HL Deb 16 January 2002 vol 630 cc1154-76

8.3 p.m.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

I start by offering an apology to your Lordships, particularly to the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House, for the fact that this is the second week running in which he, particularly, is required to sit on the Government Front Bench and to speak on the tricky subject of Lords reform.

On the other hand, I believe that discussion has moved on since the two day debate of last week. It has become clear, not least from the debate in the other place last Thursday, that the White Paper, entitled The House of Lords, Completing the Reform. will not complete the reform. It is, perhaps, a step on the way. It has provoked argument—which is a good thing—rather than agreement. Therefore, it is appropriate to look further, not so much tonight at the question of composition of the reformed House, which has dominated past debates, but much more, as I should like to do in the context of my Bill, at the powers and functions of a reformed House, a subject which has had much less attention.

I do not expect myself, a single Back-Bencher, to change the British constitution, though it would be pleasant if one were able to do so. However, I hope to use tonight's debate as a lever to get greater thoughts from the Government as to their position on the question of increasing the powers and functions of a reformed and partly elected upper Chamber.

Almost exactly 90 years ago, Winston Churchill, then a young and pretty bumptious Home Secretary in Asquith's Liberal Government, after winning two elections in 1910, and in discussion about what became the Parliament Act 1911, wrote to Asquith on 3rd January 1911, after the second election stating: If the Parliament Bill does not make proper progress, we shall clink the coronets in their scabbards". That is what we spent a large part of the 20th century doing. I suggest that that process occupied us over the past 90 years. At 40-year intervals, the powers of this upper Chamber were steadily diminished because of the dominance in it of hereditary, aristocratic Peers. Surely that has now finished. We move on to a different chapter. The hereditaries now form only 12 per cent of the composition of the upper Chamber. Just as their presence required in the last century our powers to be diminished, surely the possibility now exists that the opposite is true.

The argument works in reverse. We now have a vast majority of life Peers. In my judgment, we shall soon be joined by a proportion of elected Peers. At that stage, the upper Chamber must, at least in logic and reason, be considered as more representative, therefore more legitimate, although I accept that that is a difficult word to define. Therefore, it is appropriate to consider in that context whether the powers are adequate or should be increased. At the same time, in the process of considering reform of the upper Chamber, in my judgment we should endeavour to institutionalise to a greater extent the powers of a partly-elected upper Chamber, so that we become less dependent on unwritten conventions and last-minute discussions and agreements between, for example, a Home Secretary and a shadow Home Secretary, which Members of the upper Chamber hear only by whisper and of which they are told the decision literally minutes before being required to go to a final vote.

I accept that both the Royal Commission and the White Paper thought that our powers were adequate. Apart from a small diminution of our powers in relation to statutory instruments, they recommended no change. However, at the same time, reading carefully the language, there was a hint that part of the problem for them was that it was all too difficult to make a real change in our powers. That argument has been put to me by several noble friends on these Benches; that is, it is just too difficult to try. Is it right to accept that at this moment of potential reform? Are our powers adequate?

Compared to international examples of other bicameral legislations, our powers are relatively weak. In the United States, the Senate and the House of Representatives, both of which are elected, are equal in legislative power. I often remember a remark attributed to one of the founding fathers, in which he was asked to describe in his judgment the difference between the Senate and the House of Representatives. He drew an analogy with a cup and saucer. He said that the House of Representatives was there as the cup and the Senate as the saucer to catch the overflow from the cup. That is a nice way to put it. We should consider whether or not we are a good enough saucer.

I refer to Australia and Canada, which have more recent constitutions. The United Kingdom played a part in the formation of those constitutions. Australia has an elected Senate. I believe that Canada has a fully nominated Senate. In both cases, they have considerably stronger and greater powers than ours. The upper House may amend or reject any ordinary Bill and may amend financial Bills. In neither case is there any specific limit on the amount of delay that the upper House can impose.

In Germany, the most recent constitution of substantial size—again, one in which after 1945 our British advisers played a considerable part in forming—Bills where the two Houses, the Bundestag and the Bundesrat, do not agree, must be submitted to a joint mediation committee of both Houses. That committee is composed of 16 Members of each House. Interestingly, they serve on it for only one parliamentary session. It is considered to be a very powerful committee. It has to come up with a compromise that is acceptable to both Houses. I suspect that in the long run, after we have a reformed upper Chamber, that is the kind of remedy that we shall arrive at. There will be a joint mediation committee that will try to settle disputes. Obviously that will take a long time to arrive at. In the short term, it is much easier to concentrate on the length of delay that the upper Chamber can impose on ordinary Bills—not money Bills—coming up from the lower Chamber.

I must confess—perhaps I should not—that as Government Chief Whip under a Conservative Government about 10 or 11 years ago, I found the delaying powers of the upper Chamber irritating, but not a great deal more than that. Mea maxima culpa perhaps, but that is the truth of the matter. Other people might say to me, "Well, all that has changed now. There is a large Labour majority in the lower House. In this House there is a close balance now between Conservative and Labour Members and Cross-Benchers, with the Liberal Democrats adding a good dash of pepper and salt. So the situation is totally different to what it was when you were Government Chief Whip in the Commons". But, having been here now for rather more than four years, have things changed very much? I do not get the impression that they have. We are still very hesitant to use the limited powers that we have. Therefore, in my little Bill, I have concentrated on this delaying power and have sought to extend it in order that, fundamentally, we should have more influence and a stronger negotiating position with the lower Chamber.

The contents of my Bill are very simple. It is only one page long. The effect of Clause 1 is to restore the powers of the House of Lords to delay public Bills coming from the Commons for two years rather than one year. It is a power that existed after the Parliament Act 1911 but was removed by the Parliament Act of 1949. It applies only, as I have said, to public Bills, ordinary Bills that are not money Bills.

There are two important limitations on this. The first clause does not apply to public Bills that come to us from the Commons in the third or subsequent Sessions of a Parliament—in the second half of a Parliament. Therefore, given that most Parliaments last for four or five years, my reason for putting that in was that if a Parliament runs its normal course of four years or more, no new power is being given to the upper Chamber to kick a Bill from the Commons over to the other side of a general election. I thought that that was an important continuing curb and restraint.

