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Lords Chamber

Volume 597: debated on Tuesday 23 February 1999

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House Of Lords

Tuesday, 23rd February 1999.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Ripon.

Lord Imbert

Sir Peter Michael Imbert, Knight, having been created Baron Imbert, of New Romney in the County of Kent, for life—Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Harris of Greenwich and the Lord Bramall.

Acp/Eu Banana Production Agreement: Sanction Threat

2.43 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In so doing, I declare an interest as a residual beneficiary of a banana-producing plantation in the West Indies.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what progress has been made with the United States Government regarding the threat of a trade dispute arising from the European Union agreement with ACP countries on banana production.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Lord Donoughue)

My Lords, the Government have made their views known to the United States Government on a number of occasions. We shall continue to work with the European Commission in pursuit of a solution within the World Trade Organisation, so avoiding the imposition of trade sanctions by the United States.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he agree that one of the most serious problems is the continued uncertainty facing ACP producers and, indeed, the likes of the textile producers in the Scottish Borders who obviously rely heavily on exports to the United States of America?

My Lords, I wholly agree with what the noble Lord has said and with the sentiments behind it. We are very concerned with the threats to the ACP banana producers and with the, in our view, quite unwarranted threat of United States sanctions against British producers.

My Lords, although I welcome the answer that has just been given by my noble friend the Minister, does he agree that it is only because we are able to speak with a single voice in the European Union on this and, indeed, on other issues that we have any chance of resisting these outrageous threats being made by the US Government and insisting on the application of the rule of law through the WTO?

Absolutely, my Lords. We are working, and have always worked, with the EU to present a united position. We have resisted the attempts of the US to deal with this in a unilateral way. We believe that the WTO is there to settle matters in a multilateral way.

My Lords, while that statement is no doubt absolutely correct, does the Minister recognise that the position in the cashmere industry in the Scottish borders is so serious, as outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, that Members of Parliament in the other place are raising the matter this afternoon during Scottish Questions? They will be asking the Secretary of State for Scotland to raise the matter at Cabinet level. They believe that the Prime Minister should speak directly to President Clinton because of what we believe to be improper financial pressure being brought to bear on the Democratic Party in the United States as regards this matter.

Yes, my Lords. The Scottish cashmere industry is one of the main producers which have been singled out. It has absolutely nothing to do with the banana issue. I believe that there are over 2,000 jobs in the Scottish Lowlands, about 800 of which are very dependent on exports to the United States. We shall do all we can in defence of those workers and that industry.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for what he has said on this serious matter. I hope that the negotiations with the United States on the matter are being taken up at all levels; and I very much support what the noble Lord, Lord Steel, has just said. However, will the Minister draw to the attention of those concerned the very real danger in the Caribbean, should the banana industry collapse, of those economies turning to something much more unpleasant and much more dangerous for all of us?

Yes, my Lords, certain Caribbean countries are enormously dependent on the banana trade. The alternatives are clearly much less desirable. It is for that reason that we have been dealing with the United States Government at all levels; indeed, the Prime Minister has dealt with the President. The matter has also been taken up by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and the Minister of Agriculture. They have all made representations to their opposite numbers in the US.

My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware that I have an American wife and that I spend part of each year in America? I am deeply concerned about this matter of bananas. Could not a high level delegation of Ministers fly to Washington DC to make representations directly to the United States Government and stay there until they get a sensible answer?

My Lords, I can see the attractions of removing much of the Government, especially for an unspecified time period. I would quite enjoy being on that delegation, but we would all have to get permission from the Chief Whip. I can assure my noble friend that everything that is possible is being done. However, as has been said, the best way to make such representations is with a united European voice and through the WTO. For the information of the House, I can tell noble Lords that there are two key dates in that respect. On 2nd March, the WTO arbitrator is due to report on our complaint about the threat of sanctions. Moreover, on 12th April, a report is to be produced on whether our amendments to the banana regime do in fact bring it in line with WTO requirements.

My Lords, if sanctions were to be introduced, will the Minister say whether the Government will consider direct sanctions against the Chiquita company because of the financial lobbying that company has undertaken in Washington?

My Lords, it is reported that that company contributed about three-quarters of a billion dollars in the previous election campaign, although I do not know whether that is true. We cannot jump the sanctions hurdle until we get to it.

My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, in what he has said to the Minister relative to unemployment in the south of Scotland. That unemployment is serious under the present Government, particularly in towns such as Hawick, Selkirk, Galashiels and in Dumfries. It has been rising under the present Government. Will the Minister do all he can within a matter of weeks to try to get this matter resolved before the situation deteriorates still further?

My Lords, we are certainly doing all we can. We are concerned about unemployment. As I am sure the noble Lord knows, in the Lowlands in general the unemployment level is, I believe, 4.2 per cent. That is a little lower than the average. However, in towns such as Hawick about 90 per cent. of manufacturing jobs are in the textile industry. We are anxious to obtain a satisfactory conclusion on this matter.

My Lords, who will pay for essential diversification projects, or are recipient nations once again to burden themselves with an excessive debt burden?

My Lords, we shall have to see what the situation is after the WTO decisions are taken. However, the noble Viscount should be aware that in Brussels consideration is already being given to an aid plan of a quarter of a billion pounds over the next 10 years.

My Lords, will the Minister comment on the fact that in this House we are able to buy only Colombian bananas as opposed to those from ACP countries?

My Lords, I do not think that comes within my responsibilities. However, I am sure that the relevant authorities will bear in mind both the need to provide Members of the House with the greatest choice and the need to provide Members of the House with a better taste, and will also remember our traditional obligations to the ACP countries.

My Lords, as this is a matter of trade and trade disputes, why is this Question not being answered by the Department of Trade and Industry?

My Lords, it is the Government who answer and today I speak for the Government.

Drigg: Processing Of Nuclear Waste

2.52 p.m.

What is the effect of the decision that the nuclear processing plant at Drigg cannot accept waste from nuclear power plants because it has exceeded the level of carbon 14 allowed for the next 25 years.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry
(Lord Sainsbury of Turville)

My Lords, tests have revealed that waste resins sent to Drigg from Devonport Royal Dockyard Limited may have contained carbon 14. If confirmed, Drigg may have received more carbon 14 than is permitted in its disposal authorisations. More definite information is not expected to be available before mid-March. In the meantime Drigg has ceased to accept the wastes in question but will otherwise operate normally. No site worker or member of the public has received any additional radiation dose.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but what is happening to the nuclear waste which is not being accepted at Drigg? If it proves, as is my information, that the amount of carbon 14 is grossly excessive, what will happen from the middle of March when the report is received?

My Lords, we do not at this moment know what the situation is at Drigg. However, it is believed that this matter will not have a significant effect on operations. In the meantime the resins are not being sent to Drigg. I have no reason to believe that the consignor will be prevented from sending wastes to Drigg in the future. However, I understand that should the consignor be prevented from sending wastes to Drigg in the longer term, he will be able to make arrangements to store them on site until a suitable disposal facility becomes available.

My Lords, am I correct in thinking that a Bill to bring nuclear energy plants under a greater degree of control is on its way? If that is the case, will that Bill, when it becomes an Act, be a means of dealing with this kind of problem?

My Lords, I am not aware of any such Bill. I do not think there is a necessity to take any action of that nature on this issue. Obviously action is being taken to examine how this situation occurred and the fact that it was not spotted as early as it should have been. However, I do not think that that requires legislation.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that apart from this carbon 14 issue, the capacity of Drigg, radiologically speaking, will be full, even if the volume is not full, within the next 50 years? Will that require a further disposal facility to be started for low level waste?

My Lords, I do not believe that there is a time horizon constraint of that kind with regard to the operations at Drigg taking this kind of fuel.

Children's Rights

2.55 p.m.

Whether they have any plans to appoint a children's rights commissioner.

My Lords, the Government have made a number of commitments which will enable children's rights and safeguards to be kept under careful scrutiny. These include establishing children's rights officers in each of the eight commissions for care standards in England; joint reporting from all the inspectorates dedicated to children; and continuing the work of the ministerial task force on children's safeguards. The Government are not persuaded that it is desirable to create a national mechanism additional to the existing agencies and arrangements for ensuring that safeguards for children are implemented, and their voices heard.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Does he agree that women, who represent 50 per cent. of the vote in this country, have a Minister to look after their interests and that the working age disabled, who represent about 13 per cent. of the population, are about to have a disability rights commission to look after their interests? Is it not reasonable that children, who represent 23 per cent. of the population and do not have a vote, should have an ombudsman dedicated to their interests to whom they or their parents can apply for redress when they are let down by officialdom?

My Lords, the Minister for Women has an important role in developing and promoting a whole range of women's issues in government. Dare I say that I think she does that job well? Of course, I very much share the concern of the noble Lord to ensure that children's rights come to the fore. However, one has to consider that as regards the services provided to children, statutory responsibilities go across a whole range of agencies both at national and local level. It is the Government's belief that we need a step by step approach to improving the delivery of children's services within the existing institutions and also in relation to the proposals that were enunciated in the social services White Paper published towards the end of the year. In that way we can give the right focus to protecting the interests of children.

My Lords, over the past two decades Members of both sides of this House and another place have played a significant part in securing arrangements which seek to protect children, including the establishment of commissioners, in several European countries. While one recognises that the Government's commitment to child welfare is undoubted, will my noble friend ensure that the experience in other similar European countries where commissioners have been appointed is monitored to ensure that we at least match the high standards which obtain there?

My Lords, I am happy to accept that we should continue to monitor the performance of children's commissioners in other countries. However, children's commissioners are not the only means to safeguard the rights of children. I believe that the Government's approach in taking decisive steps to improve the quality of services delivered to children, particularly within the remit of social services, is the right one. I draw my noble friend's attention to the proposed children's rights officers who, following legislation, will be established in each of the eight commissions for care standards. They will play a very important role in ensuring that the rights of children are fully taken into account.

My Lords, will the Minister also consider the rights of parents, particularly the rights of responsible parents? Does he agree that if they were given more support, perhaps there would be less need for a commissioner for children?

My Lords, the noble Baroness knows that the Government and I are very keen to support the role of parents. I do not believe that the concept of ensuring children's rights is in contradiction to family life, as I think the noble Baroness implies. Providing rights for children goes alongside responsibility. The more responsible children are. the more they contribute to family life.

My Lords, as a former chairman of the United Nations Children's Fund in this country, may I invite the Government to review their attitude towards this matter? We have, after all, signed and ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and appointing a commissioner would confirm our commitment to the cause. It would be widely welcomed in the United Nations. I hope it will be done.

My Lords, the noble Lord raises the very important issue of the UN convention in relation to the rights of children. The Government are to provide a report to the UN about this country's progress on those matters. In formulating our evidence we are gathering together the views of at least 10 government departments in Whitehall and also those of voluntary organisations with a particular concern in this area. The Government's contention is that we would not necessarily achieve the objectives of the UN convention by appointing a children's commissioner. It is important that we show we are safeguarding the rights of children; I believe that we are.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of some of the horrific modern problems, such as child pornography on the Internet? Would not a commissioner help to highlight some of these problems? Would not fast-track European legislation help in this regard?

My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords recognise this particularly difficult issue. It is a problem well recognised by parents and the Government. But appointing a commissioner is not in itself the solution. These issues need to be dealt with by the current government departments and agencies. We should put the emphasis on making those departments and agencies work effectively rather than create another post which, in itself, could create boundary problems and duplication of effort.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there are cases which show that existing measures have not proved satisfactory? For example, there has been exploitation of children by parents, notably in entertainment and particularly in television advertising. It is precisely in that kind of area where the appointment of a commissioner would be particularly worth while. On reflection, does not my noble friend agree that that might be so?

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for pointing out a particularly difficult issue. The point I make, as I have done previously, is to say that merely appointing a children's commissioner does not necessarily solve the problems that have been raised. The Government's view is that we have to use our existing mechanisms more effectively. We need to develop the kind of initiatives that the Government are taking—particularly in the area of vulnerable children and children living away from home—to improve the quality and outcome of services and to ensure that the child's voice is heard.

My Lords, my noble friend having pointed out that responsibility for this topic is divided among 10 government departments, does he agree that the primary purpose of the United Nations convention is to address the whole field of children's rights as a unified whole? If so, is not dividing it up into separate topics, each with separate enforcement and monitoring machinery, akin to attempting to read a book one letter at a time?

My Lords, it is certainly very important for government to be aware of the, dare I say it, joined-up nature of the mechanisms required to deal with some of these issues. That is why we established a ministerial task force to look at safeguards for children living away from home. That has produced a number of very important measures which are being implemented, and shows what can be done when Whitehall departments work together. The task force involved 10 government departments. Inevitably, dealing with children is bound to involve many agencies—within government, local and national—and whether you create one child commissioner or continue to develop the services through individual departments, you will always have issues at the boundary, grey areas, which have to be negotiated. I am not convinced at this stage that simply appointing a children's commissioner will abolish at one stroke some of the impediments to a cohesive policy. In relation to the proposals for children's rights officers, we should hope to see legislation enacted as soon as the legislative timetable allows. We should see how that develops and then perhaps come back to the Question.

My Lords, since good parenting is the key to so much of what we want to deliver for children, does my noble friend agree that the establishment of the Institute of Parenting, under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Warner, will have a very important contribution to make in this regard?

My Lords, yes. I think all of us who are parents know the challenges that confront us in trying to be good parents. Any help that we can be given will be much appreciated.

My Lords, with reference to the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, does the Minister agree that rights and responsibilities are inseparable whether one is talking about adults parents or children?

Eritrea And Ethiopia

3.7 p.m.

What steps they are taking to help secure a peaceful settlement of the territorial dispute between Eritrea and Ethiopia.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
(Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, we have taken every opportunity, bilaterally and with the European Union and United Nations, to persuade the Governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea to accept and implement the Organisation of African Unity peace proposals presented on 7th November.

We are deeply saddened that fighting has resumed. We fully supported United Nations Security Council Resolution 1277 and the European Union Presidency statement of 12th February which called on both sides to stop fighting and resume the search for a peaceful settlement. We continue to urge both sides to stop fighting and to resume their search for a peaceful, negotiated settlement.

My Lords, does not the Minister consider that the Security Council could take further measures to enforce Security Council Resolution 1277? In particular, could it not implement the demand which was made then for an immediate halt to hostilities and the use of air strikes? Could not the voluntary arms embargo be replaced with a mandatory one? As Ethiopia has said that it will not negotiate until the Eritreans have withdrawn from the pocket of occupied territory, and as the Eritreans refuse to move their troops from this area, would not a possible solution be to install a neutral force, perhaps under OAU auspices, to administer the territory pending a solution?

My Lords, as the noble Lord has said, UNSCR 1277 condemns the use of force on both sides and demands an immediate ceasefire. It urges the member states to end the sale of arms to both countries. Her Majesty's Government argued in the Security Council for a binding embargo but, alas, there was no consensus and so a voluntary basis was agreed. In answer to a Parliamentary Question on 15th February my honourable friend Mr. Lloyd announced a UK arms embargo to Parliament. Her Majesty's Government have tried to do what they can on that front.

The noble Lord raised the possibility of a peacekeeping force from the OAU. It is important to remember that Ethiopia has accepted the OAU framework proposals. The Eritreans have not rejected them. They have not yet accepted them. We hope that they will. The problem is that the OAU does not yet have ready the mechanisms to become a peacekeeping force. It is developing a centre for conflict prevention and Her Majesty's Government are trying to help with that, both with expertise and with financing.

My Lords, I am glad that the Minister mentioned the OAU draft agreement. Can she confirm that this would provide for arbitration and demarcation of the frontier by United Nations personnel?

My Lords, in fact 11 points were put forward in the framework agreement to both sides on 7th November last year. It is worth noting that it built on the US Rwandan proposals which were put forward in June last year. The key requirement is that the Eritreans withdraw from the disputed area around Badume as a first step and allow the restoration of the Ethiopian civil administration in the area. The OAU central organ summit at Ouagadougou on 17th December endorsed the proposals of the high level delegation and so far, as I said, the Ethiopians have accepted them. The Eritreans, while they have not rejected them, have still to accept them. They raised some questions on them. Those questions were answered on 25th January. We very much hope that in due course the Eritreans, too, will accept this framework agreement.

My Lords, can the Minister tell us whether our missions in these two territories and possibly other EU missions could gather more information on who is supplying arms in the two territories? In that way we could build up a picture so that not only can we press for mandatory arms sanctions in this case but get a better picture of who is responsible for the arms trade in general in so many parts of Africa.

My Lords, I wish we could build up a rather better picture on that front. We are to some extent inhibited by the fact that our ambassador in Ethiopia also covers Eritrea. This means that there are some problems at the moment in getting information out of Eritrea. The Belgian Embassy in London informed us on both November that in August Belgium's Customs stopped a shipment of goods originating in Germany and destined for Eritrea. I am sorry to say that a British company was involved in organising that shipment. The matter is now before the Belgian courts. So we are trying to be as vigilant as we can. I hope that that example illustrates that there is European co-operation; and, where we can, we do swap the information that is relevant.

My Lords, pursuant to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, what reports, if any, has the Minister received to corroborate Eritrean claims that Ethiopia is using mercenaries? In addition to the one company which he mentioned, to the Government's knowledge are any British private military companies involved?

My Lords, I do not have any specific information on the possibility of British private companies being involved. I am sure that it would have been drawn to my attention if that were the case. However, I will write to the noble Lord if in any way my briefing was not entirely complete on that point. I will place a copy of the letter in the Library, knowing as I do the importance that all your Lordships attach to such an answer.

There are a number of different Eritrean worries about this conflict. There are worries about the role of Djibouti. There are worries, too, in Eritrea about the actions of the Sudanese Government in relation to the support they have given for an Eritrean Islamic Jihad. A number of different forces are at play in the area which make up a very complex picture.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is a wonderful map archive section in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office? Will she take copies of any maps that were compiled by the British authorities during the period of our administration in Eritrea and place them in the Libraries of both Houses so that at least Members can see what we considered to be the boundary at that time? Will she also consider suggesting to the Security Council that reference be made to the International Court for an advisory opinion so that at least the parties would know, if they were prepared to submit to its judgment, what its likely decision would be?

My Lords, I am well aware of the FCO map room; and a splendid room it is. I often have recourse to it for maps in order to see present dispositions as well as the dispositions of the past. I shall certainly see what I can do to meet the noble Lord's request for any relevant maps from the past.

On the question of the territory that is disputed at the moment, I stress to the noble Lord that for the time being it is important that we go ahead on the basis of the framework agreement put forward by the Organisation of African Unity. Not only is that important body fully behind the proposals that were put forward in November last year, but they have been backed on three occasions by United Nations Security Council resolutions and on three occasions by declarations from the European Union. So I think the way forward on this is very clear, but I shall do what I can to help with the maps.


My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m., my noble friend the Leader of the House will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is being made in another place entitled EMU Outline National Changeover Plan. It is not likely that this Statement will be taken before 4.30 p.m.

It may also be for the convenience of the House if I repeat the suggestion, agreed through the usual channels, that I made yesterday. If the Back-Bench speakers in the resumed debate on the House of Lords reform White Paper take no more than eight minutes, the House will be able to rise at a reasonable hour this evening.

House Of Lords Reform

3.16 p.m.

Debate resumed on the Motion moved on Monday by Baroness Jay of Paddington, That this House take note of Her Majesty's Government's White Paper Modernising Parliament: Reforming the House of Lords (Cm 4183), to which an amendment had been moved at end to insert "; urges Her Majesty's Government in carrying forward the proposals in the White Paper to set as its objectives an increase in the independence of Parliament and an enhancement of its ability to

scrutinise legislation and hold the executive to account; and therefore specifically calls on the Royal Commission to reject the proposition in paragraph 7.26 of the White Paper that the available powers of this House might be significantly reduced.".

My Lords, I suspect it is almost inevitable that the proceedings of your Lordships' House from now on are bound to convey very much an atmosphere of an era coming to an end. I think it is always a dangerous moment because there is a temptation that we should descend into mawkishness. I am sure your Lordships are far too sensible to succumb to that temptation. However, I would venture to suggest that just a touch of nostalgia would not come amiss.

In my case, that sense of nostalgia is perhaps heightened by the fact that I am to be followed this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. For us perhaps this shadow boxing is a little bit of a trip down memory lane. Indeed, the pleasure with which I look forward to his speech is, as always, and has always been in the past, tinged with a sense perhaps of trepidation. After all, the noble Lord's tongue has clearly not lost any of its skill. But I must say to your Lordships that the emotion that I feel when contemplating this prospect is above all one of pleasure because it seems to me that the noble Lord and I agree at least on one point; that is, that a reformed House of Lords should have enough authority to perform its central task properly. As to what that central task should be, perhaps your Lordships will allow me to return to that in a moment.

I should like to emphasise one point at the outset of my remarks. I am conscious of the danger of being too didactic as five years as either Leader of your Lordships' House or indeed Leader of the Opposition is in any other assembly a great source of authoritative experience. But surrounded by the faces by which I am surrounded today, I am all too conscious that that is merely a beginner's record. Nevertheless, one must speak to one's experience. That is what I will do, and if I appear to be didactic, I hope your Lordships will forgive me.

The past five years have convinced me at least of one thing when contemplating the future of your Lordships' House. It is that this House does indeed need reform. There has been a curiously cost habit in this House of saying that our Chamber works well. In many senses that is self-evidently true. In many ways it does work well. We have an enormous repository of experience which is displayed with great elegance. Our Select Committee reports are read far more widely than are the Select Committee reports of another place, and deservedly so. We are very good at raising issues of the day, but, more importantly, issues of tomorrow, which the restriction of another place confines to an horizon no further away than the forthcoming election. We are, as the noble Earl, Lord Russell, has frequently reminded us, an effective legislative housemaid.

