HL Deb 26 October 1999 vol 606 cc215-47

(" . Section I shall not apply in respect of any proceedings in the House of Lords on a constitutional bill or a bill including constitutional provisions, and any person who is or becomes the holder of a hereditary peerage shall be entitled to sit and vote on such proceedings.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am glad that the House has had the opportunity of a preamble to my amendments. I do not believe that my first statement will come as a surprise to anyone in the House. Many hours have been devoted to debating the merits of reforming this revising Chamber. The many words written in newspapers, magazines and articles that cover the same subject indicate the size, nature and importance of this constitutional beast.

Those of us who read Sir Robin Day's article in the Daily Telegraph on 2nd September will be aware that he listed the occasions on which this House had been subject to review since the Reform Act 1832. He quoted the Reform Acts 1867 and 1887, the Ballot Act 1872 and the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949, as well as the Life Peerages Act 1958. Those and other reforms have, step by step, broadened and transformed our Parliament as upholder of the democratic constitution. Surely, no one can argue that Members of this House are, or have been, blind to its faults over the past 100 years.

I remind another place that this House agreed to a massive reform of its composition and influence some 21 years ago, only to be turned down by the House of Commons. It was with deep regret, and obvious surprise, that on 30th March we heard the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St Budeaux, say that he had met with an "unexpected feeling of hatred" within the corridors and Benches of this House. I admired the contents of his well balanced speech but was shaken by his initial impression that this was a "House of Hate".

I turn to the former Leader of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and to the present holder of that office, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington, and request that they examine their consciences, for they have not appeased but propagated the unnecessary feeling of spite—"SPITE" being a n acronym for "socialist ploys inclined towards envy"—that has marred such an important period during which we have been negotiating the future of this country's constitution.

As a hereditary Peer, I am likely to have been slighted for a greater period of my life than many life Peers because I have a title, or was born with a title (if that is a little more pleasing). For the Leader of the House to slight me out of spite and to belittle hereditary Peers as nothing better than Armed Forces material or farmers—I hope that the Chief Whip also notes this—ruffles the feathers somewhat. When another place posts our peace-keepers to Bosnia, Kosovo, Northern Ireland and now East Timor, and the present Government appear to show continued disrespect for farmers' support of the rural way of life, we in this House are supposed to act like parliamentarians and not be subject to a system of "flooding" by politicians. Surely such a bias smacks of power preservation by the executive—the Cabinet, the leaders of the policy-making body which regulates this country's future. Surely both Houses of Parliament can credit this nation's population with sufficient intelligence to note that such a bias is designed to benefit the fat cats of the Cabinet.

Since 1997 more and more electoral privileges, human rights and choices have been removed or outlawed by another place; and yet, when it comes to making a monumental constitutional choice as to who should monitor our legislators and harness the possible dictatorial nature of the executive's wishes, this House has been persuaded against holding a referendum—asking the people their opinion about how well this House, as it is composed, reflects public opinion on farming, Europe, demands on the Armed Forces, education, pensions, the disabled, health, management of our services, the infrastructure, and so on.

The Government were elected as the people's choice by 30 per cent, or thereabouts, of the electorate on what they promised in their manifesto. I agree that the removal of hereditary Peers was one of the intentions expressed in the Labour Party manifesto, but so was a freedom of information Bill, better standards of education, shorter waiting lists for medical attention, and the removal of sleaze—the usual political bilge that the electorate expect at every single election. They were promised a referendum on Europe. Do they really think that they will have one? Those in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales were lucky. They were given a referendum on a matter of constitutional importance: devolution. This House, this body of mature individuals, does not pretend to be anything but a practical listening institution which hopes and endeavours to work with the elected Chamber in good faith to produce sound legislation for entry on to the statute book.

Although, like another place, we are subject to lobbyists, most of us are at, or close to, the zenith of our careers and do not care for being lectured on, or told repeatedly, our responsibility and duty. But having considered the House of Lords Bill in full, and having been told that we are to elect 90 hereditary Peers for an interim Chamber two months before the Royal Commission presents its report on a proposed interim Chamber, it is clear that this House of Parliament is being subjected to arrogant bullying, not the considered opinion the nation expects from its leaders.

Parliaments should be able to distinguish between mere casual opinion, which should not be paramount, and the way laws affect people's livelihood and settled way of life. If they do not do so, they will encourage and be subject to media rule, a mode espoused by fascists and communists alike. Such extremists are permitted to introduce whatever takes their fancy under a smokescreen of misinformation and a persistent drizzle of indoctrination.

Taking account of the well considered statements made by your Lordships since 1998 acknowledging our role as the final revising body of Parliament, and not abrogating that responsibility, it is clear that the House of Lords Bill contains defects and requires redrafting.

I recognise that many noble Lords have offered themselves for election by their hereditary Peers on 3rd November. Seventy-five may attain that goal. By considering the legal facts, the details given to noble Lords on the subject of the constitution, and taking notice of their consciences, noble Lords will see that the fair governance of this country is most important. I remind your Lordships that infidelity to the truth destroys dignity. I beg to move.

Lord Richard

My Lords, I rise not because I had intended to say anything on this amendment, but because the noble Lord was moved to say something about me in the course of his remarks. I listened to what he said with great interest. I found it impossible to relate it to the amendment he was supposed to be moving.

The noble Lord accused me of arrogant bullying, and of slighting him because he has a title and out of spite. I am very sorry if he feels slighted. I am very sorry indeed that as a hereditary Peer he finds himself at the sharp end, so to speak, of the Bill. I do not slight him. My meaning is very simple: "We don't want to lose you but we think you ought to go". Why do we think you ought to go, my Lords? The answer is simple. The noble Lord used the phrase that the function of this House was to be a check on the executive. I agree that the function of this House is to be a check on the executive, in particular when the executive has a majority of 170 (or whatever it is) in the other House of this Parliament. But the reason that the hereditary peerage has to go is that the composition of this House in its present form means that it cannot do its job as a check on the power of the executive properly and well.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, does not take that as a personal slight. It is, as I see it, a fair reflection of the state of play between both Houses of Parliament. Since the 1968 attempt at reform, this House has laboured continually under the imposition of a majority of this House being of the hereditary peerage and, indeed, a majority of that hereditary peerage taking the Conservative Whip. Looking at the facts and the composition of this House, it seems impossible to come to any other conclusion than that it is the illegitimacy of the composition of this House which deprives it of, and removes it from, the proper position that it should occupy in the British legislature.

I am sorry if the noble Lord, Lord Clifford, thinks that that is a Socialist ploy inclining towards envy. It seems to me a realistic appreciation—it is one that I and the party on this side of the House have held for some time—of what has to be done to this House to make it effective. If the noble Lord, Lord Clifford, wants to make it effective, I am surprised that he is not voting with us.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Kingsland

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, has made an immense contribution to the passage of this Bill at all stages. No one who has heard him promote his amendments can have any doubt whatsoever about his sincerity, his determination and his passionate attachment to the cause he seeks to promote.

Many of the amendments tabled by the noble Lord have been of a high standard and have posed testing and apposite questions to the Government. Often his perspicacity has illuminated dark corners of peerage law or, more widely, our constitutional law.

I felt, however, that his speech was too wide-ranging for the text of his amendment which refers to constitutional matters and constitutional law. If a lawyer were to be responding to his advocacy in court, he would say that the problem with the noble Lord's amendment is that it is void for uncertainty.

What is a constitutional Bill in your Lordships' House or another place? I tried in the early stages of the passage of this Bill to argue that a Bill altering the composition of the sovereign was a constitutional Bill. However, the Government were quick to point out that that gave it no special status in our constitution.

It is difficult to define what amounts to a constitutional matter. Even if that can be agreed by some, it is difficult to know who should decide what it is. There are no answers to either of these questions in the amendment. In those circumstances, I fear I have to say to the noble Lord that his amendment serves no practical purpose.