The second limitation is in Clause 3 of the Bill. That comes into force at midnight on the day of the first popular election of Members to the upper Chamber.

I have chosen this particular route for a partial restoration of the power of the upper Chamber because the greater the power to delay, the more influence the upper Chamber will have over the lower Chamber, which I fully accept is the primary legislating body. I am not suggesting any alteration to that basic primacy of the Commons. I accept that what I am suggesting is both modest, because it gives the Chamber a greater opportunity to increase its powers to revise and amend only in the first two years of a Parliament, but it is also radical. It is radical because it is the first time that for 90 years we would see a minor increase in the powers of the upper Chamber to coincide with the arrival of elected Members.

I have tried—I want to be in this context—to be constructive, rather than confrontational. I was much struck and much believe in the first sentence in the Prime Minister's opening statement in the White Paper. He said: A credible and effective second chamber is vital to the health of Britain's democracy". That is what we in this period of reform really need to try to achieve.

I end by reminding your Lordships of the remark by Walter Bagehot, the great constitutionalist. He said: With a perfect lower House it is certain that an upper House would be of scarcely any value". As we all know, the Commons is not perfect. I know of no MP who thinks that it is perfect. Greater ability to ask the executive to think again and greater wisdom is needed. That is why I recommend to your Lordships the small return of delaying power to the upper Chamber that is described in my Bill. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Renton of Mount Harry.)

8.16 p.m.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, for introducing a Bill which gives us the opportunity to discuss the way Parliament works and what the functions of a second Chamber should be. I wish the Bill well. I trust that it will be very fruitful in all its subsequent stages.

I suspect that the Labour Party, which I notice is barely visible tonight, except on the Front Bench, has not asked itself the right questions. It seized on an obvious anomaly—namely, the hereditary peerage—and asked how this could best be removed. Labour failed to ask: What are the proper functions of Parliament? How can the two Houses best divide the necessary tasks and work together like a pair of organs in the human body? Labour overlooked the consequences of the absence of independents and the effects of rigid party discipline in another place. It seems not to have reflected on the constitutional impact of the "payroll vote" in that place. The combined phalanx of Ministers, junior Ministers, Whips and PPSs together ensures that few, if any, non-governmental amendments are approved in another place. Labour overlooked also the effect of the heavy burden of constituency work on Members of another place. Much of this burden, in my view, relates to matters that are primarily the concern of local authorities. Or, like education, health and housing, they should rationally be devolved to English regions.

I believe that I have touched on some of the factors which account for the low esteem in which politicians are currently held and for the trend towards an ever lower turn-out at general elections. These factors may explain why we in your Lordships' House not infrequently receive letters from people who prefer our reasonably non-partisan debates and our independence of outlook. They may also throw light on the situation in which it was necessary for this House last year to approve 4,761 amendments to Bills. I believe that that is the correct figure. I am sure that someone will correct me if I have it wrong. The onus of revision and refinement is therefore thrown very largely onto the second Chamber. We have also been subjected to almost annual education and criminal justice Bills. With better scrutiny, both before and after legislation, this could surely be avoided.

For these reasons, I support the den-Land of the noble Lord, Lord Denham, and others for a Joint Committee of both Houses, to consider the parliamentary implications of reform. The interactions of the Houses need to be fully considered on a joint basis, with the minimum of ministerial pressure. The Government said plainly that that would happen, and now they seem to be drawing back. They should bear in mind that the interests of good legislation are permanent and above politics; they are a public need, as important as the interests of justice.

That brings me to the purpose and functions of the second Chamber. It should be complementary and capable of taking a longer-term and more strategic view of policies. Its advice on constitutional matters and on minority and human rights issues should continue to command the respect of all. It also has the supplementary role of constantly calling the executive to account and holding it responsible for the consequences of its decisions. For legislation, the second Chamber is, and should be, primarily a revising one. That is not to exclude Private Members' Bills, private Bills and some government measures originating here. The huge flow of secondary legislation makes necessary a sifting mechanism, to draw attention to significant and controversial orders. There should be power not only to delay secondary legislation, but to reject or amend it as may be desirable.

The second Chamber, as many have said, should retain the right to reject any measure breaching the entrenched quinquennial Act. The task of examining Bills in draft or outline form and of considering the effect of Acts after they have been in force for a period should be shared with the other place. A Joint Committee of both Houses should also consider how the various stages of Bills can most effectively be spread between the two Houses, bearing in mind the variable length and content of legislation. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, about mediation and conciliation in disputes between the two Houses. That is most important.

Your Lordships must ensure that the present accumulated experience of European policies and legislation is not diminished. In that context, I have suggested that the British Members of the European Parliament should have the right, when they wish, to attend and speak, but not to vote, in the new second Chamber. On to the existing competence in European matters it would be wise to build a new function of examining treaties, especially those of global significance, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, and others have proposed.

The various ombudsmen, inspectors and regulators should all report to Parliament. Their activities could be considered first by the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights, which might decide to steer many important points towards the second Chamber. Scientific and ethical issues are also issues in which it has specialised and should continue to specialise.

Nearly three years ago, in evidence to the Royal Commission, I agreed with those proposing a Chamber of some 450 Members. Now, it seems that the target is 600 or more, to accommodate part-timers and to diversify the party political elements. I also advocated the indirect election of a majority, to overcome the inherent lack of democratic credibility of a mainly hereditary or a mainly appointed House. In that, I agreed with the Fabian Society, but I know that the more vocal parts of the public who met the Royal Commission dislike the idea.

I believe that the concept still has merit. It overcomes problems such as the timing and multiplicity of elections and the level of turn-out. It would also reduce the influence of national political parties. That might be helpful. It could help to improve the participation of women and members of ethnic minorities in a reasonably democratic and non-paternalistic way. I do not say that all have to be elected indirectly; a direct percentage would be acceptable, and nomination would still be important if we are to achieve the widest spread of experience and independence.

