HL Deb 30 March 1999 vol 599 cc204-430

11.35 a.m.

Second Reading debate resumed.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg)

My Lords, it is only the rare Bill which deserves the name "historic". This is one. It will bring centuries of history to an end. No longer will membership of this House be a birthright. In the eye of history what will amaze is that this birthright for 750 families, a right to sit and vote in a legislative chamber of Parliament, endured until the twilight of the 20th century.

It would be churlish to bring so long and colourful a chapter to a close without an appreciative backward glance. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Crown's chief Ministers routinely sat in this House. Despite the other place's assertion of financial privilege, even the Lord Treasurer sat here. Often only one or two members of the Cabinet sat in the Commons. After the establishment of a recognised office of Prime Minister in the 1730s, Members of this House filled that office often, until the end of the 19th century. We recall, from the last century alone, the Earl of Liverpool, who served George IV as Regent and King for 15 years; the Duke of Wellington; and, into this century, the third Marquess of Salisbury, who presided for a total of thirteen and a half years over three administrations.

The influence of Members of this House was vast. Until the 1832 Reform Act, some had a major influence on elections to the other place. There were powerful electioneering Peers: the first Earl of Lonsdale; the Dukes of Rutland and Newcastle, of Devonshire and Norfolk. In 1827 Earl Grey, later to be another of this House's Prime Ministers, made such a long, masterful and, it must be said, venomous speech about Canning, that Canning seriously considered taking a peerage just for the privilege of getting up in this House to respond to it. The "situation" of Lord Melbourne, another Prime Minister, was described in 1837 in John Croker's letter to Sir Robert Peel as, the most dictatorial, the most despotic, the world has ever seen". He went on to claim that his power exceeded even that of Cardinal Wolsey—but perhaps I should not have recalled that.

Major ministerial posts were held by Members of this House throughout the 19th century; and by no means simply those which are in effect reserved to Members of it. The post of Foreign Secretary was rarely held by a Member of the other place between 1827 and 1905. That may have seemed appropriate then, when the wealthy and aristocratic were among the few in the country who had travelled. Indeed, what great Foreign Secretaries some of them were. When Lord Rosebery held that position, he would sing "Rule Britannia" while working on his ministerial boxes. He said it put him in the right frame of mind. I have considered the possibility for myself, but have decided that there are places where it might be misunderstood.

Earl Grey's Cabinet in 1830 included no fewer than 13 Peers and sons of Peers. Disraeli's administration of 1874 and Gladstone's of 1880 were divided equally between Members of each House. Even in this century, Members of this House have continued to serve in the highest offices of state. Lord Curzon, Lord Halifax, Lord Home, in his first incarnation, and the noble Lord, Lord Carrington—to whom we had the privilege of listening yesterday—between them filled the office of Foreign Secretary for well over a dozen years.

During the 19th century, the powers of the two Houses really were equal. Even taking account of financial privilege, this House could and did intervene on, and even reject, every kind of measure, including financial measures. The only weapon of a Prime Minister faced with an intransigent House of Lords was to threaten to ask the monarch to create more Peers of his party.

The powers of this House were whittled away over the years. The great Reform Bill of 1832 was designed to end this House's control over the membership of the other place. In the 19th century the political divisions between the Tory and increasingly radical Liberal parties grew. Thanks to William Pitt's policy on creations, the Tory Party already enjoyed by that time the entrenched dominance it sustains today. Matters came to a head when this House, in defiance of every convention, threw out the 1909 Budget as part of its attack on the radical agenda of Lloyd George. The result was the 1911 Parliament Act. That removed your Lordships' powers to block the passage of Bills passed by the House of Commons for more than two years, except for Bills to extend the life of a Parliament.

But the question of political balance is not what this Bill is about. The Conservative dominance in this House will not be removed even after this Bill has passed. What this Bill is about is the hereditary principle itself. It is about the central contemporary case for removing the right of hereditaries to sit and vote; that membership of this House must be a privilege to be won, not a right to inherit and enjoy.

In 1884, Lord Salisbury said about this House's rejection of the Franchise Bill, the question is not what the House of Lords are, or how they got there, but whether they did right or wrong". That may have been true then, but it is not true today. The question today is the hereditary principle itself.

Through all our debates, on and on, about this subject, the arguments against the Government turn on process, not substance. Yet this Bill is about principle. It recognises that this House cannot maintain its legitimacy in the eyes of the people of this country without a membership based on merit, not right. Let me quote from a book written in 1909, Why should five hundred or six hundred titled persons govern us, and why should their children govern our children for ever? I invite a reply from the apologists and the admirers of the House of Lords. I invite them to show any ground of reason, or of logic, or of expediency or practical common sense in defence of the institution which has taken the predominant part during the last few days in the politics of our country. There is no defence, and there is no answer, except that the House of Lords—the unreformed House of Lords—has survived out of the past. It is a lingering relic of a feudal order. It is the remains, the solitary reminder of a state of things and of a balance of forces which has wholly passed away".

The noble Baroness, Lady Jay, yesterday quoted Winston Churchill, as I have just done today, when he was President of the Board of Trade. The principle of heredity in this House is an anachronism. I have heard nothing in all of our debates on this subject that has succeeded in refuting that.

In 1888, before he became another of the Prime Ministers from this House, Lord Rosebery tabled a Motion that would have deprived hereditary Peers of an automatic right to vote in this House. He did this because he found the principle of heredity anachronistic in the modern, 19th century, world. He was supported by several noble Lords. But he did not prevail. That was 111 years ago. That was six years after married women first won the right to own their own property. That was 30 years before women got the vote. The last thing this Bill is is premature.

Let me come to what, provided it becomes part of this Bill, will become known to history as the Weatherill amendment, although it has a prior provenance. The noble Lord's amendment would provide for the interim retention of one in 10 of the hereditary Peers, 75 out of the existing 750. plus 15 hereditary office-holders, until the second stage of House of Lords reform has taken place. The amendment reflects a compromise negotiated between Privy Councillors on Privy Council terms and binding in honour on all those who have come to give it their assent. Like all compromises it does not give complete satisfaction to anyone. That is the nature of compromise.

It gives less than perfect satisfaction to my party, which two years ago won the largest popular majority this century, on a manifesto containing this pledge: As an initial, self-contained reform, not dependent on further reform in the future, the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords will be ended by statute. That meant and means all hereditaries. If the Weatherill amendment passes, that pledge will be delivered in two stages, not one—90 per cent. to go now, 10 per cent. on the completion of stage two, rather than all now. The compromise itself trespasses on the patience of the Labour Party, not least in the other place.

Let me attempt to explain its rationale. We have always intended a stage two reform to a reformed upper House. Others questioned our genuineness. Although I know as well as anyone the honesty and firmness of our intention, I was not offended by those who claimed to perceive a risk that removal of the hereditaries might prove to be the only reform to take place. All who have assented to this compromise would justify it in their own ways, but I believe what it comes to is the following.

First, a compromise in these terms would guarantee that stage two would take place, because the Government with their great popular majority and their manifesto pledge would not tolerate 10 per cent. of the hereditary peerage remaining for long. But the 10 per cent. will go only when stage two has taken place. So it is a guarantee that it will take place. Secondly, the hereditary Peers who remain will have greater authority because they will have been elected by the whole of the hereditary peerage within the party, Conservative, Labour, or Liberal Democrat, from which they come, or, if they are Cross-Benchers, by all the hereditary Cross-Bench Peers. A nice element of the compromise is that to stand in an election will be a novel experience for the 75. But I have to say clearly that the compromise was that the elections in the several constituencies would be of hereditaries, by hereditaries, for hereditaries, who would remain until the completion of stage two. The rather invidious proposition that life Peers should have a vote in these elections and pass judgment on the comparative merits of their hereditary colleagues is contrary to a compromise which is binding in honour.

Thirdly. to insist on fulfilling the manifesto pledge by one step, not two, would bring down the curtain unceremoniously on the whole of the hereditary peerage, many of whom, and whose forebears, have given so much to this House and to public life. The compromise will enable the elected 75 to participate in our counsels and to vote as the stage two plans are developed and debated. It will allow those who do not stand, or who are not elected, to depart with dignity, not querulously, and without rancour.

The noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, has authorised me to say that he intends to table the amendment to allow 92 hereditary Peers to remain in the House as soon as the Second Reading of this Bill has been completed. This will be on Wednesday.

The Clerk of the Parliaments has been preparing, in conjunction with representatives of the political parties in this House and the Cross-Benchers, a paper which will in due course be laid before the Procedure Committee. This paper deals with how the Weatherill amendment can be made to work in practice. In order to assist your Lordships, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House and I have invited the Clerk of the Parliaments, and he has agreed, to place a copy of this paper in the Library of the House on Wednesday. It should be stressed that the paper will go to the Procedure Committee and cannot obviously be said at this stage to represent recommendations which the Procedure Committee will, in due course, make to the House.

But I have to say this as frankly and as clearly as I can: the number 75 is not a floor on which to try to build greater numbers by amendment, but a ceiling which has been agreed. Neither in this House nor in the other place will the Government accept any greater number. We would regard support for any such amendment, or abstention on any such amendment where abstention assisted its passage, as a breach of the compromise. Nor would the Government contemplate anything other than outright rejection of any amendment whatsoever designed to delay the implementation of our manifesto pledge, whether by delaying its introduction, making it dependent on some other event, such as approval in a referendum; making its operation temporary; or by any other means. None will be accepted, either here or in the other place. Nor will the Government tolerate any material disruption of their legislative programme, through exchanges of messages between both Houses signifying continuing disagreement, or by any other means, when they have a manifesto commitment so clear and firm and so strong a popular endorsement for their manifesto.

I wish no one to be left in any doubt: if events take place in this House which are incompatible with the letter or the manifest spirit of this compromise, and the progress of our legislative programme is materially prejudiced, then the Government will not hesitate to treat the compromise as having failed and, if need be, in a spirit of sorrow, not anger, will invoke the Parliament Act to implement their manifesto pledge in full and with the least delay. A statesmanlike endeavour would have failed. The verdict of history would go against those who made it fail. The patience of the country would be exhausted, and the country would be on the Government's side.

I am grateful for your Lordships' attention to a speech which I hope your Lordships will accept has been marked by absolute frankness about the Government's intentions; sincere appreciation for the historic service that the hereditary Peerage has given, and is continuing to give, to the House and the country; and a plea for statesmanship in the closing of a long chapter.

11.54 a.m.

Lord Kingsland

My Lords, people who succeed to rights tend to respect the rights of others. That is why the peerage has played such a crucial part in the development of our constitution. Without the peerage we would have no constitutional government in this country; without the peerage the executive in our early, medieval and modern history would have been an absolute executive and individual rights would never have developed in the way they did.

If the hereditary peerage has served its constitutional purpose in those respects, the principles that it has promoted still play a crucial part in our democracy. If the Government are going to remove the hereditary peerage from your Lordships' House, then the least they can do is to put in place a contemporary system to ensure that the objectives that were achieved all those centuries ago will endure.

I see absolutely no sign whatever in this Bill that the Government intend to do that. Even in the 1911 Parliament Act there was at least a purpose clause setting out the objectives for a more democratic House of Lords. The Conservative Party has been accused of spending 18 years in government and doing nothing about reform to your Lordships' House. But what about the 18 years the Labour Party spent in opposition? It had plenty of time to think about what it would do. But we see today that the Labour Party has not the faintest idea what it intends to do for stage two reform.

Or is that actually right? Your Lordships' House had the chance to debate the content of the White Paper some weeks ago; and it will not have failed to come to your Lordships' attention that the Government suggest in that document that they seek both a more legitimate and a less powerful Chamber.

What an irrational objective; a Chamber whose delaying powers will be reduced and whose power to reject secondary legislation will be removed altogether. That is really a recipe for unicameralism, for the dominance of the electoral mandate; and for the absolutism of government.

Democracy is a crucial ingredient in our society, but it is not the only ingredient that makes up a free society. We were a free country for 250 years before we were a democracy. Freedom involves minority rights as well as majority interests, and the protection of the individual. Will we achieve those things from the interim House that is presented by this Bill?

That House will be based on patronage, with not even an upper limit for the number of Members who will serve in it. Moreover, I am afraid that it is likely to prove a supine House. When it comes to consider the stage two that we are promised, will it really look at that objectively? Will it not think more of its own self-preservation?

This is not the way to run parliamentary government. To have an executive which has real status in a democracy, the parliament that selects that executive must also have status. That is why it is crucial that any change to your Lordships' House enhances the status of this Chamber and does not reduce it. I look in vain for any such guarantees in the Bill.

In the Opposition's view, it is absolutely crucial that one amendment to this Bill should be a timetable setting out exactly when stage two is to come into place. We know that the Royal Commission will report soon—if not within a year, then within 18 months. Will the Government guarantee that within a fixed short period thereafter they will move to introduce a stage two Bill in another place? Will the Government undertake that the stage two Bill shall contain proposals which are within the recommendations of the Royal Commission?

Or will they not? If they give no such commitment in this debate we shall know what the Government are really at. And what they are really at is well represented by the closing remarks of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor today. He suggests that your Lordships' House should be bound by some deal done outside your Lordships' Chamber; and that if your Lordships' do not respect it then the deal will be abandoned by the Government thereafter. Your Lordships' House may not be an elected one but its unelected status is the result of democratic choice. It is another place which has continued to ensure that your Lordships' House is composed as it is at the moment and has the powers that it has at the moment. Your Lordships' House is just as legitimate as another place and it is your Lordships' duty to deal with amendments in exactly the same way as your Lordships would deal with any other amendments coming before your Lordships' House. To do anything else would be to resile from the great tradition of your Lordships' House.

I ask the noble and learned Lord to think again about what he said in the closing passage of his speech. I can assure him in any case of one thing. We will courageously vote for what we believe are the correct amendments to the Bill and, if need be, oppose the Bill altogether.

11.59 a.m.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I very much agree with the point made by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor at the beginning of his speech when he recognised the major contribution made by hereditary Peers both in the present House and in previous centuries. There will be no sneers from these Benches about the contribution made by hereditary Peers. Indeed, it would be remarkable were there to be any given the fact that 24 of our colleagues are hereditary Peers. But the blunt reality is that their day has passed. It is impossible to justify a system which gives male children born in the right bed the right eventually to become members of the legislature. The Bill before us today deals with that situation and we give it our unqualified support.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jay, referred yesterday and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor referred today to the substantial victory achieved by the Labour Party in the 1997 general election. They are entirely right. Of course the Labour Party received the support of only 43 per cent. of the electorate, a point not made by the Conservative Party because of its enthusiasm for the first-past-the-post electoral system. But the reality is that both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats made it clear that they would support a Bill of this character involving a two-stage process. If in fact the votes of the two parties are put together, as indeed it is right to do, they secured the support of 60 per cent. of the people of this country.

Having said that, I must express our continued concern about the details of what is described as the Weatherill amendment. As my noble friend Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank made clear yesterday—and we both emphasised in the previous debate we had on this subject—we were not consulted in any way by those responsible for setting down these proposals. We are therefore not committed to them. However, we do not reject them out of hand for the moment at least. We merely want to ask a series of questions about the details.

Perhaps I may give an indication of some of our concerns. First, there is the formula under which a number of hereditary Peers will remain in the House. There is nothing new about that general idea. It had always been expected that a number of the more active hereditary Peers would remain in a reformed House. We see no difficultly about that. But what will be suggested in the Weatherill amendment is rather different. It is that electoral colleges will be established in which hereditary Peers, and hereditary Peers alone, will be given a vote to determine which hereditary Peers will remain in the reformed House. Why should only hereditary Peers be given such a vote? As I have already indicated, many hereditary Peers play an active role in this House. But many do not. Yet the latter group will have a vote while active life Peers will not be given a vote. I find it difficult to understand how such a policy can be justified.

Secondly, we have the curious position of the Deputy Chairmen. Many hereditary Peers have made a significant contribution to this House in that capacity. But what precisely is the justification for another 15 hereditary Peers being elected to hold those positions? As I understand it, they will be elected by the whole House. But, given the political make-up of the House, it is not difficult to anticipate what the result of such an election will be—close to 15 more Conservative hereditary Peers in a House which already has an overlarge number of Conservative Peers.

That brings me to the ration of hereditary Peers for each of the parties. There will be two for the Labour Party, three for the Liberal Democrats and 42 for the Conservatives. In other words, for each Liberal Democrat hereditary Peer who will be allowed to stay in the reformed House, there will be 14 Conservatives; and that in a House with a continuing heavy Conservative representation. I look forward to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, explaining that arithmetic to us at the end of today's debate.

No fewer than nine of my hereditary colleagues sit on our Front Bench, as high a proportion as any party in the House. Hereditary Front Benchers in the Conservative Party will not have the slightest difficulty about being elected by this process, but that will not be true as far as concerns the Liberal Democrats. The Government will recall the words of the Cook-Maclennan agreement, published before the last general election. It said: Following their removal"— that is, the hereditary Peers— we should move, over the course of the next Parliament,"— that is, this Parliament— to a House of Lords where those Peers who take a party whip more accurately reflect the proportion of votes received by each party in the previous general election". On that basis, the Conservative Party will remain heavily over-represented even after the hereditary Peers have left us, and then they will receive this special top-up of 42 more hereditary Peers. Again, no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, will deal with that point when he comes to reply.

Finally, I come to the question of patronage. It really was a little rich to hear the complaint of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, when he addressed the House yesterday on this issue. Perhaps I may remind the House of what he said. I quote: The Prime Minister has already created more Peers more quickly than any prime minister in modem history. He is the first modern prime minister to create more than half new Peers from his own party…I am certain that this House will not want this Bill to proceed without having examined the power of patronage".—[Official Report, 29/3/99; col. 17–18.] I welcome that. I look forward to a discussion of the issue in which I hope the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will participate.

Let us examine the question of patronage. Let us examine the records of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, and Mr. John Major. The noble Baroness appointed well over 50 per cent. more Conservative life Peers than Labour and Liberal Democrat life Peers put together. Mr. Major's record was only marginally better. But again he appointed more Conservative Peers than Labour and Liberal Democrat life Peers added together. By those means an already overwhelmingly Conservative majority in this House became even more dominant. I find it a little odd that in those circumstances the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, should complain about the misuse of patronage. In the House of Commons his complaints would have been characterised as sheer humbug. In this House I shall not dream of using such extreme language. I merely say that the Leader of the Opposition has uncharacteristically marginally over-stated his case.

The reiterated statements from the Conservative Benches that somehow Mr. Blair has behaved improperly in this matter are absurd. The Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats have been grossly under-represented in this House, and by deliberate decision of two successive Conservative Prime Ministers. Mr. Blair has simply begun to rectify, at long last, that imbalance to take account, rightly, of the result of the last general election.

Later tonight—or more probably in the early hours of tomorrow morning—the House will divide on the amendment moved yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold. It speaks of the need for consultation and consensus before the composition of this House is changed. As we all know perfectly well, there is not the remotest prospect, nor was there ever a prospect, of consensus about the future of the hereditary peerage. Tonight, the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, will of course carry his amendment without the slightest difficulty, because the Conservative Party in this House will be in the Lobby with him. But the exercise is entirely pointless. It will in no way affect progress on the Bill. It will be, as Aneurin Bevan said in a very different context, merely an emotional spasm.

12.11 p.m.

Lord Weatherill

My Lords, first, with great sincerity, perhaps I may place on record my high regard and respect for the many hereditary Peers, especially those on the Cross-Benches, who regularly attend and participate in the work of your Lordships' House from motives of service.

Nevertheless, it is an established principle that a government with a majority have a right to obtain their business. But that has to be balanced against the equal right of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition to criticise and improve legislation—but not to obstruct it. So I hope there is no truth in the article that I read in today's Daily Telegraph that is headed: Rebel peers aim to delay Lords Bill 'for years'".

Over many years in the other place I was involved as a Whip, both in government and in Opposition, and latterly as Speaker, in seeking to resolve problems when they arose, but also with that principle in mind. As the Lord Chancellor said in his opening remarks, the agreement that we have come to with the Government is a compromise. It was in that spirit that, with two of my Cross-Bench colleagues, the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, and the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, we sought a formula which would enable Her Majesty's Government to carry out their manifesto commitment, but to do so in a consensual way which would enable the work of this House to proceed in good order in the interim period before the second stage. We therefore started discussions, first with the noble Lord, Lord Richard, when he was Leader of the House, and with the Chief Whip, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and latterly with the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, and with the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, who was then Leader of the Opposition.

Although the amendment which the Lord Chancellor mentioned is to bear my name, it is only right that I should place it on record that I pay tribute to the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, for the major part that he played in the discussions and eventual negotiations which have brought the amendment into being.

Furthermore, I must stress that throughout our discussions we have never claimed to be acting on behalf of the Cross-Benches. All Cross-Bench Peers are free and independent. Indeed, the Lord Chancellor will recall that during the course of our discussions he once said to us: "How many Cross-Benchers can you deliver?", to which the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, who was present, said, "Three". That is the truth, but I hope that there will be a few more.

I hope it may be helpful if I remind the House of what exactly the proposal is. First, one-tenth of the hereditary peerage—that is 75—would be elected from its own number to remain in the House until the transition to stage two is complete. We envisage that those 75 would be divided among the parties and the Cross-Benches according to their respective strengths on the day of our announcement, 2nd December 1998. That is: two hereditary peers from the Labour Benches; 42 from the Conservative Benches; three from the Liberal Democrat Benches; and 28 from the Cross-Benches.

Secondly, 15 hereditary Peers, the number who serve as Deputy Chairmen, would be elected by the whole House to be available to serve in that and other capacities in the scrutiny of legislation and in the working of the House. I know that my noble friend the Lord Chairman of Committees would find it very hard to fulfil his duties without the assistance of the hereditary Peers who serve on the Woolsack and as Chairmen of Committees. Finally, the two hereditary officers of state, the Earl Marshal and the Lord Great Chamberlain, would also retain their seats until stage two is implemented.

Those are the broad principles of our proposal. Since then, considerable effort has been put into working them up into a proper legislative proposal. I am very grateful for the assistance of the House authorities, and officials and colleagues in other parties, in this. We envisage that the proposal will have effect in the following way.

We propose to table an amendment for early consideration in Committee which would provide for a maximum of 90 hereditary Peers, plus the Earl Marshal and Lord Great Chamberlain, to be excepted, by or in accordance with the Standing Orders of the House, from the operation of Clause 1 of the Bill, which removes the right to be a Member of this House by virtue of the hereditary peerage. That exception would be for life, unless a further Act of Parliament provided otherwise. The amendment would provide for a Standing Order which would operate in anticipation of the Act coming into force.

The purpose of that Standing Order would be to provide a means of identifying the 90 hereditary Peers who would benefit from the amendment. We envisage there being provisions within it for two separate elections, that of the hereditary Peers ready to serve as Deputy Speakers or Committee Chairmen, and that of the party representatives, which would take place in four separate sections. The number of places available for each group would be specified in the Standing Order. I repeat them: two from the Labour Party; 42 from the Conservatives; three from the Liberal Democrats; and 28 from the Cross-Benches.

For these elections, hereditary Peers would be required to register with their group separately as a candidate, and also as an elector. Hereditary Peers would have to register separately as candidates in the election for Deputy Speakers and Chairmen, for which, in contrast to the party elections, the electorate would be the whole House. I hope your Lordships will agree that, since they are to be Officers of the House, it is right that they should be elected by the whole House.

Peers who have not taken the Oath or who are on leave of absence should not be allowed to vote or to stand, but sufficient notice would be given of the elections to enable a Peer to qualify himself by taking the Oath or rescinding his leave of absence.

The conduct of the elections would be the responsibility of the Clerk of the Parliaments, whose certificate that someone was duly elected and thus excepted from Clause 1 would be conclusive. This latter provision would be on the face of the Act.

Our original motivation for making these proposals was twofold. First, we wanted to find a way of allowing stage one of the reform to go forward with as much consent as possible, recognising that the Government had a clear manifesto commitment behind them. Secondly, we hoped to provide some kind of reassurance of the Government's seriousness of intent to proceed to stage two. We therefore envisage this arrangement being temporary until what the Government call stage two of the reform of your Lordships' House is laid down in legislation.

We did not think it worthwhile to establish an elaborate by-election procedure for a scheme that may last only two or three years. The Standing Order would therefore provide for vacancies to be filled from the runners-up in the relevant elections. The Standing Order would provide that, failing all else, a vacancy should be filled in such a manner as the House resolves.

That is a brief explanation of how we envisage the amendment which we intend to propose will operate. We hope that it will be useful to the House in considering the Bill. It is a genuine attempt to balance the principles with which I opened my remarks: the right of the Government to carry out their manifesto commitment and the equal rights of the opposition parties. In the meantime, it would ensure that the work of your Lordships' House would be carried on in the interim period in good order. As the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor indicated, the amendment has the support of the Government. I hope that it will commend itself to the House as a whole.

Lord Coleraine

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, will he assist the House? The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that the amendment would be tabled immediately after the conclusion of the debate. The noble Lord said that he would table the amendment at an early stage. When does the noble Lord envisage moving the amendment? The House resumes on 12th April and many Members will not have a chance to see the amendment until then. In view of the fact that the noble Lord and the Government have taken 16 weeks to prepare the amendment, would it not be odd and unreasonable if the noble Lord were to move the amendment on the first day of Committee, since that would allow only about eight days for proper consideration of it by the House?

Lord Weatherill

My Lords, I intend to hand in the amendment tomorrow morning—or, it is to be hoped, this evening. It will then be printed on the Marshalled List. I have no knowledge of when it is likely to he considered in Committee, but your Lordships know from various sources the details of the amendment and I believe that there will be adequate time for consideration before it is debated.

12.24 p.m.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff

My Lords—

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff

I think that ought to wait until I have finished! This morning I heard a BBC reporter say in "Yesterday in Parliament" that hardly any new arguments were adduced in the debate. I agree with him and I fear that that will remain the case with my speech. If noble Lords feel that luncheon calls, I shall fully understand and, indeed, respect their priorities in this matter.

First, let me say to the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, that we all owe him a debt of gratitude for the sincere and earnest way in which he and his colleagues have attempted to prepare a scheme which they hope will enable the House to proceed in its normal calm and accustomed way and perhaps ease the process of transition. I shall certainly support his amendment, although I cannot comment on it since I have not yet fully mastered it. When it comes to Committee, I shall look at it with great sympathy.

I am bound to add—and I hope the noble Lord will not think that this in any way lessens my respect and gratitude to him—that I am happy with the Bill as it stands. If difficulties, which I will not specify, arise with regard to the amendment, I trust that the Government will proceed with their own Bill. That is the commitment we made and the way in which we should proceed.

The debate has been fascinating. I listened to the first 21 speeches yesterday and read the rest this morning, and I think I have the flavour of the debate. Two thoughts in particular struck me. The first was the real emotion with which hereditary Peers regard the privilege they have of serving in this House and their sense of responsibility to it. I refer to those who attend regularly; I do not include those who attend only when a three-line whip is called. I acknowledge that that deep sense of responsibility has been borne in on me more strongly than I thought it would be. It is something we must keep in mind in the way in which we conduct our discussion. I was glad to hear what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said this morning.

The second thought that occurred to me was what an inward-looking place we are. We are conducting this discussion as though there is no one outside, as though we here shall decide what happens, as though we here have the future of the constitution in our own hands. There is another place down the corridor. I am an old Commons man. Although I have been here 12 years, I shall always be a Commons man.

The first person to persuade me in that direction was, oddly enough, the Conservative Leo Amery, who wrote a book called Thoughts on the Constitution. It was only a slim volume, but Leo Amery convinced me, as a self-educated young man with few other sources, that, if the House of Commons decreed that all blue-eyed men should be brown-eyed, they would be brown-eyed. I believe I quote his words almost exactly, although it was 70 years ago or more that I read that book. I believe that that is slightly excessive, but I was brought up by Leo Amery and others to believe—and I still believe—that at the end of the day it is the Commons which will, and must, have its say and its way. Those on the other side of the House must take that into account, as I take their views into account. When we are considering our own affairs here, we must take into account the fact that at the other end of the building there is a House which will make the final decisions. Let us, for heaven's sake, put to it plans and schemes that will not so utterly outrage it that we find ourselves without any influence at all. Those are the two thoughts that came to me when listening to the debate.

I hope that I do not cause undue offence in what I am about to say. Indeed. I cannot cause offence because it is true. This House is unelected, unrepresentative and unaccountable. That applies to all of us, whoever we may be. I believe it was that which drove the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, a long time ago—he repeated it yesterday—to say that he could not support the hereditary principle; and it is that which suggests that he supports an elected House in some form or another. He did not specify what form it should take. If we are to take into account the other place and public opinion that is the starting point.

Apart from the full-throated admiration of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, who interrupted yesterday to assure my noble friends that she had defended the hereditary principle, there has been very little defence of that principle. Noble Lords have said that perhaps it is not wholly defensible but this is the wrong Bill, the wrong time and the Government are doing it in the wrong way. I suppose that in some ways that is a very good way of defending the principle by allusion. I do not accept that approach. I support not only this Bill but the way in which the Government are proceeding because of my experience as Home Secretary in 1968, when I was the unfortunate man on whom the earlier Bill descended. A number of people who were associated with that Bill are still here: the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, the noble Earl, Lord Jellico, and the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins. On our side of the House most of those involved have gone.

The Bill had 20 clauses, to which were added 31 new clauses and several schedules. In total 259 amendments were tabled. After 11 days, including morning sittings, we staggered through to Clause 5 when that most masterful parliamentarian, John Boyd-Carpenter, thought of another wheeze; namely, that Clause 6 should not be considered until Clause 15 had been debated. His speech lasted for about two hours, after which we threw in the towel. It was quite clear that Enoch Powell, Michael Foot, John Boyd-Carpenter, John Peyton and a few other rascals were determined that we should get no further. Let us draw from that the lesson that the Commons destroyed a perfectly reputable scheme originated in this House by the noble Lords I have mentioned, plus Lord Shackleton, my noble friend Lord Shepherd and one or two others on our side of the House.

I learnt two lessons from that. First, one should not overload any Bill; and, secondly, there are as many ways of reforming the constitution as there are Members of Parliament and Peers. As to the first, I support this Bill because it does not tackle too much at one time. The hereditary principle is indefensible. Let us deal first with that. Having done so, let us have a sensible discussion as to how to proceed with reform. Based on my experience, I believe that the Government have proceeded in the correct way. In 1968 the scheme put forward with great enthusiasm by Peers on both sides of the House was dictated from on high. It was accepted by the Cabinet but never agreed by the political parties, and that was why it failed. Now we must start the other way.

The Government have, rightly, set up a Royal Commission. Some say that it has been established reluctantly. I do not know the history of it but, whether or not there is reluctance on their part, I believe that the Government have reached the right conclusion. That Royal Commission will take evidence, hear people's views, no doubt discuss with everybody concerned what should be done and then, I fervently hope and trust, produce an agreed report. Mr. Kaufman and the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, the two principal movers on the parliamentary side, have an obligation to produce, if they can, an agreed report. I hope that if and when that happens—all reformers should want that—another stage will be inserted. When the Royal Commission has reported it should go back to the parties, because in the end only the parties will decide what is to happen. The parties will then discuss how far they can accept the report of the Royal Commission. If they cannot do so those on the Front Benches here have an obligation to reach an agreed conclusion as far as possible. Both they and the Liberal Democrats must then put their shoulders to the wheel and see it through.

There are a million ways to reform the constitution. What is worse, most are plausible and will work. We have to isolate what we are prepared to do. Many fruitful ideas have been put forward on the form of representation in this House. I was impressed by the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington—a matter with which I have always agreed—about the necessity for the House to exercise some constitutional restraint in relation to the Commons—for example, the ability to prolong its own life. That is absolutely right. I am sure that a large measure of agreement on a number of these matters can be achieved.

I say to hereditary Members, for whom I have the utmost respect—they have enjoyed the rewards, satisfaction and spills of public life—that they must recognise that democracy undermines the foundations of the hereditary principle in this House. Therefore, we should move on. If we do so I firmly believe that we can have a second Chamber that is representative in some form or another. I do not put forward a final view on that matter at this stage. I hope that the Government will not try to do all of that in this Parliament. If so it will be a bit of a bodged job. I cannot see a reform measure being introduced until perhaps the first Session after the general election, by which time our discussion may be complete. I hope that the Opposition regard that as a sensible way to proceed.

I have hopes for the future despite the feelings of hereditary Members that I fully understand and with which in some ways I can sympathise and empathise. I hope we can proceed in a manner that will turn this House into a body representative of democracy and the people of this country, and one that is worthy of the 21st century.

12.38 p.m.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I can agree with the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, in a number of respects: first, his sympathy for the hereditary peerage. I fully appreciate his understanding as the founder of a distinguished Labour dynasty himself. I also associate myself with the charming remarks in the opening parts of the speech of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, for which the House should be grateful. A little later I shall return to the final remarks with which he favoured the House during the course of his speech.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, I am in favour of reform of the composition of your Lordships' House. In a marathon debate, almost as long as the one in which we are now engaged, I hope that I made clear to your Lordships why I was in favour of that reform. I shall not attempt to weary your Lordships with a repetition of that argument. Suffice it to say that it was not because I am the fifth generation of my family to advocate in succession reform of your Lordships' House, although paradoxically—for reasons of heredity—it would be rather odd if I did not follow the guidance of my ancestors. It is because I believe beyond anything else in the absolute importance of Parliament as the centre of our political life.

If this does not sound too grandiloquent, it is the function of Parliament to be the guardian of our liberties by holding the government continuously to account. I have believed throughout my adult life that, sadly, we—and I in particular—have had to watch Parliament weaken progressively, so that it no longer has the strength to command the awe and respect the role demands of it. The trip of the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, down memory lane as far back as 1968 reinforces my point. I wonder whether he and the government of which he was so distinguished an ornament would have had anything like the trouble from another place that he described in its present weakened state.

We complain that the Prime Minister ignores Parliament—and indeed he does. We complain that the press ignore Parliament—and indeed they do. Although we are right to complain, they are right as well. Because of Parliament's weakened position, they can safely ignore us. We no longer have the capacity to inspire enough fear to command their attention.

In February, I explained that the most immediate contribution we could make to the essential task of reviving the central role of Parliament in general and of another place in particular was to reform the composition of your Lordships' House so that the new Chamber had both the independence and the authority to make another place do its job properly, as I rather inadequately and inelegantly put it.

For a moment, I had hoped against hope that it might be possible to proceed by agreement. As my noble friend Lord Carrington so properly pointed out during the course of his admirable speech yesterday, that is the traditional way in which we try to bring about constitutional change in our country. Had the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and I been allowed to bring our conversations to a quiet conclusion, we might easily have succeeded in that respect.

The central tenet of the Bill of fulfilling the two-stage reform promise set out in the Government's manifesto is one that I deeply deplore. For all the affection I feel for members of the Government individually—as I am sure we all do—we have to entertain the scintilla of a suspicion that they could be seduced by the very real political attractions of a two-stage approach. Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, said—and I hope that he takes this description in the generous and admiring spirit in which it is offered—he is perhaps one of the wiliest and most experienced politicians even in your Lordships' House. I was very struck by the remarkable way in which he expressed confidence that we would in fact be able to proceed to stage two.

I confess that I do not in principle share that confidence. However much the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor may protest—and I am proud to confess that I have found him the most admirable of interlocutors, completely straight and honourable in everything that he has said in private—we must entertain a scintilla of a suspicion that a nominated House is a temptation to any Prime Minister of whatever party. However honourable might be his intentions, the temptations are as great as those experienced by a predecessor of his on being shown the kingdoms of the earth after 40 days in the desert; that is, to stick to a nice, nominated Chamber with all the powers of patronage and docility that that brings in its wake.

The BBC think that the present Prime Minister can walk on water. I fear that his qualities, all too obvious to Members of your Lordships' House, are far too firmly based on Earth to enable him to resist that temptation. Even if the right honourable gentleman were possessed of more supernatural qualities than I give him credit for and he were able to resist the temptation I have described there are things that even he cannot control.

Those things are events. Events could all too easily ensure that a stage two Bill was forced down the Government's list of priorities so that, eventually, full reform would be delayed for another 89 years. Your Lordships know the dangers of a two-stage approach. They have been set out far too often for me even to attempt to repeat them. We know also the dangers of an entirely nominated Chamber. They were set out perhaps most notably by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Cooke of Thorndon, in a remarkable speech in your Lordships' House last October.

Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, said, those dangers would exist for any government who adopted that approach, not just this Labour Government. However, when it is this government who adopt it, we are extremely wise to be even more doubtful than in any other case. After all, the Government do have a habit of starting things that they have not properly thought through—the break-up of the United Kingdom, European employment laws, Kosovo.

All of us who have mouthed the mantra, "No stage one without stage two" were right—as Members of your Lordships' House have so often been when disagreeing with governments of both political complexions. The risk is that stage two will never happen. As the summer and autumn of 1998 unfolded, that risk was clearly beginning to grow. The Prime Minister, for all his ability to walk on water, was clearly increasingly and publicly willing to rest for the foreseeable future on stage one.

The noble Baroness the Leader of the House, soon after her appointment, began to emphasise that stage one was a stand-alone reform. She was quoted in a number of newspapers as saying that stage two should wait until devolution had bedded down and its effects were clear. That and a number of private conversations convinced me that stage two would go the way of the preamble to the 1911 Act.

Your Lordships know that we are governed by a powerful government. The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, reminded those who might, not be aware of that fact that it would not be the place of your Lordships' House ultimately to resist the right of another place to insist that we do what they ask. A majority of 179 in another place and the Parliament Acts will ensure in the end that the Government get their business, whatever your Lordships may wish—and I could wish very much what a number of your Lordships' have expressed in the last 24 hours.

However much we resist this stage one Bill and however good our arguments for resisting a two-stage reform—and our arguments are, in my view, unanswerable—our resistance may be heroic but we would lose. Not because of our lack of determination but because that is what the constitution, as at present framed, says would happen to us.

For that reason, I was attracted by the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill. A self-elected body of hereditary Peers in the stage one House would mock the Government's tone of moral outrage that such a thing as a hereditary Peer should exist in Parliament in 1999. Such a body would be a standing reminder to any government to get on with stage two. And if events prevented stage two from coining about, at least the noble Lord's amendment would have made stage one a marginally better change than the Government's original proposal. In that context, I have to say that the outside chance—I hope that it is only a very outside chance—that stage one may last rather longer than the noble and learned Lord and I would like means that by-elections after the next general election would be an extremely helpful reassurance for those of us who would like the Government to get on with stage two.

I hope that I have made it clear that I dislike the Bill as much as I dislike the Government's overall approach to reform of your Lordships' House and other constitutional reform. I hope and believe that your Lordships will give the Bill the rigorous examination that any constitutional measure deserves at the hands of your Lordships' House and which your Lordships have a constitutional right and obligation to give. If the House will allow me, with the greatest respect and affection this is where I part company with the closing remarks of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. It would have been on my part an act, even by my high standards, of astonishing arrogance to commit your Lordships' House to a certain course of action as part of a deal or an agreement. It never entered my mind that I should commit your Lordships. I do not have the power to do so; and I dare say if I had done so I should have been reproved by the then Opposition Chief Whip for even contemplating it.

I believe that what has come to be known as the Weatherill amendment is a least bad option for a nasty and ineffectual little Bill for the reasons I have explained. But—I say this with the greatest respect and affection for the noble and learned Lord—to threaten a House of Parliament with reprisals if it fails to be persuaded of the merits of an amendment and agreement is not the way to make your Lordships' House do what it is told. Your Lordships' House, quite rightly, is perhaps the only independent part of Parliament that is left. Of course I shall do my part to persuade noble Lords that this is the least bad amendment, the least bad way to proceed. But I have to say to the noble and learned Lord that by his attempt to bushwhack the House today he has not made our task any easier.

12.53 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Winchester

My Lords, first I must apologise to the House for being unable to be present yesterday. I had to be present for the installation as Bailiff of Guernsey of a fine lawyer and a committed Anglican. I apologise also for being unable to stay to the conclusion of the proceedings today. It being Tuesday in Holy Week I have to leave to take part in a Holy Week series in the Roman Catholic church in Winchester.

Having sat with an open mind through most of the debates in the past year on reform of your Lordships' House, I find myself totally unconvinced that this is a proper way to bring about reform, the necessity of which I fully appreciate. My concern has four points. I recognise that some of the anxieties may have been expressed by others with different standpoints. First—I suspect that this may be true whichever party were in power—at a time when the Executive is becoming ever more powerful, ever less easily checked, it is essential that this House should remain as effective as possible through the next years. I do not intend to question— I have no ground for doing so—the Government's good faith in the matter. Not only those with my small experience of Parliament (I noted this in the debate in February) but also others judge that the transitional period needs to be longer than the Government are allowing. There is more work than the commission can do adequately this year. I noted the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, as to the likely and necessary length of the process.

As the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, hinted, at a time when there is a series of increasingly serious, contentious and difficult issues not only on the horizon but on the table, it may be difficult to bring adequate attention to these matters. However that may be, this House needs to be in the best position to work effectively. Only time will tell, but there may be some rather subtle reasons why a transitional House without hereditary Peers, however justified in principle their removal is. may be more disabled than the Government have allowed.

I have been a Member of your Lordships' House for over three and a half years. I have observed the House in action. I use this word neutrally and descriptively, and not in any way in a pejorative sense. The activity of those of us who are not hereditary Peers may in some ways be parasitic upon the dutifulness of those who sit as hereditary Peers. However committed the remainder of us may be, we may find ourselves disabled in subtle ways by their absence. My first concern as regards the proper working of the House questions the way we are going about a necessary reform.

Secondly, the Government have embarked on a range of constitutional projects, in almost all cases for good reason, in an alarmingly unconnected and ill thought through fashion. The Bill represents one such project, but there are seven Dr eight others. It is essential that the Westminster Parliament, of which this House is a significant part, should be able to do its business effectively, with effective scrutiny and active questioning of the Executive. Now is not a wise moment for the disruption which may ensue.

Thirdly, I find it highly regrettable that the Government are looking so hard at the parliamentary activity of this House and so much less at that of another place. In some of its procedures and in many other respects, the legitimacy of another place is at least as questionable, other than as regards the democratic principle.

As I go about my business, people talk to me. Many, even among the Government's friends, read the initial work on this House as a sign of the Government's unpreparedness to think through issues from scratch. Parliamentary government of the United Kingdom, when so many projects of constitutional reform are afoot, really needs thinking through.

Fourthly, it is often said—and there are particular reasons for a Member of these Benches to say it—that it would have been better had the Government sought to achieve this significant and widely understood to be necessary reform by consensus. The Government, with their huge majority, could have sought and achieved that. There is plenty of evidence that that is the case. This self-contained, stand-alone reform, which I believe was always a poor idea, is increasingly seen to be such. I believe, too, that the Government could have persuaded their supporters and others—not least those in the traditionally Labour areas where I and others on these Benches have experienced the energy with which, deeply understandably, the Labour Party deals with the issue of hereditary peerages—to set aside the one element of the stand-alone Bill and seek to work differently to achieve their ends. That would have been a great deal more fruitful.

The Government could have sought their, in my view, legitimate and justified objective in another way. They could have won the consent of their supporters, and many others, by adding to the considerable—in my view, over large—instructions in the White Paper to the Royal Commission the clear statement that in the light of 150 years of assumption there would come a time when the hereditary peerage would no longer be present in this House, they were committed by their manifesto and tradition. They could have made clear in the White Paper, by reference to their overwhelming majority in another place, that that would need to be an element in the recommendations of the Royal Commission, whatever else transpired.

Had they taken that line, they could then have sought to work in a more consensual way by including the hereditary Peers until that point. With that clear statement in place, they could have avoided the tortuous arrangements which will stand under the name of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, and others who have worked hard, and in so consensual a way, to reach this point. But they are arrangements which the more they are explored the more Byzantine they become. The Government could have saved us all an unconscionable amount of time and, as they pointed out in another tone of voice, freed this House to do other things had they worked in such a way.

Finally, they would have encouraged many of their more thoughtful supporters, as well as many others, had they sought to behave in ways it is still worth while noting might have been possible. Many people would have been encouraged by the fact that the Government may after all be prepared to seek to fulfil their responsibilities in a more modest and consensual fashion than they appear to do in this matter as well as in others.

1.4 p.m.

The Earl of Devon

My Lords, it is a number of years since the Earl of Devon made his maiden speech in this House. My late father was a man of many excellent qualities, but neither politics nor speech making was ever very high on his agenda. My father succeeded in 1935, which is 64 years ago. My grandfather, sadly, would barely have had time even to take his seat; and which of my forebears was the last to speak in this House is no doubt a matter of record, but is not known to me.

If that sounds like an argument in favour of the Bill before your Lordships today, let me assure you it is not. Nevertheless, I am uncomfortably aware that I may have little time to put right the omissions of earlier generations, and it will be clear why, when fate presented me with the opportunity, I wanted to take part in this debate. For the past 50 years of my life, it has been touch and go as to whether I would ever be here. I never seriously believed that I would. Against all the odds, for better or worse, I am. Your Lordships may know that I took my seat only last Thursday and am as yet unfamiliar with some of the conventions of this House. However, I am sure you will bear with me.

I am of course aware that a maiden speech should not be provocative. I may have some difficulty with this, given the particular circumstances of today's debate. I, after all, did not draft the Bill. In order to make my position clear at the outset, perhaps your Lordships will allow me a brief family history. I am the direct descendent in the male line of Sir Hugh de Courtenay, 6th Feudal Baron of Okehampton, who was summoned as a Baron to all the parliaments of Edward II and Edward III and in 1335 was summoned as Earl of Devonshire. Some 30 generations later, after a number of attainders, imprisonments, beheadings and re-creations, not to speak of an abeyance of 275 years, the title devolved on me on the death of my father last November. I think that puts me among the more hereditary of hereditary Peers.

I sincerely hope that it is not the usual practice for hereditary Peers to begin their maiden speech with a pedigree—I think it might be regarded as an abolishing offence—and I would not have done so were it not relevant to the matter before us.

I have followed with interest the ongoing debate on the future of this House, but I have necessarily followed it from afar. I am therefore able to bring to the debate the view of an outsider and therefore of the great majority who have no connection with this House. I have spoken to a number of intelligent people from all walks of life and the view expressed to me without exception is one of great apprehension. There is a perception out there that Parliament is at present not properly performing its function of keeping a check on the executive; that only your Lordships' House is performing that function within the constraints imposed upon it and that to tamper with this House at this time is extremely unwise.

I have heard some noble Lords, hereditary Peers, for whom I have the greatest respect, being interviewed on the media, and there seems to be a lament, which goes something like this: "Well, of course I shall miss it very much; the sense of duty, the camaraderie of the House, the debates, the committees and so on. But I think it is the right thing". Well, I disagree. What you have never known you are not going to miss, and I am of course in that happy position.

Furthermore, I want to continue running my business in the west of England and doing those things that I enjoy. I do not want to spend many hours coming to London to take part in debates and to sit on committees. I have done all that. I spent many years in local government and while I suspect that debates in this House may be somewhat more interesting—although this morning's discussion on potholes sounded vaguely familiar—I do not want to do it again. I also think I might have some difficulty with your Lordships' nocturnal habits.

My self-interest lies entirely with supporting this Bill. My ideal is to come here today so that I can tell my grandchildren that I made my maiden speech in this House, and then, with the demise of the hereditary peerage, to go home with a clear conscience. But I believe that the Bill is wrong, and all those people out there to whom I have referred and who also believe it is wrong have asked me to come here and say so.

I do not say that the hereditary peerage is sacrosanct and that this House should not be reformed—far from it. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House, yesterday appeared to equate opposition to this Bill with opposition to reform of this House. I hope that enough noble Lords have made the same point for her to accept that this is not the case. No institution is perfect and every institution should be capable of being reformed provided that the reform results in something better. But in this Bill there is no sign of anything better; in fact, there is no sign of anything at all. We are told that that is to come later. I appreciate that I am not the first to have made that point.

There is to be a Royal Commission to decide the future constitution of the House of Lords, but if we are to have a Royal Commission, why do we have this Bill before us today? In the absence of proper, impartial consideration or any wider debate, why is one part of the House to be removed while the others are to remain? If the test is democratic accountability then we all fail the test by the same fairly wide margin.

I believe that we need to consider fairly carefully the role of democracy in government. Clearly, that is a much bigger subject than I have time for today, but democracy, in a nutshell, is, I believe, only the fairest way of choosing a government in that everyone above a certain age, with a few exceptions, can have their say. It is also a fairly new concept. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House reminded us in her opening speech yesterday that in its present form it dates only from the first quarter of this century. I believe that universal suffrage came in—we had the date yesterday, but I do not have it. That does not necessarily mean that democracy is the only means of forming a government or that it necessarily results in the best government. If one looks around the countries of the world today, many of which in the post-colonial era had a western-style democracy imposed on them, it is quite hard to put one's hand on one's heart and say "Look at that country, isn't it wonderfully governed? all because the government was democratically elected".

I make this point because I detect a tendency in some quarters to elevate democracy above its true status. Sometimes I believe that there is almost a belief in the divine right of a democratically elected government, which mirrors the 17th century belief in the divine right of kings. We all know where that got us. I hope, therefore, that it will be possible for the question of how this House should be formed in future to be considered with a completely open mind. It is often described, quite rightly, as the "House of Experts" and, hopefully, when reformed, will continue to be so.

It was put to me recently that the early parliaments to which my distant ancestor was summoned, were a House of vested interests, and so indeed they were. The vested interests who advised the king in those days were of course the powerful landed Barons and as a result this House today still retains a strong rural bias which has proved a valuable counterweight to the predominantly urban bias in the other place. It cannot be expected, however, in a reformed House, that the agricultural industry would retain such a predominance. The vested interests would have to include representatives of industry, commerce, the professions, the Armed Forces, the trade unions, the educational and medical establishments, other religious denominations and many, many more, together with perhaps a representative element of the hereditary and life peerages.

As will be apparent, I do not favour a wholly elected House, still less one appointed by patronage. But I believe that there is a case for extending the principle whereby we already have the Lords Spiritual and legal, leading to a largely ex officio House. I believe that I am another "mish-mash" man, or in the delightful phrase of my noble friend Lord Tenby, "A pot-pourri Peer".

If the mention of vested interests sends shivers down many spines, as it will, then I can only put it to your Lordships as it was put to me—and I do not claim it as original thought on my part—that the existence of a forum through which the vested interests can legitimately be represented in parliament would obviate the need for any cash-for-questions or anything of that nature in another place. There is a certain symmetry about having every man and woman in the country represented through the democratic process in one House, while the bulk of the nation's wealth and many other interests, are represented in the other. It also has the advantage that the political allegiance of Members would he largely incidental. I do not believe that we should set too much store by party arithmetic.

I may have strayed from the strict subject of the Bill before us into the realms of what may happen thereafter, but the two are inextricably linked. I may have covered ground that was already covered in your Lordships' debate last October and in the early part of this debate, but I hope that I may have also contributed something fresh. I thank noble Lords for listening to me.

1.15 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, we have moved from a Peer who takes his ancient title from the deep and balmy south-west to one who takes his ancient title from the north—the far, wintry north at the moment. I hope that, whatever the composition of this House, it has the same diversity of composition. On behalf of all the House it is my pleasure to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Devon, on his very measured maiden speech. It is also a great pleasure to welcome another surveyor to the House. The countryside needs every friend that it can have at the moment. I hope that the noble Earl does not go back down to the south-west never to return. He has shown great experience in his knowledge of local government. He has great experience of the agricultural and environmental interests. I hope that when your Lordships debate these and other matters, the noble Lord will be with us, too.

There is no doubt that this is the most important Second Reading debate I can remember in this House. I have not spoken in any of the recent debates about reform of this House or what might be established in its place, but in preparing for today my mind went back to the essay that I wrote for my British Constitution A-level on the future of this House. Little did I think then that I would be in the Chamber for this debate because I felt sure there would have been a proper revision before now. The logical arguments then, as today, centred on what was to be the purpose of a second Chamber and what powers should it be given in relation to the House of Commons. Only then could one address the issue of composition. It is good to see that the Royal Commission sets it out in exactly the same way, but the Government, sadly, do not. They are not tackling this constitutional reform for the benefit of Parliament and the country.

In some respects I will be sad to leave this House after nearly 30 years, 10 of which—one-third of my working life—has been spent on the Front Bench. What saddens me most—and indeed makes me angry—is not the fact that the hereditary Peers are going, but that the successor Chamber will not be better than the one we are leaving because it has not been properly reformed. Furthermore, the hereditaries, many of whom have great experience and knowledge to contribute, will have no say in the matter whatever. In this respect I must congratulate the Government. They have excelled themselves. Never have I seen a Bill designed to exercise such profound change; put something less good in its place and which has been so carefully drafted for the premeditated smothering of debate. However, it is not that surprising. It is clear that this executive find this House an irritant, as it is the only place where it can be held to account. What better than to have a simple reform by removing the hereditary Peers, whom they like to blame not only for doing our duty in asking the elected Chamber to think again, but also because we are seen to be a block to the future. From everything that has been said in the recent debates it is clear the hereditaries are far from being the block to a better second Chamber. I for one would like to see a comprehensive reform.

The consequence of this Bill is the creation of the country's largest quango, consisting, except for Bishops and Law Lords, solely of people appointed by this Prime Minister and his immediate predecessors. It cannot be called the House of Lords for that would be a misnomer. However, whatever it is termed, it will be just as undemocratic, less youthful, in many ways less representative and certainly less independent than the current House.

The Government tell us that there is to be a stage two, but there is nothing in the Bill to say that. We can speculate but, as my noble friend Lord Waddington said, we must treat this Bill as the definitive article on reform. The Government have now been pushed reluctantly into having a Royal Commission and, as a result, they are beginning to lose that tight control they thought they had on reform. However, no one is bound by its recommendations and a government can always find an excuse not to legislate. But having opened Pandora's box by starting on the reform the way they have, the Government will doubtless find unexpected pressures building up for further changes whether they like it or not and from directions they least expect.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Ferrers who said they have a tiger by the tail. The Early Day Motion in another place for an elected second Chamber and signed by more than 140 MPs is but one example. It forces the Government to face up to the key questions that they have ducked so far: not only what this House is for but how the powers, procedures and composition of the second Chamber will, for the first time, have to be controlled by the party machine.

Through inability or unwillingness to think out a proper policy, a thoroughly messy situation is developing. The longer it continues, the more the strains on our unwritten constitution will manifest themselves and the fractures will become greater. Already it is being proven that we were correct to say that one cannot take away one significant part of this carefully constructed arrangement, built up over 700 years and which still bears nearly half the workload here, without creating a change to the overall balance. However, due to the lack of consensus, particularly in another place, and notwithstanding the pressures for reform, I agree with those noble Lords who fear that the proposed transitional House will last longer than many think because the Government will find it more convenient than any alternative arising from stage two. I hope that my fear is misplaced and the sooner the full reform comes about, the better.

I turn now to the question of powers for the future Chamber. The Government's position on that is unclear. Their manifesto states: The legislative powers of the House of Lords will remain unaltered". Yet, in the recent debates, there has been talk of the powers being reduced. I can readily appreciate that apparent change as the desire for unchecked presidentialism comes up against the realities of a second Chamber. It is time for the noble Baroness to he open and honest with us. In order to fulfil the ambitions of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to fulfil their manifesto commitment, then it must be stated clearly on the face of the Bill that the powers for the successor Chamber must remain unaltered.

Although it is not in the Bill, it is appropriate that we should spend some time looking at the composition of the future House, as we know who will be there. The Government make great play of the overall figures in relation to life Peers, but that is a con. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House stated that, even without a single hereditary Peer, there would still be a Conservative majority over the Labour Party. Although that is true, as far as it goes, she knows that it is a crude and simplistic interpretation of the position. A truer representation would be that no one party has anything like a majority in the House. Conservative life Peers will be the largest group and will comprise only about 34 per cent. of the revised Chamber.

The Labour Party's position to redress the alleged imbalance in its position is, like the rest of its policy, unclear. In its manifesto, it states that party appointees should reflect the proportion of votes cast at the previous general election. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House said on 20th January that there should be 40 per cent. more Labour Peers than Conservatives. That would mean an additional 70 Labour appointees. However, if we are to accept that the manifesto is not so sacrosanct after all and that the Government will only move towards parity with the Conservatives, that will mean a further 20 creations. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, to make it absolutely clear tomorrow morning or later this evening as to what their policy is; on what basis decisions are going to be made; and what in their view constitutes parity.

Overall numbers are not a true guide as Prime Ministers have made their political appointments for different reasons. When I was a Whip I soon learnt that in order to obtain an accurate picture it was essential to look at the attendance records. What really matters is who turns up to take part. Taking the figures for the last Session as supplied by the Journal Office and using the composition of the House on 19th November last year, I have analysed the number of Life Peers who attended more than half the sitting days. I chose that period as it gives a fair representation and also because, for better or for worse, this Bill sounds the death knell of the part-time politician. For ease, I shall call those attendees "regulars". I have assumed also that all Labour and Liberal creations during the last Session were working Peers who would have attended at least half of the time if they had been able to attend the full Session. The results are illuminating and present a very different picture from that given to us by the noble Baroness.

Of the 120 Cross-Bench Peers, only 26 are regulars; the Liberals had the best attendance record with 40 out of 45; of the Conservatives, 91 out of 173 are regulars; and the Labour Party is in the majority with 132 out of 158. Therefore, Labour has over 47 per cent. of the regular attendees. Now, if we add to that the so-called legitimate claim by the noble Baroness for parity with the overall Conservative numbers by the appointment of 20 new working Peers, it is clear that the Labour Party has a majority over the rest of the House combined—I repeat, over the rest of the House combined. That is something which the Conservatives do not have. One can fine tune the figures and the percentages but the basic premise is sound.

It is best expressed by the remark from a Labour Peer that I overheard after the debate and vote on the procedure of the House last week. He said, "There is no need to get too upset as we will soon be able to do what we want". Yes, my Lords, they will. This Government will have an elected majority in the other place and an appointed majority in this House. To use the words of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, that is what I call "entrenched dominance". It is also something that I deplore. I have always held that every government should be able to be defeated in the second Chamber. I have had more than my fair share of defeats and although uncomfortable at the time, they probably led to better legislation. The Prime Minister must be rubbing his hands with glee at the prospect of his limited opposition disappearing.

What is more worrying to contemplate is the Queen's Speech at the opening of the next Session. With a free hand in both Houses, all those highly controversial proposals will come forth like a torrent but with no House to call the executive to account. With the hereditaries gone, resulting in an almost 100 per cent. increase in workload for the life Peers and the majorities they need in both Houses, the Labour Party managers will have an easy time bulldozing their policies through. This Bill either needs to be amended to prevent that situation occurring or, if that cannot be done, then it is best rejected as the only way to get across to the country what is really happening to our constitution. I should say to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that I do not believe that the country would be on the Government's s side.

This apparently harmless, politically correct little measure has devastating and unexpected consequences. I cannot believe that the Government do not know that. It is a bad Bill conceived out of dogma, born in prejudice and nurtured by an executive that brooks no opposition.

1.27 p.m.

Lord Grantchester

My Lords, I always rise with temerity to address your Lordships' House, and it is with even greater trepidation that I do so today. I declare an interest as the 3rd Baron Grantchester.

No one today can seriously argue for the hereditary principle to be retained in the composition of this House. It is not retained in any other public institution. We live today in a meritocracy where everyone must earn his place.

The continuance of hereditary Peers detracts from the standing of your Lordships' House outside Parliament, leads to a weakening of its powers and to abuse from political bias because of its inbuilt Conservative predominance. As an hereditary Peer, I am no exception. I support the Government in bringing forward this Bill to modernise Parliament. I also have no difficulty with the staged reform of your Lordships' House since it was confusion about how to replace the hereditary Peers following their abolition that scuppered previous attempts.

I do not look back as far as the early years of the century, as perhaps others do, to argue for this long overdue measure. I prefer to highlight the Life Peerages Act 1958 as I regret that both parties failed to introduce that legislation much sooner. That measure started the process of change and led to a lessening of hereditary influence, such that there is almost parity in terms of the numbers of hereditary Peers and life Peers.

Clearly, it is time to examine and review the composition of your Lordships' House, as the system of patronage inherent in the Life Peerages Act has the potential to be equally venomous, marginally more legitimate, but wholly less independent than the hereditary principle. Patronage, as an assessment of merit, must also be modernised. The Prime Minister should exercise his power no more than the monarch of yesteryear. We must ensure that people of merit from all walks of life, people with technical expertise as well as experience outside politics, are able to serve in a new second Chamber.

The newly formed Royal Commission, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, to consider the future shape of the second Chamber, must consider its proposals against a background of constitutional change outlined by the Labour Party manifesto— we will clean up politics"— namely, reform of party funding to end sleaze; devolved power in Scotland and Wales; elected mayors in London and other cities; and more independent and accountable local government.

I wish to take this opportunity to put forward a few principles, in a positive way, for a new second Chamber. The function and role of the House of Lords as an authoritative, revising Chamber is vital in improving often hasty legislation from the House of Commons, enabling the other place to be more productive than it otherwise would be.

We must guarantee a large element of independence in the second Chamber and ensure that leaders in every avenue of life are Members. I believe that means a multiplicity of systems to assess merit, and a multiplicity of ways of entering your Lordships' House, leading to a system of representation that can be both elected and appointed from a cross-section of communities in the widest sense. There are many people who could bring great benefit to your Lordships' House who would never submit themselves to an election. We must ensure that they can contribute and still be allowed to pursue interests and commitments outside the House without being registered as inactive Peers.

It follows that no Member in a new second Chamber should be there for life, or the elected Members will not have equal standing. Parliament should reflect the world at large, where no position is for life, as that hinders transition and development in tune with the mosaic of life. I do not necessarily call for an upper age limit, but all appointments and elections should be for a fixed duration or for a fixed number of terms of membership.

A new second Chamber should also redress the democratic deficit in Britain and bring into the mainstream those who currently feel excluded from it, especially women and ethnic minorities. I also argue two special cases. First, we must ensure that the interests of our rural communities are protected and furthered, for while some may argue that the countryside is well represented in the current House, it is unclear what mechanisms can be put in place to hear the voice of rural Britain.