I would rather turn your Lordships' attention to the amendment that was passed at Report stage in your Lordships' House by my noble friends, Lord Mancroft and Viscount Goschen, which sought, at least at this stage successfully, to entrench the quinquennial Act in the law of our nation. I earnestly hope that noble Lords on the Government Benches opposite will not seek to have that amendment overturned when it goes to another place.

More widely, the important question of what constitutional role your Lordships' House should play in the transitional phase is a matter that the new House will need to consider at an early stage. If the Government are right that the new House will be more legitimate than the previous House, it is also right that the new House should have new responsibilities, and those responsibilities should encompass constitutional matters. It will be the task of your Lordships' new House to determine what they are. That is the proper moment for a debate on constitutional matters and what constitutes those matters and not, I submit, in this Bill.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I wonder if I may bring the House back to the grouped amendments which I believe we are discussing; namely Amendment No. 16 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Chudleigh. I believe that he has ungrouped Amendment No. 28.

A Noble Lord

Lord Clifford.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

I am so sorry, Lord Clifford. I do apologise. That is in no way a slight. It is simply forgetfulness on my part. May I ask him whether he has ungrouped Amendment No. 28?

Lord Clifford of Chudleigh

My Lords, I have put in that preamble in order to support.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall speak to Amendment No. 16, which is the amendment, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, that I believed we were discussing.

It may be helpful to your Lordships to know that the effect of the amendment is to allow any hereditary Peer, whether or not he has previously been a Member of the House, to return to take part in any proceedings on a constitutional Bill or a Bill containing constitutional provisions. The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, used the legal expression that this was "void for uncertainty". Perhaps I can explain it in layman's terms. There is no attempt in the amendment to define what Bills might fall into these categories, nor is there any attempt to spell out what arrangements, if any, the hereditary Peers in question would have to go through in order to turn up for these debates.

This is now the third time that we have considered an attempt by the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, to preserve a role for hereditary Peers in this somewhat undefined area of constitutional Bills or Bills including constitutional provisions. With this Third Reading amendment, I suggest that we revert t o what I might call the somewhat extreme version which I understand the noble Lord originally proposed at Committee stage, whereby any hereditary Peer, whether or not he has ever been a Member of this House and whether or not apparently he is a minor, an alien or a bankrupt, can simply turn up and take part in proceedings on certain Bills.

I know that my noble friend Lord Peston may well rise to say that this is another example of sixth form debating on a subject which is not central or serious. Let the House be in no doubt that the amendment is quite unacceptable to the Government for the reasons which we gave when it was previously discussed. First, it is unacceptable to us because it implies that life Peers, by the simple fact of being life Peers, are not to be trusted to deal adequately with these constitutional issues. It implies that there is something about the mere status of a hereditary Peer—not experience but simply status—that makes him better able to judge the needs of the country, in these particular respects, than those who may be charged with that task by the people—that is, those in the House of Commons—or the life Peers.

Parliament is the guardian of our constitution. That simple but profound statement was echoed by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, when, on a similar amendment in Committee in your Lordships' House on 29th April 1999 he said: I find it constitutionally odd that Parliament itself should not be trusted to perform one of its central functions in its control of government;"—[Official Report, 29/4/99; col. 466.] Nothing that has been said today alters that fundamental position, so elegantly put by the noble Viscount. If the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, seeks the opinion of the House on Amendment No. 16, I hope that your Lordships will reject the amendment.

Lord Clifford of Chudleigh

I thank the Leader of the House for her last few comments. My preamble contained a particular statement specifically designed to show her and other members of the Government that the House feels, as I do, that it should be reformed. I hope that that was understood.

With regard to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, in relation to slight, I talked about slighting farmers and the Armed Forces because they were hereditary Peers, or vice versa.

Usually, as on this occasion, this House considers legislation, returning its opinion to another place and asking its Members, the executive, to think again before committing the legislation to the monarch and then to the statute book. So many details, though not all of them, have been presented to your Lordships on this occasion, that I am asking your Lordships to think again and to remember that the people of this country, the electorate, will be affected should we condone the disbandment of this essential, independent part of Parliament. Should we relinquish our responsibilities towards the electorate? Despite the fact that we are unelected, we have responsibilities. We have responsibilities to monitor the executive and to give a balanced, well considered opinion of legislation.

We should remember the opinion of a particular Member of another place in 1968, a man named Enoch Powell, a Conservative who, together with the late Michael Foot, overturned the Bill which I previously mentioned. He said something which I think we all ought to remember. He said: Too often today people are ready to tell us that this is not possible or that is not possible. I say, whatever the true interest of our country calls for is always possible. We have nothing to fear but our doubts". I ask your Lordships to consider what I have said. I shall withdraw my amendment, in the light of the fact that we have yet to consider Amendment No. 18. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 [Commencement and transitional provision]:

[Amendment No. 17 not moved.]

6.45 p.m.

Lord Tebbit moved Amendment No. 18: Page 3, line 19, leave out ("Session of").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it may be convenient to the House if I say that Amendment No. 25 has been degrouped from this group of amendments, which leaves solely Amendment No. 18 and those which are consequential upon it, if that is correct. That is what I understand.

I have not taken very much part in the proceedings on this Bill since it came to your Lordships' House. I felt at the very beginning that I had a fairly clear idea of how things would go. I felt that I did not have too great a chance of changing those things. I also felt that at times I might well be at odds with some of my colleagues on the Front Bench in my approach to the Bill. Therefore, I have not joined in many of your Lordships' debates until this stage.

A similar amendment was discussed at about midnight on 30th June and was withdrawn by my noble friend Lord Mountgarret. In reply, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, observed that it would delay the Bill and that he was against delay. That was the totality of his argument against the amendment. I have to say that I am in favour of delaying the Bill. A century or two would suit me reasonably well, but if I could have a little less I should have to be content.

Delay for its own sake is not the purpose of the amendment. The first point I want to put to the House, and the prime reason for tabling the amendment, relates to the interests of justice and what we now regard as common human or democratic rights. Every man and woman has the right to be represented in this Parliament. Those who are not Peers are able to stand for, and to vote in elections to, the House of Commons. Peers are not in that position. None of us, unless we have been recently ennobled, was able to vote for the present House of Commons. Now, the hereditary Peers are to be thrown out of this House. It is a breach of the understanding that Peers did not vote in general elections or parliamentary elections because they had the right to sit and vote in this place, because no hereditary Peer voted for the present Parliament.

If the Bill is enacted and comes into effect at the end of this Session of Parliament, for up to two and a half years hereditary Peers will have no representative in the Commons and they will not be represented by their own voice in this House. That is the change that is being undertaken and, in my judgment, it is a breach of faith. As the Bill was originally drafted, it was an absolute breach for there were to be no hereditary Peers elected by their colleagues to continue to sit here. Now there are to be 92. Are there, my Lords? It would be most helpful if the Minister in replying to the debate could be clear in giving an undertaking that the so-called "Weatherill amendment" will not be reversed in the House of Commons.

The Minister may say that Ministers here cannot give guarantees about what happens in the other place. I know that, but I recently heard the Prime Minister himself giving what he called a "guarantee" that while he was Prime Minister he would not allow to pass any legislation outlawing fishing or shooting. The fact that he does not have the power to do that, because the Scottish Parliament can do it, is beside the point. He says that he can give those guarantees. Presumably it has been discussed in government and a decision has been made. Perhaps we should have it clearly set before us tonight, if necessary on the Motion that the Bill do now pass, whether or not the Government will resist and vote down an attempt to tamper with the Weatherill amendment.