I shall give two examples of indirect election in practice. It has been suggested that the British MEPs should elect a number of people, not themselves MEPs, to act as a long-term liaison group between Brussels and Westminster. Again, we might consider how the main religious faiths should be represented. I would like that to be done by lay people, rather than—with due respect to the Bishops—by clergy, as at present. The existing Anglican Bishops would retire, and the various faith or denominational groups would be asked to elect a quota of, say, 30 in proportion to the membership of each electing group.

I conclude on the terms and conditions for the second Chamber. It should be called the senate and its members senators, thus finally severing the link between aristocracy and Parliament. I recall the telling phrase used by the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, who quoted Churchill's phrase about the clink of coronets. The terms of service should be long and should be the same for elected and nominated Members. All Members need not serve for the same length of time, but the terms could range from seven to 15 years. If lists must be used, they should be open ones. The system of daily expenses should be continued for as long as it can attract good quality Members with diverse experience. The nominating body for appointed Members and any other necessary purposes should be essentially a parliamentary one, once again without Ministers. It could, of course, include some non-parliamentarians to represent the wider national interest.

I conclude by putting two questions to the Government. Will they encourage the early formation of a Joint Committee of both Houses to consider the parliamentary implications of reform? Secondly, will they please not dismiss indirect election out of hand, but rather consider its possible merits?

8.27 p.m.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Renton of Mount Harry on introducing his Bill to amend the Parliament Act 1949 and limit its application as soon as the first popular election is held to elect Members of your Lordships' House.

The principle underlying the Bill is clear. It is that the powers of the House should not be inhibited to the extent described in the Bill and by my noble friend once the composition of your Lordships' House has been changed to include an elected element. The obverse side of that coin is that the powers of the House should be increased after reform, as proposed in the White Paper or in any other proposals that include an elected element. Judging by the polls, I understand that many people want to see an elected House of Lords. I venture to suggest that what they want is the House of Lords at its traditional best, but elected by them. Of course, they do not want a replica of the other place. That proposition would find favour with the electorate and possibly with the majority of your Lordships.

The underlying assumption in any election is that those elected are given a degree of pre-eminence, and, in politics, that means power and influence. Voters do not vote for nothing. They expect those for whom they vote and who are elected to be able to serve their interests. My noble friend's Bill removes one of the restraints on the power exercised by your Lordships' House. Some of those restraints were self-imposed, over the years, because the House was conscious of its unelected status.

It is curious that the Government have only belatedly realised that they have opened a Pandora's box by proposing an elected element. In the Government's White Paper it is 20 per cent, but according to a report in tonight's Evening Standard under the heading "Blair hints at U-turn on Lords reform", there was a private meeting of Labour MPs at Westminster with the Prime Minister. There was talk of a revised blueprint and the newspaper suggests that that would include a bigger elected element.

Therefore, the ratchet is slipping and there are those who will not rest content until they have an entirely elected House. Such is the threat that the Leader of the House in the other place devoted a substantial part of his opening speech in last Thursday's debate to countering such a proposal. He said: No written document would be strong enough to withstand the challenge to the supremacy of the Commons by a second Chamber that felt it had equally good democratic legitimacy". He went on to conjure up the prospect of a, democratically elected House of Lords … which might sometimes find itself pressing for changes with the support of public opinion".—[Official Report, Commons, 10/1/02; col. 707.] Mr Cook certainly did not think that statutory restraints on the powers of the House could withstand the test of time in such circumstances, and I believe that he was right.

Curiously, the non-elected, appointed element in the composition of the House has suddenly become all important. It is the Government's last line of defence against more democracy, more accountability. After the two days of debate in your Lordships' House and the one day in the other place, no one is under any illusion as to the purpose of the Government's reforming strategy. It is to remove the Conservative majority and substitute their own as best they can.

Mr Cook put it very succinctly when he enunciated his two core principles of reform—getting rid of the hereditaries and reflecting the state of the parties in the country. He said: The Conservative party remains the largest single party in the House of Lords, despite successive record defeats in general elections. I hope that, even among the Conservative party, this debate will establish that there is a consensus that a modern second Chamber must more fairly represent the balance of how Britain votes".—[Official Report, Commons, 10/1/02; col. 703.] That last phrase raises the very interesting question of how the non-voters, the abstainers, at the last election, for example, are to be represented. There were some 40.6 per cent of them. Are they to be represented by independents, or not at all? I leave the question open.

Under the White Paper proposals, because of the closed list system of choosing candidates for election and the basis of appointment, 80 per cent of Members would be directly or indirectly appointed by the political parties. That was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell. Therefore, what we might be faced with here in the event of a Labour defeat at the polls would be a hangover of Labour domination able to block Conservative measures for some years to come. Alternatively, if Labour continues to win, its measures will be able to pass through this place unscathed. The Government would be assured of victory in the Division Lobbies and the executive's power will know no bounds.

But of course the ratchet has not stopped. The Conservative leader, the right honourable Iain Duncan Smith, has proposed that 80 per cent of his smaller House should be elected on a first-past-the-post basis. His proposals are part of a larger scheme of reform of both Houses designed to increase the accountability of the executive. He, too, has acknowledged that the House should have additional powers. It would be similar in some ways to the American Senate. All his proposals would, of course, be put to a Joint Committee of both Houses, which is to us on this side of the House a sine qua non for the consideration of that proposal.

The point, surely, is that once there is a body with an elected element, especially if that element exceeds 50 per cent of the whole, it will inevitably seek more powers. It is happening already in the Scottish Parliament, in the National Assembly of Wales, and I am sure that it will happen here.

If my noble friend's Bill does no more than highlight the close relationship between elections and powers and hint at the shape of things to come if the Government persist with their plans, it will have served a useful purpose. But I hope that it will do more than that which I have just said.

8.37 p.m.

Lord Donaldson of Lymington

My Lords, I join in this debate in order to draw attention to a significant omission in the House of Lords paper, Completing The Reform. It is an omission that I believe could possibly mislead. I refer to paragraphs 29 and 30. The cross heading is "Parliament Acts".