In spite of all that, it seems to me that your Lordships' House nevertheless fails in its central purpose. I venture to suggest that the definition of its central purpose above all today could best be expressed as to improve the performance of the House of Commons. Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to explain what may seem rather an impertinent remark.

It has been my observation during a short period in government, particularly as a business manager, that great Secretaries of State are, by definition, no matter what party they come from, great men and women. But they suffer from one collective failing. I hope that those of my former colleagues who are present will forgive me for this observation. They seem to think that the best Way in which they can imprint their names on the pages of history is to pass as many pieces of legislation per Session as they conveniently can convince their colleagues they should. That is a serious mistake. It leads to poorly thought-out policy and late instructions to parliamentary counsel—who, I suspect, are among the real unsung heroes of Whitehall. It inevitably, therefore, leads to poorly drafted legislation.

That would not matter so much if it were not for the extraordinary power and efficiency of the Government Whips' Office in another place. That power and efficiency mean that the Government manage to pass their entire legislative programme in another place pretty well unscathed year after year, even in the dying days of an exhausted government, such as we were, who had lost their majority.

It is true that this House does much to improve that legislation when it reaches us. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, has done us a great favour in drawing our attention to the number of amendments that were accepted during the course of the previous Session, which I believe I am right in saying was nearly 4,000. But that is no more than extensive spring-cleaning of the kind that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, so much approved of us for undertaking.

However important the amendments may have been, they were in the great scheme of things no more than peripheral. I could instance a number of cases where your Lordships perhaps did not address central issues during the term of office of a Conservative government. However, I cannot resist being party-political even in this House, and perhaps I may concentrate by way of example on two glaring instances, particularly as they are in the constitutional field, which is after all where your Lordships pride yourselves on having a particular residual responsibility.

The two glaring cases that I have in mind are these. First, the Welsh Bill—which as your Lordships are all too painfully aware was an important piece of legislation, of some interest to the people of Wales above all others—arrived in this House with a large number of clauses that had not been discussed for one split second in Committee or on Report in another place. Another, even more serious instance was that of the referendum Bill, which allowed a rigged referendum to take place that was designed to produce the answer that the Government wanted. It was an answer that they would certainly have got in Scotland, but which I doubt they would have got in Wales had the referendum not been rigged in the Government's favour. The other instance was that the referendum Bill provided for pre-legislative referendums, which from the Dispatch Box opposite I have endeavoured in the past to condemn. That seems to me to be a totalitarian device, above all designed to unman Parliament for its consideration of the legislation that is to follow the referendum. So why did we not send both Bills back with a label marked "unconstitutional" on them?

The answer is simple. We do not believe that we have the authority or the standing to do so by reason of our composition. Were the hereditary peerage to have the same standing as once it had, there would be no case for reform of this House. Unfortunately, not even we believe that any more. That is why we need reform, and why we particularly need it now.

Parliament, its standing and its central place as the representative of the electorate, with a duty to hold the Government to account, are under attack as never before. We are now governed by a number of bodies whose authority is higher than that of Parliament de jure or de facto, or, if we are not, we are about to be—I refer to Brussels and the ECHR from above and the Scottish Parliament, above all of all the devolved assemblies, from below. No matter whether the Prime Minister decrees that sovereignty remains at Westminster, we have only to ask the question, "Whom will the Scottish parliament support in any Westminster/Edinburgh dispute?", to realise where de facto sovereignty will lie; or indeed, the question, "Whom will the Scottish people support in any Westminster/Brussels dispute?". If we add to this sad state of affairs a Government who find Parliament a contemptible inconvenience, Parliament looks increasingly like a horse in a sentimental Victorian children's book—ill-treated and over-burdened to such a degree that the soft-hearted onlooker feels that the only thing to do is to rescue it and put it out to grass. Of course, your Lordships and I know that it is better by far to feed it up and put it to work in humane conditions rather than succumb to that mawkish solution.

Paradoxically, a more authoritative House of Lords would help the House of Commons to perform better by forcing it to legislate better and to hold the Government to account more rigorously. That point was implicit in everything that my noble friend Lord Strathclyde said in his admirable address yesterday. If this House in its reformed state is to perform that essential and urgent service for another place, its composition must above all command universal authority and respect and be independent. It must not have so much authority that it ultimately challenges another place; nor should it have so little that it risks going the way of the New Zealand Senate—a warning so eloquently set before us by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Cooke of Thorndon, in a debate in this House on 15th October.

It also means that my noble friend Lord Wakeham would be most unwise to accept the hint set out in the by now notorious paragraph 7.26 of the White Paper that the Royal Commission should accept a reduction in the powers of this House, however alluring such a prospect might be, as perhaps put forward by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House yesterday. I submit that we shall need to use our existing powers to the full from time to time in a reformed House, if we are to have any chance of frightening the other place into holding the Government to account effectively.

So I must conclude by saying that, in the light of this analysis, I was immensely heartened by the speech of my noble friend Lord Wakeham in your Lordships' House yesterday. I confess that I am not altogether surprised by its content, although I suspect that the Government were. He will, he told us, be holding hearings in public. He said that he would be sure to make it clear that he and his commission would cover every aspect of a highly complex and important question.

I am glad that he finds the question to be important. I was sorry that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House did not seem to understand in her remarks yesterday that the causes close to our hearts, some of which she so eloquently enumerated, would be far better tackled in a properly reformed House and that on those grounds alone, therefore, it is worth our while spending what I am sure she finds a disproportionate part of our time in trying to persuade the Government to get it right in this once-in-a-century opportunity.

I have no doubt that until recently the Government wanted to stick to a stage one House for the foreseeable future. I suspect that, if your Lordships needed any more evidence of that fact, the rushed nature of the White Paper and the last minute appointment of the Royal Commission membership are evidence enough to support that contention.

The Government hoped that, when forced to reverse that intention during certain negotiations that took place in the latter part of last year, they could achieve the same objective by a fast stitch-up of a Royal Commission. How agreeable that in my noble friend—as so often in the past during a most distinguished career—they have completely misjudged their man.

3.31 p.m.

My Lords, it is, as always, a great pleasure to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. I have done so before quite often and I suspect that I shall do so again. Indeed, we have almost become a double act, though I fear I know which of us is Laurel and which of us is not.

Not only do I agree very much with the opening remarks made by the noble Viscount; I think he will find that there is a fair measure of agreement between the two of us. Perhaps if he and I had been left alone, who knows what might have happened? However, there it is. We are all prisoners of our own parties to that extent.

The noble Viscount said that an era was coming to an end. It is. He said that we should not be mawkish. I shall not be mawkish, but I must put on record at the beginning of what I have to say to the House that anyone who has even a smattering of historical knowledge of British history over the past 400 or 500 years cannot but be impressed at the role that the hereditary peerage and the families played in that process. It has been fundamentally part of our constitution for long.

However, I agree with noble Lords that the time has now come. The Government's approach is a major step and greatly to be applauded. It is making a start on an historic reform which will do great credit to the Prime Minister, his Government, and potentially this House. My aim today is to stand back a little and try to explore some of the principles and objectives which should guide reform to ensure that it is genuinely durable.

The Government's approach is a major step forward because it starts this historic process. For nearly 90 years, governments have avoided full reform, leaving unanswered questions about the overall shape of Parliament; questions which have their origins in the coming of the democratic age in the last century. The House of Lords is, or should be, the second most important democratic institution in this country after the House of Commons. Reform needs to ensure that it is.

In that context, I extend a general welcome to the White Paper process and to the Royal Commission. These and the contribution which this House can make may enable us to solve permanently the seemingly intractable challenge of Lords reform. It is one of those issues that at first sight looks simple: you can do it at a stroke; all it needs is to pass an Act. Having concerned myself now for some years with the problem, I know that it is one of the most complicated, complex and challenging problems that I have yet come across.

Since the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, raised the issue yesterday, perhaps I may make it clear that I have supported a Royal Commission on the issue for many years. I note with some mild amusement that it is now collecting other progenitors among my former colleagues. I have said many times that the Royal Commission should be open and in public as far as possible and I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, took the opportunity yesterday to underline that. The Cranborne/Weatherill agreement is to be welcomed for the important fact that it links stages one and two—a fact which the Conservative Front Bench in another place seemed to be initially slow to recognise. However, with the perception that is well known in your Lordships' House, the Benches opposite naturally recognised that rather earlier.

What should be the objective of House of Lords reform? In my view it can be expressed quite simply: it should be to strengthen Parliament as a whole. Almost any constitutional observer would agree that in the United Kingdom the Executive exercises stronger control over the House of Commons than in any comparable country. That is the fundamental fact to remember in looking at overseas examples. Reducing the scale of central power is or ought to be the main priority for constitutional reformers. This principle—the vital need to hand power from the centre to the citizen—underpins Labour's whole constitutional programme. It incorporates devolution, human rights, new forms of voting, local and regional government, freedom of information and reform of your Lordships' House.

In that sense, the transitional House will be more legitimate and that is a step forward too. But the crucial test will be whether the stage two House is strong enough to be what Hugo Young in the Guardian called,
"a meaningful actor in the creative tension between the executive and legislative branches".
As I see it there are three main reasons for reform of your Lordships' House. First, the rationale for a House of hereditary Peers has gone. However, as I hope I made clear, that does not mean that their contribution should be belittled. The challenge now is to make something positive out of the passing of the hereditary peerage, to find a rationale for a new composition which all—including hereditary Peers—can accept as an improvement in our democratic and parliamentary structure. That is the first reason.

Secondly, the House is politically unbalanced. As a party matter, everyone knows that this is politically unfair, but it is more than that. It distorts the business of revising legislation. A fixed and permanent dominance by one side robs the House of its political credibility. Its stance becomes all too often a product of the tactical approach of one party only. If that party overdoes it, legislative scrutiny becomes political routine. If it stays its hand, issues can go unraised. If it held its hand totally, the House would be neutered.

But, thirdly, imbalance is only part of the problem. Most importantly—as the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, said—the lack of legitimacy of the House means that the second Chamber cannot perform as effectively as it should. Nor is it sufficiently accountable for what it does. Its composition bedevils this House: either its lack of legitimacy has prevented it from using its powers or, when it has done so, its composition has become the issue—not the issue that the House purported to deal with.

The effect in all those circumstances is to raise the political stakes. Every defeat for a Conservative government is a political rebuff. Every defeat for a Labour government is an outrage. The issues in question can get lost. The normal give and take of legislating in a two-chamber system—taken for granted in other systems—becomes highly dramatised in ours, when even a small issue can come to be seen as a major political challenge to the government of the day. That is not just in relation to legislation. Scrutiny and investigative work can, if they are politically uncongenial to the Government of the day, be dismissed on the ground (often unspoken) of the irrelevance or illegitimacy of the House's membership. In this country we have virtually a unicameral system. It works as it does because one House—this one—does not use the powers that in theory it has.

In a reformed Parliament the supremacy of the House of Commons is vital. The aim of reform should be to strengthen the second Chamber to the point where it has the legitimacy vis-à-vis the government of the day to carry out its functions properly but not to threaten the position of the House of Commons. How one squares that particular circle is crucial to the whole argument. I believe that this requires a number of elements: first, that both Houses should have a democratic and representative composition appropriate to their functions;, that their respective compositions should place them in the right balance with each other: and that within that balance the powers of the second Chamber are such that it can properly perform its functions. also believe that those functions should be clearly delineated; and that in what it does the second Chamber should be able actively to assist the first in its key democratic roles.

Any model for composition should, therefore, meet the following criteria: the superiority of the Commons should not be challenged; there should continue to be independent Members of the second Chamber; and no one party should be able to command a majority here.

Some of the issues in the White Paper relating to direct and indirect election perhaps need to be disentangled a little. In paragraph 33 in Chapter 8 the White Paper comments rather disparagingly on a partly-elected Chamber and the work of the committee under the late Lord Home. While the Government have named no preference—I believe quite rightly so—the White Paper appears to stress the advantages of a nominated House perhaps with the addition of a few indirectly elected Members. This has certainly appeared to be the direction in which Ministers have briefed the press. Whether the Royal Commission will be influenced in that direction remains to be seen. I hope that it will resist that temptation.

This is not the time to go into the specifics of stage two—that is very much for another day—except to say that there is more to the case for an element of direct election in this House than the paragraph I have just mentioned appears to suggest. I hope to have more to say on that topic at a later stage but not today. What is vital is that the composition, functions and powers are a unified package. Fundamental to this is clarification of the respective functions and powers of the two Houses. In this context I was delighted to hear my noble friend the Leader of the House confirm specifically that the powers of the House are within the remit of the Royal Commission.

This House performs a number of functions. If one categorises them there are perhaps five functions, although the first does not really find a place in the White Paper. Apart from the judicial role, those functions are: first, a constitutional check and balance in particular in the work of revising major Bills; secondly, revising legislation; thirdly, scrutinising the Executive; fourthly, investigating issues that may not interest the Commons or are perhaps too sensitive for that Chamber; and, finally, debating national issues where the fate of the government does not hang on the result. All those functions are important. Others can and probably should be added as the terms of reference of the Royal Commission indicate.

The White Paper makes reference to better European scrutiny. As a former commissioner, I can attest to the strength and value of the work of the European Communities Committee. This area is a prime example of where the second Chamber could take on a strengthened role on behalf of Parliament as a whole. So, too, could it take on a. scrutiny role in relation to human rights, including perhaps a special responsibility in relation to legislation that affects human rights. In the same way, a reformed House could have a special role in relation to constitutional Bills, as the Labour Party suggested in its 1992 manifesto. Again, this would be an important safeguard in a country with an unwritten constitution. There are many ways in which the core role of a second Chamber—legislative and executive scrutiny—can be improved on behalf of Parliament as a whole: for example monitoring the implementation of legislation to see whether it meets its objectives.

The Royal Commission is asked in the White Paper to,
"take particular account of … the newly-devolved institutions".
I understand that aim but to add a few Members indirectly elected by the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly is not the only, or indeed the best, way in which the second Chamber can act as the focal point for the Union. There can be ways of representing the devolved areas and regions more strongly than the White Paper suggests, binding the Union together better without reopening some of the questions over devolution as indirect elections may do.

There is a crucial gap between the theoretical powers of the House and how they are exercised in practice. As the White Paper says, the preferable approach may be to reduce the powers and to recognise that they may in consequence be used more frequently. The outcome needs to be that we have a working second Chamber that can do its job but whose powers cannot fundamentally threaten the position of the Commons. Thus, for example, there should be no question of the second Chamber regaining any of its former financial powers. The scope of the Parliament Acts should be rationalised, as should the powers of the second Chamber over statutory instruments. Reform will make the second Chamber more troublesome to the Commons. This is inevitable and, provided the second Chamber has proper legitimacy and credibility, it is not only inevitable but right; otherwise, one may as well have a unicameral system of government.

The Government should not be afraid to learn from the thoughts of other parties. That principle underlay my attempt to talk to the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. This is not the time to revisit why those talks did not produce an agreed reform as I had hoped, but they represented a clear earnest on the part of the Government—certainly on my part—to pursue consensus on this issue. That is the spirit in which this issue should continue to be pursued. Everyone involved has a responsibility to play their part in achieving an historic and durable reform. We shall be judged harshly if we shirk that responsibility.

The Royal Commission requires vision. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, is a man of vision and will provide that perspective. The Joint Committee of both Houses will also need some vision. Members of this House can play a role in shaping that vision. This is a rare opportunity, which occurs once a century in British political life, to settle the proper relationship between the two Houses of our Parliament. I believe that sensible and durable constitutional settlement is within our grasp, but it will require determination and a clear decision by the Government that that is really what we are about.

3.48 p.m.

My Lords, this House has rightly devoted a substantial amount of time to this issue. By the end of today's sitting there will have been over 200 speeches made on this issue taking account of yesterday's and today's debates and the debates last October. I believe that it has been conceded by the majority of those who have spoken that hereditary Peers will be excluded from this House. As the noble Lord, Lord Richard, pointed out, the issue before us now is what kind of House we shall have in future after the hereditaries have left us.

That brings me to the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, and his colleagues. Certainly, we welcome the efforts that they have made to ensure that we do not all become involved in a prolonged and bitter battle—perhaps some kind of political scorched-earth policy—this Session. Nevertheless, as my noble friend Lord Rodgers pointed out yesterday, we were not involved in these discussions in any way whatever. Accordingly, if and when these proposals are put before the House we will discuss them on their merits.

We are in no way committed to the details of the plan. Indeed, we see a number of difficulties arising from it. First, we see little or no justification for making such a large increase in the number of Conservatives in this House. Secondly, and on a more detailed point, it seems a little odd that if a hereditary Peer, elected to remain in this House, dies, the other elected hereditaries of his party will choose his successor. As regards the two Labour hereditaries who will remain in this House, that means that there will be an electoral college of one person. That seems a rather modestly sized electoral college.

I turn now to the appointment of the Royal Commission. We welcome it unreservedly. However, it is a great pity that it was not appointed last autumn. The target date for its report of 31st December of this year would then have been entirely realistic. I do not believe that it is now a realistic date. It is difficult to see how the Royal Commission will be able to find adequate time to analyse the many different proposals that will be put to it in the few months available to it. The noble Baroness, Lady Jay, said yesterday that this matter has been argued over for a number of years and therefore it will be a fairly simple task for the Royal Commission to form a view on the matter. One has only to look at the debate in the House of Commons to see that there is no realistic prospect of a small group of clearly defined proposals being considered over the few months available to the Royal Commission.

I shall now touch on one of the great difficulties that I believe will face the Royal Commission. It is the proposal, or suggestion, that the new House should become wholly elected. That proposal was put forward in the House of Commons by Sir Edward Heath—a person for whom many of us have the highest regard—and subsequently by others. The arguments for that proposition are self-evident. Such an assembly would have a very high degree of democratic validity. I have no doubt that a number of colleagues in this House will believe that it is the right way to proceed. I suspect that it will also have some appeal to the court of public opinion.

But ranged against that idea is a fairly persuasive case. First, would not all Cross-Benchers be automatically excluded from the House given that situation? Would it not become merely a pale imitation of the House of Commons? Alternatively, armed with democratic validation and possibly elected by a different electoral system than that of the House of Commons, the opposition parties might be in a majority here. They could embark on a very vigorous confrontation with the Government in the House of Commons. I express no final conclusion on that issue, but I do not see how it can he argued that this House should become wholly elected and at the same time argue that the House of Commons should be pre-eminent. Those two concepts are in conflict with one another. That has to be recognised by those who put forward the proposal.

I now turn to some of the issues set out in the Government's White Paper. I find myself in sharp disagreement with a number of them and with what the Government have suggested. I accept their argument on others. I begin with the area of agreement between us. One of the most important is contained in Chapter 7, paragraph 26.

There is a great deal to be said for some form of formal conciliation process when there are disputes between the two Chambers of a kind that exists in the United States between the House of Representatives and the United States Senate. That is a better idea than, to quote the White Paper,
"the somewhat adversarial shuttle of business which takes place at present".
There is a very good example of that process, which the noble Lord, Lord Richard, will recall as clearly as I do. That is the argument that we had regarding English and other students attending Scottish universities. That matter could have been handled quite easily if there had been some form of conciliation process. As it was, we had endless and fairly bitter debates in this House. The matter shuttled between one Chamber and the other. As I have made clear, I believe that there is much to be said for what the Government say in the White Paper on that particular issue.

Having said that by way of introduction, I must make it clear that on a number of other issues I part company from the Government. Perhaps I may give two examples. The first is the rather ominous wording contained in Chapter 7, paragraph 25. I do not like the suggestion that in a reformed House, possibly one with a more democratic basis, we should consider,
"institutionalising the understandings under which the present House of Lords operates; leaving the powers intact but restricting the circumstances in which they might be used".
When the noble Lord, Lord Carter, winds up at the end of this debate perhaps he can tell us what those words suggest. Read together with the final section of paragraph 26, it could clearly mean that the capacity of this House to reject secondary legislation would be removed and a power of delay substituted. As far as we are concerned, that is out of the question.

When the Government speak about,
"institutionalising the understandings under which the present House of Lords operates",
I tell the Government quite bluntly that as regards our powers over statutory instruments these so-called "understandings" have never been accepted by these Benches and they have not been accepted by marry others in this House. They were adopted by the then Labour opposition for the perfectly understandable reason that it did not want a future Conservative opposition, with its in-built majority in this House, challenging its secondary legislation. Over a period of 18 years the Conservative government was perfectly happy to go along with that arrangement. So much for the so-called institutionalised conventions. It was a coalition of convenience between the two major parties in this House.

I now come to the second area of disagreement with the Government. It appears as a subsection of paragraph 26 of the White Paper. It states that another area where the powers of a second Chamber might be looked at include—and I quote it in full—
"arrangements to give government Bills introduced … into the second chamber the same protection as those introduced … into the House of Commons, so removing an artificial restraint on the management of Parliamentary business".
"Artificial restraint" is a curious choice of words. It must have occurred to the person who drafted that particular sentence that the so-called "artificial restraint" is based on the rather obvious fact that this House is not elected and the other House is. Mr. Asquith and his non-Conservative successors would not have dreamt of introducing highly controversial legislation here because their followers were always in a minority—often in a tiny minority. The idea, which is clearly proposed in that sentence, with its reference to giving the Government's Bills introduced here "the same protection" as Bills given a Second Reading in the House of Commons, is presumably, in some way to introduce a Parliament Act protection for such legislation. But, surely, this cannot make sense. One of the few ways in which it could be done would be to give Ministers some kind of power to certify Lords' Bills, thus weakening still further the authority of a reformed House of Lords. Perhaps I may make it quite clear that we see great difficulties over arty such procedure.