There is a second thought here. As the Bill is presently drafted, there will be no time to receive the report of the Wakeham commission or for the Government to make their position clear on it. Of course, the Government claim a mandate for expelling the hereditary Peers, but they have no mandate for stage two. They say that they do not know what stage two will be. It seems to me that it would be for the better health of our democracy if the Bill did not come into effect until the proposals of the Wakeham commission, the Government and the other political parties were made known. It would seem sensible that the delay should run up to the general election. All the parties will then be able to put forward proposals for stage two after a reasonable period in which they have been considered, discussed internally and put to the electors.

We do not know whether the Government intend to hasten through another House of Lords Bill for stage two. Again, it might help if the Minister would give an assurance about a second Bill. It would help if he gave an assurance about how long the 92 hereditary Peers will remain.

I was made even more uneasy today by what we were told of the Government's attitude towards Clause 3 of the Bill. There may be some drafting defects in the proposals in the Bill for a commission, but to leave a hole there would be an even greater defect. Will there be put into the Bill in the other place the Government's intention on that aspect so that when it comes back here we may hear their proposals; or will they simply be by order, done in what was referred to as an independent and non-statutory manner?

Recently, we had a glaring example of the Government's idea of what shape an independent, non-statutory commission should take. They set one up in order to select the Labour Party's candidate for the London mayoralty. It gives us little confidence in the way the Government behave towards such matters. I remember that not long ago it was one man, one vote. It still is; and we k low the one man, we know where he lives and we know that he casts his one vote!

The matter could be eased for him by something that I read about in the newspapers the other day. It appears that a company is manufacturing robot dogs. It was claimed that they could be trained in three weeks. Well, we have until May for the mayoral elections. That is ample time to produce a dog called Dobbo which will roll on its back and put its legs in the air whenever it is commanded to do so by its master.

There can be few people in this House whose confidence in the Government's commitment to the democratic process, or to the fair and reasonable selection of candidates for high office, has not been badly damaged by the events of the past month relating to the selection of the Labour candidate for mayor.

For all those reasons, it would be appropriate if we agreed tonight that this Bill should not come into effect until the end of this Parliament. What is the rush? I am told that there has been great anxiety on the part of the Labour Party to do something about this ever since 1911. That is a wait of 88 years. Would two more make any difference? Is it not better to get things right than suddenly to go hell-for-leather in a scuffle to get the Bill through at the last moment?

This is a reasonable amendment. It accepts the Bill and does not attempt to turn it over in any way. It merely says, first, that the hereditary Peers should not be deprived of their ability to vote and speak in this House until they have been given the opportunity to elect their own representatives in the other place. Secondly, it says— I say this with some regret—that we do not trust the Government when they say that they will produce these wonderful ideas at some future time, but are not prepared to do so before the Bill comes into effect.

The noble Baroness the Leader of the House smiles her usual smile on these occasions. If she were to ask her colleague and friend from the other place, Mr Ken Livingstone, whether he would trust this Administration with the selection of people for high office, she would receive a clear reply.

Lord Barnett

My Lords, I have not as yet spoken in this debate, but I have often been provoked by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, over many years. I once did him the grave discourtesy of accusing him of being basically a nice man. Since then, and indeed before that, he has tried very hard to dispute the charge that I levelled against him. On this occasion he has made some very strange statements. He said that the Bill we are debating tonight is a "breach of faith", despite the fact that a majority of 170 in the elected other place proposed this Bill and sent it to your Lordships.

I respect, and have always respected, the fine work done by many hereditary Peers, but that is not a justification for them to stay in a second Chamber. I equally have great respect for many life Peers, who do a great job of work in this second Chamber, but equally, that is no justification for there being a second Chamber of that kind. It is positively sensible—indeed, dare I say to noble Lords opposite, it is common sense—to start with legislation first and foremost, as we have done in the manifesto, to dispense with the rights of hereditary Peers full stop. Since then, there have been changes.

The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, asked what was the view of the Front Bench. I cannot answer for them at the second stage, but I personally am not in favour of unicameral parliament. The only serious democratic Chamber is, in my view, a wholly elected one— I make no apologies for saying so. The mixture of elected and nominated Peers, which we are led to believe might be installed, frankly might well be hybrid in the sense in which noble Lords have tried to dispute the present Bill. The trouble for the Government, and indeed, the other place, on stage two is that if there were an elected, or even partially elected, second Chamber, that second Chamber would want real powers. I make it plain that, in my personal view, that is the reason why it will not happen.

The Bill we are debating tonight was originally very simple. It became far more complex through the acceptance of an amendment which has come to be known as the "Weatherill amendment", but we all know that the author of the amendment was the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. I was surprised earlier to hear the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, from the Front Bench say that the Government have by this Bill created two classes of Peer. With great respect, it was not this Government who did that; it was the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. That is what created two classes of Peer. It was part of the deal which we are now discussing in this Bill tonight. Previously the Bill was not at all complex. It became so when the Government were persuaded by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, in his usual charming way, to accept his proposals. I make it clear that I do not agree with them.

I should prefer the Bill without those complex clauses. I make that quite clear to your Lordships. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, asked what was the rush and said that we could wait. If the Bill did not pass tonight and we therefore entered a new Session with a simple Bill, I personally should be very happy indeed. I assume that that is unlikely to be the case because the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has already told us that he will recommend the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, and his colleagues not to vote down this Bill. For my part I hope that they do vote it down. We could then move to a simple Bill, and that is what I support.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, I rise to give my wholehearted support to the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit. Some of my noble friends have asked me to explain why I support this amendment so firmly and wholeheartedly. I owe to the House the obligation of explaining why I do so.

This amendment can almost be described as the "last-chance saloon". If it is not accepted by the House, the only logical alternative for those who object to the Bill is to vote against it on the Question, "That the Bill do now pass". Some noble Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, would welcome that and I believe that many noble Lords will suggest it when the time comes. I have difficulty with that procedure. I feel that there is an intellectual and logical problem in a House which passes a Bill on Second Reading and then rejects it at Third Reading, when all that has happened to it in the mean time is that some concessions have been made by the Government.

Having said that, I have great sympathy with those now pressing the case for the Bill to be rejected. That is why this amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, is so important. I hope that neither the noble Lord, Lord Peston, nor anyone else will say that this is a sixth-form debating society or a sixth-form debating point. It is a vital point. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, has said that he does not mind delay. That is what the amendment proposes. It does not propose that the Bill be rejected, nor that the principle of the removal of the hereditary peerage should be reneged upon, but simply that it should be delayed for a period. I regard that as a very serious constitutional point.

Before I go any further, perhaps I should make one interjection into my general argument. It is especially relevant to the fact that this amendment has been tabled by a Conservative Peer. One of the things about which I am sorry is that the Conservative government, when they were in power, did not take some steps towards reforming this House. Had they done so, we should not be in the mess in which we now are. Let there be no two ways nor mealy-mouthed talking about this: the whole of this Bill, everything concerned with it and the additions around it are a mess. It is a greater mess than anything I have seen in my 35 years in your Lordships' House. I have to make that point. I am sorry that when the Conservative Party was in office it did not do what in my view it should have done; that is, adopt an orderly, civilised, long-term approach to the problem.

I also believe that the Government and the governing party have lost a great deal of sympathy by the way in which they have handled this Bill. At the beginning, some people—not too far from where I stand at the moment—felt a certain sympathy for the new Labour Party and the new Labour Government and for the things which they were trying to achieve. However, I believe that the Bill, and the way in which it has been handled, has destroyed, abated and dispersed a great deal of that sympathy. That is a great shame because it could have been handled in a much more orderly and civilised manner.

I believe it is not going too far to say that hereditary Peers are being treated in an almost humiliating way. They are being cast out at the drop of a hat with no right to return here even, as far as we can see, for a cup of tea or to read a book in the Library; they will be without any kind of redress. Suddenly, families which have had an association with this House for hundreds of years are to be cut off. That is all right. That is what the Bill and the government policy intend. However, I believe that some noble Lords will agree with me when I say that the matter could have been handled in a more civilised, orderly and sensitive way. I, for one, am sad that that has not been the case.