The recent formation and activities of the Countryside Alliance bear testimony to that need. Rural areas in England and Wales contain 23 per cent. of the overall population and contribute 30 per cent. of GDP. In the North West, where there is a newly formed Regional Development Agency, two-thirds of the area is rural. The culture and integrity of communities in rural areas can offer much to national life, yet the rural angle is not always recognised. Solutions applied to urban areas are often inappropriate as rural needs and problems are different from those of the town. Furthermore, a strong rural expertise is vital in longer-term issues in relation to developing reform in the common agricultural policy and wider membership of essentially rural economies in the European Union.

Secondly, there is a clear need for a powerful regional voice in a new second Chamber. That could be represented partly by appointment, partly by election, and could take in the regions of England while ensuring a voice for the newly devolved Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly.

A strong regional voice should also be set in the context of the Regional Development Agencies. The constituency basis of 60,000 per Member in the House of Commons is a narrow and urban perspective that could be rectified through a more strategic and integrated view of communities that would be provided through the agencies. In addition, deprived areas, such as Merseyside—where my family has strong connections—will have a stronger voice as they seek greater recognition and assistance in tackling their problems.

Returning to the Bill, it is clear that in Committee there may be important amendments to include a commitment to stage two and a timetable for reform. Both those issues are echoed in what is now known as the Weatherill amendment, which would retain 92 hereditary Peers as an interim measure to stage two. While it may be argued that the Bill's principles should not be sullied by party deals, tactically that would adeptly leave unfinished business on this side of the House that could hasten stage two proposals. That amendment would mean a smoother transition to stage two, but it must be thoroughly scrutinised in Committee as it contains many peculiarities.

I share many concerns voiced by the noble Lords, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank and Lord Harris of Greenwich. I doubt whether it is reasonable that the reduction in the number of hereditary Peers to 92 should be decided on party percentages. Is a less "active" Conservative Peer to be chosen over and above a more "active" Liberal Democrat or Cross-Bencher? That would perpetuate the political bias. Furthermore, that bias will be extended into the future by the proposal that the 92 Peers could be replenished should their numbers fall after selection.

On the Lords spiritual, I argue that in a modern, multi-cultural Britain there must be wider representation of faiths. That was argued vigorously by my grandfather on many occasions as he sought to disestablish the Church of England.

I believe that the standing and authority of your Lordships' House has everything to gain from this measure. I commend it to the House.

1.36 p.m.

Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare

My Lords, I begin by joining my noble friend Lord Caithness in congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Devon, on his maiden speech. Having joined the House last Thursday and lost his virginity today, I fear that if the Bill is passed, the opportunity for promiscuity is fairly small. However, if it is defeated we shall have the opportunity of hearing him on several occasions.

For many years I have felt that reform of your Lordships' House was inevitable. I regret that the Conservative Party did not carry out the task during 18 years of government. Much of what we now experience need not have taken place if we had accepted that the Labour Party would at some time become the Government, and as they have threatened Lords reform in three party manifestos in a row, we can hardly blame them for wishing to carry out such reform.

I accept that it would be unrealistic to go into the 21st century with a House dominated by hereditary Peers. Like so many Members of your Lordships' House, I feel that it would have been wiser for the Government to have set up a Royal Commission within weeks of taking office, listened to its deliberations and then presented a Bill to both Houses. However, in very few of its constitutional proposals does a great deal of thought appear to have been given to the eventual outcome before legislation is placed before the House.

That case has already been well argued and therefore I shall not ask the House to consider it again, but to place on one side for a moment the fortunes of hereditary Peers and turn to consideration of working Peers.

I wonder how many citizens in our country realise that there are different types of life Peers. There are life Peers who are honoured in the Queen's birthday or New Year's list for services to their country and who richly deserve to enjoy the title of Baron and who turn up to your Lordships' House when and as they please. There are former Cabinet Ministers who are elevated in the Prime Minister's resignation list. Surely, they are the great and the good, who bring to the House their expertise and their wisdom on many specialist subjects.

In the proposals that I am about to suggest, I do not refer to that group of life Peers. However, I refer to those people invited by the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition or the Leader of the Liberal Democrat Party to become working Peers—the party hacks, the rude mechanicals, the oil that makes the engine turn.

When I was invited to join your Lordships' House as a working Peer, I received a letter from John Major, the then Prime Minister, outlining my responsibilities. With the former Prime Minister's permission, I read one paragraph of that letter: I shall shortly be recommending to the Queen the creation of a number of life peers. The persons whom I shall recommend must for this purpose be able and willing to commit themselves to an active role in the Lords. They will be expected to attend the House regularly and to speak for, and vote in support of, the government's policies and legislation. If you feel able to take on such a commitment, I would like to put your name forward to the Queen". There can be no doubt in the mind of anyone receiving such a letter that they are not part of the great and the good but, like myself, are party hacks, rude mechanicals.

I personally took a further step to ensure that I fully understood what the responsibility meant and made an appointment to see the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Robin Butler, now the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell. Again, I sought and received permission to repeat the conversation that we had some seven years ago. He considered that the commitment of being a working Peer would be honoured by having a 75 per cent. attendance record and a 75 per cent. voting record during the administration of the Prime Minister who had invited one to serve. Having considered the words of the former Prime Minister and the advice given by the former Cabinet Secretary, I wrote to John Major confirming that I felt able to take on such a responsibility. It might interest your Lordships to know that Sir Robin also informed me that some people had felt unable to honour the commitment and therefore had turned down the offer of a peerage.

When we consider the Bill in Committee, it is my intention to place before your Lordships an amendment on the status of working Peers which will mirror the amendment on hereditary Peers that is to be tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, thus giving your Lordships the opportunity to remove from the House working Peers who do not work and never had the intention of doing so in the first place.

If I were given the chance, I would also strip them of their titles as it is clear that that was the only reason that they ever accepted the honour in the first place. However, I have been disappointed to discover that even the skills and ingenuities of the Public Bill Office cannot find a way for me to carry out that particular desire.

I ask your Lordships to consider that if you were invited to be a director of ICI, Shell or British Airways and you never turned up for a board meeting, how long would it be before you were dismissed? How do we explain to the electorate that if you are invited to be a working Peer, frankly the word "working" does not mean anything because there is no redress if you do not bother to turn up? What example is that to the young who wish to go out and seek work? In short, why should we remove hereditary Peers who do work, but keep working Peers who do not work?

Finally, perhaps I may suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, when he considers reformation of this House, that he comes up with a formula for what "working Peer" actually means so that it is not translated as, "Now I've got the title, I needn't bother to honour the agreement". I hope that when my amendment is placed before your Lordships Members from all sides will feel able to support it.

1.43 p.m.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, I begin what I hope will be some brief remarks by saying that I thought that I was going to be the only Peer at one end of the spectrum in this debate, but I find that I am not. I find myself in almost complete agreement with the remarks made by the noble Earl, Lord Devon, in the course of his admirable maiden speech. I am opposed totally to this Bill, and not just to the way in which it has been drafted or to the approach taken by it. I am against it because I believe that reform should make things better. This Bill does not make things better. This House works—and it works effectively and properly.

If there were some argument that the presence of hereditary Peers here made it more difficult or impossible for us to carry out our work or made the whole place totally uninhabitable for one reason or another, I might support that approach; but that is not the case. As we have heard, some hereditary Peers never come anywhere near the place. They do not do any of us any harm. Those who do come make an enormous contribution to the effective working of the House. That is why I am totally opposed to this Bill, whether it represents stage one or stage two of any alleged reform process.

As one of our leading modern political philosophers has said, the task of doing nothing in politics is the hardest task there is, apart from martyrdom. This government, like most governments of all complexions, have been beguiled by the need to do something about this, rather than to do nothing. There are many ways in which it would be possible to remove hereditary Peers from the House if that was what the Government honestly wanted, and nothing else. They could, for example, have said, "Let us leave present incumbents of hereditary peerages in this House to sit and to vote until they die". That would then be the end of that line of succession as regards sitting and voting in the House. But they did not do that. They want suddenly and with one fell swoop, in one enormously draconian Bill, to remove all hereditary Peers from this House and everything to do with it for ever.

As some noble Lords have said, it is possible that although the Bill is alleged to be stage one of a process, there will in fact be no stage two. I do not say that to imply any bad faith or absence of faith on the part of the Government, but simply to point out that they cannot control what will happen in the future. In the end, it may be that stage one will be—they have already said that it is—a stand-alone measure and that there will be no stage two.

It is with that possibility in mind that I regard this Bill as not only unnecessary, as I have already said, but dangerous. It is dangerous because if, for any reason, there is no stage two, if the House as adumbrated in the currently drafted legislation is the kind of House that we are to have, it will be a totally nominated House. That is dangerous. I make no profound prognostications about the future except to say that there are some dangerous prospects at the end of that road. There is the prospect of a unicameral legislature. If we had a unicameral legislature, we would next have to contemplate the possibility of Parliament extending its life indefinitely. I do not say that any of that will happen; I simply say that unless we regard the Bill with very great care, that is the sort of danger with which we might be faced.

This seems at one with the tendency of the present Government to begin the process—I think that they have used this phrase themselves—of dismantling some of our institutions. It is in that context that I should like to add my disquiet to some of the comments made by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. He seemed to indicate a kind of "take it or leave it" attitude which I found deeply disturbing and offensive to this House. We know that this is an extremely radical Government, intent on certain radical aims. I do not know for how many others in this House I speak—I certainly speak for some—when I say that I take very badly to being told, "Take it or leave it". I shall not be bullied, not only by those in this House, but also by threats of what might be popular in some other place. When the amendments come before our Committee, I intend to speak and vote throughout the proceedings according to what I believe to be right and proper; not according to some kind of threat delivered at me and the rest of us as to what will happen should we fail to obey the instructions of people who apparently arrived at a deal outside this Chamber altogether.

This is the Second Reading of the Bill. Of course, it is possible to vote against it. My first inclination would be to do so, but I realise that that would be ineffectual. We have a convention in your Lordships' House that we do not vote against measures at Second Reading which have been included in government manifestos. Well, the Government were clever and foresighted enough to include this in their manifesto and I make no complaint about that; nor about the fact that the Government feel it right to be able to force their manifesto commitment through the House. That is their privilege having achieved a large and convincing majority at the last general election.

But there is still a grave feeling of disquiet about the Bill. The only thing one can do at the moment is to accept the thoughts, the sentiments and the feelings behind the amendment of my noble friend Lord Cobbold. We shall not be able to stop the Bill passing through this House and coming on to the statute book. We all know that. We all know that a combination of Parliament Acts, House of Lords' conventions and vast majorities in the other place will prevent us doing what we may want to do. But at least we can make our views known to the Government—our views in relation to the necessity, the rectitude, the morality and the dangers of this piece of legislation. We can also support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Cobbold, as I shall do.

There will be other amendments. In fact, we know that there will be the one now known as the "Weatherill amendment", which is a serious attempt to ensure that there is a stage two to this reform process. I shall certainly vote for that if it comes to a Division. There is also the possibility of an amendment calling for a referendum at some time, which would prevent this legislation taking effect until certain circumstances had been achieved; for example, the report of the Royal Commission. However, it is too late to ask the Government to think again. It is certainly too late for any of us to do much about the Bill, except to make our feelings known and I hope that we shall do that.

The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said in the course of his opening speech today that this is an historic day for this country. Indeed it is. For those of us who have a love, as I do, and a respect for the traditions and institutions of this country, it is a sad day too.

1.53 p.m.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I intend to be brief if for no other reason than that in a previous incarnation I may have been guilty of intolerance with regard to the amount of time many of your Lordships took to speak in this House.

First, I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Devon, on an excellent maiden speech and also reflect that by the time we reach the 183rd speaker tomorrow, it is more than likely that the most forensic examination of a particularly short Bill will have taken place.

The first question I ask myself is: is this a Bill? I fear that it is an apology for a Bill purporting to be a Bill. I fear that its contribution to the future great governments of our country has as much hope of success as another small piece of paper waved at Heston airfield in 1938.

We were admonished by the Lord Chancellor this morning, and I felt in many ways as though I were back in front of my headmaster at my prep school the last time I was beaten. He too admonished me; he said not to cry as my mother was arriving shortly after the ritual had been concluded. I fear that there may be tears and my greatest concern with this Bill is that there are elements of intolerance of what is being done and how it is to be achieved.

Why is that? To find the answer we have to look at the provenance of the Bill. Where did it come from? It concerned nothing other than presentation. It was considered by the Labour Party a long time ago—in those days I was still sitting in the current office of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, so that dates me and my hairdresser would confirm it by inspecting the lack of what is left upon my head. There was at the time a big idea. Constitutional reform did not put the taxpayer at risk; it appeared to be intellectually satisfying, and was placed on the agenda for the next Labour manifesto. Unfortunately, that was the last time it was attended to. The result is a foreshortened humble little document with much to be modest about. It is a modest Bill with little ambition that has an ability to cause fantastic trouble.

The second smokescreen that lies across the battlefield is that the hereditary Peers are in some way unacceptable; that they should be disbanded and sent away. What that conveniently avoids exposing is the fact that a stick of dynamite is being thrown into the Palace of Westminster to structurally remove more than 25 per cent. of the contents of the entire palace. That, structurally, will have a great effect. My concern is that, far from this Bill being acceptable, it will be a source of great contention that will come to cause us troubled grief. It will cause this Government grief from the trouble that comes from it.

Various efforts have been made in the intervening months to try to put some Elastoplast on the Bill—two notable pieces; one of which is the Royal Commission and the other the proposed Weatherill amendment. I am suspicious instinctively of both those proposals and feel that they should be observed more closely in the surroundings of a greenhouse. A botanical observation will reveal that both of them come from the fig tree.

It is the parliamentary franchise that is at issue here. That is of far greater importance than whether or not there are hereditary Peers. The question that every Peer must attend to in this Bill is: what is my relationship with the people of this country? That is the issue that faces us all. It is not an issue about whether or not the result of the general election allows a large part of the Palace of Westminster to be destroyed; it is the relationship and a matter of honour that stands before us.

I have thought about the Bill and I have to say that one reaches a conclusion which is and will become inevitable; that is, that there will eventually be a wholly elected Chamber in this place. The contortions that we are now being asked to go through, the endeavours and smokescreens being played with, and the mirrors that will be reflected at the end of the day are meaningless. Once this train sets out on the track it is going to a destination which is called "democracy". It may be that some of us old hereditaries can be called young radicals, but I am wholly convinced that that is the destination to which we are set, and that anybody who believes otherwise is engaged in false modesty or wild over-expectation. Thus it is the duty of every Member of this House to ensure that, as this Bill is approached in a proper manner to be amended for the benefit of the people of this country, it addresses the issue of democracy and not an interim, perverse form of privilege which the Government are trying to destroy.

1.58 p.m.

Lord Hughes of Woodside

My Lords, I was extremely interested in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare—I am sorry to detain him from his lunch for a few minutes more. He made much of the low work-rate, as he sees it, of working life Peers. Perhaps I might draw his attention to his own record over the past couple of years.

In the 1997–98 Session, his main interests were the Greater London Authority (Referendum) Bill, in which I understand he has a bit more than a passing interest, and also his own Succession to the Crown Bill. Apart from that, the noble Lord spoke just five times. It is perhaps worth noting that, during this Session of Parliament, he has managed to vote in under 15 per cent. of the Divisions. I give way to the noble Lord.

Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I should point out that during the period of government in question I had an 82 per cent. record of attendance and an 84 per cent. voting record on many of the Bills. It was felt on this side of the House—and this does not apply only to me—that when it was a matter of government legislation, as put in the manifesto, the honourable thing to do was not to vote. However, that does not mean that I did not attend; it means that I did not vote.

Lord Hughes of Woodside

My Lords, with respect, I think that the noble Lord protests too much. Within the space of half an hour he has already shifted his ground considerably. I listened very carefully to his speech. He said nothing about averaging the votes over a number of years; he said nothing about selecting particular Divisions which would count against one's record; and he said—I understand from a conversation with the now noble Lord, Lord Butler—that working Peers were expected to have a 75 per cent. voting record. Again, that was not qualified. He simply said a 75 per cent. voting record. I have taken this from what the noble Lord said.

Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare

My Lords, the noble Lord misheard me.

Lord Hughes of Woodside

My Lords, with respect, I have my own speech to make. I do not want to become too much embroiled in this matter. All I can say to the noble Lord is that he should perhaps think very carefully about this. When he reads the Official Report, he will find that I have said nothing out of place.

As it happens—and I mention this with some diffidence—the Evening Standard publishes a table of working Peers. Of course, all this information is open to misinterpretation; indeed, all such figures can be looked at one way or another. However, the simple fact is that nine out of the top 12 working Peers in this House are Labour working Peers. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, who is not now in his place, used a different method to try to show that Labour working Peers were much more influential than the raw figures suggest.

During the debate much has been said about the independence of hereditary peerages. The implied suggestion, sometimes put very starkly, is that life Peers, especially Labour life Peers, rely on patronage for being here and, therefore, are much less responsible for carrying out the business of the House. Perhaps I may gently remind the House that every one of us is here as a result of patronage. The forebears of the hereditary Peers came to Parliament either because they performed some service for the king or the king was short of money and was trying to raise funds by selling peerages in order to fight the French. Alternatively, their forebears served previous governments with distinction or indeed gave service to political parties. We all recall the little notices in the Honours List twice a year of those elevated with a peerage "for political services", mostly in cash.

I accept that I am here because of patronage. The only difference is that the hereditary patronage goes on so long as there is issue, whereas mine goes when I am finished. As always, I concede—and have said so in previous speeches—that a nominated House would be no more democratic than the present one. It could and can be more representative. I also concede that in a fully reformed House the continuation of the life Peers is an anomaly which is probably untenable. Indeed, sooner or later, the life Peers will follow the hereditaries out of this place.

Many noble Lords who have spoken have professed an undying desire for reform over many years. Some have done so with greater enthusiasm than others. I have to say that they all qualified their desire for reform with "buts" and with expressions like: "It is not the right time"; "It is the wrong Bill, or, "This is the wrong way to go about it". That reminds me of the saying of St. Augustine, who said, "Let me be chaste O Lord, but not yet". A less charitable view is that the Conservative Peers in the main wish either to veto change or to determine the composition and style of a reformed House.

If there is not to be a nominated House, there are certainly attractions for a wholly-elected second Chamber. I note a very unlikely alliance—indeed, an unlikely attraction of opposites, one might say—who support that solution. I have in mind the right honourable Tony Benn and the right honourable William Hague, as well as 150 Members of the other place who have signed the Early Day Motion.

I understand that potted history is very dangerous, but the history of the constitution of this country was, first, the struggle between a monarchy and Parliament as to who was supreme; and, secondly, the struggle between the two Houses of Parliament as to which was supreme. That has largely been resolved. I cannot see the House of Commons giving greater powers to this Chamber in a wholly-elected Chamber. I believe that we will have great debates about that later.

If we do not have a nominated House or a wholly-elected House, what about the mishmash; that is to say, the proportion elected/the proportion nominated? I have great respect for my noble friend Lord Shepherd. I noted that in yesterday's debate he said: To be frank, I believe that friction that once did not exist is beginning to build up between the hereditary Peers and the life Peers".—[Official Report, 29/3/99; col. 61.] He made it clear that he was sorry about that; indeed, so am I. However, if we have a partly-elected House and a partly-nominated House, I believe that the friction will be intense. I do not think that you can mix the two. I say that because the votes lost by, say, a government or by an opposition because of nominated Peers perhaps overriding elected Peers would cause great concern.

I understand perfectly well that there are differences and failings in the other place. Indeed, I should be aware of them because I was there for 27 years and I may certainly have contributed to those failings. However, it seems extremely odd that in order to reform the other place, in order to make it more effective and more efficient and in order to make it do its job, we have to have a second Chamber which is contrived only for that purpose. I fully appreciate that the tenor of my remarks suggests that the preferred solution, and certainly my preferred solution, would be a unicameral Parliament. My only regret is that that is not to be discussed by the Royal Commission.

Perhaps I may make one further point before I sit down. Some of the statements made about the House of Commons and the fact that the Government do not have a majority here seem to present a kind constitutional absurdity—that elected governments have no right to a majority in a second Chamber. Of course they have. I believe that the Government have been excessively modest in simply seeking broad parity between the Government side of the House and the main Opposition parties. The constitutional position is quite clear: the elected Government have the right to carry forward their legislation, together with the necessary checks and balances. However, the real check and balance is whether or not the people of the country will put up with what the Government have been doing. If they do not, and if they eventually get tired of what I believe was described as an "elective dictatorship"—the last government—the Government will eventually pay for it. Indeed, the last government paid for it very severely and will do so for a very long time.

In conclusion, every constitutional reform has been opposed on the grounds that it would lead to bad government. The Reform Act 1832 was opposed on precisely those muddled-headed and self-interested grounds. This reform is no different; indeed, it is being opposed for precisely the same reasons. It is argued that it will lead to bad government. I believe that it will lead to much better government, much more responsible government and much more accountable government. I fully support the Bill and commend it to the House.

2.9 p.m.

Baroness Buscombe

My Lords, as a relatively new life Peer I feel it important and appropriate that I contribute to this debate and so give my perspective regarding the hereditary Peers and the hereditary principle. During my early months here I have been overwhelmed by the extraordinary contribution that hereditary Peers make and the stability which they provide towards our parliamentary process. I am also conscious of the fact that few outside the Palace of Westminster understand and appreciate the part that the Members of this Chamber play.

We have heard much about the abolition of the hereditary Peers being right, not least because it is a manifesto commitment. This is simply an excuse. After all, it was, for example, a New Labour manifesto commitment not to raise taxes and this Government have already done that 17 times in less than two years. The Government are, in reality, interested only in reforming this place in order to throw out a particular group of people. It is a kind of inverted snobbery prevalent among New Labour. It is about perceived popularity, although the populace has not shown an interest in this. Old Labour, or at least real Labour, would have been more open about its reasons. It is not about modernising; it is about diminishing this House with no clear intent of where we are going. We are told that it is all about more effective government and is but part of improving our constitution. In fact, it is about controlling our constitution and diminishing, by stealth, in a most uncourageous way our United Kingdom and our democracy.

It is lamentable that we have had to accept disorganised devolution which, as it stands so far, will not in my view, be sustainable. How long will Wales be content with a mere Assembly? Surely that is discrimination when Scotland has its own Parliament. How long will it be before those of us living in England declare that we are no longer content to be governed by Scottish and Welsh MPs here at Westminster? What role will this mayor for London have, and how long will it be before other of our cities demand a similar power base? There is all this setting up of different tiers of government and yet our Labour representatives here at Westminster treat with contempt their own tier of government.

That is all the more reason for safeguarding the independence and standing of this House. The role of this House has probably never before been potentially so crucial and perhaps this is why New Labour is so anxious to destabilise and diminish this place. It knows that, as presently constituted, we have among us largely independent, civilised and a wise group of people who are not afraid to alert this nation to the dangers that we now face. While I believe that reform is overdue, I ask in response to this Bill, who will replace the hereditary Peers? If it is to be a fully nominated House, it will be a House of wealthy "yes" men. It is suggested in the White Paper on reform that we should have a broader representation of people, including more younger people and I must now add the commonplace, patronising reference to women and ethnic minorities.

These people are supposed to come here without payment and fulfil the important role of scrutinising Bills, probably for a limited period of, say, 10 years, and then return to their chosen career. What a marvellous idea. New Labour is very hot on marvellous ideas that sound good on the news wire, but are totally unworkable.

That is proof, yet again, that this Government are out of touch with reality. That is understandable, I suppose, when so few of their representatives have had real jobs beyond the protective confines of the public sector. How naive to expect to invite people of calibre from all walks of life, who are succeeding in their chosen goals to step back and come here without an income during their formative years. As a mother with three young children to be cared for properly, I know that being a Member of this House is a very expensive privilege, and one which I would guess less than 0.1 per cent. of the population of Britain today could enjoy. In essence, few people could afford to be here, let alone would want to he here if the standing of this House is diminished. What would be the point?

So what about an elected House instead? Is this what the Government intend? I think not. Once again and, as with other devolutions, they have unleashed a potentially fundamental and far-reaching constitutional change for a much more powerful Upper House; a development which they will not be able to contain. As the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, has already warned in this debate, pressure will grow for a fully elected House. If we are genuinely concerned to protect our democracy and to strengthen our constitution, then surely an elected House is the only credible alternative.

The noble Lord, Lord Richard, has said that we should have a partly elected and partly nominated House. I really cannot see how you could have a little bit of each. We should think of the wonderful rivalries. How on earth could it work? But then we all know that this Government do not want a fully elected Chamber because they would not wish to risk being unable to control it, and "control" is their mantra.

As a newcomer to this House and as a life Peer I should feel the least affected by this Bill and its consequences. However, I am affected. That fundamental change to our British constitution taking place by piecemeal devolution, and now piecemeal reform of our legislature, is lamentable. It is hard to articulate why the hereditary principle as part of our constitution is of such value and I was not properly aware of its value before I came to this House. However, I am now. There is no question but that this House is about to be diminished because of this Bill, which offers no credible, workable alternative and is expressed by this Government in a manner which has stunned me by its arrogance and lack of good manners and humility.

The distinguished noble Lord, Lord Carrington, is right; no one has found a solution. The only sane reason for changing this House must be to make it stronger, more effective and more democratic. This mean little Bill fails on all counts. It removes a valuable, independent element and diminishes the standing of this House. The noble Baroness the Leader of this House says this Bill represents a pragmatic approach to the development of our constitution. On the contrary, this Bill represents a chaotic, unintelligent approach and should be strongly resisted.

We accept this so-called development imposed upon us that potentially destabilises and diminishes for ever our Parliament, and thereby our United Kingdom, at our peril.

2.17 p.m.

Lord Palmer

My Lords, what a powerful speech to have to try to follow.

Without a doubt change is a good thing if it really is for the better and many of your Lordships who have taken part so far seem to think that this dramatic constitutional change is not going to be for the better. Like many of your Lordships, I deplore the fact that stage two is unknown whilst Her Majesty's Government wish to debar all hereditary Peers from their right to sit and their right to speak. One thing is for sure, any change at all will be very much more expensive than the present system, as many other noble Lords have mentioned.

The Government's plan for reform of this House is somewhat similar to the idea of building a factory and having no idea what you are going to manufacture. If, for example, you wanted to process fish, you would have completely different machinery from that required if you wished to make biscuits.

A tremendous amount of "hot air" has been bandied about the Labour Party's manifesto commitment to the abolition of hereditary Peers, as particularly mentioned by my noble friend Lord Cobbold. I find it difficult to believe that there are more than a few people who actually read the Labour Party Manifesto, and it has now been proved that only 2 per cent. of them could recall any mention of abolishing the rights of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in Parliament. I also believe that the vast majority of people outside Parliament could not care one iota about this place and certainly they have no idea as to its existing function; but what many people deplore wholeheartedly is the idea of tinkering with the constitution.

I am firmly in the camp of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, in that I could live with the idea of not voting, but I deplore the idea of not being able to speak. There are those in your Lordships' House who would say that would mean that hereditary Peers would become second-class Peers. I have to admit that, personally, I would rather be a second-class Peer than not a Peer at all.

I am fiercely proud of our family title, which is one of the very few hereditary peerages which was not given for political services, albeit that both sides of my family have been Members of another place representing the Liberal cause. The first Lord Palmer was created a Peer for his services to the arts and music in particular. He helped to establish the Royal College of Music, with which to this day my family has still strong links.

I have also been proud to serve on two committees in your Lordships' House, one being the Advisory Panel on Works of Art and the other—which many Peers, both life and hereditary, might consider the most important committee—and of course I refer to the Refreshment Sub-Committee. Having been into every nook and cranny behind the scenes, it is indeed a miracle that any of your Lordships ever get anything to eat, let alone drink!

I feel also honoured and privileged, in conjunction with the present Government Chief Whip, to have defeated the previous Government on two amendments on the Agriculture Bill. I also treasure the moment when, with the noble Lord, Lord Boardman, who is to follow me, the Government accepted our joint amendment during the Third Reading of the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Bill. I suppose one of the most exciting moments of my parliamentary life was when with the noble Lord, Lord Cavendish, we put our amendment on that same Bill to a vote and we won by a two to one majority. I shall never forget afterwards being interviewed on the green for News at Ten and one of your Lordships said that I looked exactly like Trevor McDonald without the spectacles.

Almost every time that I have spoken in the past 15 months I have started my speech by saying that had hereditary Peers been banned from speaking the number of speakers on the list would have been dramatically reduced. Let me give one small example. In one of our debates on agriculture at the end of last year, there were a total of 21 speakers, 17 of whom were hereditary Peers.

I will miss three things most particularly. First, the wonderfully kind and friendly staff throughout the House; secondly, the camaraderie and the many lasting friendships that I have made in the eight years that I have been here; and, finally, the learning curve and learning more about a subject in order to take part in a debate and the privilege of talking to the real experts in those particular fields. All these I have found most rewarding. I think that the House will miss the wonderfully broad expertise of so many hereditary Peers, particularly on subjects such as agriculture, the countryside, conservation, heritage and the arts.

Lord Renton

My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to intervene. I am sure that he recollects as well as I do that in the debate on defence and the debate on the arts last Session, hereditary Peers exceeded all others.

Lord Palmer

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his intervention. He has emphasised the point I was trying to make. I believe that a reformed House will be a very much poorer place than it is at present.

When we debated the White Paper the Leader of the Opposition said—this was reiterated by my noble friend Lord Chalfont in his excellent contribution—"this is a very sad day". I believe that it is indeed a very sad day. I also believe that it is tragic, not only for Parliament but for the whole of this still United Kingdom.

2.24 p.m.

Lord Boardman

My Lords, many speakers today and yesterday have already spoken about my main objections to the Bill far more eloquently than I can, so I shall confine myself mainly to two points.

My first point is that, as a life Peer—not, perhaps I should say for the benefit of the statistics of the noble Lord, Lord Archer. as a working Peer—I would like to pay tribute to the tremendous work which has been done over centuries and recently by the hereditary Peers. The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, referred to some of the things that he does and to his contribution from the Back Benches in a variety of speeches, his contribution to the arts and so on. Having also had the privilege of serving in the other place, I recall, too, the contribution made by hereditary Peers in this House when they served on the Government Front Bench. Many of those Ministers, as they were then, were at least the equal of the Ministers serving in the other place. It will be a great loss if they are no longer able to take up those appointments.

There is some impression—no doubt stirred up by the spin doctors and their like—that this House consists of elderly gentlemen sleeping on the Benches. The noble Baronesses in this House are seldom referred to in that way. But the image of "fuddy duddies sleeping on the Benches", as we are referred to by some, is, as we all know, quite untrue. That could be far more fairly said of some the life Peers. By virtue of their appointments they inevitably tend to be older than hereditary Peers. I suspect that the average age of all the life Peers is considerably greater than the average age of all the active hereditary Peers. I cannot help feeling that, at this stage, the Bill has only one design, and that is to stir up, as it does, something of a class hatred, which is most regrettable, unfortunate and wrong.

My second point is to condemn, as many have done, the pulling down of this House without any plans or proposals for putting something in its place. The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, covers this point very well and I shall certainly support him when he moves his amendment.

The Royal Commission will produce something, but the Government have no idea what. Indeed, we have no assurance that what it produces will commend itself to the Government. In Committee afterwards there will no doubt be an opportunity to discuss a number of amendments. If a better amendment is not already tabled, I will table one to defer this Bill taking effect until the stage two Bill, or whatever it is called, has been enacted. I believe that the Government should agree to that. It would be very useful to them. It would achieve their manifesto commitment—although it may mean deferring the ending of hereditary Peers' existence here for a few more months, after they have been here for 700 years or thereabouts. It would also please the public and media, who find the present strategy of the Government very much one of half measures. In everything the Government do it is half measures, whether it is bombing without knowing what the consequences will be, or whether it is the removal of the hereditary Peers from this House without knowing what will replace them.

If it were not for his legal background, I would have said that the remarks of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor were very near to blackmail, as the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, described them earlier. He said to us all, "You do this or else". That is not the kind of language that commends itself to me. I resent being threatened in that way. I believe it is something that the House does not savour or like.

The Government are removing the hereditary Peers with no plans to replace them. The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, referred to the problems in 1968 when a Bill was debated and approved in this House and was then debated in the other place. I was present throughout that time. The interesting thing, which must never be forgotten, is that that Bill—or any other Bill which sensible people might wish to promote or alter in this House giving it more power—would mean more power taken away from the other place. That will never be accepted by the other place and it is one of the problems which the Government will have to face when the Royal Commission recommendations come forward.

I urge the Government not to bring the Bill into effect until the Bill setting out stage two is enacted. By doing that Peers who make such a large contribution to the House will remain for a few months and the Government will be able to deny the charge that they are a government of half measures who do something and do not know what to do for the next stage. I oppose the Bill and support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold.

2.30 p.m.

Viscount Allenby of Megiddo

My Lords, when I put down my name to speak on the Bill I mentally jotted down a dozen or so points. Unfortunately, they had all gone out of the window by three o'clock this morning. Therefore, I shall speak more generally and be fairly brief.

If Lewis Carroll were alive today he would undoubtedly have likened this Bill to Alice in Wonderland dealing with the Cheshire Cat. The Bill before us is so much more about what is not there, as what is. Starting with what is there in Clause 1, this is the very essence of a radical constitutional change which will bring to an end 800 years of history by terminating the hereditary principle in politics. I do not wish to be an advocate in defence of the hereditary principle as I do not see how on general democratic grounds the imbalance of the composition of the House can he justified. But, on the other hand, there is a certain irony in the Government White Paper Modernising Parliament which, while asserting that the imbalance has led to what is variously described in the White Paper as a "deficiency of contribution" and a "deficit of effectiveness", is remarkably short of examples; perhaps not too surprisingly when it has not yet been agreed what the new modernised House is to do and how it will function. Indeed, the White Paper often seems to do the reverse, positively valuing the questioning independent spirit of the House of Lords as presently composed and its functions and acknowledging that, the most distinctive and important role of the present House of Lords is the specialist expertise and independent perspective it can bring to the scrutiny of legislation". It hardly goes without saying that you do not have to be an hereditary Peer to have these skills. But what replacement composition will ensure that the skills are not lost? I go further to ask the Government what will be the cost of bringing in the skills and setting up a new Chamber. Surely, this DIY cost-effective Chamber costs the country very little.

It goes without saying that the effect of Clause 1 when enacted will be to leave the House with life Peers, Bishops and the Law Lords. But the transitional House is to be more than this if the Weatherill amendment is agreed whereby a number of hereditary Peers are retained to ensure continuity. At the same time it is the Government's intention to yet again increase the number of life Peers in accordance with the Life Peerages Act 1958 on the recommendation of party leaders and an appointments commission, which will nominate Cross-Bench Peers. So the transitional House will be based on the appointment principle rather than the hereditary principle, the appointment principle being, so we are told, more modern and fair. However, the Royal Commission has yet to consider this point. We do not know what it will come up with.

However, what is clear is that we are to be faced with piecemeal reform of a constitution which must inevitably lead to pragmatic decisions. My concern is that this decision did not have to be implemented before the Royal Commission had reported and its recommendations had been enacted, which I foresee would take at least a couple of years. The White Paper goes on to argue that resolving the issue of the hereditary Peers will free those considering the reform to concentrate not on the past but on the future. But that rather ignores the fact that there will still he an existing composition.

As presently framed, the Bill says nothing about the future of the House of Lords which the Royal Commission has to consider. That is weighty responsibility on two counts. Good government needs a series of checks and balances between the executive and the legislature. How the role, functions and composition of the new Chamber are defined could see these checks and balances undermined, all to the detriment of the legislature.

The White Paper tells us that the constitutional developments across the country are reconnecting the people with power in Britain and bringing power closer to the people. The constitutional changes which may flow from the Royal Commission's recommendations are capable of doing precisely the opposite, not least because that questioning independent spirit which the White Paper noted in the House of Lords as presently composed is not being allowed to continue in place to scrutinise new legislation. The White Paper assumes the pros and cons of nominated and elected Chambers, indirectly elected and mixed Chambers. But let us be plain about it. What we need are unfettered individuals with skills, experience, vigour, commitment and accountability. Does Britain really want to enter the 21st century with a second Chamber dominated by party machinery and party individuals? The Royal Commission has to find a way forward towards an independent composition and a role of political weight and value.

Perhaps I may conclude by taking the House back 150 years. In a speech to the electors of the City of London on 6th April 1859 Lord John Russell—I see that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, is not in his place—commenting on the Representation of the People Bill, said: Among the defects of the Bill, which were numerous, one provision was conspicuous by its presence and another by its absence". My Lords, it is somewhat alarming that almost 150 years later, on an issue of great constitutional reform, I can say precisely the same thing.

2.36 p.m.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, like the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and a number of other Members of your Lordships' House, I should like to begin my remarks by briefly reflecting on the historic nature of the Bill that we are currently discussing.

First, the Bill is not promoting mere administrative fine tuning; it is not proposing a change of direction in policy; it strikes at the very heart of our nation's historic constitutional arrangements which have been in place since the Middle Ages. It really is a milestone in our nation's constitutional development and, using the word in its non-emotive sense, it is truly revolutionary. Secondly, I should like to put on record that, whatever the merits of the reasons for my being here, it has been an enormous privilege and a pleasure. Thirdly, it is always melancholy to take a bow when the curtain drops, as anyone who has ever lost a seat in an election knows. But the show goes on; the show has to go on; and it is important that the new production is better than this one.

I see the Bill as providing the third point of the triangle which defines the Government's plans for the second Chamber, the other two being their manifesto for the last general election and the establishment of the Royal Commission. Those plans determine both the form of change and a process by which that change is to be achieved. It is with the latter that I wish to start.

As a matter of principle, I think it is wrong to embark on a process of constitutional change without a clear description of the intended destination. We are being offered, we are told, a two-stage reform where the first stage may be relatively clear while the second is more or less unknown and its timing entirely uncertain. Indeed, there is no guarantee that there will be a second stage at all. It is my view that stage one, with or without the Weatherill amendment, is not an adequate long-term reform in itself, and remembering, as the noble Baroness the Leader of the House has pointed out on a number of occasions, that the proposed changes of 1911 have not yet come to their intended conclusion, I think there is a real possibility of stage one standing alone. I hope that we shall be given a binding commitment this evening as to the duration of stage one, and that an appropriate government amendment will be brought forward at Committee stage to that end.

As a Conservative, and as such an advocate of evolutionary rather than revolutionary change, I see the virtue of the Weatherill amendment as an interim and transitional arrangement until a satisfactory longer-term solution can be found. But I was interested in the remarks earlier today of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor about his construction of the meaning of the Labour Party manifesto at the last general election. With respect, I believe that it is open to at least one other interpretation. I do not agree with the noble and learned Lord's remark that the express manifesto commitment to remove hereditary Peers can only be honoured by the completion of stage two.

It seems to me, looking at the manifesto, that stage one completely satisfies the commitment made. Those hereditary Peers who might sit in the stage one House will do so not by virtue of their inherited peerage but by virtue of the Bill, which by then will have received the consent of both Houses of Parliament. So they will become Peers by Act of Parliament, not hereditary Peers. It seems to me that that meets the Government's commitment. As a result, I see a great risk that the constitution may share the same fate as the musical hall heroine who plaintively complained, after travelling on the north-west mainline: Oh, Mr Porter,

Whatever shall I do?

I wanted to go to Birmingham

But here I am at Crewe".

I have already described the Royal Commission as the second point of a triangle. It has been widely criticised as being designed to create a genetically modified poodle with no teeth for not one, but two, masters—that is to say, the executive and the House of Commons. It might be able to yap at each of them, but it will not have the bite, the willpower or the political legitimacy to go for the jugular of either if circumstances require it. Its lap-dog status is to be guaranteed by the stipulated pre-eminence of the other place, which is both the electoral college which creates the Government and is also too often subordinated by the Government it creates.

"Pre-eminent" is not the kind of word that is in regular use in the public bars of Britain, or, for that matter, outside them either. But it is a word which can quite properly mean a number of different things in the specific context of its key position in the Royal Commission's terms of reference. Indeed, that may be why it was put there.

What matters is that, even if the second Chamber is not a coequal to the first in all of Parliament's doings, it should nevertheless be an equal partner, with equal legitimacy and fully complementary to the first Chamber within the, parliamentary process taken as a whole. Given the vagueness associated with the crucial word "pre-eminent" at the heart of the Royal Commission's remit, I hope that the Minister will be able to help the House and, as importantly, the Royal Commission, and say exactly what the word means in this context. After all, it is the Government's word, not mine.

In short, do the Government believe that Parliament should be genuinely bicameral, as I believe it should be; or will it, beneath the form and veneer of bicameralism, acquire the substance and character of a unicameral institution? If that were to occur, it would be a very damaging development and bad for Britain.

I remember when I was at school learning about the South Sea Bubble and the various ingenious enterprises intended to take advantage of the contemporary mania for speculation in South Sea stock. A firm was created, so I was taught, for purposes so secret that they could not be divulged to the public, and subscribers were sought. The Government's plans surrounding this Bill are somewhat similar. Other than displacing hereditary Peers, no one other than, or possibly even including, its promoters, the Government, knows exactly what the project of which this Bill is part is all about. We are being asked to take too much on trust.

2.44 p.m.

The Earl of Clancarty

My Lords, one of a number of somewhat contradictory stereotypical views—and the noble Lord, Lord Boardman, has just mentioned one—which people outside who know little of this House have of it is that it is mainly characterised by a body of enthusiastic, keen-minded independent people, although there is a sense of vagueness about what the term "independent" means. When I first arrived in this House, as someone who had no previous experience in any way of Parliament, what surprised me most was to discover the extent to which this second House is controlled through party politics—clearly and significantly less so than the Commons, but that is nevertheless its major aspect; and finding, too, that the hereditary Peers as well as everyone else are also in a sense woven into this system, even if they are Cross-Benchers.

I want to say at the outset that I support this action by the Government in so far as I believe that the presence of hereditary Peers en masse in Parliament is regarded by the people as simply no longer an acceptable part of it, although at the individual level some contributions are made which would be inconceivable from either life Peers or elected Peers. My noble friend, Lady Mar, for example, who has been mentioned a number of times already, is a lobbyist who probably has one of the more direct connections with the world outside Parliament. The Government should bear that in mind in their reforms. There should be far more lobbyists like my noble friend in Parliament.

As politically naÏve as I am, I think I can see why the Government have done what they have done in this way. This is a political Bill, and it is a case of biting off only as much as you can chew. The problem is that tackling as a first step the internal problem solely of composition, there is the implication that the solution to the problem of government in the more general sense is to be discovered in this way. Much debate has turned just on that aspect—what is the best system or model for a second Chamber designed for the business of "running the country"?

The central problem that the Government should he addressing is not the running of the country but the question of what is the real relationship between Parliament and the people, how best one can improve the accessibility to people of Parliament and vice versa. Those are the central, crucial questions which should determine reform. Parliament cannot be discussed in isolation. I believe that the Government need to address the clear feeling of alienation, the sense of distance that exists between the ordinary person and central government. One thing that has happened over a period is that, with greater knowledge and awareness of the world through the media, education and so on, there has become a greater desire for involvement. People's relationship to politics and politicians has in part become a voyeuristic one (it is a one-way relationship) and the vast majority of people still have what is increasingly perceived as a tenuous relationship to politics through the vote at elections. But as the expectations and desires of people change, then democracy itself must shift.

Yesterday's Daily Telegraph leader said this on the Bill: Democracy is an absolute term and something is either democratic or it is not".

I disagree. We have not yet formulated democracy. Democracy is still a goal, a place where we have yet to arrive. Most crucially, we cannot assume what new forms such democracy may (or will) take. That is why, although tempted to do so, I cannot support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, as from his speech I felt a presupposition that we already know what democracy is.

One broad mistake that the Government make is not to consider more their own role or position within this important constitutional change and to believe that the Labour Party, too, even though it has been in existence for far less time than has the hereditary system, does not also manifest similar or analogous "establishment" characteristics. So much has occurred, so much history has been compressed into the 20th century, that one could say that the Labour Party was conceived and born, in a sense like the hereditary peers, many ages ago. Like most other political parties, it has developed over a long period its own strong family atmosphere, with all the attendant problems that that brings; its own professionalism and its sense of professionalism; its party politicians as a body of professionals, like doctors or lawyers; its own protective shell, which also constitutes a barrier; and its own self-interests. All of these are aspects of party politics, to which I believe, over a period perhaps dating from around 1945, the public have become more sensitive or even sensitised. This is in no way an indictment of individual politicians; it is a problem of the system that has evolved.

In looking at the relationship between the people and Parliament, the Government should consider the idea of random selection: that one could become a member of the Upper House as part of a true lottery. That idea is listed as a possibility in the consultation paper. I believe that it should be tried out as it would provide an opportunity for ordinary people to become directly involved in the activity of central government and would be a direct line from the people to central government. The idea is not taken seriously by the media or by the Government, although it was the subject of a serious and comprehensive study by Demos. I think the people are ahead of the game on this matter. Almost everyone to whom I talk outside Parliament has said that it is a wonderful idea but that the party politicians would never accept it. Why not? Because it is not in their interests. So we come full circle to the system which instigated the Bill in the first place. The message one gets from the public is that the party politicians must give up some of their power. This Bill ought to be part of that process, as well.

2.52 p.m.

The Earl of Malmesbury

My Lords, due to my age, I have been a Member of your Lordships' House for many years and thus I am not unaware of its activities. This House is rich in knowledge and experience. There was a major reform of the second Chamber in 1958, which I have always thought was an extremely good reform. The Lord Chancellor of the day, when speaking on the 1958 reform, said, "We now have the King, the Queen and the knaves", and, with a smile on his face, he said, looking at a certain Peer, "And we have the joker, too".

One of the advantages of the hereditary system is that politically the hereditary Peers have no ladder to climb. Among the hereditary Peers is a wide fund of experience and knowledge. This is a professional age. Many of the hereditary Peers are professionals—and I can claim membership of that group.

A noble Baroness on the Benches opposite made the point last week that we are only part-time politicians. I agree entirely with her. In my opinion it would be a mistake for the second Chamber to be anything else. When we go outside the House to our place of work, or for other reasons, we gain a tremendous amount of experience, and from that experience we can enrich the debates of this House.

Another valuable point is that the old hereditary system produced Members of great differences and of all ages, with, naturally, a variety of experience. It would be difficult for a nominated House to produce the wide views that we have here, and old age would creep up on many Members of such a House.

I wonder why the Government are being so cagey about what is to take the place of the hereditary Peers. Perhaps the answer is a "don't know", but the question is being asked from all quarters.

I acknowledge that the success of the hereditary system is difficult to explain and to interpret. The important thing is that it has worked over the centuries, it keeps up to date and it is continually being modernised. Why attempt to destroy or interfere with a system that has worked so well, so loyally, so efficiently and so patriotically?

2.56 p.m.

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, the noble Earl and I agree that there is a great wealth of knowledge and ability in this House. That is something that has been very obvious to me in the relatively short time that I have been here. However, I disagree with his assessment that the House has worked very well. When I served in another place I did not discern that the House of Lords worked particularly well, especially since we occupied the opposition Benches for about 87 per cent. of my previous parliamentary experience.

It was recently said that the House relied upon the Bishops' Benches for views concerning the conditions and aspirations of the regions. I think that that may have been an overstatement. I have heard important views and comments concerning the regions from both sides of the House. However, I should welcome continued contribution from the Bishops' Benches in a reformed House of Lords, especially if the voices on those Benches included those of representatives of other faiths. I say that because, after 18 years' contribution to paganism, it would not be wise for the House to dispense with advice from those quarters.

I do not want to speak for too long, but I wish to reflect my interest in history, particularly local history. I come from a part of South Yorkshire which a hundred years ago would have been described as a Fitzwilliam fiefdom. The Fitzwilliams were the dominant family and for most of their time in public service were not given to support of the Conservative cause. The first important person to serve Parliament from what was my constituency was Thomas Wentworth. The next, and perhaps far more interesting, was that great Whig leader, Thomas, Marquess of Rockingham, who on two occasions was briefly Prime Minister. He led an important group of politicians in the 18th century, the Rockingham Whigs, a group of ducal Peers with enormous wealth, experience and power. They appear to me to have demonstrated, more than any other political group in the distant past, the spirit of noblesse oblige, to which I shall refer later.

When Prime Minister, Rockingham, while leading that group, employing Edmund Burke, engaging in good works and developing the landscape which we still enjoy in my area today—especially where it is no longer ravaged by opencast mining—also sought to establish a balanced and just peace in Europe. He constructed a very tall commemorative building—I shall not describe it as a folly—that is currently being refurbished. Over the doorway is a carving that bears the inscription that Rockingham sought to achieve a just and balanced peace in Europe. It is interesting that under the shadow of that building, Hooper Stand, William Hague, the present Leader of the Conservatives, spent his formative years. One wonders whether Rockingham would have agreed with William Hague's acceptance that the principle of inheritance can no longer apply.

Rockingham died without male issue and through his daughter the estate and the Whig tradition passed to the Fitzwilliams. The eldest son of the Fitzwilliams, Lord Milton, was invariably in the House of Commons. In 1832 he was one of the champions of the Reform Bill. The arguments that Lord Milton heard in Parliament in 1832 are being echoed in today's debate: yes, it would be right to reform but not now. That kind of argument has been echoing for a very long time, not merely in the 100 years or so since Parliament decided that the House of Lords should cease to rely on the hereditary peerage.

Unlike my noble friend, for whom I have great affection, I am not a believer in the unicameral system. If I had been a believer in that principle my experience in the 1970s would have changed that view. I was taking a Private Member's Bill with all-party support through Parliament in 1975. When it had completed its passage through the Commons it was realised that six amendments were needed to achieve legislative rectitude. The only way to get through those amendments was by service of a number of individuals, including the late Viscount Cranborne, in order to get that Bill through. The unicameral system can present hurdles to progress.

However, I became convinced of the need for reform of this House during the long years of the administration of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher. Two issues in particular stand out. In 1980 my constituency, which had not previously experienced post-war unemployment, saw jobs go by the thousand and hope diminished. In one school just four children managed to find work at the end of the school year. I met 40 or 50 young children who had been brought to Westminster by the Church of England Children's Society. That was the saddest day of my political life. Those 14 and 15 year-old children had seen nothing but poverty, had experienced hopelessness and no challenge or opportunity confronted them. When poverty was developing in my constituency the government of the noble Baroness decided to inflict greater hardship on the poor. They were told that if they needed new blankets they could borrow money. I am aware that Liberal, Labour and Cross-Bench Peers, Bishops, and even some Conservative Peers, were troubled by that approach. That approach succeeded because the skills of the then government's Whips' Office brought in the backwoodsmen. I recall that two Peers came into this House who had not been here for years. They did not live in Britain, presumably for fiscal reasons, but they came back to oppress the poor in areas like mine. In my view that was a matter that could not be allowed to pass without criticism or condemnation.

I accept that for generations the hereditary peerage has provided people who have given great service to our country. Indeed, the service may have been such as to forgive the original patronage that created the peerage. My noble friend referred to the fact that all of us are here because of patronage, whether or not through generations.

The second crunch issue was the poll tax. I remind the House that occasionally newspaper cartoons can provide very telling political messages. The great house of the Fitzwilliams, Wentworth Woodhouse, is about to be sold, perhaps for a price less than that of a semi-detached house in the more affluent areas of London, even though it has 88 acres, many facilities and is in a suitable position. However, I am not an estate agent. I live two miles from Wentworth Woodhouse and so I view it with great affection.

When the poll tax debate was taking place the Daily Telegraph published a cartoon which showed that great house in front of which stood two men. One held a Gladstone bag marked "poll tax" and the other, the single occupant of Wentworth Woodhouse at the time, is saying "Just one". His poll tax bill for that great house was the same as for those who occupied the little cottages on Wentworth main street. When built by the Fitzwilliams, they represented superb accommodation for the working class but today appear to be rather small and crowded. Nevertheless, the occupants of Wentworth main street cottages were to pay the same as the occupant of the big house. The cry that went up, which was welcomed by too many people on the other side, was that the dustman and the duke would pay the same. The dukes may be there, but not the dustmen.

When that measure went through without sufficient challenge and question the hereditary Peers, too often slavishly supporting the Conservative Party, had blown it. Democracy cannot now be restored. Britain must become a meritocracy if it is to survive. It cannot be a meritocracy if it depends on inherited privilege.

3.6 p.m.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, your Lordships may recall that last November I withdrew a Bill in my name entitled the Hereditary Peerage (Election) Bill before its second Reading for which the Government had been generous enough to provide a whole day's debate. As a number of your Lordships have since expressed disappointment that the debate did not take place, I hope your Lordships will find it helpful if I now put on record some of the thinking behind that Bill, and the reason for its withdrawal, in the hope that this may be helpful to the way ahead.

The Bill was drafted in July 1997 after discussion among a number of us appointed Peers who feared that the Government would wish to press ahead with their manifesto commitment to remove the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in your Lordships' House. We saw the 1998–99 Session, which then lay ahead, as the last chance for the House to come up with its own reform. We felt that it was worth a pre-emptive attempt to persuade the Government not to bring forward the unfortunate Bill which we now have before us.

The Bill was drafted to achieve four aims. These were: first, to respect the Government's manifesto commitment to remove the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in your Lordships' House. That is not the same thing as to remove all of them from the Chamber permanently. Second, having abolished their right to sit, the Bill envisaged forming all Peers with a reasonable attendance record into an electoral college to elect 250 hereditary Peers to serve on a rolling basis for five years at a time. Third, the Bill thus maintained the whole pool of hereditary Peers available to give service to the country for the foreseeable future, until Parliament agreed full reform. Fourth, we wanted to reduce the number of Conservative Peers whose dominance we regarded as just about the only thing wrong with your Lordships' House. Indeed, I cannot help feeling that over the years the Labour and Liberal Parties, and also many on the Cross-Benches, must have found the preponderance of Conservative votes in your Lordships' House rather more irritating than the hereditary principle.

I do not pretend that our Bill was perfectly drafted but it could have been substantially amended in Committee. For instance, I see now that it was a mistake to set up the whole House as a single college to elect a number of hereditary Peers across the board, or across the parties and Cross-Benches of the House. I feel sure that each party and the Cross-Benches should select their own representatives, as we learn today is proposed by the Weatherill amendment, up to quotas which the House should decide. There is also the difficult question as to whether only hereditary Peers should elect other hereditary Peers or whether they should be elected by us jumped-up parvenus as well. Our Bill was drafted to reflect the latter option, even if we knew it would cause understandable irritation with some of your hereditary Lordships, because we felt that such a system would earn more sympathy with the public since it relied on a more broadly based and knowledgeable electorate. But of course it would have been for the House to decide.

Another of our Bill's major shortcomings in retrospect was that it proposed to select only hereditary Peers by internal election, because they appeared to be the most immediately threatened at the time. But of course there is not anyone who knows how this House works who could honestly pretend that the best of the hereditary Peers do not give far greater service to the nation than do many of us appointed Peers. So if the hereditary Peers are to be weeded out, why not us appointed Peers as well? And not only us appointed working Peers, as my noble friend Lord Archer suggested this afternoon. Why should someone who may have given less than helpful service to the country in some previous Cabinet be granted an infrequent and disinterested place here?

Such was the Hereditary Peerage (Election) Bill. I withdrew it because I was persuaded by Peers whom I respect that a detailed debate in your Lordships' House on its merits would have so horrified the left-wing ideologues in another place that they would have made it impossible for the Government to accept anything along the lines proposed. I also heard on the grapevine that my noble friend Lord Cranborne was up to something, and I did not want to upset his plans.

Therefore, perhaps wrongly, I felt that the right time to bring forward solutions of the kind that the Bill envisaged would be during the Committee stage of this Bill. Of course I have known from the start that to gain maximum public sympathy, the leadership in this matter should come from an eminent Cross-Bench, appointed Peer, and not from a maverick Back-Bench Conservative such as myself. I have to confess that my name was only attached to the Bill because of a procedural misunderstanding.

That brings me to the Weatherill amendment—which, with all due respect, does not seem quite good enough, because 92 hereditary Peers are not enough to ensure the proper functioning of this House until stage 2 is completed. We have been given no justification for that number. It would appear that somebody thought that 10 per cent. was a reasonable compromise, plus a few extras. Now we are threatened by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, in somewhat unpleasant terms, that we must take it or leave it.

I, for one, hope that we shall examine the Weatherill amendment in our usual way in Committee, and amend it if it seems necessary to do so and if the justification for such an amendment can be proved. Anything else would surely be a dereliction to our duty to the country.

The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan and others seem to take it for granted that the hereditary principle is indefensible. As an appointed Peer, I am perfectly happy to defend it. Hereditary Peers are the only part of our legislature who do not owe their position to patronage or the vagaries of the ballot box and who, after all, only sit in a revising and delaying Chamber. As such, they are theoretically of great value to the country, but they are of great value not only in theory. All noble Lords have acknowledged that the best of our hereditary Peers are of great value in fact as well.

Before introducing my Bill, I spent much of a weekend on what your Lordships may regard as a rather impertinent exercise—reading through "Dod's", comparing the CVs of hereditary Peers with those of appointed Peers and, a somewhat less absorbing exercise, with the CVs of those who have been elected to the other place. I recommend that exercise to the Government, if they really have the nation's interests at heart. From even my knowledge of the quality and performance of most of the hereditary Peers who come here regularly, I concluded that the country would be mad to dispense with the services of at least 150 Cross-Bench and Conservative hereditary Peers. I did not look at Peers from other sectors of the House because I assumed that they would all be retained in the interests of a political balance.

Simply to throw away those hereditary Peers, those good servants of the country, and to abolish the pool of wisdom and duty from which they come without replacing them with something obviously as good, seems to me to be an act of such political vandalism that it must be resisted with every means at our disposal. If that means learning to enjoy regular breakfasts in your Lordships' House over a long period, so be it. However, I hope that it will not be necessary to grow too closely acquainted with such culinary treats. That will be up to the Government of course and I cannot see why they should be unreasonable. After all, they have conceded the principle that 92 hereditary Peers should stay on while the Royal Commission sits and until Parliament agrees stage 2. I hope that the Government will not be so small minded as to stick to their unjustified number of 92. If they are, I hope that noble Lords will not feel bound by the Salisbury convention, which I cannot believe was designed to facilitate the destruction of your Lordships' House without an adequate alternative insight.

I also trust that the Government will not make too much of their manifesto commitment to remove the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in your Lordships' House. After all, that commitment, according to a Written Answer that I received recently, was only one of 177 manifesto commitments, so it is not surprising that in a recent poll only 2 per cent, of the population were even aware of it.

If amendments along the lines that I have outlined come forward and are supported, they would in any case meet the Government's manifesto. The right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote would have been removed. All we would be arguing about is the number of hereditary Peers who should continue to sit for the short space of time until stage two is complete. I look forward to that argument.

3.16 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, it is my pleasure to follow such an attractive noble Lord, who claims that he is a maverick Conservative. I do not know how many maverick Conservatives are about these days. I was one 70 years ago and your Lordships can see where I have got to now. The noble Lord might think that I am an example of what he might turn into. He will forgive me if I do not follow his arguments in detail.

We have listened to more than 100 notable speeches, many of them inspired by the words of the famous poet, Julian Grenfell: The black bird says to him,

'Brother, brother—if this be the last song you shall sing

Sing well, for you may not sing another

Brother sing'. Many noble Lords have sung to some purpose. For my part, I rise to support the Second Reading of the Bill with a sad heart. I repeat, with a sad heart. I get the same pleasure as I would if somebody told me that I must have my left hand amputated. On such good advice, one would have to accept that opinion but I would not get any pleasure out of it. I do not see how anyone could get pleasure from eliminating so many noble Lords who have done such good service. I do not say that they have all done such good service because more than half of them seldom come here. The fact is a lot of them have done wonderful work over the years and we are now eliminating or sacking them. I have been lucky to survive by some sort of strange procedure, and there are a few others who were created Peers—including the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, who spoke so well—and were allowed to come here as life Peers for the time being, until they introduce an age limit, which I hope will not be too soon.

We are engaged on the very sad job of eliminating some of our best friends—people we have come to know well and respect so highly. Who can get any pleasure out of that? When we think of hereditary Peers, some of us recall that half the Leaders of the House over the past 50 years that I have been here were hereditary Peers. No one would say that they were inferior to those appointed on merit. The noble Baroness who leads the House so well is a wonderful example of both traditions. She has a life peerage but, I am glad to think, she represents the hereditary principle at its most distinctive. When we hear her speaking so well, it must be hereditary genes operating in her case—which is encouraging.

My mind goes back 50 years, although the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and others have been here longer. Fifty years ago, I heard the grandfather of the last Leader of the Opposition, Lord Cranborne. A Labour Peer who had criticised him sharply went up to him and apologised. Lord Salisbury said, "If you felt it was your duty to say that, you were right to say it. This is not a club. It is a House of Parliament". That noble Marquess did more than any other person to make sure that this is not only the best club in the world but a fine House of Parliament. We recall such people with great admiration.

In referring to Lord Cranborne, I should mention his counterpart, Lord Addison, the leader of the government for six years after the war when I first joined the House as a relative youngster. He was a worthy opposite number to Lord Salisbury. I used to sit beside him; I was a kind of pupil. On one occasion I thought that I was making a good speech. He kicked me on the back of the legs and said, "Sit down now. You've got the House with you. You'll lose it if you go on longer". So I sat down. Those were great men in those days.

We now come to the hereditary principle. I have talked about individuals and I now refer to the atmosphere. It is impossible to define or measure it. No one can deny that the hereditary Peers have done much over the years to create the atmosphere of this House. No one can deny that. It is hard to prove it. People flock to come here. They come to lunch; they come to watch, they sit on our Benches or any Benches. They visit this House because it arouses so much admiration so widely. No one can measure it but no one can deny the influence of hereditary Peers in creating that atmosphere.

We have to ask ourselves whether we are going to throw all that away. Will hereditary Peers disappear without trace? They cannot stay. Hereditary Peers have had it in the broad sense of 750 Peers; more than half of them are not playing any part here. No doubt they are otherwise occupied. We cannot justify that. The time had come when tremendous reforms had to come about. I simply say this. Let us make sure that the traditions of the old House are maintained as far as possible; that continuity is maintained as far as possible.