Of course, I understand the problems facing the Government on this whole range of issues. They will have to get the recommendations of the Royal Commission, modified as they may be by a Select Committee, through the House of Commons. And remembering only too well the consequences of the Foot-Powell coalition in 1968, they will, 1 am sure, want to be cautious. That is why there have been so many references in the White Paper to the House of Commons remaining pre-eminent. We must recognise that the House of Commons is a far less self-confident institution than it was in the 1960s. Its Members see real power slipping away. They see them slipping away to devolved parliaments and assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and possibly in the future to similar assemblies in the English regions. They see the Strasbourg Parliament increasing its powers. And now they see a reform of the House of Lords possibly encouraging the new House to be far more assertive over the powers it will possess.

The Government therefore face a host of forbidding difficulties. Increasingly, it will become evident that some of the most vociferous opponents of reform of this House will be Members of the House of Commons. Again, as Sir Edward Heath said, the Government Chief Whip in the Commons will face an extremely difficult task. Yet, now we are embarked on this process of reform, it is essential that the Government do not lose their nerve. For what we have to establish is a second Chamber with real authority in a number of clearly defined areas and one which will possess adequate powers to act as a real check on future executives. And that is a challenge not only for the Government but for all of us.

4.3 p.m.

My Lords, we have listened today to three substantial contributions from three Members of your Lordships' House who are held in high repute and who have great political experience. My contribution will not have the same constitutional substance and my total absence of political experience will be all too evident. However, I have been a Member of your Lordships' House for 15 years and I have counted it a great privilege to belong to this body. I mean "privilege" not in the sense of wearing scarlet and ermine but, if I may use a phrase which is not too grandiose, of being able to be of service to the nation. That is one of the reasons why we sit in your Lordships' House.

As your Lordships know, the service involves hard work. A great deal of reading is required in order to be on top of a subject. There is a great deal of talking and listening. It also requires long hours—on more than one occasion I have moved an amendment in your Lordships' House at three o'clock in the morning, not sure whether it was the end of the day before or the beginning of the day after! The main point I wish to make is that this element of service is stressed by the fact that we undertake the work unpaid. I have not heard much discussion about the question of payment, but it is a feature of your Lordships' House which is of great significance and which I very much hope will continue because it underlines the point that we are offering service to the nation.

The White Paper makes clear that Bishops originally came into your Lordships' House because they held large territories. That is no longer the case, although in my part of the world in Yorkshire the countryside is littered with names such as Bishopside and Bishopdale. They are memories of a long gone age. We sit in your Lordships' House with different concerns. Perhaps we bring a note of moral concern to the issues facing us, although I know that other Members also do that. But Bishops are distinctive in this House for one particular reason: that we are the only ex officio Members. We leave the House when we leave office. That has the weakness that we are working Bishops and cannot therefore be working Members of your Lordships' House; we can be here only occasionally. It has the strength that we bring knowledge, experience and views from every part of the land and, through our clergy and parishes, from virtually every part of society.

I warm to the notion in Chapter 8 of the White Paper that the new constitution of the House should embody a number of sources through which people reach membership. I suggest that the ex officio source might be used more widely. I note that Chapter 8 discusses extensively both nomination and election, but I do not find anywhere a mention of the possibility of the ex officio source being used.

It is clear that this House needs to have democratic legitimation, but I was pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Richard, stress not only the democratic nature of the House but also the necessity for it to be representative. There is always the danger of democracy, the voice of the people and rule by the people, degenerating into majority domination and minority oppression. Your Lordships' House needs to stand as an independent House which will not allow that to happen.

I applaud the determination set out in the White Paper not to allow any one party to dominate. I also applaud the determination to strengthen the role of Cross-Benchers. However, I also note that on page 18, which sets out the present political composition of the House, there are five categories; there are the three political parties (Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat), the Cross-Bench category and a category termed "other". I am not entirely clear who falls into the category of "other". Rather oddly, it mentions Peers who have not taken the party Whip. I had not understood that Cross-Benchers took a party Whip. However, among the category of "other" are to be found the Bishops and members of the Royal Household. Indeed, there is a total of 128, but I am not sure from where the other members of the category come.

It indicates that it is not only the Cross-Benchers who provide a note of independence that is so important in your Lordships' House. I picked up a list of speakers from the Whips Office to find that opposite the name of each noble Lord speaking in the debate there was a category—Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat or Cross-Bench—and I found opposite the names of the two Bishops speaking the letters IND. I hope that they stand for "independent", although the imagination could run riot with other explanations!

However, my point is that the independent element in this House is of enormous importance. I am suggesting that that degree of independence might be secured more firmly by considering the use of the ex officio source as a way of Members entering your Lordships' House. Bishops have been glad to play their part in your Lordships' proceedings over many centuries. We hope that the new constitution of the House will allow us to continue our contribution.

4.10 p.m.

My Lords, the Government are determined to modernise Britain. They appear to want to make this country more like other countries whose constitutions have been held up to us as enviable models but some of whom actually envy us our old-fashioned, out-of-date form of government. I wonder whether the Government have ever noticed that, for all we are out of date, we have been singularly blessed in this country. Leaving Ireland out of it, we have been fortunate enough to enjoy stable government for a very long time—approximately 300 years in England and Wales and about 250 in Scotland for which stable government can only be said to date from after the.45 rebellion. Still, that is no mean record when considering other countries around the world which have a long enough history to be compared with Great Britain. I cannot think of one which, during the last 250 years, has not had at least one revolution, civil war or coup d'átat. If any noble Lord can argue the contrary I shall be delighted to give way. Yet our constitution, unwritten as it is, has not been static. Much has changed over that period, but it has evolved a little at a time and each reform been assimilated and problems arising have been dealt with before another round of changes has been embarked upon.

Now a government with too big a majority and too little sense have embarked on wholesale reform of everything, all at once, all in one Parliament. What is more, they are in such a hurry that they even grudge the time spent discussing the proposed reforms, for which they are entirely to blame. If other matters lose out it is their fault, not ours.

Separate parliaments for component parts of the United Kingdom have been legislated for at the same time as it is proposed to change the composition of this House without any certainty of what its future form will be. Is this wise? It seems to me folly to try to change the structure of the United Kingdom Parliament at the same time as you change the structure of the United Kingdom, and above all folly to try to reduce the power of Parliament to control the executive. One of the most important functions of Parliament is to keep the executive—that is, the Prime Minister and his Cabinet, and particularly his kitchen cabinet—under control. They are supposed to be answerable to Parliament, to both Houses of Parliament.

In a situation where the Government have too large a majority, as now, and where increasingly the Members of another place are not chosen locally but are imposed upon local associations by the party machines—and I think all the parties are guilty nowadays of doing that—you are apt to get a situation where an MP's first loyalty is to his party instead of to his constituents, as it used to be, and consequently he is incapable of saying boo to a ministerial goose. The noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, enlarged on this phenomenon yesterday. That is what has happened in this Government in another place. Of course it suits the executive. The only fly in the ointment, as far as they are concerned, is this House where even those who take the party Whips cannot always be relied on to vote with the party because there are no sanctions.

I might just add here that I am tired of hearing the Government say that the Cross-Benches are not independent; that they always vote with the Conservatives. Many of us do frequently vote against the Government, but that is because we believe the Government to be wrong. The Government should blame themselves, instead of accusing the Cross-Benchers of being closet Tories.

What is becoming transparently clear is that this Government are very intolerant indeed of opposition or criticism. This House, and the hereditary Peers in particular, provide plenty of both. So having got rid of us they would have a clear run at producing a second Chamber which would rubber stamp any Bill the government of the day wished to pass through Parliament and might even be prepared to consent to another place prolonging the life of a Parliament indefinitely. That is the high road to dictatorship, tyranny and totalitarian government, and, in the end, to civil unrest, rebellion and revolution which we have seen, over the past 200 to 300 years in almost every other country in the civilised world, with all the suffering and misery that such upheavals bring. We are going down a very dangerous road indeed. That is why I shall vote for the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde.

Going back to the proposals in the White Paper, I cannot say that I am very impressed with the argument that the proposed appointments commission will be independent of the Prime Minister. Who is going to appoint the appointments commission? Will it not be the Prime Minister, who will then be able to appoint people who will appoint people whom he wants appointed? If so, the proposed appointments commission is purely cosmetic. And it is not very effective make-up. It is quite easy to see the spots underneath it. If a committee of the Privy Council were to appoint the appointments commission, that would be a very different matter.

It is a pity that some members of the Government display such ignorance about the origins of so many hereditary peerages. They suggest that quite a number were created for the sons of Kings' mistresses. Only a handful were. I can only think of four or five out of about 750 hereditary Peers. The vast majority of hereditary Peers are descended from people who spent their lives in the service of their country, be it in the armed forces, in politics or local government, diplomacy, the law, science or medicine, business or charitable work. I decided to check the origins of the peerages of the hereditary Peers whose titles began with the letter A. I took out Debrett. I found 51. Of their newly ennobled ancestors, I found 18 politicians, two prominent in local government, five distinguished lawyers, three diplomats, two professors, four soldiers, three prominent businessmen and one heavily involved in charitable work. Seven were the descendants of Peers who had been Lords of Parliament in the pre-Union Scots Parliament; another five were the descendants of English Peers of similar vintage. I cannot remember the origin of the remaining one, but none had got their peerages for being kings' bastards.

Some may have made sizeable contributions to party funds. Debrett does not provide that kind of information, but neither does Debrett indicate how much various life barons may have contributed. On behalf of my fellow hereditary Peers, I deeply resent the slur cast on them and proliferated by the media. Most of us have great respect for the achievements of our predecessors, and few things make us more angry than slurs on their characters and integrity. I dare say not every member of the Government would like to have his predecessors examined too closely, but that is a game two could play at if we were prepared to sink so low. It is a pity that the Government have seen fit to sink to the spite and meanness evinced both in their White Paper and during the Second Reading of their Bill in another place.

Should the Royal Commission turn out to be a truly impartial body it might consider keeping a sensible number of hereditary Peers to be elected on the lines along which the Scots Peers themselves elected 16 of their number to represent them in this House between 1707 and 1964. It was an excellent system because it weeded out very successfully anyone who was useless or undesirable, or who was not prepared to attend regularly. I enlarged on the workings of the Scottish Peers' election in the debate on reform of this House last October. I shall not weary your Lordships again with the details, but I shall make a submission of them to the Royal Commission for its consideration.

4.20 p.m.

My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the speech of the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, and indeed all the speeches that have already been made in this debate. The two most outstanding, if my colleagues will allow me to say so, were those made at the outset by my noble friend Lord Cranborne and the noble Lord, Lord Richard.

All the speeches started to some extent with a recognition of the so-called "illegitimacy" of this House, founded in the first place upon the antiquity and eccentricity of the hereditary principle. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, presented a vigorous defence of that which shows that it need not be accepted at face value.

The second reason given is the existence of a so-called permanent blocking majority for the Right. That point also is often widely overstated. The fact is that if those two features are features of illegitimacy, it is very strange that they have been tolerated for so long. If they are as intolerable as they are said to be, why have they been tolerated for so long? It is because each of them has been exaggerated; because governments, for example, have only occasionally felt it necessary to exercise the powers that they have to override this House on specific occasions.

The predominant reason for their toleration, again as has been made manifest in earlier speeches, is because it is far from easy to improve legitimacy in a way that amounts to improvement. How can it be said with confidence that nomination is more theoretically legitimate than heredity? On the other hand, the further we move towards an elected element in this House the more we risk further increasing the powers of dictatorship and diminishing our chances to check the elective dictatorship for which this House exists.

Curiously, it is the very "illegitimacy" of which we speak which has constrained this House for so long from pressing its role too far. This House has been unwilling to test or risk its authority beyond what is tolerable. That is a strikingly good example of the balance provided in our constitution, if not in many others, of the "conventions of the constitution".

Even so, my noble friend is anxious to promote the case for reform. I see why; because, I, too, wish to get away from these slurs and criticisms. But I am not sure that I share his confidence that the changes that may take place will necessarily improve the performance of the present structure. He was too modest in defending the virtues of the present structure. I can speak as someone who was leader of the other place for a short time and had some experience in other respects. How could the other place possibly survive without the impact made by this House on the quality of our legislation? Speaking as a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, I wish that this House sometimes had a part to play in improving the Finance Bills rather than leaving them entirely to the jousting of the Finance Bill Standing Committee. The quality of debate in this House has been demonstrated by the quality of this debate so far—until I rose to my feet. So we need to be extremely careful before we tamper with these institutions.

Where is the mischief to which we are directing our energies? The only manifest mischief is the eccentricity of our composition. Yet it is just that which above all imposes the necessary constitutional restraint. If we are to be given more legitimacy, if that can be designed, I shall certainly expect us to be given more power rather than less. I entirely agree with my noble friends Lord Strathclyde and Lord Cranborne as well as with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon that the proposals for reducing existing powers would be quite unacceptable.

The question is how the Royal Commission, the Select Committee and this House will give more legitimacy, more substance and more style to this place. Ironically, I fancy that the real task facing the Royal Commission will be to come as close as it can to reproducing the style, spirit and substance of the present House, granted the removal of the element of illegitimacy.

Chapter 8 of the Government's White Paper comes close to acknowledging a large part of that case, though not in so many words. In that White Paper the advantages of elected membership are clearly seen, however tentatively, to be less than those of nomination. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, demonstrated in detail the dangers that may arise if this House were dominated by the elected element in the same way as the other place. I was struck by the reminder that many years ago, when Lord Home put forward his proposals for reform, he suggested that the Chamber should be two-thirds elected. I am glad that the Government, in the White Paper, see those proposals as too radical. Lord Home was probably ignoring his own advice. He was fond of echoing a statement by Lord Balfour that "democracy is government by explanation"; that is not government by whipping. By that standard, this House is significantly more democratic than the other place.

How are we to retain the good institutions of this place? One way would be the survival of what has come to be known as "Lord Weatherill's compromise", on the basis that rien ne dure comme le provisoire. I am not sure that that will necessarily happen. If it did, it would be a further example of the benefits of incremental rather than fundamental change. It might be a less than surprising result of reform fatigue. It may be a place where we could stop at a different point from where we might otherwise have stopped. To that extent it is an advance.

I know that my noble friend Lord Wakeham will be looking for other ways of finding a broader basis of legitimacy. It is a good augury that the Royal Commission will meet not only under his chairmanship, but also will hold its first meeting on St. David's Day. I join the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon in his commendation of ex officio membership. It is an obviously successful precedent. It has been successful in the case of the Law Lords and the Bench of Bishops and could well be extended in a suitably broad-based ecclesiastical way to other faiths, Churches and even other people.

The question is who to add of that kind. It must be somebody who is not too busy, not too short-lived in his office, not too responsive to the party whip and who has the necessary degree of independence. If the Bishops and the Law Lords have done as well as they have, busy as they are, we should not rule out other people as well. Lord Mayors may be too short lived. Vice-Chancellors are not unrepresented here already. But we could look to the presidents of the TUC and CBI and similar categories.

Indirect election will be a better alternative than direct election, particularly if those elected in that way are given a long enough term of life to feel free from the restraint of the Whips hovering in the background. That will be particularly so if they are not elected on the form of electoral lists chosen by party bosses.

Two problems give me cause for concern. One is the age factor.. I am told that the current average age in this House is 67. If we were all of that age it would indeed be a terrible place. But we are hugely enlivened by the presence of the "golden oldies". I see one of them smiling at me in the form of my noble friend Lord Renton and another in the form of the noble Earl, Lord Longford. But the place is also enlivened by the presence of the young hereditaries.

How are we to retain this diversity of age structure? We should certainly reject the concept of ageism. The Royal Commission should look carefully at some way of replacing the young hereditaries. It is extremely hard to reproduce them except by natural means and that is going to be ruled out. Will it be possible to find special seats for the young, such as university seats or seats to which they can be nominated provided they are under the age of 36, or seats sponsored by independent radio stations? I deliberately choose eccentric ideas. That is the way I believe we need to go.

The real question is how we are to reproduce the qualities that have made this House so successful— those of independence, courage, wisdom and vitality— and to do so in a way that will give us, the Commons and the nation sufficient confidence in our role in the future to maintain and, if possible, increase our present powers.

4.29 p.m.

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, will always be listened to, for many reasons, just one being his great service to the nation as Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am glad that he rejected the concept of an age limit. A young man from the other place said to me the other day, "Aren't you a bit old in there?". He should come and listen to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, the noble and. learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, and the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, not to mention many others. I am therefore glad that that argument has been rejected.

I recall that it was said of a famous philosopher—I believe it was Immanuel Kant; if not, I am sure I shall be, corrected—that he started from both ends of the road at once and never met himself in the middle. I start from three ends of the road. I taught academic politics for some years before the war at Christchurch, Oxford, first with a Conservative person and then a Labour person. In those days the House of Lords was a kind of constitutional anomaly which we discussed in an abstract way. Later, in the Labour Party, of which I have been a member for some 62 years, the House of Lords was regarded as an obstacle to progress. Those are two starting points. The third is that I have been a Member of this House for 53 years, and I have found this to be a wonderful place.

The noble Baroness, Lady Strange, said recently that this House is a perfect place. I would not go so far as to say that, but like so many other noble Lords who have been here any length of time, I love this place and I regard its services to the nation as being beyond argument. Certainly, in the past 50 years nobody has been able to point to any harm it has done. One person stated that it delayed the abolition of capital punishment for eight years. That may be so, but let us think of the harm that has been done by other institutions, not too far away. By and large, I believe that this House has performed a great service to the nation. In that sense, it has to be taken most seriously when we talk about altering its whole character.

Considering this House from my experience, one is bound to be biased in its favour. In my view, the debates here are the most intellectual in the world. I do not believe that anyone has disputed that fact. At any rate, nobody has been able to point to debates elsewhere which are better than ours. This House has not only an intellectual quality, but many wonderful Members, many of them, but not all, life Peers. The debates have an inherent decency which attract people from all over the world. In my opinion, that owes something—not just a little—to the hereditary Peers. I am not paying a half-hearted compliment to the hereditary Peers; I am saying that they have been of fundamental importance to the history of this place. Of course, there are other famous individuals here, but the whole tradition of this House has depended upon the continuity which has been sustained by the hereditary Peers.

This House has a Christian flavour which I do not think can be found in any other legislature of which I know. That is not its dominant flavour; nevertheless, it is strong. That applies, obviously, pre-eminently to the Bishops but also to the hereditary Peers. It can be illustrated by the house of Cecil, represented by the noble Viscount the former Leader of the Opposition. Those qualities which belong to the present House cannot just be thrown away because of a certain appeal to the man in the pub.

Nevertheless, one has to admit that there is no resisting the abstract argument that a man or a woman is not entitled to play a part in the legislature of this country because his or her father was a Member of this House. So, in the end, the House must be reformed, and we now approach these proposals. Nobody who believes in democracy, with all its imperfections, can resist the argument that reform must come.

Thirty years ago, as Leader of this House, I brought forward a proposal, the brainchild of Henry Burrows, an old friend of mine and a Clerk at the Table. We used to play golf together at Rye. Whenever I missed a putt, he would come up to me afterwards and say, "You do believe in the Two-Writ Plan, don't you?" That was rather upsetting. However, Henry Burrows produced that plan, which proposed that the hereditary Peers of first generation could come and speak here but not vote. That would preserve the tradition and continuity of this great Chamber. I still hope that somebody will bring that proposal forward, with more contemporary relevance. If not, I shall do so myself. I still believe that that is the best solution. However, it may well be that that is not adopted.

Then we have the deal. We have not heard much about the deal up until now. It sounds to me to be the best of a bad job. If I was an hereditary Peer, I would rather that some emerged from the deal than none. Therefore, I hope that the deal will go through. There are many complications. It seems to be dependent upon all sorts of strange, hypothetical conditions. I am not sure that it will pass through as easily as I hope.

In a year or two from now, there will not be many hereditary Peers remaining here, and much will be lost by that fact. However, that is bound to happen. It is, perhaps, like someone having an operation. One cannot rejoice at the fact of having an operation, but it may be inevitable. I hope and believe that in all the discussions regarding this House everyone who has ever been a Member of it—even the newest Members—will bear in mind that they are discussing something of which they will always be proud.

Emu: Outline National Changeover Plan

4.36 p.m.

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement that has been made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:

"On 27th October 1997 my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer set out the Government's policy on the European single currency. He said he would publish details of how, should it choose to do so, Britain could join the euro. This became known as the National Changeover Plan. Today we publish an outline of this plan as a basis for consultation.

"I would like to thank the Standing Committee set up by the Chancellor to oversee preparatory work on EMU across the economy. I am most grateful to the Governor of the Bank of England, the Heads of the Financial Services Authority and the British Bankers Association, the Presidents of the CBI and the British Chambers of Commerce and the General Secretary of the TUC for their contribution to this work. This has been a truly co-operative effort involving an unprecedented partnership between the public and private sectors. And I am particularly pleased that the Standing Committee welcomed our intention to produce the outline plan we are publishing today.

"Madam Speaker, in his Statement of October 1997, the Chancellor made clear the Government's view that membership of a successful euro would bring benefits to Britain in terms of jobs, investment and trade. He said that in principle the Government were in favour of Britain joining a successful single currency. And he set out the conditions necessary to satisfy our national economic interest.