This amendment now gives us an opportunity to stand back at a little distance, with all the experience that we have had of the debates on the Bill, and take advantage of whatever advice is given to us by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, when his Royal Commission reports, and to look at things in a new light.

The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that we should not pre-empt the Wakeham report in any part of this legislation. As the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, and my noble friend Lord Clifford of Chudleigh have already said, the whole point of this Bill is to pre-empt the Wakeham Commission. I believe that it is very odd to give to a distinguished Member of this House the commission to decide upon, or at least to recommend upon, the long-term future of this House and, while he is still in the middle of it, to take steps to alter the House in a constitutionally profound and radical way. That appears to me to be totally illogical and wrong.

As I said before during this debate, I believe that this is a bad Bill. I do not like the Bill at all. I wish it had never come into the House. I want to see it defeated in one way or another. I have already said that to throw it out at Third Reading for many reasons, including one that I have mentioned, is probably not the ideal solution. In my view the ideal solution is to do what the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, asks us to do; that is, to agree that the Bill should come into force not at the end of the Session but at the end of the Parliament. That is an important difference, of course, but it does nothing to undermine the Labour Party's manifesto nor to undermine its right and obvious determination to change the nature of this House. That is why I give this amendment my wholehearted support.

Before I sit down, I should like to add something which I hope will not be taken amiss by anyone. My experience of the whole debate on this Bill since it was first introduced into this House has been somewhat unhappy. I regret having to say this but I believe that the debate has sometimes been vindictive and acrimonious. Some noble Lords have either never read or have never understood the Standing Order on asperity of speech. There has been a great deal of that over recent weeks and months. Whatever else we may lose from this House—and I believe that we are about to lose a great deal—I hope that we shall not lose our traditions of civility. In that context I hesitate to use the expression noblesse oblige because it might be misunderstood. Therefore, I should like instead to use a somewhat old-fashioned word: I hope that we shall not lose our dignity.

7 p.m.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, before I address myself to the arguments of my noble friend Lord Tebbit, I suggest that, during the course of what I have to say, noble Lords should remember the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, and that those remarks should run as a sort of leitmotif through what I have to say in the next few moments.

I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, let the cat out of the bag It was extremely interesting that so authoritative a figure as the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, approved so loudly, although from a sedentary position, of the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, when he said that he would welcome this Bill returning to its original form. In view of the majority which pertains down the Corridor, I hope that my noble friends will remember the remarks of the noble Lord. Lord Barnett.

I agree wholeheartedly with the analysis of my noble friend Lord Tebbn, speaking particularly as he does—and has done so often in the past—as something of an expert in the ways of Labour governments. If I understood him aright, my noble friend had divided his argument into two main parts. The first part was an elegant restatement—certainly far more elegant than I have ever managed during what have seemed to be endless debates in your Lordships' House on this subject—and reasoning behind that rather inelegant slogan which I believe I coined, it seems aeons ago: no stage one without stage two. I am pleased to find that my noble friend and I agree wholly on that slogan. The Government would have been very wise indeed to have followed it. In fact, as the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said, if we had done so, without any question we should not have been in the mess that we are in today.

During the course of his restatement of why this is the wrong way to approach reform of your Lordships' House, I do not believe that my noble friend made the connection—if I may venture to suggest with the greatest of respect to him—which flowed from a number of the reasons he gave for saying that we should return to insisting upon that. The first reason was—and it is again one with which I agree—that it would have been very much better to have waited for the results of the Royal Commission before deciding on reform of your Lordships' House. I do not believe that anyone on this side of the House will disagree with that. I suspect that a great many people on other sides of the House will not disagree either. I wholly agree with that.

I also agree with my noble friend's suggestion that there was an inequity in depriving a number of your Lordships of the implied benefits of sitting in this House. That was the counter-party to their not being allowed to vote for membership of another place or, indeed, to stand for membership of another place.

If the Bill passes in its present form, there will be a period—perhaps 18 months or two years—during which many of us who are not fortunate enough to sit in this House will be represented nowhere in Parliament until the next general election. That, of course, is self-evidently true. However, I am well aware that the argument which I am about to put to my noble friend will not be one that he will find enormously seductive. In many ways, neither do I. But recently I was privileged, if that is the right word, to sit on the Committee for Privileges. It was put forcibly that a breach existed on this very point under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Your Lordships will be aware that the three noble and learned Lords who served on that committee and guided us, as lay-members, were very clear that the margin of appreciation doctrine made that point invalid because of the relatively short period between the passage of the Bill and the next general election.

I am well aware that my noble friend is, if anything, even more sceptical than I am about some of the effects of the ECHR on our own parliamentary system. Nevertheless, it seems that it is difficult for us to argue that point when it is governed by something to which we have already signed up.

Both those points carry enormous weight with, I should think, all of my noble friends. They certainly do so with me and clearly have persuaded my noble friend. They are supplementary arguments to the perfectly obvious point that we should not undertake a reform of your Lordships' House stage by stage but that the matter should be undertaken in one fell swoop.

This is where my noble friend's argument about the unreliability of the Government comes in. He is self-evidently right, again. This Government are profoundly unreliable. We know that they are extremely cavalier—I put it no higher—in the way in which they deal with constitutional matters. I need lay only one example before your Lordships. Your Lordships will remember that the Government had no scruples about indulging in two pre-legislative referendums before introducing in this House devolution legislation for Scotland and Wales. We know equally that both those referendums were rigged. I have no doubt that the Scottish result would have differed little, even if it had not been rigged. I wish I could say the same about the Welsh referendum.

We also know that the effect of this constitutional outrage of pre-legislative referendums is clear. It emasculates the will of Parliament to give proper scrutiny to constitutional legislation. We know that that is yet another example, which is even more powerful, dare I say, than the ones adduced by my noble friend in support of his argument, for illustrating the Government's inherent unreliability.

However, I would say to my noble friend that the Government decided to change your Lordships' House in at least two stages; possibly more. I am highly sceptical as to whether stage two will appear for some time. However, that is no more than idle speculation. We also know that we are presented with a Government who have a vast majority in another place. The Government are utterly determined, no matter what happens, to get this Bill through in one form or another whether we like it or not. The Government Front Bench in your Lordships' House has made that clear beyond peradventure more times than I care to remember.

I do not trust the Government, although I have the greatest respect for the people in it. However, as a government—not as individuals—I do not trust them further than I can spit, and that is not far with a dry mouth. It is for that very reason, that they are unreliable, that we have two guarantees that there will be a powerful incentive for the Government not to remain with an entirely nominated House. The first is that the Bill will have to return here from another place. If they break their agreement—which they have not so far—and we have kept our side of the bargain, I, for one, would have no hesitation in doing my best to ensure that the revised Bill, in the form which the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, and, I dare say, most of the Labour Party, would like to see it, as amended, is thrown out. I remind my noble friend that your Lordships will still be in a position to do that.

My second point is that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, will recognise that in spite of the overwhelming force down the corridor, we have at least managed to persuade the Government, in however inadequate a form, to proceed to stage two. I am no defender of what the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, kindly and probably quite wrongly attributed to me as author of the Weatherill amendment. It is far from perfect. However, it is at least some inducement to a government which have, over and again, said how much they dislike the idea of hereditary Peers, to proceed to stage two if only to get rid of the provision for the 92 Peers which your Lordships have ensured is inserted in the Bill. That is not a copper-bottomed guarantee, but at least it is inducement for them to proceed to stage two.