We have the possibility of the deal. I do not know whether or not it is going through. I hope that it does. I support it. But my mind goes back to 30 years ago when I was leader of this place. I brought forward the two writ plan under which first generation hereditary Peers would attend and speak but not vote. It was not my brainchild, but that of the late Henry Burrows who sat at the Table where the Clerk Assistant sits now. He used to take me to play golf at Rye every Sunday. When I missed a putt, he used to say, "You do believe in the two writ plan, don't you?" I could have brained him. But the two writ plan was his. I still say that that was, and remains, the best plan. The two writ plan was agreed to by the leaders of all the parties here and elsewhere: that first generation hereditary Peers should speak but not vote. It was sabotaged in the House of Commons. I hope that someone with a more contemporary influence, a leading figure such as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, or some other notable person, will bring forward that plan. If no one else does so, I shall bring it forward myself, but I hope that someone better will do so.

This is an historic occasion. The House has been a wonderful place. Many of us have come to love it. It should not be disposed of by a series of soundbites. It is too serious a matter. It is an historic moment. I agree that there is no easy way out. The 750 hereditary Peers had to be coped with. The problem had to be solved drastically. However, I hope that it will be solved in a humane way.

3.24 p.m.

Lord Bowness

My Lords, in the words of my noble friend Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare I am a party hack, and a rude mechanical. Perhaps I may say how much I appreciate that fact not having been brought to my attention by other noble Lords who sit here by virtue of succession or other appointments.

I shall not revisit all the arguments against a Bill which sets out to remove a large proportion of the membership of your Lordships' House without any firm proposals to replace what is currently in place, save to say that I agree with what has been said in that regard. It is clear that the Government's motivation for the Bill is quite simply the removal from this House of those Peers who sit by succession and while that has been expressed in more measured terms in this House some of the comments in another place had the resonance of mere prejudice and spite rather than any great constitutional ambition.

So obsessed are the Government with this so-called principle that they cannot even allow those who have hereditary peerages of first creation to remain, but would rather abolish their right to sit and then offer them a life peerage in their own right.

Simple fairness has no part in this Bill. The Government are prepared to ask us to remove the right of Members to sit in this Parliament who had no vote at the last election on the basis that they had a seat in Parliament in their own right. Even if the measure is to proceed, it should not come into force until the next Parliament. In my submission it is a manifest injustice. To use a phrase that I recall hearing when I sat on what were then the Government Benches—used by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and which has remained with me—an injustice to a few is no less an injustice.

The Government have said that it is essential to secure the removal of the hereditary Peers before an alternative can be proceeded with. But is that really the case? In the debate on the White Paper and in this debate, noble Lords who sit in this House by succession have made clear their willingness to step aside and embrace suitable reforms. Do the Government really believe that a solution which has eluded everyone for so many years will emerge and that the absence of hereditary Peers is the factor that will make it possible?

I do not accept that that is a well-founded belief. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House indicated in the debate on the White Paper that the Royal Commission should be able to report within the timetable that has been set for it because there are not many new arguments and not much new evidence. If that is the case, why will this attempt at reform be any different from previous occasions; or have the Government a solution which they intend to implement irrespective of what the Royal Commission may recommend?

I remain highly sceptical of finding an alternative significantly different from the present arrangements that is acceptable, especially to another place. The Government have already stated that the House of Commons is to remain the pre-eminent Chamber. I believe that the notion of an elected Chamber is something for which this country's political system and culture is not yet prepared.

The political culture of this country has evolved in which another place is now considered to be the very centre of political importance to the virtual exclusion of anywhere else. It does nothing particularly for relations with local government, the European Parliament or your Lordships' House. But it is a fact and it remains to be seen how relations with the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies turn out. The other place has become, as many noble Lords have said, an instrument of government rather than a means of calling the Executive to account; and, indeed, new ways of calling that Executive to account are needed.

However, I do not believe that that will be through a second Chamber, elected or otherwise. Control of the Executive should properly rest with another place, unless revolutionary change were accepted to give an elected second Chamber parity with the first. In that event, it would become the creature of the parties and not be the revising, advising, independent body that everyone says it should be.

Those in the other place and Government who advocate an elected second Chamber would, I believe, balk at the notion if it were to become a reality and threaten the supremacy of the other place. It would not suit the other place or governments who draw their authority from their majorities in the other place.

I would be the last, and it would be wholly inappropriate for me having been recommended to membership of your Lordships' House by the then Leader of my party, to suggest that there is something disreputable about party politics. But how would another Chamber, tightly bound into the party political machine, help us to achieve what is required of the second Chamber? An attempt to introduce a partially elected legitimacy into the second Chamber would lead to more problems.

Those elected might consider they had the right to challenge the other place, and if such rights were written out by law what would be the point of being elected to this place? It would undoubtedly lead to problems within the House. The cry that a vote was lost on the votes of the hereditary Peers would likely be replaced by the cry that it was lost on the votes of the appointed Peers. Some members would then be more legitimate than others. I believe that this Bill before the House, if it is to be proceeded with, needs revision to ensure that robust arrangements are in place for the interim House, since the interim may be rather longer than is currently envisaged by some.

The arrangements for the future appointment of life Peers do not feature in the Bill. One asks, why not? The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester indicated how much those of us who are privileged to be Members draw from traditions and approaches that have been brought here over the centuries by the hereditary peerage. I make no apologies for expressing my preference for the present arrangements, with one particular and important exception to which I shall refer later, and thus I want all the elements of the present House to carry through into the interim House in a robust manner. I well understand that if we were in the business of writing a constitution we would not introduce the hereditary principle in the legislature; but we are not starting from scratch. This nation has not had the misfortune, as a result of war, invasion or dictatorship, to have had the need to produce a new written constitution. We have been able to allow our own unwritten constitution to evolve over a period of time. The present House is a result of that evolution and the presence of life Peers is an example of that evolution. As are the present powers of the House which have evolved, some by statute others by convention. The hereditary Peers sit in this House not by virtue of holding on to power or usurping power, but because they have the legal and constitutional right so to do given and confirmed by Parliament. I regret that comments in another place indicate that some people believe differently.

The system has given, and continues to give, to Parliament many devoted Members who have sat for party or no party and who have brought to the House a wealth of different expertise. The powers of this House are such that, however composed, the Government can, rightly, always get their business. The will of the other place will always prevail, even if it does have to resort to the Parliament Acts. However, given the number of occasions they have been used, there is hardly a record of outright defiance on the part of the second Chamber.

Apart from the instances of the use of the Parliament Acts, I reject the statistics of defeats. I do not consider votes lost by the Government in this House to be defeats as such. If in reviewing and revising legislation this Government, or any government, see such votes in the second Chamber as defeats, that is tantamount to saying that they do not really want a second Chamber with any meaningful functions, however composed, to question or have the temerity to delay their onward march of progress.

There is a very delicate balance between this House and the other place. The interim House needs to be composed in a robust fashion and we need to keep within it a hereditary presence. For that reason, I support the arrangement proposed in December by my noble friend Lord Cranborne. This leaves the House with a hereditary representation that will remain in place if, indeed, an agreed formula can be found in the next few months, unlike the past 80 years.

It is a great regret that this Government, which have changed in their outlook so much from the traditional outlook of the Labour Party, cannot find the vision and generosity of spirit needed to address the question of the future of your Lordships' House in an evolutionary manner, recognising that not all is bad about the present arrangements and that, defying all logic, the hereditary peerage has given us many independent Members, and even those with party allegiance of independent views, and that, put quite simply, the House has worked and the supremacy of the other place maintained.

Instead, they remain committed to the onslaught against the hereditary Peers in the same way that they were once committed to other policies now consigned to history.

The arrangement referred to ought, in the hands of men and women of good will, to have showed the way forward for a permanent solution, not just for an interim one. As a life Peer, I believe that it is entirely appropriate that hereditary Peers should have the right to choose their representatives. I hope that in Committee we will be able to explore properly how vacancies which arise should be filled. We must ensure that future Peers who inherit by succession have a right to participate in the electoral college.

All that is in the context of and using some acceptable formula to ensure that the overall numbers in the House do not give one party an advantage. I well understand that noble Lords opposite do not accept a position in which one party has dominance. I believe that the arrangement described as the Weatherill amendment enables that problem to be addressed. The reasoned amendment reflects many of our concerns. I hope that the Committee stage will enable the interim arrangements to be given enough substance and form to ensure that the House may continue its useful existence for many years if reform does not appear as quickly as expected.

3.36 p.m.

Lord Naseby

My Lords, I begin by paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, and his amendment. Whatever hour the Division is called, I shall certainly support it. More than 40 years ago, he and I were trainee RAF pilots together. We devised a badge for our corps, for the Phoenix, and a motto Cogito Ergo Sum, at least we borrowed it from Descartes. Your Lordships will know that it is, "I think, therefore I am" and one reflects that it might have helped the Government had they done a little more thinking about this issue.

The very holding of this debate and the number of Peers who wish to take part demonstrates more than anything else that today and yesterday are moments in history. I shall draw on history and make analogies with the Cromwellian period and with the ditchers and the backwoodsmen of 1911.

The Bill before us is not long, but I remind your Lordships that neither was the Maastricht Bill. Short Bills have a habit of creating gigantic change. In my judgment, this is a vindictive and dangerous Bill as it panders to the Labour Left and the rather simplistic argument that the hereditary principle is outdated. For the Government to claim, as they do, that it was in the manifesto and therefore under the Salisbury convention is must be accepted, is in my judgment a Salisbury too far. I do not accept that the Salisbury convention was created to betray the integrity of this House and of Parliament. Indeed, the experience of 1911 and the gallant role played in that debate by the then Lord Salisbury clearly underlines the fact that so far as he was concerned the convention never included constitutional reform.

I return to the manifesto and the last election. I fought that election. Was this issue ever discussed, debated, talked about, spun over or anything else? No, it was totally ignored during that election. Labour could have highlighted it, but it chose not so to do. When the Government took over they could have moved with speed and commitment by establishing a Royal Commission within a week or so of the gracious Speech. If they had done that then we could have had the benefit of those results by now and certainly within the timetable that they are setting for the present Royal Commission. But only now do they set up a Royal Commission and at the same time decide that the hereditary Peers must go. Yet in a little more time than a series of focus groups take, even under the shortened version they will have the findings of the Royal Commission.

So far as I am concerned, sadly there seems to be no sense of history on the Government Benches; no understanding of the true heritage of this country and certainly no vision. The hereditary Peers are a part of our history and of the uniqueness of this Chamber. They are part of the character of the United Kingdom. In the past, and to some extent even today, they represent land ownership. The majority have taken their role as revisers in this Chamber extremely seriously. In my judgment we should not be so cavalier as to throw out centuries of history and certainly not until we have the recommendations of the Royal Commission.

I mention history. Indeed, in all my speeches on Lords' reform I have referred to history. History demonstrates evolution. Parliament has never been static. It has changed and evolved. Certainly I for one am not against change, but almost all change is evolutionary. Yes, there have been exceptions when change was abrupt and not evolutionary, but revolutionary. Cromwell is one such example. He removed in order the King, the House of Lords and then the House of Commons. Towards the end of his life he recognised the need for democratic legitimacy and restored the House of Commons and also the House of Lords.

Cromwell himself recognised the need for another House—our House. He said, I should name another House. I named it of men who shall meet you wheresoever you go, and shake hands with you, and tell you it is not titles, nor lords, nor parties that they value, but a Christian and an English interest. Men of your own rank and quality, who will not only be a balance unto you, but a new force added to you, while you love England". For me that encapsulates what drives much of the House of Lords since I joined your Lordships' House.

As one thinks about that I for one reflect on the way the present Prime Minister treats the other place, only voting, when I checked, in 14 Divisions out of 325, which is probably the worst record for any Prime Minister this century; how he switched Prime Minister's Questions from twice a week to once a week to make it easier for the Prime Minister; how he must be the one who sanctions leaks by Ministers instead of making Statements to the other place; how he encourages his followers to leak confidential Select Committee reports and how his Government's reforms ensure that that House is sitting less. In essence, the other place is becoming virtually ignored.

Now it is us who are to be emasculated. It may be that there will be an interim of 91 hereditary Peers, but to match them there will be at least, we are promised, 50 more life Peers from one party. So by the time of the next gracious Speech this autumn, a few months away, we too will be emasculated and the Bills that flow from that speech will have relatively little difficulty in being rubber stamped by an ineffectual second Chamber.

So to this Bill, driven through on the abstract concept of modernisation, but with no thought of ever strengthening our democracy. We all know the Executive is too powerful and the other place too subservient, but the unique opportunity that is there to create a Chamber of significance; to create one with real checks and balances against ill thought-out legislation, is postponed and may never be achieved. It is a lost opportunity to really update our democratic institutions in a thoughtful and well-considered way.

Of more importance to the Government is to drive through the almost total removal of those who have proven their worth over centuries and even today provide more than half the number of activists in your Lordships' House. There is no great populist desire to get rid of the hereditary Peers. We should remember the ditchers of 1911. They saw the reality of appeasement.

I want a British second Chamber, not a copy of somewhere else and not some transitory, allegedly modernised Chamber totally subservient to the Prime Minister of the day. The lessons of history cry out to your Lordships for us to have a strong Parliament if we are to have a strong democracy. To me I smell a wider plot by the Labour modernisers and the writers of manifestos. It is no less than to undermine the supremacy of Parliament. Tonight we can and should make our presence felt. In my judgment we owe it to the British people and to our democracy.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Shore of Stepney

My Lords, I have been in this House long enough to learn a number of new and important things; the quality of the House and its debates and the very valuable contribution that so many individual hereditary Peers make to our deliberations. Therefore, I well understand the sense of sadness, to some extent, and nostalgia which has been occasionally expressed by noble Lords on both sides of the House. I also read history when I was at university so I have some idea of the contribution and place of the Lords in the remarkable and marvellous history of this country.

But perhaps for very opposite reasons to those given by the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, in expressing his concerns, I express, as it were, my support for the measure which we are now introducing. I support it because I am concerned—and more so than before I came here—about the weakening of the House of Commons and the dangers of an over-powerful executive. It is precisely because I want to see that danger scotched that: I wish to see the House of Lords, in certain aspects of its work, strengthened and not weakened. I genuinely believe that the measure that we have before us will produce that effect.

I had better spend the time I have explaining why I come sincerely to that conclusion. It is partly based on my experience in this House. I have not always agreed with my noble friends on some of the measures that have come from the other place. Indeed, with the best will in the world, the House of Commons, with its huge majority, can get things wrong. We have a vivid example—and I am sure that history will vindicate my judgment—in the methods by which we are in future to elect members of the European Parliament, which in my view, are a disgrace. The use of the powers that legitimately belong to this House were absolutely justified. One could argue that they should be strengthened in such issues where constitutional matters are to the fore. One or two noble Lords have already drawn attention to the constitutional role of the upper Chamber.

I have learnt another lesson from this House. Governments with large majorities can do foolish things, but this place lacks the authority and legitimacy to act as a genuine bar to them when they get things wrong. Why is that? Again and again, when we rejected that wretched Bill, the Government's public relations team, not my noble friends on the Front Bench, came forward with the explanation, "Oh, we dismissed it almost without looking at it because X number of hereditary Peers voted for it". The truth is that the authority of this House is not enhanced by hereditary Peers. It is very largely reduced by them. That is because public opinion, not only here but almost anywhere, does not now accept the legitimacy of the expression of opinion of a House dominated largely, as it is, by Members who are present simply on the basis of hereditary rights.

In my view, that is an almost fatal weakness which we must remedy, and this Bill does that. I believe genuinely that we shall have a stronger Chamber when that kind of remark can no longer be made about the measures which we turn down and return to another place. It will not be possible to say that a provision was turned down because the reserve army of Conservative backwoodsmen came suddenly to the fore and voted it down, but rather as a result of the considered judgment of Members of this House who are here on their own merit and in recognition of their achievements and the contribution they can make to the affairs of this House.

I find other advantages in the House as it will become which have not been touched on but which should not be ignored. The imbalance is important. I leave on one side entirely the 90 or so Peers who may remain. But when the bulk of the hereditary Peers cease to have the right to vote, the two main parties are virtually in balance. There are slightly more Conservative than Labour Peers, but that does not matter. It is almost level pegging.

Thirdly, the Cross-Bench Peers, whom I certainly value, will be able to play, as they already have, an extremely important role. But the Government must stick to the two commitments that they have made. The first is that they will not seek nor accept a position in which they have an overall majority of Peers in this House but will seek only parity with the Conservative opposition. The second is that there shall not be less than, for example, 25 per cent, of non-party Peers. If that were so, we should have erected a barrier against the kind of electoral tyranny which so many noble Lords genuinely fear. It really will be a barrier and it must be taken into account by all those who legislate in another place.

I want to return to the matter of the constitution. We have an almost non-controversial role as a revising Chamber. I believe in bicameral government and, therefore, that is very valuable. But in addition, we should be responsible for constitutional matters. As we abandon, one by one, our powers of government and the powers of our people to the European institutions, I can see a situation arising in which a majority in the House of Commons would virtually give away the rights of the British people unless it were checked. A non-elected Chamber alone has the power to stop that. The great constitutional questions which we face in the future can best be dealt with—and this is the irony and paradox of the matter—not by turning this into an elected Chamber, where there would simply be gridlock or madness in the sense of being merely a rubber stamp for the other Chamber, but rather by having a Chamber which, provided that we can reach agreement on how its Members should be appointed, will have a built-in independence which will provide a safeguard for the rights of our people such as they have never had before. I find that an attractive prospect and not one which is too difficult to achieve.

I look around this Chamber at the number of life Peers who have been appointed since Harold Macmillan had the wisdom to introduce that innovation 40 years ago. Who has been chosen? It is irrelevant to speak of "Tony's placemen" and we know it is. Seven or eight very different Prime Ministers of considerable distinction have selected a number of people to serve in this House. Who are the people they have selected? They are mainly fellow parliamentarians from the other place and people of obvious distinction in terms of the public services which contribute so much to our lives—heads of the medical profession and the universities, and lawyers. We all know of the great range of people of real distinction. They have never been party people. Anyone who has had responsibility for a ministry knows about the recommendations which come up through the Civil Service—people of obvious merit and selection. A judgment must be made, but one would be very silly to refuse to pass on such recommendations to the Prime Minister as being something of which one approved. They are not placemen. There may be a handful of those, and we must find ways to prevent that.

One of the strongest components of this House, which will still exist as soon as the Bill becomes law, is the presence here of nearly 200 former Members of Parliament. They are men with considerable and relevant experience in the business of accountability and legislation. Their skills are not to be discarded or disparaged in any way.

The great secret is that once they are here and once they are appointed for life, whipping is a voluntary activity. It is; of course it is. I do not fear anything from my noble friends. Why should I? I have no ambitions. I have a good relationship with them. Those of us who take a Whip do it because we broadly agree with our party's policies. But when we do not agree, what can be done? We are as free as the Cross-Benchers in terms of how we vote and speak. That is a very strong feature of life-appointed Peers. Do not let anyone say in future that there should be a limit of five or 10 years because that would remove precisely that independence which all life Peers enjoy. I believe that I have said virtually everything I wanted to say—so I shall now sit down.

3.58 p.m.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick

My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Shore. I frequently find that I am in agreement with him these days. However, on this occasion, although I agreed with his premise, I believe that that premise could equally have led to another conclusion; namely, to support the hereditary element and not to support proposals which may result in the House being weaker than it is now.

When we had the two-day debate before, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, said that he thought it was inconceivable that anyone could say anything new on this issue. We heard one remarkable, new thing today, and that was the speech of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor who gave us an encomium for the hereditary principle. We were told about the Cecils, we were told about Melbourne and even Lord Liverpool who is normally dismissed as a complete reactionary received a highly favourable mention. He told us how Lord Rosebery used to sing Rule Britannia. If he had reminded us about Lord Rosebery listening to the Eton Boating Song on his death bed, we would have been calling out on this side, "Over here, over here, he's one of us".

The speech of the Lord Chancellor was an unusual combination of self-deprecation and heavy menace. He went on to say that the hereditary principle could not be justified. He said that it had survived, "because of the balance of forces". Then, without a hint of irony, he told us about proposals for 91 new ways of choosing hereditary Peers, a product, I may say, of the balance of forces—not much principle there.

The noble Baroness the Leader of the House was also rather realpolitik in her approach, but rather more overtly. In opening the debate, she told us why it was right to tackle this subject in two stages. In doing so, she also demonstrated why it is wrong to do it in two stages. She argued that it is necessary to do it in two stages, otherwise the measure would never get off the ground, and we would start disagreeing among ourselves and in the other place. After all, that is what happened last time. So we must simply get rid of the hereditary principle.

That is a very odd approach. It does not seem very sensible. If you have a problem to which you do not know the answer, first, you deal with the little bit to which you do know the answer and you are left with the bit to which you do not know the answer and you still have the problem.

In truth, the approach of the Government may tactically be right, from their point of view, but it is wrong in principle. The Lord Chancellor was not right when he said that the objections on this side were objections only of process. The objections are also objections of principle. It is wrong that something as important as a second Chamber of Parliament should be constituted on an interim basis. A country that has an interim constitution is a country that is at risk; a country that is exposed; a country that runs the danger of the use of arbitrary power.

It is odd that noble Lords on the other side have continually underlined that point. Endlessly, they have reminded us that the present composition of the House of Lords is the result of an interim solution. Having identified a wrong way of going about it, they now propose to take the course to which they objected in 1911. An interim House has to be justified, not by what it may do, but on its own merits. It has to be able to stand alone and to answer the test: can it be an effective second Chamber?

An interim House may last much longer than the Government intend. Dare I say, they may lose an election before the second stage takes place. The Joint Committee may take a long time after the Wakeham Commission. The Cabinet may find it difficult to come to an agreement. Back-Benchers may reject it, as they have rejected proposals before, and the Labour Party in the House of Commons is split between bicameralists and unicameralists. Of course, an interim solution may be followed by another interim solution.

Even if an interim House lasts a short period, it is important that it does its job properly because in the next few years it will have to deal with profoundly important constitutional matters. It may have Bills to deal with proportional representation and the single currency. The single currency may be settled by referendum, but the arrangements for that referendum will be important constitutional matters that this House ought to consider very seriously.

An interim House has to be examined and judged against the test: will it be suitable as a permanent solution as well? Will removing the hereditary Peers and having a House that is appointed to reflect more closely the results of the general election, guarantee that the House will be more effective and more independent? I suggest that the proposals for an interim House will make this House more subordinate to the House of Commons. I am not sure that that is a good idea at a time of massive constitutional change which may confront this country.

In 1978 the late Lord Home, the former Prime Minister, in his report on the constitution said: The natural consequence for our institutions of the crude equation of Parliamentary Government with the right of a majority in the House of Commons to authorise a Government to do anything for which it claims a mandate, must be unicameral Government". The real danger is that the Government are, in effect, giving us unicameral government by stealth and that will leave a House that will be less effective than at present.

Many noble Lords have emphasised the important role of the House as a revising Chamber. I believe that that misses the important point about the House. A revising Chamber is convenient. It is convenient for Government and convenient for civil servants. However, the House of Lords has an important role to play as a constitutional longstop. The need for a second Chamber is on constitutional issues. Like the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, I am a House of Commons man. Even when measures go through the House of Commons, I believe that constitutional change should be slow and careful and should have the explicit consent of the people.

When this House uses its power to protect the constitution, it does no more than safeguard the birthright of the people. It is no more relevant that this House is unelected than that a High Court judge who has the power to set free, by habeas corpus, those unlawfully detained, is unelected.

So many aspects appear not to have been thought through in the Government's approach. On the Salisbury convention, the Labour Party says that it should continue after the House is reformed, but the Salisbury convention was introduced as an answer to the in-built Tory majority in the House. They never stop reminding us about the in-built Tory majority in the House. If the in-built majority in the House goes, so, in logic, must the Salisbury convention.

Other aspects of (he Bill appear incoherent when put in the context of overall constitutional change. The Government say that they are in favour of bicameralism. I very much doubt that. There are plenty of people in favour of one Chamber only in the Labour Party in the House of Commons. However, we will now have a constitution in which we have unicameralism in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and bicameralism in England. What kind of commitment to bicameralism is that? What kind of coherence is that?

As we have bicameralism in some parts of the country and unicameralism in others it makes the idea of having an element elected in this House much more difficult because that would import into the House a new West Lothian question. Why should elected Scottish Peers sit in a second Chamber when there is no second Chamber for Scotland?

Finally, in a previous debate I asked the Government about the proposals in the White Paper on page 40, concerning the possible reduction in the powers of this House, for which I see no case. The answer was that this House is theoretically the coequal of the other House. It has powers that it cannot use. Would it not be better to have fewer powers that it could use more frequently? However, that gives the game away. The Government want this House to be less powerful. That is why I shall vote for the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, on this half-baked, ill-thought out measure.

4.9 p.m.

The Earl of Kintore

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Lamont. As a result of the final revision of the speakers' list, I have been advanced up the list by 65 places, but the House will be genuinely pleased to hear that the very short speech that I had expected to make at two o'clock on Wednesday morning, I shall make now.

This is an unfortunate Bill which seeks to extinguish centuries of history, tradition and service without any clear idea of what to put in its place. There will be debate—and probably quite vigorous debate—on the Bill, but it will not be to preserve the hereditary peerage, but to try to ensure that the House goes forward stronger and more effective after this major constitutional change. If in the parliamentary context an elected Chamber is the only legitimate one, let us have a fully elected upper House.

I see that The Times has done a little research on the reference of the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, to the Lesotho Senate. I am an hereditary Scottish clan chief and am reliably informed by my noble friend Lady Mar that I am a tribal chief as well. So, in that I would probably be acceptable in the Lesotho Senate, may I please remain here as well?

4.11 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I am delighted that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is in his place because if he were not, I would not say what I am about to say. He was more than brutally frank this morning; he was positively menacing.

I agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, said about the right of the Government to have their business at the end of the day, and so on. That is not in question. However, is it not the mark of an authoritarian administration to seek to foreclose on due scrutiny in Parliament? That is precisely what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is seeking to do. I speak only for myself; I never speak for my party; but I suppose that that is why it is proposed to weaken the second Chamber and to confer the process of Parliament to the sidelines. Here we speak, as I thought that the noble and learned Lord would have known, upon our honour and according to our conscience, not at the behest of government, to give this Bill to the Government, a compromise stitched up by a handful of mandarins, members of the Privy Council, acting with total honour and integrity in the interests, as they saw it, of the body politic. We are not committed to that. It has no electoral legitimacy and assuredly we are not to be put under pressure of any kind to seek to make that contact.

I want to mention another matter about the dignity of Parliament. In the early hours of this morning—at about two o'clock—the Government's distaste for Parliament was expressed in a very unfortunate way. There was a continuous stream of mirth and so forth, carried on on the Benches opposite; mirthful chatter initiated by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on the Front Bench to the overt manifestation of distaste and disrespect for the contributions being made from this side of the House. I was there; I resented it; I said nothing at the time, but I mention it now. I hope that when the Official Report is available, your Lordships will see that I have not misstated the situation. My earnest hope is that it will not happen ever again, and surely not this evening.

In addition to that, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor indulged in a form of cross-examination at the end of the speeches of noble Lords on these Benches, putting two or three questions, and saying, "I want the answer. Yes or no? Where do you stand?" Well, to save the noble and learned Lord the trouble this evening, may I tell him and your Lordships where I stand?

First of all, I accept that Clause 1 of this Bill reflects the manifesto commitment. Secondly, for reasons given by many noble Lords on all sides of the House—I shall not weary your Lordships with the repetition—I put it that the current known state of public opinion has rejected that manifesto commitment. It is a monstrous disregard of the will of the people to invoke this stale manifesto commitment and a wanton, flagrant abuse of power to have resort to the Parliament Acts. If that is not clear enough, that is where I stand on that.

I accept that the extent of the entitlement to membership by succession of your Lordships' House must go. "By virtue of in Clause 1 of this Bill, as interpreted on page 8 of the White Paper (paragraphs 15 and 16) relates to Peers by succession. I do not accept that Peers of first creation, hereditary Peers, should go.

But it is not accepted that the "status quo" as to the composition of the membership of your Lordships' House should be excluded until the opinion of the people has been reaffirmed on a referendum, conducted after the report of the Royal Commission, as suggested by my noble friends Lord Strathclyde and Lord Carrington, the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, and many others. "No stage one before stage two is right", said my noble friend Lord Cranborne. No guarantee that stage two can ever take place, as was suggested by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, can ever be given. One can say it, but it means nothing. There is just the hope, as expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, that in some form or another some agreement between the parties, acceptable to another place, may be made. That was guidance from, if I may say so with the greatest respect, a most experienced parliamentarian.

A hope expressed in the early hours of this morning by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, in justification of stage one before stage two which, in fact, as I think my noble friend Lord Lamont just explained, justified the precise reverse.

The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said in his remarkable speech that you simply cannot control what is going to happen in the future. No assurance can be given of an effective safeguard, as my noble friend Lord Waddington put it. No satisfactory assurance may be given. Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, put it, it is dangerous to accept any such assurance.

I take the view that enactment should not be opposed at Second Reading, but that implementation should be delayed pending the result of the referendum, for such is the wish of the people. The Weatherill amendment, made by the mandarins, albeit honourably, in the interests of the body politic, but under the cover of Privy Council secrecy, is not acceptable to me. The noble Lord was asking where I stand; I am saying that it is not acceptable to me. Whether it is acceptable to other noble Lords is a matter for them. Neither the people nor the rank and file in this House were consulted. The amendment lacks legitimacy, and the criticisms made by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, and others in this debate, are well founded. As my noble friend Lord Strathclyde conceded, if supported it would fall short of making a bad Bill better.

The purpose of this speech is two-fold. First, it is to support the principle of consultation and consensus as expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, in his reasoned amendment. Secondly, it is to put down a marker for a Back-Bench Conservative and Cross-Bench referendum amendment at Committee stage to delay implementation of the Bill until the opinion of the people has been expressed in a referendum conducted after the report of the Royal Commission.

It is not my intention to indulge in confrontation; it was the noble and learned Lord this morning who threw down the gauntlet to confront your Lordships' House. I am not prepared, as my noble friend Lord Cranborne put it, to be bushwhacked into any form of submission. That does not, with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, justify the designation, if he ever sought to apply it to me, of a "rebel" Peer, at all events on this occasion.

There is no conflict between the Peers and the people; that battle was won years ago by the people, in 1911. No cause has since arisen to implement the preamble to that Act: said by some on the Benches opposite, to finish unfinished business. That business was finished years ago. The conflict today is between a self-styled people's government and the people, two-thirds of whom want to retain the status quo as the composition until they know what sort of reform is to be enacted; and only 2 per cent. of whom read the manifesto. It is a conflict as to implementation of a tenet of political dogma and such is the order of the business.

I conclude by saying that, in a situation such as this where the nation is substantially divided against the Government—and it is—it is the function of your Lordships' House to seek to provide some measure of constitutional protection and safeguard and so to delay this Bill by amendment. That is a function of your Lordships' House which, reading the report of the proceedings in another place, another place does not appear to recognise, and I am not at all sure whether it is recognised by this Government.

4.24 p.m.

Lord Harris of High Cross

My Lords, in following the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, let me be the first to pledge support for his proposed amendment calling for a referendum before the implementation takes place.

I was listening yesterday to the many splendid speeches from hereditary Peers, some with more than 30 years' service, and could not help thinking that despite some tardy pleasantries from the Front Bench, the Government have treated them at times with less respect and consideration than Ministers accord to members of Sinn Fein. How can the Government justify the calculated exclusion of a single hereditary Peer from the Royal Commission? It is not only a harsh affront to some of our most distinguished and dedicated Members, but it also deprives the commission of anyone with wide and deep experience of this place with its many-sided activities. It appears to pre-judge, even pre-empt the continuity of any significant independent hereditary element in a future House.

Many speeches have dwelt upon the central objection that this Bill will dismember this historic House without offering any alternative. What is implied is that its real or imagined shortcomings are so bad that absolutely anything would be better. The noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, talked about putting the cart before the horse; it is far worse than that. It is a fraudulent South Sea Bubble prospectus inviting support for purposes hereafter to be revealed. If the Government expect us to fall for such a pig in a poke, these new Labour innocents must think the rest of us, like themselves, were born or reborn yesterday.

We are supposed to be reassured, even anaesthetized by the appointment of a Royal Commission. My principal objection to that is based on previous attempts by governments to pass the buck for difficult decisions in this way. A lifetime's study of the role of committees of inquiry into the process of economic and social reform raises profound doubts about the suitability of the beast for such purposes. In our previous two-day debate a month ago, I ventured to quote a warning of A. P. Herbert 40 years back in an IEA paper, significantly entitled, Anything but Action. APH criticised the habit of Royal Commissions pursuing what he called the "nonsense of unanimity". He dramatised the danger by pointing out that the Gadarene swine were unanimous.

As a caution against expecting very much from the commissioners I want to recall briefly three past examples of their unanimous folly. First, there was the Radcliffe Commission on the monetary system appointed by Peter Thorneycroft before he resigned as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Its report in 1959 fatally reinforced the muddled, post-Keynesian consensus and unleashed the record Wilson-Heath inflation. My second example is the Robbins Report on higher education. Even my esteemed mentor, Lionel Robbins, privately confessed to downplaying contentious issues of cost to achieve unanimity. He later published his own second thoughts coming out in favour of student loans.

My third example of evading difficult issues by official committees is the momentous issue of trade union reform. I regard this as so important that I must risk offending at least two members of the Royal Commission. It is almost impossible now to recall the forgotten and unanimous inquiries into post-war industrial relations in the 1950s and 1960s. They were all barren; indeed, in hereditary Peers' terms, they were committees without surviving issue. If we had left it to committees of inquiry, there would have been no end to closed shops, no respite from oppressive picketing, no recourse against secondary action and no trade union ballots. When we come to think of it, there would then have been no New Labour Party and perhaps no noble Baronesses, Lady Jay or Lady Dean. To break the settled consensus on trade union immunities, it took the personal leadership of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, and the political courage of the Tory Party at its historic best, strongly supported by the Cross-Benches in this House, to carry the day. Leadership and courage are the missing elements in this paltry, petty Bill.

In last week's debate on the report of the Select Committee on financing the European Union, the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, as chairman, informed the House that, at the beginning of the inquiry I told the committee that I did not regard unanimity as an end in itself and that if necessary I should be quite happy to see differences of opinion and minority views expressed in print".—[Official Report, 22/3/99; col. 1049.] It is no personal disrespect to the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, to surmise that he would be unlikely to address his colleagues in like spirit on this commission. It was a former junior Whip who once confided, "Once a Whip, always a Whip". Even without the promptings of the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, for speed and consensus, all the instincts of such commissions are to strain for unanimity, avoid awkward issues and suppress conflicting judgments.

In conclusion, I should like to put forward the findings of my own private "focus group", which is comprised of all the London cabbies whom I have consulted over the past three months. They confirm that there is no revolutionary consensus in this country to break our envied, constitutional continuity to the point of ending a significant participation by independent hereditary Peers in the future House. By excluding a single hereditary Peer from the commission, making a former Chief Whip the chairman and urging consensus, the Government appear to have sought to foreclose hereditary participation in the future. If I must choose, I prefer the present composition of this House. Accordingly, I shall support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Cobbold and I will stand ready to vote against this Bill on any occasion that holds out the least prospect of success.

4.32 p.m.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross. He probably will not remember an occasion some 40 years ago when I had just become a Member of Parliament. I see that the noble Lord is nodding his head in assent, so perhaps he does remember. He once took me aside and asked, "Patrick, tell me, are you going to go straight?" By that, as I understood it then, he meant was I going to do what I was told or would I use my head. My answer was that I would do the second. I mention this because, among the hundred or so speakers who we have heard so far this afternoon, and indeed last night, only four, as far as I know, have made the point that I wish to labour.

I am referring to the whole business of resisting and curbing the power of the Executive. My noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil put the point with the vigour and the colourful language that you would expect from him. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, touched on the same subject as did the noble Lord, Lord Shore of Stepney, with his usual elegance. Also, my noble friend Lord Lamont of Lerwick took up the same point.

This is not an abstract question. Within the past week your Lordships' House was told by the Government that British servicemen had been committed to combat against a sovereign state. The relative Motion simply appeared without warning on the Order Paper. I only saw it in the morning and, to my surprise, it was a limp and lame Motion simply to "take note" of the fact and not to say yes or no. Apparently the Government also tabled a comparable Motion in the other place which, again, called for its assent rather than its judgment as to whether the action was right or wrong.

The whole issue that we have to address in this Second Reading debate is the problem of how best to control the Executive. We had an interesting debate a week ago initiated by my noble friend Lord Waddington. It was made pretty clear then that one aim which seems to motivate government actions these days is to sideline the influence of Parliament. There is all this business of preliminary leaks to the press about which Madame Speaker has protested more than once.

The key issue behind the Bill before us is: how is the Executive to be controlled and restrained by Parliament? I was always told years ago when I first entered the other place that when you speak in a Second Reading debate you can talk about what is in the Bill and what is not in the Bill. What is in the Bill is plain enough. It is: "off with their heads and may there be a big crowd to enjoy the spectacle". However, what is not in the Bill is any reference to the power of the Executive; nor, indeed, to the duty of Parliament to examine the Executive and, when necessary, to restrain it.

The White Paper, which we have already debated, made one sidelong reference to the single power which belongs to your Lordships' House; namely, the power to veto any amendment to what is now called the Quinquennial Act, which requires general elections every five years. There was just one reference to that in the early part of the White Paper, which was virtually negatived by a passage later on in the document.

The whole business of resisting the Executive is the business of Parliament. There is nothing in this Bill to suggest a reconstituted House of Lords should be anything else than an auditorium. Parliament is not meant to be an auditorium; it is meant to be a focus and has grown up over the years to be a focus of restraint of the Executive and, on occasions, is able to bring the Executive down.

The Government are loudly silent about your Lordships' absolute power to veto tampering with the Quinquennial Act. There is one reference to it in the interesting consultation paper which was circulated by my noble friend Lord Wakeham with regard to the work of his commission. The only part of the paper which is not interrogative is the statement that your Lordships do have this particular power which ultimately is the real guarantee of our civil rights.

If it were to happen that the Government of the day chose to try to push through an amendment to the Quinquennial Act in order to delay the next election, it might be that by then your Lordships' House had been reduced to such a state of impotence that it would be unable to resist. There is nothing in the White Paper to suggest that our power in that regard will be jealously safeguarded. Indeed, the very silence on that subject is one that fills me with anxiety. Having seen what took place last week when the Government committed British servicemen to fight in and over a sovereign country, whatever the sentimental or the do-gooder reasons may have been, the very fact that the Government launched that operation without first coming to Parliament was a frightening marker for what might happen in the future. A government who can do that can do almost anything.

That is the principal point that I wish to make in this debate, having waited some hours and having listened to a hundred speeches, only five of which touched on the point I make; namely, the curbing of the Executive. My conclusion should be quite obvious from what I have said: I shall support the amendment on the Order Paper.

4.40 p.m.

Lord Balfour of Inchrye

My Lords, I have not participated in any of the previous debates on reform of the House but I have studied Hansard assiduously and in doing so have reached one conclusion; namely, that no clear idea has emerged of the role to be played by a second Chamber, its composition or the right method of selection. The future seems so confused and uncertain that I feel more than justified in amending my kinsman's couplet to read, Oh what a tangled web we weave When we tell hereditary peers to leave".

I do not hesitate to put much of the blame for the present situation onto the previous administration who appeared to do precisely nothing about reform during its tenure of office. It surely ought to have seen which way the political wind was blowing. I agree with the observation of my noble friend Lord Sandwich—which he made last month—that had it made more effort to prepare for change, it would have ensured greater consensus today. I deplore too—as several Conservatives have done—the spectacle of backwoodsmen being dragooned into steamroller legislation in the House. I think such action did harm both to the reputation and standing of the House and to the hereditary peerage in particular. The inertia and inactivity of the previous government have consequently handed the initiative to the present one.

What has been placed before us? A miserable measure that is nothing less than a piece of constitutional vandalism which seeks at a stroke to put an end to 700 years of history. Now we often hear that the hereditary peerage is somewhat anachronistic, archaic, antediluvian, intellectually indefensible, yet has worked quite well. Quite well? Let us not be unduly modest or mealy-mouthed about this point. The hereditary peerage has been one of the most important factors in our constitution which has ensured that for more than 300 years, excluding the troubles in Ireland, we have been blessed with stable government and have not had any of the upheavals that almost every other European state has experienced and, sadly, is experiencing today. This stability has been the envy of foreign countries. I do not believe that it should be put at risk for purely party political purposes.

Moreover, let us not forget that while democracy may be thought of as the least unsatisfactory form of government—I agree with the excellent speech of my noble friend Lord Devon today that it should not be sacrosanct—it consists of counting heads instead of what is in them. Do not let us be too ready to discard the hereditary principle out of hand.

The Government have made much of their manifesto pledge to remove the speaking and voting rights of hereditary Peers, and of course they are absolutely entitled to do so. However, I find it interesting to note that a recent survey mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, has revealed that a mere 2 per cent. of the population either comprehended or agreed with that course of action. I do not for one moment believe that such a commitment played any part in the Government being returned with a massive majority, nor do I believe that had there been no mention of this proposal in the manifesto, their majority would have been any smaller. We have read in the White Paper of a "clear appetite for change". If that is so, then I suggest that there is something seriously wrong with the digestive system!

However, I wish to be constructive, even if I consider that improvements, rather than radical reform, are required. I note that the Prime Minister in his introduction to the White Paper wrote, For too long, Britain has got by with a second Parliamentary chamber which is less good than it could be". Therefore I will be more than happy to assist him in attaining that state of perfection, even if it means that he continues to walk on water. First, I think it is entirely wrong that one party should possess a built-in majority in the House, as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, in particular has repeatedly and rightly pointed out. I believe that that lessens the authority and lowers the standing of the House. Therefore I am content to go along with either the 1968 proposal of the noble Earl, Lord Longford—I hope that he continues to play more golf—or that of the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, both of which I believe would do something to correct the present political imbalance while at the same time upholding the tradition and continuity of this House. Incidentally, what happened to the proposal put forward by my noble friend Lord Armstrong of Ilminster? It seems to have sunk without trace. It would have been interesting to have debated the Motion.

I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I mention one or two tangential points which I know I should have mentioned last month. I am afraid that I shall enter the submission that I was not present on that occasion because of indisposition. First, I should like to see more women in the House. If some part of the hereditary system is to be retained—as I hope it will be—I would wholeheartedly welcome a reform whereby the first born might inherit an hereditary peerage. Secondly, I am all for having more Members of the ethnic minorities in this House. However, the proposal that there should be a retirement age absolutely appals me. We would lose so much if we were to deprive ourselves of the advice and counsel of the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, the noble Earl, Lord Longford, the noble Lord, Lord Renton, my noble and learned friend Lord Simon of Glaisdale and the noble Earl. Lord Halsbury. I believe that sagacity often goes hand-in-hand with seniority.

Finally, I deplore the proposal to exclude hereditary Peers from using the facilities of this House. I recall in particular the most charming speech of my noble friend Lady Strange last month in which she remarked how wonderful it is to have inherited a peerage but at the same time it is one's duty to help others. I personally feel that in a politicised House there would be rather less sense of duty, although I realise that "duty" is a dirty word in certain circumstances today. This proposal is even more petty and spiteful when one realises that former Members of another place do not suffer this indignity. To me that is just another part of this wretched legislation which reeks of retribution and revenge. However, I shall certainly support my noble friend tomorrow morning.

4.47 p.m.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, I remember when I arrived here eight years ago my old Cambridge tutor, my noble friend Lord Bauer informed me that I now fitted Mark Twain's description of a mule, a creature, "without pride of ancestry or hope of posterity". I recognise that I have been an extremely privileged mule and I regard myself as every bit as fortunate and, on the test of electoral democracy, every bit as undeserving as any hereditary Peer.

Of course the House of Lords as it is presently constituted is an anachronism. To attempt to explain or justify its composition is not really possible. One might as well ask why Scotsmen wear kilts. The answer is that it is quite simply part of the fabric of Britain. I very much agree with what my noble friend Lord Carrington said yesterday about the genesis of this Bill. It was, I believe, a gesture towards the radical Left by the newly elected Leader of the Labour Party who was determined to hold fast to economic Thatcherism. He felt that the easy cry of "away with the hereditaries" would be popular. I do not believe that when the Labour Party leadership drafted its manifesto commitment, in which the crucial words to me were, As an initial, self-contained reform, not dependent on further reform in the future", it had much intention of embarking on further reform.

There are some worthwhile ingredients in the Government's Bill. In as far as people contemplate your Lordships' House at all—and I do not think they often do so—there is a perception that there are too many hereditary Peers, that too many of them are Tories, that too many are backwoodsmen and that a very few (the media always mention the same names) are self-evidently unfitted to be legislators. However, a clean sweep of all hereditary Peers is certainly not needed to deal with this problem of perception.

Unfortunately, my own party, particularly in the House of Commons, has taken a line which to me is strange. It says, "You cannot change anything until you change everything", or, "No stage one without stage two". I believe that that is a most unconservative way of thinking. Disappointingly the Government have felt unable to resist this Tory attempt to out-radical the radicals and they have appointed a Royal Commission, with, as many have already pointed out, an impossibly tight timetable. I have some confidence in the ability of my noble friend Lord Wakeham to deliver a sensible answer, but I might perhaps remind him of the words of another of my old tutors, Victor, Lord Rothschild, for whom I worked in the 1970s and who was later chairman of the Royal Commission on Gambling. He said: Royal Commissions, particularly if they are of the second quality, start their work in the belief that they will not be doing their job unless they recommend radical changes…They should be disabused of this idea".

The far better approach is to take the Government's raw proposal and to try to improve it. That is what I believe my noble friend Lord Cranborne did. I believe that the whole House owes a debt to him and to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for the very sensible compromise which they hammered out behind closed doors, which was endorsed by the Prime Minister, and is to be put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, as an amendment to the Bill.

I had thought that the amendment was a serious prospect. I continued to think so during the first half of the Lord Chancellor's speech. I noted that he said that the hereditaries who remained would have a greater authority because they had been elected. The Lord Chancellor said that the agreement was "binding in honour". He then went on to lay down conditions as to how we may treat the Bill. As the noble and learned Lord is a distinguished lawyer, obviously his words were chosen very carefully. I suspect that the Government have decided that they cannot deliver their side of the agreement at an acceptable political cost—Lord Chancellor's phrase was, "it trespasses on the patience of the Labour Party". I think that the Government are trying to provoke this House into doing something that gives them the excuse for withdrawing this compromise proposal.

The House has a clear choice. It either passes the Bill in this Session—in which case the Weatherill amendment should and will apply; I hope it will apply—or it rejects it and the Bill then becomes law in its original form, with the help of the Parliament Act, but of course without the Weatherill amendment. In the first case, some hundred hereditaries survive ad interim. In the second case, all hereditaries survive for a further year, that is until the autumn of 2000, after which they all depart.

I have two specific proposals for further modification of the Bill, the first of which—despite the warning of the Lord Chancellor not to meddle—I shall attempt in Committee to incorporate into the Bill. I would propose that the 21 hereditary Peers who are members of the Privy Council and who would not otherwise be entitled to remain after the passage of the Bill should remain as Members of the House. The Privy Council derives from the Great Council of the King, whose origins go back into the mists of history. But at least as far back as 1540 there has been such formal recognition of those who have in this way reached prominence in our national life. It is interesting that there are at present only 21 of them, who your Lordships will be easily able to identify. A number of them do not, and probably would not, attend, so the net increase to the 91 would be small but immensely valuable and recognised generally by the country.

My second proposal is probably one for the Royal Commission to consider. It is that Prime Ministers of Commonwealth countries should, while in office, be entitled to attend as Members of the House of Lords on the same basis as the Bishops do at present. I recognise that there is an anachronism in allowing them to vote, but it is no greater than that raised by the West Lothian question. I believe that this could add a most valuable dimension to certain debates in the House.

There are three ways of selecting legislators: by lot, by merit or by party. With party selection, of course, independence goes out of the window. Many Members of your Lordships' House were Members in another place. I was merely a journalist for 16 years observing it in action. When I started many Members of the House of Commons were genuine, free-thinking, sometimes eccentric and fully independent and who brought great experience to the House of Commons. Now there are all too few. Let me illustrate with four names of survivors from each side. From the Government Benches I would suggest Tony Benn, Dennis Skinner, Tony Banks and Ken Livingstone; from the Opposition Benches I would suggest Paddy Ashdown, Michael Heseltine, Bill Cash and Ian Paisley. Of course some of them are the awkward squad, but the House is the richer for them.

Let us take also another crucially important area of expertise, defence. How many Members of the House of Commons now have any first-hand experience of the Armed Forces? And yet the House of Lords has enormous experience of this. That is very important.

Lord Curzon is supposed once to have said: No one should be Viceroy of India to whom that job is an honour'". My noble friend Lord Malmesbury, said that Members of the House of Lords have "no ladder to climb". It is the same idea. The independence of thought and action of this House is one of its most remarkable features. The hereditaries make a special contribution to this, as indeed do life Peers. Nor should the Government forgo the value of the specialised Select Committees of the House of Lords which operate from within Parliament. Outside quangos and commissions are no substitute because they can be conveniently brushed aside. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, referred to A. P. Herbert. I remember that A. P. Herbert once said that the government are like an elderly hypochondriac—always asking for a second opinion but never taking it.

To me, it is axiomatic that the House of Commons must be supreme. That is why I reject an elected Chamber and, still more, a semi-elected Chamber. For all these reasons, I believe that after this Bill—provided it includes the Weatherill amendment—the House of Lords will be sustainable for a considerable length of time. I paid particular attention to the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, when he described the kind of timescale that will be necessary to consider any further reforms. I suspect that, given the problems the Government are having with this simple little Bill, the Government business managers will shudder at the prospect of the much more detailed legislation which could follow in a stage two reform.

4.57 p.m.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

My Lords, perhaps I may answer the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, about why Scotsmen wear kilts. Only a very small minority of Scotsmen wear kilts, but they present themselves as representing the vast majority of Scotsmen. That is precisely the problem we are discussing here in your Lordships' House. Only a very small minority of the people of this country are hereditary Peers but they present themselves as representing the vast majority. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, in what I thought was a particularly—I hesitate—disgraceful speech, based his research on questions asked of London taxicab drivers. Their answers are dictated by the size of the tip; they are not dictated by any study of the political issues of today. If you give them a pound, they will give you the answer that you want; if you give them only 50p they will give you abuse; and God help you if you walk out of the taxi without giving them anything at all. So we have listened to a speech, the research for which was based entirely on consulting London taxicab drivers.

I wish to pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Callaghan. He has sat through almost the whole of this two-day debate. However, I am sorry to say that he left the Chamber just as I was about to refer to him. My noble friend mentioned two features that had imposed themselves on him during the course of the debate. I would add one more. I was struck forcefully by the total lack of confidence in the Conservative Party opposite that one day it will form the government. Every speech made from the Conservative Benches in this debate has been defeatist. There was nothing from the Opposition spokesman opening the debate today and nothing from the noble Lord. Lord Strathclyde, opening the debate yesterday about what the Conservatives will do when next they come to power. They have given in. That is one of the features that has struck me forcefully during the course of the debate.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, perhaps I may—

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

My Lords, I am the only Member of your Lordships' House who has provoked the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, to intervene. I give way to the noble Lord.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, if the noble Lord had been in his place late last night he would have seen me intervene in the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton. I am troubled by the noble Lord's speech. He said that the party in opposition has no ideas about the future of the House of Lords. The noble Lord's party was in opposition for 18 years and it has no ideas about the future of the House of Lords.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, never spoils a good quote by being accurate. I did not say that the noble Lord did not have any ideas about what his party should do. I said that it had lost all confidence. I understand that. I tell your Lordships' House this. If my party was led by William Hague I would give up hope of ever being in government again. So I do not blame the noble Lord's party for giving up hope of ever being in government again. That is one of the features that has struck me during the course of the debate.

Another feature has come through to me during the course of the debate. I thought to myself—and I said it to colleagues sitting next to me—that when my noble friend Lord Callaghan sat down after his speech we could have taken a vote then. Nothing that has been said by any side in the argument since 3.20 yesterday afternoon has altered the opinion of those who were for or against the Bill. Those who were in favour of the Bill at 3.20 yesterday afternoon are, at 5 o'clock today, still in favour of the Bill, and those like the noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, and I suspect 99 per cent. of the Cross-Benchers, are still against the Bill. I must say that all the sympathy I have had for the Cross-Benchers in the seven years that I have been here has been ever so slightly dissipated during the course of the debate. I am sounding that as a warning just in case they push me beyond the brink and I lose all my sympathy for them. So nothing has changed.

There have been some illustrious speakers before me. They have failed to persuade those who are against the Bill to change their views and be in favour of the Bill. There have been some illustrious speakers on the other side of the House who are against the Bill but they have failed to persuade those of us who are in favour of it to change our minds. I am not conceited enough to think that I can change views in the comments that I make today. Therefore, I shall confine myself to one final comment. This Bill is not about people. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, in his opening speech yesterday, reeled off a number of illustrious Members of your Lordships' House. He referred to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, my noble friend Lord Strabolgi and the noble Countess, Lady Mar, who now occupies the Woolsack. I yield second place to no one in my respect and my affection for all three who were mentioned yesterday. But the Bill is not about people. The Bill is about a system—a system that can no longer be sustained.

In my usual fashion I shall reduce the issue to a simplicity and give a fictitious example. In the mansion house in a rural village this morning, the Lord and Lady Brown welcomed the safe arrival of their first-born son. That first-born son is born to rule. In one of the cottages in the same village, Jimmy and Jessie Brown welcomed the safe arrival of their first-born son. The profound difference is that that son is born to be ruled. It is no longer possible to defend that system. I welcome my Government's commitment to honour their manifesto pledge to abolish that system and I give the Bill my full support.

5.6 p.m.

The Earl of Stockton

My Lords, I congratulate my noble neighbour the Earl of Devon on his maiden speech and, like other noble Lords, trust that in the few weeks that remain to us we will hear from him again.

This is a sad little Bill, a cheap little Bill, a cowardly little Bill, a runt of a Bill in the litter of government constitutional reform. The Government came to power with the largest majority in another place ever to have been enjoyed by any administration in the history of elections in this country. They were filled with the zeal of reform, pledged to transform the constitution and the institutions of the nation to take us into the new century, the new millennium under New Labour. They had a plan, or so they said, which would sweep away the outmoded fuddy-duddy systems of the past and replace them with the New Way. Like your Lordships, like the whole country, we waited with bated breath for the vision to be made flesh, for the dream to become reality, for the rhetoric to be given substance—and we are still waiting.

And this sorry little Bill is what your Lordships' House is being given. Sad, because the Government have missed the opportunity to look at the whole of our democratic system. The rhetoric and instincts of New Labour are to question the relevance of Parliament as a whole. Did not Mr. Peter Mandelson in a speech in Holland before the last election, pose the question as to whether there were not better ways than our existing parliamentary democracy of conducting the relationship between the Executive and the electorate? There were howls of protest and hoots of derision, but it was, and is, a question worth asking. Is a system that evolved even before the invention of the steam locomotive still valid in the age of mass interactive communication? How sad that such an opportunity for serious analysis of both Houses of Parliament has been lost.

Cheap, because the Government by their own words have shown the Bill in its true light: petty, vindictive and time serving. Locked away as they are in a tight and giddy little circle delineated by Shepherds Bush, Nothing Hill, Islington, Greenwich and Oh so important Millbank, the Government became aware that out there in the Labour heartlands were millions still holding to an older, deeper and perhaps more genuine vision, and they would need to be placated. In their lust for power, New Labour has slaughtered the sacred cow of socialism and trampled on the beliefs and shibboleths of old Labour. So, to placate the dogs of the Left, they have thrown them the bone of the hereditary peerage.

The Bill is cowardly because the Government have turned back from the brink of the complete and revolutionary abolition of all titles, decorations and pomp and circumstance. Perhaps there is still an agenda to do just that, to reform every aspect of our society in the same way as history is being rewritten for our schools. Is there not an irony that, as we approach the two-thousandth birthday of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, the history that we learned, divided into BC and AD, is becoming irrelevant. Is it to be replaced, I wonder, by BB and AB—before Blair and after Blair? In my youth, at that most hated and despicable of educational institutions, Eton College, I debated constitutional reform with such redoubtable figures as the late Willie Hamilton and the late Emrys Hughes, both of whom the noble Lord, Lord Ewing of Kirkford, will remember.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

My Lords, Willie Hamilton is still alive.

The Earl of Stockton

My Lords, I refer to the former MP, Willie Hamilton.

While I may not have been entirely persuaded by their arguments, I was moved and impressed by the purity of their vision and the fire in their bellies.

I have been made painfully aware, not least by my noble friend Lord Marlesford, of the illegitimacy of my position as the last created hereditary Peer and the inadequacy of my contribution to your Lordships' House. I should therefore favour a totally elected upper House on a regional basis across the entire United Kingdom. Notwithstanding the warnings of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, I shall be endeavouring to ensure that the Royal Commission comes to the same conclusion.

I shall not re-tread that well-worn path made by your Lordships for long hours through the legal and constitutional thickets that the Bill seeks to gloss over, save to remind your Lordships that the devil is in the detail, and that the Government are beginning to learn that to sup with him you need a very long spoon.

5.12 p.m.

Lord Carew

My Lords, I, too, wish to add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Devon on his excellent maiden speech. I have known my noble friend for many years. He and his family have done as much as anyone in contributing over many years towards the success of our British Three Day Event teams at both Olympic and international level.

While on the subject of a maiden speech, I made my mine some three and half years ago. In my opening remarks I advised the House of a quotation from a famous 17th century French duke, who said: "No man should speak longer than the period for which he can sustain the act of love". The successor speaker, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, kindly congratulated me on being able to speak for six minutes. With the ageing process, my speech today is destined to be shorter.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord. The actual quotation is that, "No man should speak longer in public than he could make love in private". I suspect that the noble Lord is way beyond his time.

Lord Carew

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his intervention.

The Bill to end membership of this House by virtue of the hereditary peerage was indeed part of the Labour Party manifesto. But according to the polls, only 2 per cent. of the electorate were aware of the proposed Lords reform. Therefore, such a policy need not be cast in stone. Instead, Her Majesty's Government should be prepared to adopt a flexible attitude by listening to logical, sensible and responsible debate before embarking on such a drastic action.

I agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, when he talked about arithmetic being the problem. The problem that the Government have with this House is that of numbers when voting. The in-built Tory majority over Labour is indeed an unfair balance. This matter should have been addressed years ago and could have been corrected by the previous government simply by culling the Tory voting powers so as to ensure a fairer balance.

I congratulate and support the initiative of my noble friends Lord Weatherill and Lord Marsh and the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, together with the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, which is now known as the Weatherill Amendment, whereby some 92 of the 750 hereditary Peers would remain in the transitional House until the second stage of reform. It is an amendment that the Government are minded to accept, but with strings attached.

But will the Weatherill amendment be acceptable to those hereditary Peers who are scheduled to depart under the proposed stage one? I ask that question because those of us who have served in Her Majesty's Armed Forces will know that the first principle of 'war is selection and maintenance of the aim. Does the Weatherill amendment achieve that aim? The original aim of Tory Peers, and indeed many Cross-Bench Peers, was that everything should be dealt with in a single-stage reform at the end—a matter on which the noble Lords, Lord Stoddart of Swindon and Lord Grenfell, are both of the same opinion.

Flexibility is another principle of war. Despite the threatening words of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor I believe that Her Majesty's Government should consider an addition to the Weatherill Amendment whereby all hereditary Peers who are frequent attenders and play a significant role in this House should remain at least until full reform is agreed. That may mean the retention of 150 or 200 hereditary Peers instead of the 92, but at least all would have a proven track record. It must be remembered that hereditary Peers comprise more than 40 per cent. of frequent attenders. It is now proposed that over half of those should be removed under stage one.

I fully support the establishment of the Royal Commission, whose terms of reference include, to make recommendations on the method or combination of methods of composition required to constitute a Second Chamber fit for that role and those functions". The Royal Commission will sure make an in-depth study of both the workings and the composition of this House, including the 700-year old role of hereditary Peers. Therefore it must be wrong for the Government to enact the proposed stage one before the Royal Commission has reported. That is to pre-empt its report.

In conclusion, entering the 21st century it is understandable that reform is on the agenda. I have no objection in principle to reform. But as the Government have no idea as to what that reform might be, especially in regard to the role, functions and powers of a future House of Lords, all those effective hereditary Peers should remain in place at least until full reform is achieved.

Should the Government insist on continuing with stage one, then I suggest that it should only be the infrequently attending and ineffective Peers who should depart. I have no hesitation in supporting the amendment of my noble friend Lord Cobbold.

5.18 p.m.

Baroness Platt of Writtle

My Lords, for me this is a day of high drama, altering the longstanding constitution of our country by one of the shortest Bills on record. If there had been a desperate need for this Bill, I might have understood it.

The Government, despite their vast majority in the other place, hate dissent. Dissent is part of the stuff of our democracy and must be heard, as the previous government also learnt to their cost, and rightly so. Over the past months under this Government on methods of European election and student fees, that dissent has also been justifiably heard in this House.

The Salisbury doctrine has been observed during this Parliament. I have read our Library notes on Salisbury, and it seems to me that we have adhered sensibly to the principles, so that the vast majority of the Government's legislation has been passed, whatever we on this side of the House think of it. That is right, as we are not an elected House. Our duty is to revise in reasonable ways, bearing in mind the views of the public and our own individual expertise and experience. I am in favour of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, which is in no way a wrecking amendment.

Under pressure, the Government have at last set up a Royal Commission, which has put out for comment an extensive consultation paper on Lords reform. In my view, the commission has an almost impossible task to find an acceptable solution, especially in conjunction with a very tight timetable. I expect that in the end it will offer several options. I wish it well. But, historically, solutions acceptable to the wishes of both Houses have not been found, as many noble Lords have mentioned during the debate. It would have been better to find that acceptable solution before starting on this road of major constitutional change.