"So our intention is clear. Britain should join a successful single currency, provided the economic conditions are met.

"It is conditional. It is not inevitable. Both intention and conditions are genuine.

"This is the right course for the country, to resolve this issue for the British national interest, the future of our people and their well-being. And it is that national interest that will always come first.

"I do not dismiss the constitutional or political issues. They are real. Monetary union is a big step of integration. But so was the Single European Act. And the EU itself. In finance and business the world is more and more integrated. It is moving closer together. And if joining a single currency is good for British jobs and British industry, if it enhances British influence and power, I believe it is right for Britain to overcome these constitutional and political arguments and the fears behind them. For the very reason of the sensitivity of these arguments, we have also said clearly: the Government can recommend. But the people will decide in a referendum.

"What we announce today is not a change of policy. It is a change of gear. If we wish to have the option of joining, we must prepare. The sheer nature, scale, and complexity of the arrangements require considerable time for such preparation. It is, for example, far more detailed in its consequences than decimalisation. If we do not start to face this reality now, we will simply not have the practical means necessary to make a choice.

"There are those, on the Opposition Benches and elsewhere, who oppose the very idea of a national changeover plan. I say: we can no longer afford to pretend either that the euro does not exist or that Britain should not actively prepare for it. Such a denial of reality does not promote Britain's interests; it betrays them.

"The euro is a reality. It exists. Eleven out of 15 other EU members are in it. It represents 20 per cent. of world income, as big as the US. It will be the currency of 290 million people.

"It has begun and, on the whole, it has begun well. Of course, these are early days. There will be tests and strains ahead. But the launch was successful; and those who predicted it would never happen or would launch itself in disaster, have been proven wrong.

"And it will have a major impact on Britain, in or out. That much is obvious. That alone would rebuke those who would like to pretend it is not there. Fifty per cent. of our trade is with the eurozone. The launch of the euro means that an increasing number of UK firms are starting to use the euro—not just big business like British Steel, Ford, Philips, ICI and Unilever. Surveys by the Treasury's euro Preparations Unit show that some 45 per cent. of SMEs in the UK have trading links with Europe and they are already having to prepare to deal with the euro. The same survey showed that nearly half of all SMEs thought that the single currency would affect their business. Last autumn some 14 per cent. of SMEs were already planning to use the euro, and the latest survey by APACS showed that 247,000 companies intended to open euro accounts; 86 per cent. of large retailers have suppliers in the eurozone and 44 per cent. say they are planning to pay eurozone suppliers in euro from 1999. The euro is now an everyday reality for British business, large and small.

"When we came to office, we took immediate steps to help the country prepare. Since the Chancellor's Statement the Treasury has run a major information and direct mail campaign for the 1.6 million SMEs in the UK; 350,000 copies of the Treasury's business fact sheets have been distributed and there have been three-quarters of a million requests for the fact sheet leaflet; we have established 12 regional euro forums across the UK, led by senior business people, who are taking preparations forward at local level; firms can now pay taxes, file accounts, issue and redenominate shares, and receive certain grants in euros, and Customs and Excise has trained 10,000 staff to respond to business needs.

"Small businesses will have the help they need; the City of London is prepared and already taking a good share of euro-denominated business.

"But these are all preparations for the euro, with Britain, at present, out of it. It is also necessary now to prepare for Britain being in. If, as we have already announced, we want to keep open the option of making a decision early in the next Parliament to join, we need to step up our practical preparations now: hence, the national changeover plan.

"The public sector will give a clear sign of its commitment to prepare. Each department now has a Minister responsible for euro preparations and each will now report regularly on the preparations they are making.

"Where computer systems are being upgraded, all departments will build in euro-compatibility where that represents value for money. In the case of the DSS, the Inland Revenue, and Customs, the scale and complexity of their computer systems make advance preparations critical. Together, these departments are the main interface between central Government and the business community and deal with almost every individual in the UK. They may need to spend some money prior to a referendum to make their IT systems euro-compatible, so that we can maintain the flexibility for Britain to make the changeover as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.

"It is right that Parliament should be asked to give explicit approval to such expenditures, which will amount to some tens of millions of pounds spread over a number of years.

"We will therefore include provisions in the Finance Bill and the Social Security Bill which will authorise this spending; and of course there will be normal votes on the appropriation accounts.

"So the Government themselves will be making active preparations for the euro in the belief it will be in this country's interests to join in the future should our economic tests be met. Business should start to do the same.

"The national changeover plan sets out the range of work involved for different sectors; for example. in the retail financial sector the BBA and the APACS are leading work with the Bank of England on how to approach the conversion of their core IT systems. The retail sector more generally will be taking forward with consumers and suppliers work on a detailed code of practice on arrangements for the changeover. Businesses, large and small, need to focus on the impact of the euro on their business strategies.

"On the basis of this work, and after studying the experience of the first wave of participants, the outline plan that we are publishing today shows that it is possible to streamline the timetable adopted in Europe, with no disadvantage to our economy and some benefit. Overall, 'we believe it should be possible to move in four months from a government decision to a referendum; in 24 to 30 months from a positive referendum result to the introduction of notes and coins: with a further six months before sterling notes and coins are withdrawn.

"This means that the whole process from a positive referendum result to the withdrawal of sterling could be completed in around three years, considerably faster than the period required for the first wave of EMU participants. A great deal of further work needs to be done to refine and develop this timetable, and particularly to clarify how soon after a positive referendum result we could actually join EMU. As the plan makes clear, we are committed to taking this work forward in collaboration with business and the wider public sector, so that we can produce a further plan in about a year's time.

"I turn now to the economic tests the Chancellor set out on 27th October 1997. There is much focus, entirely natural, on the politics of the euro project. It is, of course, an intensely political act. But just as the euro cannot be conceived of, except politically; it cannot be made to work, except economically. It is, after all, an economic union.

"We have, as a Government, resolved the political issues, in favour of the principle of joining, should the economic tests be met. But they must be met. The manner in which we joined the ERM is a standing monument to the danger of joining a monetary arrangement on purely political grounds.

"There are two ideological and absolute positions on the euro which I do not share.

"The first is "No, never". It is to rule out Britain's membership of the euro on grounds of constitutional principle for always. It is perfectly principled. It argues, no matter what the benefits in terms of jobs or industry or even influence, such a decision is simply wrong, on grounds of sovereignty. I cannot accept this for the reasons I gave earlier: in the modern world, look around—technology, global finance, mass communication, to say nothing of travel and culture: this is a world moving together. Sovereignty pooled can be sovereignty, or at least power and influence, renewed. I suspect even if we were today to rule it out in principle and for ever, in a few years that ruling would itself come under question and in the meantime we would lose all influence whatsoever in the economic future of the EU of which we will remain a member.

"The second position is an unconditional "Yes, now". It is to say that economic conditions are meaningless and we should join regardless. But I believe the conditions are meaningful. It is precisely because the conditions are meaningful that we have said, to give some greater certainty to business and the country, that, barring unforeseen circumstances, we would not make a decision in this Parliament to recommend joining the euro.

"It is worth summarising the economic tests the Chancellor set out: sustainable convergence between the UK and countries within the euro-zone; flexibility to adapt to change in the UK and in continental Europe; the impact on investment and the UK financial services industry; and whether joining the single currency would be good for employment.

"Three points should be emphasised. The first is that economic convergence must be not momentary but, as far as we can accurately foresee, sustainable. We are still at a different stage of the economic cycle from the rest of Europe. But the difference between our official interest rates and theirs is narrowing. In October 1997, UK interest rates were at 7 per cent., with those in France and Germany at close to 3 per cent. UK interest rates are now at 5.5 per cent., compared to 3 per cent. for the euro area. The difference between our long-term interest rates and theirs is also falling, and is now down to around half a per cent. Long-term interest rates are now around their lowest for 40 years. Our inflation performance is consistent with the European Central Bank's definition of price stability. But it is essential that convergence is settled and sustainable. We cannot say that yet.

"Moreover, for decades, we have been prone to far greater swings in the economic cycle than our continental counterparts. It has been boom and bust. It has enormously damaged investment and reduced our ability to grow without hitting an inflationary ceiling at relatively low levels of growth.

"There is now an entirely new framework for economic management in place. Bank of England independence has at long last given us credibility in interest rate decisions, as well as low interest rates; and there are new fiscal rules that the Chancellor has relied upon to slash the £28 billion borrowing requirement and the ballooning national debt we inherited and to put us on a path of fiscal prudence. This new framework is a revolution in economic management for Britain. On its foundation, we have then put in place measures to boost education, skills, technology and productivity, measures to enhance the ability of business to grow and prosper. But we need to get through this more difficult part of the economic cycle and emerge stronger. For Britain to join the euro, it must be from a position of sustained economic strength.

"The second point is that these are early days for the euro itself. It is sensible to see how it settles down and how the ECB steers a path consistent with both strong economic discipline and the avoidance of deflation. Thirdly, it will take some time to make clear a judgment about whether the direction of economic reform in Europe will enable us to meet the tests we have set out, particularly on flexibility and jobs.

"Europe has a choice. Most of the countries in high and persistent levels of The Asian crisis has brought home to EU the fragility of the new world of Our world economy is more than ever before. The EU is not itself: but with the whole of the world "Europe has Europe have unemployment. all of us in the globalisation. interdependent competing with from Asia to America.

"The single currency alone will not make Europe prosperous. The single currency, plus fundamental reform in labour, capital and product markets and in our welfare systems, can do so.

"Economic reform is crucial, not just to the success of Britain's participation in the euro but to the euro itself. I understand the worries of those who, while not ruling out the euro in principle, are nonetheless concerned about the type of eurozone we might be joining. This is a real question. We must be sure the EU is moving forwards, not backwards. There are real problems in the EU and Britain can play a part in the solution.

"The economic reform programme includes the action plans which were started at our Cardiff Economic Council. They require labour market reform through greater flexibility; capital market reform through a European venture capital industry; and product market reform through extending competition and strengthening the single market. We are determined that these must be in place.

"The way to provide social protection today is not more and more regulation or high business costs and taxes; it is through making our workforce highly adaptable, more employable and better skilled; through encouraging the development of technology; promoting small businesses; and making our welfare systems help people off benefit and into work, with specific measures to combat social exclusion. We need a new social model for a new European reality.

"I want a Britain strong, economically disciplined: with boom and bust eradicated; flexible, competitive anti dynamic. And I want us in a Europe that at best is moving firmly in the same direction, rather than trying to hold us back. A vision that lets us adapt the European social model to the new realities of global commerce. A vision that binds the EU and America closer together and lets us learn from one another.

"We have stated as a matter of government policy that in principle Britain should join a successful single currency. That principle is real. The practical preparations we have set out are real. The conditions—necessary so that we proceed with caution and with common sense an in our own interests—are real. And we have set out a vision of Europe's future.

"We have a vision, but it is a vision that is practical. We should have confidence in Britain, in our vision and in our pragmatism. I commend the Statement to the House".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.54 p.m.

My Lords, at the outset, perhaps I may thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement. It was a long Statement and was technical; indeed, at times, I felt that it was slightly contradictory. However, because of its length, we shall need to study it further. On the last occasion that the noble Baroness repeated a Statement, I failed to ask for a debate on the subject at the time—a fact that was held against me when I came to ask for such a debate through the usual channels. Therefore, perhaps I may make it quite clear now that we on this side of the House expect an early debate on the matter, so that we can discuss such issues in full and call the Government to account.

It is most appropriate that this Statement should have been made this afternoon, while we are discussing one of the more fundamental constitutional issues—namely, that of the reform of Parliament and the strengthening of Parliament. This, too, is a fundamental constitutional issue. However, I wonder how many noble Lords would recognise the following words and, indeed, who said them. They were reported in the Sun on 17th April 1997. I quote:
"I know exactly what the British people feel when they see the Queen's head on a £10 note. I feel it too. There's a very strong emotional tie to the Pound which I fully understand".
Of course, that was a Prime Minister in training; namely, Mr. Tony Blair, writing exclusively for the Sun newspaper before he was resoundingly elected a few days later by millions of people who thought that they would not live to see the day that such a Statement was made.

Under the rules that we have for Statements, I shall confine the rest of my remarks to questions for the Minister, which I hope she will be able to answer. However, if she is unable to do so, I shall expect to receive the usual letter which is normally forthcoming after these events. First, is it not fundamental to the issue of joining the euro that nothing should be done before the British people have given their consent in a referendum'? Therefore, are we not witnessing the start of a campaign, which will bully the British people into believing what the Prime Minister this afternoon has said is not so; namely, that there is an inevitability about this process? Therefore, are we now to understand that, in practice, the Government's policy is not "whether" but "when" we join the euro? Would it not be so much more sensible and honest to say so?

Secondly, does the noble Baroness have any idea when the Government propose to have a referendum on the policy for which they are committing money today? I note that the Statement confirmed that the decision would not be taken in this Parliament. Does that mean that there will be no referendum Bill until after the general election—assuming that the Labour Party win such an election? If there is a changeover plan, there is presumably a target date for entry into the euro. I do not suppose that the noble Baroness would share that with us now. Nevertheless, it would be helpful to probe the Government's mind on their thinking as regards timing.

Thirdly, I turn to the question of cost. Many costs are involved in the Statement which has been made today. Can the Minister say how much money is being committed to the propaganda campaign for the euro? Further, can she tell the House whether any money spent in the changeover campaign will be coming from the European Commission or indeed from other EU funds, which will therefore deny other projects the spending that they were promised? Of course, the costs are not just those associated with propaganda. For example, how much will it cost the public sector to prepare for the euro, money which will be paid for by taxpayers? Moreover, how much will it cost the private sector—money which, of course, will be paid for by consumers?

Fourthly, can the Minister say what studies have been carried out—I am sure that many have been commissioned by the Treasury in recent months— regarding the total estimated cost of putting forward this plan, whether or not it is ultimately accepted by the British people? I also have a question about shadowing the euro. It is my understanding that the Maastricht Treaty requires countries preparing to join the euro to shadow it for two years. Is that also the understanding of the noble Baroness? Indeed, do the Government have any plans to shadow the euro? Will she undertake to inform the House in a Statement at once of any plan to shadow the euro, given its huge economic and political significance? Will the noble Baroness also confirm that no instructions on this matter have been given to the Bank of England?

Finally, in his extensive morning briefing on this announcement, the Prime Minister's press secretary said that there was a "change of gear", as we heard again in the Statement, and that this "change of gear" was about giving Britain a choice. The word "choice" is an important one. What work therefore is being done to prepare for the possibility that Britain will not agree to join the euro? What information is being given to various organisations to provide people with the kind of information to offer them that real choice? What thought is being given to ways in which the United Kingdom and UK business could use the economic freedom they would retain if they kept the pound? Is not the changeover plan really what it has already been described as; namely, a national handover plan and evidence that the Government have taken this historic decision to push for abolition of the pound before Parliament and people have been consulted?

In more ways than one this is a sad day. I am no Eurosceptic but I fear very much that the decision which has been taken today is a decision that has every possibility of being paid for in the loss of livelihoods, a lowering of living standards and the loss of jobs. It also fundamentally affects our ability to control our affairs. It is a day to be regretted. However, I very much look forward not only to the noble Baroness's response but also to the confirmation that there will be a full debate at the earliest possible opportunity.

5.1 p.m.

My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement made by the Prime Minister in another place. I join with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, in endorsing the idea of a debate although I should have thought he might prefer to avoid that experience. It will be interesting to discover when the time comes how his non-Euroscepticism shows, and how far his Benches are able to follow him on that. I doubt whether they will follow him more closely on it than on the other matters which your Lordships are discussing today.

At first sight—that is all one can say—this is an important, welcome and yet at the same time a curiously unsatisfactory Statement. Indeed it is less of a Statement than a speech, both in its length—I do not complain about that—and in its tone. I hope that my next remark will not upset the noble Baroness. I quote the final sentence of the Statement,
"We have a vision, but it is a vision that is practical. We should have confidence, both in our vision and our pragmatism".
That is a sentence worthy of Harold Wilson at his most equivocal when backing Britain going into the European Community a generation ago and only half admitting it. It would have been far better had the Statement been a ringing call of some kind, but it is not that at all. The general flavour of it is two steps forward and one step back. There are the announcements and the detail, which I do not wish to quarrel with, but all hedged around with conditions. If they are not new, why was it necessary to repeat them, except essentially as a nervous prelude to aspects of the Statement which might be rather less popular?

There were times when the Statement seemed like a prelude, another prelude to yet another missed opportunity. Certainly the timetable is extremely disappointing, although I shall ask the noble Baroness in a moment to make rather more explicit some matters which are certainly not clear to me. The Statement states,
"we want to keep open the option of making a decision early in the next Parliament".
It does not say that a decision will be made, or what it is likely to be. As I say, it is a Statement hedged around with reservations of a kind which I should have thought at this stage in this Parliament the Government would have done better to avoid.

As regards the timetable, on my calculation if no decision is to be made until after the election, and there is a gap of four months until a referendum, and then a period of two-and-a-half to three years before sterling is withdrawn, it seems to me the change is likely to be accomplished in 2005 or later. Will the noble Baroness confirm that that is the kind of timetable, looked at as a whole, which makes sense? If that is the case, the change would be accomplished more than half-way through the next Parliament. I should have thought that the wrong time to complete a change of this importance. It would have been far better, if a decision to join were made this year, for a referendum to be held the following year, and the early years of the next Parliament used to implement the decision, assuming it was endorsed by the British people. There are all kinds of indications that the momentum is there. Given some leadership from the Government we could have moved forward to a quick, easy and plain decision which would have had the widespread support of the nation.

However, if this Statement leaves no song in my heart, it would be ungenerous to appear to be other than supportive of the noble Baroness and the Government, faced with the alternative—if that is what it proved to be—of supporting the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and, in particular the Conservative Party's Treasury spokesman, Francis Maude, whose comments earlier today I thought were wholly inappropriate and showed how far the Conservative Party is out of touch with political and economic reality. I welcome the Statement so far as it goes. I feel a degree of disappointment that it does not go far enough.

5.6 p.m.

My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords who have spoken for what I would describe as their acceptance if not welcome of the Statement. If I may say so, both have fallen into precisely the ideological and absolute positions on the euro which the Prime Minister described in the Statement, which I repeated, the first being "no, never" and the second "yes, now". As I hope the Statement explained, this is precisely the course that we hope responsibly to travel between.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, felt once again sad about the Statement. It seems to be his permanent psychological state at the moment. I regret that, given that yesterday we all celebrated his birthday. I attended the presentation of the Statement by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place and I believe that the noble Lord would have been perhaps not surprised at but certainly out of tune with the reception that the Statement was given by the previous deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Heseltine, and the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Clarke. However, we know of course that this is not something—like the constitutional issue which we are also discussing this afternoon—on which the party opposite is united.

I, of course, accept both noble Lords' requests for a full debate on this subject. It is right that we should discuss it. It is a momentous and important Statement. The timing would, of course, be for the usual channels, but I am grateful that they both raised the point in principle. I am sure that we shall be able to carry that forward through the usual channels.

I must refer briefly to the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, as regards the Queen's head on the coinage. This was something I had not followed until I attended the relevant briefings on the subject earlier. The noble Lord and the House may not know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has obtained agreement that the Queen's head will remain on the coinage if we join the euro, and the position as regards bank notes is under negotiation. The Government are conscious of precisely the points which the noble Lord raised. This is a matter we are attempting to take forward.

On the point about whether or not it is irresponsible to initiate any form of preparation, such as is described in the Statement and in the background documentation, I should emphasis again that the Government feel it is right to announce the preparations and the outline plan for consultation to enable the country to make the real choice that it may be asked to make when the time for a referendum comes. To do so without the appropriate preparation would simply be an invalid and unrealistic choice requiring, were there for example, to be a yes vote, much further delay than the Government feel would be responsible to undertake on behalf of the country if that yes vote was forthcoming. The noble Lord will be aware that the timing will depend precisely on the understandings about the convergence of the economic conditions, clearly laid out since the Statement of my right honourable friend the Chancellor in October 1997.

As for the timing of the referendum Bill and the referendum itself, I suggest to both noble Lords who invited me to be more precise, that they are actually asking for some kind of projection about the date of the next general election. As the Statement clearly states, unless there are some unforeseen economic changes, that position will not be reached until the next Parliament. It is clearly not possible to attach dates to the particular critical path described; they are entirely dependent on the start date of the decision by the Government that it is in the economic interests of the UK to join the EMU.

Perhaps the House does not entirely share my enthusiasm for this, but we now know more about passing referendum Bills than we did at the time of the general election when the Government came to power. On the basis of experience, it is not unrealistic—as the Statement says—to say that we could proceed from a decision based on the economic criteria to a referendum in about four months.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, asked about the costs. It is true, as the Statement says, that there will be some expenditure of some tens of millions of pounds—not, as he suggested, on a propaganda campaign, but on practical matters such as upgrading the relative computer systems in the DSS, Customs and Excise and the Inland Revenue offices where it is particularly relevant to practical preparation for possible entry into the euro. As I understand it, that upgrading of computers will not take place simply in order to achieve the practical preparations. Where the computers and other systems are being upgraded in any undertaking of business projections, they will be adapted in such a way that they could be used for the euro. That seems to me a practical and very sensible provision. It is not in any way outside the normal competence of what one would describe as appropriate business and economic strategy.

As to the final point the noble Lord raised, it is not the Government's intention to shadow the euro. We have never suggested that, and it is not our policy. I will of course write to the noble Lord if I have left out any of the important points which he made. I think that I have covered the major ones.