I apologise to the House for taking so long. Of course my noble friend is right in his analysis: the Government are unreliable. He is right about no stage one without stage two. However, the truth of the matter is that unless we can hang on to what we have, the Government will ensure—with the greatest of pleasure, I am certain—that the desires of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, will be satisfied.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff

My Lords, I should like to reinforce exactly the comments of the noble Viscount. I strongly support the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. Many of us would have preferred the original Bill. Because we know the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and the influence he has with his own party—or we thought he had—for the sake of the Government's other legislation, and in order to ease the path of the Bill through the House, we were ready to support the compromise of the 92 hereditary Peers. In my view, they should all go, and go quickly. I have always thought that. However, we were ready to support it.

I make clear that if in any way attempts are made to alter the composition of the Bill or its timing, certainly I and, I imagine my noble friend Lord Barnett and many others, will feel entirely relieved of our obligations to support the compromise which we have steadily supported all the way through and will continue to do so as long as no change is made. From the murmurs of assent of my noble friends, I see that perhaps I carry one or two of them with me.

I should like, therefore, to reinforce the comments of the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. The gloves are off. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, always manages to take them off. However, he usually makes a rather stronger argument. He does not normally have to bring in, in defence of his case, Ken Livingstone on a matter regarding the procedure for selecting candidates in the Labour Party. I am sorry to say that that only goes to show how weak his case was on this occasion. There were not even those flashes of humour which I normally associate with him and much like and respect. Perhaps I may say that it was not the best speech I have heard from him. I doubt if he thinks he has a case.

Frankly, the only case he has is, "I don't like the Bill. I am going to use every stratagem and scrape I can in order to delay it". That is his only argument. I am sorry to say that I do not agree with him. I shall use what power and influence I have, which is very little, I am bound to say. I shall certainly use my vote and my influence, if I have any, with those in another place to stick to the original Bill. That is my position and it always has been. It has always been the position of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. We will stick to our view on these matters.

If noble Lords opposite feel that it is worth their while to preserve the 92 Members in order that we should then proceed to a sensible reconstruction of this Chamber—which I hope we will have; I put my views to the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, several months ago—they will not attempt to delay the Bill or to mutilate it in any form. If they do not think it is worth their while preserving the 92 Members and proceeding on that basis to a reconstruction, they will vote against the Bill. Those of us who try to have some influence on the Government know what we will do if they do that. The Government should then return to the original Bill and put it through under the Parliament Act. We have a majority in the country. It wants hereditary Peers to go. I have always wanted that and I hope that they are going tonight.

Lord Harris of High Cross

My Lords, I can truly say that I yield to no one in my admiration and, from a distance, my affection for the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan. I cannot understand why he excites himself in this manner. This Bill is put forward as a way of allowing the Government time. In my view it is put forward in the interests of the Government. It is buying time for them to perform a very important function which is entirely missing at the moment from their programme.

I emphasise that a vote for this amendment is in no way a vote against the Bill, which is preserved in every particular. The Weatherill Amendment is preserved in aspic. We are simply saying that the Bill should come into full operation at the end of a Parliament rather than in the short order which the Government have chosen.

It has not been mentioned in all our long debates, as far as I can recall, but the main reason for some delay is the present state of public opinion, understanding and education. Whatever view we take about the so-called mandate, whether we regard it as a wholly bogus proposition or as holy writ, as the Labour Party regards it, opinion polls have repeatedly suggested that there is no full-hearted enthusiasm for the mutilation of the present House before knowing what is to take its place. In this House we have enjoyed endless debates over many months. We have had remarkably interesting and instructive speeches from all quarters. But the electorate does not bury its head in Hansard to try to follow the intricacies of the argument.

I strongly welcome the announcement by the editor of the Daily Telegraph that that paper is reinstating a parliamentary report as a regular feature, which has been dropped from most other papers including The Times which was once regarded as the paper of record.

My anxiety is that the Government, for their own party reasons, is racing ahead of public opinion and understanding. A major job of education has to be done in the next year or two whatever emerges from the Wakeham report. I call in support a rather unusual ally. The noble Lo d, Lord Goodhart, on the Liberal Democrat Benches made a remarkable speech at Report stage on the issue of a referendum. Of course, the noble Lord was on the wrong side on that matter. But the remarkable thing about his speech is that it is an all-purpose economical one which does just as well when it is stood on its head. For example, he said that the issue of hereditary Peers had been settled in 1910 because two general elections were fought on that particular matter. That is absolutely correct. But to compare that with a brief mention in a mandate including 200 or 2,000 more succulent pledges in 1997, is quite a different story.

On that occasion the noble Lord said that in 1910 the elections had been concerned wholly with the issue of hereditary Peers and not just majoring on it. The important point I want to emphasise is that the noble Lord said that the problem with a referendum is much more serious than the matter having been decided 80 years earlier. He said, It will be extremely difficult to explain to the public what it is all about".—[Official Report, 10/4/99, col. 1052] That is the state of innocence of the public. They would be unable to face a referendum, according to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, because it would be difficult for them to understand what it was all about.

I have taken that matter very seriously because it puts the mandate in a rather diminished mode. The intellectually convincing case for this amendment is that it leaves the Bill intact in its present form, complete with the Weatherill safety boat. It allows time for Her Majesty's Government to consider their constitutional arrangements for the future, to heed the Wakeham report and, above all, to engage in an urgent, continual and sustained effort to educate the electorate in these constitutional matters.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, there is a defective thread in the arguments advanced by the noble Lord, my noble friend Lord Tebbit and the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. None of them appears to recognise that no stage one before stage two suffered an unnatural death by slow strangulation at the hands of the great cross-party contrivance to ratify the deal, to confirm the Weatherill amendment and its implementation under Standing Orders.

I opposed that unsuccessfully. I stood by on no stage one before stage two throughout the Bill, but unsuccessfully. I have not changed my personal views. But I defer to the will of two-thirds of this House. It has to be accepted that although many of us at one time—and I, alas, still—believe that the only answer is no stage one before stage two, another answer has been found and ratified by the House.

Amendments Nos. 18, 20 and 21 have substantially the same effect as a set of amendments introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Mountgarret, and myself tabled in the wake of the 15-minute speech—perhaps less than that—of the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, on 30th. Tune at about midnight. That amended Clause 7(2) and has caused a multitude of problems. It was not fully explained at the time or since. The object of the amendment to Clause 7(2), in substantially identical language to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, was to force the Government to have a meaningful debate if the matter was not referred to the Committee for Privileges. The Government opposed the application to send it to that committee. Your Lordships decided that it should. The matter was put to the committee and in the result the noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret, and I withdrew our amendments.

The purpose of this amendment, in almost identical terms, is otherwise. If I heard the noble Lord. Lord Chalfont, aright, he said that in one way or another this Bill has to be opposed or has to fall. I have forgotten quite how he put it. This amendment is one way. A vote against the Bill do now pass is another. I am grateful that the noble Lord nods in agreement. So this amendment is a killer amendment. and let me explain why.

On the practicality of the situation, if this amendment were to be carried into the Bill, as I understand the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, and other noble Lords opposite, the Government would simply remove the Weatherill amendment when it goes to another place and take the Bill as it is. Frankly, why should they do otherwise? I am looking at the practicalities. I do not want them to do that, but why should they not?

I want to take one other short point. The situation is that the House agreed by a massive majority the terms of the sale of the successor entitlement. Having agreed them, how can we now renege on them? Having granted, as we did, planning permission for the erection of a new House which is now near to completion, will it not be seen by the people as being rather quixotic to serve a demolition order now. I speak only in deference to the view of the House. My personal opinion was always and still is otherwise.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Richard

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, when he addressed the House a few moments ago, said that we should avoid acrimony; that we should read the rule against asperity. I wish the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, had taken his advice. In a few short minutes the noble Viscount accused his party of "rigging" two referendums. He used the phrase, "I do not trust them further than I can spit and I cannot spit very far". I hope the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, will address his remarks to that side of the House as well as looking at this side.