This House is much admired for its courtesy. We listen to each other, as standing orders oblige every noble Lord to adhere to that discipline, in contrast to the other place, where the Speaker often has to shout to maintain order. We are less partisan and, as the majority of people in this country are not very party political, they hear subjects debated more broadly and with good temper, with which they have sympathy. We are not paid, although our expenses should ensure that no one is out of pocket, so people of modest means can accept appointment to this House, and that broadens the experience of Members in debate.

We are not looking over our shoulders for re-election, although I am sure that most Members, on all sides, keep in touch with public opinion through their newspapers and television screens. We are, on appointment or inheritance, mostly over 50, so we are not looking for promotion, and that enables a disinterested view of complex problems.

If this House consists in future, either in part or in whole, of elected Members, those Members will have to be paid and have researchers and secretaries, which we willingly do without. The costs of the House will escalate enormously and, in my view, the present mode of business will deteriorate in inverse proportion to expenditure.

I often do not know whether a Peer is hereditary or a life Peer in this House—unless the person is very young, in which case he or she must be a hereditary Peer whose father, sadly, died young. Such Peers bring in a refreshing view of subjects of debate.

We are all treated equally, which is good. I believe that we all try to do our duty, waiving all excuses, in our different ways—some better than others. But we serve the House in many ways other than by attendance and speaking in debate—a point which was rather lost in a newspaper article today—such as by service on Select Committees and supporting worthy causes, both nationally and locally.

In general terms, as noble Lords have said, there are no three-line Whips, so one is free to vote against one's party or abstain when one's conscience speaks strongly. One of the many strengths of the House is the Cross-Benchers, both hereditary and life, whom no one can control, as the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, emphasised this morning. Over many years under the previous government, if the majority of Cross-Benchers joined both opposition parties and there were a few Tory rebels—and there usually were—the Government could not win. I thought that that was right and a most healthy brake on the Executive. Long may it continue, whichever party is in power.

As is well known, I am an engineer, and my reaction to this Bill is, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". This major and ill-thought-out reform is not good. In line with the Salisbury convention, I shall not vote against it, but I hope that during its passage through this House it will be substantially amended for the better. I shall respond to the Royal Commission's consultation paper and, as a Member of your Lordships' Select Committee on Science and Technology, I shall hope to see more engineers, scientists and technologists among the professional men and women who will make up the future membership of a reformed House. As practical, informed and qualified people of experience, they will be of great value to the work of the House in the 21st century.

5.24 p.m.

Lord Varley

My Lords, I hope that the noble Baroness will forgive me if I do not follow her line, although naturally, during the course of my remarks, I shall pick up some of the points that she made.

The only hereditary Peer whom I meet regularly outside this building is the noble Duke, the Duke of Devonshire. I live in North Derbyshire, and I know what wonderful work he does there. I know that he was a distinguished Minister in this House and that he has a lot of parliamentary experience. He and I serve together, as president and vice-president respectively, of the Ashgate Hospice.

The last time that I saw the noble Duke, he said: "I'm being kicked out of the House of Lords, you know". I said: "I've heard about it. Are you bothered?" He said: "Not particularly. I shall continue to do all the charitable work with which I am involved at the moment. In fact, I shall probably have a little more time for it". He is not a passive charity worker; he works extremely hard and is greatly appreciated in North Derbyshire for the work that he does.

But a further comment the noble Duke made alarmed me. He said, "If I am kicked out of the House of Lords, I shall stand for election to the House of Commons", as he did in 1945 and 1950, as the Marquess of Hartington. I hope that he was joking, because that would place me in an extremely difficult position. The present Member of Parliament for Chesterfield was an hereditary Peer, the right honourable Anthony Wedgwood Benn, who escaped from this place as the result of a measure enacted under the government of Mr. Harold Macmillan. I believe that the noble Duke was joking but, if he were to stand, I should find myself on his side rather than that of the present Member of Parliament for Chesterfield.

Most of the speeches from the Opposition Benches to which I have listened during the course of the debate have largely concentrated on what the transitional House should be and what recommendations the Royal Commission should bring forward. Very few speeches so far have focused on the need for the Bill and why it is required at this time. My noble friend Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, with his experience, concentrated on that matter.

I do not think it has been seriously disputed that the Government have a clear, precise and explicit mandate for the Bill. For decades people have argued for reform of this place, and virtually nothing has been done about it. As the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, said, the tiny, unrepresentative minority of the population here in this House has the power to dominate. That has been the trouble. A noble Lord on the Cross-Benches said a few minutes ago that the arithmetic in this House has never been dealt with. That is true. I was a Member of the House of Commons during the 1960s when the last serious attempt to reform the House of Lords was made. That measure was blocked by Michael Foot, Enoch Powell and others. As a foot-soldier in those days, witnessing how that Bill had to be abandoned convinced me that reform of this House could only come about in stages. It is all very well to say that this or that contingency should be wrapped up in a big package to be laid before the House of Commons and House of Lords and that is the way to do it. Anybody who has had any experience of what has gone before knows that it cannot be done that way. If we did that we would be talking for ever and no change would take place. The removal from hereditary Peers of the right to sit and vote will pave the way for a more representative transitional House.

No one can deny that the balance between the political parties in this House is grotesquely distorted. I am aware that the Conservatives exercise restraint but from time to time someone blows the whistle. I do not know how they do it. I once heard the noble Lord, Lord Denham, say that the Conservatives had no such thing as a three-line whip. I am glad that the noble Lord confirms it, but I give way to him.

Lord Denham

My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me for intervening. He must have misunderstood what I said. I never said that there was no such thing as a three-line whip.

Lord Varley

My Lords, I apologise, but I believe that it is extremely rare that a three-line whip is issued on the other side of the Chamber. The Conservatives do not have to do so because of their dominant position in this place. It is a bit like the story related yesterday by one of my noble friends. When Lord Wyatt of Weeford was made a life Peer the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, expressed surprise that he did not join the Conservative Benches. He said that did not need to do so. According to Lord Wyatt's diaries, he simply had a word with Bertie Denham. He did not want the whip to be sent to him because that would have compromised his independence; he just had to pick up the telephone when required.

We all know on this side of the House that when necessary the Conservatives can at any time defeat the Government or Opposition in this House. During the past 20 years when there were four successive Conservative governments they did nothing to redress the imbalance or unfairness. It is no use the Opposition Front Bench saying that during our 18 years in opposition we should have brought forward something. We have brought something forward in the form of this Bill. Other things will follow. During the period when the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, was Prime Minister she added to the distortion of the representation in this place. I do not know whether noble Lords opposite agreed with what she did at that time. When life Peers were appointed she always ensured that there were fewer supporters of other political parties than those in her own party. The arithmetical distortion by virtue of the hereditary peerage in this House cannot be defended. I have not heard anyone here who really defends it. So far in this debate I have not heard the answer to that problem.

The Conservatives have been quite content to remain in control. The Official Opposition in this House needs to get only about one-third of its supporters into the voting Lobby to wipe out the entire Labour Party representation. That is why the ratio of government defeats is so high during the first two years of the Labour Government compared with any comparable period when the Conservatives were in office. Irrespective of the will of the people, the Conservatives have been in power in this House of Parliament for most of this century. That is why the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, is so bizarre. For example, to include in his amendment "for party political advantage" is absolutely ridiculous, and I believe that most people regard it as such.

Faced with this Bill the Opposition now claim that they have been reformers all the way. I do not believe a word of it. I have no doubt that during what will be a long Committee stage we will hear a lot more about the reforming fervour. This new enthusiasm for reform will be predicated on the basis that this Bill is not the right one. The message that goes out is that they are all in favour of reform but not by this particular method. The only way to reform this House is to do it on a step-by-step basis. First, following enactment of this Bill there should be a transitional House that will not be dominated by a single political party. Secondly, the new appointments system will ensure that the Prime Minister does not have control over appointments to this House or he will give up more control than any of his predecessors. The Royal Commission consists of experienced people with qualities and qualifications to make realistic recommendations for Parliament to consider in future. The hereditary peerage is unrepresentative, although I pay tribute to everything that it has achieved in the past. This Bill will bring about a welcome and long-overdue reform of Parliament. It is an essential prerequisite to the further changes that are required. When it goes through it will enhance and take forward our democracy.

5.36 p.m.

The Earl of Buckinghamshire

My Lords, I listened to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Varley, with great interest and some trepidation, as I have to follow such a powerful contribution. My participation in your Lordships' House over the years that I have been a Member has been confined mainly to the subject of pensions. That is a somewhat dry and technical, but important subject. As the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, reminded us today, this is a debate full of emotion and strongly held views by both life Peers and hereditary Peers. I believe that it is all the stronger for that. I have enjoyed listening to the noble Earl, Lord Longford. I apologise. I see the noble Lord, Lord Ewing of Kirkford, in his place. I take on the noble Lord with great trepidation, but I shall have a word on the kilt. My son who is a Scot wears a kilt. I believe that he is in the majority in that he likes beating the English. That is perhaps not a joke for your Lordships' House given Scottish devolution.

We are living through a period of constitutional change and potential turmoil in future years. We still have not settled the issue of Europe. We still have debates on the supremacy of the Commons in regard to Europe and on the power of the Executive, and we have concerns about that power. We have also considered Scottish and Welsh devolution. It is now our turn to be modernised. What does the future hold? Perhaps we should wait and see. But the words of the Scottish nationalist leader yesterday does not fill me with any optimism for the future constitutional unity of this country.

As the noble Earl, Lord Devon, said in his admirable maiden speech, opposition to this Bill does not necessarily mean opposition to the idea of reform. I make no apologies for the fact that it is the process of this reform to which I object. Tension between the House of Commons and the House of Lords is not new. I shall tell noble Lords a little about the life of John Hampden, my illustrious forebear, on the basis that noble Lords will at least go away knowing something about my ancestor even if I do not add very much to the debate. John Hampden was sometimes known as the Patriot and, in the words of the Earl of Clarendon, the Father of People. He said in response to a cry for help from Archbishop John Williams of York that he was unable to assist because of, a general tenderness between the House of Commons and the House of Lords".

I mention John Hampden because he was a natural Leader of the House of Commons and (I dare to say) the Houses of Parliament at the time of our last despotic ruler Charles I. He was, in the words of Professor John Adair, "a brainy leader". I pause for words in awe and wonderment as I consider my colleagues in the other place. John Hampden lived and died in the cause of limiting the power of the Executive. The greatest danger to democracy in this country is not the future or otherwise of hereditary Peers, which I think will be but a passing phase in our lives, but the ever-increasing power of the Executive, particularly in alliance with the fourth estate—the press.

In 1656, James Harrington published a book, The Commonwealth of Oceania, in which he observed that government by a single Chamber was dangerous: A Council without balance is not a Commonwealth but an oligarchy". That is an interesting observation, given today's political scene.

Professor John Adair, on his own admission, is sometimes in the business of quoting the "What if?" question. If John Hampden were alive today, what would he think about the Bill? Like me and many of your Lordships, he would regard it as a high-risk strategy. I do not believe that there is any real vision or strategy but he would, like me, be broadly in favour of reform. What reform? Reform has never taken place because there is no consensus on what shape reform should be. That is the question we must all consider.

Reform preceded by what I consider to be a neutered Royal Commission, given its limited powers of remit, will in all likelihood give us the worst of all worlds. We may end up with a partly nominated Chamber, a partly elected Chamber or whatever, coming from the regions. The noble Lord, Lord Shore of Stepney, said that an elected or partly elected Chamber—I cannot remember which he mentioned—would have greater credibility or legitimacy than your Lordships' House currently. That has to be proved. I would be extraordinarily pessimistic, given the way that I have seen the European Commission behave in the past few weeks. In that regard, the late Lord Benson, who pursued the fraud issue on your Lordships' behalf, has been truly vindicated.

Do we move to an elected Chamber, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, or back to a unicameral Chamber, as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes of Woodside? While I might support the former, I recognise the dangers. We only need look back to 1975, when there was a constitutional crisis in Australia, to see the dangers of an elected two-Chamber system. With a unicameral Chamber, I remind the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, of oligarchies.

I believe that the process we are going through is wrong but tactically it is probably right. By this method, the Government will achieve what they want—the removal of the hereditary system and the ability to "modernise" the House. The process is wrong because we have no idea or guarantee of what will follow. There is no consensus in the Labour Party in the other place of what the future House should be. Or even whether one should exist. Without consensus in the other place, I fear for the future here.

Despite the failures of the past, the right process would have been to appoint a Royal Commission immediately after the Labour Party's huge election win, give it a wide remit—not the narrow one it has at the moment—then debate the issue fully in the House. The Government would then be amply placed to take forward the Royal Commission's views when they were known.

I will leave the last word to Elizabeth Hampden, who was John Hampden 's mother. In 1620 she wrote: If ever my son will seek for him honours, tell him now to come, for here are multitudes of Lords a making". John Hampden did not accept or buy a Viscountcy, which was available to him to do. But we do live in a time of a multitude of Lords a making. I shall refer their mothers to 10 Downing Street, which Elizabeth Hampden would find entirely fitting—as she gave birth to John Hampden at 10 Downing Street.

5.44 p.m.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, that was an historical tour de force, and I am terribly jealous that I cannot follow it. I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Devon, on his maiden speech. It is awfully good being one of the oldest peerages in England—I use the word advisedly—to sneak in under the wire just before the guillotine falls. I congratulate him on that. The noble Lord, Lord Varley, is absolutely right about the imbalance. The difficulty is that the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, sits on the Opposition Front Bench; and the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, takes the Conservative Whip—as do all the grandchildren and children of those Liberal plutocrats who signed cheques to Lloyd George's Liberal Party fund with new names, because they did not trust him to deliver. So they signed their cheques with their peerage names. That is the thought.

It is unfortunate also that the real divide came with Gladstonian home rule, when the old Whigs more or less became Liberal Unionists and the balance was seriously undermined.

I have always been a reformer. I wrote to the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, in 1979 asking whether we could please reform tine House of Lords—because if we did not do so, the Labour Party would do so in a silly way. The noble Baroness said that she would not. I am having quite immense fun saying, "I told you so". Nothing on earth is more pleasant than saying, "I told you so".

The noble Earl, Lord Buckinghamshire, referred to the danger of the Australian situation, but I suggest that is exactly the situation for which we should be asking. The Macaulay Whig constitution worked beautifully. The House of Representatives in Australia was in deadlock. The Upper House said no. As Dycey said in the 19th century, the Upper House only rejected a government measure when it wanted to force an election. The Governor-General dissolved Parliament and forced an election. That is what balanced Whig constitutions are supposed to do. We should surely be aiming at that.

The Government have had the attitude to constitutional reform that is cross-Islington, cross-Voltaire. It is incredibly intelligent and lacking in any common sense whatsoever. One only has to look at the muddle into which devolution is heading. When a system of constitutional government is enthusiastically backed by those eminent people, my noble friend Lord Archer and the honourable Member for Brent, East, Mr. Livingstone, I am not sure that I go along with them.

Where are we? It seems that there is miles more agreement below the surface than appears at first reading. It was hard to drive a sliver between what is wanted by the noble Lords, Lord Carrington. Lord Callaghan of Cardiff and the noble Viscount. Lord Cranborne. I have a feeling that we are all going in the same direction. I do not know whether or not we will get there because this problem has gone on for years and years.

Political courage is needed. If Government Peers can show political courage and say, "We will listen constructively to reformers", then I see no reason for my being here just because my forbears got plastered with George IV. I love it and I have even tried to contribute. Occasionally, I have even tried to take the mickey out of the noble Baroness, Lady Jay. If I am one of those elected, I hope that I shall be able to say to her that I am elected and she is not. I shall rejoice quite enormously in being able to say that. I want reform to work. So I shall give the Government the benefit of the doubt even though I wish that they were not coming from here on the Cromwell aspect.

I hope that I shall have the following undertaking from the Government: that the Lords will continue to be a House of the powerful and influential, not a House of the commonality. That is for the Commons. We are not, and never have been, a House of the people; so do not let us pretend to be that. Let us be the House of the influential. As I have said previously in your Lordships' House, I no longer represent power. My forebear spent 20 per cent. of the annual army budget on his house. I am redoing my kitchen and I am pushed to afford half a corporal's wage on it.

Lord Milverton

My Lords, I do not like to disagree with my noble friend, but I consider that some of us do come from common stock. My father came from good English yeoman stock. We are not all high—falutin aristocrats as my noble friend implied.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, that is exactly the point I make. The commonality and yeomanry should be represented in the Commons. This House is a representative of power and always has been. Do not let us kid ourselves that it is any different. That is why I want, and have always wanted, the House reformed. That is why I argue that the hereditary principle has had its day. As my last duty to your Lordships' House, I wish to make sure that what comes after me is better.

I ask the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor this question. I shall put down an amendment. If the Prime Minister were to say, "I will make the following people Peers for their lifetime. I will ask the following groups for their recommendation; and these will all be public", we should then have representatives of interest and power in this House. It is a different House from the House of Commons. That is the important point. If we were to go down that route, the patronage would be regulated and open. It is not hidden.

I concede that in some ways the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, abused the system. She was helped by the fact that the Labour Party said for quite a long time that it would not recommend people for honours. Noble Lords may shake their heads, but that is true. Perhaps they were under-the-wire sneakers; I do not know. But I know that in the 1970s and 1980s the Labour Party decided not to put forward people for political honours.

My last point relates to the Weatherill amendment. There are many on my own side for whom I may not wish to vote. There are quite a few on the other side for whom I should like to vote. Is it not possible to have a method whereby Peers who are respected by their political opponents can be encouraged to stay so that I do not have to vote only for Conservatives. Because I am here on my honour, the old principle, and because the Whip lies remarkably lightly on my shoulder, perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Varley, that I have voted against two of the three-line Whips that we have had since 1971. I say with a certain amount of arrogance that I believe that I was right on all occasions. If it were possible to have the improvements to the Bill that I offer in a constructive spirit, I should not object quite so much to the fact that it has arrived here through half-hearted and slapdash thinking.

5.54 p.m.

Lord Hacking

My Lords, as the grandson of a Lancashire soap manufacturer, I am not sure how I fit into the recent interventions in our debate. Some of the debates on reform of the House of Lords have been great fun. We have enjoyed the past half hour of our debate today. Others have been somewhat tedious. However, they have been going on for a very long time. Since last October, this is the third two day debate that we have had on the Government's proposal to reform the House of Lords. If noble Lords take into account the fact that the second day of Debate on the Queen's Speech was almost entirely devoted to constitutional reforms, this is the fourth full debate that your Lordships have had on our reform.

That is not all. In the Statement on the White Paper on 20th January of this year, in the questions which were raised, we again considered reforms of your Lordships' House. Therefore this Bill is the fifth occasion since last October when we have considered reform of the House of Lords. By my calculations, if this debate ends at 3.15 tomorrow morning, if not later, there will have been no less than 434 speeches on the subject in your Lordships' House since last October, and in excess of 60 hours of debate.

Noble Lords will see that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is sitting on the Front Bench, as are the Leader and Deputy Leader. The Deputy Leader, my noble friend Lord Williams, has hardly left the red cushions during the long debates on reforms. My noble and learned friend and my noble friends have other things to do. We shall reach a point where they will be unable to participate in government matters because they are so involved in debates on this subject. My Lords, we must move on.

It is of course painful for hereditary Peers to leave. Over the past 27 years I have had the tremendous honour and pleasure of being in this House. Of course, it is wrenching to witness the reconstitution of the House. The familiar faces and figures of us hereditary Peers will disappear from this Chamber, the corridors and rooms at this end of the Palace of Westminster. I believe that we shall be missed. But that is not a reason for not moving on.

I was particularly glad that the noble and learned Lord paid tribute in his opening speech to the role of the House. I was glad that my noble friend the Leader of the House paid a personal tribute to the role of hereditary Peers in your Lordships' House. This Government are not being vindictive. I have to say that because comments have been made in the debate about spite, the resurrection of class hatred, and so forth. That is not the role that my party is playing in the reforms which I support. If one wants evidence of that, it lies in the speech of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor who said that although we are only bound in terms of honour the Government are willing to co-operate over the Weatherill amendment. That will have the result of enabling the hereditary Peers to be phased out of the House over a longer period and in a more dignified way.

I do not intend to go again into the arguments about the principle of hereditary Peers, nor about stage one or stage two reforms. They have been fully argued. I believe that there should now be two objectives before us. The first is to make the transitional stage work. I hope, therefore, that my noble friends on the Front Bench will be willing to consider some limited amendments during the passage of the Bill. The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, made a good point when he suggested that there should be a right for life Peers to be able either to retire or resign their peerages. Those are sensible ideas that we should be examining during the passage of the Bill. Secondly, we should be pressing on with the overall objective of the Royal Commission considerations and going in to the second stage of our reform.

I turn to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold. I understand that he intends to press it to a Division at the end of the debate. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Harris, who said today that it was an entirely pointless exercise. Indeed, the amendment contains some strange propositions. First, it mentions changing the historical composition of the House of Lords for party political advantage. The noble Lord, Lord Varley, took up that point. My party is not doing that. My party does not seek to replace the majority in this House by taking over the majority position of the Conservative Party. All it seeks is a parity between the political parties. During our debates, that has been made plain time and again by the Front Bench speakers from my party.

Secondly, the noble Lord's amendment suggests that the process is taking place without consultation or consensus. I recognise the difficulty in achieving consensus, but it is hardly without consultation. We are well into the fiftieth hour of debate on the matter. It is more than that; my party has taken the first step and consulted the people. That is why the proposal was contained in our manifesto. To speak of consultation only within this House is inward looking; we should be talking also about consultations outside the House—

Lord Cobbold

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Perhaps I may point out that the consultation or consensus was on the role and composition of the successor House. That is the position before us.

Lord Hacking

My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord says, but his amendment does not define what he has just described. I urge him that to press the amendment at the end of the debate is a pointless exercise. I hope that he will not take up the time of your Lordships' House and all the officers and officials who support us by pressing the amendment and keeping us here another 20 or 30 minutes in the early hours of tomorrow morning. I hope that he will withdraw it.

6.2 p.m.

Lord Reay

My Lords, if there ever were a Bill covered by the Salisbury Convention as it has developed and been understood since 1945, it is surely this Bill. The Government's intention regarding the hereditary membership of your Lordships' House was set out in the clearest terms in the Labour Party's last election manifesto. Therefore, the Bill should surely be allowed a Second Reading. However, I agree with those who have said that from the start the Government should have tried to seek consensus, as Harold Wilson did in 1968. Therefore, for that reason if for no other, I intend to support the noble Lord's amendment.

It is hardly, under any perspective, a surprise that another attempt is being made to remove the Conservative domination of your Lordships' House by removing the hereditary Peers. Since the Wilson government was confounded in another place by this question in 1969, the issue has awaited the arrival to power of a Labour government with a sufficient majority in another place and the willingness to devote the energy to carrying out the policy. In this case, the zeal has been supplied by the Prime Minister's recognition that this was about the only item of old Labour policy which his Government could carry out without ruining the country. To him, therefore, it acquired a unique value in serving to unite his party harmlessly. It also, as my noble friend Lord Hesketh pointed out, contributed to replacing socialism with constitution-mongering, for want of a better term, as a raison d'être for a Labour government.

I took part in the debate in your Lordships' House in November 1968 on the Wilson proposals and voted as part of the 5–1 overall majority (a 3–1 majority of hereditary Peers) in favour of accepting them. Although at that time I sat on the Benches below me, my views on this subject have not changed. If those proposals had gone through, this House would by now be well on the way to seeing the last of the hereditary Peers. So I accepted long ago the case for drastically reducing and even eliminating over time the hereditary element in this House.

My title is a Scottish one. For a time my father was an elected representative Peer for Scotland, as had one of my ancestors been for 12 years in the 19th century. Under that system, which lasted for more than 250 years, Scottish Peers elected 16 of their number to sit in this House for the duration of each Parliament. Re-election was common, and there are Members of this House today whose fathers sat here for more than 40 years.

The purpose of that system had been to limit the influx of Scottish Peers into this House following the Act of Union in 1707. The same reason of limiting numbers went on to produce a different version of election for Irish Peers following the Union with Ireland in 1800. Irish Peers elected 28 of their number for life; so every election save the first was in effect a by-election which was conducted postally.

It would not be so very different in principle now to seek to reduce the number of hereditary Peers in your Lordships' House by introducing a similar system of election. So I will support the Cranborne-Weatherill amendment, or an improved version of it. I believe that the Government have been astute, strategically from the point of view of their long-term reputation in the country as well as tactically from the point of view of disarming opposition in your Lordships' House, in so quickly agreeing to a compromise on this issue.

However, with one grievance being dealt with, and more than 80 years having been taken in doing so, what happens next? Having extremely belatedly set up a Royal Commission, the Government are now expecting it to report in a rush. Last week, the Royal Commission issued a consultation paper containing a huge range of questions. I counted more than 120, many both profound and complex, to which it is inviting answers from all and sundry over the summer before making its own recommendations by the end of the year.

I do not see how it can possibly do justice to that task as it evidently interprets it. In fact, it would not at all surprise me if the Royal Commission itself were to make further transitional proposals, with full reform postponed for another day. Indeed, there would be good reasons for doing that. In the first place, we have our old friend, pragmatism. Having remedied the long-standing grievance, why do anything else? Why anticipate the next problem? Why not wait and see how the House of life Peers works out?

My noble friend Lord Carrington, in the powerful case he put yesterday for an elected Chamber, may well prove to be right that a nominated House will continue to be haunted by the stigma of illegitimacy vis-à-vis the House of Commons. But at least one feature will be different in the new House; there will not be the same built-in majority for the Conservatives. So why not let us see what difference that makes.

Incidentally, even in the very long term, I do not see how you resolve the problem that an elected House will challenge the House of Commons, but that anything else is less legitimate. If you want to maintain the supremacy of another place, and if you expect the two Houses to share the same tasks, or some of the same tasks, as they do at present, you have to have a less legitimate second Chamber. You just want one that is not embarrassingly illegitimate.

Then is it the right point in time to start major reform of this House, with constitutional movement underway in Scotland and Wales and in Europe? And is it the right point in the sequence? Should not reform of Parliament not start with the House of Commons? Neither do I see the Government having the stomach for a second, bruising round of House of Lords reform, this time with many life Peers as well as some in the other place lined up against them. What would be the Government's interest in doing that?

So I have difficulty in agreeing with my noble friend Lord Hesketh this afternoon who said that the destination is democracy, at any rate for the foreseeable future. For the time being at least I believe that the life Peers will be reprieved. But the Royal Commission is bound to propose something to justify its existence. I only hope that what it proposes manages to be neither divisive nor expensive. But even those two purely negative objectives will not be easy to achieve.

I have less difficulty contemplating the prospect of a House composed overwhelmingly of life Peers than do some of my colleagues. The wise, experienced and distinguished of the nation, appointed for life, without a retiring age, provide for me an acceptable foundation for a second Chamber and their presence here, even if only occasional, represents a constructive achievement of the past 40 years. I also believe that a House of nominated life Peers is likely to be more independent and less parochial than one indirectly elected by special interests.

Of course, there is the chore of Bill revision to be done, and party support to be provided. This House must also contain those willing and able to undertake such drudgery on both the Front and Back Benches. Many of these come, and will continue to come, from another place. In that context I welcome the idea of a new appointments commission to nominate Cross-Bench Peers and vet the suitability of all appointments as a protection against the development of excessive Prime Ministerial patronage in this regard. And if the House threatens to become too large, after successive efforts at balancing the parties have ratcheted up the numbers, why not an election from among the life Peers, conducted on a party basis? In any case, I do not believe that this Bill in its final form should have any part of it based on the assumption that there will be further legislation. If the Bill contains the Weatherill amendment, or a version of it, there must surely be a provision for by elections.

With the departure of the hereditary Peers there will be gaps to fill and not just those that Members opposite may long to see on these Benches. I believe that I should take this opportunity to refer to one gap in particular, about which I have some experience. On page 16 of the White Paper there is set out what is thought to be the four broadly defined functions of your Lordships' House. The third of these is described as being the undertaking of specialist investigation through the Select Committees of this House. The same committees carry out scrutiny of European Union legislation, which some have seen as an area that should be expanded as the European Union continues to acquire added importance over our lives. Even the Royal Commission consultation document asks, "Should the role of specialist investigations by Select Committees be maintained? Could it be expanded?"

But this committee system is today dependent on hereditary Peers—in the case of the sub-committee I chair—for over half its membership. I may add that they come from all parts of the House. They, no less than their life Peer colleagues, put in a very great deal of work and time on those committees. In my experience the attendance rate is extremely high. The Government will have to face up to the fact that the whole committee system will take a huge blow with the departure of the hereditary Peers. I should like to hear from the Minister the Government's thoughts on that question.

The departure of the hereditary Peers from your Lordships' House, as others have noted, is a hugely significant event. A page will be turned on 700 years of history. It is the hereditary Peers that have managed to maintain and hand on intact to their life Peer successors the style, manners and self restraint of the old British Parliamentary tradition which was lost in another place during the Home Rule struggle—to the detriment, in my view, of the position of another place in public esteem felt even today, perhaps especially felt today. Hereditary Peers can feel proud of this achievement. It is only fitting and precautionary that a strong contingent should survive into the next phase.

As this debate proceeds there seems to have been a growing recognition on the Front Benches opposite of the passions that this Bill arouses on this side of the House and among hereditary Peers in another parts of the House. I welcome that, but it reveals a contempt for history to have included no hereditary Peer on the Royal Commission.

The British constitution is a living organism which has for centuries won admiration, even from Britain's enemies. I believe it was Napoleon who once said, If the English Constitution were destroyed, the civilisation of the world would be shaken to its foundations". The constitution needs to be treated with respect, and not have ill-considered, so-called reforms thrust upon it by government either seeking party advantage or acting first and thinking later, whether in the name of modernisation or of any other slogan. We are obliged to give this Bill a Second Reading, but we are equally obliged to scrutinise it thoroughly and, where necessary, amend it despite any threats from the Government during its later stages.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I am sure the whole House will have appreciated the reasoned way in which the noble Lord, Lord Reay, presented his case, but passion as regards this issue is not to be found only on one side of the argument. In a sense, we are all hereditaries in that we have an inheritance. I was one who sat on his father's knee who had lived in the same town and worked alongside Aneurin Bevan. His mother's brother had been chair of the miners' lodge which inducted Aneurin Bevan into politics. Therefore, I am sure that noble Lords will recognise that I have a certain inheritance of which I am proud. It might be called in that hackneyed term a certain aristocracy of labour. I am quite sire that my father would have been surprised to appreciate the amount of support that has come from the other side of the House as regards the argument. Sometimes it has been expressed in less than entirely serious terns. The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, presented the case with some force. The noble Lord, Lord Reay, made an important contribution to our debate.

Perhaps I may emphasise one obvious point. Much has been made of the fact that the Front Bench Ministers in this House and the Prime Minister are acting against the dictates of some rather rabid political creatures in other parts of the Palace of Westminster and in the other place. Perhaps I may do my best on this occasion by offering some representation of their position. I am newly minted as a Member of this House who came just after the last election because of boundary changes, I hasten to add, rather than because of political defeat.

I emphasise that I have not met anyone in my party in the other place, and neither have I met anyone in this House who, whatever their shades of perspective on a whole range of issues, does not subscribe to the obvious proposition that in this modern age there is no defence of the hereditary principle. It is not a question of dogma but of political principle against a background of what other modern, democratic nation has any concept of the hereditary principle playing a full part in its legislation. England, which is the mother of parliaments, has never been able to export to others the particular feature of inheritance.

In a sense the political parties have long since given up on the issue. The Liberals fought the issue in 1911 and they have been principled on that position for the whole of this century. My own party took the argument further in 1948 which significantly changed in the Parliament Act of that time the relationship between the two Houses. Not even the Conservative Party in the other place has stayed true to the concept of the hereditary principle. I take the most obvious point that it was a Conservative government which introduced life peerages. Conservative Prime Ministers have promoted to this House life Peers and not many hereditaries. The hereditary Peerage system has been used with very great restraint indeed. When people have been elevated to this House it has been as life Peers because Conservative Prime Ministers have not believed that the hereditary principle would stand the test of public acceptability.

If one looks at the debates on this Bill in the Commons in the past couple of months, it is quite clear that the Conservative Front Bench is not prepared to sustain the argument that the hereditary principle should continue. Nor has there been any assertion from the Front Bench here that, should this legislation become the law of the land, any future Conservative administration will set out to dismantle it and restore the hereditary principle in this House.

We should recognise that this House has many virtues. I have recognised certain aspects of that in terms of the courtesy of the debates and the way in which we express ourselves on issues. But we should not thereby underestimate the significance of those issues to the country outside. We are not a cosy club debating issues to ourselves; we are part of the legislature of our nation. It has been attested that one of the great dangers may be that the Labour Party is now proposing to seek to create a majority in the Upper House to buttress its overwhelmingly majority in the Lower House. But we should recognise that it is quite clear that that is not the intention.

It has been indicated clearly that the Government intend to create a number of life Peers to ensure that there is parity with the Conservative Party. What on earth is wrong with that? It may be suggested that a majority in both Houses may have appalling consequences for the British constitution. I should point out that for most of the twentieth century, that has been the case—a majority Conservative administration in the Commons buttressed by an overwhelming Conservative majority in this House.

That is why we cannot take seriously the viewpoint that this House has been a massive guardian of the peoples' liberties. What about peoples' liberties in terms of the very significant change in the 1980s as regards the relationship between central and local government? That was epitomised by the concept of the poll tax, but local government was brought severely under the constraint of central government. That was effected by a Conservative administration. I cannot recall the extent to which a challenge was laid down by this House on that particular shift.

Another great interest of the British people, much less popular than local government but extremely important in relation to the nation, is the trade union movement. That was brought down by a considerable onslaught on its freedoms and liberties. And let us remember one obvious point about trade unions: even the Arthur Scargills of this world were elected to their posts. The trade unions saw their powers savagely constrained, cabined and confined by legislation which depended on an overwhelmingly majority in the Lower House. That was scarcely contested by the Conservative majority in the Upper House.

I do not believe that the people of this country look to this Chamber for the defence of their freedoms in the way that has been suggested in some of the rosier interpretations of the work of this Chamber. Indeed, the hereditary element has not been a constraint on autocracy but has been a constraint on the evolution of our democracy. I say to my noble friends on the Front Bench that many of us look upon the Weatherill amendment with considerable anxiety and suspicion. After all, we are arguing a case of principle with regard to the hereditary peerage and the Weatherill amendment contemplates that, in the interim, there will be a continuing role for the hereditary peerage.

There will no doubt be an improvement because of the elective process. That is an excellent development. But there are many of us on this side of the House who will still require a great deal of persuasion with regard to that particular principle. A crucial aspect in that persuasion will be the length of the interim period. The only way in which that case can be sustained effectively is if there is an indication that the Royal Commission, preparatory to the presentation of a case before the electorate in our manifesto at the next general election, proposes significant change.

If my noble friends on the Front Bench should blanch at that a little, they should think of the problems of the Front Bench on the other side too, when they equally must address themselves to a changed situation as a result of the Royal Commission.

I do not wish to detain the House long on what I recognise is an extremely arduous day, so I end with one statement. At the moment I am the sole member of an organisation called ABHOL—Anything But the House of Lords. The aristocracy will continue to enjoy a certain degree of privilege through their wealth in this country and their social prestige. Everyone loves an aristocratic Lord except when that Lord is exercising political power. That is why the Upper House, following the Royal Commission's proposals and the legislation of the next Labour Government, must surely change its name from the House of Lords.

6.26 p.m.

Lord Coleraine

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, has made clear that both Front Benches have their problems. I join in this debate not with any valedictory feelings, because I believe that there is work to be done, there are mountains to climb and perhaps a few dragons to prick. I should not oppose the Second Reading of the Bill, which incorporates one important reform that I support wholeheartedly. When the White Paper and the Bill were published, Mrs. Beckett told the other place: The presence of the hereditary peerage has weakened the legitimacy and effectiveness of our second Chamber for two main reasons—because the principle is wrong and because the results are unbalanced".—[Official Report, Commons, 20/1/99; col. 909.] I am well satisfied that the present balance of power within the Chamber, with a Conservative bias resulting from the hereditary peerage and the ability of my party to summon its supporters to Parliament as and when it wishes cannot be sustained if challenged, and it has been challenged.

It is relevant also, but little more than broadly relevant, that warning of the proposed changes was given by the Labour Party in its election manifesto. It would have been quite unbelievable for this Bill to have been introduced without the electorate having been made aware, at least formally, of what was proposed. Nevertheless, the fact that mention of the reform is tucked away in the manifesto may be relevant to consideration of the Salisbury convention, but it is not of itself a sufficient reason for Parliament to accept this Bill or any other Bill having the same effect. As for the Salisbury convention, its sustaining purpose fell with the introduction of this Bill, even though the benign doctrine is treated as not entirely spent.

Having said that, it is clear from the speech of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that the message has switched. It is the hereditary principle and not the political balance on which we should now concentrate and on which the Government are now concentrating. That recognises that the Government see that there is strength in a claim that hereditary Peers should remain here and not vote. At the same time, it makes clear that the Government intend to resist any such move.

Nevertheless, I hope that in their proclaimed search for consensus and a quiet life, the Government may come round to the merits of an interim House in which hereditary Peers speak but in which their voting rights are limited or curtailed. That one reform would have my unqualified support because I can think of no other way in which to bring about a proper balance in this House. Sir Patrick Cormack moved an amendment along these lines from the Opposition Front Bench in the House of Commons. I hope to support my noble friends on the Front Bench when the time comes for a similar amendment to be moved in this House.

It is plain, even with the removal of voting rights from hereditary Peers, that that would, of itself, politicise the House. It would create an entirely different House; a House where the balance between the parties becomes significant and controversial in a way in which it was never controversial before; a House with characteristics which cannot now be foreseen. The conventions—not just the Salisbury convention—which have operated to temper the lack of balance between the main political parties until now would no longer have any rhyme or reason. There is simply no way in which an intellectual case can be made that the present proposed reforms should or could possibly be self-contained and not dependent on further future reforms.

This is, in fact, half admitted by the reference in the manifesto to the need for a review of the arrangements for the appointment of life Peers. Unfortunately, that review in the manifesto was only too predictably left to the future. The time is now right to put arrangements in place that will take the political balance of the House out of the hands of the Executive, from whichever political party the Executive is formed. Let patronage be limited. Let Tony Blair and the other party leaders nominate life Peers, but only that number of life Peers that will be settled by an independent process set out in the Bill. That point was strongly made by my noble friend Lord Waddington.

It is clear, is it not, that this section of the manifesto, this reference to the Bill being a sufficient reform of itself, was put together with a large measure of intellectual languor? The hereditary basis on which the House of Lords has drawn its membership over so many years has served the country well. No matter that the heredity principle, as a basis for selection of members of a legislative assembly, is indefensible in principle, no credible case is or can be made for change until it is shown that what is put in its place will work better and more effectively. I know that that is not a thought that will commend itself to the Government. The argument from the other side is that hereditary Peers should shut up and go quietly and that anything is better than a House containing hereditary Peers.

I am sure that hereditary Peers will join with life Peers in scrutinising the Bill. While we are here we all have a duty to try to improve the Bill. It is not the case, self-evidently, that the removal of hereditary Peers will bring, at a stroke, a more legitimate and effective House. That is the myth with which the Government seek to deceive.

Much can be done to the Bill. In the circumstances of uncertainty surrounding the second stage of reform, we must look carefully at how to make the first stage reformed House at least as good as, and if possible better than, the unreformed House. The shame is—my noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil hinted at this point—that we have to waste so much public time doing what the Royal Commission should be doing, and that could happen again in the next Session, although by then we may have the report of the Royal Commission to consider in relation to the Bill, as should have been the case now.

The claims made by hereditary Peers that they should remain temporarily are not based on the records of their forebears, even though that may be why they were here in the first place. Their claims are based on the fact that hereditary Peers, and many among us, have sat here for many years, have a wealth of experience on parliamentary matters, have learned from debates and scrutiny of legislation and from participation in the committees of the House. That experience should not be discarded.

Perhaps I am expected to say a few words about the Weatherill proposal. I shall have a chance to look at the detail later. However, the terms offered to the House are, indeed, the constitutional "sleaze" of this Government. They are not so much a stick with a carrot wrapped up in a brown envelope, as political blood money, coupled with moral blackmail. The Executive simply has no business threatening one House of Parliament in terms that amount to: Legislate as we wish or the hereditary Peers will go down without even a lifeboat for some of you to cling to until that too sinks".

6.34 p.m.

Lord Charteris of Amisfield

My Lords, I hope I may be forgiven if I begin my speech by misquoting a famous passage from the New Testament. I refer to verse 1 of Chapter 13 of St. Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians: Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not [brevity] I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal I promise to be brief. This has been a marvellous debate, and everything that can be said about this position has already been said with a great deal more eloquence and expertise than I can muster.

However, one point, as far as I know, has not been mentioned. I have mentioned this before in your Lordships' House, but it bears repetition. First, I should declare a personal interest. For 28 years I worked with the greatest happiness in the Queen's private secretary's office. During those years I came to honour, indeed, to love, the institution of the Monarchy. It is a vital and important part of our system, based wholly on heredity.

If all rights of hereditary Peers to sit, speak and vote in the House are abolished, I believe that will expose the Monarchy. It will be the only establishment based on heredity. I do not for a moment say that the Monarchy will be threatened by what will happen. I do not think it will be threatened for some time, and I hope that I shall be as dead as a haddock before it is. However, I believe I am right in what I say. For that reason I hope that the Royal Commission will remember that point and that it will not abandon the possibility of retaining an element of hereditary Peers who can flourish in the House, as they have done for 700 years.

6.37 p.m.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, reading through my speech a few minutes ago to ensure word perfect delivery, I was struck by how familiar it all sounded. I had heard a great deal of it from previous speakers last night, this morning and this afternoon. For that reason, I have put a large amount of it into the wastepaper basket and have kept only the salient features.

There can be no more important subject to be discussed in the House of Lords than the constitution of this country. It is at the very heart of our country and provides the framework on which our laws and our great institutions are based. Despite the record of our constitution to deliver an unparalleled period of political stability, we do not believe that it should be set in stone. Indeed, it has been a continually evolving structure. However, change is incredibly significant and it should be embarked upon only with very careful consideration. That includes the issue of the composition of your Lordships' House.

It has long been a tradition of Parliament when considering constitutional issues to attempt to proceed on the basis of consensus. Regrettably, I believe that the Government have taken the opposite approach. Whether one likes it or not, this House is an integral part of our parliamentary system. The Government's proposal to deny a large proportion of the Members of this House any role in determining the structures of the successor body must by its very nature be said to preclude any opportunity of consensus. If there was a legitimate claim that this House was not competent in undertaking its role as a revising Chamber, the former argument might hold some water, but that is not the case. Almost every speaker in this long debate has complimented the House on its work. I believe that it stands any comparison with that of another place. Indeed, we have heard those sentiments expressed from the Government Front Bench.

The key point is that many Members of this House during this debate and in previous debates have expressed the view that they now believe that the tune has come to consider changing the composition of the membership of your Lordships' House. Among all the qualities exhibited by Members of this House, surely those of duty and responsibility stand foremost. I share the view expressed by so many speakers that if there is to be change, surely this House as presently composed should be involved in that consideration. I firmly believe that it is the right and the duty of those who sit in this House as presently composed to advise on and to discuss the revised structures for Parliament and to vote for those which they consider, according to their conscience, will serve the country best.

However, the Government are seeking to deny them that right. I believe that they are picking a fight where none is necessary. They are choosing to portray this process as a battle between privilege and the people. If they really were seeking to strengthen the link between Parliament and the country at large, surely they would have come forward now, after all the time taken to consider the issues, with proposals to establish an elected House. How, in the light of that, could a House consisting purely of appointed Members be considered preferable?

We have heard that there are no guarantees of what stage two would entail. Indeed, the Government have no idea about what they see at the end of this process. They are embarking on an incredibly important strategic review of the constitution with no idea of what it will look like at the end. All that the Government know is that they must immediately address, without further delay, the issue of hereditary Peers and this House.

I am of the opinion that a wholly appointed second Chamber would be easier for the Executive to control. Without any firm commitments on the face of the Bill, it is easy to imagine this issue being kicked firmly into the long grass. That has serious implications for our parliamentary system as a whole and, I believe, for the country at large. I believe that we need a confident and strong second Chamber with a will to oppose the Government where it sees fit and to support them similarly. I am not convinced that the Government share that view.

I turn to the so-called Weatherill amendment. It is possible that that might constitute one means of modestly improving the Bill. But it is not the only one and I do not believe that we should see it as the only possible means of improving the Bill. I join in congratulating those who have been attempting to engage the Government in a dialogue about constitutional change from within this House. However, I for one certainly do not feel bound in any way by a deal made in private between individual Members of this House. In that regard, I was saddened to hear this House effectively being threatened by the Government Front Bench with sanctions if it fails to comply with their wishes. We were lectured on statesmanlike behaviour. I do not believe that threatening this House of Parliament falls within the meaning of "statesmanlike behaviour".

Surely the Government are now faced with an excellent opportunity to bring forward wide—ranging reforms of Parliament to strengthen an institution which has declined in importance and influence in recent times. There is widespread agreement that this reform should extend to the membership of your Lordships' House. That consensus comes, to some considerable degree, from the very Members of this House who are involved. However, the Government have decided to put aside that good will and to proceed on a unilateral, confrontational basis. I believe that that is a very dangerous strategy indeed. Our aim must be to seek a stronger and more accountable House than is currently the case. I do not believe that this Bill will achieve that aim.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Greenway

My Lords, I begin by congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Devon, on his very fine maiden speech. The noble Earl happened to be at school with me and he lives just down the road from me in Devon. We have been friends for many years and I should like to say what a delight it is to see him in this House at last.

The noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, was the previous shipping Minister. It has not passed my notice that in the course of this long debate there have been several nautical references. The noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, who spoke a few moments ago referred to a lifeboat and I believe that yesterday the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, referred to the anchor of the Cross-Benches. Many noble Lords who have been Members of this House for some time will know that my particular area of interest is maritime affairs. Over the 23 years that I have been privileged to be a Member of your Lordships' House, I have endeavoured to do what I believe is best for the various maritime industries of this country.

I always remember the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, saying when I had been a Member of this House for only a short time that those Peers who did not speak very often but nevertheless brought a certain expertise to the House were just as valuable Members of this House as some of our more venerable Members who may have held high office in this country. I am only sorry that the noble and learned Lord is not with us today. I would have been most interested to hear his comments on this Bill.

It has been mentioned in some places that there might be a certain element of illegitimacy in relation to the hereditary Peers. I have never felt that my membership of this House is in any way illegitimate. In fact, I have been a Member of this House as of legal right. I did not choose to be born the son of an hereditary Peer. In a way, therefore. I have no control over the fact that I am here. Nevertheless, if I am to be swept away with every other hereditary Peer, I feel that after serving for nearly a quarter of a century in your Lordships' House, that will be with a clear conscience.

What worries me most about the Bill and the Government's intentions is the effect on the stability of this country. That stability has stood us in good stead over the centuries. We know that devolution is afoot, but we still do not know how it will work out in practice. That is one essential destabilising element. This Bill is another. To return to a nautical theme, any mariner knows that if you rock the boat once, you are in slight danger, and that if you rock the boat twice, you are in even more danger. I hope that the Government are not rocking the constitutional boat to the extent that that will result in something that none of us would want to see.

Against that background is the distressing situation in the Balkans. None of us knows how that will work out. We have a discredited US President, with two years left in office. And who is to say what will happen if we have another financial blip caused by some unforeseen event and the euro stock market tumbles. Where will that leave us?

Life at the moment, and especially at the end of a century, is not as stable as some of us might think. We must bear that in mind as a background to this Bill. Europe has been referred to by one or two noble Lords. That does not inspire any right-thinking person with confidence in view of what happened recently. Efforts to make Europe larger is fraught with even more danger.

We have heard a lot about the present weakness of the House of Commons. There is an inherent element in this Bill of making this House weaker as well and that is also, in my opinion, not desirable set against the background that I outlined. A further weakening of Parliament at this stage is not advisable.

I turn to the future composition of this House. The Royal Commission must look carefully at two specific elements; first, to retain the independent thought which has been an element of this Chamber over many centuries; secondly, to retain the independent expertise which is at present widely disseminated among the hereditary Peers. I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Desai, from the Government Benches yesterday, who called for a greater Cross-Bench element in this House. That is something which I support. I have sat on the Cross-Benches all the time that I have been in your Lordships' House and believe that the Cross-Benches are where a lot of independent thought comes from in this House. We have heard talk of a fully elected House. I do not know how we can have an elected House with a Cross-Bench element. That is something at which the Royal Commission will have to look with great care. It has a difficult task on its hands and I wish it all the luck in the world.

We are obviously going to have an interesting Committee and further stages of this Bill, and I look forward to them with great interest.

6.52 p.m.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, there is an air of unreality about this debate, and about the other debates which led up to it. When there are so many urgent humanitarian, social and other problems in this country and throughout the world, it seems absurd that we are now employed in the business of dismantling an institution which has served and continues to serve this country well without any particular popular pressure to do so. Are we really going to let that happen?

I noted that my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, in his opening speech, referred to a "wonderland". I realised then that that is how I felt; like Alice in Wonderland or Alice through the Looking Glass where everything is topsy-turvy and out of sequence and—dare I say it?—where the red queen lurks around the corner shouting "Off with their heads!".

Some speakers on the Benches opposite have said that they have been embarrassed and even felt ashamed to have to admit and explain that they belong to an unelected House which has a substantial number of Members who owe their place to the hereditary principle. In my travels around the country and throughout the world I have always found that once I have clearly defined what democracy means—freedom of speech, openness and transparency of government, guardianship of human rights and maybe also having elected representatives—and gone on to explain the checks and balances between our two Houses of Parliament, the expertise and continuity the hereditary principle gives to our proceedings, a lot of people from a lot of countries wish that they too had inherited a similar institution. And in spite of all the complimentary things that have been said about hereditary Peers, I still fail to see how a wholly appointed House can be more democratic than our present House. The awful thing that faces us is that once the present composition is changed, we cannot turn back the clock. It therefore behoves us to progress these changes as carefully and sensibly as possible.

In the course of this debate and those that preceded it we heard many fine speeches from all sides of the House; I listened to many though not quite all. I believe that some progress has been made. In that I may differ from some of my noble friends, particularly my noble friend on my right. We know that the Government have already made one concession by agreeing to set up a Royal Commission. There are criticisms of the commission's all too narrow terms of reference and its allotted timetable. Nevertheless it remains a concession. I believe that there are bound to be other concessions at later stages in your Lordships' House. There will have to be, not least to answer and address some of the interesting legal issues and complexities raised yesterday by, among others, my noble friends Lord Glenarthur and Lord Chesham.

But the most important advance that we have seen is the change in the Government's approach. In the debate on the White Paper a few weeks ago. I and others criticised the style and the timetable of the proposals contained in the Bill. It was very pleasing therefore to hear the noble Baroness the Leader of the House acknowledging the work and contribution of hereditary Peers when she opened the debate yesterday, as did others at later stages in the debate. The trend has, on the whole, continued today and was continued by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor this morning, at least at the start of his remarks. It is important and necessary to make such acknowledgement. It is doing justice to those who have contributed over the centuries to create this mother of Parliaments.

Having said all that, we are still faced with this Bill which, if it goes through, will mean that as early as the State Opening of Parliament this November, we could be faced with a dramatically reduced House and a great gap which will not be filled by the proposals contained in the Weatherill amendment. Though it is important to give that amendment our full consideration, because it seems to be our only chance to make the transitional period tolerable and indeed leave the door open, nevertheless it is not a solution.

My main plea to the Government today is to ask them not to insist on rushing through the implementation of this Bill. Surely we should at least wait for the Royal Commission to report, in order to consider all the possibilities for a stage two. The manifesto commitment can be kept, indeed has already been kept, by putting this issue on the agenda and exciting an interest even outside your Lordships' House. Surely too it is implicit even in a manifesto commitment that reforms be carried out properly and thoroughly and not at break-neck speed.

We must build in safeguards, and I shall certainly support any amendments that do so at later stages of the Bill, especially those that build in a longer time factor. This is not just the end of an era, but the end of many eras. It is right, therefore, that we should deal seriously and thoroughly with this Bill. And in acknowledging the significance of the House of Lords and its role in the past, we should also hope and work for a better future for the second Chamber.

6.58 p.m.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe

My Lords, in the short time I have been here my respect and affection for this House has grown strongly and quickly; for its atmosphere, its friendliness, its staff and many of its parliamentarians—including hereditary Peers.

As a former trade unionist, therefore, I join in expressing my gratitude to both past and present active hereditary Peers for the significant contribution which they have made and continue to make for the wellbeing of public life in this country When they go, they will be missed in a whole variety of different ways. This will be a different House and, for a period, as with any radical change, there may be some unforseen difficulties and even possibly a temporary decline in our performance. That is often what occurs when we have major changes. Therefore, to ease those changes and to aid the passage of hereditary Peers, I, for one, will want to give support to the Weatherill amendment for the transitional period.

Whether or not we will get the amendment and its sensible, pragmatic way forward is out of our hands on this side. It rests with hereditary Peers principally. It rests with them to decide just how they see their duty. In my opinion, if agreement cannot be reached it will be a great pity, not just for the country but also for hereditary Peers. To conclude on a sour note, contrary to the traditions of the House which they themselves have helped to build, would be a sad day indeed. Therefore. I hope that wisdom will prevail over emotion. But, if it does not, the House will nonetheless survive and it will continue. Any initial difficulties, even if there are gaps as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, will be filled in one way or another or in due course.

After all, only two years ago many people were arguing that this country could not be run by an inexperienced Labour Party and Labour Government. Yet here we are, still riding high in the opinion polls, with a feeling around that it is Labour which is the party of natural government. The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, reminded us this morning that, when addressing such issues, we should not be so introspective but should endeavour to look over a wider front and take into account what is happening outside this Chamber.

I do not think that we should ignore what has happened in a very short space of time within the Conservative Party itself. Here I address my remarks principally to the Conservative Party rather than the Cross-Benches. The Conservative Party is going through a quite radical change at present as it seeks to democratise itself. I applaud the reforms that the party is putting into place—for example, in trying to be more welcoming to women, to ethnic minorities and, yes, even embracing gays and devolution.

It is no surprise to my mind that the Conservative leadership continues to equivocate to some degree over whether or not it would abolish hereditary Peers' rights in the House of Lords. I would welcome a response to the very pointed question which my noble friend Lord Ponsonby posed yesterday to Conservative Peers about where the party truly stands on the issue. It seems to me that there is a contradiction if, on the one hand, the party is seeking to be more inclusive, democratic, open and representative than it has been in the past, while, on the other hand, it is seeking to retain parliamentary rights for a grouping with few women, few members of the ethnic minorities and comprising people who are mostly engaged in farming, the Armed Forces and the higher echelons of the civil and diplomatic services of whom only 1.4 per cent. can claim to have been workers. It simply will not add up and will not convince the public as regards the change which is currently taking place within the Conservative Party if hereditary Peers dig in and fight to the last ditch. I hope that that will not happen.

What I have said might sound rather harsh, but, as we in the Labour Party have learnt only too well through bitter experience, the facts have to be addressed. I wonder just what the party opposite—or, more accurately, perhaps I should say the party opposite in the other place—really wants for the future of this Chamber. Plenty of allegations have been made that this Government do not know where they want to go. I suspect in due course that people will find that they do.

I may be misreading the signals about the Conservative Party, but I rather sense that it is edging itself inch by inch towards calling for a wholly-elected second Chamber. Personally I hope that members of the Conservative Party will go for it. I do not say that because I see, or want, a wholly-elected second Chamber as being the appropriate outcome for stage two; indeed, at least in the short to medium term, I do not see that. If such a policy were adopted by the Conservative Party, it would put pressure on our Government to resist any temptation to perpetuate the transitional House and delay second stage reform. There are some concerns among Back-Benchers in this Chamber that that could conceivably happen.

I am in favour of a part-appointed/part-elected House, with all the difficulties that that may bring. But I should like to see the part-elected element of the House increasing over the years to a majority of the House. Despite all the virtues of this marvellous place, someone like myself who comes from a background of having a job, while following legislation being passed in another place and in this Chamber steered by hereditary Peers, and then moving from a permanent post to go through the experience of being subject to elections for 14 years, gradually saw the merits of the electoral system. Yes, there are dangers and fears with elections, but, on balance, strength comes with it.

The democratic deficit in this House arises from its lack of representation, the width of it and the absence of elections; but, most importantly, it stems from its absence of accountability—a word which is rarely used around this Chamber. So there will be opposition to a shift in this direction which I personally advocate. It will come from a whole variety of quarters of the Opposition, not least the Weatherill group in the transitional House. If I understand the hereditary Peers well—and I congratulate them on the way they have managed to survive almost through to the next millennium—I imagine that they will not want to change quickly from the interim arrangement. In any case, I suspect that many of my fellow life Peers may prove to be equally as tenacious in hanging on to their rights if and when they have to face up to reform of life peerages.

Of course, the House of Commons will be the strongest opponent of the kind of changes that I have been mentioning. However, as many people are increasingly coming to realise, reform is also needed there. Devolution will change the landscape of the House of Commons. Your guess is as good as mine at this stage as to just how it will do so. But, over time, I believe that it will have a significant effect and will lead to outside pressures on the Commons which will be beyond its control and which may require changes of some substance.

As I say, those pressures will be beyond the control of the House of Commons just as hereditary Peers in this Chamber have to face a changing world. I hope that hereditary Peers will take all factors into account, including the changing nature of their party, in reaching decisions on how to respond to this Bill to which personally I will be giving strong support.

7.9 p.m.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, there is probably no right time and probably no wrong time for the reform of any parliament anywhere, unless there has just been a revolution, which I am glad to say has not happened in this country. However, I wonder whether this is a wise time for this reform. Just coming into being is a new Scottish Parliament which we have not had for a couple of hundred years, arid a new Assembly in Wales where there has been no Welsh government as such for much longer. We also have a new Assembly in Northern Ireland. These will put new strains on the constitution of this country as a whole.

Originally the Government were not considering setting up a Royal Commission until after this Bill had been passed and put into effect. However, they have established a Royal Commission, which I understand has to report by the end of this year. I believe that is one of the shortest times ever allowed to a Royal Commission to consider a subject of such great importance. I wonder whether it will have time to carry out all the research, hear all the evidence from witnesses it needs to hear, and then come forward with well thought out and well argued suggestions.

Despite that, we shall go ahead. I feel that it is our duty in this House to endeavour to ensure that what follows this House in its present composition does at least as good a job, and preferably a better one. There must be a large, independent element. I do not mean by that just the Cross-Benchers, for whom I have a great deal of respect; I mean an independent element in all the parties as well. We know that in the other place the Whips rule. I have been told of Members crying because they have felt that their consciences have made them go against the instructions of their Whips.

In this House our Whips cannot instruct us. We are all independent, even if we take a Whip. When I came to this House some 22 years ago I intended to sit on the Cross-Benches, but I was advised that I would get more information if I took a party Whip. Therefore I chose what I considered to be the least bad of all the political parties in the House!

In my time here there have been three, three-line Whips imposed on the party whose Whip I take. I am rather proud to say that on every single occasion I have voted the other way because to impose a three-line Whip means that often the argument has not been won. In this House the argument has to be won. On one occasion, at the invitation of the father of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, I acted as a teller when my own party had imposed a three-line Whip. I happened to be standing in the Division Lobby beside the noble Lord, Lord Denham, who was at that time the Conservative government Chief Whip. He asked me, "Roger, do you really know what you are doing? Have you thought it out?" I replied, "Yes, Bertie, I have". "That is all right", he said. That is the kind of acknowledgement of independence that we have in this House.

I have never been a Member of the other place and I do not particularly wish to be. However, I understand that to go against the Whips there is a serious crime indeed. Members need the support of their party to get themselves re-elected at the next general election; we do not. I hope that at any rate a large part of the House that follows this one will have an independent element that will continue from one election to the next without having to seek the support of any party for re-election. It is important that Members of this House can look beyond the next election and do not just consider electoral advantage but can consider what is best for the nation as a whole, not just for themselves or for their party.

I feel that under the previous administration a mistake was made. The House was out of balance. I believe that more Labour life Peers should have been created. I am told that there was a time when they were not agreeable to this but I may be mistaken. Nevertheless there was a long period when Conservative life Peers were appointed, but no Labour life Peers.

I believe that another mistake as regards all sides of the House is to make ex-Members of the House of Commons life Peers in this House. They are all trained to do as their Whips tell them. One of the important aspects of this House is that all Members should think for themselves. Under the previous administration I moved a number of amendments concerning disability on various Bills. I have done that in this Parliament. I remember that on one occasion a Conservative life Peer said to me, "I like what you are trying to do. I thoroughly approve of the amendments that you propose to move, but if you divide the House I will vote against you". I divided the House, he voted against me, but if I remember correctly, I won.

The new House should not reduce the powers of delay. Under the Parliament Act the maximum period of delay is a year. The European elections Bill does not really count because that concerned a disagreement between the two Houses. However, during my time in the House the Bill that was thrown out was the War Crimes Bill. It was thrown out at the end of October, or early November, on the first occasion; it returned to this House in the next Session—I think in the January—and was thrown out on Second Reading. It became law a few weeks later under the Parliament Act. Therefore even a delay of a year is effectively a delay of only a few months. A year in the life of a parliament is 20 per cent.—that is a long time—but in the life of the nation it is nothing but a mere flick of the fingers.

7.17 p.m.

Lord Clifford of Chudleigh

My Lords, as a fellow Devonian I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Devon, on his maiden speech. At the same time I commiserate with the family and friends of the late Lord Beloff, who contributed so much to this House.

As we are in the second day of Holy Week I wholeheartedly share the alarm and dismay expressed by the Church Synod and several right reverend Prelates and noble Lords that a debate of such constitutional importance should be held in a week rightly dedicated to honouring our national faith and our families. This is a family week—the Government keep telling us, as did the previous government, that they are a family government—and is recognised as such by another place, which after the 1998 modernisation of the House of Commons' procedure, takes time off to coincide with school half terms. The House of Commons will abandon the Palace of Westminster tomorrow, Wednesday 31st March. In the eyes of the Church and of the majority of people this timing is an example of offensive institutionalised discrimination. Like the elected Members of Parliament, both life Peers and hereditary Peers have children or grandchildren. I note a bias against the belief, the rulings of the faith held by the majority, in favour of the agnostics' idolisation of materialism.