5.12 p.m.

My Lords, I would call this national changeover plan a "changeover of national opinion plan." That is surely what it is all about. The technical matter of preparing—as any sensible government would—for the introduction of a new currency would not justify anything like the kind of Statement we have heard. Frankly, is not the real reason that the Government are now launching their pre-referendum campaign with the aid of substantial sums of public money? Is not another related reason the fact that the heads of government of the European Council are meeting in Germany at the end of this week and the Government are desperately anxious to disarm the expected German attack on the British failure to harmonise our taxes and to change our contribution to the European Community?

My Lords, I suspect that my noble friend and I will always have a disagreement in principle; I hope that we both accept that we take our positions from honourable backgrounds. I am sure my noble friend will appreciate that a great deal of the Statement and a great deal of the background document, which, with his usual assiduousness, he has probably already read, relate to the technical, practical and—as I said in answer to the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord Rodgers—what I would call effective and sensible business strategy rather than any kind of propaganda. As the Statement makes clear, it is intended to try and move towards a situation where the real choice is legitimately on the table. That involves some practical preparation, but not necessarily the influencing of opinion; rather the influencing of business strategy.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that the position taken by these Benches is motivated by the economic interests of this country and not by ideological, crazy passion? As shown in conference last week, both the TUC and companies such as Vauxhall think it important for direct investment reasons that this country joins the euro. Is the Minister also aware that 80 per cent. of people in this country believe that we will eventually join the euro? They can perceive the economic advantages of lower interest rates, prices and so on. Does this not suggest a greater need for public information at this stage? People are looking for the kind of leadership, through information, that the Government could provide. As my noble friend Lord Rodgers said, while this is a welcome step, it does not go far enough in providing the kind of leadership that opinion polls show people are crying out for.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her comments. Once again, if I may say so with respect, she slightly misses the point of the Statement which is to address the practical preparations for the business case which could be made for consideration, at another stage, of economic convergence.

I take her point about the role that business has played so far. It is important that the Governor of the Bank of England, the heads of the Financial Services Authority and the British Bankers Association, the presidents of the CBI and the British Chambers of Commerce, and the general secretary of the TUC have been involved in producing this document. They will be involved in the very important and more detailed work which will need to be undertaken in order to answer some of the questions about timing and the analysis of convergence issues which have rightly been raised.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness the Leader of the House accept that this statement of intention to join a successful single currency, however tentatively presented, will be welcomed by very many men and women who care deeply about the future well-being and prosperity of this country? To that end, can she assure the House that that intention will henceforward be fulfilled—not by accident or osmosis but by making it an important objective of government policy?

My Lords, I am extremely grateful for what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, says about the background principles of this policy. I hope it was clear from the Statement that the Government are—as was originally proposed by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Statement of October 1997—advancing the principle that if the euro is successful, and if the economic conditions of the euro are suitable for this country and promote better jobs, better industrial progress and so on for Great Britain, that is the policy the Government will pursue. We do not intend to pursue it to the economic disadvantage of the country, but we certainly intend to pursue it within the criteria I have described.

My Lords, as the noble Baroness has made considerable play about the number of SMEs which maintain euro accounts, I wonder whether she can tell the House how many SMEs trade in US dollars and maintain US dollar accounts? Can she also tell the House whether she has noticed that there is an almost unanimous view being expressed by officials in Brussels, and by elected government Ministers in euroland, that EMU is only the first step towards a united states of Europe? If the Government do not agree with that proposition, how, once they have got us in, will they prevent our being dragged into such a confederation?

My Lords, on the point about the number of SMEs trading in dollars, I am advised by my noble friend Lord Simon of Highbury—who has taken a very important lead in this project on behalf of the Government and whom we thank very much for his activities in liaising between the Government and the business community—that the number of SMEs dealing in dollar trading accounts is probably much less than the number of SMEs now doing business with Europe. It is important to recognise that 45 per cent. of SMEs describe themselves as having important trading relations with Europe. That is 700,000 small businesses which, on any basis, should not be ignored.

On the point about "dragging", as the noble Viscount said slightly pejoratively, this country along in the general European direction, we will of course remain members of the European Union whatever happens as regards our joining or otherwise the single currency. It is the European Union which may pursue the political agenda; we will, as always, protect British interests in that forum.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness please go to the lap of the noble Lord her father and ask him to remind her of the horrors of the 1967 devaluation? Will she even ask for the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, who also went through the horrors of coming out of fixed exchange rates? Will she furthermore pray to the ghosts of Sir Stafford Cripps and Philip Snowden. both of whose political careers were very nearly destroyed by coming out of fixed exchange rates? Can we not learn that fixed exchange rates have done this country no good whatever and that we should therefore keep out of them and plough our own furrow in a way we are quite capable of doing? To say that we are not is to underestimate our own abilities.

My Lords, I am, as always, grateful to the noble Earl for his trenchant comments and for his trenchant advice. Although he invites me to go and sit on the lap of my father, I would say that he is being, as usual, extraordinarily flattering because, as an extremely grown-up person in 1967, I have clear memories of the Labour Government's problems in that period. As I said to my noble friend Lord Shore, I think we would have a disagreement in principle about the relevant economic and political decisions that we need to make. Those are ones which, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said, are issues of national policy and national strategy which we should have an opportunity to debate. I do not think that they are necessarily relevant to the much more technical discussion about preparation which we are discussing this afternoon.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is very necessary indeed to maintain the expectation of Britain eventually going into the euro? That in itself will help with convergence. The financial markets and potential investors will behave towards this country in the light of the expectation of our going in and the expectation of our going in will produce positive results in the markets. Does she further agree that it is important to get an absolute undertaking from Brussels that we will not be required to enter into ERM2? In Brussels it is still insisted that we shall have to. If we do not wish to do so, and if that is to become a block to our going into the euro, it is important that we should have the matter settled once and for all.

My Lords, my noble friend makes some interesting comments about what one might call the virtuous circle of expectation and real economic development. I have heard it suggested—this is perhaps relevant to the comment of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, in his intervention—that the only prospect of there being tremendous jitters in the currency markets on the basis of the programme we have outlined is if there were to be, somewhat extraordinarily in the present circumstances, the prospect of a Conservative government being elected at a general election, which is rather a change from what happened in the 1960s and the 1970s. Those who experienced that will be very clear about it.

On the point about ERM, I can say to my noble friend that there is no intention of doing that. As far as I am aware, no member state has raised that question in Brussels recently.

My Lords, I know that many senior business people and many distinguished political leaders whose judgment I respect believe that our membership of the euro in due course, if not immediately, is inevitable. But there is a possibility that the convergence schedule will not go as planned. Indeed, if one looks at Europe at the moment, although it is early days, one could say that divergence is more the keynote, with the German economy actually shrinking and wide divergences in economic performance growing even within euroland, let alone between ourselves and euroland. In that situation it is a practical possibility, for which we need to prepare, that we might find ourselves outside euroland, which will continue, and operating a local currency, sterling, not just for a few years but for a considerable length of time. Perhaps I may repeat the question of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde. Is it not a matter of preparing for the practical arrangements that might arise if we found ourselves in that position? Would it be too much to ask that, in the name of balance in this matter, which I know the Government are very anxious to maintain, a working party and a White Paper should be produced to define the ways in which we can benefit and prosper in that situation, which is possible?

My Lords, with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that is precisely what the plan does. It accepts the possibility that the strict criteria of economic convergence have to be achieved in order for the Government to accept the case for joining EMU. The Government believe that their macro-economic policy and the new financial and economic structures that they have put into place in the past 18 to 19 months are precisely those which enable the British economy to grow. I should have thought that our capacity and indeed our expectation to avoid recession precisely encourages the convergence criteria to be more likely achieved than not. Perhaps that was what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, was referring to. On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, it really is not possible, except in the most theoretical terms, to estimate what the possible costs to industry might be of staying out of EMU. Therefore, that is not a realistic strategy to plan for in the way that we are hoping to do with the announcement of the outline plan today. But we do believe that there is a real choice. It is in order to make that real choice have political and economic validity that we are proposing this plan.

My Lords, I welcome this Statement and look forward to studying the plan. I should like to pay tribute to the work of the Treasury euro unit over the past couple of years in combining and co-ordinating all the detailed technical work of the various interests involved in preparing for the euro. I think that the House should also take the opportunity to pay tribute to the Bank of England for the work it has done over a much longer period in co-ordinaling the interests of the financial market and the City of London in general in preparing for the euro and being actively involved in the conversion to the euro at the beginning of this year, enabling the City of London and our financial institutions to be not only up to speed but ahead of the game in many cases and to prosper, albeit that we remain outside euroland.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, for that authoritative view on this sector. Naturally, the Government are concerned to protect the financial sector and the strength of the City of London within or without the euro position. I join him in paying tribute to the work of the Bank of England. As I said in the Statement, it has been advantageous to the preparation by the various teams involved that the BBA and the Bank of England specifically have taken such an active role and have played such a constructive part in drawing up these plans.

My Lords, I very much welcome the Statement so far as it goes. Can we now hope that the Government will be prepared not to hide behind the undoubtedly important technical work that is being undertaken but to give a real lead from the Prime Minister downwards in leading Britain towards the economic convergence that we need? Does the noble Baroness agree that there is another side to this convergence, which is the convergence that has to take place from Europe? I refer to the restructuring of European industry and the restructuring of social and labour costs inside Europe. To present a referendum to the British people where we are inviting them to go back to the 1970s is not a proposition they will find very exciting.

No, my Lords, I recognise that. That is precisely why the passage in the Statement, which was very clear and perhaps more detailed than some noble Lords appreciated—I concede that that added to its length—described the alternative social model which the Government very much hope to persuade the rest of Europe to follow and which we feel will be important to the success of our society as well as our economy.

On the point about the Prime Minister giving a lead, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Garel-Jones, that a lead has been given in a responsible way since the Statement made by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in October 1997 which, I emphasise again, very much gave the go ahead to joining EMU but with the very important and responsible criteria laid down beside it. What the Prime Minister said this afternoon underlines that point. I am sure that at the moment, if it comes, when convergence is identified within the scope of the criteria that have been clearly demonstrated, the Prime Minister will, as always, give a very important political lead.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that many people will find this Statement extraordinarily timid? The Government say that business will take some satisfaction from the fact that there is certainty—namely, that no decision will be taken until the next general election. I suppose one should be grateful that there is not uncertainty—but, my word, if that is certainty from the Government it leaves a lot to be desired.

The Statement refers selectively to the economic convergence criteria. Does the noble Baroness accept that on at least two of those criteria—namely, of creating better conditions for firms making long-term decisions to invest in Britain and the City's competitive position—it is already abundantly clear that Britain's economic interests lie with joining the euro? Finally, on a practical point, the noble Baroness talks about a four-month period between taking a decision in principle to hold a referendum and the referendum taking place. Will the Government accept that, were that to be possible within the first months of a new Parliament, the sensible way to prepare for it would be to introduce and pass a paving Bill in this Parliament so that the Government could get on with matters after the next election?

My Lords, this 20 minutes of exchanges has been fascinating. We have seen precisely identified the divisions between—I think the noble Baroness was slightly concerned when I said ideological grounds; I was simply quoting from the Statement—the "no, never" and the "yes now, under any circumstances" positions of noble Lords.

I emphasise again that the Government see what they call the cautious but nonetheless responsible and determined path which is outlined in the Statement and the background document as the most useful one to follow. I cannot see any advantage, whether political or economic—and certainly it would not be in the interests of the British people—in saying that we shall go hell for leather for EMU whatever the costs to industry and whatever the background in terms of the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, on the City of London and whatever the grounds in regard to the social impact and social policies mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Garel-Jones. This is a responsible policy of practical preparation. It is based on a decision in principle which has been made clear by my right honourable friend this afternoon. Noble Lords should accept it on that basis.

House Of Lords Reform

Debate resumed.

5.33 p.m.

My Lords, I hope that with a modest mental leap we can return to the subject that we were discussing before we were so rudely interrupted.

We shall have an opportunity when the House of Lords Bill comes to your Lordships' House to consider its proposals in detail, not only at Second Reading but, if it survives that, at the Committee stage. In due course we shall have the long-term recommendations of the Royal Commission. I therefore want to concentrate entirely on the White Paper which is the subject of the Government's Motion and the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. (I need hardly say that I speak only for myself—as a Cross-Bench Peer I can speak for no one else.) Several noble Lords have criticised the quality and intellectual validity of the White Paper; but at least it has provided the opportunity for this valuable debate. And, for the connoisseur, it provides one or two interesting insights into the Government's ideological leanings.

I turn first to the claim in the White Paper, summarised on page 5, that the Government's proposals for constitutional change rest on the assent of the people. The Government state that,
"People across the country have made clear what they want",
and they go on to speak of the referendums and subsequent developments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and of the referendum on the governance of London. However, when they come to the reform of the House of Lords, there is no such claim. Indeed, there could not be because there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever of a popular demand for such reform. As the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, said yesterday, the indications are that probably no more than 2 per cent. of the people of this country are actively in favour of the proposals which the Government are now putting forward. Indeed, when it comes to justifying their approach, the wishes and will of the people play no part, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, observed yesterday.

Incidentally, those of us who listened carefully to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway— which means, I hope most of us—may have noted that one important point in his speech was not clearly reflected in Hansard at col. 895. There seems to be a very important "not" missing from the text. I have discussed the matter with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, and am assured that what he was saying was that a special enabling Bill which was not hybrid could be introduced, thus giving effect to the substance. I hope that that puts the record straight.

So, instead of the will of the people, the Government put forward (Chapter 5, page 27) under the interesting heading, 'Why Reform is Necessary", a quotation from Thomas Paine, who said, some 200 years ago,
"The idea of hereditary legislators is as inconsistent as that of hereditary judges, as hereditary juries; and as absurd as an hereditary mathematician, or an hereditary wise man; as absurd as an hereditary Poet Laureate."
This is, as political historians will be aware, a typical example of Paine's familiar dialectical method of reducing to absurdity views which differ from his own. But, more interestingly, the quotation is taken from The Rights of Man; and anyone who has had the excruciating experience of reading that monumental work will know that it is an unashamed polemical tract which advocates, among other things, the establishment of a republican constitution in this country. I hope that there is no hidden significance in this. Thomas Paine seems to me to be a most unfortunate choice as a role model for new Labour and, if those who drafted the White Paper were looking for a catchy quotation, I might have suggested to them what Paine's contemporary, Edmund Burke, wrote in his Reflections on the Revolution in France some years before Paine wrote The Rights of Man:
"People will not look forward to posterity who never look backward to their ancestors."
But perhaps that would not have fitted comfortably into the general ideology of the White Paper. The first point I make, therefore, is that there is, so far, no identifiable public desire for the kind of reform which the Government are now putting forward.

I now come to the claim that the Government are entitled to go ahead unhindered with their proposals because they were contained in their election manifesto. We all know about the Salisbury convention and, it is, indeed, referred to at some length in the White Paper on Page 17 of Chapter 3. I respectfully point out—and especially respectfully in the presence of the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne—that that convention is based upon nothing more constitutionally binding than an opinion advanced by Lord Salisbury in a debate in your Lordships' House in 1945. I venture with some temerity to advance the proposition that in a matter of this constitutional importance (by the Government's own admission one of the most radical constitutional changes to be made for many years) this House is not obliged to bow too obsequiously before the Salisbury convention. The very idea that by inserting a proposal for radical constitutional change in their election manifesto a subsequent government can avoid scrutiny and even outright opposition in the upper Chamber is leading us along a very dangerous path.

As I have said before in your Lordships' House—and it is a statement of the obvious—the present Government were not elected with a large majority because they promised to abolish the hereditary peerage. Nor, I suggest, would the majority have been any smaller had that undertaking not been in the manifesto. I believe, therefore, that this House may have a perfect right, even a duty, to ask the Government to think again about the proposal.

My third and final observation concerns the degree of haste with which the proposals are being pushed forward. The Royal Commission set up under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, has been asked to report by the end of this year so that the Government can respond to its recommendations in advance of the next general election. The Royal Commission will not even have its first meeting until 1st March.

Surely, before the Royal Commission can make recommendations about the composition of the upper House, it will have to consider in great detail the functions and powers of a future second Chamber. It seems to me almost incredible, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, indicated earlier, that we should expect a constitutional change of this depth and magnitude to be examined, debated and implemented within that time frame. Would it not be wise to provide more time for reflection and public debate, to assess the impact of the Government's other constitutional changes, all of which have an internal dynamic of their own but which are intimately linked with the future of Parliament? Would it not be logical to await the recommendations of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham's commission before embarking on this piecemeal slice of reform which seems to pre-empt some of the Royal Commission's options? As the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, said in his remarkable speech yesterday, there seems to be no coherent intellectual framework to the Government's constitutional policies.

I have now been fortunate enough to spend 35 years in your Lordships' House. During that fascinating time I have never got any impression that this House does not function effectively. In my experience, hereditary Peers have made and continue to make an important contribution to its success. I have had occasion to say before in your Lordships' House that no one, least of all I, would deny the need for change; but change must be evolutionary, orderly and regulated. I conclude by asking Her Majesty's Government, even at this late stage—but without much hope of success—to think again about the ill thought out and precipitous legislation foreshadowed by this White Paper.

5.43 p.m.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, expressed some fundamental doubts about government policy towards your Lordships' House which the Government Chief Whip may wish to answer when he winds up later this evening. For myself, I simply make the point that this debate enables us to have a wide-ranging discussion of the Government's plans for reform of your Lordships' House. But I have to say that for me the White Paper does little to allay the suspicion that although Ministers are determined to remove hereditary Peers from the House as a result of the stage one reform, what stage two will consist of no one, including Ministers, yet knows.

That is clearly demonstrated by reading Chapter 7, entitled rather grandiloquently, "Modernising the Lords". That, however, rather surprisingly embarks on rehearsing what are referred to in the text as "guiding principles", but which are nothing more than well worn and accepted conventions and understandings about the supremacy of the House of Commons.

Certainly the White Paper then discusses some options and suggestions for the future. I join my noble friend Lord Cranborne in having high hopes for the fruitful work of the Royal Commission, but until it reports it will be necessary to achieve a wide area of agreement at the end of the day, including the agreement of Members of another place. But we shall have to wait until that report arrives.

Although one might not think so from the statistics and pie charts in the White Paper relating to the composition of your Lordships' House, a simple fact which is well understood in this House is that without Cross-Bench support the government of the day will usually be in jeopardy in this House. That is not only because of the number of Cross-Bench votes which can be cast on any particular issue but also because, more often than not, movement against the Government on the Cross-Benches, whoever the government may be, is often the signal that Peers, including the Government's own supporters, have doubts which they are about to register on a specific issue.

This House—thank goodness—is still capable of demonstrating independence of mind and spirit. So one of the few welcomes that I can give to the White Paper is its recognition of the value of the Cross-Benches, which are important in that respect.

There are three aspects of the White Paper which I wish to mention—not, I hope, in order to take minor and fiddling points, but to echo the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, which I so much enjoyed, and perhaps to emphasise the fact that we are setting off on a complex path.

First, as I read Chapter 8 which deals with the
"Advantages and disadvantages of the elected options",
I could not help wondering just how expensive the second Chamber will be. Then, rather like meeting an old friend in the street, I came across a paragraph which could only have been written by the familiar hand of the Treasury which states:
"Higher costs. The costs of both the elections themselves and the need to provide proper salaries and research facilities for elected members would considerably increase the costs of the second chamber".
I found it hardly surprising that with this warning ringing in their ears, the authors of the White Paper recommend some, but not too much, elected membership. In other words, a "Mixed House", as the White Paper calls it, for the future.

That sounds a safe compromise, but if the elected element were to be accorded separate and privileged treatment of that kind, then I believe that a mixed House would start to throw up some real problems even before it had ever met.

Secondly, I wish to ask what the Government envisage is the right role for a reformed second Chamber in relation to the devolved institutions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The White Paper suggests that a reformed House could have some "overt" role as the representative of the regions and the regional bodies. Along with other noble Lords, I find this an interesting possibility. But it raises two issues. If some Members were to attend the second Chamber in a representative role, mandated, as it were, from their devolved assemblies, it could mark a sharp departure for a House where noble Lords speak entirely on their own behalf and where presumably that would remain the case for nominated life Peers. It is an important matter when we are talking about a revising Chamber which is supposed to be as independent in mind and spirit as it is possible to be. Also, I regret to say that I can see little real progress being made in that area while the Government remain unwilling to address the West Lothian question. If nothing is done, it will threaten to sour relations at least between England and Scotland for some years to come.

Finally, I join many other noble Lords in believing that the White Paper has made a grave error in rather lamely recommending a reduction in the powers of the House. It is as though the authors of the White Paper had temporarily forgotten that they are supposed to be ushering in an exciting reform for a modernised second Chamber. Or is there possibly a touch of duplicity here? It is easy to see that one method of balancing the increase in the so-called legitimacy of the House by the stage one reform could then be balanced by reducing the powers of the House at stage 2. That very neat equation might be appealing to Members of another place.

Whatever the reasons for this particular recommendation, it runs entirely counter to the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde which I believe is rightly protective of the independence of Parliament and of the scrutinising function of the House of Lords. I also wonder what kind of message the recommendation to reduce the powers of the second Chamber would send to busy people who might be deciding whether or not to stand for some kind of election to the second House of Parliament.