Paragraph 29 deals in general terms with the effect of the Parliament Acts and states correctly, The effect is to give the Lords a delaying power, exercised only in exceptional circumstances, but not an ultimate veto. The Government agrees with the Royal Commission that this should continue to be the case". I turn, more importantly, to paragraph 30: The Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949 were responses to immediate imperatives. Accepting the principle of a reserve delaying power of about one year, the framing of the power might be rather different if it were done afresh. For example, the Royal Commission looked into the question of whether the time limits set out in the Acts were any longer appropriate. They also considered whether the Acts should he applied to Bills starting in the Lords. In both cases they concluded that the changes were far from simple to enact, and the practical effect insufficient to justify the Parliamentary time and effort required. The Government agrees. It therefore proposes no changes to the legislative or conventional framework governing the relationship between the two Houses". That is all very fine and large but there is no hint of any dissent from the Royal Commission's recommendations in "Changes to the Parliament Acts" and, in particular, paragraph 5.15. That paragraph states: That seems to strike the right balance. Any change to the detriment of the second chamber would risk leaving it with insufficient powers to carry out its overall role effectively. We therefore recommend that the Parliament Acts should he amended to exclude the possibility of their being further amended by the use of Parliament Act procedures. This would, in effect, give the second chamber a veto over any attempt to constrain its existing formal powers in respect of primary legislation. On the basis of expert advice, we believe that this could be achieved by a simple and straightforward amendment, for example, by inserting the words 'to amend this Act or' after 'provision' in Section 2(1) of the 1911 Act. This would avoid opening up the whole of the Parliament Acts to debate and amendments". I turn now to formal Recommendation 19: The Parliament Acts should be amended to exclude the possibility of their being further amended by use of Parliament Act procedures". The short paragraph 5.16 states: This recommendation would also secure the second chamber's veto over any Bill to extend the life of a Parliament, since that provision is written into the Parliament Act 1911. Our consultation exercise revealed overwhelming support, from all the main political parties and from the public, for the preservation of the House of Lords' existing veto over any such Bill". Recommendation 20 states: The second chamber's veto over any Bill to extend the life of a Parliament should be reinforced. Our previous recommendation would achieve that". In the Government's paper there is no indication of their attitude towards that. Indeed, if one read it quickly, it could be thought that they fully accept the proposals. However, it is reasonably clear that they have not done so up until now. On 1st February 1999, the then President of the Council and Leader of the House in the other place, Margaret Beckett, said: Should the [House of Lords] Bill be actually obstructed in the Lords, despite being a clear manifesto pledge, or should it appear that the consensus and good faith for which we hope are lacking, then it is to this simple Bill that we would wish to apply the Parliament Acts so that the legislation can be carried in this Parliament, albeit after delay.—[Official Report, Commons, 19/2/99; col. 610.] Almost a year later, on 19th January of last year, the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House, replying at col. 1330 on behalf of the Government—at the time he was the Attorney-General—to a Second Reading debate on the Parliament Acts (Amendment) Bill, which I had introduced, made it perfectly clear that, from the Government's point of view, any attempt to clarify whether the 1949 Act was ultra vires was unnecessary and any attempt to entrench the provisions of the Parliament Act 1911 as amended would be either unnecessary or would not be accepted. That was made quite clear.

I ask the question: what is the Government's position today? Of course they seek a consensus on terms which are satisfactory to them. I make no criticism of that. But if they secure consensus and agreement, after having enacted that consensus will they move on and treat it merely as the basis for further negotiation or further intimidation or further unilateral action? We need to know, because I cannot help but think that the main parties, even though they are the main opposition parties, could not go along with a consensus which was in fact only an interim measure and thus left the other House in a position, in effect, to renege on it, or at any rate, to move on to an entirely different basis.

If the Government do not get a consensus, what are their intentions then? Will they try now to use the Parliament Acts procedures to push through what they believe to be in the best interests of the country as a whole? If that is the case, I ought to warn them that I have no doubt at all that that would be resisted in the courts. Whether the courts would take the view which I am inclined to take; namely, that the amendments apparently produced by the 1949 Act are in fact ultra vires, or whether they would uphold the Government's position, I know not. But it does not really matter because in constitutional terms we ought, if we possibly can, to avoid a situation in which the courts become involved in such an exercise.

On the Bill as it stands, I make only two points. The first I shall apologise for because I am sure that it will be dismissed as a pettifogging legalism. I do not think that the 1949 Act can be amended and produce any results at all. That Act, whether it was good or bad, is spent; it amended the 1911 Act. If the mover of the Bill wishes to move on from there, he will have to amend the 1911 Act. However, that point does not matter too much since no doubt the Bill could be altered. I thought that I would simply make the point.

On the Bill's merits, I am bound to say that I do not think that this is the time to decide whether we should alter the powers of this House. The time to consider that decision is when there is some clear consensus or determination by the Government as to what are the duties of this House in the parliamentary context; that is, in the context of this House, the other place and of an all-powerful executive. What is the function of this House? Having decided those matters, and seeing what the composition will be—a revised composition—it will then be the time to decide what powers are appropriate. For the moment, however, I go along with the view taken by the Royal Commission. Subject to entrenchment, there is no case at the moment for altering the powers of this House.

8.46 p.m.

Lord Skidelsky

My Lords, I greatly welcome the opportunity afforded by the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, to discuss the powers of this House. I listened with great interest to the cogent speech of my noble and learned friend Lord Donaldson, who approached the subject from a different angle but, I believe, with the same general objective as that of the mover of the Bill; that is, to find a way of limiting the executive power being exercised on behalf of the so-called supremacy of the House of Commons.

The debate held last week was concerned solely with the composition of the House, except for the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, who did refer to the powers of the House. That followed the lead of the White Paper. In my view, composition and powers are the two blades of the same pair of scissors. I understand that the principle lying behind the Bill is that powers should be proportional to composition. The more authority or legitimacy the House of Lords acquires, the greater should be its powers. This Bill suggests a small, practical step to give effect to a very large principle.

The noble Lord, Lord Renton, reminded us that the Parliament Act 1911 was intended as an interim measure to curb the power of an entirely hereditary House of Lords pending a more radical reform of its composition. It was in that context that a suspensory veto of two years, reduced to one year in 1949, replaced the absolute veto on non-money Bills. Now the House has been recomposed, but ironically the interim measures have achieved the status of holy writ.