Her Majesty's Government either have not read the Coronation Oath taken by Her Majesty the Queen or have no respect for it. There are three oaths. One of the oaths asks Her Majesty whether she will: solemnly promise and swear to govern the Peoples of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, Pakistan and Ceylon, and of your Possessions and the other Territories to any of them belonging or pertaining, according to their respective laws and customs". Another oath is to: maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel". She also commits herself to give the utmost of her power to maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by the law, and that she will maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England and the doctrine, worship and discipline of that Church.

Just as the Monarch takes the oath while placing her hand on the Holy Bible, so, too, do hereditary and life Peers when they take the Oath of Allegiance. It is worth while noting that we also have to read out our Letters Patent. For hereditary Peers they state: Our heirs and successors … and grant unto him the said name, state, degree, style, dignity, title, and honour"— and so on. In another part it says that the, male aforesaid, and every of them successively may have, hold, and possess a seat, place, and voice in the Parliaments and Public Assemblies and Councils".

If children can no longer be encouraged to inherit the moral—that is the Church—line and the civil obligations, are not Her Majesty's Government in conflict with their own programme of civic responsibilities? The Church, Commonwealth and Government feature strongly in the obligations imposed on the Monarch when taking the Coronation Oath. Were this legislation to be placed in the statute, Her Majesty's Government would surely be obliged to rephrase the Coronation Oath and the Oath of Allegiance taken by your Lordships, not only to avoid the embarrassment caused to Her Majesty but to avoid conflict with the Church.

I should point out, too, that the Privy Counsellors—a circle of which also operates in Brussels—have split allegiance because they have given an oath to the Queen and then they say that they commit themselves through oath of allegiance to Brussels. Did I read that the Leader of the House had stated that the Queen and the Prince of Wales have consented to place their prerogative and interest in the Bill at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill? Surely that is approval that the Bill should be debated, not a consent to its merits.

When Her Majesty the Queen took the Coronation Oath, she began, as I have already quoted, by solemnly promising to honour the law and customs of her Commonwealth states. Their allegiance is to the Monarch, not to the House of Commons, and one must ask whether a seal of approval must be obtained from the next Commonwealth conference for such major constitutional changes.

The position and the service of hereditary Peers should not be retained for their own interests but for the inalienable interest that they hold for the nation and, of course, for their responsibility towards the Sovereign. It can be argued that Her Majesty's Government's intention does not fall within the bounds of the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949, for if Parliament—the Monarch and the House of Lords, as well as the House of Commons—is so weakened that it will be unable to protect adequately the rights and the freedoms of the British people, we would become vulnerable to the unrestrained will of an overmighty executive.

Perhaps we should take note of Article 138 of the Italian constitution. It states: Art. 138 is intended to prevent any modification of the constitution that works to the advantage of one political grouping at the expense of another, or that effectively amounts to an infringement of the principle of equality. Thus it would be inadmissible for a political force that had achieved a majority in Parliament to seek to draw advantage from the situation and change the form of government from Parliamentary to Presidential, for instance by granting full powers to the Prime Minister and divesting Parliament of its functions". That is the Italian constitution, not ours.

Another point to bear in mind is Asquith's Quinquennial Act. This was fascinating because it was designed to prevent the Act, pending other legislation, being used to tend towards a unicameral Parliament—which the current House of Lords Bill undoubtedly does. The 1949 Act was a secondary, delegated piece of legislation, I am advised, and no certificate was issued for that Act.

I have already stated my agreement with Her Majesty's Government that there should be balanced partisan voting powers within the House of Lords: 50 for each party and 75 for the Cross-Benches. But I differ from Her Majesty Government in that I think all Peers should be allowed to speak. This would ensure that the broadest spectrum of national opinion would be heard by the select few voting Peers. If we were to designate a limited number of hereditary Peers—91, for example—those Peers may be subject to accusations of betrayal by other hereditary Peers.

For such a constitutional change as this major House of Lords reform, two paragraphs in a 40-page Labour Party manifesto can scarcely be designated as a mandate from the people. A referendum is required—or would such a move dislocate the real goal of this constitutional rearrangement: the swift, unimpeded move towards absolute cover underneath the umbrella of sovereign Brussels? Let us not forget that infidelity to truth destroys dignity.

7.28 p.m.

The Earl of Radnor

My Lords, I wish to touch for a few moments on democracy in relation, first, to your Lordships; secondly, to the Bill that is before us; and, thirdly, to the future. There will be no mention of commonality, meritocracy, and so on, which constituted the very amusing speech of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow.

The word "democracy" has been bandied about in the debate and I have put my mind to wondering how it applies, first, to we hereditary Peers who are about to get the sack. I am not a Cross-Bencher. I have been a fairly radical Conservative. I tried to persuade myself that we are reasonably democratic by virtue of the fact that we have no power over the electorate. I thought hard about that. The Parliament Act lies behind what we can do. We cannot make people do things. We can delay and we can alter, but another place always has the final word. However, I did not completely convince myself. I felt there was a nasty suspicion that we are not quite pure democrats. I then looked at other noble Lords and wondered where they all stand. They have been placed here for one reason or another—good work, intelligence, feats either of daring or in business. But what in the world is the difference? I think that neither we, the hereditary Peers, nor other noble Lords are democrats or a part of a democracy. We are some kind of oligarchy, meritocracy or accident of birth. We should bear that point in mind when we consider the future.

As far as concerns the Bill and democracy, few noble Lords on these Benches do not now realise that the Government have a majority of 179 in another place and had two lines in the manifesto about this proposal which quite a lot of people are thought to have read. That is fair enough. The point was rubbed in last night. 'That is fine, as far as it goes. It gives the Government the right to produce this totally inadequate Bill and to get rid of the hereditary Peers who have worked here for quite a long time, and it gives them the opportunity to pass the buck to a very competent, I am sure, Royal Commission, whose members, like many noble Lords, are appointed.

What about the future? I have heard every kind of suggestion one can imagine—mishmashes, pot-pourri, and so on. Some people want members appointed and some people want some of us to elect members. Other people—this is the Weatherill agenda—wish to carry on for a little longer. I think that that is quite a good idea and may be better discussed when we come to the appropriate stage of the Bill. I reluctantly decided that democracy should rule. Democracy comes at a price. The price would be that over a period we, the hereditary Peers, would disappear. But so would all other noble Lords.

I heard the noble Baroness the Leader of the House or someone else of importance say that no one had discussed any plan in detail, so I thought that I might do that for your Lordships. To me the answer is perfectly simple. We would have a democracy in this Chamber, with all its deficiencies. The constituencies throughout the country could be used perfectly well. We would have senators, or whatever one would like to call them, elected, as they are in the United States. So many would be elected every third or fourth year and it would roll on in that way.

Everyone is worried about the other place being distressed by the fact that the second Chamber would have too much power. The senate that I have in mind would have precisely the same powers as the House of Lords has now and would not touch supply or money. That would avoid the embarrassing situations one sees on Capitol Hill when the Senate blocks the President's budget. It would be as simple as that. Other people seem rather distressed that such representatives of the people might even wish to be paid. I see nothing wrong in that. But that is how I think we should go on.

Before I conclude my remarks, I should like to talk a little about the past. I have sat in your Lordships' House for 30 years precisely. It was very difficult getting here because my father had lost the Patent and it cost me a fortune in solicitors' bills before it was found on the top of a cupboard. But here I came and here I have felt very privileged. I have enjoyed every moment of it when I have not felt nervous.

I am glad to see that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, is in his place. He will remember that I brought a number of issues to a vote and won some of them. In one Division the noble Lord took the Teller's baton from me because I think he thought that I might lose it by falling over in the Division Lobby. I won one of those Divisions against my own side by 53 votes. So much for the in-built majority. It is not always there. I think that the most exciting political moment in my life was when we—I was going to say "rubbished"—voted down the paving Bill of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, for the abolition of the GLC. The Gallery was full of people and they just gave a great shout and went out to their parties. So we have not abused our power. We have used it very well.

However, there is a sea-change. It would take a little time to put my plan into action because of the way one would elect such a senate. But I think that something of that kind should be considered by the Royal Commission. I had wished that such a proposal would make up the second half of the Bill that is before us.

7.38 p.m.

Lord St. John of Bletso

My Lords, as the 129th speaker in the debate, this is not a time to repeat many of the arguments for and against reform of your Lordships' House. It is a time to face the reality of reform in a constructive and practical manner. As hereditary Peers, we face a stark choice of either opposing the Bill, and thereby having a stay of execution for a short period, followed by complete abolition of all hereditary Peers, or reaching a compromise to retain many of the well respected virtues and talents of a limited number of hereditary Peers in a transitional Chamber pending the introduction of stage two of House of Lords reform. While I support the move to modernise Parliament—I refer both to your Lordships' House and to the other place—the key must be, certainly for this House, to ensure that there is an improvement not just in the functions and composition of your Lordships' House but also in the powers and legitimacy of this Chamber.

As a founder member of Common Sense for Lords Reform, an all-party group which was set up some six months ago, committed to reform, provided that it is a change for the better, I believe it is essential that there is a clear message and that the best available talent is attracted to the reformed second Chamber. We uphold the value of the bicameral legislature, with strong checks and balances on the other place, but believe that such powers should not be changed so that your Lordships direct or effectively block the will of the other place, but that mainly persuasive powers should remain. Many of those who have argued fervently, like the noble Lord, Lord Davies, for reform of the Lords have quoted those times when your Lordships have, so termed, "defeated" the Government and thereby the will of the people. But the reality has rarely been a defeat for the Government but more a delaying mechanism for further consideration.

One of the main objectives of Common Sense for Lords Reform has been to improve the perception and knowledge that the public has of the workings and value of this House. I was interested in the remarks yesterday by the noble Baroness, Lady Perry. The noble Baroness referred to the public perception of the Lords as a Chamber of old Peers nodding off in their seats. We all know that that could not be further from the truth. Noble Lords are indicating that sometimes it is! Over the past six months this all-party group has commissioned regular opinion polls which have established the views of the electorate regarding reform of this House. The results have clearly indicated that the public is more concerned about reforming the House of Lords to improve the performance and powers of the upper House than simply removing the anachronism of hereditary Peers. The noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, was right when she said yesterday that better government is our goal. I agree with the noble Baroness.

At a time when the Government have a huge, indeed a whopping, majority in the other place, it is surely not in the public interest in a bicameral legislature for your Lordships' House to be a nodding donkey for all legislation that is referred to it from the other place.

I was pleased to see in the Government's White Paper, Modernising Parliament, that they recognise the value of maintaining an independent Cross-Bench presence. Certainly the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, made a strong case for retaining a strong number of independent-minded Members of this House. The value of Cross-Benchers should never be underestimated. On many occasions the Cross-Benchers have held the balance of power and have swayed the will of this House, based on their specific expert knowledge and experience.

I took exception to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Varley, earlier in today's debate that the Conservative Party, with its large number of hereditary Peers, can always beat the Government. The noble Lord gives no credit to the Cross-Benchers, who generally have a poor voting record, but, with 28 per cent. of the membership of this House, effectively hold the balance of power.

I support the call from the noble Lord, Lord Richard, for a balance to be struck at stage two of Lords reform between an elected and a nominated House, ensuring continuity of the experience of this House as well as securing the broad band of special interests represented in this Chamber.

The contribution of youth in your Lordships' House should not be underestimated. I refer, for example, to the work of my noble Lord Freyberg, who has done sterling work over the years for war widows and the arts, and a recent entrant to the Cross-Benches, my noble friend Lord Listowel, who has been representing the plight of the homeless.

There have been many calls during this lengthy debate for the Government to move swiftly to stage two of Lords reform. While I support those calls, I hope that the Government will ensure that full and adequate time is allowed to the Royal Commission so that a lasting solution can be reached rather than simply a quick fix. Speed should not override the need to get the end product right.

In conclusion, reform is not an option. It is a reality. We should swim with the tide, not against it. The Government have made a modest concession in agreeing to change their insistence in their election manifesto on retaining no hereditary Peers to agreeing to 91 during the transitional period. As hereditary Peers we should be idiotic to look that gift horse in the mouth. We should accept this "phase out" rather than "get out" solution. It is literally a question of survival of the fittest now, or mass suicide for hereditary Peers later. We should support the Weatherill amendment in Committee and work hard to make it work.

7.46 p.m.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree

My Lords, there will surely be no doubt in the Government's mind now that your Lordships judge this to be the saddest and most worrying Bill that any of us have ever seen. Like many noble Lords who have already spoken, if the Bill made changes for the better I should support it. I am not asking for a delay, and I believe that other noble Lords on this side of the House are not demanding delay. We are demanding that any change should make this House more effective and better than it presently is.

Those who seek to destroy the composition of a House which has served our country faithfully and selflessly for seven centuries have a duty to show us precisely why and how that House is failing, and precisely what is to be put in its place. Surely that is not an unreasonable demand. Yet the Government have failed both litmus tests. In so doing, they have proved that their motivation is purely party-political.

The Government certainly cannot claim that there is public clamour for what this Bill demands. I say that with some confidence. I was a Member of the other place for some 31 years. No one is better informed as to what the public demands than MPs. Some 30 or 40 letters come in every day; one has to address meetings; there are surgeries, social functions, phone calls and day-to-day contact all the time with thousands of our own constituents. Never once, in all the time that I represented a constituency in the other place, has anyone demanded the abolition of the hereditary principle in the House of Lords.

Government Ministers have described this House as an old-fashioned club. Well, that just shows how little they know. I suppose that as even the PM does not bother to attend his own House very much, it is expecting a lot to ask that Ministers should sometimes come and listen to us. But if they did, they would know better than to call us simply an old-fashioned club.

I have been here for only about 18 months but I have constantly marvelled at the high standard of debate here—far higher, more erudite and better mannered than in another place and more independent, too.

I believe that it is a huge advantage that Peers are not beholden to constituents or to parties. They have far greater freedom to speak and vote as they really feel. They would undoubtedly lose that freedom if they were elected, as some are demanding.

Sometimes New Labour is unable to suppress the intentions and beliefs of old Labour. One such time was last November, when a group of Labour MPs standing at the Bar shouted and cheered when the Queen read that part of the Gracious Speech which heralded this Bill. Their bitter political enmity was as evident as their bad manners and their ignorance as evident as their inexperience. The hereditary Peers do excellent service and should be thanked, not derided. I could not help wondering how many of those jeering MPs would attend, let alone speak and vote, if no salary were paid to them.

Does the House of Peers fail to do its duty in scrutinising Bills or advising amendments? No. Do our committees fail to function? No. Is our Question Time badly attended or lacking in input? No. Do we waste public money? No, apart from a few little difficulties over wallpaper, we certainly do not. Is there public demand to change us? No, there is not. Our one fault—our only fault—is that hereditary Peers are often Conservative, though they have often voted against Conservative governments in the past and, however they vote, they rightly cannot prevail against the elected House.

So many times those who try to make the case for this Bill say that they do so on the grounds that it is wrong that people should be able to introduce or to thwart Bills on the basis solely of who their father was. I do not disagree with that. But this House has no such powers. That is the crux of the matter. This House has a job and a duty to study what the Commons decides and, where it is thought right, to suggest changes or amendments. If the other place does not like those changes, it has complete and democratic powers to vote those changes down. The only power that this House has is to prevent any House of Commons perpetuating its life, and even the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, agrees with that. I believe that that is absolutely right. However, a different picture is presented as the reason for this Bill, and I think it is a phoney reason. Nothing that is done in this House can thwart or block the wishes of the House of Commons, so what is all the fuss about?

If the reformed House of Lords is to have greater powers, it will be a greater threat to the Commons. I read a recent article by a Member of the other place, a Mr. Kenneth Clarke, in which he advocated an elected House of Lords. He agreed that that new House would have to have greater powers. One power that he suggested was the right to hold up a Bill for two years. That would really be power, and I cannot see the House of Commons agreeing to it.

On the other hand, to give fewer powers would be a dangerous step indeed, particularly with an all-powerful Government like this one. And who would bother to stand for election, with no pay and no extra powers? I cannot imagine that anyone would bother.

Apart from that, another set of elections would put huge burdens on constituencies. I wonder how many people understand how much constituencies are stretched and how much they already struggle to cope with local elections, European elections and parliamentary elections, let alone with any referendums. They have very little money and very few voluntary workers. I should like to hear a comment from them as to how they would feel about having another set of elections.

How would we ever have Cross-Benchers if this House were to be elected? I can think of only one independent MP elected in the past 50 or 60 years. It is not popular with the electorate to stand as an independent. And yet I believe that our independents here, our Cross-Benchers, are absolutely essential. I would go to my death to defend their right to be here.

I will not go into the extra cost that the taxpayer will have to meet as a result of this additional set of elections. That point was referred to by my noble friend Lady Platt.

I come finally to my greatest fears about the implications of this Bill. The Government think that no seat in this House should be held by heredity. What about the Throne? It is held solely on the hereditary principle. This very long debate has shown that the future of the Throne is in doubt. We have had reference to it during the course of the debate. In answering the debate on 23rd February, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, who I am sorry to see is not here at present, stated: Our manifesto made it abundantly clear that we have no plans to replace the monarchy".—[Official Report, 23/2/99; col. 1093.] "Yet" hangs in the air. If he meant that the Government had no plans to replace the monarchy at all, I think perhaps it would have been wise to say so. I do not regard that as a pledge that the Monarchy is safe.

A Labour MP from Birmingham recently made a telling speech, stating that it would be "totally illogical" to get rid of the hereditary Peers and not go on to extend that principle to the Throne. No less a person than the Deputy Prime Minister said in the course of the debate on the Greater London Authority Bill last December, as my noble friend Lady Miller reminded us last night: Later in the Session, we shall at long last start to remove the hereditary principle from our system of governance".—[Official Report, Commons, 14/12/98; col. 623.] Note the word "start". This Bill is only the start. Where do you go on to? If you get rid of the hereditary Peers, and that is only the start, where do you go next, except to think of the Throne?

The noble Lord, Lord Acton, tried to soothe these fears last night with a rather rambling history lesson on Sweden. He said that there was still a royal family in Sweden, although the hereditary system had been banished from governance. He omitted to tell the House that in Sweden the Royal Family was not involved in governance anyway. Our Royal Family is. If it is not to continue to be involved in governance, there is no parallel with Sweden or anywhere else. I am concerned about that. Just as in opening the door to devolution the Government have made possible the break-up of the United Kingdom, in destroying the hereditary principle here, they may well be unable to withstand the demands of many of their own members for an end to our monarchy. Many of them do make those demands, as I well know; they always have and I believe always will. I am therefore extremely concerned for the future of our Queen, our House and our country.

8 p.m.

Baroness Thornton

My Lords, as a relative newcomer to this House I am honoured to be able to take part in this debate. I am also delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Knight of Collingtree. Although I enjoyed her contribution I did not agree with very much in it. But there is one matter for which she and her colleagues have my wholehearted sympathy. She referred to the burdens that would be placed on constituency parties if there were more elections. That may cause noble Lords on the other side of the House all kinds of problems.

For a House that is famed for its courtesy and graciousness I have been astonished to hear noble Lords on the Benches opposite and those to my far right refer to the occupants of these Benches individually and collectively in the following terms: "cuckoos"; "tame poodles"; "party hacks"; "cronies"; "envious"; "mean-minded"; "fraudulent"; "pigs in pokes" (or swine of some kind, but I am afraid that I did not catch the exact term); "illegitimate" (whether wholly or slightly was not clear to me); "paltry and petty"; "sad and cheap"; and "cowardly". Where I come from in Yorkshire the use of such language would be regarded as rudeness. Such ill-tempered debates generate more heat than light.

To reflect further on the debate so far, a somewhat cheeky image keeps popping into my mind which I shall share with noble Lords. In the past few days I have had in mind the famous sketch in "Monty Python" in which two men try to outdo each other in describing their relative poverty and dreadful family backgrounds. In your Lordships' House the competition appears to lie in antiquity: the number of ancestors who have been beheaded and the number of generations who have taken their father's place. Antiquity is not of itself a virtue. Every generation must learn from its history and then make its own past, which is what we are doing today. As distinguished and honourable as many of the noble histories and their connections with this House have been, the wonderful memories and nostalgia that we have heard today and yesterday are not the basis upon which a modern democracy can be founded.

Some noble Lords opposite have suggested that because democracy is still a relative newcomer on the British political scene it is not wholly to be trusted. Therefore, to win an election overwhelmingly proves nothing. Indeed, they may even say that what the Government seek to do here is proof of just how unreliable democracy can be. Further, it has been suggested that manifesto commitments mean nothing in themselves; they are an optional extra that a government may or may not take up as they choose. That will not do. This Government have a democratic legitimacy to bring forward this Bill. The matter of which we speak tonight is democracy and accountability. This Bill is not a full stop in the process of reform and modernisation; it is rather an important comma. It is so important that it may even be promoted to a semicolon, but a full stop it clearly is not.

8.3 p.m.

Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach

My Lords, this has been a very long debate and on the ground of pure self-interest I shall be brief. The reason that this Bill is contentious is that it is being introduced as part of a process of reform that is clearly unsatisfactory. As we debate this Bill we have no idea what the future membership of this House may be; nor, more importantly, do we have any idea of the principles upon which membership will be founded. Such uncertainty does not generate confidence in what the Government seek to do. On the other hand, as has been clear from a number of speeches from this side of the House, many believe in reform. There is a widespread perception that the House as at present constituted lacks legitimacy and hence authority and as it stands it needs reform. As someone who is a committed Conservative I find it very hard intellectually to defend the status quo. I believe that reform at some stage is inevitable.

However, that is also the problem. When one calls into question the legitimacy of the hereditary principle it also calls into question the legitimacy of every other Member of this House and the manner of appointment. Legitimacy is not something that can be easily established by the conclusions of a Royal Commission or even by the passing of an Act of Parliament. Legitimacy requires broad acceptance outside this House: in the other place, among commentators and with the people of this country. I am convinced that inevitably it will take time.

I suggest that the distinction drawn by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in his opening speech—namely, that opposition to this Bill has been on grounds of process, not substance—is unfounded. It is very difficult to distinguish process from substance. The concern on this side of the House is not the self-interest of hereditary Peers who want to defend 700 years of history; rather, the concern is the nature of our parliamentary democracy and the uncharted territory into which we are moving. For all the goodwill and trust that we have in the Government, we have no idea what will happen. I believe that that is a legitimate concern. This is not based on self-interest; rather, it is based on public interest.

However, in my judgment the Bill is almost certain to be passed. In that context I should like to make three points about reform. Although this Bill is a major break with tradition reform need not abandon tradition totally. In this context it is clearly feasible, and I hope possible, that something similar to the Weatherill amendment can become a permanent feature of the stage two process of reform. It would be quite wrong to adopt what Edmund Burke termed the "abstract geometry" of the French in deciding the future composition of this House and perhaps advancing to a wholly elected second Chamber. I believe that legitimacy can be established without resort to a wholly directly elected Chamber.

I accept the wisdom of the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, that we must recognise the supremacy of the other place. It is precisely because of that that I am so strongly opposed to a wholly elected second Chamber. I merely repeat what others have said. Such a Chamber must inevitably come into contact with the other place if it is elected. I see no way out of that. Imagine that both Chambers have large majorities of the same party. I believe that that would only lend further weight to the notion of an elected dictatorship with Parliament's ability to call the executive to account being correspondingly weakened. Surely, that must be the most important constitutional reform needed in this country at present.

The result of having a partly elected, but also a substantially appointed, second Chamber will he described as a fudge. It will be a fudge. But what matters is not how it is described but whether the reformed Chamber is independent, effective and therefore works.

The reform of this House is but one of many reforms that is being introduced by the Government at present. Some of us wonder how those reforms can fit together. I am strongly supportive of devolution, especially for Wales. Reform of the House offers the Government a great opportunity to ensure that the fragmentation of the United Kingdom is halted and prevented by providing a mechanism through a reformed House, so that those parts of the UK that are devolved will have representation in our Parliament here and the process of devolution has a unity in the country—rather than leading to fragmentation. The House is primarily a scrutinising and deliberative body and both functions would be far stronger if more devolved areas of the UK were represented in the House.

My final point concerns the representation of religious bodies. I am sorry that there are no bishops present here. If the hereditary principle no longer has legitimacy, how long will it be before the bishops of the Church of England are evicted from this Chamber? I could construct a good case, in terms of declining numbers and the influence of the Church, and make an argument in that direction. I am delighted that under the transitional arrangements, they will continue to be represented. I am opposed to disestablishment because society derives great value, despite the secularisation that there is, from the many influences of the Anglican Church—parish life, social work and education—and from the symbols that it brings to the heart of national life. I hope that will continue and that representatives of other Christian Churches in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland can be represented in this Chamber.

I value also the contribution from those of other religions. That was clearly demonstrated last Wednesday in our debate on marriage when the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln spoke, followed by the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, and the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed. Ours is a multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-ethnic society. Without being mawkish about the future, this House could be used in a positive way to include representation.

The Bill marks the end of an era. We face a highly uncertain future. We are accepting an enormous amount from the Government on trust. While I enjoyed the opening part of the Lord Chancellor's speech, including his intellectual defence of the Bill, I became dismayed by the closing section, in which he deliberately and intentionally stamped his foot in what I thought was an intimidating manner on the passage of the Bill through the House. As he did that, I could not help feeling that if this were a rugby field, I would have expected to see a yellow card raised. I do not believe that is a helpful platform from which to invite the continued trust of Members of this House as the Bill proceeds. I hope that the noble and learned Lord will match his admiration for the contribution of the hereditary peerage that he stated so eloquently this morning with a degree of patience, to recognise the genuine concerns raised by the Bill in the public interest, not private interest, because it marks such a break with the history and traditions of this country.

8.13 p.m.

Earl of Buchan

My Lords, I will also address your Lordships briefly—although not as briefly as my noble friend Lord Kintore, who took only two minutes; or the noble Lord, Lord Charteris of Amisfield, who took three minutes. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, for introducing the amendment. Whether or not I support it depends on the speeches that are to follow and whether I am still awake at half-past five.

I cannot speak for other hereditary Cross-Bench Peers, but I could have been charmed, cajoled or even induced by monetary considerations. I certainly would not use any word as coarse as "bribe"—say, further expenses to the end of this Parliament or more travel expenses, enabling me more cheaply to move to Scotland—to support the Bill. Like other noble Lords, I will not be threatened into supporting the Bill. It is a great pity that the Government have chosen a confrontational stance. It has stoked up false animosity in another place towards this noble House, with spinners' sneers and the like. I was almost contemplating a crash course in ditching, but I do not know that will be necessary.

There was in the Lord Chancellor's speech an interesting Freudian slip. In respect of the great Liberal reforming government of 1909, the Lord Chancellor referred to Lloyd George's government, but he did not become Prime Minister until 1916—when he manoeuvred Asquith out of the job. Campbell Bannerman was the Prime Minister who initiated the attempt to reform this House and his successor was Asquith.

I will, in passing, refer to the wretched business of the manifesto. I am afraid that manifestos have a poor name. I suspect it is due to that wretched document, the Communist manifesto. Look what trouble that caused. Manifestos, in the journalists' merit table, stand just below Viz and not noticeably above Hello! People do not rate manifestos at all highly, so I am sorry that there are so many references to that aspect. Other noble Lords made the point that the issue was not a prominent feature of the manifesto.

I refer to a speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, in the debate on parliamentary democracy. She was complaining—and I so agree with her—about the one move that the Government made as soon as they came to power that has caused more trouble than any other. I refer to the passing of control over interest rates from politicians to the executive—the Bank of England. Interest rates were raised continually and unnecessarily, causing pain and discomfort throughout the country. There was no mention of that in the manifesto.

I was going to take the Leader of the House to task for being so disturbed by the number of noble Lords speaking in this debate. We have the right to speak. I am asked from time to time by people outside the Chamber why, when great issues are debated—defence, foreign affairs, finance and constitutional affairs—so few Government supporters are to be seen on their Benches and so many on the Cross-Benches, Conservative and Liberal Benches. It is not for me to draw any conclusions.

Noble Lords will, like me, have read acres of print from Hansard on this subject and I will refer quickly to three or four references. On 22nd February the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, referred to the possibility of an emasculated, illegitimate second Chamber. That is a real possibility. The noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, made an excellent reference in his first speech last October to the simple point that it is impossible for him to be here and there at the same time. We all know that the noble Lord is an eminent geneticist at Hammersmith Hospital. There is a problem for new Members of the House in working and being here at the same time.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester confirmed that the Church of England would be submitting to the Royal Commission some words on the position of the bishops in the new Chamber. Let us hope that voice is loud and clear—unlike some of the cracked trumpets that come from Church House.

I did not think that I should learn much new from the debate. Noble Lords on the Government side made that point too. However, the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, made a novel point. When speculating on how the new House should be constituted, he used the phrase "random selection", a quite new idea. But as those noble Lords and noble Baronesses who have had a classical education well know, Xenophon was chosen not by promotion, nor by democratic choice, but by lottery. So there is a precedent for random selection in this House.

What to do, my Lords? My family is proud of the contribution we have made over the years to the workings of this noble House, and in another place, in Edinburgh prior to 1707 before that assembly was hacked down by the English. I hope that it will be replanted, although I am suspicious of the bizarre, politically correct, franchise system that will be in operation. Thus, since we have been around since 1469, in the year 2468 I hope that we shall be quietly and discreetly—no £1 million "Mandeldome" for us—preparing a family party. In that year I suspect—I hope that I am making an unduly melancholy prediction—that if this Government carry on in this way they will merely merit on some dusty distant record a passing reference under the composite motion, "Socialism and spite".

8.22 p.m.

Baroness Seccombe

My Lords, at last we have reached the last page of speakers! I wish to begin by saying that I find the title of the Bill most striking. Known colloquially as the Reform of the House of Lords Bill, the word "reform" does not appear. It is the absence of that word that strikes me. Perhaps it shows that the Government realise privately how far this wretched Bill is from real reform.

I have always believed that reform meant improving an existing institution with changes for the better. But I cannot accept that anyone believes that this Bill will achieve that; otherwise why have the Government very belatedly set up a Royal Commission to consider the future of this House? I believe that all Members of your Lordships' House are threatened as the Government salami slice each group perhaps to achieve a hidden agenda. Their commitment to having a House that is more democratic is laughable if they really believe that denying access to our hereditary colleagues will fulfil that aim.

Many of those Peers have given decades of loyal service to this House and have unquestionably made a huge contribution. It grieves me considerably when disparaging and unfair criticism is directed at them. I should like to take the opportunity to add my tribute to those who were brought up to assume that it was their duty to attend and to take part in the daily round of this House. Many of them have done so most assiduously and, let us not forget, often at financial cost to themselves.

Whenever hereditary issues are raised, I am reminded of the time when Lord Wilson of Huyton chided Lord Home of the Hirsel for being the 13th Earl. Lord Home replied that we should not forget that he was the 13th Mr. Wilson. Heredity has been the backbone of this country over the centuries. We have all witnessed small family businesses which have grown and developed with each generation into the national and international companies which make such valuable contributions to our economy. Many of your Lordships belong to such families, including at least one Member of the Government Front Bench. I was therefore much amused to read that the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, had said on 14th October 1998 at col. 968 of the Official Report that she would not employ a hereditary plumber. I found that astounding as I always take note of how long a firm has been in business, and if the name includes "and Son" I think it is a bonus. The son has probably watched his father from a young age, learned his skills in a practical way, and then joined the family business. So if the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, needs a plumber, perhaps she had better look for a hereditary one because I am sure he would serve her well.

This Bill is the latest, and in my humble opinion, the worst, of the Prime Minister's initiatives on modernisation. I am pleased that the Lord Privy Seal understands that some noble Lords are suspicious of modernisation. The Prime Minister tells us that in this way the Government will create a country of which he can be proud. If he is riot proud at the present time, that is his problem. Our problem is that he is irresponsibly playing about with our constitution for his own ends. If the right honourable Member feels so strongly about the future of your Lordships' House, why did he not show enough concern to set up a Royal Commission until forced into action by pressure from outside his party? We welcome this belated move but cannot help but criticise him for his dithering and inability to react to public opinion.

In the changed circumstances it is therefore difficult to comprehend why we need a stage one. My noble friend Lord Wakeham and his colleagues were set the almost impossible task of reporting by 31st December of this year. The first meeting took place on 1st March, since which time a detailed programme of consultation and public hearings has been announced. To report by the end of the year therefore seems to be an impossible timetable to achieve though no doubt the report will be available soon after. Surely Parliament would be far better served by having the benefit of the views of the Royal Commission. The Government seem determined to plunge us into the unknown, they are in such a hurry to have this measure on the statute book.

The Conservative Party is not against change, as we have demonstrated over the years. It was a Conservative government that created life Peers, including women for the first time, and changed legislation so that hereditary women Peers could take their seats. We believe in genuine reform and not just change for the sake of party dogma.

It seems strange that there has been much discussion about the Weatherill amendment, which as yet has not seen the light of day. When a similar amendment was proposed by my honourable friend Mrs. Eleanor Lang, those on the Government Benches voted against it; and yet we are led to believe that if it is passed in this House the Government will support it. It shows that the Government are playing party politics with the Bill. I am pleased that the Prime Minister did a U-turn when he agreed to the 91 hereditary Peers remaining for the interim period after the Bill had passed, but I feel most strongly that it was gerrymandering to deny the Weatherill amendment in the House of Commons.

This is a short Bill, tightly drawn, which will always be remembered for what it does not say rather than for what it does say. Hereditary Peers in the House should not be denied by the wording of the Bill the opportunity to give the House the benefit of their wisdom on the future shape of the House in the weeks ahead. I believe that it is our duty to amend it as and where we can to ensure that we make a bad Bill a slightly better Bill. If that means days and days of debate, then so be it. I am sure that we on this side of the House are ready to engage in that argument as the Bill makes its way through this House.

8.28 p.m.

Lord Moran

My Lords, in a debate on 14th October last year, I argued that this House was at its best when it was least political as in the work of its committees. In the debate on 23rd February, I explained why I was not impressed by the Government's current proposals and why I thought that the deal negotiated with the Government by three of my noble friends and the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, was unsatisfactory.

I shall not repeat what I said then except to add that my dissatisfaction with the deal has been strengthened by the way in which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor told us threateningly this morning that we must support it unamended or face total extinction. I still believe that the best solution which would meet the Labour Party's legitimate complaint about the imbalance of the present House would be to allow hereditary Peers to speak and work on committees but not to vote. On this, I very much agree with what was said today by the noble Earl, Lord Longford.

In the October debate, incidentally, I asked for confirmation that the Government had no intention of tampering with the power of this House to veto a Bill extending the life of a Parliament. The Government Chief Whip has kindly sent me confirmation of this in writing, for which reassurance I am grateful.

I wish to make just two points. First, I am struck by the stupendous irrelevance of this Bill. The present House may well be theoretically indefensible, but it works pretty well. Reforming it can scarcely be described as an urgent necessity. But there are any number of far more urgent problems facing us today. The RAF is in action over Serbia; massive and barbaric ethnic cleansing is taking place in Kosovo; there is a risk of a wider conflagration in the Balkans; the future of the European Union, NATO and the United Nations is all in the melting pot; and with the single European currency, we shall soon face decisive questions about our future in Europe and as a sovereign independent country.

Moreover, we have serious domestic problems which cry out for government action. We have the highest divorce rate in Europe; a widespread use of drugs; a high level of crime, especially juvenile crime; and of illiteracy. Our agriculture is in deep crisis, while much of our wildlife is in steep decline. Once a great seafaring country, we now see our merchant navy and the number of men who man it dwindling to almost nothing. More and more of our industrial firms built up by British enterprise have been sold off to foreigners. In the light of all that, what are we doing? We are debating a half-baked, half-complete reform of this House. Could anyone maintain that our priorities were sensible?

My second point is the need for this House to play a proper part in calling to account the Government of the day and in opposing them when they are wrong-headed. At present, apart from a handful of independent spirits, the House of Commons scarcely offers any real criticism of the Government. That is left largely to the press. But this House has a part to play and should not hesitate to play it. We have a powerful, dominating, and in some ways domineering, Government. They have rammed through constitutional change in Scotland and Wales which begins to look as though it is leading to the dismemberment of the United Kingdom. In Northern Ireland, the unrequited release of murderers, snipers and bombers—250 of them so far—amount to a suspension of the ordinary rule of law that so many lives have been given to defend. Is this the time to plan the replacement of this House by a wholly nominated body?

I believe that the Government's proposals will weaken the second Chamber, make it more political, less independent and less respected. It may well end up by being like the House of Commons; a body which does whatever the Government want. That would increase the already excessive power of the over-mighty executive and, in my view, be exceedingly unfortunate.

8.32 p.m.

Viscount Blakenham

My Lords, in order not to be repetitive, I intend to confine my remarks to three minutes. The case for removing the voting rights of hereditary Peers is overwhelming. A built-in majority for one party is unjustifiable. The fact that this hereditary majority is semi-dormant and predominantly male only makes matters worse. The argument, "If it works don't fix it", does not hold water when there are other workable alternatives, a number of which have been put forward in the debate. The skills and varied expertise of the hereditary Peers should not be underestimated and I do not do so. But neither should those of the life Peers.

During these past 15 years, for five or six I have sat on Select Committees. I know that the contribution of the life Peers has been predominant on those committees. We have the opportunity to create more life Peers from a wide pool of talent—there is a whole nation from which to choose—and we should be prepared to take the first step.

Like most Members of this House, I believe that not knowing what the new make up of the House will be is unsatisfactory. However, it is self-evident that it would not be possible to gain a unanimous view. We have a government commitment that after some political appointments, the future appointment of life Peers will in principle be largely independent of government. We also have a Royal Commission which will recommend the way forward. Moreover we have the opportunity of nominating 90 hereditary Peers who should be able to influence an acceptable outcome during the transitional period.

I turn to the amendments put forward by noble Lords. I support that put forward by my noble friend Lord Weatherill, but not the others. First, I do not believe that reform is being conducted primarily for reasons of political advantage. For years, all parties have agreed that the House of Lords should be reformed, but to date no government have grasped the attendant nettle.

Secondly, I believe that the accepted and vital role of this House is to amend and improve proposed legislation and that any move which would greatly strengthen perceived legitimacy would result in a much more radical, and in my view undesirable, change in constitutional practice.

As regards the amendment put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Archer, I worry that it might cause delay and confusion which I am sure the noble Lord did not intend. The voting rights of hereditary Peers are not being removed because the majority of them fail to attend and vote. Part of the problem is that they occasionally do.

Noble Lords will understand from what I have said that I am not at one with the Opposition view on this matter. The reason I am speaking for the first time from the Cross-Benches relates primarily to the medium-term position that the main Opposition party has taken on Europe and European monetary union. Reform must start somewhere. Finally. I say that trust sometimes produces better results than suspicion and I suggest that we would do well to travel the route of reform with a little more hope.

8.37 p.m.

Lord Wrenbury

My Lords, I have felt some disappointment that the combined brain power of this House has been unable either to find a justification for the hereditary principle or to devise any formula for its future composition which is a manifest improvement on the present position.

As to the first point, it occurs to me that all hereditary Peers are the product of a marriage. Marriage, as we all know, is a lottery in which absolutely any girl of childbearing age can take part. Are we really saying that a Member of this House, selected in this haphazard manner, has less good democratic credentials than someone hand picked by the Prime Minister? I suggest not.

As to the second point, since no solution is in sight, it seems to me common sense to vote against the Bill until someone can come up with a proposal that commands a general consensus. To suggest that every item in the manifesto represents the declared will of the majority of the people of this country is as ludicrous as suggesting that a customer has a choice in the selection of dishes on a table d'hôte menu. There is no choice in a party political manifesto. You either accept the whole thing or you lump it. That is why the opinion polls are clearly telling us that this particular measure is something the majority of people were not aware of and do not want.

I have been sitting in this House since 1948, before the Prime Minister was born, and at a time when the Marquess, whose speech gave rise to the Salisbury Convention, was in his heyday. Much as I used to admire him, I should not wish anything he said to be treated as more than a convention which can be put aside in a proper case. For the reasons I have already given, it cannot seriously be claimed that the country has expressed any view on this matter and therefore we should all feel perfectly free to consider it on its merits. The Government should try to get their own way through the normal voting procedures and not rely on a convention which never had a constitutional issue of this magnitude in mind.

I detest the common practice of speaking passionately against a Bill and then failing to vote against it. I do not believe that the first Duke of Wellington would have thought much of it either. Let us stop playing politics for once and consider the merits of the Bill. If, like me, you consider it to be a bad Bill, then vote against it at this stage rather than trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear in Committee.

Much as I respect the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, I do not consider his proposed formula will lead us anywhere useful. It seems to be based on two false premises, the first of which is that the function of this House is to play party politics. That is wrong: the function of this House is to act as guardian of the rights of the people, which has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with commonsense and integrity. If the Parliament Act 1911 were being enacted today, it is not just the life of a Parliament over which this House would be given a veto, but a whole range of other matters in addition. How absurd it is that the sovereignty of a free people should be accorded less protection than the life of its Parliament. This Chamber has increasingly demeaned itself by playing party politics and should look to a worthier role; otherwise the very people who should be here to protect our national interests will not think it worthwhile to attend.

The second fault that I have to find with the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, is that it seems to assume that those who attend most regularly are the most valuable Members of this House. If the criterion for membership is having first-hand knowledge of specialist subjects, then that assumption must be incorrect because one does not gain, or indeed retain, first-hand knowledge of anything by sitting on these well-upholstered Benches. Industry is always admirable and Committee work has to be done, but wisdom, if that is the quality we are seeking, will surely only make an appearance when it has something really useful to contribute or when it feels a clear duty, for the good of the country, to turn up in order to speak or vote. Being a Member of this House is not about power, but about service and when it ceases to be that, it will forfeit the respect of the British people.

Looking to the future, we must decide whether we want to see an elected or an appointed Chamber. If it is to be elected, then for purely practical reasons the candidates must offer themselves on a party ticket because there is no other method of distinguishing one candidate from another. Independents do not usually succeed in political elections because their personal qualities are not known to the electorate. Therefore, if the Second Chamber is to be elected it will inevitably be run on party political lines.

But since we also seek a Chamber which is not a carbon copy of the first and which has real political clout, it might be worth considering whether it should not be composed of runners-up in every constituency election. The perpetuation of the concept of a seat for life in the Upper House could then cease.

Alternatively, if we seek a Chamber composed of independent experts, then it is absolutely inevitable that they will have to be appointed. That begs the question of whether anyone will wish to be appointed, knowing that they will be taking on an obligation of unremitting toil, coupled with an almost complete lack of political clout. An hereditary Peer is willing to fill this vacuum because he sees it as his inherited duty to do so. But who would take on such an obligation starting from cold? I believe that when the hereditary Peers depart most of the glamour, romance, attraction, tradition—call it what one will—of sitting in the Upper House will disappear with them and it will not be easy to find suitable replacements.

Finally, there seem to be good legal reasons for voting the Bill down at Second Reading and they are these. No one doubts that Parliament consists of three elements; namely, the Monarchy, the House of Lords and the House of Commons. Neither, I imagine, would anyone dispute the proposition that none of these elements is capable in law of abolishing the other unilaterally. It may well be possible for the people of this country to effect any change they like, but as regards our unwritten constitution if we are to work within the law then I suggest that Parliament is one and indivisible. It would make as much sense to imagine God seeking to estrange Himself from the Holy Ghost as to imagine the House of Commons seeking to abolish the House of Lords. In both cases there is a Trinity, counting the Monarchy, and in both cases that Trinity is indivisible.

It is also vitally important that this should be so, because what safeguard of the rights of the people would the House of Lords provide if it could be abolished by the House of Commons? Then I ask, what is the difference between abolishing an institution and abolishing the entire membership of that institution? An institution, like a company, cannot function without members. And although the present Bill relates only to the hereditary peerage, the power which it purports to exercise must surely be equally exercisable in regard to all other Peers. On that basis, the House of Commons would clearly have power to abolish the House of Lords by the back door and since any attempt of this sort would clearly be unconstitutional it must follow that a partial exercise of that same power is also unconstitutional.

Parliament must be capable of reforming itself by mutual agreement of all three constituent parts. But for the reasons I have given attempts at unilateral reform of one House by another, purporting to rely on the Parliament Act, must be unconstitutional. If those two proposals are right then we could be doing ourselves enormous harm by voting for the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, since that involves giving the Bill a Second Reading, which in turn might be taken to amount to consent sufficient to bring the Parliament Act into operation.

I agree with the sentiments expressed in the amendment, but because of this potential legal trap I, and I hope other noble Lords, shall not feel able to support it. I believe that the only safe thing to do is to deny the Bill a Second Reading and have plenty of time to think again. It is for that reason that I strongly advocate throwing the Bill out on Second Reading.

8.47 p.m.

Lord Ashbourne

My Lords, it is getting late and I am going to try to beat the target of the noble Viscount, Lord Blakenham, when he said that he would be back in his seat in three minutes. I am going for two-and-a-half minutes so this is really a bonus for noble Lords and they can tick off how many minutes it is to dinner time more successfully.

This Bill is really about the reform of Parliament and not merely the narrower focus of reforming the House of Lords. As the noble Lord, Lord Richard, so aptly put it yesterday, In reforming the Second Chamber our aim should therefore be to strengthen Parliament as a whole".—[Official Report, 29/3/99; col. 31.] I entirely agree with that. Is it not essential that we have a strong Parliament to stand up to the executive and, from time to time, to say, "Think again, think again; perhaps you have got it wrong"? The removal of the hereditary Peers will inevitably affect the status of the Monarchy. When the House was debating the White Paper on the future of the House of Lords I well remember the noble Lord, Lord Charteris, making one point. It was an occasion such as this when there were many, many speakers spread over two days. He said that he was concerned about the effect of the removal of hereditary Peers on the Monarchy. I share that concern.

Finally, the hereditary principle is entirely scriptural. It is supported by the genealogy of the Lord Jesus and by his first recorded words in Luke, Chapter II, verse 49. He said, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?". Are there not now men and women in this House who have been faithfully going about their fathers' business of contributing to Parliament for generations?

8.50 p.m.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, listening to this long and interesting debate, I am sad that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, summarised the position, it has sometimes fallen below the normal standards of this House. I have been drawn to thinking of the similarities with George Orwell's Animal Farm but with a greater involvement of turkeys debating whether they should vote for Christmas. Here we have two distinct groups of turkeys at present living in relative harmony. Some of the turkeys are voting for Christmas because they know that their sacrifice is for the good of the whole flock or public. Some say that their longevity is so vital to the ongoing viability of the turkey farm that they must remain until they die, which means less revenue for the farmer. Then their eldest chicks will take over the rule of the turkey farm, and they believe that without ongoing advice from them and their eldest chicks, who are nearly always male, of course, the farmer and the other turkeys will start to wreck the farm and will not look after it in the way in which they have become accustomed.

We then have the other turkey friends who are genetically engineered. They are such fine specimens and are therefore likely to be able to operate with more democratic legitimacy. They are engineered so that they cannot have children and the farmer must buy or create new and even more intelligent birds. Some of the GM birds believe that the old-fashioned ones deserve their fate; some argue that they should be preserved. But in all that, it feels that we are having a re-run of the early chapters of that book because the arguments, long into the night, sometimes appear to be at variance with the ideas which their proponents seem to promote or others seek to oppose.

I am an hereditary Peer and my title goes back to the 1400s. I shall not give your Lordships a history lesson. We all have something in common; that is, we have not earned the right to sit in the House of Lords through our own achievements or appointments. Many hereditary Peers have given great public service to the country because they happened to have a seat in this House. It is good that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor and my noble friend the Leader of the House have paid eloquent tribute to their work. But that is not a reason for continuing the system indefinitely and is certainly not an argument for saying, as so many speakers from the Opposition have argued, that only hereditary Peers can preserve the democratic traditions of this country. Many hereditary Peers opposite appear to infer that life Peers are somehow less able to preserve those traditions and provide essential scrutiny of government legislation and the brake on the power of the Executive that I certainly believe is required.

Life Peers in this House have been appointed by nine Prime Ministers of both major parties. Those life Peers believe that they are here for life. Some have loyalty to a party and others less so. I suggest that life Peers are just as able, if not more so, to discharge those functions. To suggest otherwise is an insult to the many life Peers who are active in this House and who are just as independent and willing to cause trouble for their party if they feel the desire so to do.

There are two important matters for the future. The interim House must include those with experience of all walks of life, professions and religions. Some noble Lords opposite have suggested that only hereditary Peers have the specialist knowledge needed to scrutinise legislation in a proper manner. There is a large number of hereditary Peers who have that specialist knowledge and their contribution is greatly welcomed. But if it is considered so valuable, I presume it is possible for them to be appointed life Peers in the normal way. But I could list many life Peers who have as much, if not more, specialist knowledge, and they contribute greatly to the work in your Lordships' House.

My noble friend Lady Gould said earlier that the House is a long way from reflecting the current multi-ethnic society in which we live. She is absolutely right. This Government have made strong efforts to redress the balance in your Lordships' House. However, the number of women here is still lamentably low. The number of different races and religions which make up our population today is woefully unrepresented. The noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, suggested that other religions should be better represented. But we have a long way to go.

The imbalance is exacerbated by the presence of hereditary Peers, who are generally male, generally white and frequently with a main interest in agriculture, shooting, fishing, not roaming or being compensated for allowing others to roam, as we heard this morning. I have even received a letter from the Country Landowners' Association saying that the countryside is at risk if hereditary Peers are abolished since there will be no representation of the countryside in Parliament and most Members of Parliament represent urban areas. That is quite extraordinary. Are there no Members of Parliament representing rural areas? That is an astonishing comment on how the Conservative hereditary Peers see themselves as guardians of the countryside.

I detect a feeling that they see themselves as guardians of our society, our way of life, our Monarchy and, presumably, to keep the place warm until the electorate comes to its senses and re-elects the party whose natural role it is to lead and govern; that is, the party opposite. I really believe that the representation in your Lordships' House must be multi-racial, reflecting the society of today with different religions represented and many more women.

The content and experience of this House can be widened and deepened by the proposed appointment process. Many noble Lords opposite have suggested that the present Prime Minister is a control freak and that he will fill the House with placemen and reduce the ability of the House to scrutinise legislation and act as a brake on the executive.

There have been many comments made by noble Lords opposite to the present allegedly presidential form of government. In fact, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, suggested, if I heard him right, that we are heading for an elected dictatorship.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, I recall the long years of the administration of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher; there were then many occasions when I had similar thoughts. Many people made similar comments about politicians in those days; that she was acting as a president; that her Cabinet were a group of "yes men", and they were mostly men. We have already heard that over many years, the previous government appointed life Peers in much greater numbers than the then Prime Minister permitted other parties to do. Therefore, I believe that my right honourable friend the present Prime Minister is to be commended on proposing for the first time a system in which no one party should have an overall majority in your Lordships' House and that there should be an independent commission for appointing Cross-Bench Peers.

Given the imbalance which will still exist even after the hereditary Peers have gone, it is reasonable that that should be put right at the first opportunity in view of the commitment which the Prime Minister has given.

As regards the Weatherill amendment, I can see some advantages in such a compromise if it will enable the legislation to go through more quickly. But it will exacerbate the imbalance between the parties. I was rather surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, suggest that if one of the 90 Peers dies or is no longer able to attend, the next one on the list would automatically step into his shoes. I do not believe that that is right. The Weatherill amendment has some advantage because it ensures that the transitional House does not lose some of the experience of some hereditary Peers, but to perpetuate that for ever is wrong. As the 90 elected hereditary Peers pass on, they should not be replaced.

I believe that the role and responsibility of the House in the future needs careful consideration. It must not be diluted. I suspect that another place will not wish to see too much competition in the democratic element. I should like to see some regional representation, be it elected or otherwise. I do not see why regional representatives should not sit alongside life Peers, just as life Peers and hereditary Peers do at the moment.

The Opposition appear to be intent on blocking this Bill by any possible means. They do not seem to accept that its inclusion in the Labour Party's manifesto is relevant. For my part, I shall work to help to achieve the change by stages, which is what I believe the country needs. The Bill is the first step. We, or our successors, will have plenty of opportunity to debate future stages.

9 p.m.

The Earl of Listowel

My Lords, it was with great pleasure that I heard my noble kinsman, now my noble friend, Lord Blakenham speak for the first time tonight from the Cross-Benches.

My father served in your Lordships' House for 65 years on the Labour Benches and as Chairman of Committees. Prior to that he served as a Labour councillor in the LCC and before that he distributed literature in support of the workers during the General Strike. The view that the strongest have a responsibility to the weakest underpinned his whole life. Some time after he died, my sister found a letter on his desk from a German Jew, writing to thank him for making it possible for him to have grandchildren. My father had acted as an advocate for him in the 1930s when he had to leave Germany.

My fear is that, if the constitution is botched, the weakest in society will pay the highest price. Consider that one in five Britons is unable to find a plumber in the Yellow Pages. Last year in just one hostel for young homeless people in London, 1,000 16 to 18 year-olds needed help. Britain has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies in Europe.

I have worked with young people on housing estates in several London boroughs. I sense that there is something rotten in this British state of ours. Families no longer function. One can expect to be fed upon by needy parents, brothers and sisters. The family is no longer a secure place in which to grow up for many young people. Why should that be? It could be the result of the excellence of this nation in years past, leading the industrial revolution and dominating the world for 150 years. Excellence has a price and the poor pay it.

However, there are many who believe that if the economy is effective, competitive and if we engage in the new global economy, such wounds will be healed and the opportunities offered will heal that damage. That is to dream. Certainly the less damaged will benefit from such a future, but there will be a hard core—as there is in the US—of "ghettoised", underprivileged people. Such families need support, not just in terms of finance, but through well thought-out services which can help them and give them employment opportunities. The endeavour has to be holistic and well focused.

Somewhere at the top there has to be an intelligence to focus the funding of such services to those really in need. Accept the Bill as it stands and we risk eternal conservative—with a small "c"—government. The removal of voting Peers, the resulting increased authority of the upper House and the expectation among many Conservatives—with a big "C"—to wish for a fully elected upper House, with a strong check on the lower House, means that controversial legislation will have an uphill struggle to make it on to the statute book.

We may be in peril of facing the middle-of-the-road American style, "majoritarian" democracy, where people get on with their business and care for their famines, but those at the very bottom rot in ghettoes. Bread and circuses are not enough. I believe that we need a strong executive. An executive which has signed away its powers has no capacity to address the profound ills which are so hard to see, but which I believe exist.

Let us not forget the tower blocks that were to be the solution to the slums. That was the big idea. We were to begin from zero with machines for living. They were cheap and they were in a modern style. However, the consequences were not thought through. Flat roofs leak; lifts to the 15th floor fail; concrete weakens; and pensioners die from hypothermia when boilers fail. That new beginning has turned into a lasting blight. It was done with the best of intentions, but has had tragic consequences.

To remove 40 per cent. of the active membership of your Lordships' House is to make a revolutionary change. Has it been thought through? Where are the reports from business consultants regarding the function of this House and the hereditary Peers? Where are the reports from constitutional academics and from sociologists on the consequences? Where are the profound, in-depth studies? I went to the Library when I first became a Member of this House and I looked for them, but they are not there. They are nowhere to be seen.

I deprecate the Bill. It is too much of the heart and not enough of the head. I ask the Government for reassurance that the Bill, if enacted, will not lead to the constitution that I have described, one which harms the most vulnerable, one akin to that of the United States.

9.7 p.m.

Viscount Addison

My Lords, when I spoke on House of Lords reform on 23rd February I touched on the question of the rural voice in policy and legislative scrutiny in this House and the other place. In this Second Reading, I wish to press the Government to ensure that our rural areas are represented effectively in any future Chamber. Whether Members are appointed or elected, proper representation must be guaranteed. I underline again the need to maintain sufficient independent expertise on agricultural, environmental and financial matters. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, will be interested to know that at present much of that expertise and experience is represented by hereditary Peers who live outside the M.25 and who come from the far comers of England, Wales and Scotland. Will that still be the case if this Bill goes through all its stages without amendment? How will the intermediate House maintain the same credentials?

If the procedures of the current House are changed, the country will be the loser. The revision of the Environment Bill in 1995, with its technical amendments tabled from all sides of the House, raised scientific issues with far-reaching implications of which there was no adequate consideration in the House of Commons.

The expert Select Committees must be retained and expanded upon. They should certainly be expanded to scrutinise policy within the European Union.

There are no guarantees in the Bill that appointments of Peers to the House in the transitional stage will be on the terms set out in the White Paper. Will the Government confirm that they will conform in practice to all the terms set out in the White Paper?

The noble Baroness the Leader of the House in her opening speech yesterday spoke of the principles of Labour government, such as the improvement of society and institutions. The; noble Lord, Lord Richard, spoke of making local democracy legitimate and credible. I am confident that hereditary Peers have not impeded progress on any of those fronts. Sadly, and like many other noble Lords, I still have not had answers to some questions that I put forward in February's debate. That underlines the need for amendments to the Bill to tease out answers to the festering questions that the country will ask sooner or later. This House must ensure that all those inquiries are answered before it is too late so that all the facts and ideas can be adequately reviewed by the Royal Commission.

Of course, the Royal Commission's consultation paper poses more questions than answers, but those questions (and our questions) must be answered. The preface to the consultation paper states: The Royal Commission has been asked to report by 31st December 1999. which represents a challenging timescale for a complex, multi-faceted task". The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, underlined that point yesterday. Will the Government confirm that they have "asked" the Royal Commission to report rather than "told" the commission to report and, if that is the case, whether or not more time will be given to the Royal Commission if it deems it necessary? The country deserves to have a proper job made of reform. No stone should be left unturned.

The noble Lord, Lord Desai, said yesterday that history has proved that putting two stages of a Bill together has never worked, and I bow to his superior knowledge on the subject. However, would I not be right in thinking that an unbreakable link must be cast and forged between the two stages so that the synergy between stages one and two can be seen not only to exist, but to have fruitful meaning?

I return to the passing of this Bill and the 60 days before the submission of the Royal Commission. The passing of stage one before knowing the prospects; of stage two is as if the Government do not want the country to know the possibilities of stage two before stage one of the Bill is passed.

When the hereditaries go, so too will the Salisbury-Addison Convention. Not only is there no destination for the stagecoach on which we are to embark, but also there is no concise timetable for that stagecoach. I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold.

9.14 p.m.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, I rise to thank my noble friend Lady Jay the Leader of the House for the elegant way in which she introduced this debate yesterday. I also thank my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor for his forceful speech this morning. I am sure we all pay tribute to my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton for the way in which he wound up the debate last night, and we look forward to my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn winding up this marathon debate at some time tomorrow morning.

The theme of my contribution this evening concerns the difference between perception and reality. I want to speak about the background to the Bill; to say a few words about the Bill; and to say something about the Weatherill amendment and the reasoned amendment to this debate moved by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold. But before I do that, I pay tribute to the noble Earl. Lord Listowel, for injecting into this two-day debate what I would describe as the very kernel of the functions of Parliament. He spoke about the economic and social circumstances of the dispossessed in our society, and I pay tribute to him for doing that. That forms the basis of all that we should be about in Parliament.

I pay tribute also to his grandfather, the one we knew as Billy Listowel, a member of the Attlee government. I suspect he would have been a little sad to hear his grandson speak in this House on the basis of, "We should only go forward on the basis of a management plan". I suggest that Billy Listowel would have said, 'To hell with management plans. We are concerned with speaking for our people, the working people of this country". He was part of a government that did not just speak, but also acted. We all owe a debt of gratitude to those ancestors of ours who changed the face of this country, the way it was organised, the priorities of our society.

I listened yesterday to the noble Earl, Lord Russell. He said that the object of the House of Lords was to reduce executive power. It is easy for a Liberal Democrat—someone in permanent opposition—to say that. But we are here gathered in Parliament to deliberate upon the great affairs of state and I suggest that we are all summoned here by Her Majesty the Queen to give our counsel; in other words, to give advice. We are here to speak for ourselves and no others. We sit by virtue of duty and it is also a great privilege.

I was astounded by the noble Lord, Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, who suggested that it was the right thing to do as a placeman of the Prime Minister to do that Prime Minister's bidding. I feel that we are summoned on our own recognizance to speak for ourselves and not for any party outside this House. I was scandalised by that suggestion.

Until January 1985 the House of Lords was known to be a major impediment, and abolition was seen to be the solution. In a funny sort of way I pay tribute to the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. One might say he is a cunning old dog—well, he is a Cecil; he would be! But in this century alone there have been a number of stages of reform of this House of Lords. In 1911 we had the Parliament Act, which restricted the ability to deny the House of Commons to two years. In 1948 that was reduced to one year. In 1958 we had the Life Peerages Act, which enabled life peerages to be created. In 1963 there was the Peerage Act, which allowed disclaim of title to sit in this House of Lords. In 1964 there was the introduction of expenses for Members of this House, which did have an effect. On that basis, by my calculation, we are at stage six, and the Bill in front of us is just the next stage in this progressive evolution over the present century alone. Who knows what the next century will provide?

I was talking about 1985. On 23rd January of that year the House of Lords started to be televised and the great British public liked what they saw: sensible old buffers having sensible and civilised debates and, subsequently, defeating the nasty Conservative government on rare occasions. However, there is a problem with that perception. The debate on that day was to, call attention to the need for Her Majesty's Government, in this new year of 1985, to develop economic and social policies which unite the nation; which aim at directly creating employment rather than reducing taxation; which give new life to national pride in our welfare state and encourage motives of social responsibility rather than self interest".—[Official Report, 23/1/85; col. 228.] I contributed to the debate on that day; indeed, it was my maiden speech. We spoke for the country. Speaker after speaker, not only from this side of the House, spoke in support of the Motion and against the thrust of Tory government policy. We won the argument. I can remember going to our Chief Whip afterwards, the late Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, and saying: "We are winning the argument. I hope that we put it to the vote". He responded by saying that we would lose the vote. So we did not put the Motion to the vote on that day, but on many subsequent occasions in the succeeding 12 years when we had won the argument we did put questions to the vote. However, more than nine times out of 10 we lost the vote.