If I may say so, the noble Viscount did not express himself tonight with his usual "elegance", as he so fondly describes the speeches of others. His message is sometimes distorted by the elegance with which he expresses it. But I assume that what he was telling his colleagues on the Conservative Benches was that he was not in a position to support his noble friend Lord Tebbit in his amendment.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell, is absolutely right; this is a killer amendment. If it is carried I sincerely hope that the Government will treat it as such. I have no great love of the Weatherill amendment. My views on it were made clear when it was passed. If the Weatherill amendment has to go because of the way in which the Opposition behave, so be it; then the Government have at their disposal the Parliament Act. If we have to use the Parliament Act, I shall not be discontent that the Bill should go through in that way.

However, I am determined about one thing, so far as I can influence it; that is, that the Bill will go through. Noble Lords on the other side of the Chamber should be under no illusion about this. The Labour Party has spelt this out for years. Indeed, when it came to the last election we could not have been clearer about our intentions in relation to this House. Not only did we say what we wanted to achieve; we also said the way in which we were going to achieve it.

We said that we would do it in two stages. We said that the first stage would be the abolition of the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote. We said that thereafter there would be a test of public opinion. I concede that the manifesto said that that would be done by a joint committee of both Houses. Later on the Government came to the conclusion—rightly so—that it should be done by a Royal Commission. We said that when the results of that public consultation were out, we would consider them and bring forward proposals for further representative and democratic reform.

The matter could not have been clearer. Nobody who looked at that manifesto—I am sure noble Lords opposite did—could have been in any doubt what the Government were proposing. We have done exactly what we said we would do. For the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, to say that the Bill is in a mess only proves that he does not like it. For those of us on this side of the House, the Bill is proceeding in a somewhat protracted way through Parliament. It has been down the far end. It came up here and is now going through its proceedings in the House of Lords. I trust that tonight it will leave the House of Lords and go back to the House of Commons.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, will the noble Lord, Lord Richard, give way? It is true that I do not like this Bill; it is a bad Bill. I have said that many times before and he has said what he said tonight many times before. But may I make this point? The Labour Party and the Labour Government may have made up their mind what they want and what they are going to get. That does not mean that the rest of us should lie down and accept it.

Lord Richard

My Lords, I have not suggested that for an instant. Of course one should have healthy, lengthy, protracted and rigorous debate. But at the end of the day, when the Government have made their position absolutely clear, I am saying to the House tonight that to pass this amendment is a clear denial of the Government's right to get their legislation. It is not a difficult point to grasp. I am sure that even the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, understands it. Indeed, I know he does because it is precisely the point that he would have made if he were standing in my position tonight.

I want to make just one other point. Much of the confusion on the other side of the House in relation to this Bill comes from a desire to confuse stages one and two. I have a firm view about stage two. I believe that we will not reform this House properly unless we have a considerable, directly-elected element in the new House. I have never made any secret of that. Indeed, my noble friends Lord Barnett and Lord Peston said very much the same thing this afternoon.

But that is not the point tonight. That is the central argument that will take place when the Royal Commission has reported. Tonight we are saying farewell to the hereditary Peers' right to sit and vote; no more and no less. An attempt to put that back for another three years is a mere attempt at delay, and delay, and delay. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, shakes his head. But that is what he wants to do; to delay the Bill.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, I nodded.

Lord Richard

My Lords, I am sorry; the noble Lord nodded. That is much more important than a shake in this instance. Of course he wants to delay the Bill. He does not like it. He does not want to see it implemented. But we on these Benches like the Bill. We want to see it implemented. We have a public manifesto. We had a mandate at the last election. We have an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons. We have had it in this House for nine months. With great respect to the hereditary Peers, for whom I have considerable admiration, the time has come that this Bill should now pass

Lord Sandys

My Lords, I have attempted to speak on this amendmen six or seven times. As I may be the first hereditary Peer to speak on it after nearly 59 minutes of discussion I should perhaps declare an interest. I shall be brief, as colleagues will be pleased to know.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Richard, for enlightening us on much of the situation. I should like to quote from his helpful speech over a year ago, on 14th October 1998. It is the only speech as far as I can see—I have researched this carefully—from the Government in relation to timing. Amendment No. 18 concerns timing. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Tebbit for bringing it forward. It is not a killer amendment. It is an amendment of sophistication. Last year the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said this: I do not envisage legislation on the report of the Royal Commission until the first or second year of the next Parliament, so that the whole process would take around four years. As I said earlier, in many ways the issue of the hereditary peerage and its right to sit and vote in this House in some ways resolves itself into a question of timing. Should that step be taken at the beginning or at the end of the prccess? In all candour, I have heard no convincing arguments for postponing it. Indeed, when pressed, the opponents to the Government's proposition seem to condense the point to one of not being able to trust the Government to do what they say".—[Official Report, 14/10/98; col. 947.] It was very helpful of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, to give us a time-scale because we had had none whatever until that time—that was about six months before the Bill was introduced in your Lordships' House. That time-scale clearly indicates that the Government had quite a long time-scale in mind.

This amendment which is such a very good one, would allow time for further consideration and, indeed, would assist my noble friend Lord Wakeham who will almost certainly ask for an extension of time. I remind your Lordships that the first public hearing was held on 12th May. It really stretches credulity to a great extent if my noble friend is expected to report by 31st December, or thereabouts, knowing that the subject has nearly 90 years of history behind it. If he is going to devote enormous care, as I am sure that he will, to certain reports which came before his own Royal Commission, he will be looking at the Bryce commission of 1917–18. If any noble Lords have looked, as I am sure that they have, at its recommendations and the sense of balance and objectivity which come from the words of Lord Bryce and his commissioners, they will realise what a very difficult task has been placed in the hands of my noble friend Lord Wakeham.

I support this amendment. I do not believe that it is a "killer"; I believe that it is an enabling amendment.

Viscount Mountgarret

My Lords, I, too, do not like the phraseology used of a "killer amendment". I must take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, in this respect. I am not sure that it is within the remit of your Lordships' House deliberately to seek to frustrate the Government's policy which has been clearly laid down. However, I believe that this House should—and does—assist the Government genuinely and sincerely to try to enact legislation in a right and proper fashion.

The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, very kindly referred to me as his noble friend. I am very honoured to feel that perhaps de facto I am, although politics does not permit that. None the less, the noble Lord did make reference to the fact that this amendment is almost exactly the same as the one that I, with the great assistance of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, put forward in Committee. A number of arguments were deployed then; indeed, we got flak from the Government who said, "All you want to do is to delay the whole thing". That is not true. It is not a question of wanting to delay the whole thing: there would be no delay if only the Government had taken the Bill step by step.

For the life of me, I cannot see how anyone who runs a business or any enterprise can make dramatic changes to the entire set-up without giving thought to what is to replace it. That is all, no more no less. Unfortunately, the Government were incalculable and said, "No, we don't like this; we don't agree with it". I then withdrew the amendment in the hope that the Government would give the matter a little more thought. But, alas, it was not to be. So, on Report, I tried a different tack; namely, relying on the question that hereditaries had received their Writs for this Parliament and, therefore, by right ought to be here for the remainder of the Parliament. I later learnt that that was to be referred, very sensibly, to the Committee for Privileges for it to adjudicate thereon. The answer has since come back, "No, that is not correct".

I cannot speak for the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, but that is the reason why I withdrew the amendment that I intended to move on Third Reading. However, I am delighted to see that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, is raising the matter and is able to deploy the magnificent arguments in the lucid style for which he is so well known. I feel that he should be given maximum support.