The reasoning behind the Parliament Acts was simple. It was wrong that a chamber whose members were there by accident of birth could thwart the will of an elected government. The offence was aggravated by the fact that the hereditary Peers were predominantly supporters of the Conservative Party. Your Lordships' House was memorably dubbed, "Mr Balfour's poodle" in the constitutional crisis which led to the Parliament Act 1911.

I am not sure whether it was the accident of birth or the Conservative allegiance that accompanied it which rankled most with the Liberal and then Labour governments. Had the accidents been more randomly distributed among the political parties, with an occasional inclination towards progressive causes, I suspect that the animus against the hereditary peerage would have been much less. Be that as it may, the two Acts of Parliament were understandable and properly justified in the circumstances of the time.

But those are not the circumstances of today. Practically all the hereditaries have gone and the rest will soon he given their marching orders. There is no Conservative majority. As the Lord Chancellor pointed out, this House now has 220 Conservative Peers, 200 Labour Peers, 65 Liberal Democrats and 189 Cross-Benchers and others. In short, the reasons which led to the two Parliament Acts no longer apply. In strict logic, they ceased to do so from the moment the balance started to shift from accident to merit with the Life Peerages Act 1963. Yet the Government, with widespread support in last week's debate—the only point on which they did have widespread support—have insisted that the relationship between the two Houses set up by those Acts is sacrosanct.

So what are the new reasons for maintaining the status quo? One argument is that even a second House appointed on merit would lack the legitimacy of an elected House of Commons. The Lord Chancellor rightly rejected the suggestion that such a House would have no legitimacy at all. He pointed out that election was not the only route to legitimacy, giving the judiciary as an example. He might have gone further. Spiritual authority has never depended on election—and I doubt whether we would be altogether happy if our hips were replaced by elected doctors or our aeroplanes flown by elected pilots. In the euro-zone, the legitimacy of the European Central Bank is thought to depend precisely on its not being democratically accountable.

The Government in fact propose a hybrid House, with a relatively small elected element; the Liberal Democrats would go further with an almost wholly elected House; and the Conservatives have now jumped onto that particular bandwagon with the idea of a Senate, of which 80 per cent of its Members would be elected. I recognise that in a democracy an appointed or a hybrid House would have an inferior mandate to a wholly elected one. Parenthetically, we should not swallow entire the doctrine of the mandate. The main function of democracy, as I conceive it, is not to implement the will of the people—because what is the will of the people?—but to give voters a chance of choosing their rulers. That is a hallowed tradition in political theory. So I would not overstress the doctrine of the mandate. But, accepting it for the moment, would the mandate of the House which the Government propose be so inferior to the mandate of the House of Commons as to justify maintaining the Parliament Acts in their full rigour? That is the question to which the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, draws attention and which deserves a wider airing.

Behind all the fine talk about maintaining the supremacy of the Commons lies the barely concealed aim of maintaining the supremacy of the executive. We have come to regard the arrangements which make this possible as the bedrock of democracy. But in no other advanced democracy is power concentrated so exclusively on the executive. All other countries have mixed or balanced constitutions. In Britain, there are no general formal checks and balances on the House of Commons at all.

That was not always the case. Before the executive gathered unto itself all the powers hitherto distributed between the Monarch, the Lords and the Commons, there was a balanced constitution. Eighteenth-century political theorists looked to the British constitution as a model of a balance-of-power constitution in devising their own constitutions. But that has gone completely. The process was quite relentless, it was unplanned and it was made possible by the lack of a written constitution. You may say that this accretion of power by the executive was accidental—as accidental as the accidents of birth to which such objection has been taken.

The Government's case amounts to this. By a series of accidents we have reached a situation of executive supremacy with which Ministers are wholly comfortable; "Let us not change that". I fear that historical accidents are no longer quite so fashionable as they were as a basis for constitutional thinking. Once you start stirring the constitutional pot, who knows what kinds of accidents and anomalies will start floating to the surface.

The alternative to accidents is simple—it is logic. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, has dipped his toe into the treacherous stream of reason. I believe that we would find it rather invigorating—though perhaps un-English—to follow him at least part of the way.

8.54 p.m.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I support my noble friend's Bill. I voted against the 1949 Act—indeed, I may be the only living person who did so—and I confess that, although we feared very much at the time that it would do a lot of harm, both Houses of Parliament have learnt to live with it. But we must remember and bear in mind in all our future decisions on this matter of the composition and powers of your Lordships' House, in particular, that over the past 50 years—especially in the past five years—there have been important changes in composition, particularly in regard to the other place.

For most of the years since 1949 there has been enough talent, experience and expertise in the other place to accept the decisions of your Lordships' House and to realise that they are well founded. As the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, said, we make several thousand amendments each year to government legislation and. luckily, so far the other place has always accepted all but a very small number of them. But in considering this particular matter of the law, we must not ignore the changing composition that has already taken place in the House of Commons and which, if the wrong decisions are made, could take place in your Lordships' House.

As I said in the debate last week, the House of Commons no longer has the people accustomed to responsibility that it needs, whereas there are people in your Lordships' House who are accustomed to responsibility of almost every imaginable kind. That is a factor that we should bear in mind in relation to this legislation and in relation to the composition of the House.

Let me make one or two brief comments about my noble friend's Bill. By the way, he is not the noble Lord, Lord Renton; he is the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry. I would not wish him to be, so to speak, diminished merely by having to use my name.

Lord Skidelsky

My Lords, I apologise.

Lord Renton

Clause 1 is plain enough, but it is fairly far-reaching and we should bear that in mind. Clause 2, strictly speaking, is not necessary, but it has the advantage of removing doubts which might arise. Those are the only two clauses of substance in the Bill.

Those are the only points I wish to make. I hope that the Government, my own Front Bench and members of all parties, in considering the future composition of your Lordships' House, will bear in mind that its powers and the powers of the other place should be related to the talent, experience and expertise available in each House.

8.58 p.m.