So abolition dropped off the political agenda, but we still have the problem of Tory hegemony in this House of Lords. The real problem for Parliament is that there is a clash between the perception of the House of Lords as a good thing and the reality that, on more than nine occasions out of 10, this House has supported nasty anti-social Conservative legislation in the Division Lobbies. The problem continues to this day. Every day the Conservative Opposition play with us. It is like a cat playing with a mouse, ready to pounce any time that it likes. It is wrong.

The idea of getting rid of the right of hereditary Peers to vote was suggested: at a stroke, 750 Peers, with only 2.4 per cent. taking the Labour Whip, would be removed. That would do two things. First, it would reduce the size of the House to more manageable proportions for self-regulation to enable it to survive; and, secondly, it would reduce the distortion of the House and enable it to reflect more closely modern British society. It is to be hoped that that would also reduce the gap between perception and reality. That suggestion was taken up by Tony Blair. It was then agreed by the Labour Party Conference and subsequently by the Labour Party membership. Finally, it was put to the British people in our manifesto and massively endorsed.

I heartily endorse the Bill and wish it good speed in its passage through your Lordships' House. Having said that, I join with others in paying tribute to many hereditary Peers who have contributed to public life as Members of your Lordships' House. In particular, I should like to mention the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Shepherd, both of whom were distinguished former Leaders of the House.

I have two comments to make about the Weatherill amendment. First, I hope that we could consider selection of the 10 per cent. of the hereditary peerages by seniority on the basis of the date of taking one's seat, rather than election. I say that for a number of reasons. Unlike 300 years ago with the Scottish peerage, and 200 years ago with the Irish peerage, there is now no homogeneous body of the hereditary peerage, as there was in those days. We risk losing the contribution of experience, knowledge of the world, and wisdom of our older Members. Most significantly, over recent times we have developed the convention that Peers speak only for themselves and for no outside interest, so how can they speak for others?

Secondly, if the second stage of reform is to be more significant than gradual evolution, I take up the careful words uttered by the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, and put the suggestion more boldly; namely, that any further significant change in the composition of the House of Lords should be put to the people in a general election. In that case the remaining hereditary Peers should go by the end of this Parliament.

I said earlier that I would say something about the Cobbold amendment. However, I do not need to say anything because the noble Lord, Lord Desai, said it all yesterday. Having made these points, I assure the noble Baroness the Leader of the House that she will have my support for this timely measure.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, could I respectfully ask him who is the cat and who is the mouse?

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, I should have thought it was fairly clear from my speech that we are the poor little mouse and you are the nasty cat.

9.26 p.m.

Lord Rotherwick

My Lords, I beg your Lordships' waning attention, for I am sure it is after about 142 speakers. I hope I may seize your Lordships' attention by recalling the history of the Plantagenets when Richard II courted the Church, Parliament and the people for eight years until eventually in 1397 the Estates were summoned to Westminster and all showed due submission. King Richard II then revealed his true agenda, took vengeance on Gloucester who was murdered at Calais by Richard's agents, on Arundel who was decapitated, and on Warwick who was exiled to the Isle of Man. Richard II was supreme and had all England before him, and Parliament was called on only to legalise these events. Today the Prime Minister and his Government are nearly supreme after only two years and are only held accountable by the Lords, Temporal and Spiritual, who stand in their way of total supremacy.

The point of dire concern that I wish to address today concerns the overall picture of the modernising of this nation's constitution by our Government. I could wax lyrically on in defence of the Peers, in defending accountability, in the justification of appointed and hereditary Peers, the privileges and wealth enjoyed by some Peers, and the myth that the overwhelming majority of Peers support the Conservative Party. But then we would lose sight of the overall picture and fail to analyse this dire concern. What is the reform of the Lords all about? Where is our constitution heading?

Most seek reform. Reform has been attempted on a number of occasions over the past century only to be rebutted. Most hereditary Peers, I believe, are content to step aside provided an equally efficient and equally independent Upper House will be the end product of this reform; an unequivocal legitimacy to sit in this reformed House will produce a stronger House. So why do we see this Government bringing forward a Bill which will occupy so much of the Government's business time and, if it succeeds, will reduce this House into arguably little more than a political poodle? Surely the Government would do better to wait for the Royal Commission and the Mackay Report to be appraised of all the facts and options before embarking on such a Bill.

Many noble Lords believe that the basis of any reform should include the following: there should be no increase in the Prime Minister's power of patronage, direct or indirect; the compostion of the House should be different from that of the Lower House; it should be an independent reformed House, not owing its place to patronage; it should be a reformed House that is representative of the whole of the United Kingdom, especially of the rural areas; it should be a reformed House whose marriage to the Lower House would not produce a divorce; and it should be a reformed House that would operate equally as well or better than the present House.

For myself, the key question is why do the Government intend to bring forward stage one without revealing what the reformed House in stage two will be. As my noble friend Lord Hurd so wisely observed, It is customary in advanced society to inform passengers of the destination before they board the train". In the Cabinet Office document Modernising Parliament the Prime Minister said: reforming the House of Lords is a key element of the Government's legislative plans, and proposals for further reform beyond that". So why is the Prime Minister unable to reveal his proposals? Could it be that he has no proposals and may never be able to come forward with workable proposals? Perhaps one should look at the evidence of bringing stage one without stage two. It has been the Government's policy in the past to say one thing and do another. For example, they had no plans to close hospitals, and yet many community hospitals are closing; they stated there would be no tax increases, but even the Prime Minister had to admit that a number of taxes have been raised. Therefore, with this and other evidence, one could speculate that this dictatorial Government's actions speak louder than words.

In the historical past the balance of power has been a delicate equation between Monarchy, Parliament, with its Upper and Lower Houses, the general public and, more recently, the media. Today the balance of power has swung heavily in favour of the executive of the Government. In the past two years since the Government came to power, only the Upper House has successfully held the executive to account. The Government, with their undefeatable majority, have significantly weakened the Lower House to a rubber-stamping Chamber. Their control of the media is manipulative. Those attempting to hold the Government to account by criticism or revelation are quickly felled. The executive is so controlling that it attempts to deny some people the ability to stand for elections. It attempts to ensure that other people are more electable, to the extent that in the European elections, Members of the European Parliament are only accountable to the party and not to the people. Is this a modern reform of the constitution, or rather control of the constitution by a dictatorial executive?

Let us take the case of the appointed, non-democratic European Commissioners who resigned en masse due to corruption. We now see a couple of European Prime Ministers wishing to catapult an Italian, Romano Prodi, into the top job, a man known for his redefining of democratic socialism through the "third way". I am sure that there are many noble Lords who wish they knew what the "third way" is. Perhaps it should be a modem "third way".

If the Government go forward with stage one without stage two, they will not be reforming this House but controlling it. In effect there will be a monopoly of power in the hands of the executive. This is a critical time, when the Government are modernising our constitution; when the Government are seeking ever closer irrevocable ties with Europe; and when some sovereignty and financial autonomy will have to be conceded to Euroland. In the future, questions are bound to be considered as to whether we will change from case law to European Roman law and as to whether some control of our Armed Forces will be passed to Europe. Surely it is not a time for experiment and destabilisation of our constitution.

In conclusion, I believe that there is a noble cause "to know the destination before we leave this station" and to be certain that this reform is not a cunning conjuring trick to control our constitution. For those reasons I will contest the Bill in its present form.

9.34 p.m.

Lord Napier and Ettrick

My Lords, this has indeed been a marathon debate, and I shall endeavour, therefore, not to detain your Lordships for too long, but there are a few things that I simply must say.

I am of the old aristocracy. My family, in one way or another, has been in the service of the Crown for generations. One of the things that I am perhaps most proud of is the fact that we were specifically excluded from Cromwell's so-called "Act of Grace and Pardon".

I have always believed that whenever any matter was before this House every Member had a duty, not a right, to consider that matter as it affected the Crown and the people of Great Britain and then to conclude upon it by voice and vote. I do not see how any responsible and self-respecting body could act in any other way. Indeed, we used to be bound in honour so to do; and that is what I believe we have done.

As has already been said by several other noble Lords, we are no different from any life Peer. We are, once here, all equal. I should also like to remind your Lordships that when a difference does arise between the two Houses we, as presently constituted, have been a stabilising influence on the other place.

The noble Lord, Lord Richard, referred to this Bill yesterday as a paving Bill. I would say that it is, or could be, but a stepping stone, the first of many threads to be pulled to unravel and destroy the constitutional fabric and foundation stones of our social and political community. Indeed, what could be at stake here is the survival of the Monarchy into the 21st century. At the moment the Government are trying to skirt around this issue, but it needs to be watched most carefully.

I have to say that the Government appear to be obsessed with a desire to rubbish our history and traditions, all of which have played such a large part in the evolution of our tolerant society over the centuries. I do hope that as they gain experience in office this will change. It is my belief that, if in due course the Bill eventually passes, this upper House should become a senate, or whatever, and not be a House of Peers. Its members should sit as senators or some such other name. I hope that the Royal Commission will take note of what I have just said and consider it.

I believe that the new House should be elected, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. I accept that the Cranborne-Weatherill amendment was conceived with the best intentions, but I consider it to be a stitch-up which is beginning to unravel; and if the oration of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, yesterday and the remarks of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor today are anything to go by, I would think that it is probably a non-starter anyway.

Now, we are all to retain our other privileges. In all my 44½ years' membership of your Lordships' House, I have found that the title, if anything, tends to increase the estimates one seeks and the costs and charges. There is, however, one particular matter upon which I seek clarification. I have not myself heard it mentioned, although it may have been. I should be grateful if the Minister when he comes to reply could confirm that our undoubted right to attend the Sovereign at his or her Coronation is inviolate. My first ennobled ancestor accompanied King James VI of Scotland to England when His Majesty ascended the English throne and some 30 years later he was one of the four Peers to hold the King's Canopy in the State Procession when King Charles I took possession of the Scottish Crown. I myself will almost certainly be dead by the time of the next Coronation. But I would like to think that my son will be able to make his homage to his sovereign.

I believe that the people of this country know that their hereditary Peers are the defenders of their rights and freedoms. This is not a case of Lords versus the people. Rather it is Peers for the people and, strangely enough, we are much more in touch with what the people really want than some of the elected Members of another place.

We have already heard that there is absolutely no evidence that there is any popular demand for the Bill. Only 2 per cent. of people polled recalled that it was mentioned in the Labour manifesto. It is, therefore, totally misleading for the Government to claim that they have a mandate for this reform.

The Prime Minister has impertinently dubbed us an "affront to democracy". Rubbish! What is an affront to democracy is the fact that the Government have so far shown no inclination to put this matter to the people in a referendum. Let the people themselves decide. That is democracy. I challenge the Government to do so, and I hope that the national press will give this full coverage.

I am reminded of an article by Mr. Boris Johnson in the Telegraph after the last State Opening of Parliament. It ended like this: If you seek the anti-democratic frustrations of the people's will, Tony Old Bean, look in the mirror". Alfred Einstein once said: Politics is a pendulum whose swings between anarchy and tyranny are fuelled by perennially rejuvenated illusions". I ask the Government to think on these matters because the pendulum will inevitably swing—it always does.

An amendment will be tabled in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, about which the noble Lord has already told us and to which I have added my name.

Let the British people decide what they want to happen to their hereditary Peers, and if in their wisdom they do decide that we no longer serve a useful purpose for them here, then of course we will go. I can do no better than quote the words of the 8th Duke of Argyll, when some 105 years ago in not dissimilar circumstances he said: If it should be determined to do away with this Fortress, we shall return into the bosom of the people out of which we rose, proud of the great part we have taken in raising up a dominion more glorious than any that has existed since the fall of Rome". The dominion may have gone but the pride will surely remain for ever.

I understand that my noble friend Lord Cobbold is minded to press his amendment to a Division. I shall certainly support him.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down and at great risk of being charged by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, with cross-examining him perhaps I may gently ask him to assist your Lordships with the answer to two simple questions. Is he aware that the Labour Party manifesto at the last election was, I admit for a short time only, number six in the Sunday Times bestseller list? Is it the noble Lord's view that in our democracy no manifesto can ever give any government a mandate?

Lord Napier and Ettrick

My Lords, I suggest to the noble and learned Lord that times change.

9.43 p.m.

Lord Gordon of Strathblane

My Lords, I am conscious of the fact that I am to be followed by almost 40 speakers, who may wish to get to their beds in time to get up for early church services tomorrow morning. Consequently, I shall regard brevity as more of a virtue than it normally is. I hope therefore that those noble Lords who are hereditary Peers will forgive me if I simply endorse, but with great sincerity, the fulsome tributes already paid to them and to the contribution that their ancestors made to this House by the Leader of the House, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, yesterday and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in opening today's debate.

Perhaps we can get a few matters out of the way. I am frankly astonished to hear people say that this measure is being introduced with unseemly haste. In one of our earlier two-day debates on this subject the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, referred to the famous Roman general Fabius Maximus, who was nicknamed the cunctator because of his delaying tactics. He is made to look like Linford Christie by the antics of this House in delaying any reform of itself for close to a century. It has to be Guinness Book of Records material.

I wish to pick up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Napier and Ettrick, who said that there was no difference between hereditary Peers and life Peers. It is true that, apart from accident of birth, it is purely accident of timing that has made some Peers hereditary Peers rather than life Peers. If they had been created after the 1958 Act, they would have been life Peers; if they were created before it, they were hereditaries. I pause to wonder in parenthesis what caused a Conservative Government to pass the Life Peerages Act in 1958. Did they perhaps believe that it was inappropriate for the right to sit in this House to be an inherited right? One must presume so, otherwise there would have been no need for the Life Peerages Act.

I observe to the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, that not all hereditary peerages go back as far as those of the noble Earl and some others. Not everyone came across with William the Conqueror for the day, liked the place and has been here ever since. As the noble Earl pointed out, quite a few bought their peerages from Lloyd George with cheques that were guaranteed to bounce if the peerage did not come through. The noble Earl also alluded to his own ancestry. I am informed that his ancestor merely got "plastered" with the monarch of the time and that I should not assume that anything improper took place.

If the noble Lord is correct in assuming that there is no difference between hereditary Peers and life Peers, I suggest that the traditions of this House will survive in the safe hands of life Peers and others. I take no offence at the assumption that has been made by some speakers in the debate that all the traditions of the House will change. I think that quite the reverse will happen. The spirit of independence of mind comes because people are not elected. That is why I should be opposed to a major element of a new Chamber being elected. Whips on either side of the House will testify to the fact that the idea that people who came from the Chamber at the other end of the building are placemen who can be relied upon to vote is false. They act with great independence of mind. I also suggest that the life peerage is probably at least as much the repository of expertise in individual fields as the hereditary peerage.

I think that in her spirited speech yesterday the noble Baroness, Lady Young, was defending the House of Lords itself rather than the hereditary peerage. It is worth stating the blindingly obvious fact that the House of Lords is not at risk. It is to be preserved as a revising Chamber with very considerable powers. The noble Baroness mentioned that women had reached the top offices in this House. I do not think that that can be put to the credit of the hereditary peerage because of the quaint way that things are handed down under the rules of heredity. It is certainly not hereditary Peers who have ensured that there is no glass ceiling for women in this House.

To those Peers who argue ad hominem, in the case of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, for example, who made a very enjoyable and moving speech yesterday, and ask if we are really going to kick such a man out, I say that the answer is no. If the Weatherill amendment is passed it will be open to Conservative Peers to elect him as one of their number. If they are so anxious to retain the noble Lord, Lord Carrington—as I should certainly be—then they should elect him.

I also believe that the ground work was being laid yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, for a possible action for breach of contract or unfair dismissal. I should warn my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor that he may face a charge of unfair discrimination, or aiding and abetting it, by supporting a group of Peers which includes women and those from ethnic minorities, and discriminating against a group of white males almost entirely from the upper-class.

If anything is needed to convince noble Lords that the Government's two-stage approach is right, we have seen it in this debate. If the Royal Commission produces a consensus then stage two can, we hope, be implemented quite quickly and we will have what everyone wants. On the other hand, if the Royal Commission does not produce a consensus, or this House or the other place does not agree to its proposals, is it seriously suggested that there will be no reform of the House of Lords for another century? That would be an example of the best being the enemy of the good. I hesitate to suggest that such delaying tactics are in the minds of noble Lords opposite. But everyone is clear that the hereditary peerage is an anachronism. Even the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, in moving his amendment recognised that it was difficult to justify his presence in this Chamber by reason of his hereditary peerage. Let us therefore proceed with what everyone appears to be agreed upon and then, with the widest possible consultation, move on.

For that reason the Government are not spelling out their proposals in great detail. They are consulting as widely as possible as to the nature of the reformed House. Can one imagine what would have happened if the Government had come up with an absolutely prescriptive notion of what the composition of this House should be? Hands would be wrung in false anguish by some noble Lords. They would say that, of course, they were against the hereditary peerage and would dearly love to vote for it, but they would question whether it was wise to be quite so prescriptive at a time of such great constitutional change: closer links with Europe, devolution in Scotland and Wales and even different voting systems. Surely, it would not be the time to proceed with such a prescriptive piece of legislation and we should wait perhaps for another 100 years. The Government are right to take it in two stages and I believe that the House will go with them.

Finally, I exhort hereditary Peers to think very carefully—I do not mean that in any minatory sense—whether it would be fair to the traditions of which they are so justly proud if they were perceived as trying relentlessly to cling on to privilege and the last vestiges of power. I should like to see them embracing reform, creating a sense of "feeling wanted" in the country and a desire to ensure that the traditions which they and their ancestors did so much to create are preserved in the reformed House. That would be an act of true statesmanship which the country has come to expect from the hereditary peerage.

I do not want to end on a controversial note but I confess that I do not like the amendment that has been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold. I believe that his amendment is mean-spirited and tawdry. I am quite sure that the Government are guilty of many things but it is wrong to accuse them of party political advantage in this matter when they have bent over backwards, as my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor pointed out, to endorse privately the Weatherill amendment against the interest of their own party. The Government have gone out of their way. I am happy with the Bill and I commend it to the House.

9.53 p.m.

Lord Braybrooke

My Lords, I do not want to add to the discussion about turkeys. There is one thing of which we can be sure: turkeys would not vote for Christmas. The House of Lords is admired throughout the world as a second Chamber of great excellence. It works well. Although doubtless many improvements can be made the basic ingredients of competence, fairness and lack of bias, not to mention commonsense, are always to the fore. This is so because we have experts who remain on tap, not on top; we have organised, civilised procedures; and, above all, we practise good manners and courtesy to one another.

The present Government seem hellbent on doing away with many of our institutions. Almost daily something else is added to the list. I understand that this week QCs are in trouble. Mr. Blair tells us of the particular class to which we should belong, whereas when we do not have a Labour Government nobody bothers at all about class. I suggest that Great Britain is becoming increasingly difficult to govern because of the farce of Europe which is steadily eroding what sovereign power we have left to run our own ship. We should remember that we cannot always replace that which is so easy to destroy. The proposed dismantling of our institutions has included the Royal yacht. These days one does not hear much about the Royal train. The Queen's Flight seems to have been disbanded. Now the Government are determined to castrate the present House without having in place the sensible solution for reform.

In the last debate the noble Lord, Lord Carter, was asked whether the present Government are proposing to reform the monarchy. I recall that he replied in a somewhat laconic way, that there were no current proposals to follow that road. One begins to wonder where it will all stop and whether the Almighty will soon have to look to his laurels. Do the Government want to turn us all into Euros on the fiddle?

John Betjeman often quoted the phrase, that an ounce of hereditary is worth a pound of merit. Hereditary Peers are of use in your Lordships' House because they are totally independent of mind. They have no axe to grind. They can fear God and no man. They are not placemen who have been voted in by past Prime Ministers. Most of them are not hirelings. On the whole, they are not rigidly beholden to particular political parties. Many have done useful things in their lives. Many of them are not professional politicians.

Most of us have a pet expertise. In my case, I am an expired flying instructor but at heart an engine driver. I started driving steam locomotives in south Wales on the Great Western in August 1939, when I was evacuated, and I am still at it. That brings me to the wanton destruction of our railways in the early 1960s by a government with no foresight. Many of the axed lines, particularly cross country, would be a godsend now.

I repeat that it is not easy to replace that which is so easy to destroy. That is exactly applicable to your Lordships' House. Almost daily we read in newspapers that something has gone or is to be modernised. The Royal yacht earned some money, although admittedly not a great deal. The millennium dome will probably lose money and has cost the taxpayer a fortune. Our pageantry, which is the envy of the world, is a great aid to tourism, yet even that is being trimmed. Nonsense is talked about people's princesses and people's Peers, whatever that may mean.

Only this week we read in the newspapers that your Lordships' working time could be shortened to only three days a week. I suggest that is nonsense. This House does an enormous amount of work and should not copy the other place as a half-time operation, merely to satisfy some recently appointed Peers who are finding the House more of a commitment than they thought it would be.

I suggest that we hereditary Peers must stand firm. We have a duty to the Queen; we have a duty to the constitution; and we have a duty to serve. We are not against reform, but how are we to be replaced? We must know. Many hereditary Peers have given years of experience and expertise to your Lordships' House. If hereditary Peers are to be thrown out like so much dirty water, the noble Baroness must produce some clean water.

The proposed new second Chamber should be so constituted that the Members therein are not poodles of the Prime Minister of the day or his or her spin doctors or sycophants, or any others hanging on to his or her petticoats. Those Members of your Lordships' House who fought for Great Britain did not flinch in battle; and I suggest that we hold fast now.

10 p.m.

Lord Gray

My Lords, for the avoidance of doubt, perhaps I had better preface my speech with the announcement that I am the noble Lord, Lord Gray, and I have moved up one place in the speakers' list.

This is a challenging occasion for anyone who over the years has come to know, understand, respect and love this House. I do not want to go. Perhaps I can be provoked by the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, into a spot of ancestor worship, which I had not planned. The first of my name entered the Scots Parliament 602 years ago. Because of the Act of Union provisions, despite my longer time as a hereditary Peer I have had only 35 years with your Lordships rather than the 45 years I might have had had I been an Englishman.

I am not on my feet to defend my privilege of a seat here but to do a duty which that privilege requires of me; namely, to address concerns for the future of this House, this Parliament and this realm. I speak for myself alone, and upon my honour. I have never been, nor aspired to be, a politician. I normally sit on the Benches in the back corner; and if the Conservative Whips were to describe me as unpredictable, I should find that such a compliment that I might wonder what they wanted. On the other hand, I am not a backwoodsman, despite the fact that the Independent newspaper repeatedly straddles its front page with an enormous picture of me suggesting that I am. I shall have to send the editor a new picture; I am getting somewhat tired of the one it has been using.

Inevitably a debate of this order produces repetition. However, if something is worth saying it is worth repeating; and, luckily, we can comfort ourselves with the thought that each of us is the judge and jury as to what is worth saying. So, here goes. First, I give some thought on the juxtaposition of cart and horse in the Government's scheme of reform.

I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold. It not only makes sense to me, it neatly summarises the views of virtually every seriously informed commentator. Furthermore, it illustrates how seriously New Labour scriptwriters miscalculated. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is having difficulty in following me. All will become clear. In my submission, it has landed its masters in a farcical mess. Perhaps they thought they were throwing a bone to old Labour and simultaneously kicking out the hereditary Peers so quickly as to prevent them debating the future. It must have looked a wonderful package.

My authority for saying that derives from the speech of the Leader of another place at the beginning of the Second Reading of this Bill there. The package has come undone. We have had a White Paper, there is to be a Royal Commission and we have had much discussion. It means that the Government, apparently in arrogance—that is a harsh word, but I think it is realistic—are pressing on with the scheme as it originally stood. Had Her Majesty's Government not decided to blunder on—my words, but descriptive—this debate postponed to its proper place in the process of reform might have been very different and to their advantage.

I find it hard to believe that the Government were so naÏve as to suppose that the Bill's narrow remit would rule out our discussion of what comes after any more than it restrained Members of another place. If debate on this Bill has become in part an extension of the White Paper debate, the Government have only themselves to blame for a tactical blunder. Let us face it, the White Paper gave us very little information of substance.

When I spoke on the White Paper, I favoured a fully elected second Chamber to succeed us. Support for that notion seems to be gathering momentum. I rejected an appointed Chamber because anything can be gerrymandered, no matter what layers of scrutiny are promised. The trails of who appoints whom and who proposes whom will criss-cross and criss-cross over again.

What troubled me, and troubles me still, is the large black hole lying betwixt the Government securing this Bill and the promised joint committee of the two Houses. It was there before we extracted the White Paper and the Royal Commission. It is still there. We know that there will be life Peers in that black hole, but what else? What will patronage introduce? Will the House be reduced to poodle status? It is possible. And the crunch question is, for how long? That has been emphasised as significant by many speakers in our two days of debate. In those circumstances, we must use the debates now and those to come on this Bill to try to shed some light on the subject and to illumine that dark hole. If we do not get down there and do so, I do not believe that anyone will.

As regards what may come later, we have no real clues about the Government's agenda. There is no real timetable for change. There are no undertakings as to what Her Majesty's Government will do with the Royal Commission's report. There is no information on the joint committee beyond the fact that it is to be set up. There is nothing about its remit or how it will now fit in to the changed programme.

At the end of the day, will the Government go deaf and send in the Whips in another place to secure what they want regardless of what is said between then and now? What do they want? We have heard about that already this evening. I have never believed their coy assertion that they did not know and do not know now. Unfortunately perhaps their coyness will persist while the Royal Commission sits. However, we have had hints that the Government favour the appointed option, moulded no doubt to please the disciples of political correctness and with regard to political advantage. A change of government—one can only hope soon—and more problems arise.

A lot has been said about the mandate for this Bill. Any suggestion that it was a real force for decision in the polling booth has been blown away like thistledown. But it is there and I am not attempting to deny it. However, I question the propriety of making the main feature of what was really a paving measure, as it has been so described in this debate over the past two days, to usher in nebulous notions of reform. Because the tactic succeeded does not mean that we should quietly acquiesce and ignore the wider consequences.

This Bill has been touted as an attack on hereditary Peers—a good old class war crusade with overtones of up-to-date justification. But in reality the target is the hereditary entity within this House in its entirety, which is an integral component of the structure of the Mother of Parliaments. Remove it and the knock-on effects for our constitutional arrangements are myriad and as yet unassessed.

I turn now to the Weatherill amendment. I have never liked the idea. Like my noble friend Lord Hesketh, I saw a fig leaf clutched by the Government to give some respectability to this Bill. After the staggering vehemence of the threats this afternoon of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor perhaps the amendment is a dead duck. Perhaps the fig leaf has withered to expose the stark reality.

Other amendments will be tabled. Perhaps the referendum amendment stands a chance of success in the light of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, when he replied to the debate introduced by my noble friend Lord Waddington on 17th March.

I am not alone in wanting to examine the relationship between this House and Scotland in the wake of devolution. In view of her reported comments as to a preference for ditching her in-front title, there is an amendment which may appeal to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House which suggests that this House should no longer be called the House of Lords. She could then have a different title.

To claim that the Bill democratises Parliament is nonsense. There is nothing democratic about life Peers. To claim that the Bill modernises Parliament is nonsense. Modernity flows from function and procedure, not composition. Those claims are euphemisms of newspeak. I am only surprised that we hereditaries have not been described as hereditarily challenged, rather than some of the rather more unflattering remarks which have been made about us.

Such a fundamental constitutional change should have been built on a foundation of consensus followed by the construction of a House built with extreme care after wise consideration. I was very interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, say that the reform attempt which he as Home Secretary had to take charge of was doomed to fail because it did not start with political consensus. I hope that I have interpreted him correctly. It is certainly not for one House of a bicameral legislature to shape another to its design. But if we go on like this, that is what threatens us. If the Government, as temporary tenants of executive power, dismantle our successful bicameral system and fail to reinstate it with one at least as sound, they will stand condemned at the bar of history.

10.17 p.m.

Lord Wise

My Lords, a few days ago I was discussing the proposed reform of the House with a friend of mine, a retired RAF officer. He expressed his thoughts in the following way. He said that during his flying career, whenever he had completed a flight and landed, he was asked by an engineer if there had been any problems. If there had not, he would say that everything was well and everything was working. The engineer would reply, "OK, sir, LWA". That was an expression used frequently by the engineers and LWA stood for leave well alone. If it is working, do not mess with it. My friend went on to say that, in his opinion, that is what the Government should be doing until they have constructed a new engine.

With this Bill, he thought that they were dismantling the present engine, throwing away components and still expecting it to work until such time as they had designed a new engine. That was my friend's opinion, and I am sure that that is an opinion shared by many others.

In his speeches, the Prime Minister refers frequently to the people and he says that his Government are working for the people. Yet I feel that with this Bill, as it stands, he is showing a complete disregard for the people. From the content of a number of letters that I have received, it is apparent that the people are most concerned that the Government are determined to go ahead with this major constitutional reform without telling them what the outcome will be. As my noble friend Lord Ferrers said in his admirable speech yesterday, no one knows where we are going and no one knows where we shall end up.

I believe the country deserves better than that. We need to know that whatever form the future House takes, it will be put in place quickly and will function better than at present. Whether it will have more powers, whether it will be a purely elected Chamber, a purely nominated one, or a combination of both, is to a degree irrelevant, provided that it is absolutely democratic, in the broadest sense, and that people know what it will be.

The Government should not go ahead with stage one and then say that they will think about it. One appreciates that it is an extremely complex matter. I believe that if stages one and two cannot be completed together, the Bill should be at least delayed until the Royal Commission has reported. I strongly dislike the fact that the present Bill deals only with stage one. If the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, moves his amendment this evening, I shall certainly support it.

10.20 p.m.

Lord Nunburnholme

My Lords, I start with the words of Paul Revere to Lord Cornwallis in one of George Bernard Shaw's plays. When the judge has decided to hang the prisoner before the trial, he puts himself at something of a disadvantage to the prisoner.

I give notice that the Parliament Act 1949 is now under close legal scrutiny in respect of its validity in enforcing constitutional change. Talking of law, I must mention H. L. Mencken, the American writer, whose definition of a barrister was that of a law student who has marked his own examination papers.

I must slightly admonish the noble Baroness, Lady Young, but I mean no disrespect to her. The noble Baroness spoke of the Government's "general contempt" for Parliament. I am afraid that she did not refer to the Oxford Dictionary or Fowler's Modern English Usage. Instead of using the words "general contempt", I suggest that the words should have been "absolute contempt".

The father-in-law of the present incumbent of No. 10 Downing Street said, when talking about the closed lists, that he is throttling democracy; he believes that dissent and debate equal anarchy and must be eliminated. May I remind your Lordships of the words of Mussolini: No discussion, merely obedience.

It has been said that no one knows where we are going and no one knows where we shall end up. However, there is one particular gentleman who knows exactly where he is going. I first arrived in your Lordships' House in October last year and we had a two-day debate on the same subject. There were 112 speakers. I went to the Library to ask for the figures. One in seven of those speakers used the expression "poodle" or "elected dictatorship". That is one in seven of the 112 speakers. The gentleman in No. 10 knows exactly where we are going. We are moving towards an absolute dictatorship. I repeat that Mussolini said, "No discussion, merely obedience".

10.24 p.m.

Lord Warner

My Lords, I rise, a fairly new Peer, strongly to support the passage of this Bill. I assure the House that I have not cleared the text of this speech with Alastair Campbell or any member of the Front Bench.

It is now 88 years since Parliament decided in principle to produce an alternative to an hereditary second Chamber. I am all in favour of long-term planning, but we seem to have taken it to excessive lengths in the reform of this House.

In my short time here, I have been able to see how that delay has occurred. It is very easy for those who enter the Lords to slip into its comfortable embrace. It is more gentle than the Commons. Party allegiances seem less significant. People are so polite. Everyone compliments everybody else on their knowledge. perceptiveness and contribution to the sum of human understanding. There is a rather self-satisfied warm glow about the place. It is easy here to convince yourself that this is a place of great significance and a bastion against the worst depredations of an over-hasty government. It is a comfortable place in which to grow old.

Reform is something best deferred until tomorrow. Well, tomorrow seems to have arrived and, for me, one of the great attractions of becoming a Member of this House was to participate in the transformation of this place for many of my contemporaries have viewed this place with disbelief for many years. Many people see it as a muddled anachronism with an obsolete composition, antiquated procedures and a distinctly odd dress code in some respects.

Now is not the time to debate the future composition of a reformed second Chamber. Instead, I want to comment on three aspects of the current Chamber which seem to me to be barriers to reform and which the Bill tackles. I refer to size, the unrepresentative nature of the Chamber and turnover. It is a truly remarkably state of affairs that at the end of the 20th century we still have a second Chamber with a potential size of nearly 1,300 Members and with a current maximum attendance of about 1,150. No other country in the world has a second Chamber anything like that size. The poor Americans and Canadians bumble along with a little over 100 in their senates. The Germans do even better with only about 70. The French seriously overdose with over 300 in their Senate. Even when the hereditary Peers have been removed from this House, there will be over 500 life Peers and Bishops with about one-fifth of them being Cross-Benchers representing a strong independent element. Do we really believe that the British are such an unruly and difficult people and that their governments are so wayward that we need a checking second Chamber that will be double the size of the American, Canadian and German second Chambers combined?

There is an old joke, "What do you call 500 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?", to which the answer is, "A good start". Removing 750 hereditary Peers seems to me to be a good start in getting this country's second Chamber to a more appropriate size. Personally, I hope that we shall go further and in the next stage reduce the number of Bishops and life Peers, and transfer the Law Lords into a separate supreme court. It is perfectly possible to have an effective, revising and reflective second Chamber with a strong independent element and an elected component with well under 500 Members.

The second issue to which I want to refer is the unrepresentative nature of the House of Lords. For a second Chamber to be able to challenge the elected primary Chamber, it must be credible. I suggest that to he credible, it must be selected in a way which is fair and transparent. Its composition should have some resemblance to the society in which we live. There is already a strong independent element with the Cross-Benchers, and the Government have committed themselves to continuing that in the transitional House. However, this Chamber is not representative. Politically, it has a large in-built Conservative majority. Whatever the popular mandate in the Commons, hereditary Peers ensure that Conservatives can vote down any non-Conservative government's measures—and they do.

In terms of gender and ethnicity the House of Lords does not get to first base. Around 50 per cent. of the adult population are women and 7 per cent. are from ethnic minorities. We fail by a huge margin to get anywhere near those proportions in the composition of this House. Basically, we are a club for older white males and are seen as such by many people outside this Chamber. Removal of the hereditary Peers is a start on redressing that balance and improving the credibility of this Chamber by creating a more diverse membership.

Finally, I wish to say something about turnover. Once one is here, it is an extremely difficult place from which to be removed. In the other place, the electorate can hand out P45s. In this place, a position has been guaranteed by the hereditary principle. While some degree of stability is required in any second Chamber, we seem to me to have overdosed on that in this House to a great extent. The reforms in the Bill will enable us more easily to introduce concepts like terms of office and retirement ages. These will be essential if the second Chamber is to be kept to a reasonable size. I can see little in the national interest in having terms of office of longer than 10 years. Removal of the hereditary Peers will enable us to begin the reform process for achieving more turnover in the membership of the second Chamber.

In conclusion, I suggest that experience this century shows that we are never likely to be able to move from the present composition of this Chamber to a reformed one in a single move. Those who argue for doing nothing until the whole design is completed are really pressing for the retention of existing privileges for as long as possible. I understand the advantage of the privileges. I know how much easier it has been since I came here to obtain reservations in popular restaurants. Bank managers are much more understanding. US immigration officials are much more polite when one enters the USA with a title. However, we must recognise that if we want to tackle the problems of size, the representation and turnover that I mentioned, the hereditary Peers have to go. The Government have a clear mandate to do that. In my view there can never be a more justified moment to start delivering not only the Government's manifesto commitment, but the preamble to the 1911 Parliament Act.

10.32 p.m.

Lord Belhaven and Stenton

My Lords, I shall resist the temptation to follow the noble Lord, Lord Warner, except to pick up on his last point. He has not been here for very long. As I remember it, the biggest number of people we had in this House was when we divided on the Reform of the House of Lords Bill in 1968 when 450 Peers voted in favour of reform and 50, including myself, voted against. That means that this House is not just stuck in the mud. We were stopped from reforming this place by the House of Commons, not the House of Lords.

We are presented today with a Bill which I believe we should consider as standing alone and by itself. Stage two may or may not happen, but all we have now is this Bill. However, I will briefly digress because in my view it is part and parcel of a more sinister movement which will, whether or not by intention, destroy the United Kingdom. I do not wish to impute motive but I and many people I know have the impression of a concerted policy of deliberate destruction and we heard something about that in an earlier speech.

We face the probable break-up of the United Kingdom as a result of the Scotland and Wales Bills; an attack is being mounted on the Metropolitan Police and the RUC, for ostensibly different reasons; there is secularisation and erosion of moral values which were revered by previous generations. Above all, there is an erosion of parliamentary power to Europe which makes almost anything we do to change this House irrelevant. Over several years, this House and another place have steadily given up power to a body of people who only two weeks ago were revealed as being a group of irresponsible incompetents, or maybe worse. I believe that all this is relevant.

I now return to the Bill. I should like, first, to ask one question: does it add anything to representative government? If anything, I believe that it does the reverse by proposing a House of placemen where the balance must always be in the favour of the government of the day. However elegantly that may be phrased, this would make it as close a replica of the House of Commons as possible in terms of the political views of its Members. For that reason, I shall support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, which I am reliably informed will be moved.

I do not propose to suggest what could eventually replace this House. We are not concerned with that in this Bill; we are concerned with whether this Bill is a good or necessary one in its own right. I believe that it is neither. Therefore, perhaps I may ask another question, which I have asked on other occasions. Will anyone in the United Kingdom be one penny better off or, indeed, better off in any way because of this legislation? Will it add to the income of the poorest old-age pensioner? Will it improve the quality of the Armed Forces, the police or schools? Indeed, I could go on. Of course it will not do so. Not one person in the whole kingdom will gain one halfpenny because of this Bill.

If the Government are going to complain that what they see as beneficial legislation will be held up because some of us do not like the Bill and would at least prefer it to be amended in a variety of ways, they have the simple expedient of dropping it altogether. We might then be able to discuss quietly and sensibly the greater question of what is to replace this House if we feel that it needs replacing. Certainly, what will arise out of this Bill will not be an adequate or acceptable replacement and that is enough for the present.

I turn now to particular points in the Bill. There is one thing that puzzles me and perhaps this could be explained. It is to be found in the Explanatory Notes to the Bill under the heading, "Financial Effects of the Bill", which states that the latter, will be negligible. The Bill will reduce the size of the House of Lords, but since many if those who will be removed attend very rarely, there will not be any significant savings on Peers' expenses and daily allowances". That is mind boggling. If, as the latter says, we hereditaries attend so rarely, what on earth is all this about? I would really be glad to know what this means as it is not borne out by the other statistics that I have read or heard of. The lack of savings could be because, on our departure, the Government intend to increase the expenses of those who remain or to give them salaries. However, I think that an explanation of that astonishing statement is required.

The most squalid part of the Bill is the exclusion of the Royal Dukes, including the Duke of Edinburgh. I have been a Member of this House for 35 years and have been a regular attender for 18 of those years. The occasions on which a Royal Duke attends are very rare and they are not controversial. His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales made an excellent maiden speech quite a long time ago, after which the wish was expressed that we might hear him more often. As he is specifically mentioned in the Bill, it is quite clear that the present Government do not wish to hear him at all. The nation will be the poorer for such an exclusion. We are also informed that Her Majesty the Queen is not a Peer and so her position will not be affected. Do not the writers of such explanatory memoranda realise that we know that? Indeed, we are not a kindergarten. It would be a good idea if such patronising statements of the obvious were to be left out of such documents.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jay, said that the Government prefer to act by consensus. That is a noble sentiment which is not borne out by any of the actions that the Government have taken over this Bill. In 1968 the government did act by consensus. I have to say that, even though I disagreed with the consensus. I do not know why they cannot do the same thing today. There is not even a consensus on the timing in which this Second Reading debate is being taken. I believe that this is the first time that I have witnessed disagreement, on the day on which a Bill should be taken, being openly expressed on the Floor of the House.

The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, indicated in his speech that this debate had been a good one, but somewhat inward looking. As the debate is about us, here today, that is natural. None the less, I agree with him but not for the reasons that he gave. Since last week this country has been at war—a fact which may not yet have sufficiently penetrated. Her Majesty's Government's action in concert with NATO and the United States in attacking Serbia does not, in my view, carry the wholehearted consent of our people and we are in a situation of great peril, not experienced since 1939. We should not underestimate the fighting ability of the Serbs even if we do not like them. Let us pray that the peril will pass, but we should not forget it and become too introverted, as I believe it is that that we should be discussing today.

10.40 p.m.

Lord Rea

My Lords, with the very last sentiment of the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, I agree. He has a valid point there. However, I shall not follow him otherwise.

A few weeks before Christmas, among other noble Lords, I took part in an entertainment at the Players' Theatre organised by the noble Lord, Lord Rix, in aid of Mencap. It was called "The End of the Peer Show". It got a good many laughs and a picture on the front page of the following day's Times. Now, however, we have the real thing for we hereditary Peers, and understandably the entertainment has been of a more sombre nature. But there have been notable exceptions, some intentional and some not. An unintentional flash of humour came from the noble Lord, Lord Waddington—I am sorry that he is not in his place at the moment—when he responded to an intervention by my noble friend Lord Ponsonby yesterday. As I recollect, the noble Lord was extolling the independent spirit of the hereditaries. My noble friend asked why, if they are so independent, 300 of them are Conservative and only 18 Labour. The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, in a very good try, replied that their independence led them freely to choose to be Conservatives as this better reflected their values. At that there were visible smiles and audible chuckles around the House, although not, I think, from the Conservative Benches.

Hereditary Peers, however, should not be downhearted and unhappy; they should in fact be pleased that they have had a stay of execution for 88 years since the Liberal Government of 1911 proposed, a second chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis". Although that proposal was never translated into legislation then, or later, for a variety of reasons the argument for the retention of the hereditary Peers as legislators is intellectually indefensible for anyone who claims to believe in the democratic principle. Tom Paine, quoted in the White Paper, pointed out the absurdity of the hereditary legislator as long ago as 1791.

My noble friend the Leader of the House told us that the only other House of Parliament in the world with an hereditary element was the Senate of Lesotho, half of whose Members are traditional chiefs. I suggest that these chiefs have a more legitimate and meaningful role in their country than hereditary Peers do here today. They are still venerated and respected in their own districts, whereas hereditary Peers here, bar a few, lost that connection many years ago, or never had it.

My personal position is that I have been, as an hereditary Peer, incredibly privileged to have been a Member of your Lordships' House for 16 years. I have tried to use that privilege to take part in the activities and work of the House but I have always wanted an opportunity to end the right of hereditary Peers to legislate. I did not think it would be 16 years after taking my seat in 1982 before that opportunity arose. In fact for the first half of my life it seemed inconceivable that this medieval leftover would still be in operation by the time my noble kinsman died. However, the inconceivable became reality, and when the time came to take up my inheritance, my own inclination was to disclaim. But encouragement to take my seat came from unlikely quarters, my most left wing friends. Knowing that I was leftward leaning in my views and had medical knowledge they pointed out that I could play a useful role in your Lordships' House.

However, it was a letter from the late Lord Brockway—who, by chance, met my son on a train—that finally persuaded me to overcome my reluctance. He said in his letter: Many of us who are Reluctant Peers"— and he put that in capitals— do try to use the chamber to urge the causes in which we believe, and I think we are having some success in this. I don't know whether this will lead you to reconsider your attitude but I can assure you that we would much like to have you with us". Who could refuse such an invitation?

Turning to the amendment, it reiterates the familiar stance of the Opposition on this measure. Knowing that popular opinion is in favour of the principle behind the Bill, they cannot—the Salisbury Convention apart—openly advocate retention of hereditary Peers to be legislators. So the next best thing is to play for time and hope that the debate on full-scale reform of this Chamber will go on for years, thus giving the hereditaries and their vast Conservative majority over the other parties an extra lease of life. The truth is that stage two reform will be conducted much more effectively and democratically without the over-representation of privilege which is inherent in the hereditary peerage. In my view the amendment should be rejected.

In any case, like some other noble Lords, I think that the amendment comes perilously close to breaching the Salisbury Convention in spirit, although not of course in fact as it will not stop the Bill. Strictly, in the debate we should be concentrating on stage one of the reform, which is the substance of the Bill. I have several ideas for stage two for the Royal Commission to contemplate, but I think there will be other occasions for putting my ideas forward.

I would like to end, as did my noble friend Lord Davies of Oldham, with a plea to change the name of this Chamber. Our present name embodies the very power and privilege which the Bill seeks to end. In effect this House is, and should continue to be, a senate. But I would like to think that in Britain we might come up with a more original name: a "House of Revision"; a "House of Reflection"; or a "House of Enlightenment". None of course are adequate or accurate but, whatever we call it, it is—and I hope it will continue to be—a "House of the Uncommons". But its Members should be uncommonly able rather than being uncommonly privileged.

10.48 p.m.

Lord Ashburton

My Lords, I wonder whether the "House of Correction" might not be the most appropriate term.

I spoke on 14th October of last year on this subject and therefore I have certainly wondered very seriously about whether I should take up your Lordships' time again. I was at first tempted to say "Enough is enough. Leave well alone. Let the previous speech stand on its own". I also contemplated, shortly, making exactly the same speech again. I made it at almost the same time, at 10.55 p.m., on that occasion and there was virtually no one in the Chamber. No one except a real Hansard junkie would remember that I had said exactly the same. But I rejected both ideas because I want to register my strong disagreement with the Government's approach to this major constitutional change.

I shall not speak for long. I should perhaps warn noble Lords that, standing as I am next to the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, who was my very strict chairman on Sub-Committee A of the European Communities Committee, if I sit down very suddenly you will know that he will be tugging my coat when he thinks that I have talked for long enough.

Whatever the merits of the contribution of the hereditary Peers, I must record that the automatic right of succession of all hereditary Peers is, in my view, no longer possible to justify and should lapse. I am wholeheartedly in favour of the way in which this argument is moving. However, I do not believe that this two-stage method of approaching reform is right.

Whatever happens, I shall try to go with as good a grace as I can muster, but I do not pretend for a moment that I have not enjoyed my work on Sub-Committee A, under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, and of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, and I have very much enjoyed contributing to those debates in your Lordships' House about which I felt I knew enough not to talk nonsense. Nevertheless, I am no political junkie. If I am sent away I shall shake the dust of Westminster off my feet and try to go on to the next thing, because at the age of 70 there is plenty of time. However, I believe strongly that Parliament—I refer to Parliament and not just the House of Lords—is overripe for reform.

I use the word "reform" rather than "modernisation" because I like reform and I think modernisation is now a jargon word. I am told that another place is at least as much in need of reform as your Lordships' House. In particular, I believe that any reform that does not leave this place better able to carry out its functions, whatever they may be in future, would be fundamentally flawed and, indeed, a fraud on the electorate. This reform means that there would be a talent drain because quite a number of talents would leave the House. There would be a need for those talents to be replaced quickly so that there was not an interregnum when the House could not function as competently as it should. Talent drains are extremely debilitating, especially when debate should be taking place about the future functions, composition and so on, of a reformed House.

The Government have seen fit to go for a two-stage process—a Royal Commission later but preceded by this Bill which eliminates the hereditaries. I accept that that is justified by the manifesto, but my withers are not particularly wrung by the force of that argument. Many manifesto commitments will be abandoned when inexpedient. Nevertheless, the Government have every right to go ahead with reform of this kind.

Great as my respect is for the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his colleagues who make up the Royal Commission, the consequences in the real world of Royal Commissions of recent years do not inspire a tremendous amount of confidence. I am also perfectly happy to accept the Government's assurance that stage two will be achieved. But the seat of my pants tells me—I apologise for referring to such an intimate part of my clothing but I find that it is quite a useful sensory organ—that the chances of abandonment of stage two are much greater than the Government admit or would want to admit. Agreement on the next stage will be extremely difficult to achieve and the process will be appallingly time-consuming.

Earlier today the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, told us what happened with the Bill in 1969—how many amendments there had been and how many weeks were spent on it—before the whole thing was abandoned. If that happens again, the Government's business will begin to suffer. One can almost hear what will be said—"Further delay to other legislation is not justified"—and the Government will be able to abandon the Bill with great justification. I do not say they would change their mind. I refer merely to the practicalities of the way the world works. I do not want that to happen. Lo and behold, your Lordships' House would be stuck in stage one. It would not be a better place. There would then have to be appointed Peers in quite large numbers. There would be no real increase in legitimacy or democracy so far as this House is concerned.

I believe that the Government have got it wrong. To put it colloquially, they have made a cock-up. They have no one to blame but themselves for what is beginning to appear a rather unattractive atmosphere and the difficulties that may now arise when moving to stage two.

The Government are perfectly well aware of the problem of "improving" this House vis-à-vis the other place. Any change will simply not be accepted if it is seen as being very significant. They have missed a great opportunity to initiate constitutional change. They could at the same time have made it perfectly clear that the abolition of the hereditaries was a non-negotiable part of the change that they wished to see. If agreed change had proved impossible, they could well have introduced this Bill when they gave up the idea that moving to stage two was a possibility.

I know that a large number, possibly a majority, of hereditary Peers feel as I do. We should be happy to retire as part of a proper reform. I may have to go, but I cannot in the present circumstances go happily. Pie in the sky is not good enough. This Bill is not nasty or mean—Just bad.

This debate has given rise to some excellent speeches. It has greatly interested me that at least three, if not four, Labour Members would clearly have much preferred a single-stage reform. They may be in agreement on the hereditaries, but there is certainly not full agreement on the best way forward.

I think that the Government must have their Bill this evening, but we are being offered a pig in a poke.

10.57 p.m.

Viscount Bridgeman

My Lords, I know that I speak for many of my hereditary colleagues when I say that in our view many of the speakers in the party opposite are tilting at the wrong target. Many of my hereditary colleagues feel as I do. We are prepared to go. We know that we should go, but with the proviso that a no less effective provision is put in place. In our view that proviso has not been satisfied. Were I in your Lordships' position, I would go for the hereditary principle. It is much easier than justifying this Bill.

We are reminded time and again that the abolition of the hereditary Peers was a manifesto commitment not dependent on any further reforms of the composition of this place. Perhaps I may make just one observation on the manifesto commitment. I suggest that it is incumbent on a party making a manifesto commitment and being decisively elected on it to ensure that the structure resulting from that commitment is satisfactory. It is our case that the structure as it presently stands is not satisfactory.

Among others, the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, whom I was happy to see at the Bar of the House a moment or two ago, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, who replied in the small hours of this morning—which is euphemistically termed yesterday's business—both made the point, with commendable frankness, that the Bill is a means to an end and that it embraces stage one only because experience had shown that a Bill embracing both stage one and stage two was not achievable. But the Bill is a half-baked measure. It has had unflattering epithets heaped upon it many times during the course of this debate.

If this is indeed just a means to an end, and not to set out in the manifesto a stand-alone measure not dependent on any further reform, the onus is even more on the Government to proceed to stage two with all dispatch. I was pleased to hear that intention endorsed by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in his speech this morning.

Your Lordships will recall the debate on House of Lords reform in October 1998 and that that debate was called by the Opposition following explicit indications by the Government of what could be expected in the Queen's Speech. I am sure I was not alone among noble Lords in being surprised by the number of hereditary Peers who expressed the opinion in one form or another during that debate that the hereditary principle should go, but always with the proviso that something no less effective would take its place. I apologise for repeating that point.

Where I believe the Government are really open to criticism is that in proposing fundamental changes to the constitution they should have instituted a Royal Commission within a month or two of taking office. I suggest to your Lordships that they would have found among hereditary Peers the very sentiment which was so apparent in that October debate. I do not think it is taking hindsight too much for granted to say that a consensus could well have emerged, and—who knows—that consensus could have developed to a point where a progression straight to stage two might have been possible.

Consensus is one of the most valued pillars of this House, round which the whole ethos of the House revolves, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon. But it is ironic, even scandalous, that this consensus has been virtually ruled out, due in large part to an unforgivable delay of 18 months, during which period the Government, under time pressure, have upped the confrontational stakes. Despite this delay, the Royal Commission has been asked to report in 11 months on a measure of fundamental importance to the constitution in stage two.

I share the concern expressed by many noble Lords at this wholly unsatisfactory interim Chamber, the timing of the start of which has become more and more irrelevant. As the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, put it, why ruin 600 years for 60 days, the time between the passing of this Bill and the report of the Royal Commission?

Much has been made on the Benches opposite of unfinished business. My understanding of good business is that one does not dismantle a system which is not perfect but is at least effective until there is something workable to take its place.

However, the Bill is with us. We on this side shall endeavour to ensure that this bad Bill leaves your Lordships' House in a better state than when it arrived. In the meantime, I shall vote for the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold.

Perhaps I may make one other point. I do not think that when life peerages were introduced to this House under the Life Peerages Act 1958 even the most enthusiastic supporters of this measure could have envisaged what a success the life/hereditary Peer cocktail would prove to be. I suggest that the complement of the two categories of Peers and the extraordinarily successful working synthesis between them has in no small measure been responsible for the success and achievements of your Lordships' House over the past 40 years.

If I may add a personal note, when dealing with parliamentary business in this House I am unaware whether the person I am dealing with is a life Peer or an hereditary Peer. It is his or her contribution as a Member of this House to which I pay attention. That is a view which I think would be shared by many noble Lords both hereditary and life, on both sides of the House.

Should the Weatherill amendment be accepted, some residuum of this relationship will remain, but, with the departure of the majority of hereditary Peers, this valuable relationship will largely be lost to your Lordships' House. It will indeed be a sad loss.

11.3 p.m.

Lord Selsdon

My Lords, I feel that as I open my remarks I should recall Lord Birkett. I feel rather as he did. He used to say, when he had to make a difficult speech, that he felt rather like a mongrel dog confronted by row after row of lamp-posts, wondering if he had enough material to get to the end.

When I first came to this House, I was given three pieces of advice: first, do not show discourtesy to the House; secondly, do not try the patience of the House; thirdly, speak only on matters you know about, and for goodness sake do not read your speech.

I do not know very much about this subject, but I have 30-odd years' experience. I wonder how we could have gone so wrong. The Government have misinterpreted this House. I hope that the feeling that has emerged today is that all of us have sought reform for a long, long time but we are hamstrung without the other place. The hackles on my back rose, not because of this debate, but because of the extraordinary discourtesy shown to this House in the Queen's Speech. If I could move an amendment it would be that no one from another place should ever be allowed into this House.

Discourtesy has been shown to us before and it puts up the backs of noble Lords. We know our place. We are aware that we are second-hand creatures with no real right to be here, but our present legitimacy is based on our Letters Patent and Writs that require us to be here. We are all addressed as "right trusty and well beloved". I was looking at my legitimacy earlier today and found that the words "right" and "honourable" appear everywhere. But I have a worry of which I was unaware. I am a Baron and I am right, trusty and well beloved, but a Viscount is a right trusty and well beloved cousin. An Earl is a right trusty and right well beloved cousin. As one moves up the only people who are entirely trusty and right well beloved are the Royal Dukes.

I do not entirely trust the Government. What I find so strange about this remarkable exercise is that as a Baron I am a right trusty and well beloved chevalier. But life Peers are also Barons and they are the same as me. Their sons may sit on the steps of the Throne. The only difference is that I have been here a long time and my son has the right to come after. I would willingly surrender that right immediately. I do not see why we should go through the strange charade of turning these matters over and over in our minds. We know that reform is desirable and that we have no legitimate right to be here. But the difference is that we have to earn that right. I have done a number of unpaid jobs, usually for socialist governments, as mentioned in the White Paper. People ask me why I put in all that unpaid time. I reply that I want a peerage. They say, "Yes, of course". My next comment is, "Who wants to be a Lord?" It seems as if we are attacked from all sides, but for what? If we are to reform the House perhaps no one should be a Lord, but everybody wants to be one.

Lords would like to be millionaires, but all millionaires want to be Lords. Lots of millionaires devote an enormous amount of time and resources when they arrive at whatever their destination to try to get into this place. They do not have the same feeling of duty but they are rewarded for what they have done. They feel that they have earned their reward and need do no more. I find that slightly strange. It is a corrupt practice, just as ours may have been a corrupt system. I can try to justify my existence by saying that when I was a shop steward in the Transport & General Workers' Union suffering from asbestosis I remembered the words of my uncle Stafford Cripps. That is true. My family has been in public life. I am a humble Scot who had to flee the English in order to earn a fortune over many years. I am worried that after 36 years here I still have not, at the age of 61, reached the average age, but I have already outlived every male member of my family for the past 700 years.

That leads me to an interesting point about age. We know that in order for a life Peer to get here not only does he have to do something or manipulate the channels of the Honours Committee, but he must be recognised. It takes a long time to be recognised, so he has already reached retirement age by the time that happens. So he comes here and starts to enjoy it. The Conservative Party introduced life Peers. This place was dying when I came here. I wanted to reform it. It was so archaic. The life Peers came in but the thing was, every year the average age in the House became older by one year. As a result, it is impossible for any of us to die.

Another interesting point is that this is the only institution in the world where men outlive their women. Therefore, I subscribe to the view that there should be no age cut-off point. If there were, my trusty and well beloved chevalier colleagues—and there are a lot of them—would have to go.

Having been brought up by trade union leaders in this House, I used to chair bodies that were made up of the Army, Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and Royal Parks—we used to shove them all in so that nobody would be upset. Then one looked for the power base. The power base is the barons. They comprise three-quarters of this House. It is said by some that one should make one's presence felt and should sit among the barons, not the marquesses. It is said that others should come and sit with the prelates, nobles and Peers. Who are the nobles? They are the most trusty and well-beloved cousins. I am not trying to create a division, but they are noble beyond belief. They are related. I cannot speak for them.

I thought, as a former member of a union—and my father, uncles and grandfather were all unionists—that at this time, we might have a little union together. I am not suggesting that I should form a trade union of barons, but that is not far from my thoughts and I could fund it.

I like to think that the Government have done something extraordinarily clever—that they have flown a kite. They have created a debate and a lot of interest. Could we not help them in some way? We could perhaps have block votes. We on this side of the House are perfectly happy to say that we could do something like that. I am perfectly happy to resign my vote as of now and have other people represent me. I do not see why we have to go through this strange argument, which will divide the House against itself—and it will collapse—and ask "Who are the ones to stay? Who will be in the First XI? Who will be in the Second Division?" I do not believe that I, a baron—right, trusty and well beloved chevalier—and a life Peer am any different. The point is that supposedly we have no right to vote, but they have no right to be here either.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Carrington that we should seek to move to the second stage as quickly as possible. We could have a non-controversial stage—keeping the House as it is but removing certain voting rights. The most trusty and well beloved amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, is right in principle. We could reduce the number of votes this side of the House, we could increase the number of votes for the other side of the House, or some of us could vote with the other side occasionally. We would get rid of the Whips once and for all.

I suppose that I ought to think of something to say that relies on the hereditary principle. If I remember Horace, the phrase is "Fortes creantur fortibus et bonus"—gallant sons come from gallant and good men. There are lots of gallant and good men in this House.

Let us not divide ourselves against each other. Remember the words of the Lord. The Lord gave the word and the great preachers were among us. We have had a lot of preaching today. It has been fun.

11.13 p.m.

Lord Blyth

My Lords, I am against the Bill because the country is being asked to accept something in the future about which it has no guarantees. I am by nature a cynic, particularly where politicians are concerned. I have lived under two dictatorships—both black and both in Africa. One was under Nkrumah in Ghana and the other under Kenyatta in Kenya. Both were places where one had to look around before one said things and one did not say anything against those two leaders or their parties.

I regard the Bill and getting rid of hereditary Peers as a step down the slope to a dictatorship. The other place has been so degraded now that there is no opposition there to the Government. The only opposition is in this House.

I shall support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold. I conclude what must be the briefest speech by saying that I had four children to tea last Wednesday. The eldest was about 12, the youngest was six. When she was walking around the House, the youngest said to me, "Anthony, it's just like Titanic'". My Lords, I do not want to go down.

11.15 p.m.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux

My Lords, I begin by stating my position with regard to reform of the House. When I was appointed to this House in October 1997, I felt that I had become a trustee of this House. I also believe that it is my duty to do what I think is in the interests of this House. There are some conflicts on the question of reform. There are the interests of the Government and the Labour Party. We also have the interests of this House. Part of the reform needs to be considered in that context.

I support reform of the House of Lords. I support the Government's manifesto position. But when it comes to carrying out that manifesto commitment I do not believe that we are well prepared with a good solution. I believe that the solution now being considered is overly complex and is not broadly supported in this House. I feel also that we have failed to achieve a consensus. I cannot understand why we do not have one. The Government are mighty powerful, and I believe that we should have made some headway on that. I believe, too, that there has been too much secrecy and not enough openness.

Perhaps I may be a little frank because we need to understand where we are on this issue. When I first came to this House and listened to what people said about the hereditary Peers, I sensed a strong feeling of hatred in some quarters. Although that is a strong statement, it needs to be said. It has led to an absolutist view and an overly rigid approach to reform. An attitude is adopted that all hereditary Peers must go immediately, and that nothing else matters. That has not created the right environment for consensus.

Yet I do not believe that the hereditary principle is sustainable. That is a view widely held in this House. However, we may weaken the House of Lords at a time when the House of Commons is weak in the way that it fails to bring government to account—the whole purpose of Parliament. To so weaken this House is unjustifiable. In fact it seems almost crazy. We are weakening the House of Lords during the reform transition. When we think of the House of Lords we think of this wonderful building that we are in—a wonderful environment. But the House of Lords is the people, the Peers. We seem to be tearing this House apart.

The Government's solution worries me. We do not seem to have weighed up the consequences of this reform package. I should like to know what risk analysis—if I may put it in business terms—has been considered. When the Minister winds up, perhaps he will let us know what has been done on that front.

I believe that the Government have an excellent record in the governance of this country and I proudly support the Prime Minister. However, their approach to constitutional reform could well fail if the interests of this House are not put before the interests of the Government and the Labour Party. I believe that the way they have gone in the reform is wrong. It seems wrong to commit this House to a reform based on discussions and a deal which was made outside. That is not the way to reform this Parliament. All that is a worrying example of Parliament being reformed by the Executive.

