believe that the proposal made by the noble Lord, Lord Randall, is perfectly fair and right. The writ of summons received by hereditary Peers—the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, had something to say on this point—ought not to be superseded—I am not saying it cannot be—by whim, feeling, emotion, envy or jealousy. That should not be done. It is wrong. We should extinguish ourselves gradually over a period of time.

I do not believe the noble and learned Lord when he says that this will take 60 years. With the greatest respect to many noble Lords present, I find it difficult to believe that many of us will be sitting here in 60 years' time. Therefore, the time taken to extinguish antiquities such as myself and perhaps other noble Lords—I do not wish to be rude to them—will be very much less. I hope that in our debates we will remember that we are going to help the Labour Party—I am going to help the Labour Party—get through its manifesto commitment to reform and perhaps even abolish the hereditary Peers, but not in the hurried, unacceptable and offensive way in which it seems to be doing it. That is the nub of the problem.

Earl Ferrers

Perhaps I may make one point. I had a certain rebuke from the noble Earl, Lord Longford. However, that does not worry me because I always received rebukes from the noble Earl when I was in the Home Office. He said that, although the present incumbent is more astute than I am—I quite agree—he is more wily, too. I agree with that. The noble Earl said that he was surprised that I did not refer to noble Lords being able to speak but not vote. I did not do so for the very good reason that, being what one might in general terms call a wise virgin, I uncoupled my amendments which refer to that in order to bring them forward later. I just hope that the noble and learned Lord the Minister will be able to think of different arguments when he comes to my amendments, which I am sure he will find very acceptable.

Lord Selsdon

Noble Lords will have noticed that I have come down to earth. I have come down to the same level as my noble friend Lord Ferrers, who had the nerve to suggest that, while I knew my place, I knew when to go. I have no intention of going, and I do not wish to go. But I am confused. It was not my intention that my simple amendment based on a Labour Party treatise should be linked together with a whole range of other matters that I did not fully understand.

The noble and learned Lord opposite in his "Epistle to the Trojans", which he read so magnificently, led me to believe that he was not sure where he stood; that he was skating on some form of thin ice. I had rather hoped that the noble Lord, Lord Randall, who spoke after me at Second Reading, would have the Floor to himself. He is a good and honourable man whose thoughts are sound and sincere.

From this place nearer to earth, I must say that I am still confused, but at a lower level. Therefore, with that sense of confusion, I suggest that I might be allowed to return to this issue at a suitable later date. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.