If enacted, the Cranborne-Weatherill proposal (to use that shorthand) will go some way towards hereditary Peers being able to contribute to the work of a transitional House and to agreement on stage two reform. I welcome that and take great comfort from it. But my abiding reservation, which I share with countless other noble Lords, is that it is a serious matter for the Government to be determined to proceed without having a thoroughly considered plan for House of Lords reform. There is no such plan. We must be realistic and face the fact that in the end much will depend upon both the wisdom and good common sense of the Royal Commission and what agreement can be reached with Members of another place.

5.51 p.m.

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Belstead, whom I was proud to follow as Leader of this place some years ago. I greatly admired the skill, tact and charm that he brought to the discharge of his duties. I was unable to emulate those qualities. I shall not follow his speech today, not because I disagree with what he said but because I believe that there are some very important points to draw to the attention of the Royal Commission that so far have not been made. We are debating the White Paper and not the House of Lords Bill, but some words spoken during the recent Second Reading debate on that Bill by the redoubtable parliamentarian, Mr. Benn, appear to me to be very relevant. Mr. Benn did not argue, as he might have done, that temporary Bills like the Parliament Act 1911 have a habit of becoming permanent because no one can agree on what should be its replacement, but that permanency would be the lot of the House of Lords Bill because it will suit everyone at the top.

I am not sure that Mr. Benn got it quite right. I am more inclined to the view, shaped by the contents of the White Paper and the composition of the Royal Commission, that Mr. Blair is confident that everyone at the top will be well and truly suited when the Royal Commission reports because he believes that the Royal Commission will gratify the Government's clearly expressed wish that the House should not be wholly elected. or even have a very substantial elected element, and that the powers of the House should even be reduced. In short, Mr. Blair believes that he will win both ways. He will get a report that recommends a House that will not be a nuisance—pa report that is entirely in tune with his own idea that Parliament is a good thing provided it does not get in the way of the project—and he will then be able to take credit for its speedy implementation.

The kind of anodyne report that the Government expect the Royal Commission to produce may not be as easy to translate into legislation as the Government believe. The Second Reading debate in another place showed that there is not the beginnings of a consensus in the Labour Party as to what form stage two should take. Of course the lesson of 1968 is not that hereditary Peers wrecked Labour's plans for reform but that politicians in the other place, on the right and the left, were not prepared to support the Parliament Bill.

The position is that the present House of Lords Bill, when it becomes an Act, may never be replaced, and for that reason we may be left with a wholly nominated House. If, on the other hand, the Government get through a second stage Bill it is very likely to be a measure that gives us anyhow a wholly or largely nominated House. We had better face up to it. It is a dismal prospect, for the reason that those noble Lords who embark on constitutional change must look not just at the mundane, workaday duties of the House but at the powers that it can use if necessary in wholly abnormal circumstances, for example in times of national crisis. We should look at those powers of the Lords that are most essential to the preservation of our freedom. The most obvious one is the power preserved by the 1911 Act to deny to a government a Bill to extend the life of a Parliament. We should ask ourselves what kind of House can be most trusted to exercise that power and stand in the way of dictatorial government. Certainly, it is not a nominated House that the government of the day can pack with their own supporters in order to secure a majority.

No doubt the Government will continue to stress that there will be safeguards to prevent the nominated provisional House, and by implication any nominated, or largely nominated, second stage House, becoming a mere rubber stamp of government. I am sorry to say that that is simply not the case. Neither in the House of Lords Bill nor in the White Paper is there any assurance that there will be put in place arrangements to prevent a Prime Minister being able to advise the Queen to create enough Peers to ensure the passage of any legislation. There is nothing in the Bill, and no legislation promised in the White Paper, to bar a Prime Minister from flooding the House with his own nominees. Pious declarations that no one political party should seek a majority in the Lords do not alter the constitutional and legal position. The position is that it will remain open to the Prime Minister, and for that matter any future Prime Minister, to secure for himself an absolute majority in this place and to render the House completely ineffective as a check on the Executive.

I identify the real weaknesses in the constitutional arrangements that have existed for a long time but have not mattered very greatly because of the strong independent element in the House of Lords which the hereditary Peers have constituted. But now that sweeping change is to take place the Royal Commission would surely be failing in its duty if it did not take this opportunity to address these weaknesses. I assert that the present House of Lords Bill and any successor that allows for nominated Peers should contain provisions that prevent any flooding of the House with supporters of the Government. One way would be to put a statutory limit on the number of Peers who could be created in any year and charge a statutory appointments committee with the task of recommending appointments from the various parties in numbers which ensured that, as nearly as possible, the government of the day had a small majority over the other parties but not in the House as a whole.

But I believe we should go further than that. The Royal Commission simply must not miss this opportunity to address real weaknesses that have existed for a long time. It must recognise that, in the absence of a written constitution that is amendable only by special procedures, there are few safeguards in this country against a government, supported by a hefty but perhaps very temporary majority in the House of Commons, destroying our most precious institutions, including the monarchy itself, that have grown up over the centuries. Most people recognise that these institutions are not the playthings of politicians to be tampered with at the whim of a temporary majority in the House of Commons, but are held in trust by us for our children and our children's children. It is difficult to see how vandalism of this sort can be checked and averted other than by a second Chamber so constituted that it is genuinely independent of the government of the day.

But I am not sure that even this is enough. I have become more and more convinced that there should also be a special procedure for Bills of constitutional significance, and in particular Bills touching on the powers of the monarch. In my view, legislation should provide that a Bill, certified by the Speaker as coming within this category, should, after rejection by the second Chamber, only become law if endorsed by the electorate in a referendum. Alternatively, in the case of constitutional Bills alone, the delaying power of the second Chamber should be restored to the 1911 Act position, and it should be provided that there could be no further changes in the second Chamber's powers without such Chamber's consent.

The Royal Commission has an awesome task. At a time when the House of Commons has proved itself almost entirely ineffective as a check on the executive; at a time when, according to Mr. Tam Dalyell, the House of Commons, which the Prime Minister rarely troubles to attend, is "atrophying"; and when, according to Mr. Benn,
"democracy is being squeezed out of the system";
at this time of all times the Government have, with amazing effrontery, told the Royal Commission that they want fewer powers for the second Chamber and would not countenance an elected House or even a House with a substantial elected element.

I beg the Royal Commission to surprise us all by ignoring this Government's instructions, and recognising that this is an opportunity which will not recur for years to provide safeguards in our constitution against an elective dictatorship; an opportunity to be master builders of a very much more comprehensive constitutional settlement than that envisaged by the noble Lord, Lord Richard.

6.2 p.m.

My Lords, I welcome the White Paper, but I do not believe that it goes far enough. As some noble Lords will know, I wrote a pamphlet about reform of the House of Lords for the Fabian Society two years ago. In it I laid out the logic of that reform, which is quite clear. The problem with the British constitution is not that there are hereditary Peers. As my noble friend Lord Richard and the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, said, it is a question of the power of the Executive. Because we have an unwritten constitution the provisions are not laid out. The power of the Executive has become what it is because of the nature of the House of Commons.

Therefore, an important part of the reform of the second Chamber is to have a chamber which will sometimes challenge the House of Commons. I see no problem with that. The House of Commons is pre-eminent and will remain so. We also know that any Prime Minister with a majority can do what he or she likes. It is very interesting that in British politics it is only when parties are in opposition that the danger of the power of the Executive is discovered. As the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, said, it is only when the party is in power that it forgets that homely truth. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, is not here. That truth has been known since Tom Paine first pointed it out. I prefer him to Edmund Burke because at least Tom Paine did not praise Marie Antoinette and become a fan of Louis XVI, as Burke did.

Therefore, we need a second Chamber with legitimacy, as many noble Lords have said. That requires not just the removal of hereditary Peers but of most life Peers. If legitimacy is lacking in this Chamber because the hereditary Peers are unelected, so are we. At the second stage of any reform of the House—if we ever get to that stage—we should have only the Cross-Bench life Peers with, perhaps, the Bishops for the religiously-minded, which I am not. About 145 Members would form the rump of the House of Lords, if I may so call it. Then, according to my calculations, working on the two-thirds principle we should have 290 elected Members. That would represent a Chamber with two-thirds of its membership elected and one-third nominated.

One of the defects of the White Paper is that it does not contain a comprehensive survey of second chambers across the world. If other western-style constitutions had been considered, especially that of India, it would have been realised that there are other ways of electing a second chamber, which would have both an appointed and an elected element. It does not matter if an element is indirectly elected, but direct election would be easier and probably cheaper.

In reform at the second stage we should aim for a House with between 345 and 350 Members, which I believe is about the normal size of the active House at present. At the moment the active part of this House contains no more than 350 to 400 people. Therefore, the business that the House does today can easily be done by 350 people who will have to be paid. I am sorry to say that people are not going to do the kind of work that this House does if they are stripped of dignity and it is made just an ordinary second Chamber. Therefore, the Members of the House will be paid. It would be a properly serviced and, I am sure, an efficient House.

I was intrigued by the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, yesterday. He is one of the few people who has spoken about the functions of the House, apart from my noble friend Lord Richard. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, proposed that the reformed House should become a Committee, as it were, of the House of Commons so that any Bill introduced in the other place, and after Second Reading, would come straight here. Such a Bill would go through a Second Reading and Committee stage in this House. Either before or after Report stage the Bill will return to the other place. That would save a great deal of time and the House would he doing what it does best; namely, scrutinising a Bill, giving a great deal of expert advice, and investing much time in careful examination of it for which the other place does not have the time.

We could have a House with 350 Members. We could have a Committee, Select Committees and other specialist committees. A House with 350 Members would be appropriate. I look forward to the Royal Commission recommending that and I look forward to free afternoons and evenings for myself.

The Cranborne-Weatherill compromise fills me with foreboding. I am worried that we shall stop there. I am genuinely worried that it represents the perfect English compromise which never solves a problem. However, it makes it very difficult for anyone to insist that there is still a problem to be solved. If one believes that the real reason for wishing to reform this House is because of its Conservative majority, as do some Members of another place, that objection is removed by the compromise. If that occurs, what Government would be eager to reform the House of Lords two or three years later? It would be too close to the next election and after that who would care? I am very fearful of the compromise. I shall have to think very carefully whether I vote for it. I might vote against it.

Finally, wish to say a few words about faith. Many people have said that we could use the opportunity of reforming the House of Lords to include many members who are "professional" representatives of different faiths. I am against that. The bishops are here and good luck to them, but it is a mistake to believe that all other religions consist of a priesthood or Church like the Christian Church. For example, the Hindus in this country do not have a Church and a defined priesthood. No one can be called a representative Hindu priest. It would be a nightmare. Of course, there are many sects in Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism and Buddhism—heaven knows! Of course, there will have to be atheist representatives and I offer myself for that. I believe that if we want the faiths to be represented we should take the same stance as the Catholic Church; that faiths should be represented by the lay people who believe in them and not by the "professionals".

6.11 p.m.

My Lords, I enjoyed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Desai, for the amusement he gave us, most of it on purpose. I noted that he is the only person on the other side of the House who has had the courage, or perhaps the intellectual discipline, to work out and propose a reform for the House. It is clear that the Government have not made up their mind and I do not believe that they back his idea. However, when he dealt with the Cranborne-Weatherill, Prime Minister-Lord Chancellor, agreement he showed a delightful ambivalence. I hope that in debates on the forthcoming Bill I shall be one of those who can persuade him that it is a good idea.

However, today's debate is about the White Paper and not about that Bill. I find part of the White Paper generally acceptable in describing the history and the present state of the House of Lords and many of the available options for changes. I say "generally" because I have noted a number of errors and ambiguities. The reason that I so strongly support the amendment, moved so well on his birthday by my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition, is because the White Paper is unclear about the future powers of the House, the importance of it, and of its individual Members being independent in mind, spirit and voice.

The White Paper sets out the options for the future. The noble Lord, Lord Richard. made a splendid speech following the equally, if not more, splendid speech of my noble friend Lord Cranborne. I noted that the noble Lord had not interpreted the White Paper in the sense that I had. I had believed that the White Paper was advising in favour of the hybrid House; two-thirds/one-third. He seemed to believe that it was advising in favour of a wholly nominated House. I rather wish that it were because I believe that there are substantial dangers in introducing into this House an elected element. If there are not dangers there are great differences. As in all constitutional matters I believe in evolution rather than revolution and building on what we have. I believe that we should be careful before making a fundamental change in the way that this House looks at things.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. The point that I was making, obviously not very successfully, was that there is precious little difference between a House which has a wholly nominated element and a House which has an indirectly elected element. In other words, the difference between nomination and indirect election seems to me to be paper thin and, frankly, not worth the paper it is written on.

My Lords, I take the noble Lord's point, but I shall not come back on it.

When one moves up to this Chamber from down the corridor, as I did 37 years ago in 1962, one remembers that in this House each of us is solely responsible for and to himself. Down the corridor, each honourable Member is responsible to those who elected him. They can sack him. Nobody can sack us, other than the Lord God. However, I hope that my noble friend Lord Wakeham will consider the possibility of life Peers being able to resign for whatever reason. There is that fundamental difference; and whether hybrid or wholly elected, do we want to have that difference? My noble friend Lord Belstead made a point about there being a mixture of salaried and non-salaried people. I question whether a mixture in this House of those wholly responsible for themselves and those responsible to outsiders is a good way of establishing a durable second Chamber.

The point has been made that the White Paper seeks to strengthen Parliament. I believe that we all agree with that aim. However, I agree with my noble Leader that it is odd that in seeking to strengthen this House and Parliament one should consider reducing its powers. I believe that this House will be strengthened when its legitimacy, in the broad sense of that word, is understood better by and is acceptable to the public and Members of the other place.

It is sometimes thought that our legitimacy is not acceptable solely because of the antiquity or peculiarity of hereditary peerages. I do not believe that that is the sole or even the dominant reason. I believe that the dominant reason for the failure to accept this House as a credible part of Parliament today is the political imbalance. That was the comment that I took from the debate in the other place. I shall not follow my noble friend Lord Waddington in disobeying what I believe to be the rules of the House by quoting the Member who said it. However, it was said in the other place that the Government and the Opposition have no plans for the reform of the House of Lords. It is generally agreed that the House of Lords has a political imbalance which must be changed. I believe that that is right. It is one of the reasons why I welcome the transitional arrangements which have been agreed. It is also one of the reasons why I believe that all parties to the agreement were typically wise and pragmatic in making the evolutionary arrangements on which we depend.

Finally, I issue a word of warning to my noble friend on the Royal Commission about innovations and alterations. I hope that he will remember what scientists do with new drugs. They look extremely carefully at the side effects. I believe that the side effects of the removal of the hereditary Peerage, and the alteration of some of our rules which has been proposed, need examination. I do not ask the commission to reject those proposals but I ask it to examine the side effects very carefully. I wish it well and I have the greatest confidence that my noble friend and the Royal Commission will produce a set of proposals which will enable a sensible and durable reform of Parliament to take place.

6.20 p.m.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Aldington. We have heard some remarkable speeches in this debate. If I single out in particular those of the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, and my noble friends Lord Denham and Lord Cranborne, it is because they are all hereditary Peers.

Indeed, they are the embodiment of the hereditary principle. Few people could have listened to those speeches and doubted that, however difficult it is to justify or rationalise, after the hereditaries have gone from this House something of value will have disappeared from our national life.

Everyone who has spoken knows much more than I about the House of Lords. But I know a little about the House of Commons. My great fear is that the Government propose to make this Chamber much more like the House of Commons. By saying that, I intend no disrespect to the House of Commons. Indeed, I tried my hardest to stay there. But this country does not need another highly political Chamber. After reform, this place will inevitably be much more political.

What is valuable here, and what strikes those of us who come from the other place, is not just the value of the Cross-Bench element but the atmosphere of quiet reflectiveness and detachment on all sides of the House.

I add my voice to those speaking against a wholly elected Chamber. I am slightly surprised at the emergence of some Tory Jacobins wanting to go down that road. If we have a wholly directly-elected second Chamber, why should it have any less legitimacy than the House of Commons? Why should it be bound by any Salisbury rules? A continuation of the Salisbury convention would make no sense. A second Chamber would be just as legitimate as the first Chamber. Every elected member would have his own mandate.

Whatever the starting rules may be, a wholly elected second Chamber would fight for, and in the end would acquire, more powers. The settlement of 1688 meant that a veto of a Bill by either House caused it to be defeated. That arrangement did not work then; it would not work now; and to go anywhere near that sort of conflict of interest would be disastrous.

The Government have decided to alter the composition of this House, conveniently leaving its powers unaltered for the moment. But when one brick is removed from a wall, the rest of the wall tends to shift. It is not possible to separate composition and powers. If we are going back to first principles—and the Government are forcing us to do precisely that—powers should come first and composition second, as my noble friend Lord Norton said yesterday. We should surely ask first what is the House of Lords is for and then we should decide the question of composition.

It is said that history sometimes repeats itself. In 1968 the Labour government put forward proposals for a stage one and a stage two reform together. Then, as now, Labour claimed to be strengthening the second Chamber but, at the same time, it proposed to lessen the time that the Lords could delay legislation approved by the House of Commons. The then government proposed to remove the right of this House to reject secondary legislation. Today—surprise, surprise—on page 40 of the White Paper, the Government float precisely the same proposals; namely, to reduce the length of time that legislation can be delayed and to remove the right to vote against secondary legislation. Perhaps these proposals, 30 years on, were written by the same civil servant sitting at the same desk.

There seems to be a fundamental contradiction in the Government's attitude. On the one hand, they say that those powers are theoretically available, implying that they are never used. On the other hand, their whole case for reform is that this House uses its powers too often. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Carter, will explain that to me. 1 was not entirely convinced by the noble Baroness's attempts to do so yesterday. To tell us that the Royal Commission will consider the question of powers is not to answer the question as to why there should be any reduction whatever in the powers of this Chamber.

I do not see a ease for reducing the powers of this House. The Government say that they are making this House more legitimate. If it is more legitimate, there is surely a stronger case for increasing its powers rather than reducing them. I could have mentioned also the proposal being considered in the House of Commons by the Modernisation Committee that a Bill not completed in one Session should be carried over to the next Session. If that proposal were implemented, that would drive a coach and horses through the powers of this House to delay legislation.

This House is seen as a revising Chamber, a modest and valuable role. But another important function surely is that this House should also act as a constitutional long stop and as an ultimate guardian of people's liberties. That is why, in many countries, there are second chambers—to be that ultimate safeguard. That, perhaps, is why a newly reformed, more legitimate House of Lords could have new reserve powers and be able to challenge the House of Commons.

Why should the House of Lords, if it is made more legitimate, not have the right to defeat legislation passed by the House of Commons if two-thirds of the Members of the House of Lords so decided? On constitutional Bills, why should the House of Lords, if it is more legitimate, not have the right to insist, again with a qualified majority, that constitutional Bills be considered by a referendum? Why should the House of Lords, if it is more legitimate, not have similar powers in relation to Money Bills and budgets, as the Bundesrat has in Germany? I agree with my noble and learned friend Lord Howe that our finance Bills and our tax legislation are not so perfect that they would not be capable of further improvement.

The House of Lords should bow to the nation but it is entitled to hold in check the tendency of elected representatives to go on frolics of their own. The other day I listened to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor casting. doubt on the phrase "elective dictatorship" coined by my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham. But elective dictatorships can be a real danger, whether a minority government or a very popular government deciding to abuse their powers, although the latter is more difficult to define and identify.

To my mind, the Salisbury doctrine is not entirely convincing. Manifestos are extremely long documents these days, usually only read by one's political opponents. No one can say which part of any manifesto the electorate has endorsed. The third Marquess of Salisbury himself said of the last Gladstone administration:
"No person can tell … on what question the present Government was elected"
The Salisbury doctrine has become a cloak for unicameral government.

I regret the passing of the hereditary element. But the hereditary principle has been an inhibiting influence on this House. If this House is to be liberated from its inhibitions, it should not be afraid to demand more powers.

6.28 p.m.

My Lords, I am delighted to follow my noble friend Lord Lamont. I agree with most of the points he made so I need not refer further to his speech.

I welcome the terms of reference of the Royal Commission and, in particular, that they include the role, functions and powers of your Lordships' House. Many of us have said over the years that to consider composition before functions is to put the cart before the horse.

It would be unrealistic to expect great increases in the powers of your Lordships' House. But I suggest that three points require specific consideration. The first is constitutional Bills, which were mentioned by my noble friends Lord Cranborne and Lord Waddington. They are of special importance. I refer to the constitutional Bills which were pushed through another place in the last Session of Parliament under a guillotine. I regard that as wholly unacceptable. They were not fully discussed, and in such circumstances your Lordships need greater powers. I suggest that if the Speaker of the House of Commons certifies a Bill as being a constitutional Bill, then your Lordships' House should have the 1911 powers of delay restored to it.

My second point concerns secondary legislation. I do not believe that this will be controversial in any part of the House. The amount of secondary legislation both in number and in importance has grown enormously over the years and will not diminish in the future. But we have quite inadequate powers to scrutinise such legislation effectively. I suggest that the time has come when this House should have the right to delay or to amend secondary legislation if that is felt to be appropriate. I realise that that proposal also has implications for another place.

My third proposal concerns pre-legislation procedures. I give the Government great credit for now introducing some Bills in draft 'so that they can be discussed both inside and outside Parliament before they are set in concrete. Your Lordships' House is well suited to consider those draft Bills. There are experts on every subject under the sun in this Chamber. I realise that a suggestion has been put forward that there might be a joint committee of the two Houses to consider draft Bills. I would prefer a Select Committee of your Lordships' House to consider them and to carry out the usual procedure—to take evidence from Ministers and officials and to produce a report which could then be debated in the House. That would produce better Bills with the rough edges removed—and we badly need to improve the quality of legislation.