Lord Goodhart

My Lords, we may be suffering from a certain amount of "reform fatigue" when we get to further discussions on the future of the House of Lords. After all, we had two days of debate last week in which there were no fewer than 81 speakers, of whom I was the 79th and the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House was the 81st. Nevertheless, the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, has performed a useful service by introducing his Bill—although, as he admitted, the Bill is, in effect, a peg on which to hang a debate rather than a Bill introduced with any hope of proceeding into legislation. The noble Lord has performed a useful service because last week's debate was overwhelmingly concerned with composition, whereas this one is primarily concerned with the function and powers of the second Chamber. My noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby said last week that reform of your Lordships' House must be considered in the context of reform of Parliament as a whole. I believe that almost everyone agreed with that sentiment but almost everybody devoted themselves largely to considering the composition of the House. In this evening's short debate, we have had the chance to consider the House's functions and powers.

My noble friend Lady Williams made it clear that we want an extension of the functions—rather than powers—of the House. We could usefully perform many functions that we do not. Most obvious among them is the creation of a Select Committee for scrutinising treaties. There is the possibility of non-legislative participation in debates on fiscal issues. There is a great deal of taxation expertise in the House. It is unfortunate that there is no possibility of that expertise being used in debates on budgetary issues. I am not suggesting for a moment that we ought to have any powers over money Bills but at least it should be possible to establish a Select Committee to look at fiscal and budgetary issues.

There is a strong case also for a Select Committee that would undertake proper scrutiny of secondary legislation and to strengthen the scrutiny of European legislation—matters raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton.

Different factors come into account when one considers a clawback of powers to block or delay legislation. I believe that particular debate was settled by the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949 and that it would not be appropriate at this stage to reopen it. I do not believe either that this House wants to challenge the primacy of the other place. No suggestion was made in last week's debate that we would wish to do so. We certainly do not want to restore any possibility of legislative gridlock.

One of the anomalies in the Bill is that a measure introduced relatively late in the second Session of a Parliament would take longer to reach the statute book than a measure introduced early in the third. That is a minor matter. There may be a few constitutional issues on which this House should have a power of veto or the power to call a referendum. I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson of Lymington, that there is a strong case for entrenching the existing powers of your Lordships' House—including the power of veto over any attempt to lengthen the life of a Parliament—by requiring the consent of this House as well as that of the other place before any such provision could be enacted.

Extending a general delaying power for Bills introduced in the first two Sessions of Parliament goes well beyond that proposal. I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky. Whatever might have happened if there had been no First World War and an elected second Chamber had come into existence in 1916 or 1917, that was a long time ago. Far too much water has passed under the bridge since then. It is too late to claw back additional delaying powers over those that your Lordships' House has now.

The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, referred to the views recently expressed in an article in The Sunday Telegraph by the Leader of the Opposition, which—as I understand it—represent in substance the Conservative Party's official line. I strongly agree with the view expressed by Mr. Robin Cook in the quotation given by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts—that membership of the second Chamber should represent the way in which the electorate voted, not the way in which those votes were transmuted into seats in the other place. That would simply create in this House a clone of the other place. While we welcome the conversion of the Leader of the Opposition to the idea of a mainly elected second Chamber, the methods of election that he proposes are unacceptable.

A first-past-the-post election based on counties of unequal size, with a balance tilted towards rural areas, would give the Conservatives a substantial and effectively permanent advantage in elections to the second Chamber. In normal times, they would preserve—although perhaps not continually—the Conservative majority that has existed in this House since time immemorial. That is not a democratic system and we would be entirely unable to support it.

9.7 p.m.

Lord Saatchi

My Lords, it is my great pleasure to conclude on behalf of Conservative Members this wonderful debate on an important subject. I add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Renton of Mount Harry on the simple and careful drafting of his Bill and on his impeccable timing in bringing forward this measure at a moment when he knew that your Lordships would be focused on reform of the House.

I say right away that we want to see a stronger and more secure upper House. We hope that the Joint Committee on the reform of your Lordships' House—if it is formed as we hope that it will be; the noble Lords, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, Lord Hylton and Lord Roberts, also said that they would like to see such a committee established, as did so many other speakers last week—will consider my noble friend's proposal as an important contribution to their deliberations. I assume that the Government will want to lend the same kind of support to it in principle because it conforms with the views of the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House that the new House of Lords is more democratic, more legitimate and better equipped to do its proper job of holding the executive to account.

My noble friend Lord Renton of Mount Harry has introduced a modest Bill to give effect to that aim or at least to test its sincerity. The Bill proposes to disapply the Parliament Act 1949 for the first half of a Parliament. In other words, for the first half of a Parliament the House of Lords would have a greater period of delay than for the second half, when the 1949 Act would apply.

That arose because after the 1911 Act Members of your Lordships' House still had the power to frustrate legislation approved by the Commons in the last two years of a full Parliament's life. During debate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, and the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, both drew attention to the fact that both Acts were, as the noble and learned Lord said, "responses to immediate imperatives" and as the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky said, to "historic accident".

I believe that it is worth taking a moment of your Lordships' time to describe what actually happened which, I believe, only the noble Lord, Lord Renton, himself will be able to recall. In his memoirs the Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, described exactly what happened and what were the Government's motives with the 1949 Act. He wrote: The Government attached much importance to the achievement of its purpose of nationalising the iron and steel industries within the life of the current Parliament. A Bill brought forward for the first time during the 1948–49 Session would not benefit from the protection of the Parliament Act 1911. It was [he says] with this immediate and particular objective in view that the Labour Government brought forward its Parliament Bill which proposed to amend the existing Act of 1911 by reducing the delaying period from two Sessions to one". During the Bill's passage, Lord Salisbury moved an amendment which declined to give a Second Reading to the Bill, for which the nation has expressed no desire". Lord Salisbury said, We believe that the power of a second Chamber to refer back to the electorate doubtful measures which deal with issues of the first importance is absolutely vital to the survival of democracy. We believe that that power provides probably the most essential safeguard in the constitution … and that equilibrium can be maintained only by some power of delay".—[Official Report. 27/1/48; cols. 644–47.] I believe that what Lord Salisbury was saying was that it was precisely your Lordships' power to delay late and controversial legislation to a general election that was the means of referring such issues to the people.

This debate tonight has been about the proper scope of your Lordships' power of delay, but it is only one of several issues recently raised in your Lordships' House concerning the Parliament Act. In the past 12 months this is actually the second Bill and the third debate that we have had on the subject of the Parliament Act.