There is an expression, fools rush in where wise men fear to tread". I would not like to be accused of suggesting that noble Lords in the Labour Party are foolish, or that they are fools, either in the particular or in the generality. That would be wrong. However, they are acting in a foolish way in not thinking through what will come next after we trot out into the twilight. Some will go to Church and sing: Dear Lord and Father of mankind, forgive our foolish ways". The efforts of the Almighty will be greatly taxed if He is to forgive the gross foolishness of this, if it is proceeded with in this manner. For that reason, I feel that your Lordships' House has a duty to support the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, and consider where we are going, what we are doing and how we are going to do it before this Bill comes into force.

7.45 p.m.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, I want to respond to a number of points that have been made in this fairly lengthy debate. A number of words have been used which, speaking as a hereditary Peer, I found quite offensive. The noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret, spoke of the Government acting foolishly and the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, spoke of uncivilised behaviour. He also spoke of losing expertise from the House, which is certainly true in part, and of losing dignity. I have to say that I believe that to be wholly untrue. I have sat through most of the proceedings on this Bill—

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, I never said that this House had lost its dignity; I said that I hoped that it would not. We must be accurate about these things.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord if I misquoted him. Indeed, I agree with him. It is right that this House should not lose its dignity, but I think it is in danger of doing so because it is not accepting the often repeated words of my noble friends on the Government Front Bench. They have repeatedly said that they recognise the individual contribution of many hereditary Peers; but that the Government will stick by their manifesto commitment and their intentions, which have been as plain as a pikestaff for as long as the Labour Party has been in existence. So I really cannot see that there is any objection to the Government's intention.

The Government have been consistent and determined. When the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, started toying with the idea of invoking the European Convention on Human Rights, it very nearly took my breath away. I am a parliamentarian in the Council of Europe, which, of course, is the custodian of the ECHR. I was in Bucharest last week and talked to some Romanian parliamentarians. When I explained to them how I became a member of the British legislature, they just could not believe it. It was completely beyond their comprehension that there were hereditary Peers anywhere in the British legislature. Therefore, to talk about the ECHR, which, as I said, is the custodian of human rights, is beyond my understanding.

In conclusion, it is worth repeating that the reason for this Bill is a matter of privilege—it seeks to abolish the hereditary privilege which is wrong in principle. For that reason alone, the Bill should pass. I hope that it will do so quickly.

Lord Elton

My Lords, this debate is not about whether or not the Bill should pass; it is about whether this amendment should be accepted. It is also about whether or not this amendment is some new animal, recently introduced into your Lordships' House, called a "killer amendment". It has been so described by an ex-Leader of the House, by an ex-Prime Minister and by an ex-Chief Secretary to the Treasury, but we have not yet heard from the Government Front Bench and that is where power lies. This is realpolitik; it is not about the elegance of our exchanges, the length of our history or our courtesies to one another; it is about political power, as the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, said in a most notable speech some four or five days ago.

The facts of the realpolitik are that Her Majesty's Government have a commanding majority in the other place and an agreement in this House. Everything turns on the definition of that agreement because if to pass this amendment would be a breach of that agreement, then the Government are off the hook and can do away with the 92 places so far secured. My own aspirations apart, it will be valuable to have 92 voices available at the time when this House decides with the other place what the succession to this House will be. If there were to be no such voice the country as well as your Lordships would be a great deal the poorer because those voices owe their privilege of speaking to no one except their ancestors who are not here to complain about their use. As my father was made a Peer on the recommendation of Ramsay MacDonald I am perhaps relieved that that criticism is not available. However, he moved far across the Floor of the House before he died!

The reality of the situation is that this debate turns on the definition of that agreement because if this amendment were to breach that agreement, it would flaw that concession. I myself cannot see how it can. I do not think that a government ought to hold a House of Parliament to ransom and say, "You may not send any discussion about any particular aspect of this Bill to the other place or we shall then destroy the final sound of your hereditary Lordships' voice in this Chamber". But this is realpolitik; they have the ability to do so. I think, therefore, we have to be guided by my noble friend Lord Cranborne who has made it fairly clear that if we were to take that step it would put the Government in a position not to renege on but to withdraw the concession. I avoid provocative words because I think that that is a good thing to do at this stage of a debate. I must say with the greatest respect that I think that is the advice we should follow and that explains why I am wearing a black tie today.

Lord Howie of Troon

My Lords, I am not quite sure whether I am abashed or gratified at having been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, in such kindly terms a moment or so ago—perhaps both. I have intervened in the debates on this matter two or three times and I think that I have made my position fairly clear. On the whole I approve of the Bill although I have certain reservations about the detail. These reservations have been dealt with—that is, ignored—by the Government and we are where we are now.

I have to say that I agree almost entirely with the comments of my noble friend Lord Richard who spoke a little earlier except in respect of one matter; namely, when he spoke about an elected House. Both he and I have some experience of elections, sometimes happy and sometimes less happy. I have divided views about the value of elections. I shall not go any further into that.

However, what worries me here arises from what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said a moment ago when he reminded us that we were not dealing with the fact that the Bill should now pass—though, oddly, we seem to have been doing that—but rather with an amendment. It struck me that the great difference between this House and the other House is that we can move amendments at Third Reading, which the other place is unable to do. However, there is, or has been, in my 20-odd years in this place, an underlying convention as regards the nature of the amendments moved at Third Reading. It was generally thought that Third Reading amendments were marginal, tidying up amendments to "tweak" a Bill. This amendment is nothing of that nature and is not an appropriate amendment for Third Reading. I would go so far as to say that it is a total abuse of parliamentary procedure that this amendment should be on the Marshalled List.

It is not my place to put amendments on the Marshalled List but it is the place of Members of this House to put down only such amendments as are appropriate to the stage of the Bill with which they are dealing. This matter has been debated several times in this House already. There is absolutely no reason whatever why it should creep in as an amendment at Third Reading. It is totally out of order and should never have been put down. Those who put it down should have had more respect for this House than to have put it down. I say that it should be thrown out and the Bill should go through as it stands.

The Earl of Dundee

My Lords, as it states, and as has been said, the effect of this amendment is that the Bill would come into force as an Act at the end of the Parliament instead of at the end of the Session. That effect is consistent with four connected aims and it enables an improved means for expediting those connected aims.

First, there is consistency with the Bill. The aim of the Bill is to remove automatic parliamentary rights from hereditary Peers within this Parliament; its method is to do so by the end of this Session. The aim of the amendment is the same: to remove automatic parliamentary rights from hereditary Peers by the end of this Parliament. That is what the terms of reference state. If its different date constitutes a delaying tactic for Lords reform unrelated to substance, then of course it would not command cross-party support. If, on the other hand there is evidence that it is not a delaying tactic, and that it is in fact related to substance, its different date can command a greater degree of cross-party consensus for implementation of the Bill.

Secondly, there is consistency with the Weatherill proposals. Clearly if the amendment of my noble friend Lord Tebbit does not alter the Bill and affects only the date when the Bill comes into force, then, by definition, it does not affect the Weatherill amendment which is already part of the Bill.

Thirdly, there is consistency with the Wakeham commission. Certainly a professed intention of this Bill is to implement stage one of Lords reform before the Royal Commission reports. However, by accepting the amendment of my noble friend Lord Tebbit, we still achieve stage one of Lords reform as the Bill, and the Weatherill amendment within it, are guaranteed to come into effect by the end of the Parliament.

Fourthly, and not least, is the amendment's consistency with the objective itself of Lords reform and the amendment's improved method for achieving a balanced version of Lords reform. The reason for this is simple. If we pass the Bill as it is, we are left in doubt—as a number of noble Lords have said—whether stage two will be reached before the elapse of a great many years, let alone within this Parliament. Yet as my noble friend's amendment states a different date for implementing stage one, it may itself appear to delay Lords reform. In fact, it does the reverse. The later date which it states for implementing stage one makes it far more likely that stage two will be carried out at the same time and by the end of this Parliament.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Tebbit made several important and powerfully argued points. I do not believe that it was his intention to introduce an amendment that would block the Bill. However, it must at least be arguable that that would be its effect. Let us be under no illusion: the Government—I do not need to speak for them as I am sure that they will tell us charmingly enough in due course—will not accept a deferred commencement of this kind. They have made that view plain on several occasions during the course of our debates on the Bill.