Those three proposals would improve the effectiveness of your Lordships' House without in any way threatening the pre-eminence of the House of Commons. A further point I should like to make briefly is that reform of this House should be considered in conjunction with reform of the other place. The two interact on each other. It is not generally realised that another place will be a very different place after devolution. At the moment it spends most of its time on domestic issues, and virtually all government Bills involve domestic issues. Indeed, domestic issues dominate the workload of Members of Parliament—a workload which increased enormously in my time in another place.

When those domestic issues are removed from Westminster and are decided elsewhere, what are Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland MPs at Westminster going to do? I hope that they will not interfere in English domestic issues. There is an unanswered question here which could build up great trouble and great resentment. Of course it concerns your Lordships' House as well. Whatever the House of Commons decides about the number of MPs there should be from the other three countries of the United Kingdom will have relevance as to how your Lordships' House decides to deal with those issues. That question should be decided before and not after the next general election.

Another unanswered question mentioned by my noble friend Lord Belstead is the so-called "West Lothian question"; I prefer to call it the "English question" because it concerns England. Unless this problem is tackled and resolved, we shall have a situation in which Members of Parliament in Westminster from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, will have a say in English domestic issues whereas English MPs will have no say in the domestic issues of other countries. That is asking for trouble; it is asking for an English backlash. That is also directly connected with your Lordships' House because the way in which the other place decides to handle English domestic issues will have great relevance for the way in which they should be handled here.

The third unanswered question concerns the financial relationships; the amount of money which should go from the Treasury to the other countries of the kingdom—the Barnett formula. We are now in a position where the Barnett formula is being discussed. It is no good the Government saying, "Tuck it under the carpet; we will deal with it later". It will be a burning issue and your Lordships' House will wish to have a say in those matters also.

As a result of the actions that the Government have taken, both Houses of Parliament are now in a state of flux. This is bad for Parliament though it may be convenient for the Government. In his foreword to the White Paper the Prime Minister referred seven times to "modernisation". But modernisation is not necessarily to improve; it can unsettle; it can weaken established institutions and it can destroy continuity. The Government, in their haste for constitutional reform, have left too many loose ends and too many unanswered questions. That uncertainty will inevitably weaken rather than strengthen the Mother of Parliaments. If the Government wish to convince us that they want to strengthen Parliament, they can start to mend their ways tonight by accepting the amendment moved so eloquently by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde.

6.37 p.m.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to listen to the wise and measured words of my noble friend Lord Dean of Harptree. I propose to focus on two aspects of the task set out for us by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde in his excellent opening speech to this debate. That task is: what kind of strengthening do we plan of a Parliament that is weak, poorly regarded and struggling (both Houses) to adjust to a totally transformed pattern of world conditions and a society which is taking shape outside these Chambers and outside the traditional apparatus of legislation which we inherited from the previous century?

I believe it was the late Lord Iddesleigh—the former Sir Stafford Northcote—who said in conversation with Lord Salisbury 120 years ago when they were discussing the eternal problem of Lords' reform, "You must understand that the strength of the House of Lords lies in its weakness." That was a profound statement. What he meant—this was touched on by my noble friend Lord Cranborne in his excellent speech—was that the hereditary element which was then totally dominant in the House of Lords has always held back; except on one or two occasions, it has never pressed all of its powers. For the most part it has always operated with one foot on the brake. As a result of that restraint it has enabled the second Chamber to proceed in an influential and effective way over the years.

Having read the White Paper from cover to cover, I still do not believe that the Government have grasped the central point of what they are now proposing when they talk about a "legitimised" Lords, a Lords without hereditary Members. That legitimised Lords will inevitably be more assertive, more self-confident, more busybody (dare I use that word), and, in the language of the media which dominates all—I shall come to that shortly—more high profiled. Of course it will be. Even if the Government were so unwise as to go against my noble friend's amendment and try, as in section 7 of the White Paper, to reduce the legislative, formal powers of how we handle and deal with legislation, I venture to assert that the reformed, legitimised House of Lords will be a noisier and more influential place. Influence will merge with power in the modern sense.

I believe that what is not understood by everybody, and maybe was not known to our forebears such as Sir Stafford Northcote and others, is that when we talk about power we are dealing not with the old-fashioned hierarchical power that could be governed and called to account by Parliament over the executive and handled through the due process procedures of law making, but with a new distribution of power which is flowing away from the other place.

We all know—it is the commonest of common knowledge—that the House of Commons is rapidly losing its power and the respect which it has. We all know that the power is moving away from the Chamber, which is empty most of the time. Yet we continue to talk as though there was this "lump" of power that somehow needs to be curbed by the appropriate traditional accountability. Where has that power gone? Some has gone to supranational levels, as we know, and to the international agencies which now govern and restrain the actions of every government and every national legislature. Some has been devolved. However, much the most part has gone, not to the identifiable institutions, but into the network of communications by which the world is now governed.

We no longer live in a world of hierarchies but in a modern world almost entirely governed by a network of new power centres which are not in the traditional, hierarchical pattern. They are, of course, the media barons who have a power of life and death; the great regulators of markets who can make and break and crush lives; the rating agencies which can wipe out a government—indeed, they can destroy a nation in a morning just by re-rating its credit—and the Internet servers, the lords of cyberspace, who can cut off the communications of nations. All those colossal powers have grown up in the past 10 years. They are all potentially—sometimes for good reasons but often for more sinister reasons—curbs on our liberties. People expect parliamentary institutions to be able to call those to account, not just the executive and its traditional law-making powers. They expect the institutions of their parliament to be able to call to account those bodies, those great powers of today. They carry power far in excess of anything imagined by our forebears or even by Members of the two Houses 10 or 15 years ago.

The Commons has not been idle in the face of all that. There has been a real attempt over the years, and during the years when I was a Member of that House, to respond to this development. I was proud to be involved in the Select Committee system. There has been an attempt to develop, certainly through that system, a way of trying to interface with powers outside Parliament and the executive, which need to be called to account.

What will a reformed House of Lords do? Of course, it will do the same thing. We are already very good and up and running at European committees; we perform that function excellently. Such committees will probably be conducted in an even more powerful and influential way. The cameras may be brought in, linking up to the network of communication and the media. I have never understood why—and I would welcome this—we do not have a Select Committee on Foreign Affairs in your Lordships' House. I speak from experience when I say that the whole system in the Commons there is hopelessly overloaded. The load has grown like a mushroom over the past 10 years. The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs comes to grips with about one in 10 of the major issues which intimately affect the lives of the citizens of this country. I do not refer to vague foreign policy but to intimate developments around the world which affect the way in which we live and work.

I believe that that will happen in this House; it is bound to. It probably would have happened whether or not a decision had been made to remove the hereditary Peers. As noble Lords have said, the die is cast. A legitimised House of Lords will develop additional power whether or not the executive wants it to. 'We have no idea what the executive really wants from the House of Lords.

That is my warning, if I may put it that way, to my noble friends. We face a much more active and visible House of Lords which has an opportunity of influencing and calling to account power in a way that neither House has been able to do and which, as a result, excites ridicule and contempt by the general public who see power being exercised without any control at all by any of the people they elected or appointed.

I shall quite enjoy seeing the fact dawn on an unsuspecting government that they have set in motion all sorts of things which will produce all sorts of developments that they perhaps did not intend. In short, we are about to see the law of unintended consequences have one of its most spectacular manifestations of modern times.

6.45 p.m.

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Howell has made a typically intellectually robust speech and one to which all noble Lords listened with great attention.

I wish to concentrate on the future powers of your Lordships' House. However, before I do so I must take issue with the noble Baroness the Leader of the House and her obsession with the word "time". She seems to have difficulty in understanding the importance of time: time to think and time to reflect. After all, what we are about with this White Paper and subsequent Bills is matters which have not changed much in decades. Indeed, if one does one's analysis, one could argue that very little has changed since the Reform Act 1832.

It is surely not acceptable to this House to be told that the Government have set a demanding time schedule. Indeed, it is so demanding that the chairman of the Royal Commission indicated in his speech that he found it to be "equally demanding".

Col. 845 of yesterday's speech by the noble Baroness states,
"The issues are intellectually and politically challenging, but we know what they are, and we know what are the options for addressing them. There is frankly no need for a long period of primary research".
She went on to say,
"The Royal Commission, we feel, can move almost immediately to its analysis and recommendations".—[Official Report, 22/2/99; col. 845.]
I submit to your Lordships' House that that is a very cavalier approach to the most significant reform of our parliamentary democracy that there is ever likely to be. If we are to change the role and functions of the key elements of Parliament, our duty is to ensure that we debate them fully and get them right. I believe that too little time has been given to the Royal Commission. The issues are not already fully explored. The noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, emphasised that in his eloquent speech yesterday. To suggest that a Royal Commission on social policy is more challenging than one on parliamentary democracy is, frankly, unreal.

So often this Government, in their haste to be seen to be modern and to want to change things, forget about the lessons of history. However, I suspect that your Lordships do not forget about history and I hope that many of us learn from it.

In thinking about Chapter 7 and the longer term reforms, I went back to Walter Bagehot's English Constitution. He highlights the fact that it was really since the Reform Act 1832 that your Lordships' House has been a revising, or what he calls a "suspending" House; that is, it could alter or reject Bills for a period. Indeed, it almost had a theoretical veto—a veto of delay.

Bagehot went on to analyse why two Chambers were necessary. First, he saw it as a safeguard to democracy. He stated:
"So long as many old leaves linger on the November trees, you know that there has been little frost and no wind; just so while the House of Lords retains much power, you may know that there is no desperate discontent in the country, no wild agency likely to cause a great demolition".
Secondly, Bagehot's analysis suggested that if there were such a thing as a perfect elected Chamber, an upper House would scarcely be of any value at all. However, as that is totally unachievable, a revising and more legislative second Chamber is extremely useful.

Furthermore, Bagehot went on to say that the validity of that Chamber would be enhanced if it were a Chamber of an opposite sort, differently composed, and with a clear mandate to revise, regulate and delay. We should reflect seriously on the words "opposite sort". I think that that remains a key element. Without such a Chamber, the Executive Government, with a strong majority such as we see today in the Commons, could virtually do what it liked, particularly in the area of minor legislation which may well slip by the media and the public. I listened with considerable attention to the remarks made on that point by my noble friend Lord Dean.

So, the lessons are there. Our UK Parliament needs a second Chamber. When I read paragraph 26 of chapter 7, I begin to shake my head. The Government suggest a reduction of the theoretical available powers with a trade-off that they may be used more frequently. That is a temptation that should be resisted. As we know, delay has two or three effects: time for reflection; time for consultation, something in which we all believe today, and time to decide priorities. Shorten it and the pressure is off.

Secondary legislation—so much a feature of present-day government, which is rarely, if ever, mentioned in any party's manifesto—presents a real problem of a lack of democratic legitimacy. It is vital to keep and use our powers to reject. Indeed, in that area of work, we need to have a long, hard look at the way in which we handle such legislation at the moment. I do not believe that either House is doing an adequate job and, frankly, cannot do so when hundreds upon hundreds of statutory instruments are processed week after week.

A more insidious element has crept in, even in the past few weeks. A number of statutory instruments have changed the emphasis from a situation whereby a party that is affected is assumed to be innocent unless taken to task or taken to court by the Executive. That emphasis is now changing to a situation whereby a party has to prove its innocence or that it is within the powers of that statutory instrument, rather than the other way round. That is an area of considerable work for the future.

The next paragraph, paragraph 27, suggests that the Royal Commission might consider procedures as well as powers. The time has surely come when the control and chairing of debates should pass to a team of our Members, elected by us. There is no greater democratic deficit than having a member of the Government, the Lord Chancellor, as the arbiter of our proceedings. Indeed, that point is raised at paragraph 9 of chapter 3. It is my belief that whoever presides over us in this Chamber must be independent, be seen to be independent, and have his or her legitimacy sanctioned by being elected from among the membership of this House.

Finally, this debate is not really about our future membership, but chapter 8 asks the Royal Commission to think about it. I conclude by suggesting that we should not forget the dependent territories. As matters stand, some thousands of British subjects, scattered around the world, have absolutely no representation other than through the Foreign Office. I believe that your Lordships' House would be greatly enhanced if we could hear the voice of the Falklands, Gibraltar, St. Helena and the myriad of tiny islands in the Pacific. Such a move would be a real step forward in democratic legitimacy.

6.54 p.m.

My Lords, it is odd that in the face of a constitutional change as sweeping as that described in the White Paper there has been so little fuss—nothing like the upheavals of 1911. We hereditary Peers look set to depart, "not with a bang but a whimper". Perhaps that is because our Parliament now has less and less power and authority. We have handed over to Brussels control of our trade, agriculture and fisheries. If the Government have their way, we shall before long give up our own currency. More and more powers are moving from Westminster to Brussels. Meanwhile, we are devolving other powers to new assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Westminster Parliament, like an old oak, is losing limb after limb. I fear that it is, in fact, slowly dying. But while it still exists, we must consider the Government's proposals for this House, which bring to mind the saying,

"Seeking to better
Oft we mar what's well".
Does the present House of Lords work well? I think it does. At a time when many of our great institutions have, sadly, lost much of the esteem that they once had, this House seems to me, ever since it was first televised, to have gained in public standing. The work of its Select Committees, largely anonymous and wholly non-political, is generally acknowledged to be useful. Even the Government acknowledge in the White Paper that our role in scrutiny is valuable. We are not too partisan and we cost relatively little.

When we do oppose and delay proposals that have come to us from the other place and are not being called for by the public—as over closed voting lists for the election of MEPs, discrimination against students from England and Wales going to Scottish universities, or the lowering of the age of consent for homosexuals—it is sometimes argued that we ought not to go on asking the Commons to think again, as they are the elected representatives of the people and we are not.

But our differences are not really with the Commons, but with the Government. They have complete control over the present House of Commons. Some of the Members of that House notoriously respond to pagers, through which they are told by Labour headquarters at Millhank not only what to do, but even what to say and what to ask. The trouble lies with the overmighty Executive. Where decisions still remain within our national competence. the Government have too much unfettered power and seem to seek even more.

I welcome the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. When I spoke in our debate on 14th October, I said that the Government's proposals were bound to reduce the independence of this House and to increase the party political element. I am against that. A reduction in the powers of the second Chamber, a possibility suggested on page 40 of the White Paper, would increase the already excessive powers of the Executive.

Perhaps the greatest power that this House still has is our unrestricted ability to veto a Bill extending the life of a Parliament. This is a safeguard against the assumption by any government of dictatorial powers. I should like to ask the Government Chief Whip whether he will confirm that, as I hope, the wording on page 24 of the White Paper means that the Government have no intention of tampering with that power.

The Government's main objection to the present House is the presence of the hereditary element. We all know that hereditary peerages are today intellectually indefensible. but I still believe that there is a good deal to be said for heredity; and there are dangers in arguing that the hereditary principle is always wrong, as Mrs. Beckett came near to doing when she opened the debate in the other place. Like a latter-day tricoteuse, she mocked us while the tumbrils roll. Her speech tended to confirm the suspicion that the real objective of this measure is to give a sop to the unhappy ranks of old Labour.

My noble friend Lord Charteris also warned us in the earlier debate that,
"If we take away the right of all hereditary peers to sit and vote … we endanger the monarchy".—[Official Report, 14/10/98; col. 973.]
When we take the Oath, we do so to the Queen, Her Heirs and Successors. The Government's proposals will leave the monarchy isolated in its dependence on heredity.

The White Paper proposes a transitional House which will be a rump, no longer a true House of Lords, enjoying less credibility and standing than the present House. The historic precedent for a rump Chamber is not encouraging. After the transition, we may move to some form of senate, the composition and powers of which are still unknown to us, and perhaps to the Government as well.

The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, suggested in an admirable lecture this month that the reformed House should have power to order a referendum on constitutional issues—a good idea, I think, but it comes a little surprisingly from a Conservative who spoke against the 1993 amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Blake, proposing a referendum on the Maastricht Treaty and from one of the 445 Peers who voted it down. I continue to believe that that vote sounded the death knell of the existing House of Lords.

I should say something about what has variously been described as the Weatherill or Cranborne, or even the Alistair Campbell, amendment. Though it was, I know, promoted with the very best intentions, I have reservations about it, which I have expressed to our Convenor and to some of my colleagues. First, I think it is wrong to describe it as a Cross-Bench initiative; it is no such thing. Cross-Bench Peers were not consulted—I certainly was not. The initiative was taken by three individuals whom I greatly respect; namely, my noble friends Lord Weatherill, Lord Marsh and Lord Carnarvon. They were perfectly entitled to do this., but they are not entitled to expect their Cross-Bench colleagues to support them, nor can they speak for the Cross-Benches as a whole. We all speak and vote purely as individuals.

It was excusable for the media to describe what happened as a Cross-Bench initiative, since the three Peers were all distinguished Cross-Benchers and one was our Convenor; but the Government know perfectly well how Cross-Benchers operate. It seems to me misleading for them to talk, as they do in paragraph 11 of Chapter 5 of the White Paper, of the "cross-bench peers" promoting an amendment. The Cross-Bench Peers as such can do nothing of the sort. 1 am not happy about the way in which collectively we have been associated with this initiative without our views having been sought. Incidentally, it is bizarre that an amendment on precisely these lines, moved in the other place by Conservatives, has already been defeated on the instructions of the Government Whips, while MPs are expected to vote for the amendment if it comes back to them from this House. It is also rather odd that the plan involves non-elected Peers electing some of our own number to remain in the House.

Secondly, I think that my three noble friends and the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, after their secret negotiations with Ministers, came out with a poor bargain. What they got is described accurately on page four of the White Paper as an agreement,
"to allow a small number of hereditary peers to sit temporarily in the transitional House".
It seems to me a minimal concession. The price to be paid for this is to abandon the threat of strong and determined opposition and to allow the Bill through without too much trouble. To adopt the spaniel analogy, which was mentioned at the time, it means that those who do not like the Bill should roll over and lift their paws in the air while the deed is done. I cannot think that a huge concession for a minimal gain is a result to be applauded. It offers notable gains to the Government. As Mr. Peter Mandelson advised the other place on 2nd February: if the Government could get the Bill and the rest of their programme through the Lords with minimum delay and damage, they should grasp the opportunity.

Finally, one of the most unfortunate results of the deal that the four Peers made with the Government was the effect it had on the public standing of hereditary Peers. Before the deal, we were seen as having, mostly, a respectable position. In general, we thought that hereditary Peers would, sadly, have to go, but that they should do so only as part of a single, coherent reform when the Government have made up their minds—as they still have to do—on what they propose for a new second Chamber. But when the deal was disclosed, we were made to appear as if we were all of us scrabbling selfishly to preserve our membership of the House for a little longer. As a result, many people said: "Let them go and good riddance".

The future of the Weatherill/Cranborne amendment appears to rest, first, on whether it is generally supported in this House; and, secondly, on how the House treats the Bill. If we behave nicely and let it through with only a few token amendments, then we shall be tossed our bone as a reward; namely, a small number of hereditaries temporarily preserved with government agreement. If we give the Bill a rough passage, what Mrs. Beckett has described as,
"the possibility of organised disruption and hooliganism"—
which may be one way of describing opposition to radical government proposals—the Government will withdraw their support for the amendment and, if necessary, use the Parliament Act to force the Bill through.

Both those possibilities seem to me to be unfortunate. I should much prefer that the Government should seek a genuine consensus on the way forward, as they say they wish to do. But to do that they would, in my view, need to make a much more substantial concession. I believe that the best move that they could make would be to accept that hereditary Peers, while losing their right to vote (thereby meeting the Labour Party's legitimate concern about the political imbalance of the House) might still attend, speak and serve on committees. After all, this was proposed some time ago from the Labour Benches by a former leader of the House, the noble Earl, Lord Longford. Somewhat similar proposals were made in the cross-party plan of 1967 which, again, came primarily from a Labour source; the late Richard Crossman.

I know that the other place has defeated an amendment on these lines, but if they could be made to change their minds on the Weatherill amendment they can do so on this one. I would gladly support a consensus solution along these lines which might well secure wide cross-party support. Failing that, I do not think that we should tamely acquiesce in what is being done, to go quietly like those once described by T. S. Eliot:
"They all go into the dark…
The captains, merchant bankers, eminent men of letters …
Distinguished civil servants, chairmen of many committees …
And cold the sense and lost the motive of action".
Better surely to stand up, send the Bill back, amended in a measured way, and ask the other place and the Government to think again as most of us must surely wish.

7.5 p.m.

My Lords, I am afraid that I find this White Paper—apart from its nicely coloured cover and charming photograph of the Prime Minister—a document of indifferent and depressing quality. For a start, it is constructed so as to give the impression that—taking them together—the Bill to abolish the hereditaries, the Royal Commission, the Prime Minister's noble self-denying ordinance on patronage, the suggested transitional arrangements, the Joint Committee of both Houses, and indeed the White Paper itself, all form some carefully thought-out constitutional master plan. I think that is nonsense; half these elements were simply imposed on the Government by reality. To pretend otherwise is just humbug or worse.

Then there is the endless repetition of the words "modern" and "modernise", which several speakers have already remarked upon. This is presumably supposed to give some sort of general justification and attraction to the proposals, but I find it tedious and misleading. Surely the word "modern" properly relates to time and history rather than to quality. Is modern architecture automatically better than Robert Adam, and Hymns Ancient and Modern surely suggest no differentiation on quality? But let these comments pass, perhaps I am over-sensitive to the importance of truth and meaning.