The first of two Bills seeking to amend the Parliament Act was introduced by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, and received its Second Reading on 19th January last year. I am most grateful to him again this evening for pointing out the "serious omission" on entrenchment that he detected in the White Paper.

It was only a week after that on 24th January that the second debate was initiated by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, calling attention to the Parliament Act in the light of constitutional changes.

The third such debate was on the Second Reading of a Bill which I had the privilege of introducing into your Lordships' House; namely, the House of Lords (Financial Powers) Bill, which brought about a redefinition of a money Bill for the purposes of the 1911 Act so that the present blanket disqualification of the House of Lords in public finance is partly lifted.

The question is: why have all these Bills concerning the Parliament Act suddenly appeared in the past 12 months? I believe that it is simple. As the noble Lord, Lord Desai, explained, with its changes to the composition of your Lordships' House, the balance of power has been disturbed between the two Houses of Parliament.

The result is that Members of your Lordships' House, as tonight with this Bill, have focused their minds on two particular aspects of the Parliament Act which set the balance between the two House during the last century. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, showed, during the course of the Second Reading of his Bill—the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, reminded us of exactly the same point tonight—that the Parliament Act 1911 was, an interim measure … pending a constitutional change". I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, agreed with that understanding of the Parliament Act 1911. If I quote the noble Lord correctly, he said that the preamble makes it clear that the Parliament Act was seen as an interim step leading shortly to a full revision of the composition and powers of your Lordships' House.

Tonight my noble friend Lord Renton and the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, reminded us of a second relevant aspect of the history of the Parliament Act 1911, which is that its raison d'être was the hereditary nature of the composition of the upper House. The then Prime Minister, Mr Asquith, made that crystal clear by introducing the Parliament Bill into another place in 1911. However, as was clearly expressed by my noble friend Lord Renton and the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, the Government have now removed the hereditary Peers. They have gone. The Government have cut this House in half in the most dramatic change in 600 years. For the first time, elected Peers are to be introduced.

Yet I fear that the Government's response to calls for changes in the powers and functions of this House will be the same tonight as it has been previously. Even when those calls come from all sides of this House, even when the case is argued as superbly as it was by my noble friend Lord Renton, even when it is argued with images as clear as if they were two blades of the same scissors, the point that composition and powers go together is met with a blank on the part of the Government. I hope that my noble friend's Bill will not receive the same dusty answer as others of us have received.

The view of the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House, which he expressed on the previous occasion when we debated this subject, is that: Essentially nothing has changed that requires any modification of the Parliament Acts".—[Official Report, 24/1/01; col. 299.] He went on to say that the primary legislative powers of the House as circumscribed by the Parliament Acts should remain unchanged.

Is it not a real mystery that a Government who so despise the forces of conservatism, and who are led with such distinction in this House by the noble and learned Lord—a self-confessed questioner and radical—should be so anxious to uphold history and tradition that they use the events of 100 years ago as the basis for their policy? Why are they so resistant to change? Is it not because, in the mind of the Government, the real analogy is not with cups and saucers, but more in line with the words of Hartley Shawcross in 1946: We are the masters now"— in other words, servants and masters rather than cups and saucers?

The trouble is that if the servant is dressed up in smart new clothes, he may start to think better of himself and think less of his master. The bad luck for the Government in terms of timing is that, just as the servant has been given his new, modern dress, the master has begun to look a little faded around the edges. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, reminded us of the low esteem in which Members of another place are now held. So, splendidly, did the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, in last week's debate, when he said: The House of Commons has recently reduced itself to a lower level in public esteem, a less effective watchdog of the executive … than I have ever known, whether in my own direct experience of 54 years in Parliament or in my modern historical writing and reading".—[Official Report, 10/1/02; Col. 701.] The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said much the same.

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, summed the matter up perfectly. He said that we now have the most uncontrolled Ministers in the western democratic world. So the master may have inadvertently participated in one of the oldest stories in literature, which tells children of the mayhem caused when geniis leave bottles and Pandora's Box is opened. This is why the Government are so keen to keep a lid on this debate as on all three predecessor debates. That is why they wish to keep the Parliament Act unchallenged, its iconic status intact.

The noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, said that the Government's motives were barely concealed. Perhaps I may bring them out into the light. The Prime Minister's view of the Parliament Act can be summed up in a syllogism: "I like to be in control. The Parliament Act gives me control. The Parliament Act is good".

You can make a House of Parliament more legitimate and you can give it more power; or you can make a House less legitimate and give it less power. But what you surely cannot do is to make a House more legitimate and simultaneously reduce its power—which is what the Government are proposing.

The power of delay is a crucial one. We should be grateful to my noble friend for drawing it to our attention by introducing his Bill. I hope that the Joint Committee, when it is formed, will consider it worthy of its consideration.

9.19 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I am also most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, for introducing the Bill. I had a nightmare the other evening and I woke up thinking that a day might pass without us devoting our attention to the subject of greatest interest to many of us—our own future. Fortunately, he has saved me from that gloom.

I am sorry to tell the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that I think that he has inadvertently fallen into error. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Shawcross, is still alive, so he can remember the passage of the Parliament Act 1949 as well.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I was talking only about those who voted against it.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I should not have teased the noble Lord, Lord Renton.

I also sympathise with the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, who has expressed my general view of the reason for our existence in this temporal world—namely, to cause mischief and irritate those set in authority over us. He certainly succeeded in doing that.

It would be unreasonably economic if I simply attended to the Bill. I do not think that any of your Lordships have limited yourselves in that way. We have revisited the saga of the 81, to which the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, referred. My only observation on the Bill is that its odd consequence would be that the delaying power would be more effectively given late in a particular Parliament rather than early. For the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, that strikes me as a shade on the bizarre side, to put it at its kindest. The Government will not oppose the passage of the Bill through this House, but it will come as no surprise to your Lordships that we do not agree with the proposal that forms its central core, which is that the powers of a government with a fresh Commons mandate from the electorate are more circumscribed than they are later in that Parliament. That seems wholly bizarre.