There is some good news. It is that I see a change in the attitude of the Government towards hereditary Peers. They are prepared to retain 95 hereditary Peers in the process. There is unquestionably a softer line and a more conciliatory attitude. Listening to the Prime Minister on David Frost's programme a few weeks ago, that attitude came over, and it is very welcome. I see it as a step in the right direction. There seems to be some kind of agreement, but, more importantly, it shows that agreement on this difficult subject can be reached.

Perhaps I may say a few words about my views on reform. First, I believe that there must be a consensus if one is putting forward a proposal. I believe that with the Government's present power, they have plenty of cards in their hands and can make almost anything work. But we must also satisfy the manifesto commitment. I propose that all hereditaries in this House should remain here but on their death should not be succeeded in this House by their heirs.

The great advantage of that is that there would be no "big bang". Anyone who has spent time in business knows that no businessman would advocate a "big bang" because it produces all kinds of risks and uncertainties. However, I believe that such a move would keep this House strong during the transitional period. I believe—and have not heard anyone else say it—that we should treat hereditaries like any other Member of this House. I do not distinguish between them and the others. The Labour Party is a caring party and I do not believe we should treat people like some of the bad Victorian employers treated their people. Some of our colleagues in this House are hurting. They do not like to admit it and there is a lot of stiff upper lip, but many of our colleagues are hurting.

In putting forward that proposal, which is difficult to explain in such a short time, I believe that there will be a massive decline in the number of hereditary Peers in this House. It is a (y=ex) curve, an exponential curve, and within three Parliaments more than half of the hereditary Peers will have disappeared. To my mind that is the way in which we should go about it. With this proposal everybody wins.

In addition to that, one needs to have a balanced House. I believe that it is not reasonable that one party should have a huge overall majority in perpetuity. So I propose that we introduce a weighted voting system, the need for which would wither on the vine as the number of hereditary Peers disappears. The solution is simple, easy to operate and would create the effect of a balanced House, which is really the main objective of the Government in all this.

I end by saying a few words about the passage of the Bill through this House. The will of the Commons must prevail. We have a manifesto which has to be adhered to. I do not support any filibustering and I would not want to be part of that. But I believe that the approach that we have at the moment is risky and it is not in the interests of this House. I shall take advice from colleagues on this, but I am minded to put down amendments to the Bill on the basis of probing to see what support there is for my proposal which is based entirely on the interests of this House.

11.26 p.m.

Viscount Cross

My Lords, yesterday my noble friend Lord Strathclyde paid tribute to the late Lord Beloff. If I may, I also would like to say a few words in a similar vein as regards Lord Beloff, the constitution of this country and the House of Lords. This House will have been very sorry to learn of the death of Lord Beloff. He will be greatly missed. I do not know whether he would have spoken in this debate and it is not for me to surmise what he might have said had he done so; but I do know that he was greatly interested in the constitution of this country and that he held the House of Lords in the highest esteem.

He reminded us only a few weeks' ago that history repeats itself. He uttered a grave word of warning at that time. He compared the early 1930s with the present time. I believe that I can do no better than quote a short extract from his obituary which appeared in last Wednesday's Daily Telegraph, which was as follows: Never afraid to speak his mind, Lord Beloff caused a furore earlier this year when he compared Tony Blair's style of government with that adopted by Hitler during his rise to power in the early 1930s. He claimed to detect striking parallels between Mr Blair's use of 'dispensable allies' in other parties to implement constitutional reform, and the Nazi's co-option of dupes to push through the constitutional changes which then entrenched their own dominance".

I believe that it behoves any Peer who sees that danger to alert the public without delay.

11.30 p.m.

The Earl of Kinnoull

My Lords, I start by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux, on an excellent and informative speech. He summed up the feelings of many Members of this Chamber as to how the House should proceed. He showed great independence and courage in doing that from the Benches from where he speaks.

At the start of today, I was tempted to withdraw from this historic and marathon debate, mainly because I felt that all the points which I wished to make would have been made at least four times and much more eloquently than I could have made them. However, in a sense I was refocused by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor when he delivered his first speech of the day.

His initial remarks were a graceful tribute to the importance of the historical role which the House had played in the 19th century and to the immense power and influence that it held. I found it extremely entertaining and I was beginning to warm to him. I then noticed that he did not pay too much attention to the work of the current hereditary Peers of this House. I am sure that that was not intentional and if I missed it, I apologise. But then he moved straightaway to the core of the Bill—the fact that hereditary Peers should have no place in today's Parliament. He added that the first stage of the reform was promised in the manifesto to make the House more democratic and representative.

I do not intend to comment on the mystery of how democracy and representation are improved by the Bill. That has been commented on already. From that point on, the noble and learned Lord seemed to move into top gear as the Government's official bully boy. He described the Weatherill amendment in part. Neither Members of the House of Commons nor Members of this House have been privileged to see that amendment in any detail. He then issued the most astonishing blunt threat. He said that if we were to tinker with that compromise amendment or any other, the compromise amendment would be torn up in front of our faces and the Parliament Act invoked. I believe those were his words. We must all have felt then as though we were naughty schoolchildren.

The House will recall that the Lord Chancellor concluded his remarks by making three points. He said that the verdict of history would be to condemn us if we did not pay heed to his threat.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, the noble Earl is not obliged to give way but I wonder whether he will be kind enough to do so. Of course, in the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, I would like to say that I do not propose to trespass on the courtesy of our proceedings by cross-examining the noble Earl. However, does he accept that when I said that the arrangement which had been agreed among the Privy Counsellors on Privy Council terms—and I presume that we all approve that such an agreement could be made—is binding in honour upon the parties?

Secondly, does he agree that I am not saying that it binds any other individual Member of this House, who remains absolutely free to vote as he wishes in the Division Lobbies? Nothing that I said ran counter to that.

Thirdly and finally, does the noble Earl accept that it is a responsible act of a government to explain to the House—and it is not a threat—what are the Government's intentions if a particular course of events follows? It is beyond my comprehension to understand what is objectionable about that.

The Earl of Kinnoull

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord has made a very long interruption. I am delighted and privileged that he should do so.

I clearly heard his words about the honourable agreement, but to most of us it was a secret agreement. We had no idea what was going on. We still do not know what the amendment is. It is unsatisfactory for the noble and learned Lord to present it as if it were a cast-iron case.

On the third point that he made, I undoubtedly took what he said in his speech as threatening us—

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

The Earl of Kinnoull

My Lords, if the noble and learned Lord was not, perhaps he could say so.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I have said already that I was making absolutely clear what the Government's intentions were in the event that certain circumstances followed. I take the view, and I ask the noble Lord whether he agrees, that that is for the assistance of the House. To label it a threat is to be rather offensive. I intended it to be informative.

The Earl of Kinnoull

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord and I shall have to disagree. I am certainly not trying to be offensive, but he said that this morning. I have simply grasped what he said. I am sure he probably did not mean it, but we shall read it tomorrow morning.

I was going on to say that the noble and learned Lord made three other points at the end. He said that the verdict of history would condemn us if we did not pay heed—I shall miss out the word "threat"; secondly, that the patience of the country would be exhausted. Thirdly, he said that the country would be on the side of the Government. Those are bold and definite statements, and I would ask him if he has any cause to make such bold statements other than that he had already arranged a poll which we did not know about.

My experience of speaking to groups from time to time outside the House about the work of the House is that on virtually all occasions there is almost total ignorance of the workings of the House, which is understandable because we have such little press coverage. There is occasional praise for standing up to the Government, and almost always there is an affectionate pride in the history, heritage and pageantry of the House and what it stands for.

I cannot believe that there is a tenable case to rush into hereditary expulsion headlong when the Royal Commission is examining stage two and will cover composition as a separate issue. I do not agree with the noble and learned Lord that the country is impatient.

In the short and medium-term there is an important issue about replacing the working hereditary Peers who represent such a sizeable percentage of the exceptional work of this House. The House achieves a remarkable quality and capacity for work each Session, under the skilful guidance of the Chairman of Committees. I hope that he is satisfied that no damage will be done to the continuity of that work if this Bill is rammed through.

Dismantling part of our constitution is a serious business and the Government have a clear duty to think it through carefully. I am deeply concerned by the acrimonious climate, the threats and the lack of consensus, as was said earlier. I am concerned that it would lead to the wrong answer. I support those who question the validity of the Government in asking Parliament to override the Writ of Summons for the Monarch during the lifetime of Parliament, but I shall be interested to see what happens when the Committee considers the issue of hybridity.

As to the future composition of the House, I believe that the appointments system will not prove sustainable and will in time be replaced by the principle of representation. There are plenty of good opportunities for bringing in Scotland, Wales, the regional areas and MEPs and to give them a voice in this House. I suspect that gone then will be the unpaid Members and the part-time Members and in will come the paid professionals who will tend to cause a considerable rumpus with another place as another place struggles to retain its power base.

In summary, I dislike the Bill and the Government's approach. This House has evolved, to my knowledge, over many years to meet the challenges of its work. Many Members, both life and hereditary, make a remarkable contribution with their acquired expertise. As the noble Lord, Lord Ashburton, said, we cannot afford the talent drain. This Bill damages that resource by simply going about the reform of the hereditaries in the wrong way. For that reason, I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold.

11.41 p.m.

Lord Annan

My Lords, I do not want to rehearse the political reasons for this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, has done that several times during the past few months. However, I wonder whether I may draw attention to the economic reasons which supplement something with which the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, began his speech.

In days gone by the ancient aristocracy of our country governed and sat here because they owned land—and land was the source of wealth. If a commoner was ennobled, he took care as soon as possible to buy a country estate, if he did not already own one. Wealth gave a man a right to exercise power—and the aristocracy exercised power, not so much at Westminster as on their land in the counties through pocket boroughs and a multitude of opportunities to dispense patronage.

That is what has changed. It began to change at the end of the 19th century when the agricultural depression hit the landowners in the 1880s. As Lady Bracknell said: What between the duties expected of one during one's lifetime and the duties exacted after one's death, land has ceased to be either a profit or a pleasure. It gives one position but it prevents one from keeping it up".

But far worse was to come. That was the First World War. Between 1914 and 1918, more sons of the upper classes were killed than those of other classes. The death rate of the aristocracy exceeded their death rate during the Wars of the Roses. As a result of the First World War, many Peers were forced to sell their land. That was also due to Lloyd George's Budget. The transfer of land between 1910 and 1922 was equalled only by the Norman Conquest and the dissolution of the monasteries.

Of course, not all noble families lost their land. Those who had the good fortune and the foresight to hold land in greater London, for example, profited enormously, as did those with mineral deposits. It was recognised that those men of great wealth were entitled to a seat in the Lords, like Lord Rothschild in the 19th century and, in our own time, the Sainsbury family. However, I imagine that today no one would seriously advocate turning this House into a plutocracy. My point is simply this: that the hereditary aristocracy no longer wields power by virtue of its wealth and power of local patronage as in days gone by and therefore it no longer has a title as a class within our society to be given, automatically, political power.

There have been two subsidiary arguments against this Bill—both are well known; both are well worn. The first is that nothing should be changed until we are all agreed on what should take the place of the House in its present form. This is a device to postpone action until the Greek calends. The Opposition, perfectly reasonably, would argue over every detail and put forward counter proposals, as indeed they may well do when the Royal Commission reports and when the House of Commons sends us a concrete proposal for change. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, may well consider that his programme should be to delay. I can imagine him, postponing and postponing and deferring day by day, he'd quite procrastinate our life away".

The second argument is the old saw; if it isn't broke, don't fix it. The assumption here is that this House works so excellently, so efficiently, that no reform of its procedures is needed. This is an example of the fatal complacency that from time to time surfaces in this House. As a revising Chamber we are far from being perfect. We carry amendments and they are normally disregarded by the Commons. Of course, the reason for that is that the Commons are able to argue that we are an anachronistic body and that our deliberations can be quite legitimately disregarded.

But there is much more to it than that. Surely we need to change our procedures for considering a Bill. The custom by which we take the Committee stage on the Floor of the House is incredibly time wasting. There is no limit to the number of times a noble Lord may speak. Not only Back-Benchers but government and opposition spokesmen often make speeches that simply repeat what has been said at Second Reading. Many amendments are probing amendments, but they are debated exactly as if the proposer intended to put them to a vote. I suggest that the Committee stage should be taken upstairs in a committee room, and only Report and Third Reading, when a noble Lord may speak only once, should be taken on the Floor of the House.

Then there is the matter of the hours the House keeps. Is it efficient to continue to sit after midnight or later when moving amendments which, at the end of their consideration, the mover will say, "At this late hour I do not wish to divide the House and will return to this matter at Third Reading"? We do not sit on Fridays often enough so as to consider Unstarred Questions or Bills introduced by Back-Benchers. Noble Lords speak as if this House was perfect, but it suffers, it seems to me, at times too much from self-congratulation.

Great play was made in the two-day debate on the White Paper that on no account should the House surrender any of its powers. I am not at all sure that I agree. I was shocked when the House sent back the Bill on the voting procedure for European elections not once or twice but. I believe, five times. In the end the Bill was lost and the Parliament Act had to be invoked. I did not think that that was a great constitutional issue.

I turn to the Prime Minister's Statement; that the Government believe that no one political party should have a majority in the House of Lords. That means, if it means anything, that the Cross-Benchers will hold the balance. I do not like that. Cross-Benchers are nearly always old. I was very lucky indeed to be appointed when I was 49. Unless a retiring age is brought in, the betting is that the determining voice in the House will be that of noble Lords well past the age of 60. There are very few of us who resemble Mr. Gladstone, who got more radical as he got older and, I think, more prescient. If his home rule Bill for Ireland had gone through, thousands of lives would have been saved.

I know that the opinion of the House will be totally against me on this, with the exception of the noble Marquess, Lord Bath, but I favour a retiring age of 75. The noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, recently spoke against any such proposal. He said that old age brings wisdom with it and that we cannot afford to lose that wisdom. As a doctor he could hardly disagree that old age also brings prejudice and a hardening of the arteries and of the mind, so that we judge issues from the standards that we remember from when we were very young. That is why I fear a Cross-Bench majority holding a balance in the House.

We shall never be legitimate as a House until we are totally elected by universal suffrage. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, was of course quite right about that. Only then could we hold the other place to account. But I wonder whether the noble Lord really wants a clone of the House of Commons here. It might take an election or two to produce that, but, to begin with. I am quite sure that some hereditary Peers would stand for election and would be very likely to get elected. However, sooner or later the Whips would operate, take over, and free votes would be unknown. Of course, there would be no Cross-Benchers; and, as in America, the Government in the House of Commons would find themselves thwarted by a majority led by the Opposition in the Upper House.

The alternative to this is the mish-mash. I do not believe that the Government would support a purely nominated House such as the noble Earl. Lord Onslow, seemed to be advocating. The alternative is to have a House part elected and part nominated so that men and women of distinction could be brought here as Cross-Benchers, not to troop through the Division Lobbies day in and day out but to speak on subjects of which they know a great deal.

However, I shall not continue with that line because those are matters for the House to consider when the Royal Commission has reported; nor will I speak on the Weatherill amendment. I shall wait until the amendment is moved. But I do not like it. The arithmetic of the allocation of seats between the parties is perfectly astonishing. The parties in the minority will get two and three seats, the party in the majority will get a vast number and the Cross-Benchers will get a positive bean feast. Well we know that our Convenor is a renowned negotiator and politician; but, on this occasion, his audacity and skill surpass anything that I could ever imagine.

Despite my beliefs, I shall be genuinely sorry to see the departure of the hereditary Peers. I implore one of my favourites, the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, to disclaim his title and make it known to his party that he would not refuse a life peerage if one should be offered to him. However, I fear that the legitimate pride that he feels in his ancestry may dissuade him—

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, I would only want a life dukedom!

Lord Annan

My Lords, there are so many among the hereditaries for whom I feel admiration. Indeed, I have great admiration for the talents of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. There are a number of others for whom I have very great affection, like my old pupil the noble Lord, Lord Denham.

I shall never forget the time when the Shackleton/Carrington proposals were being debated in this House. It was one o'clock in the morning and I believe that it was the noble Lord, Lord Monckton, who quoted the famous lament of Sir Ranulph Crewe over the medieval nobility: Where is Bohun, where's Mowbray, where's Mortimer?

Nay, which is more and most of all, where is Plantagenet?

They are entombed in the urns and sepulchres of mortality". At this point in the proceedings a voice piped up from the Conservative Benches saying, "Mowbray is here!" There, indeed, was the premier baron of England, fighting fit and at his place in that hour.

I shall not vote for the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold. It seems to me in its tone to sound too much like repartee on the playground of a prep school, "Yah boo, sucks to you". As I look round, I hear that First World War recruiting song: We don't want to lose you,

but we think you ought to go". I only hope that the noble and hereditary Lords will go in the same spirit as their ancestors went in 1914, at Waterloo, and long before that in the distant past, with incomparable gallantry and irrepressible loyalty to their sovereign and their country.

11.55 p.m.

Baroness Flather

My Lords, I have the honour of speaking after an experienced speaker who has made a wonderful speech. I assure your Lordships that mine will be nothing like that.

I came to this House nine years ago. I was the first woman from an ethnic minority to come to this House. At that time Lord Pitt was the only other Peer from an ethnic minority background; there was no one else in that category. I was extremely worried about coming to your Lordships' House. I saw myself through your Lordships' eyes. I wondered what your Lordships would make of someone like me. I wondered whether I would be accepted or whether there would be a great barrier due to my different culture, background and, indeed, race. After I had got over being frightened and intimidated by the sheer size of the place, I found that it was extremely easy to be accepted. It was the first institution I had ever entered in this country where I was treated as a person, a friend and a colleague. I have valued that enormously. I was not patronised. I have found this House to be more egalitarian than any other institution that I have worked in. I pay tribute to this House for that.

I am sad today; for me this is like a wake. We are saying goodbye to many of our old friends and we are doing it in such a summary fashion. That is not pleasing to me. Today and yesterday I heard many people say that the House is ripe for reform and that of course reform is necessary. But when the Conservatives were in government where were the Conservative voices saying that reform was necessary and the House was ripe for reform? I know they did not exist. I spoke to many people and said that this House needed to be reformed and that we should do it before the baby was thrown out with the bathwater. Well, the baby is being thrown out with the bath water. This House will experience a great loss when all the hereditary Peers go. I believe that the hereditary Peers provide a balance in this House and no amount of political appointments or elections will be a substitute for that balance. We shall have a careerist House, whichever way it is reformed.

I say to those noble Lords who may still have some say in this matter that the institutions of this country are the envy of the world. The Labour Party is talking about Cool Britannia. Many people in other countries consider the institutions of this country, the pageantry and the continuity to be very cool indeed, in whatever way one wishes to use the word "cool". It is very sad to see that we can reduce this institution, which has existed for 700 years, and, at the stroke of a small Bill, change it completely, and then think nothing is happening. I think there will be considerable surprise that the work of the House will change and much less work will be done. There will be a great vacuum in the work of Parliament. I do not believe that it will be as simple as the Government think to cut off this major branch of Parliament.

Today we should be talking about a proper reform, a reform which started in the way Bagehot says reform should be started—that is, you look at your first Chamber, you see what the deficiencies are there and then you constitute the second Chamber accordingly. That would have been called reform. This is an insult to the word "reform". This is not reform; this is dismemberment.


Lord Morris

My Lords, it is always a joy to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Flather. I shall keep your Lordships for as short a time as possible. I wish to say a word or two about the nature of heredity. Many people perceive heredity as being a birthright. I passionately believe that that is a classic example of looking down a telescope from the wrong end. It is not a birthright; it is a birth duty. It is a duty which the vast majority of hereditary Peers take very seriously. It is hardly surprising that they do so because they spend the majority of their adult lives with growing apprehension and fear, as the demise of their forebear rapidly approaches, that they will be burdened, should they so wish—that is important—with a duty and must exercise that duty in the best way they can.

The other part of the nature of heredity is that it is a totally random selection. That is one of the reasons why this House is such a delight. We have a total cross-section of people, from the educationally subnormal and every degree above that to the quite brilliant. That reflects the true role of this House.

The role of this House is far closer to the Court of Parliament than it is to a house of first instance. By that I mean that the people we see in this place are far closer to a jury or a fine judge than they are to a collection of highly clever people. Lord deliver me from clever people! One of the astonishing things that I have experienced in this House is that it is quite incredible how some very, very clever people have a total lack of judgment. Maybe this is because we do not want skills and we do not necessarily want great experience; what we seek is wisdom and understanding. Through the extraordinarily random selection process and for a myriad of reasons, there are a variety of people who, in some astonishing way, collectively produce judgments of great quality. This is politically a very unattractive argument to take, but passionately believe it.

The noble Baroness the Leader of the House used the term "privilege" no fewer than seven times in the first two minutes of her opening speech in the debate. I can tell the House what is the most common experience of privilege that hereditary Peers enjoy and, like the noble Baroness, I will quote, I hope rather more appropriately, Winston Churchill, when he wrote of his great friend F.E. Smith: Some men when they die after busy, toilsome, successful lives leave a great stock of scrip and securities, of acres or factories or the goodwill of large undertakings. F.E. banked his treasure in the hearts of his friends, and they will cherish his memory till their time is come". I am afraid that that is the financial experience of the vast majority of the so-called privileged people who come here only to do their duty.

I do not like this Bill one little bit. I am certain that your Lordships will all join me in trying our best to improve it.

12.5 a.m.

Lord Dunleath

My Lords, at the end of the two day debate on the Lords' reform White Paper, the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip commenced his winding up speech by saying that the debate had been more fun than farming—just. As someone who has benefited from the expertise of his erstwhile consultancy practice, I know just how knowledgeable the noble Lord is on all matters agricultural. It will come as no surprise then that, as one of the many hereditary Peers who farms, I feel akin to an endangered species and, as one who does so in Northern Ireland, a pretty depressed one at that.

The House of Lords Bill is short but it is not simple. Indeed, as each week passes, it seems to become more complicated. The Government have implied that there is no constitutional or legal bar on the removal of the hereditary Peers. However, from the papers that now seem to arrive in almost every post, ever more detailed research, by and on behalf of noble Lords, would indicate that the Government just may have got this one wrong. If I were to want to pull the wool over the eyes of a group in British society, the last place that I would wish to start is in your Lordships' House.

Until now the apparent majority view among the hereditary Peers has been that, if the time has now come for us to go, then we should sadly go. I doubt that I am alone in being castigated by all kinds of people for not standing up more for the position of hereditaries in your Lordships' House. From the most unlikely quarters I am being told that we are viewed as the only effective restraint on the executive. Indeed, I am beginning to feel that, far from wanting us gone, the popular mood may be for us to remain. This purely personal experience would appear to tie in with the results of the opinion polls, which were quoted by noble Lords in the Lords' reform White Paper debate last month and again this week. Nevertheless, I am not persuaded that we should necessarily remain.

To return to the reality of the Bill before us today, the Government have gone long on the need for hereditary Peers to be removed before they can embark on the second stage of their reforms. By contrast, they are rather short on the reasons as to why both stages cannot be taken together. The Government say that if they were to do that it would never happen. I am not quite sure about that and over the weekend I tried to come up with perhaps one or two other reasons why that might be so. First, I suppose they could have claimed that it was symbolic for what they believe to be an outdated anachronism to be gone before the dawn of the new millennium. However, in a most thoughtful winding up speech last night, that view of mine was totally refuted by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, which I am delighted to accept. Secondly, it may be that they never intend to move on to the second stage. I do not know. Many other people have spoken about that one.

Thirdly, the Government may fear that they will run out of time. Certainly, within my memory no Labour administration has experienced a second successive lengthy term in office, discounting the elections of 1964 and 1966. Unless the Government have horrendous skeletons in their cupboard, which I doubt, they have every chance of being re-elected in 2001 or 2002, giving them all the time in the world to bring a package of considered Lords reforms to fruition. Indeed, the Government might wish to reflect that, if they were to bring legislation generally forward at a more measured pace, that legislation might be better considered on their part and they would not be inconvenienced by so many amendments and defeats in this House.

The noble Baroness the Leader of the House and others have stated that they wish to take the Bill forward on a basis of consensus. I respect that and welcome it. I initially thought that "basis of consensus" referred to consensus in this House. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, in his reply last night seemed to imply that the basis of consensus was a more global picture. That does not matter. Consensus is a great point and I approve of it. It is clear that a one-stage Lords reform Bill is more likely to achieve that consensus. Notwithstanding the arguments over any rights of the hereditary Peers to remain, our main fear is that under the present proposals stage two of the reforms is totally unknown and we as a body have no input into them. I find it sad that no hereditary Peers were appointed to the Royal Commission. The compromise by means of the Weatherill proposal, if it ever comes about, of some sort of rump of 91 or 92 hereditary Peers remaining in the interim is hardly a satisfactory alternative.

With respect, the present arrangement of the appointment of life Peers to sit in this House is hardly more democratic in the true sense of the word than the right of the hereditaries, whatever concessions the Prime Minister might make. It will certainly make the House more political, and the independence of these Benches will be diminished. In a recent newspaper article, Mr. Kenneth Clarke argued forcefully for a wholly elected Upper House. It appears that that may also in part be the view that finds favour with the noble Lord, Lord Richard. I have always listened to the noble Lord with interest and with the greatest respect. While that option is certainly democratic, I fail to see how the Upper House can become anything other than a totally political Chamber, a mirror of another place and wholly devoid of any independent presence. Nevertheless, it is a starting-point on which I am sure an acceptable proposal could be built.

Our independence is one of our greatest assets and not one to be thrown away lightly. The Government make much of the fact that the hereditary Peers' right to sit and vote is undemocratic, but go on to give the clear impression that that is largely because so many of them sit on the Conservative Benches. They may well sit there, but I do not believe that they are any more biddable to the Whips' behest than some senior and much respected noble Lords on the Government Benches.

It would appear also that the Government see many of us who sit on the Cross-Benches as some kind of closet Tories. I think that is something that the Cross-Benchers would refute totally.

I am pleased to say that there is a little encouragement from the government Back-Benches at least. I have already mentioned the thoughtful and measured contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Richard. The noble Lords, Lord Stoddart of Swindon and Lord Winston, have also given us an element of hope through their constructive remarks. I was struck in particular by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. It provided the most dignified of reactions from a hereditary Peer who gives his allegiance to a party which no longer believes that there is a place for the hereditary Peers in this House.

We have heard a very interesting speech from the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux. The noble Lord's proposals go much further than many of us would have expected. I do not anticipate for one moment that they will be adopted by the Government Front Bench.

As the Bill makes its tortuous passage through your Lordships' House, the end result is far from clear. No doubt the Bill will become festooned with numerous amendments in an attempt to improve it. It would be wishful to imagine that the Government will give us a golden egg by announcing that they intend to drop the Bill. They could, however, give us an altogether more modest Easter present by announcing that they intended to move an amendment whereby the reform of the House of Lords could be taken as one whole package rather than in two stages. In fact, bearing in mind the number of hereditary Peers who profess to think that the time has come for reform, why do the Government not call our bluff and go for reform in one stage? I think that by that method they would gain the moral high ground and would achieve the consensus to which they claim to aspire. I hope that the Government will move in that direction. If they do not, I shall, sadly and in some ways reluctantly, feel that I must support my noble friend Lord Cobbold if he decides to press his amendment tonight.

12.15 a.m.

Lord Pender

My Lords, like many noble Lords who have spoken so eloquently in the debate, my sole concern has always been, "How will whatever replaces this House serve the people in a free and unfettered way?" It is highly doubtful that the current proposals before your Lordships' House will stand that test. This age of special-offer politics and modern patronage, this preoccupation with millennium rebirth and this quest for modernisation will be viewed in a generation's time as superficial gimmickry, a mere puff of wind by today's political leaders.

We hereditaries have the right to ensure that what comes after us is of a calibre to maintain the existing safeguards that we now offer as a revising Chamber. This principle should be fought for in the coming months.

My own peerage is young, having been created in 1937. It is just 62 years old, not steeped in tradition like some of the great hereditary families of our land who have given unstinting service to this country over centuries and would continue to do so. That service comes from something called duty. "Duty" is a word currently out of fashion. These days you grasp for what you can get and take the short-term spoil. That is rather pathetic, in retrospect.

In his moving speech yesterday the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, mentioned the deprivation for his son in not becoming a Member of your Lordships' House. I, too, have a splendid son. He is to be denied the privilege of being a Member of this place—an inherent right for over 650 years. That is a pity. The sole redeeming feature is that, not having tasted the delights of the place, he is unaware of what he is being deprived.

One aspect which disquiets me at the present time is the triumphalist attitude displayed by some Members of the House, including those who have scarcely had time to learn the geography of the place, who take the approach: "The hereditary rabbit is snared; go for the jugular". That attitude is regrettable, petty and unworthy, and it should cease. I shall vote for the amendment.

12.18 a.m.

Viscount Mills

My Lords, I shall try not to keep your Lordships long. The Government want to make this House more democratic and representative. No one can argue that it is democratic, but, being subject to the random selection imposed by genetics, it is more representative than many might like to believe.

In a letter to The Times Mr Ian Mann summarised the position most eloquently, if somewhat harshly with respect to politicians: The overwhelming advantage of the hereditary peers is their initial self selection by birth, that involuntary act of fate that comes to us all. The overwhelming disadvantage of the House of Commons is their initial self selection by ego, that involuntary act of fate that comes to all politicians. As a consequence of this, the House of Commons may represent the people but paradoxically, it is the House of Lords that is representative of the people.

As a hereditary Peer, I have had the privilege of being a Member of this House for some 10 years, but I do not fit the stereotype that is often portrayed. I am youngish, not rich, have no estates and—it gets worse—am a scientist by training. I am not ashamed of my profession. As a scientist and environmentalist I have tried to make a contribution to some of the Bills and debates about which I have knowledge and experience. I work full time and therefore to find time to participate is rarely easy. What many see as purely a privilege also carries its responsibilities.

I am not in favour of a two-stage process of change. As one of those who is threatened with reform I prefer to be directly involved or at least to know of what a fully reformed House of Lords will consist. Like so many other hereditary Peers I have made a contribution thus far, so why are those with direct experience of the workings of this House not to be allowed to contribute to the process of reformation? If the Weatherill amendment is proposed and accepted, the case for not giving all hereditary Peers this opportunity will be further weakened, for it can no longer be argued as a point of principle that hereditary Peers should play no further part in this process.

Last night I discussed with a friend, a Labour life Peer, whether or not hereditary Peers would really vote for their abolition. I suggested to her then, as I do to noble Lords now, that if the hereditaries had some say in what was to replace them many would do so. That view has been echoed by many other noble Lords in previous speeches. As the quality of this debate has so profoundly demonstrated, what an opportunity has been missed and what a privilege it has been to attend the debate to listen to the speeches.

I regret that I have rarely seen a process of change handled so ineptly. If this process fails I hope that those involved in introducing and managing it will accept a large part of the responsibility. Like so many other noble Lords, I, too, have been saddened by the tone of some of the comments during the various debates about reform of this House. But, as ever, such comment has diminished more those who have delivered it than those at whom it has been directed. Happily, there were many others who while either supporting or opposing these measures managed to preserve, if not enhance, their own dignity and that of others. I single out two noble Lords for special mention. I shall long remember the speech of my noble friend Lord Ferrers for its humour and common sense and the contribution of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for his genuine concern for those who might have to leave this House. Despite the rhetoric about the need for this House to be modernised, or that it is less good than it could be, I believe that the House of Lords as currently constituted is widely respected by those who have direct contact with it. I am certainly proud to be a Member of it. Nevertheless, I hope that if it is to be reformed the new House of Lords will be even better than the existing model.

I wish the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and all members of the Royal Commission well in their exacting task. Whatever the final outcome, the removal of the hereditary Peers will break a long and historic tradition that I believe many will see as a loss. It will also create an inconsistency in that by arguing that the hereditary principle is indefensible the Government are, like it or not, arguing directly against the monarchy, however inconvenient that may be, and indirectly against any form of inheritance such as wealth.

12.24 a.m.

Lord Moore of Wolvercote

My Lords, it was 50 years ago that I was first privileged to follow proceedings in your Lordships' House. That was a result of being Private Secretary to several Ministers in the House of Lords at the end of the 1940s and during the 1950s. One of those Ministers is still a member of your Lordships' House and made a charming speech today. That was Frank Pakenham, now the noble Earl, Lord Longford - then First Lord of the Admiralty. As your Lordships may guess, it was a joy to work for him.

At that time, this House sat in the Queen's Robing Room and officials were huddled in the corner on the left as one entered the room. This Chamber was occupied by members of another place, whose own Chamber had been destroyed by the Luftwaffe.

Ever since, I have followed the workings of the House of Lords with great interest, although only as a member for the past 13 years. When I became a life Peer in 1986, it was at once clear to me that Harold Macmillan's Life Peerages Act 1958 had brought about great changes—notably in the increased numbers and influence of the Cross-Benchers. I cannot help wondering whether Harold Macmillan realised at the time how important that Act would prove to be.

The result at the end of the century is that, with a combination of hereditary Peers and life Peers, we have a House of Lords that works more efficiently than ever before as a second Chamber. That is the irony of the present situation. There is a second Chamber that is working excellently, yet it has to be changed drastically. Why? Because in a parliamentary democracy in this day and age, it has become impossible to justify three-quarters of one of the Houses of Parliament being there by right of heredity. Very reluctantly, I accept that it is difficult to oppose the principle of the Bill.

What I cannot accept is the Bill's timing. I find it almost incredible and irresponsible that the Government should have brought forward this Bill to abolish the hereditary Peers before anyone knows what is to be the new form of our second Chamber. Is it to be nominated, partly nominated and partly elected, or entirely elected? Second Chambers are not easy to create, as one knows from watching them operate in other parliamentary democracies—where many of them are ineffective.

One only has to read the Government paper on reform of the House and the Royal Commission's consultation paper to see how formidable is the problem. I do not envy the Royal Commission its task—or perhaps I do envy it. Do they not face a tremendous challenge?

Surely the right course at this stage would be for the Government to introduce an amendment to the Bill whereby the abolition of the hereditary Peers would not come into force until the Royal Commission and the Joint Committee of both Houses have reported. The Royal Commission is already at work. It does not make sense to play about with the composition of the House at this stage. The Government would fulfil their manifesto commitment with an Act of Parliament abolishing the hereditary Peers, and the House would avoid disruption in advance of the establishment of the new form of second Chamber. I earnestly ask the Government to consider that course.

12.28 a.m.

Lord Tryon

My Lords, speaker No. 168—and seeing that I was in that position I threw away the splendid formal Second Reading speech that I was going to make to your Lordships as all my best foxes have been shot or were going to be shot. I will confine myself to a few short points, just to place on record my views on the Bill, as we are all supposed to do if we want to take part in subsequent stages.

I have been a hereditary Member of this House for 22 years. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Annan, that I was 36 when I joined, so we are not all old on these Benches. At times I have been quite actively involved, although recently less so. I have always sat on the Cross-Benches and have remained fiercely independent of all political parties—and almost as much so of my fellow Cross-Benchers. That I think is in the best tradition of the Cross-Benches. That is how the House works well. I say this because there are many new faces present, which reflects the evolution of the House, and quite a few noble Lords probably have not the faintest idea of who I am.

I probably voted against the Conservative Party more often than against the Labour Party. But that may be because I have experienced 18 years of Conservative Government while I have attended the House and only four years of Labour Government: two in the 1970s and two now.

I have always believed that one of the main roles of this House is to make governments in another place think again. Therefore, I have lived quite happily in a state of perpetual opposition to whichever government were in power. Numerous noble Lords have pointed out that the will of another place will always prevail, so why all this fuss? While I have not listened to all the speeches, I have heard a huge number. None that I heard seriously criticised the work of this House as it is presently set up, except the noble Lord, Lord Annan, who is a great purist, very clever, and will always find that things should be done better than at present.

The criticism of hereditary Peers seems to be that we are hereditary. Frankly, it is not much more than that. A number of life Peers have greatly praised our contribution. I do not think that such praise applies to me. I have not made as great a contribution as many other noble Lords have. However, I have been immensely impressed in my time here by what others do.

I have also been hugely impressed by the work of the House over the years. My approach to the Bill is summed up by the old saying, "If it ain't bust don't try and fix it". That was said by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and, I expect, by others, but I strongly believe it. An analogy for what is going on here may be as follows. I hope that it may be a new point, hard though it is to find new points at this stage. I have been a trustee for a number of years for many organisations. From time to time one has either wanted to resign or get someone else to resign. The lead advice has always been, "You cannot go and you cannot kick out this other fellow until you find someone better or at least as good to replace you or him". I have heard no one say that what will replace this House without hereditary Peers will be better than that with them, at least in the short term. We cannot possibly walk away not knowing what will replace us. That is my major objection, and the major objection of most noble Lords who have spoken.

Furthermore, I feel strongly that those who want to make major constitutional changes, as this is, should be made to fight every inch of the way. We must not roll over and just walk away. Too many noble Lords assume that this match is all but over. It is not over until Royal Assent—and an awful lot can happen before that.

The reasoned amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, sums up most succinctly some of my objections to the Bill. It sends out a message which I, too, would like to send to anyone outside who is paying attention to our deliberations on this matter. I will therefore support him tonight and I will support noble Lords who want to make difficulty for the Bill at later stages.

12.34 a.m.

Lord Dulverton

My Lords, I am one of those rare animals nowadays; I am an industrialist. Hence, I do not speak very often, which I regret. I did not receive a letter similar to that of the noble Lord, Lord Rea. But, luckily, I have a few years before I meet the description of the noble Lord, Lord Warner.

We are living in a period of suspended animation. Maybe that is because we have a noble and learned Lord Chancellor of over-exuberant energy. He certainly has a prodigious work output, for which he should be admired. The trouble is, as so many noble Lords have said, where are we going? Some years ago, there was a story about the possible erection of a statue to an outgoing Minister. It became apparent that it was difficult to find a position to situate it. It could not go next to George Washington because he never told a lie. It could not go next to Lloyd George because he never told the truth and he apparently could not tell the difference. At last, after many years and much deliberation, it was decided that the only possible position was next to Christopher Columbus. He set out without knowing where he was going. When he got there he did not know where he was. When he returned he did not know where he had been—and he did it all on borrowed money.

In a few months, we will be got rid of and a cheer will go up in another place. I fear that maybe—just maybe—we are heading for a one-Chamber legislature, just as Scotland will have at the end of the summer. Maybe in a few years we will have no monarchy and the members of the Boston Tea Party will have had the last laugh. But will the public really cheer, too? We deserve no less than to be told where we are going before we are banished.

12.37 a.m.

Lord Annaly

My Lords, I must start by declaring an interest as an hereditary Peer. I took my seat eight years ago and have always realised how fortunate I was to have the opportunity to attend your Lordships' House. During this time, I have enjoyed the company of noble Lords from all sides of the House, regardless of whether they were life or hereditary Peers.

I take the Conservative Whip, but two of the most memorable occasions I recall in my early days here were the well attended debates on Maastricht and the war crimes Bill. From memory, these were strongly whipped by my own party, but that did not stop myself and many other noble friends on this side of the House from voting against the party Whip. I mention that simply to remind noble Lords on the Benches opposite that Conservative Peers do not always support their own party in the Division Lobbies if they do not believe that their party is right.

It is not easy for an hereditary Peer to defend the status quo because it inevitably sounds as though the defence is being made through reasons of self-interest. I hope, therefore, that noble Lords will take it at face value and not consider it as self-interest when I say that I believe that the House works well as now constituted.

However, every institution needs to adapt and reform, so I do not set out to oppose reform out of hand. To the contrary, reform of your Lordships' House would be welcome if it were clearly seen to make it more effective in holding the Executive to account while maintaining the important independent characteristics of its membership. But that is obviously not easy to achieve.

What we have in front of us now is a narrow Bill dealing with the reform of one part of one of the two Houses of Parliament, the removal of the hereditary Peers from your Lordships' House. I have listened to the arguments which the Government have put forward for carrying out a two-stage reform. The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, who is a much respected Member of your Lordships' Hot se, made a notable speech in the morning in support of the Government's two-stage approach to reform. I have yet to be convinced by the two-stage approach and I do not need reminding about the reference to a stand-alone stage one in the Government's manifesto.

The winding-up speech last night by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, did nothing to diminish my reservations. In answer to an intervention by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, the noble and learned Lord said that it was neither appropriate nor necessary to give any guarantees on the face of the Bill that stage two will happen. My noble friend was not asking for the details of stage two to be on the face of the Bill; simply that stage two would take place. That would seem quite a reasonable safeguard. The noble and learned Lord's reply last night does not fill me with confidence that stage two will take place in a short time frame, if at all.

A fundamental question which the Government have yet to answer is this. Do they want a more effective Chamber than we now have? Do they want the second Chamber to be able to hold the Executive to account more than it is able to do now or not? The White Paper on House of Lords reform included options for doing the opposite, reducing the delaying powers of the House. Putting country before party interests, would the noble and learned Lord when he winds up confirm what he believes the real objectives of genuine reform should be? Does he agree that it should be for a stronger, independent Parliament and House and that the power of the Executive should be reduced? I believe that we are entitled to know what answers the Government have to these questions. The Bill before us does not address these matters and on a stand-alone basis increases the power of the Executive.

A number of noble Lords have mentioned the future composition of the House and the percentage of elected Members, be it one-third or two-thirds, in the revised Chamber. With or without the so-called Weatherill amendment, I suggest that an elected House is what the country is going to demand in due course. After all, there has been much talk in this debate about democracy from the Government Benches and this could well be the unintended consequence which the Government did not foresee. I do not know what the timescale will be. What I am sure about is that once the hereditary Peers have gone, in the event of having a mixed House with appointed life Peers, Bishops and some elected Members, it will not be long before the elected Members of the House make it clear that they believe that they have more authority than the appointed Peers, just as the Government are now saying that the vote of an hereditary Peer is not as valid as that of a life Peer. My noble friends Lady Buscombe and Lord Hesketh made this point in notable speeches earlier in today's debate.

There has been much play from the Benches opposite on democracy. To follow that argument through, the second Chamber would have to be elected. The irony—and it is something which I do not believe the public at large appreciate—is that the democratically elected House of Commons, with its very strong system of party whipping, is not as good a defender of individual liberty as your Lordships' House, which is undemocratic as it is now constituted. Whatever reforms now take place, it seems to me inevitable that the House will become more political and that the party Whips will have more power. I do not see that that will be to the benefit of the people or the country.

I conclude by saying that I do not like this narrow, nasty little Bill and I deplore the way in which the Government have approached reform of just part of your Lordships' House without having any idea, certainly not one which they are prepared to share with your Lordships, about the future role, functions and power of the House. I shall be supporting the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, if he moves it.

12.45 a.m.

Viscount Devonport

My Lords, many noble Lords, noble Baronesses and the right Reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester have spoken extremely ably over these two days and nights on the reform of this House. At this late hour, I wish simply to highlight those matters of personal conscience which I believe each of us has a constitutional duty to ensure; that is, we must see that the new House retains the best of the old, to which can be added those new powers needed for the next millennium.

Like the noble Viscount, Lord Mills, I am optimistic that a more effective House can be built upon the strengths of the present House. First, I believe that the Royal Commission, which I welcome, should examine the workings of Parliament as a whole and not exclude from debate the 700-year role of the hereditary Peers. Nearly six days of debate in your Lordships' House since October have failed to throw up any alternative that guarantees more securely the independence of spirit, the breadth of skills and experience, the spread of age and minimum political bias and patronage than does the present composition of the House of Lords.

The surest way in which to make that invaluable wealth of experience the foundation of an improved and more effective upper Chamber is to ensure that we play a major part in its reconstitution before disenfranchisement. Regularly attending hereditary Peers who will lose their seats will be unusually objective judges of the future composition of the House. Even established life Peers could be so viewed if their tenure of a peerage were curtailed.

For that reason, we shall need to press the Government to do three things: first, to confirm that they will conform in practice with all the terms of the White Paper, including the appointment of Peers in the transitional stage by an independent commission with no right of veto by the Prime Minister. Secondly, before the next election the Government must set a precise timetable not only for proposing but also for implementing and establishing a reformed House, its composition and its powers. The transitional stage, after the abolition of hereditary Peers, should not be open-ended.

Thirdly, a reformed House should be established by the end of the first Session of the new Parliament at the latest. The Weatherill amendment and, indeed, any other amendment which will best help to achieve those objectives deserve to be supported.

I turn now to the proposals which I submitted to the Cross-Bench committee last March; that is, that the new powers of a future House will need to serve the nation valuably in the next millennium. I have no doubt that the future House should represent the whole United Kingdom, especially as future regional bodies in England and island bodies in Ireland will be added to the devolved Scottish and Welsh assemblies.

Secondly, the House should concern itself with European matters, including European human rights. Thirdly, in order to secure the independence of the judiciary, perceived as increasingly threatened of late, I believe that in future, the composition of this House should no longer include serving Law Lords. Instead, an alternative Supreme Court could better fulfil that role.

Fourthly, in future, it may well be to the advantage of the Church of England to be disestablished. In that case, religious representation of major denominations and other religions need to be enshrined in the appointment and/or election requirements of the upper House.

Fifthly, the new House should have a role complementary to that of the Commons, so as to scrutinise legislation better and provide greater Select Committee contribution.

Importantly, the 23 per cent. of the overall population in rural England and Wales who contribute 30 per cent. of the jobs in goods and services and 30 per cent. of gross domestic product, need explicit rural representation. A rural voice in policy and legislative scrutiny, particularly on matters where the rural angle is not always recognised—such as the need for economically viable farm and forestry land use—cannot be guaranteed in the other place, where most Members represent urban constituencies. Without that, I have no doubt that nothing less than the future of the landscape of Britain is at stake.

Seventhly, the House could act as a counterweight to the so-called electoral dictatorship of the House of Commons and continue what I might call the Cross Bench factor. Ideally, a new House should be composed of Members in place for not less than 10 years, and numbering not fewer than 300, of whom at least half would be appointed by the electoral regional assemblies, and the remainder elected nationally or appointed, as already discussed, by an independent commission. Appointees from regional assemblies (which would replace county councils) would, on a rolling basis, take their seats in even years and central appointees in odd years. MEP and House of Commons elections would remain as now.

Finally, I believe that some of the powers stripped from this House in 1911 and 1949 may need to be restored so that the upper House may serve Britain as effectively as their Senates serve the people of the United States and Australia.

12.51 a.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, this has been a long and fascinating debate However, we have wasted an enormous amount of time and misdirected our attention for a good deal of it in attacking or defending the hereditary principle. That debate was decided a very long time ago.

In 1944 my father said to me, "I am delighted that you have started to take an interest in what I am doing in London, but I hope you will not become too enamoured with it because the chances of you ever doing the same are remote indeed. If I were run over by a bus tomorrow you would have lost the power to speak and vote in the House before you achieved your majority and if I live to a reasonable age the House of Lords will have been abolished or totally reformed and you would be out of it long long ago".

I have no intention of defending the rights of hereditary Peers to take part in the proceedings of Parliament. I am concerned with a different matter. My father was called to the barony in 1934 by Ramsay MacDonald—impeccable credentials, you may think, for noble Lords opposite. The fact that his opinions changed with maturity is another matter.

It was that barony that made it possible to have a Parliament at all. For nearly 700 years it succeeded in making Parliament work, but not always—in fact, quite rarely—in a democratic manner. In the latter years, it moved steadily towards the democracy that we now have.

That gives me a sense of being a trustee at the end of a long line of trustees with a duty to hand their trusteeships over to reliable hands. That is what concerns me. The noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux, said that he, too, saw himself as a trustee of this House. Of course, we all are. But we are more than that. We are trustees of the constitutional rights of the British people. When noble Lords say that we are having an inward looking debate, they are right to an extent, but I have scarcely heard that interest mentioned.

The function of this House in the protection of the British people is to see that the democratically elected body, which houses and provides the Executive, remains the servant of the electorate. There are times when the pressures of political necessity drive executives into courses that the electorate do not wish. There are times when really fat majorities tempt them into paths which the electorate do not really wish and there are many occasions when the pressures of parliamentary business mean that the legislation that comes here has in large part scarcely been considered at all. The function of this House is to revise that legislation and, where necessary, call the Executive in the other place back to account by giving the other place the opportunity to think again and drawing the attention of the public to the failings of the Executive, whether of our party or another party.

Those are the functions that we need to see continue after we are gone. It distresses me to have noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, who has the duty of replying to this debate, has had a pen in his hand for the past two hours and I have not yet seen him write a note. If he does not write it down I hope that he will remember—he has put the pen in his pocket, which he does not fill me with confidence that he will remember—indeed I charge him to recall that we have a duty to ensure that what follows us is at least as well able to do what we are doing now as we are ourselves. That is all that I require before I leave, with good grace and satisfaction, to paint pictures, earn money and enjoy myself elsewhere—all things which at the moment I find it difficult to do.

In a disputed passage in his speech, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor made it very clear that there were certain areas into which we ventured at our peril if we sought to achieve that end. I shall not go into the manner in which he drew the lines in the sand, but we must recognise that he spoke for the Executive who at present have absolute control of the other place and can therefore get us to do what they want. I respect those lines, but they do not exclude us from doing various things which are necessary.

The great danger which many of us see is that there will be an indefinite delay in proceeding to stage two, during the whole of which this House will consist almost entirely of nominated Members who can be reinforced by an infinite number of other nominated Members of the political colour of the Executive of the day, which may well change because it could he a long process.

One way of guarding against that, and from which we have not been excluded, would be to say that the effects of this Bill could cease at the end of whatever period we think it proper to give the Government in which to bring the new organisation into position—perhaps at the end of first Session of the second Parliament after the passing of this Act. I refer to the second Parliament after this one. I take the timescale suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, who knows what he is talking about. I can think of no bigger pistol to hold to the heads of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and the Minister than the prospect at the end of that period of the whole of the hereditary peerage returning jubilant to this House. I am sure that the Government would bring in a new House of Lords before then. That would be effective.

There is the question of whether the effects of excessive patronage might become felt within that time. That is guarded against in part by what has come to be called the "Weatherill amendment" which we shall see later, but that alone may not suffice. The danger which lurks biggest in most of our minds, although not all of us have mentioned it, is the danger of excessive and irresponsible use of the patronage of appointment to this House.

Another area which the noble and learned Lord has not excluded us from considering is putting the patronage of the Prime Minister into a commission. I therefore suggest a second amendment which we ought to consider before the Bill returns to another place. I hope that in telling us that the other place would not consider many—indeed, any—exchanges of Commons Messages, as we call them, the Government will not deny us the possibility of fine-tuning such amendments if they commended themselves to a sufficient number of Members of your Lordships' House to make them viable.

Those two amendments seem to me to open the door to a way through which we could go with comfort. What I now wonder is whether what we shall hear playing when we leave this place is the faint strains of Nero's fiddle, or the slightly louder sounds of the string section of the "Titanic"; or whether perhaps it could just possibly be, by a great effort to be courteous and understanding on both sides of this House, the sounds of "Auld Lang Syne".

1 a.m.

Lord Sawyer

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Elton. As he rehearsed his possible musical scenarios, I thought perhaps that one for the Conservative Party opposite might be "Always look on the bright side of life".

Many years ago I had the pleasure of reading the biography of Ramsay MacDonald, which I believe was written by the noble Lord's father. It was an excellent book, only to be surpassed in recent years by the definitive biography of David Marquand.

I am still very much in the early days of my apprenticeship in your Lordships' House, but it has been impossible not to be impressed by the quality of many of the contributions made in this two-day debate. Inevitably some on the fringes did not meet that standard, and I say that sadly; but on the whole the experience and wisdom spoken during this debate has been impressive.

For hereditary Peers on all sides this must be a difficult time, especially for those who have given good service to the House. I am still finding it a difficult time to adjust to my role as a life Peer. I felt it was rather ironic that one of the last jobs I had as the General Secretary of the Labour Party was to try and persuade the candidates on our Euro list that being sixth or seventh on the list when only five or six candidates might win was in fact an honourable task to carry out on behalf of the party, never thinking that in a few months time I would find myself 174th on a list in a different place, but hopefully still in a winning position.

As I reflected on my time here, I felt that I could have applied for an hereditary peerage myself, as it will probably take me two lives to master your Lordships' House. It is not just the strange hours, the rituals and the conventions, but problems like how one meaningfully joins a debate after 174 speakers. How do I make a contribution? How can I help the Government? That is always my intention, as noble Lords will learn.

I was thinking that last night when the noble Baroness, Lady Perry of Southwark, came to my rescue. She wondered what the woman on the Clapham omnibus would think of this Bill. There, I thought, is my golden opportunity. I sit next to the woman or the man on the Clapham omnibus every morning on my way to your Lordships' House. I could ask them what they thought of the Bill; I could speak on that and that would be an original contribution.

Then I thought, "No", I have something more to offer than that. My grandfather was not just a passenger on the Clapham omnibus; my grandfather was the driver of the Clapham omnibus—northern version, but same principle. Just imagine if he had been an hereditary driver of a Clapham omnibus; where would I be today? Well, I would not be sitting on red leather benches, but on a black plastic bench somewhere on a night bus between Elephant & Castle and Kennington. But perhaps not. Driving a Clapham omnibus is much more dangerous; far more poorly paid and much less privileged than sitting in your Lordships' House. So I may have relinquished my black plastic seat to take up my position here.

I say this mainly to noble Lords opposite. Those of us born to drive Clapham omnibuses and the like, as opposed to those in this House born to rule in countries and the like, feel that it is time for change. This is not the politics of envy. It is not the politics of class hatred; indeed, it is the principle of fairness that drives us to bring these measures before the House. As noble Lords on all sides of the House will know, you cannot drive a Clapham omnibus on your grandfather's driving licence. You can only drive a Clapham omnibus by passing your own driving test, deploying your own brains and developing your own skills. It is time that one can only get a seat in your Lordships' House on that very same basis. Although I know that after 700 years some noble Lords think that we are taking liberties and moving a bit fast, I saw a nice quote from Dryden the other day which said: The spirit of our time should teach us speed".

I want to say something about the reformed Chamber. I know that there is a bit of a crisis about legitimacy in the air. I also know that noble Lords are uncertain or have conflicting views about the basis upon which it would be legitimate to sit in a reformed Chamber. Well, I would argue that we can get legitimacy in different ways.

Some 20 years ago I was appointed by a small executive of a major trade union with a membership of three-quarters of a million to be one of the leaders of those members. I felt absolutely legitimate, as, indeed, my members thought I was. A Conservative government came along with a manifesto commitment, which was probably read by something like 2 per cent. of the people, to make me stand for election for my job. I did not like it, but I respected the result of the general election and the right of that government to change the legislation. I obeyed the law; I was challenged and could have lost my job. However, I won and I was still legitimate. I do not believe that my status changed at all in the eyes of my members from the day that I became an appointed official. I went on to become the General Secretary of the Labour Party, appointed by an executive, confirmed by a ballot of conference delegates—indirect election and legitimate in the eyes of Labour Party members.

I have cited all these experiences briefly to show that appointed, directly or indirectly elected can all be legitimate; it is how the people you represent feel about you and the representative nature of what you do that really counts. I end on this note. Political classes in another place—and, indeed, some noble Lords as well—are marshalling arguments for direct elections to a revised Chamber. But passengers and drivers of a Clapham omnibus would be more cautious.

I believe that people very strongly support and demand the principle of the Commons as the prime elected Chamber. They do not want to undermine that. They want a second Chamber which is subordinate and, to some extent, independent. They know that more elections mean more selections, more candidates, more manifestos, more parties, more party politics and, indeed, less independence. By the way, if I go to election for this seat behind me, which I would be prepared to do, I shall not be urging voters to support me to check and balance the executive. I shall be saying to them: "Vote for me, support our party and our Government". On what other basis could anyone in our democracy stand for election?

Similarly, I shall not be saying to the voters: "Vote for me, support me and I will carry out my manifesto promises. But I am sorry, I can't promise to deliver". Why? "Well, because there are a hundred appointed Cross-Bench Peers. They are all independent and they didn't stand for election. But they can thwart my mandate and they can dilute the power of your vote". You cannot have a sem-elected Chamber with two different bases for serving and two different conflicting bases for voting. So tread warily over the seductive veneer of direct elections; the process is not as simple as some people make out. Avoid also the pitfalls of a semi-elected system that has inbuilt conflicts and contradictions. Do not dismiss the potential legitimacy of Peers who could reach this House through an open, public nomination procedure. Be endorsed by party leaders or an independent commission and perhaps be confirmed in some way by indirect elections.

Legitimacy is conferred by those we represent. A wide-ranging discussion with the British people through the report of the Royal Commission, and possibly at a later date through the political parties, will, I believe, show that people want a more sophisticated, flexible and subtle arrangement than they demand for the elected Commons. I think we should give consideration to and take part in that debate.

1.10 a.m.

The Earl of Northesk

My Lords, I begin by stating my support for the sentiments expressed in the reasoned amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold.

What distresses about the Bill, what offends, is its promotion of short-term party political advantage at the expense of constitutional balance. Lest anyone doubted it, our debate on the White Paper—many of your Lordships emphasised the point—confirmed that the Government's policy is political in content. The intent of the Bill is avowedly political. To this extent it is utterly empty of constitutional virtue.

I state the obvious. The Bill is concerned with composition. Inevitably, this has provoked debate about its abject failure to address the inter-related matters of powers and functions. This must be a deeply distorting omission. We can but hope that we may be able to address that in Committee. But, perhaps more importantly, there has been precious little discussion, let alone consideration on the face of the Bill, of what could be termed "method", the Burkean distinction between legislating for "'wants" and legislating for "needs". The Government are adamant that the two Houses in Parliament should retain their own distinctive character and that the other place must retain its supremacy over this House.

That is all good and well. This has been the foundation of our constitutional balance for many years. Another place is a political assembly performing a political function. Indeed, its political credentials make it the fountainhead of democratic and electoral authority and, from that, flows the legitimacy of its supremacy. In contrast, your Lordships' House is a legislative assembly performing a legislative function. Lest it has escaped the attention of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor the simple fact is that it is our constitutional duty to scrutinise legislation. If nothing else, this alone would secure the status of this House within our understanding of democracy.

However, in warping and deepening the politicisation of this House, as the Bill will assuredly do, the distinctive character of the two Houses will be irreparably compromised. The transitional arrangement—and whatever may or may not succeed it—will be archly political in character. It will be a clone. It will be wholly ruled by the politics of the moment. Its "method" of legislative scrutiny will be all of a piece with another place. In other words, the consideration of legislation from the perspective of "need" will be wholly subsumed by an obsession with short-term "want". Despite the primacy of this House's legislative and deliberative functions, it will become a political assembly.

It is this which makes the Government's proposition so incomprehensible. It is illogical that this misguided conversion of a legislative assembly into a political one can in any way improve the performance of Parliament as a whole.

It is personal, but I disagree with those who hold that the crucial function of holding the Executive to account is one of the primary functions of this House. To my mind, this is one of the ambiguities of our constitution. We are, above all else, a legislative and deliberative Chamber. Our efforts to hold the government of the day in check are subsidiary elements to that remit. Quite apart from anything else—the Bill will not change this—it is from the other place that the government of the day are predominantly formed and that an administration's mandate to govern is derived. Holding to account is a task that is, quite literally, beyond the reach of this House. Properly it should be done by another place.

But one of the greatest complaints about our parliamentary system—it comes from all sides—is that the political assembly is hugely ill-equipped to check the Executive. Logic demands that the transformation of this House into a political assembly will occasion yet more Executive creep towards absolute control of the legislature. That prospect was quite palpable in the remarks of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor when he opened our debate. This defines the constitutional impropriety of the Government's approach.

A number of authorities maintain that, public policy requires that no legislative body be competent to frustrate its primary purpose by creating a vacuum". And yet this Bill, when and if enacted, will create that vacuum. It will not only eliminate "need"-based scrutiny of legislation; it will also transfer unprecedented control of the legislature to the Executive. By implication the Bill is beyond the competence of both this House and the other place.

More than this, as a number of noble Lords have already observed, there are strong grounds for arguing that the shift in the balance of our constitutional architecture is of such importance that this is a matter that should be judged directly by the electorate. The poll evidence suggests that public opinion favours such an approach. Current constitutional theory, based upon the precedents of 1832 and 1911, requires that in the event that a government seek to swamp opposition to it in the Lords by the creation of new Peers, the authority of the electorate for the specific proposal should be sought. By extension, the corollary of this, a government seeking to subvert opposition by wholesale removal from office of a class of representation in the Lords, must also have validity. In this context, I fully endorse the comments of my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway.

I do not believe that I am alone in supposing that the Government do not set much store by constitutional propriety or precedent. Their respect for Parliament and the constitution is, shall we say, muted. This is a huge source of regret. It is all the more tragic because the seeds of consensus, and thereby the opportunity for the Government to pursue the matter with some measure of grace and dignity, are but a few months away in the findings of the Royal Commission. In addition—and in a spirit of helpfulness—the Government should be aware that the law relating to the hereditary Peerage is governed not by statute but by common law and precedent.

This leads me to the text of the Bill. The Leader of another place glorified in its simplicity, but, especially when it comes to legislative provision, simplicity is no substitute for clarity or for certainty.

The hereditary Peerage is a complex institution. That should not surprise us given its longevity. Of course, at one level, at the political level, it is a simple matter to intend to achieve the Government's policy objective. But at other levels, constitutionally and legislatively, the matter is not quite so clear-cut.

Clause 1 is the heart of the Bill, the mechanism that seeks to deliver the policy intention. Outwardly, it is imbued with the "exquisite simplicity" to which the Leader of another place referred: No-one shall be a member of the House of Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage". It is hard to fault as a bald statement of political intent. But there is at the very least some doubt as to whether the clause as drafted can in fact deliver that intent. It is unclear and uncertain.

I should stress that, in this, I do not dispute that there is a debate to be had as to whether it is appropriate that the hereditary peerage is part of the legislature. There are credible arguments on both sides of that fence. But, as I have already explained, this is not the point at issue on the face of the Bill. That being so, what will its effects be? It will entrench and deepen the politicisation of your Lordships' House. It will tighten the grip of the Executive over the legislative process. It will empower the party political apparat at the expense of the electorate. It will do all of these things against the grain of public opinion and constitutional common sense.