My noble friend introduced a secondary point which concerned the European Court of Human Rights. The issue has not been widely debated but perhaps the Minister who replies will answer this question: can he say whether the bringing about of hereditary Peers being unrepresented in a Parliament—which will then tax them and pass laws affecting their property rights—is contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights? Can he say who the Government consulted about that issue?

As to the point made by my noble friend about seeking to delay the introduction of the Bill until at least the Royal Commission has reported and the Joint Committee of both Houses has sat—thereby delaying its introduction until the end of this Parliament—it is my understanding that the Government will not accept it. I agree that it may be entirely logical to wait for the Wakeham Commission; I agree that it may be sensible to wait for the outcome of the Joint Committee of both Houses which will follow; I agree that it may be statesmanlike to seek cross-party agreement on such a far reaching measure as change to one of our Houses of Parliament. But it should long have become clear to your Lordships that on the issue of this Bill we are not dealing with a Government who are logical, sensible or statesmanlike; we are dealing with a Government who are increasingly pig-headed, foolish and partisan. We are dealing with a Government that will have their Bill come what may.

If some of my noble friends do not believe me, they have only to remind themselves of the speeches made by the noble Lords, Lord Callaghan, Lord Barnett, Lord Richard, and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, who have made the point time and time again. We have heard it before. Those of us who were here on one of his frisson days will have heard it directly from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. He has said in the past that any kind of sunset clause, sunrise clause or commencement clause is unacceptable to the Government; they would consider the Bill defeated and the Weatherill compromise dead.

To be blunt, there is no chance of the other place—dominated as it is by the factions circling around No. 10—agreeing to this House dictating to them how and when this Act of Parliament, as it would be, should come into force. Your Lordships' House does have that right, but we do not have the power. The end result is likely to be that instead of playing our game the Government will tip up the table and rewrite the rules. They will use the rule of decreed power of the Parliament Act, for which they have already shown considerable relish. The end result will be that far from having all our hereditary colleagues here for another two or three years until the next general election—as I believe they should be—we will find a House of patronage imposed on this country by the rule of decreed power of the Parliament Act, probably in the course of the next four or five months. There would be no hereditary Peers left here; we would have a totally appointed House by Easter. That would be bad for the House and bad for the country.

It does not please me to say that, although my heart may tug in the direction of the Lobby if my noble friend presses his amendment, a cool head points elsewhere. I hope that my noble friend will not press his amendment. If he does, I will abstain and encourage my noble friends to do the same. If we do not want this Bill to pass then we should address that issue directly later this evening when the Motion is put before your Lordships.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, let me address the argument advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, in support of his amendment. He asks the House to delay the implementation of the Bill from the end of this Session until the end of the Parliament, a delay of potentially in excess of two years. What reason does he give for that? He gives two reasons. First he says "common humanity requires it" because hereditary Peers, who will be removed by the Bill from sitting and voting, did not have the opportunity of voting for an MP in the other place. He said that that is unfair; that it is wrong that they should not be represented. Should the Bill go forward in its present form the hereditary Peers—unlike practically everyone else in this country—will have one representative in Parliament to 10 hereditary Peers. In those circumstances, it seems odd that it can be seriously suggested that common humanity requires their representation.

The noble Lord's second argument in support of his amendment is that there should be no stage one before stage two. His amendment has nothing whatever to do with stage two. The implementation of the Bill does not depend upon stage two coming into force but only upon the end of the Parliament being reached. So his second argument is not touched by the amendment.

In his third, disconnected, point in support of his amendment, the noble Lord questioned whether we can be sure that the other place will uphold the Weatherill amendment. As has been repeatedly said, the Weatherill amendment was agreed to by the Government in exchange for obtaining in substance their legislative programme during the course of this Parliamentary Session. It is for the other place to judge whether the agreement made by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, is upheld.

In regard to the fourth point in support of the noble Lord's amendment, he said that one cannot trust the Government because an electoral college has been set up to select the mayoral candidate for London. The electoral college set up to select the mayoral candidate for London allows all sections of the party to be represented in the ballot. With great respect to the noble Lord, that is a wholly fallacious basis on which to say the Government cannot be trusted in relation to the undertakings they have given in relation to the appointments commission—undertakings which the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, accepted at an earlier stage of the debate; undertakings that he accepted in the making of the agreement.

When considering the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, I ask the House to consider whether there has been any basis advanced to justify the up to two-and-a-half year delay that he proposes. Upon analysis, there is absolutely none. I ask the House to reject the amendments.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, I shall be as brief as I possibly can. To my enormous surprise, a simple amendment has been debated for an hour and a half. That is vastly in excess of what I expected; I am absolutely astounded.

I am grateful for the support which has been given by a number of noble Lords, not least from the Cross-Benches by the noble Lords, Lord Harris and Lord Chalfont.

We heard an extraordinary number of Second Reading and Third Reading speeches, which were either being made or remade, or perhaps some of them have been made several times. We even had the experience of some advice from Bucharest on democracy. If I may say so, the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, slightly misunderstood the point I was making about the breach of faith. I think he has probably now picked-up that point from others during the course of the debate.

I was slightly surprised that the noble Lord claimed that the Weatherill amendment was the work of my noble friend Lord Cranborne, and he alone. Who on earth else was there at No. 10 Downing Street? Who was my noble friend talking to when the Weatherill amendment proposal came out? Good gracious me, was it his work alone? I heard a number of others mentioned as being there—the Prime Minister, Mr Campbell and all kinds of other distinguished people. That was a very extraordinary point.

If I may say to my noble friends who spoke about the ECHR, I can understand their view that the deprivation of the rights of hereditary Peers was probably not a sufficient misuse of power to be illegal. It is a wonderful example of the housemaid's baby not merely being rather small, but because it will be dead before long one does not have to mind too much about it.

I believe that I have dealt with the major points that have been raised. The noble and learned Lord who replied to the debate on the amendment was rather hurt that I questioned the procedures adopted by his party for selecting its candidate for the London mayoralty. I do not believe that my comments were any more or less relevant to the debate than a number of other speeches that have been made; perhaps they were a little more relevant, but not by very much. However, the noble and learned Lord should understand that if there are 30 people in London who think that that is a fair and democratic way of doing business, there must be some 10 of them sitting on the Front Bench opposite. Goodness only knows where the other 20 are, but I think very few people have met them. Let us be honest; that has been all about fixing up the candidacy. That is why we mistrust this Government.

I regret that the re has been so much hurt over the issue of the lack of trust between the Opposition and the Government. I regret that some hard words have passed here and there this evening. However, when listening recently to the Prime Minister, I heard in my mind the echo of two great speeches of the 1945 Labour Government: "We are the masters now", and, "Lower than vermin".

I accept that, on the whole, hereditary Peers are Conservatives, and therefore, according to the Prime Minister, they are of a class that should be extinguished. We know that Conservatives are to blame for all the evils in this world. They are to blame for resistance to trades union reform. They are to blame for Stalin's purges, the murder of Stephen Lawrence—

Noble Lords


Lord Tebbit

Even recently I find, according to the Prime Minister, that the hard men of the IRA are the men who are Conservatives. If that was so, they misdirected themselves as to which party conference they should have gone to a few years ago.

As enough noble Lords in the House have heard the debate and probably want to go to dinner, it might be wise if I take the feeling of the House. Therefore, I shall take the amendment to a Division.

8.12 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 18) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 154; Not-Con tents, 238.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I beg to move that further proceedings after Third Reading be now adjourned. In moving this Motion, perhaps I may suggest that the House does not return to this business before 9.25 p.m.

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