A number of questions have been asked. I was asked why the White Paper did not deal with powers and functions. I do not think that that is right. The White Paper says on page 4 that the House of Lords should be: A revising and deliberative assembly—not seeking to usurp the role of the House of Commons as the pre-eminent Chamber". Whether we are right or wrong, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and I have made it plain that we think that the duties and functions of this House are to scrutinise legislation, to revise legislation, to give advice to the Government and to the other Chamber arid to have general debates. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, is right in pointing to functions, not powers. We have functions that, it has always seemed to me, we could deploy more effectively, but that is a matter for your Lordships' choice. For example, we could sit in the morning and not have two and a half months off in the summer. I have put those points so often in the past that I dare say that your Lordships are getting rather bored with them. That would be a way of deploying our functions much more effectively than we do at the moment.

Arguments have been made this evening about whether we should scrutinise secondary legislation better, whether we should scrutinise treaties at all and whether we should look at European-derived legislation. There are many views about those topics, but they have nothing to do with the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, asked a question—echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, and others—about the Joint Committee. I repeat what I said recently in the 81-speech debate. I said that we had been perfectly willing to have a committee to deal with the parliamentary implications. However, I repeat—I think for about the sixth time—that we were riot able to agree terms of reference. On every occasion that I have said that I have never been contradicted, so I doubt that this evening will be a first.

Questions were raised by the noble Lord. Lord Skidelsky, and others about legitimacy. I repeat the view that I expressed in the earlier debate. Election—direct or indirect, with open or closed lists—is not the only route to legitimacy. If the reformed composition of this House, with its powers and functions, is part of a constitutional settlement, that constitutional settlement, approved by both Houses, confers legitimacy.

One then—I hope—asks: legitimacy for what? I would suggest it is legitimacy to carry out those roles and functions that I described earlier—not to have primacy on taxation, and not, ultimately, to be able to insist in the context of primary legislation if the House of Commons, after the Parliament Act, due reflection and delay, decides otherwise.

I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, asked a few rhetorical questions. There is always a danger about the latter because sometimes they are actually implied. Why is it that we now keep talking about the Parliament Act? A more cynical creature than myself might say it is because we no longer have 400 Conservative Peers in the House. The Conservatives have a majority over the Labour Peers, but they do not have the 400 in-built majority which they rejoiced in, treasured and clung to for so many years. The noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, gave vent to hyperbole saying that, by inviting the hereditary Peers to go, we had accomplished the most dramatic act in the past 600 years. That is not so—not if I remember the Lord Protector's activities with any degree of accuracy.

The noble Lord, Lord Renton, was quite right to say that Clause 2 is not required. I shall say no more about it because it seems to me not to have any effect.

We shall certainly need to consider the way that we operate. The sort of inquiry that the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, is carrying out is capable of being most helpful to your Lordships, especially in the post-devolution context and perhaps as regards how we manage our relationships with devolved assemblies. At present, we rely significantly on concordats, but they depend on good will which may not always obtain. It seems to me to be a legitimate question as to whether, as the years unfold, we should perhaps consider more formalised arrangements even if, after consideration, we come to the conclusion that they are not required. I said "as the years unfold" and thus reminded myself that this must be the only legislature in the world where an interim measure is still regarded as such after such a short passage of time as 91 years. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson of Lymington, was right to observe that we did not accept the recommendation of the Royal Commission as to entrenched powers. I should like to make it perfectly plain that we still do not accept that proposition.

Perhaps I may correct the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, at this point. I should point out to him that we have an open mind on lists. The matter was not set out in the White Paper as something upon which we had decided. I am happy to repeat our position in that respect.

I am sure that Clause 3 of the Bill is not intended as a tease, but it certainly has that effect. If there is a "popular election"with however limited a component of popularly-elected Peers—it implies that that would be some sort of watershed. I do not believe that to be correct, either in principle or in theory. Indeed, I do not think that it would be correct in practice.

All in all, I have tried to deal with the issues raised this evening, extraneous as they may be to the purpose of the Bill. I repeat: the purpose of the Bill is to give an incumbent government less power in their early stages than in their later stages. I find that very strange as a constitutional doctrine.

Lord Donaldson of Lymington

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may put just one question to him. He referred to a possible settlement of the problems that arise at present. If such a settlement is achieved, can the noble and learned Lord say whether that would merely be the starting-point of further demands by the other House, supported by the Parliament Act?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, in the absence of a written constitution and bearing in mind that our constitutional development has always been organic and incremental, it seems to me that whatever settlement both Houses arrive at on this occasion—that is, if there is one, as the noble and learned Lord says—it could not conceivably be regarded as the end of the journey; nor ought it to be. In the absence of a written constitution, I believe it would be a sign of terminal decline, not to say death, if either of the institutions to which we have been referring were not able to change, whether it is in composition or in the way that they actually function within the parameters of their respective powers.

Lord Skidelsky

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, are we to conclude from his comments that he agrees with the notion that our arrangements are inescapably interim?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, our arrangements share the characteristic of being inescapably interim with all human life and all human activity.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry

My Lords, I thank all those who have taken part in this very interesting debate. I am glad that we had it. I am also glad that it saved the Leader of the House from another nightmare by allowing him to spend a few more hours listening and commenting on the subject.

For me, the noble and learned Lord's most interesting comment was the one that he has just made—that "certainly we will have to look at the way we operate". I believe that that is at the heart of the matter. I do not think that this is the end of the story, and I am very glad that we should go forward in such consideration.

Both my noble friend, Lord Roberts of Conwy, and the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, spoke very powerfully about the key point in my little Bill: the close relations between elected Members and powers. I think that that is the discussion and the argument that will continue. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, said that in his judgment this is not the time to go into the detail of that issue. I can only ask when the time will be. Surely power and composition must be dealt with at the same time. If we do not do so, we may not have another chance for another 40 years. I do not want that to happen.

I thank very much all those who participated in the debate. I was delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, told me that I dipped my toe into the stream of reason. I am not quite certain what I have to do to get my major limbs into the stream, but, as we are neighbours in Sussex, I shall doubtless find out in due course.

I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at twenty-eight minutes before ten o'clock.