What it categorically will not do is make your Lordships' House any more democratic. It will not make this place any more representative. It will not engender any improvement in legislative scrutiny. It will not enhance this House's deliberative function. It will not provide better mechanisms for holding the Executive of the day to account.

As David Byrne would have it, courtesy of the Government, We're on a road to nowhere".

1.21 a.m.

Lord Geddes

My Lords, many of your Lordships will recall the 1950s BBC radio programme "Take it from Here", which featured a certain "Mr. Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells". This morning, in the context of this Bill, I am "Disgusted of Westminster". I am disgusted as to the Bill's dogma. It is an odious, debased and vindictive little Bill with huge, but huge, constitutional implications.

I am disgusted with its lack of practicality. It has been estimated that the House needs—that is, presently has—about 200 hereditary Peers to keep its committees—in that context, I include Deputy Speakers—running. In answer to my Question, the Chairman of Committees advised on 8th February of this year that there are 163 active hereditary Peers. Those two numbers—200 and 163—are not that far apart and certainly both are greater than the 90 of the Weatherill amendment.

I am disgusted at the Bill's lack of substance. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor told us yesterday morning that membership of this House should be based on merit. I have no argument with that whatsoever. But does it have to be merit that is earned before anyone becomes a Member of this House? Are my noble friends Lord Carrington, after 54 years of service and merit, and Lord Ferrers, after 45 years of service, to be thrown out of this House? I can only get together 24 years, although for the past 14 of those I have sat continuously on the European Communities Committee or its sub-committees. I agree that membership should be based on merit but I make the point only that we should not suffer reverse discrimination.

I am disgusted at some of the rhetoric that we have heard in this debate.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Geddes

Yes, indeed, my Lords. Perhaps noble Lords opposite would like to wait.

We have heard about the reduced authority of decisions of this House due to the presence of hereditary Peers. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Shore of Stepney, referred earlier to a particular decision of this House being ignored by "the country"—I emphasise the word, if I heard it correctly—due to the number of hereditary Peers who had voted on that decision. The country? It was the present Government, who cannot abide anyone disagreeing with them, least of all this House.

Again, we are told that this House is undemocratic. It depends how you define democracy, but I suggest that, given the present dominance of the executive, this House is about the only bastion of democracy left.

I am disgusted at the timing of this debate, both immediately—as has been well rehearsed, it is being held during Easter week—but more to the point, in the medium term. As many noble Lords have said, stage one is being divorced from any decision on stage two.

I am disgusted by the lack of direction in this Bill. Surely what is needed is a reform of Parliament in the round, not a half-stage reform of this House.

The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, in a very impressive speech on Monday, came to conclusion that the only legitimate form that this House might take other than its present one would be an elected Chamber. I do not disagree with the theory of that. Where I do disagree is that another place would never tolerate a second elected Chamber. Indeed, we were told earlier that that is why previous attempts to reform this House failed.

Finally, I am utterly disgusted by the style with which this debate has been conducted from the Front Bench opposite. We have had scant and belated credit given to hereditary Peers. And then, to compound the previous discourtesies, we had the opening remarks yesterday of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. Were his remarks a deliberate ploy, or were they just gratuitously offensive? His threat was little short of disgraceful and constituted a grave abuse of this House. Like many noble Lords, not least my noble friends Lord Cranborne, Lord Ferrers, Lord Boardman and Lord Elton, and the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, I am utterly unswayed and unimpressed by such threat.

In the context of this Bill, I conclude by reminding the Government Front Bench that they hold their offices by appointment, not by anointment.

1.27 a.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, during my life certain numbers have stuck in my mind. When I served in the Royal Marines my number was PLYX112105. I never forgot that. When I became a student at the Open University, it was 004696.5. And when in future my friends say to me: "What did you do during the war on the House of Lords reform Bill?", I shall say, "I spoke as number 177". That will be as significant to me as participating in this debate must have been to everyone who has spoken. It is a privilege to have this opportunity of expressing a view. At this stage there can be nothing in the detail of the issue that has not already been touched upon.

I wish to say as kindly as I can that I believe the hereditary Peers have grown too sensitive to the fact that their future is at stake. Of course it is at stake. It has been at stake for a very long time. I can understand the emotion, the joy and pride, that have come across the Chamber when hereditary Peers have spoken about their forebears, what they have done, how they survived, and many other matters.

I speak for the unelected, non-hereditary Peers, a group which deserves to be remembered. I do not have a family tree which goes back hundreds of years. The Clan Graham was a Border clan. The Grahams were known as Border reivers. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, nods his head; he recognises a reiver when he sees one. A reiver was a chanter, someone who moved from side to side, who stole cattle and who was in the pay of one side or the other. The Grahams moved into Northumberland. Newcastle-upon-Tyne, which is my home town, is full of Grahams. My grandfather Graham on my dad's side, who was poor and did not have much, served in the First World War. My grandfather on my mother's side was a miner, and I am proud of that. My father served in the First and Second World Wars. I am as proud of my heritage and my hereditary traits as anyone here. Let us not get into the difficulty of trying to justify where we came from. We are all individuals. When I look at the hereditary Peers, mainly on the other side of the Chamber, I do not see hereditary Peers but fellow politicians. We are all here at the behest of a party leader and ultimately of the Queen.

Whether one likes it or not, and however one dresses up what it should be, this is a political House. When I listen to the case that has been made against the Bill, I wonder where some of the critics have come from. One or two Members said that the Bill was a sop to the left wing of the Labour Party. I have been a member of the Labour Party for 57 years. There has never been any view other than that the House of Lords was an anachronism based upon the hereditary principle. I have here a postcard which shows a number of workmen battering at the doors of the House of Lords. The caption is "Labour clears the way". On the back of the card it says: Labour party poster of 1910 challenging the House of Lords' rejection the year before of Lloyd George's People's Budget".

For many of us this is unfinished business. Whether or not we have fought or argued, we have believed that part of our destiny was to have the opportunity one day to stand here, as I do, to speak not for the aristocracy and the hereditary class but for the working class, from which I sprang.

Earlier in the debate I heard the noble Viscount, Lord Mills, regret the language that has been used. I agree with him. During the two-day debate, as my noble friend Lady Thornton said, Members on this side of the Chamber have been accused by speakers opposite of being cuckoos, poodles, Gadarene swine, pigs in a poke, fraudulent, paltry and poor, envious. We have now been told by the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, that we are participating in a process which is odious, vindictive and debased.

I took careful note of the language of many Members opposite: "a constitutional outrage"; "nasty"; "political prejudice"; "contempt for Parliament"; "chaotic and unpalatable"; "extraordinary pettiness"; "a bad day for the House"; "pious declarations"; "a terrible little Bill"; "an absolutely miserable, pedestrian measure"; "an abuse of power"; "a mean and spiteful measure"; "vindictive, time-serving"; "cheap and cowardly"; "absolute contempt". I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Mills, that we should regret the use of that language. However, it did not come from this side of the Chamber but from the other side. Sometimes noble Lords opposite delude themselves by believing that they are more in touch with the opinion of the House and the country than those on this side of the Chamber. I doubt that. I believe that on any fair test the people of this country will support this measure.

Much has been said about the independence of the hereditary Peers. I like the definition provided by my noble friend Lord Richard. He said that hereditary Peers sat independently, spoke independently and then voted Conservative independently. Of course they do. That is the whole argument. Others look at this in a different way but I view it as an argument about politics. More than once when I was Chief Whip when a result was declared and analysed I was not surprised. We had our own intelligence. We looked at the figures and knew what would happen. When we had a Labour government, they were defeated on average 75 times a year, but when a Conservative government were in power the figure was 10 to 15 defeats. One may say that those are only figures but they must be translated into the time consumed in the other place to put matters right.

I hope that this Bill will be passed unamended. I believe that when I go through the Lobbies I shall also be entitled to say what the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, said on one famous occasion: "Rejoice, rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great will be my reward, if not in heaven, somewhere else".

1.36 a.m.

Lord Mancroft

My Lords, some years ago your Lordships debated a proposal to set up an independent commercial television station. I was not present for the debate because at the time I had not mastered the art of speech and was still having trouble learning to walk. But I remember my father telling me the story some years later. Apparently your Lordships debated the issue quite extensively and the strong thread running through the debate, led I suspect by the spiritual Benches, was that what was then called the alternative programme would inevitably lead to an overwhelming decline in national morals rendering every home with a television set into some kind of Sodom and Gomorrah. Eventually, one noble Lord, elderly and perhaps a little hard of hearing, rose from his place, pulled his hearing aid from its socket on the Bench in front and threw it onto the Floor of the House, saying, "I wish to God there was an alternative bloody programme on this thing", and then marched out of the Chamber. I suspect that not a few of your Lordships feel a little like that tonight. I am very conscious that as speaker No. 178 there may not be an awful lot left to say. But I am the last of the hereditary Peers to speak in this debate and I should like to make one or two points.

Much has been made of the fact that so few speakers have sought to defend the hereditary principle. I believe that the hereditary principle needs no defence because to attack it is ludicrous. The principle of heredity is neither right nor wrong; it is both natural and normal. We get our looks, height and the colour of our hair and eyes from our parents. Many of us get our ideas, morals and beliefs from our parents. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House knows that better than anyone. Hardly a household in Britain, be it stately or rather more humble, does not contain a piece of furniture, an item of jewellery or some object that has not passed down from a forebear. Much of the land in Britain and across the world passes down through families. Have your Lordships never bought a newspaper from a hereditary newsagent like W. H. Smith? How many noble Baronesses buy their clothes from hereditary suppliers such as Marks & Spencer? Do we not drink beer from hereditary brewers such as Greenalls or Whitbread and eat food supplied by that most successful hereditary grocers Sainsbury's?

The principle of heredity thrives in almost every area of our lives. For many hundreds of years, it has played a central role in many great nations of Europe and beyond. In the debate on the White Paper in February, the Leader of the House made great play of the fact that only Britain retains that hereditary influence in its political system, and that is entirely correct. There is a very sound reason. Britain has a constitution that is both uniquely robust and at the same time uniquely flexible—which means that while virtually every other constitution in Europe has collapsed this century, ours has continued to deliver stable government to our people.

To risk that stability on half-baked change would seem more than a little unwise. That is not to say that reform is inevitably undesirable. There is an increasingly strong feeling in the country that our political system is no longer delivering the goods as it used to do. But the place where reform is most needed is the other place, for it is on the House of Commons that most criticism and discontent is focused, not your Lordships' House.

I believe also that reform of this House is desirable, for the reasons so well articulated by my noble friends Lord Carrington and Lord Cranborne. I am clear in my own mind that reform will and probably should ultimately end in a wholly elected second Chamber. I accept the difficulties that will present, particularly for the other place—but there are no easy solutions, otherwise it would have been done before.

That is all in the future. We have before us today a Bill, and it is on the Bill before us that we must focus. Whatever may he the Government's intentions, whatever the Royal Commission may or may not suggest, and whichever way the wind of world events may blow us, we have to consider today not the long-term reform of this House and not—as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, suggested—a paving Bill. As the Leader of the House made clear when opening the debate and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, repeated, this is a free standing, one-off measure and must be considered on its merits—and there appear to be very few of them.

What makes our task more difficult is that so far members of the Government Front Bench have failed to address the Bill in any detail. The Leader of the House deployed a battery of statistics to make her case. Statistics are rather like bikinis. What they reveal may well be very interesting but what they conceal is truly far more important.

The Lord Chancellor, towards the end of his rather elegant but difficult speech, took the time to explain the Government's view of the Weatherill amendment, but that was all. Considering the extraordinarily unprecedented nature of the Bill, I hoped that at least one member of the Government would have taken your Lordships through the uncharted waters that the Bill seeks to navigate. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, will fulfil that role in his usual courteous and careful way when he winds up.

There is one final issue to address, and it was touched on by the Leader of the House in her opening remarks. The noble Baroness was right to point out that for all their record of public service, hereditary peers do not have the monopoly on duty. Life Peers too have an honourable record of public service. I am very happy to have the opportunity to pay tribute to them. This may be one of the last times that we work together on a Bill of such importance.

The duty of all noble Lords is the same whether hereditary or life Peer. We have a sworn duty to go through the Bill with the tooth comb that it requires. Of all your Lordships, the Lord Chancellor knows that no Bill is perfect. Issues arise during the passage of a Bill that could not reasonably have been foreseen. Noble Lords have already raised issues relating to the Commonwealth, Letters Patent, Writs of Summons and other matters—all of which will need to be addressed at a later stage. To suggest that the Government will accept no amendment to the Bill is to ask noble Lords to abdicate their responsibilities entirely. I have to tell the noble and learned Lord, that that is not a possibility however much it may suit the Government's purpose.

Apart from revising legislation, the single most important duty that your Lordships have is to prevent a government from prolonging its own life—a power that was deliberately left with the hereditary peerage under the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949 but which for some reason was left out of the consultation document that the Royal Commission published last week. Although the Prime Minister stated his intention to give up some of his powers of patronage, as the Bill is currently drafted he gives up none, and he will gain practical control over this House by retaining the sole ability to nominate new Peers and thus assume powers that no British Prime Minister has ever had. Unless he relinquishes that power in some form, or some other type of safeguard is written on to the face of the Bill, I, for one, will have the greatest difficulty in going along with it.

I regard the Weatherill amendment as an interesting initiative worthy of extremely close and careful scrutiny. If, as my noble friend Lord Cranborne suggests, it offers some guarantee that stage two will actually take place and that some measure of independence will be maintained in your Lordships' House in the future, I could even support it. But that is my only interest in the offer of 91. I have no interest in my own survival in this House, only in the continuation of a second Chamber with enough power to check an overmighty Executive. And if by my departure I can ensure that to any degree, I shall leave this House, albeit sadly, in the knowledge that the departure of the hereditary peerage has not been in vain.

Your Lordships will remember Nelson's famous signal on the eve of Trafalgar: "England expects that every man will do his duty". I wonder how many of your Lordships remember the comment of his vice-admiral, Lord Collingwood: "I do wish Nelson would stop sending those bloody silly messages. We all know exactly what we have to do". I think that I know my duty in this nasty little matter. I suspect that your Lordships do too.

1.46 a.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, in a number of interventions in the early hours of the morning (I do not remember which morning it was now), the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor made much of the Labour Party's manifesto pledge to end the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in this House. Contrary to what the noble and learned Lord said, this Bill is not entirely consistent with the manifesto, which described this reform as self-contained. It is not.

As my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth said in his excellent contribution to this debate, other measures will have to be taken in order to make stage one work. None of those measures is contained within the Bill. Nor was it ever the intention of the Government that they should be. It was, however, a manifesto pledge that the powers of this place would remain unaltered. We now know that that promise will not be kept.

The noble Lord, Lord Richard, said that this was a paving Bill. There is not a single paving clause in the Bill. It is of course described in the manifesto as the first stage of a two-stage process. There is no guarantee of a second stage. I share strongly the cynicism that we shall not see a second stage. I hope that amendments will be passed which commit the Government to a second stage before stage one is implemented.

There is much good will across the parties for a review of the constitutional arrangements in this country. Such a review should entail looking at Parliament as a whole, including the relationship between both Houses, Parliament's relationship with the judiciary, the Church, possibly the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, but, above all, Parliament's relationship with the people of this country. A review would define for recommendation to Parliament the role and functions of both Houses; the powers required to carry them out; the procedures necessary; and then, and only then, the composition of this Chamber would be addressed.

That would have the virtue of securing a wider consensus and, more significantly, intellectual justification for constitutional reform. However, such a logical pathway to reform is not for this Government. They have established a modus operandi when dealing with such issues as devolution in Scotland and Wales and proportional representation, where democracy is sacrificed for control by party apparatchiks and the might of the trade union block vote.

This Bill reminds me of a surgeon performing a transplant operation. The heart is removed; the patient is wired up to a mechanical heart machine; and while the patient lies there a cross-departmental committee is set up to discuss the next steps.

We learn today that the Weatherill amendment will be published at the end of this debate. Does that mean it will miss being printed this evening for distribution tomorrow? Why was it not contained within the Bill? The amendment was agreed last December. It is an irony that the Royal Commission, which was agreed to so reluctantly by the Government, should be given a mammoth task with an impossible timetable; and yet the Government, with all the technological back-up, have taken so long just to make up the words of the Weatherill amendment. The Government cannot get away without admitting their key involvement in drawing up the amendment.

Could it be that the Government did not wish the detail of the amendment to be known ahead of this Second Reading; or is it that Members of this House should have scant time to read and understand the amendment before it is put to the House? As for it not being contained within the Bill, we now know that it is to substitute for a sword of Damocles over our proceedings. My Lords, this is a real form of blackmail.

The Lord Chancellor prefaced a most menacing outburst at the end of his opening speech today with the words, "Let me be brutally frank". The noble and learned Lord proceeded to set out a list of possible amendments to the Bill which, if contemplated by your Lordships, or worse, pressed to a successful vote, we would be punished by the Government, who would withdraw the Weatherill amendment. Were those conditions part of the deal? I think that we have a right to know as other Members of this House.

I shall be equally frank, but not brutal. Even if the deal were conditional, my noble friend Lord Cranborne made it clear in his excellent speech that no Member of this House is bound by that deal. All Members of this House have a legitimate right, and indeed a duty, to consider each matter on its merits without fear of threats made by the noble and learned Lord or his right honourable friend Mr. Blair. Bully-boy tactics, however noble their guise, are hardly a way to attract the good will of Members of this House. And what does all this imply for this House as a check and balance on the Executive?

The noble and learned Lord chided my noble friend Lord Kinnoull earlier today about what he actually meant this afternoon. The noble and learned Lord said that this deal was done with Privy Counsellors. One of the people it was done with was not a Privy Counsellor. Secondly, the noble and learned Lord said that the deal was binding. If it is binding only on those who were party to it, we understand that. But perhaps I may read out the words that I believe the noble and learned Lord actually said: Any support for such amendment, or abstention, would be a breach of the compromise. The Government will not tolerate any material disruption of their legislative programme and if events take place which are incompatible with the letter or the spirit of this compromise, if the legislative programme is prejudiced, they would invoke the Parliament Act". That is a threat, whatever the noble and learned Lord likes to say.

How very much we miss our noble friend Lord Beloff at this time. His guardianship of the constitution and his respect for a sovereign Parliament were unequalled—I do not see that as a laughing matter, more especially from the noble Lord, Lord Hacking. Lord Beloff's respect for a sovereign Parliament was unequalled. Time and again in his inimitable style he described the arrogance and contempt for Parliament by this Government, who have a propensity for centralisation and control.

The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor also said unequivocally that this Bill is about the hereditary principle. If that is so, then it is my view that on the passing of this Bill the monarchy as part of the governance of this country will indeed be vulnerable. That point was very well made by my noble friend Lady Knight. It is therefore incumbent on the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, to respond to the question of my noble friend Lady Miller, which was passed over by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, in his summing up. I make no criticism of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, given the number of speakers and the excellence of his summing up. It was clear that some issues had to be left for another day.

The noble Baroness the Leader of the House said that the Bill is not about political balance. Well, you could have fooled me! So much has been made of the so-called in-built Tory majority. As I said on a previous occasion, by and large Peers, and especially Ministers, have to win arguments in this House in order to win votes. It is also true that when we were in office we could not simply snap our fingers and win a vote at any time we wished. If that had been the case I and a number of my noble friends could have been saved a great deal of trouble when we not infrequently lost votes. On so many occasions successful alliances were formed from some or all Benches across the. House to oppose Government amendments just as happened for almost two years to this Government. People in our rural communities, students, and many others, have much to thank all Benches in this House for their support.

What we have in this Bill is a nasty cocktail of class warfare, the politics of envy and a large dose—

Noble Lords


Baroness Blatch

My Lords, one only had to listen to the debates here and especially in another place—of new Labour's third way, which is a euphemism for grabbing a headline, making a glitzy presentation and producing legislation without any thought whatsoever for its consequences.

At best this Bill will produce a neutralised and emasculated second Chamber and with a few additional cronies it will carry on its work passively without necessarily calling the executive to account. At worst, the Government will take advantage of a seriously weakened second Chamber to enact in the second half of this Parliament legislation such as the right to roam and the more damaging regulations which flow from European directives and, who knows, even paving measures for entry into a single currency. With such compliant and supine pager-controlled Government Back Benchers in another place—

Noble Lords


Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I have obviously touched a chord! With such compliant and supine pager-controlled Government Back Benchers in another place, the Executive will have a field day with hardly any opposition.

Personally, I would not concede the hereditary principle nor the role which hereditary Peers play in the life of our sovereign Parliament unless and until something more effective is proposed to replace it. As my noble friend Lady Seccombe said, reform should make things better. However, this Bill as it stands does not achieve that. As my noble friend Lord Cranborne said, the only virtue of the Weatherill amendment is that it makes a very bad Bill marginally better. It is right that Members, preferably from all sides of the House, should support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold. I certainly shall.

This country is at war in Kosovo; there is a crisis in Northern Ireland; the Berlin summit and the mass resignation of the Commission all present this country with great challenges in Europe apart from the many other national and international challenges. What is the Government's priority? It is discussing an ill thought-through Bill to reform this House in advance, by a mere six to eight weeks, of the Royal Commission's report on the long-term future of this House. That reflects extremely badly on this Government.

Meanwhile, I shall conclude once more with a fulsome tribute to the work of hereditary Peers in Parliament over the centuries. They have served the nation with distinction in this second Chamber, which is admired throughout the world. It is also worth repeating that, from time to time, evolutionary change has been enacted only after painstaking discussions and with a broad consensus of agreement. If only, even at this late stage, one could invite the Government to bury prejudice and to abandon this Bill in favour of engaging minds and brains before exercising the legislative pen.

Without doubt Parliament is weakening; the Executive is becoming stronger; and the centre of gravity for decision-making is moving to Brussels. The ultimate test against which the Government will be judged will be whether a stronger, more effective and more independent Chamber results from their proposals and the degree to which it is able to hold the executive to account. I can say for certain that the Government have not even begun to appreciate what will be lost to the nation from their constitutional vandalism, all in the name of modernisation. It is an ugly word with ugly connotations.

The tragedy is that those hereditary Peers who have served this House so well and who have declared themselves not opposed to and even in favour of reform will be denied the opportunity to determine their successor House. I continue to salute the hereditary Peers and I regard it as a privilege to serve with them. I believe that the country will come to regret their wholesale abolition and it is at this Government's feet that the culpability will be laid.

2.1 a.m.

Lord Steel of Aikwood

My Lords, the end is nigh. When I went into the Bishops Bar for a cup of coffee just after midnight, I was greeted by a former Conservative Minister who wished me happy birthday. I then realised that it is indeed tomorrow and it is not just that I feel a year older than when this debate started but I actually am a year older.

I received some advice from the same quarter from some of my Scottish friends, and I use that word in its loosest possible sense. They suggested that at this hour, the best thing that I could do is to move a vote of thanks to the chair and then sit down. I reminded them that I came from a tradition in the other place where the winder-up made at least a polite passing reference to every speech that had gone before. I shall try to find a happy medium between those two positions.

This has been a fascinating debate but it is the third two-day debate that we have had in the past year on the same subject. Not very much new has been unearthed in the past two days. In fact, if one looks to the Second Reading debate of the Parliament Bill 1911, which I have done, one finds that there is very little new that was not said then. On 2nd March 1911, my illustrious predecessor as leader of the Liberal Party, who happened then to be the Prime Minister, Mr. Asquith, was being taunted by Mr. Balfour from the Opposition Bench. Let us remember that that Bill dealt only with the powers of this place. Mr. Asquith said of Mr. Balfour: He finds the hereditary principle an excellent thing, a practical working instrument for securing the absolute supremacy of this House when there is a Tory majority here, but a working instrument to frustrate and nullify the functions of this House when there is a Liberal Government in power".—[Official Report, Commons, 2/3/11; col. 586.] That is the hereditary principle. Substitute the word "Labour" for the word "Liberal" and the argument is precisely the same.

The debate began today with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor reminding us of the changes that have taken place and the erosion of the hereditary principle which has taken place over the years since Lord Rosebery, another Liberal leader, introduced a Motion to abolish the hereditary peerage.

I go further and say, in all seriousness, that just as we have seen the end of Prime Ministers, or half the Cabinet, coming from this place—I can recall in my political lifetime when we had two distinguished Foreign Secretaries from this House; the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and Lord Home—I question whether, 20 or 30 years on, it would be acceptable, in present-day politics to have a Foreign Secretary from this House. We must be aware of the fact that that hereditary principle has not only eroded in the past but is still eroding at present.

When I was a student of constitutional law I remember sitting an examination question which read as follows: The Parliament Act of 1911 was a bucket of whitewash sloshed over a structure riddled with dry rot—discuss. I did discuss it. I never expected, 40 years on, to be discussing it again.

We have heard very varied speeches. We have had one or two really rather odd speeches, if I may put it politely. One noble Peer suggested that in all the present troubles in the Balkans what is needed is the stability of the hereditary Peerage. I failed to make the connection. Another solemnly assured us that in going around the world he found that other countries envied this House. I have travelled a lot around the world and I find that in most cases this House is greeted with incredulity.

I then looked at my old friend the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, who is to follow me, sitting on the Front Bench listening to these speeches and I was reminded of what was said by Lord Lansdowne in a similar position on the Tory Front Bench during such debates in 1911. It was reported that when he heard Lord Halsbury speak against the Bill he knew, as one sentence followed another, that he could no longer vouch for the sanity of his followers. That is a harsh observation on only one or two of the speeches.

We have had other speeches of great charm. I particularly enjoyed one of the shortest speeches from the noble Earl, Lord Kintore, who, in a minute-and-a-half, managed to make a job application to be among the 91 survivors. Many others performed much more subtle auditions, I thought, for posts in later events.

Many Members of your Lordships' House gave us potted family histories. Others, sadly, told us that they were making their last speeches, including, rather extraordinarily, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. The noble Earl, Lord Devon, perhaps achieved a unique distinction by making his first and, possibly, his last speech at one and the same time. I congratulate him on that.

There were also some very contradictory speeches. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, suggested that if we remove the hereditary Peers, a House composed entirely of life Peers would be more likely to amend legislation and, therefore, prove itself more difficult to the other place without, as he said, the restraint of the hereditary Peers.

On the other hand, the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, said that the House would be less effective. They cannot both be right. I suspect neither of them is right. I suspect that the House will continue much as it is today.

There was also some argument about the fact that we should not be discussing the composition of the House, but should be discussing its role. The noble Lord, Lord Monro of Langholm, was one who put forward that argument. Again it reminded me of the debates in 1910 and 1911, when Mr. Austen Chamberlain argued precisely the opposite. He said that we should be discussing the composition of the other place and not the powers. So the arguments ranged backwards and forwards. The truth is that noble Lords would rather discuss anything except the abolition of the hereditary principle.

The noble Lord, Lord Graham, in a speech to which we have just listened, and the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, reminded us that we can all be proud of our ancestry and venerate history without necessarily believing that it is essential that some people should have, as part of that tradition, the automatic right to become legislators with no other qualifications.

An article in the Guardian at the weekend, by David McKie, pointed out that, as far as the hereditary Peers are concerned, it was a myth to imagine that they were all of ancient history. He put it this way. He said that there are more Strathclydes than Cecils among the hereditary Peers. By that he meant that most creations of hereditary Peers were either in this century or at the tail end of the previous century, as the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, kindly put it in his speech, perhaps created by another former Liberal leader in response to a particularly anxious financial appeal.

Perhaps noble Lords will permit me an aside and allow me to make a small confession. In 1970, after a poor election result for the Liberal Party, we were reduced to six Members. It was all hands to the pump, so I was appointed Chief Whip. How one can be Chief Whip of six Members I am not sure. I was waited upon by a legal gentleman from party headquarters, who congratulated me on my appointment. I thanked him and he said, "I have to inform you that you are now ex officio chairman of the trustees of the Lloyd George Fund". I said, "Wealth at last". It turned out that there was only a small amount in the fund with which to pay the pension of Lloyd George's former secretary, who was still alive at that time. I am always aware of history where Liberal leaders and peerages are concerned, and so should be many other Members of this place today.

Turning to what the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, said about the 1968 debates, I remember them well, but I also remember the key sentence in the Government's White Paper at the time. It stated: Succession to a hereditary peerage would no longer confer Membership of the House of Lords". That was the fundamental principle of that White Paper, which was approved in this House by a majority of 251 to 56, among which the majority among Conservative Peers was 108 to 43. So, the principle of abolishing the hereditary peerage was already accepted by Conservative Peers as far back as 1968. That is why I cannot understand when the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, and others talk about how the whole process should be slow. What has it been? It has been like this since 1888. It has been very slow indeed. The truth is that the hereditary Peers have been living on borrowed time for a very long time. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, reminded us that so long as the hereditary principle remained the main source of membership of this place, women and ethnic minorities will never get their proper representation in the second Chamber of Parliament.

Other speakers made interesting suggestions. Those who worry about the alleged effect on the Monarchy should have listened to the interesting speech of the noble Lord, Lord Acton, who reminded us that there are at least five or six hereditary monarchies in Europe surviving well in the aftermath of the abolition of any other hereditary principle, and they are very popular monarchies. I add that in Sweden the abolished peers have retained their own entity. There is a House of Peers which has no constitutional power whatsoever but which continues to debate matters of public interest—

Noble Lords


Lord Steel of Aikwood

My Lords, that is a possible role. There is life after death!

My noble friend Lord Thurso made an interesting and worthwhile suggestion which gets over the problem of a retiral age. He suggested that in the future transitional House it should be possible for Peers to resign from the House if they no longer wished to take up a full-time role. That is worth considering.

The noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, regretted that with the abolition of hereditary Peers there might be fewer younger Members. He paid tribute to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, in his 20s, on behalf of war widows. That is a fair point. But if we move to an elected Chamber, there is no reason why people should not be elected to this House in their 20s, as to the other place.

In a particularly pleasant and effective speech, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, asked whether we could retain some club rights for Members leaving. I speak purely personally now as my party has not discussed this, but I am sympathetic to that. After all, if we can allow Irish Peers who have never served here to sit on the steps of the Throne, I do not see why we should eject those who have served here and leave them without any access to the building whatsoever. Although that is not in the Bill, I believe that it should be given some further thought. However, I must admit that, curiously, my liberal generosity does not extend to the use of the carpark!

Finally, I turn to the main political point that I want to make in summing up on behalf of these Benches. Clause 1 clearly states: No-one shall be a member of the House of Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage". That may or may not be so; we have to discuss an amendment that we have not yet seen. The more I listened to that part of the debate, the more I recalled the lines of Ogden Nash: As I was going up the stair

I met a man who was not there

He wasn't there again today

I wish that man would go away". That is rather my attitude to the Weatherill amendment. I prefer to call it more properly the "Cranborne/Hague amendment". We on these Benches were not party to any of the agreements entered into, but it seemed to us perfectly reasonable that some element of the hereditary peerage—those who had played a particular part in the House—should be retained. In my naïvety, I assumed that that would be done by creating them life Peers.

However, the proposal is more complex than that. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester described it as Byzantine, and certainly the details that have been revealed to us today are extremely odd, particularly in relation to the rolling number of deputy chairmen who may continue and some who may be brought back after they have been ejected apparently. That needs further examination.

The point I want to make to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, before he winds up is that our attitude on these Benches to the so-called Weatherill amendment will depend entirely on one issue, as explained by my noble friends Lord Rodgers and Lord Harris. It is this. Will the amendment further the aim set out in the White Paper to ensure that the transitional House more accurately reflects the proportion of votes cast at the last election? That is the commitment in the White Paper and that is what we want to be looking towards. If the amendment helps us in that direction, it will have our support. But if, as we fear, the effect of the amendment is simply to give further entrenchment to the Conservative peerage, then we see little reason to be sympathetic to it. The Government might be wiser to go back to the thought of creating life peerages under the new appointment commission system for those who have played a major role in this House and who we wish to retain.

My last words are these. I listened to the description by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor of what he called the "compromise". As I understood the "compromise", it was basically that in return for reasonable progress on the Bill, the principle set out in it would be eroded by allowing some hereditary Peers to remain. That was the nature of the compromise. I ask the question: when is a deal not a deal? The answer is, when one side resiles from it. I could not understand the reference in speeches from this side of the House to reprisals or heavy menace when in fact what the Lord Chancellor was doing was spelling out the nature of the agreement: that is, if the agreement is accepted, one thing would happen, and if it was not accepted, another thing would happen. That seemed to me, not having been party to the agreement, a perfectly reasonable description.

I was tempted to go on to discuss stage two, but in view of the time I shall not. As a clergyman's son it is reasonable that I end with two lines from a hymn: I do not ask to see the distant scene,

One step enough for me".

2.16 a.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, perhaps I can start by saying something with which we will all agree; that is, that this has been a long debate. It would have been better if we had had it over three days. I cannot help but notice that the Chief Whip is sliding towards the door perhaps for a quick get-away from those who feel that they have been kept up late for two nights when there was a way out.

We have heard some good speeches and some perhaps not so good. Fortunately, I am not in the role of the marker to judge them; that is left to your Lordships. I always enjoy following the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood. It is perhaps just as well that I have a few hereditaries to spare because I think I have given him a few of my noble friends in order to make sure that the Benches behind him are not too vacant.

Perhaps I can say to him seriously that I listened to what he said about the way the Liberal Democrats feel that the so-called Weatherill amendment deals with them—a point made by both speakers from the Front Bench of the Liberal Democrat Party. I understand the point he makes and have some sympathy with it. I should not have thought it impossible for Mr. Ashdown to do a side deal with Mr. Blair around the Cabinet table on one of these days when they have their meetings. I do not know whether my support for such a side deal does the noble Lord any good, but I understand the point. However, it does nothing to diminish the importance of the amendment to be laid later today by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill.

In this long debate we even had a maiden speaker, the noble Earl, Lord Devon. He was getting his voice in early because, so to speak, the shutters were about to go down. I have some sympathy with him. In the early 1980s I was sent to a meeting of the full Cabinet in place of the then Secretary of State, George Younger, who was in an aircraft at the time. The officials, in their usual helpful way, had given me a very large brief, but there was only one sentence in it more or less saying, "You have nothing to say on this matter". But I decided that the chances of my getting to a full Cabinet meeting again were clearly remote, so I devised something to say so that I could at least say from then on that I had actually spoken at a full Cabinet meeting. I believe that the noble Earl has a point in coming here as quickly as he did to make his maiden speech; indeed, we enjoyed it.

I have no doubt that noble Lords watch these cooking programmes on television and know what they are like. The TV cook starts with all the ingredients, including the broken eggs, being laid out in special little dishes. I often think that I would hate to be the washer-up on those programmes. The Government remind me of those cooks. They have broken the eggs, poured out the syrup and the flour and weighed it all up. It is all there. The only trouble is that the stand where the recipe book should be is empty: they do not actually have a recipe and do not know what they are baking. That is the problem with the Government. It is not just in your Lordships' House that this problem has occurred. There is Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish devolution, all with different kinds of relationships to Westminster and to the UK Government and all, in my view, without a proper idea of what the final product—the final cake, so to speak—will look like.

The noble Baroness the Leader of the House talked about different sources of power and the noble Lord, Lord Richard, spoke of the planned reduction of centralised Executive power. I shall repeat that for your Lordships' benefit: the planned reduction of centralised Executive power. I doubt whether either the noble Baroness or the noble Lord are paying much attention to what is happening in Wales and Scotland. There is no sign of devolution of power in reality. On the contrary, Mr. Blair wants to centralise it even further. Let us just consider the efforts to get his placeman, Alun Michael, as leader of Welsh Labour. Look at the disgraceful way that Millbank treated Dennis Canavan; indeed, look at the way Mr. Blair is campaigning in Scotland. It is just as if he were standing for the Parliament. I know that he is not, but he sure seems to want to run it. So much for the different centres of power.

The Government may have a plan for your Lordships' House, and they may be pursuing it, without telling the British people—a plan hatched and implemented by stealth. There is a part of me which actually hopes that they do have a plan, because eventually it will be unveiled. It will probably be unveiled by a leak, and at that point the British people will be able to have their say. However, I doubt whether the Government do have a plan for our constitution. There is no evidence of, so to speak, joined-up writing in any of the constitutional changes that we have had. I have taken part in all the debates. They do not link up to each other and there is no real, obvious grand design.

My noble friend Lord Norton of Louth has made that point from his expertise, as, indeed, did my noble friend Lord Buckinghamshire today. He brings real expertise to the House. I should like to use him as a illustration in making one of my points. During the passage of the Pensions Bill, as I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, will remember, my noble friend with his expertise on pensions matters was extremely valuable to the House and to the Government.

I do not think that the question of joined-up writing is any more evident than in this Bill. Almost two years after the general election, we know that the Government want to abolish the rights of those of your Lordships who sit here by inheritance. Obviously, we do not like inheritance, although, as the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, pointed out to us a short while ago, we are all here as a result of inheritance. I do not even think that Dolly the sheep could exist without inheritance, but perhaps it is a rather one-sided inheritance in her respect. Darwin would certainly have been amazed to hear that there was something wrong with inheritance. Indeed, if it was not for that, the species would not have survived.

However, as well as not liking inheritance, we also know that the Government do not like numbers. I should stress that I do not mean the species of inherited Lords, just in case the Government Front Bench think I do; I mean the human species. I was, of course, referring to Darwin. The Government are worried about numbers. I am puzzled about that because at paragraph 18 on page 18, appropriately enough, of their document I am told something that I have no reason to doubt. After all, it is a government document, so I believe it. I am told that the total number of Peers is 1,165. Half of that is 582½ The Conservatives have 476, and that is actually less than half the number of Peers who can come here. The truth is that the numbers game is not as one sided as the Government try to pretend.

The real problem for many of us is that we do not know what the final shape of your Lordships' House will be. For example, is it to be elected? Is it to be appointed? Alternatively, is it to be a mixture of the two? I suppose that we can derive some comfort from the fact that the Government were forced into setting up a Royal Commission under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Wakeham. But if that commission had been set up in the summer of 1997, it could have reported by now, we could have received the views on that report from the Joint Committee of both Houses, and we could be dealing with a substantive piece of constitutional reform—reform written in joined-up writing instead of the childish printing used in the incomplete ideas we see in this Bill. That, of course, would have been like 1968, when both stage one and stage two were proposed at the same time.

It is worth underlining what my noble friend Lord Reay, my clan chief, said earlier this afternoon from his remembrance of what happened in 1968. This House—as the noble Lord, Lord Steel, underlined—actually voted for the abolition of the hereditary Peers and it voted for a composition and the powers of a succeeding House. So I suggest to the Government that the danger does not lie in this House; the danger lies in the other place. Why is that? That was clearly explained by the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, and my noble friend Lord Cranborne and it is simply this: the other place is interested, above all, in its own primacy. That is what the other place is about and those of us who have been there know that is exactly the point. The other place is interested in its own primacy and it will look at the composition of your Lordships' House entirely against the test: does this endanger our primacy? I am clear in my own mind that whatever we do to this House the primacy of the House of Commons has to be preserved. I am quite clear about that and in that I join the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, and my noble friend Lord Cranborne and, I suspect, a fair number of your Lordships.

We all know, of course, that the Bill before us is incomplete. We all know that there should be an amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill—an amendment which will be accepted by the Government and will keep almost a hundred of your Lordships in this House who sit here by right of succession. And yet here we are discussing the Second Reading without any of us actually seeing the amendment. Therefore, about half of the Bill is not actually there. The Bill will become an Act, but half of it is not there. We all know that. It is welcome that later today we will actually get a sight of that amendment. We are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, for telling us that earlier today, or rather yesterday, but I suspect in House of Lords' terms it is still today.

The interesting thing is that the Government voted against a similar amendment in the House of Commons, and yet here they will vote for it. At least they are open about this topsy-turvy position. The Government want to hold your Lordships over a barrel, the barrel of the Parliament Act. They are saying: delay this Bill for a Session and there will be no Weatherill amendment. There is one thing about Mr. Blair, he does not believe in the subtle approach of the bully. Perhaps if he had gone to a state school in Scotland instead of a private school he might well have been taught better manners.

I have to tell your Lordships that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is half a clansman of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Drumadoon and myself, and so one has to treat him with particular care. Towards the end of his speech I thought that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor came over a little threatening, although I have to say I was not nearly as bothered about it as some of my noble friends because it has to be said that the noble and learned Lord has a reputation for never using a light touch when a heavy hand will do.

I know it will come as a disappointment to some members of the Government and some members of the party opposite, but we on this Bench intend to follow the Salisbury convention on the Bill. We appreciate its intent was clearly spelt out in the manifesto on which the Government received their election victory, and we shall certainly not vote against the Second Reading.

The noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, in his amendment lays out some of the reasons why the present Bill is inadequate. It is, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, a paving Bill when what we need is a properly thought out Bill, as detailed in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold. I am not sure whether the noble Lord thinks that a decision to have a Division at this hour will increase his popularity in your Lordships' House, or will serve his cause. But if he decides to have a Division, I shall delay my departure to my bed and join him in the Lobby.

Although we shall not—as I have already clearly said—try to wreck the Bill by amendments which would deny the Government their clear election manifesto commitment, there are a number of issues which we shall want to discuss and we shall explore possible improvements, not just to the Bill itself but also to the amendment which will be laid by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill.

Underlying those amendments will be a belief—perhaps totally false, but still a belief—that it is just possible that this stage one House will last just a little bit longer than the Government currently tell us they think it will. I believe it will last at least into the next parliament, simply because it will take longer than the Government have allowed to come to a view about stage two. The Government will wish also to bring forward other pieces of legislation to which they will attach a higher priority. So we believe that it is sensible to build into the Bill—particularly into the Weatherill amendment—the mechanisms which will be needed if the stage one House lasts for a few years, or even for many years. I do not intend to list them all but, I should like to mention a few.

It seems ironic that the Bill removes active hereditary Peers while leaving the inactive life Peers in situ. There are a number of life Peers who, for no apparent reason, almost never attend. I think we should look at ways to deal with this, not just now but into the future.

In the case of the 100, arrangements should be put in place for by-elections in the event of the death or resignation of one of them. Although, having heard the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, I now know the answer, I think we have to explore whether we want, what I will call, the Irish Peer solution, which was an election for a lifetime, or the Scottish Peer solution, which was an election at the beginning of each Parliament. I think there should be proper provision for the leave of absence of life Peers, so that those who no longer want to play a part in your Lordships' House, either by inclination or through infirmity, can resign from active membership and thus no longer be counted in party and Cross-Bench strength. I think the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, made that point.

I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Steel, that his noble friend made another point: that one should not be allowed to be a Member of two Houses. As the noble Lord, Lord Steel, is at the top of one of those dreadful lists, which will probably get him propelled into the Scottish Parliament, then perhaps the view of his noble friend Lord Thurso that he should not be allowed to be in two Houses is not quite so favourable to the noble Lord as he might like.

We should explore how to put on the face of the Bill-—although I accept it will be difficult—the proposition that the governing party should have a small majority over the main opposition party. I do not quarrel with that proposition, but I should like to see it somewhere on the face of the Bill. They should not of course have a majority of the whole House. We should look also for a way to cap the total membership of your Lordships' House.

As we near the end of the Second Reading debate, I endorse the remarks made at the beginning by the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal and by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor about the service given by our hereditary colleagues to the House and to the country. Those of us who have come to this House as life Peers—like some other noble Lords, my father would be surprised to find me standing here in your Lordships' House, but there you are—have been welcomed by your Lordships. For myself, I must say that I have been honoured to fit into the procedures, behaviours and conventions of the House, which are markedly more civilised and intelligent than are found along the corridor. It is nice to make a winding up speech where one is listened to, unlike at the other end of the corridor where nobody listens and everybody shouts back. It is quite civilised.

I say to our hereditary colleagues, as have the two noble Lords on the Government Front Bench, that we appreciate the important role that their Lordships have played through the ages. It was, after all, the ancestors of some of your Lordships who stood against the dictatorship of kings and introduced the concept of democratic government, albeit initially it was a pretty small and elite electorate. In recent times the hereditary Peers have played a major part in revising the mass of legislation which flows from all modern governments. On occasions the revisions have been accepted; on occasions they have been rejected; and on one or two occasions, I suspect, your Lordships have seen your judgment vindicated by subsequent events.

I have little doubt that, at the end of this Session, the Government will get what is called in a cheap novel "their wicked way" and we shall say farewell to all but about 100 of our hereditary colleagues. Whatever some of the few petty minds on the Government Benches say, I believe our hereditary colleagues can be proud of the part which they and their ancestors have played in the government of this country. Many of them have made it clear that they would be satisfied to go with dignity and with pride if they could feel that they were passing on to future generations in this country an improved House of Lords.

So over the coming weeks I think we should all try to ensure that the House which will come about after the hereditaries go will be more and not less effective in controlling the Executive and will be more and not less effective in counterbalancing the dominance of the party whip system in the Commons. I hope that the Government will be prepared to play their part in the debates to come. As the noble Lord, Lord Shore of Stepney, said, some many hours and speeches ago, it is in the whole country's interest that the second Chamber of this Parliament has the legitimacy and powers to fulfil its proper role.

2.35 a.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, I know that we have been engaged in serious business these past days and hours and that is why I can truthfully say that I have listened to more speeches than any other Member of this Chamber. I did that deliberately because I think that colleagues, from whatever part of the House, are entitled to have their views taken seriously and I shall respond as fully as [ can to them within the limited time available.

We have set our course and we are steadfast to it. We are adamant to our purpose and the purpose is the removal forever of the automatic entitlement to sit and vote in this House on the basis of one qualification and one qualification alone—the capricious donation of birth. In opening the debate for the Opposition, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, generously observed, as he always does about me, that occasionally I do good service for, what he called, my political masters. On this topic I have no political masters in this world and it is principle alone that drives and instructs me.

Some of your Lordships have spoken of malice, vindictiveness and envy. None of that infects my mind or my thoughts. Something infinitely greater and grander does; and that is the sure, certain, immoveable conviction that the present privilege of hereditary connection is illegitimate in our House and must be ended. It is not present merit which gives membership but only descent; it is not fair; it produces a permanent in-built and continuing majority for one party only; it can, does and has frustrated the programme of the clearly elected Chamber; and, worst of all, one party alone is the continuing beneficiary of past patronage.

A good deal has been said about elective dictatorship. Perhaps I may offer a proposition at random. Let us assume that the names Jay, Irvine, Falconer and Williams came attached to this proposition. We want a House permanently dominated by hereditary Labour Peers, whatever the outcome of any general election for the next 100 years. That has been the situation that has obtained, which I would imagine would have brought a blush to the cheek of even the most Stalinist boss of Tammany Hall at its full height of power.

It is said, and I agree with it, that, historically—certainly since the end of the last war—the executive has become overpowerful. There are four members of this Front Bench who agree and have demonstrated by their actions in introducing legislation why they agree. Three of them are sitting behind me: my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer as Solicitor-General, my noble and learned friend Lord Hardie as Lord Advocate and my noble and learned friend Lord Irvine as Lord Chancellor. All of us brought in a Bill that has not been mentioned at all but which is of critical importance in the devolution of power from the central executive to the individual man and woman in this country. I refer to what is now the Human Rights Act. That is a greater potential stripping of Executive central power—I use the word again—and its devolution to the individual. It is the greatest possible assistance that has been returned to our citizens this century.

We have done that deliberately. It means that the law now binds government departments. It binds Ministers. The noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, asked me courteously to look at the Bill. I did, and I saw on it the certificate of the noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington. That is not a cosmetic device. It binds her to assure your Lordships by certificate that the Bill is convention compliant. And more subtly and more infinitely powerful than anything, every court in this jurisdiction in this Kingdom will be a public authority and therefore bound to produce results which are convention compliant.

So it is idle—worse, it is not informed—to think that this Government are a centralising government. Whatever the arguments about the mechanisms of devolution—the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, raises these questions and I always enjoy them—the point is that in three areas of the United Kingdom there are now established assemblies or parliaments which are taking power away from the United Kingdom Parliament here at Westminster. We did not do that because we had not estimated the consequences. What has occurred in the context of the Human Rights Act and devolved power to the parliament and the two assemblies is a civil revolution which was deliberately undertaken as a policy conclusion by the Government.

Your Lordships will hear no harsh words from me. I do not believe that your Lordships would say that I have ever used harsh words about any individual in this House and certainly not the category of hereditary Peers. I shall develop that point in a moment.

I started my working life as a barrister in south and west Wales. Whether that fitted me for any useful occupation outside the Bar is not for me to judge. But it gave me one modest advantage. It gave me the ability to recognise a wholly bogus defence at a distance of at least 500 yards!

It is no good saying that this reform is the product of envy. One noble Lord said yesterday that the Government are eaten up with envy because they cannot stand privilege. We cannot stand privilege—not unjustified privilege. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, complained that one noble Lord of significant distinction in this House would be expelled "because of where he was born". But he was only here in the first place because of where he was born.

I can say that no envy drives me. I have always believed that in this House as elsewhere loyalty is a two-way street. I have had infinite kindness, courtesy and help from hereditary Peers on all sides. It is invidious to specify—and I therefore shall—the names Ferrers, Denham, Courtown, Strathclyde and Cranborne on one Bench; Strabolgi, Grenfell, Ponsonby and Acton on another; and Falkland and Russell on a third. I believe that if people treat you decently you should respond appropriately. Those are all ancient names, redolent of our country's history, which I respect and venerate. I know them, the names as well as the men. Incidentally, Williams is not too bad a name either; nor are Jones, Evans, Irvine, Jay and Falconer.

I shall turn to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, for a citation. He said that the question is not whether the hereditary Peers do a good job, but rather by what right they do the job at all. One hundred and eighty speeches refine and define themselves to that simple question.

Not all hereditaries are of uniformly high quality. Many of them are excellent; some are absolutely infuriating, eccentric, dull or just plain stupid. But so are many of the life Peers. The question comes down to one of principle: can we any longer be ruled by a dominant category of hereditary Peers? I believe the answer to be plain. I do not say it in any sense of malice. I shall be sorry to see the hereditary Peers go, partly because I enjoy their company enormously and partly because anyone who does not recognise that the tide of history is changing is a fool.

I am not sure what the distilled, considered position of the Opposition is. I gathered that the view of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is that the hereditary principle is not sustainable, and, unless I am contradicted, I shall proceed upon that basis.

I can guess at, and I believe I understand, the feeling of hurt and disappointment that anyone will feel after having been a Member of this House for 50 years, 30 years, 20 years or even, like the noble Earl, Lord Devon, for a short period. I understand why some of your Lordships feel unhappy and why the feeling and tone of much of our deliberations has been elegiac.

I mentioned that I worked in Wales for a time. When I was there I tried to guess at the hurt, disappointment and bewilderment of miners who were dispossessed of their daily work, their loyal communities, friendships, homes and prospects. Disappointment and enforced change come to us all, and those I know and care for in those mining communities are certainly not strangers to them. That is not to oppose ignobly the disappointment of one class of our fellow citizens against the disappointment of another. It is stating, I hope gently and with understanding, the fact that change must come to every one of us.

The noble Earl, Lord Arran, spoke of the continuous service over centuries. I accept that. But continuous service over the centuries grants in our world no eternal freehold on a particular position. It grants no wand to wave to give power, position, influence and privilege to the sons and daughters.

I think that, on reading Hansard, some of your Lordships will think that some of the phrases used were a little extreme. I do not think that the Bill is a nasty, ineffectual little Bill. It is perfectly simple and straightforward. I am happy to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft. It provides for the exclusion of hereditary Peers; it gives the undoubted civil right that your Lordships should have had to be able to stand for election to the Commons. It is of the simplest possible construction.

Some used the term "institutional vandalism". An enforced constitutional change took place in 1066. I hope that the noble Lords, Lord Stoddart, Lord Pearson and Lord Bruce, are present; the noble Lord, Lord Shore, is not here, because he has been taken ill. That enforced constitutional change was entirely overseen from Europe, as far as I remember it. Subsequent to that change, the recent history of our constitutional development has been one of continuing, general, organic change. I suggest that it is those who cannot change and who wilfully obstruct improvement who are the constitutional vandals. Our constitution is a living growth. It is not desiccated; it has to breathe with the air of changing circumstance.

Some noble Lords urged us not to give in to blackmail. I entirely agree. We shall not give in to blackmail, even when sometimes it wears a smiling face, well-cut clothes and always a very courteous manner. We have been the object of power exercised in your Lordships' House in a lawful but not legitimate manner. Some bitter words were said. It was said that we viewed the hereditary principle or hereditary Peers with contempt. That is not so. The real question is whether the hereditary principle in the affairs of this House is tolerable any longer. I suggest that the answer must be no.

I was grateful for the scruple with which the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, redefined plainly, as he always does, the Opposition's accepted obligation to conform on a continuing basis to the Salisbury convention. I advise your Lordships to study the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold. I do not believe that on any fair, objective or rational approach it is justified. It is not the "yah, boo, sucks" of the primary school yard, as one noble Lord suggested, but I do not believe that it adds much to the stock of human knowledge or political understanding. That is a matter for your Lordships.

The Lord Chancellor has spoken to the Weatherill amendment, t am told—I have not seen it—that it will be available tomorrow. I advise noble Lords, with great respect, to look at it with care to see whether or not something graceful has been offered and decided upon between the Lord Chancellor and the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. It is worth a careful thought or two bearing in mind where the true interests of the continuing fruitful development of this House lie.

I believe that the criticisms launched against the Lord Chancellor were unfair and unjustified. He simply said—had he not done so, in the nature of things one of your Lordships would have rightly asked him to explain the Government's considered position—that this was an agreement arrived at on Privy Council terms. He suggested not for a second that it bound anyone other than those who had participated in it. He said that it was binding in honour, which I believe to be a correct description and categorisation of dealings between him and the noble Viscount. He simply said at the end that he was grateful for your Lordships' attention to his speech which he hoped your Lordships would accept had been marked by frankness about the intentions of the Government, sincere appreciation of the historic service that the hereditary peerage had given and a plea for statesmanship in the closing of a long chapter. Construing any word he uttered as I may, I can find nothing objectionable. My opinion, which I have not discussed with my noble and learned friend, is that he fairly discharged his duty to the House openly, honourably and entirely properly.

It is time to finish. By the end of this Session I hope that I shall be able to say on behalf of the Government, but also on behalf of those who have struggled for a very long time to get a different basis of representation in this House, I have begun many things many times and I have often succeeded at last"— Benjamin Disraeli, first and last Earl of Beaconsfield.

2.53 a.m.

Lord Cobbold

My Lords, we have had a very long and absolutely fascinating debate over the past two days and nights. At this very late hour I shall not keep your Lordships long by going into the background of the amendment that I moved. I will only say that I stand by the wording of the amendment and by my explanation for putting forward the amendment in my speech to your Lordships in the early part of this debate yesterday.

Considerable support for the amendment has been expressed by noble Lords in all parts of the House and I thank them for that support.

I believe that we should not give the Bill an unqualified Second Reading. Therefore, with apologies for keeping you all from your beds a few minutes' longer, I ask for the agreement of the House to the amendment.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham)

My Lords, the original Question was that this Bill be now read a second time since when an amendment has been moved, at end to insert "but this House regrets that the Bill radically alters the historic composition of the House of Lords for party political advantage, without consultation or consensus on the successor House's role and composition and without making it more democratic". The Question is that the amendment be agreed to.

2.55 a.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 192; Not-Contents, 126.

Division No. 1
Addison, V. Campbell of Alloway, L.
Ailsa, M. Carew, L.
Alanbrooke, V. Carrington, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Chalfont, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Chesham, L.
Anelay of St. Johns, B. Clanwilliam, E.
Annaly, L. Clitheroe, L.
Arran, E. Cobbold, L. [Teller.]
Astorof Hever, L. Coleraine, L.
Attlee, E. Coleridge, L
Baker of Dorking, L. Cope of Berkeley, L.
Balfour of Inchrye, L. Cork and Orrery, E.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Courtown, E.
Bell, L. Cowdrey of Tonbridge, L.
Belstead, L. Cowley, E.
Biddulph, L. Craig of Radley, L.
Biffen, L. Cranborne, V.
Birdwood, L. Crickhowell, L.
Blaker, L. Cross, V.
Blatch, B. Dean of Harptree, L.
Blyth, L. Denbigh, E.
Boardman, L. Denman, L.
Boston, L. Denham, L.
Bowness, L. Devon, E.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Devonport, V.
Braybrooke, L. Digby, L.
Bridgeman, V. Downshire, M.
Bruntisfield, L. Drogheda, E.
Buchan, E. Dulverton, L.
Buckinghamshire, E. Dunleath, L.
Burnham, L. Eccles of Moulton, B.
Buscombe, B. Eden of Winton, L.
Byford, B. Effingham, E.
Cadman, L. Ellenborough, L.
Caithness, E. Elles, B.
Calverley, L. Elliott of Morpeth, L.
Elton, L. Napier and Ettrick, L.
Erroll, E. Naseby, L.
Exmouth, V. Newall, L.
Fairfax of Cameron, L. Norrie, L.
Falmouth, V. Northesk, E.
Ferrers, E. Norton of Louth, L.
Fookes, B. Nunburnholme, L.
Garel-Jones, L. O'Cathain, B.
Geddes, L. Onslow, E.
Glenarthur, L. Onslow of Woking, L.
Goschen, V. Oppenheim-Barnes, B.
Gray, L. Oxfuird, V.
Greenway, L. Palmer, L. [Teller.]
Haddington, E. Park of Monmouth, B.
Hankey, L. Patten, L.
Harris of High Cross, L. Pender, L.
Harris of Peckham, L. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Hemphill, L. Pike, B.
Higgins, L. Platt of Writtle, B.
Hogg, B. Radnor, E.
Holderness, L. Reay, L.
HolmPatrick, L. Rennell, L.
Home, E. Renton of Mount Harry, L.
Hooper, B. Renwick, L.
Howe of Aberavon, L. Rodney, L.
Hunt of Wirral, L. Romney, E.
Inglewood, L. Rotherwick, L.
Ironside, L. Rowallan, L.
Jenkin of Roding, L. Saatchi, L.
Jopling, L. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Kingsland, L. Seccombe, B.
Kinloss, Ly. Selsdon, L.
Kinnoull, E. Stanley of Alderley, L
Knight of Collingtree, B. Stockton, E.
Lamont of Lerwick, L. Stodart of Leaston, L.
Lauderdale, E. Strange, B.
Liverpool, E. Strathcarron, L.
Long, V. Strathclyde, L.
Lucas, L. Sudeley, L.
Lucas of Chilworth, L. Suffolk and Berkshire, E.
Luke, L. Swansea, L.
Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L. Swinfen, L.
Mackay of Drumadoon, L. Tebbit, L.
Macpherson of Drumochter, L. Temple of Stowe, E.
Mancroft, L. Teviot, L.
Marlesford, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Massereene and Ferrard, V. Torrington, V.
Mayhew of Twysden, L. Trefgarne, L.
Mills, V. Tryon, L.
Monk Bretton, L. Ullswater, V.
Monro of Langholm, L. Vivian, L.
Monson, L. Waddington, L.
Montagu of Beaulieu, L. Waterford, M.
Moore of Wolvercote, L. Westbury, L.
Moran, L. Wilcox, B.
Morris, L. Willoughby de Broke, L.
Mountevans, L. Wise, L.
Mountgarret, V. Woolton, E.
Munster, E. Young, B.
Murton of Lindisfarne, L. Zouche of Haryngworth, L.
Acton, L. Borrie, L.
Ahmed, L. Bragg, L.
Alli, L. Brightman, L.
Amos, B. Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.
Annan, L. Brookman, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Burlison, L.
Avebury, L. Callaghan of Cardiff, L.
Bach, L. Carlisle, E.
Bassam of Brighton, L. Carter, L. [Teller.]
Berkeley, L. Chandos, V.
Blackstone, B. Clarke of Hampstead, L.
Blakenham, V. Clinton-Davis, L.
Blease, L. Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.
Crawley, B. Monkswell, L.
Davies of Coity, L. Montrose, D.
Davies of Oldham, L. Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Desai, L. Morris of Manchester, L.
Dholakia, L. Nicol, B.
Dixon, L. O'Neill, B.
Donoughue, L. Orme, L.
Dubs, L. Patel, L.
Elis-Thomas, L. Parry, L.
Evans of Parkside, L. Pitkeathley, B.
Ewing of Kirkford, L. Plant of Highfield, L.
Falconer of Thoroton, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. Prys-Davies, L.
Goodhart, L. Puttnam, L.
Gordon of Strathblane, L. Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Goudie, B. Randall of St. Budeaux, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B. Rea, L.
Graham of Edmonton L Renwick of Clifton, L.
Grenfell, L. Richard, L.
Hackins, L Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Hardie I Russell, E.
Hardy of Wath, L. Sainsbury of Turville, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Sawyer, L.
Harris of Haringey L Scotland of Asthal, B.
Sefton of Garston, L.
Hattersley, L. Sewel, L.
Hayman, B. Shepherd, L
Hilton of Eggardon, B. Simon, V
Hogg of Cumbernauld, L. Simon of Highbury, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B. Smith of Gilmorehill, R
Howie of Troon, L. Stallard, L.
Hoyle, L. Steel of Aikwood, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L. Strabolgi, L.
Irvine of Lairg, L. [Lord Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Chancellor.] Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Islwyn, L. Thomas of Macclesfield, L.
Janner of Braunstone, L. Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Jay of Paddington, B. [Lord Privy Thornton, B.
Seal.] Tordoff, L.
Kennet, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Linklater of Butterstone, B. Uddin, B.
Lockwood, B. Varley, L.
Lofthouse of Pontefract, L. Walker of Doncaster, L.
Longford, E. Warner, L.
Lovell-Davis, L. Watson of Invergowrie, L.
Macdonald of Tradeston, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. Whitry, L.
[Teller.] Williams of Mostyn, L.
Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L. Winston, L.
Mackie of Benshie, L. Wrenbury, L.
Melchett, L. Young of Old Scone, B.
The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, there have voted Contents 192; Not-Contents 126, so the Not-Contents have it.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I beg your Lordships' pardon. I did not expect to be making a speech at this late stage in our proceedings.

My Lords, there is a correction. The Contents have it.

On Question, the original Motion, as amended, agreed to: Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.