Then we come to the mild insults with which the document is so liberally peppered—unresponsive to political and social change, lacking legitimacy, anachronistic, unrepresentative. So it goes on. Only "antediluvian" was omitted. My goodness, after such a barrage, how little self-esteem can any of us have left. But I will let all that pass, except to pick up one remark in the Prime Minister's introduction: that the role of hereditary Peers is based on birth rather than on merit. Of course he is half right as, by obvious definition, a hereditary Peer sits here through birth—a situation, incidentally, which I do not support.

But when it comes to merit in the context of our role, then surely the remark comes close to implying that the life Peers have all the merit and the hereditaries do not. For example—and I hope I am not seeming immodest—after 43 years in manufacturing and being chairman of engineering companies with £5 billion of turnover, my own views on industrial matters might just conceivably have as much merit as those of trade unionist life Peer. But let those remarks pass. I am probably being over-sensitive again.

I turn now to the membership of the Royal Commission. One journal irreverently described them as the "usual suspects". To be kinder, and to use cricket parlance, if Alec Stewart led the Royal Commission out to take the field he would be comforted to be surrounded by so many pairs of safe hands. But I do hope those hands are not too safe. Logically, a better House can only be achieved by either or both improving its membership and improving its powers and way of doing business. Quite radical proposals may indeed be needed to do either, so I hope we do not just have safety first.

Before the Royal Commission is tempted to propose reducing the powers of this House, it really must consider the overall political background. Much has rightly been said about the growth in the power of the executive. In the 17th century parliamentarians—like the ancestor of my noble friend Lord Clitheroe—literally fought to establish the superiority of Parliament over the executive in the shape of the king. In the 20th century, in another place, their successors have just rolled over and acquiesced. So without legislation, without any great debate, and with little public understanding of what has happened, our Prime Minister today has for all effective purposes more power than the directly elected presidents of many countries.

Others have already mentioned symptoms of this process: bending news; closed lists; and the general diminishment of Parliament. I do not need to repeat the whole sorry list, one that is so offensive to democracy. The Royal Commission therefore must certainly keep all those considerations in mind. Indeed the true democracy deficit surely lies in those directions, rather than in the deficiencies of your Lordships' House. Yet it is towards this House that the priority of reform is being directed, and how strange and irrational some of us find that.

As to the future membership of this House, I first remind the Royal Commission that the public hold politicians in rather lower esteem than politicians often hold themselves. In opinion polls, in the bottom places in the league of admired occupations and deep in the relegation zone lie lawyers, estate agents and politicians. So whatever system of selection is proposed, let us hope that perhaps the number of politicians is rather limited. Nor should any future system give us mere delegates, or produce a new class of professional, full-time Members of this House.

Finally, I was much struck by some remarks regarding legitimacy. While I do not defend hereditary membership as legitimate, it is hard to argue that appointment of political friends is wholly legitimate either. I hope that the Royal Commission will have the courage to consider the issue. Indeed I conclude with the unpopular suggestion that when the day comes for most hereditary Peers to leave this House, those life Peers who are political appointees might care to offer themselves for reselection. That would indeed be a truly noble gesture.

7.13 p.m.

My Lords, in a significant and important debate such as this it is inevitable that many issues are raised and ideas put forward. I am tempted to follow many avenues of thought further. However, there will be other opportunities and so today I shall endeavour to confine my remarks under the twin headings of speed and style.

First, in opening the debate the noble Baroness the Leader of the House dismissed any suggestion that the Government were moving too far and too fast in eliminating hereditary Peers before full consideration had been given to what might succeed them. She said that reform of the House of Lords had been under discussion for some 100 years. As the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, said—this has been echoed by many who have spoken since, but bears underlining yet again—in the first place we are talking about 700 years of history and development. Secondly, we are going through a period of considerable constitutional upheaval with devolved parliaments in Scotland and Wales, increased powers for the European Parliament and, let us not forget, the proposals for a mayor of London.

My own preferred option would have been for the Government to announce their intentions clearly and then to set up a Royal Commission to look at the whole of Parliament and its role in the 21st century. I believe that this would have been welcomed on all sides. Only once the role and functions of both Houses have been considered and all the necessary checks and balances built in, should we consider the composition. Therefore like many others who have spoken I condemn the piecemeal approach of the Government as outlined in the White Paper. However, in the absence of what I would call a full and appropriate mandate for a Royal Commission on the whole of Parliament, I hope that my noble friend Lord Wakeham and his team will do their best to act upon all the helpful suggestions that have been made in the course of this debate. I add my own by asking my noble friend to endeavour in his difficult task to safeguard the good points of your Lordships' House, as we were urged to do by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, in his remarks yesterday. I refer him also to the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, not only of today but those made in the debate last October when he said that it would be a tragedy if the new Chamber lost the essential values of the old one. These he enumerated as an involvement in the culture, beliefs and charitable work of the nation and in the spiritual arid ethical qualities which your Lordships bring to bear on legislation and policy debates.

I draw my noble friend's attention to the other way in which the present composition of your Lordships' House has been both beneficial and effective: namely, that its membership represents a pool of talent and expertise which will be hard to replicate. That pooling system results in Members tending to speak only on those subjects of which they have knowledge and in which they have interest. This ensures the high level of debate which is generally acknowledged. Indeed, the Government have acknowledged the principle of a pool of talent in their references to the bishops and their function in the House in Chapter 7 of the White Paper.

By and large we have few generalists here. This is why many noble Lords do not appear here every day. The jibes in this respect made at the opening of this debate show a lack of understanding of how this House works. I need hardly say that as well as providing an effective way of scrutinising legislation and ensuring intelligent and well informed debate, your Lordships' House is also extremely cost effective. This again has been referred to by other speakers and, interestingly enough, by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon this afternoon. Therefore I urge the Government, the Royal Commission and everyone else involved in moving this process forward not to insist that speed is the essence, and to consider again whether rushing this major constitutional reform through before the end of this millennium is the best way of ensuring that our Parliament is still regarded with respect and even envy throughout the world.

I turn now to the style in which these proposals have been introduced. The failure on the part of the Government Front Bench to acknowledge the role played by hereditary Peers in helping Parliament to survive and evolve, and in ensuring that legislation is effectively and thoroughly reviewed, is reprehensible to say the least. There is failure, too, to acknowledge that hereditaries have been the first to admit the need for reform and indeed were the first to welcome the Life Peerages Act which, after all, reformed this House more than anything up until then. Happily this failure on the part of the Government Front Bench has been somewhat rectified by two of the rare Government Back-Bench contributions to this debate on the Government's Motion. I refer to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, who spoke yesterday and the noble Lord, Lord Richard, who spoke today.

The suggestion that hereditary Peers and therefore this House do not have democratic legitimacy is, I believe, to misunderstand the definition of democracy. I have had many discussions on this matter with those involved in setting up the new democratic systems in central and eastern Europe after the demise of the Soviet system during my years on the Council of Europe delegation. Democracy is about freedom of speech, openness and transparency of government, accountability of government, guardianship of human rights and having elected representatives. The House of Lords represents all of those elements except the last one. The Government have, so far, not suggested replacing hereditaries with elected members. So I feel that there is absolutely no reason why the House of Lords should be ashamed of its democratic credentials.

During the 14 years I have served in various capacities as a life Peer in your Lordships' House, I have come to realise that in the House of Lords we have a unique resource. Genetic research is a very modern thing. The importance of genes, and the gene bank which the House of Lords represents, was referred to as an important element of this House some months ago by the noble Lord, Lord Winston, and yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, and the noble Baroness, Lady Strange—all of them experts in this area.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, I believe that we should ask the Government to think again. I shall certainly support my noble friend Lord Strathclyde in his amendment. I wish the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip good luck in his very difficult task of winding up.

7.21 p.m.

My Lords, my own considered view on the White Paper was well anticipated by the courteous dismissal of my noble friend Lord Chalfont. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, during my 20 years' membership of your Lordships' House, I, too, have tried to respect the established convention by sticking to economic affairs, in which I might claim some professional competence. But I have most assiduously followed Hansard, and particularly Select Committee reports, on a very much wider range of topics. I have been repeatedly impressed—even astonished—by the remarkable, consistently high contribution of working Peers, not least the hereditaries, performed without publicity and without payment.

The problem remains: what exactly have the Lords done wrong? What have we done wrong, especially when compared with the misdeeds of another place? I join others in saying that, if reform is required, a good start could be made along the passage by culling about half of the teeming total of 659 paid and whipped MPs.

Now that I have retired, I can whisper that economic problems are often much exaggerated, especially by economists. As we saw after 1979, a free economy has almost spontaneous powers of recovery so long as politicians do not muck it up. But the constitutional upheaval that is now threatened is altogether more serious. No one can foretell the results of disrupting the delicate balance of a sophisticated political system. And no one can doubt that Britain's envied stability—unique in Europe since 1688—owes everything to the evolving checks and balances of the British constitution, with this historic House somewhere near the centre.

Like the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, as a devoted Savoyard I often take refuge from present troubles in the wisdom and wit of W. S. Gilbert. I never did agree with the Earl of Mount Ararat in Iolanthe, who said that:
"If there is an institution in Great Britain which is not susceptible of any improvement at all, it is the House of Peers".
That cannot be true because it was written before 1958, when we had the leavening of life Peers here.

But Gilbert got it exactly right about the Commons when he put into the mouth of Private Willis the following words:
"When in that House MPs divide
If they've a brain and cerebellum too,
They've got to leave that brain outside,
And vote just as their leaders tell 'em to".
It is in that fact that the critical superiority of this House lies.

As the noble Lords, Lord Eden and Lord Trefgarne, and others, have wondered, how can any process of popular election or appointment guarantee such independence? It is not only independence, but independence buttressed by the confidence which comes either from heredity or from wide experience, variously in law, economics, banking, business, technology, medicine. the arts, the countryside, charitable activities, voluntary action, the trade unions, the armed forces, education, public administration, foreign affairs, Europe and much more—including what the noble Lord, Lord Richard, once called the rough old trade of party politics.

I regret very much that the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, shows so little respect for this unique assembly—so rich in talents and characters, not least on the Labour Benches. If this House ceases to exist, it could certainly never be reinvented. Yet it is to be casually dismantled and a successor House conjured up—just like that. Here we see old Labour reverting to its primitive shibboleth that a new institution is always better than an old one. We should beware of the same empty slogans—modern, progressive, democratic, comprehensive—that we heard in the 1960s and 1970s when old Labour destroyed proven grammar schools and undermined state education in the space of a single generation.

The country is endlessly told that there are 750 wicked hereditary Peers. Yet only 300 are Tories. Two hundred are independents and most of the rest never attend. Is it not sensible that the role of a checking and revising Chamber, acting on the periodic excesses of raw "democracy", is best performed by more mature senators of a traditional, even conservative inclination? We have learned to defer, mostly gracefully, to the tyranny of the manifesto. Yet new Labour, in 1997, was supported by only 31 per cent. of the electorate—and most of its footling pledges would separately command even fewer votes. It is time that we pricked the absurdly inflated pretensions of so-called "representative democracy", with its focus groups, single-issue lobbies and media management.

So where is the popular mandate? Where is the public clamour for abolition? Despite all the manipulation of opinion, the latest ICM poll in December confirmed a rump of around 25 per cent. of the population as abolitionists, leaving the vast majority of 75 per cent. divided between keeping the status quo permanently or allowing hereditaries to stay until their long-term future has been decided.

Let me briefly touch upon the approach of the two Houses on three recent issues. I need hardly mention the shabby question of the closed list for the European elections, a system which, in the 1930s, might have excluded Churchill from Parliament at the behest of the Tory toffs of the time and which was steamrollered through against our principled objections. Second, on fees for Scottish universities, we had an absurdly Scots-dominated administration overruling us to favour Scottish and continental students against those from England, Wales and Ulster. My third example is more down to earth. On the repeal of restrictions on Sunday shopping., this House led the way with a Private Member's Bill by the then obscure, independent, Conservative Back Bencher, the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington. Yet when a Bill to repeal the Shops Act was first moved in the other place, it was voted down on Second Reading in craven response to lobbying by USDAW and other vulgar pressure groups from which this splendidly undemocratic House was and remains gloriously immune.

I fear that the Royal Commission is not constituted to resist the trendy clamour by the political elite for a fudged compromise. I despair of the studied absence on that commission of a single hereditary Peer; I resent that absence. I worry a little at the chairman's reputation as a fixer. I recall A. P. Herbert—a splendidly independent university MP, before Labour abolished such valuable anomalies. In an IEA Hobart Paper back in 1960, APH warned against the temptation for Royal Commissions to fall for what he called,
"the nonsense of unanimity".
Dare we hope that at least one of the members of the Royal Commission will read these debates and stick out for a continued, major, independent element of heredity in the House, a practice not unknown in religion.. nor in trade unions, nor in most other aspects of real life? I earnestly urge commissioners to ponder deeply that fruitful debate would be better stimulated by a report which acknowledged a robust clash of principles rather than contrived consensus and conformity born of expediency and compromise.

7.30 p.m.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross. I much enjoyed his speech and I agreed with almost all he had to say.

What struck me about the White Paper was its internal contradictions. It starts by listing all the roles that the House of Lords plays. It says that those are all important jobs for a second Chamber. It points out that the workload is increasing and that the contribution of the House to the legislative process is greater than it has been in the past. The White Paper goes on to praise our specialist expertise and independent perspective and the valuable function of scrutiny which we conduct and makes the point that there is a likelihood that real expertise will be available in the House of Lords, which is an important factor in giving its debates authority.

After all that praise, it is something of a surprise to read that we lack political effectiveness. One might have expected that the conclusion of the praise would be a recommendation that we should at least retain our present powers. But in Chapter 7 we see the Government's proposal that our powers should be reduced. That is in spite of all the praise which we receive earlier in the report and in spite of the Labour manifesto which said:
"The legislative powers of the Lords will remain unaltered".
The noble Baroness the Leader of the House said yesterday that the Government's position remains unchanged since before the general election. I do not know how she can sustain that claim in view of the proposal that our powers should be reduced. Perhaps she would like to think again about what she said on that point.

I have a second point. There has been much puzzlement about the fact that the Government propose no stage two. There is puzzlement about the reason for their failure to do so. The reason is probably that they could not be confident of proposing a stage two which would be acceptable both to the public and to the Labour Party in another place. To be acceptable to the public, any stage two would have to contain a significant element of election. However, the greater the elected element, the more unacceptable it becomes to Labour Back-Benchers in another place. The Government perhaps said to themselves, "If we put stage two in the same Bill as stage one we might lose the whole Bill". That has happened before. It happened in 1968. And, of course, at the time the manifesto was drawn up the Prime Minister did not know that he would have in another place a docile majority of 179.

The Labour Government are acting like the Liberal Government of 1911. The preamble to the Parliament Act 1911 states that,
"it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot be immediately brought into operation".
When questions were asked and suspicions raised about the delay which might ensue in bringing forward stage two as foreshadowed in that preamble, Mr. Asquith indignantly and vehemently denied that there would be any unacceptable delay. What happened? The matter was referred to a Cabinet Committee and that committee did not even report back to the whole Cabinet.

I make the point that, like the Liberal Government of 1911, the present Government could perfectly well have put forward proposals for stage two with stage one if they had wished to do so. The point has been made several times, but it is worth making it again, that if they had brought forward even the Royal Commission proposal 18 months ago, we would now be in a much better situation than we are today.

The suspicion must be that what the Prime Minister wanted was a House composed exclusively of life Peers. Fortunately, he and the Labour Government have been driven off that position and into accepting a proposal for a Royal Commission by the opinion polls, which of course they follow closely, and by the appointment of the committee under the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. We know of the Prime Minister's enthusiasm for the appointment of life Peers. He has appointed 101 since the general election, of whom 55 are Labour. According to the White Paper, he intends to appoint another 15 to bring parity between the Labour life Peers and the Conservative life Peers.

If the Weatherill amendment is accepted, according to the White Paper he will appoint about another 40 Labour life Peers to match the Conservative hereditary Peers who will be able to continue during the transitional period. One wonders, incidentally, whether those appointed for the transitional period under the Weatherill proposal will be happy to disappear after the transition when the permanent arrangements come into force, a point touched on by my noble friend Lord Jopling when he spoke yesterday. If they do not leave the House at the end of the transitional period, the Prime Minister will have a majority over the Conservative Peers.

I have a third point. Numerous noble Lords have referred to the increasing tendency for more power to be taken by the Executive, mostly at the expense of Parliament. That tendency has accelerated under the present Government. I shall not go into the many examples of it—they have already been mentioned—but the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said, as I followed him, that in the United Kingdom the Executive exercises greater control over the principal parliamentary Chamber than in any comparable country. To adapt a famous parliamentary Motion, I believe that the power of the Executive has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished; and to reduce the powers of your Lordships' House in that situation would be folly.

7.38 p.m.

My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, because what he has said epitomises the wisdom that exists in your Lordships' House. When I was due to take my seat in 1987 I read Dod. If anyone who has not been involved in Parliament or administration takes Dod as a first sup, he is bound to feel inadequate. Looking at the qualities, the education and the service of Members of this House produces a severe effect. However, I managed to get over that. I took heart in the fact that one of my ancestors apparently split the atom and that another two were, by marriage, American Presidents. So whether blood has anything to do with it, we wait to see. I do not know.

I am in complete agreement with many earlier speakers. This is one of the most important debates we have had for many years. The White Paper, Modernising Parliament, which was presented to us in January, contains a variety of interesting facts. But it is unlikely to go down in history as one of the great pillars of the constitution. I shall restrict my remarks entirely to the contents of the White Paper.

A major concern, as a number of noble Lords have already indicated, is that implicitly within the White Paper we are stepping into the unknown by tinkering with only one part of the constitutional arrangements without properly considering what the impact of those changes will be on the overall governance of this country.

Over a long period of time we have evolved a system which provides a real and tangible role for this House. We are a revising Chamber with a clear duty to scrutinise, amend and approve legislation initiated in another place. We have another important role; namely, to ask the elected politicians from time to time to think again, particularly when their proposals have a moral dimension which is out of sympathy with the will of the electorate. Given that role, what should the composition of this House be? I submit that we need to be widely representative in a sense that professional politicians can never be.

I have friends of all political persuasions in another place, but it is clear from the manner of their debates that they are unable to shake off the ideological and party-political baggage that put them there in the first place. The present Parliament is probably worse in that respect than any Parliament has ever been. That makes it doubly important that this House should draw from a far wider representation. The method we have chosen to achieve that for hundreds of years has been to utilise the principle of heredity. That is not the only method that might be used. Indeed, it has been mentioned that in ancient Greece senators were chosen by drawing lots. I am certainly not saying that the hereditary system is the only system that should be considered to achieve the job. What I would suggest, however, is that it is a system that has stood the test of time and which has certain advantages.

If we look around the world we see many forms of government—military dictatorships, unelected commissions, anarchy and what we choose to call democracy. It is fascinating that each of these systems throws up an element of the hereditary. If we look at the United States, which prides itself on the purity of its democracy, we find that some names, Roosevelt, Kennedy, Rockefeller and now, of course, Bush, seem to pop up again and again. As my noble friend Lord Cranborne observed when the present Leader of the House was appointed it is very reassuring that she is the daughter of such a distinguished and noble father.

I would therefore urge the Royal Commission when it reviews these matters widely, not to reject absolutely the hereditary principle, at least in part, when defining the composition of a second Chamber.

The present proposal, as framed, carries great dangers since it tinkers with a well-established protocol of checks and balances. I believe that the simple removal of the sitting and voting rights of all hereditary Members of this House, without defining clearly what will replace them, is a dangerous step which will be both destructive and divisive. It will further tilt the balance in the direction of the overwhelming power that the Prime Minister and his executive Cabinet already wield.

This country does not understand the way in which your Lordship's House as it is currently composed carries out its duties. Sadly, our education curriculum no longer teaches the importance of our constitution to the ranks of students and citizens of this country. As a result, the so-called modernisers are able to pursue a path of radical and ill-conceived change without a full understanding by the public at large of what is going on.

A difficulty is that your Lordship's House, irrespective of its composition, must depend upon the public understanding of its role within our constitution if it is to have a credible future. I believe that we must fight to maintain a second Chamber with the widest possible representation and with a degree of dignity and wisdom that is above the hubbub of the daily political cut and thrust.

By all means let us have change. But I urge that it be a well-considered, steady and incremental change, which, I submit, the present proposal is not.

7.46 p.m.

My Lords, as with previous debates on reform of this House, we tend to create more questions than answers and are accused of debating at length rather than in depth. Yesterday, it was suggested that the time would be better spent discussing health, education and welfare rather than the future functions and powers of this House. That so few Labour Peers are speaking in this debate does not surprise me. If, as suggested by the Government Front Bench, the debate is time-wasting, the Labour Back-Benchers will not want to be seen adding to the waste of time.

Sadly, what the Government have failed to realise is just how much time and effort, for no financial reward, many regularly attending hereditary Peers put in to trusts, charities and other organisations outside this House which need, and often deserve, a voice in Parliament. Those organisations could well be connected to the three topics that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House mentioned yesterday: health, education and welfare. For my part, as an example, I visit and speak for the National Parks of England and Wales; and on behalf of the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, to name but two interests. I act as a rural voice in policy and legislative scrutiny--an angle not guaranteed in the other place. The White Paper does not come near to touching the ramifications involved in what so many of those organisations require; namely, to lodge a voice in Parliament.

Just like the farmer and the hereditary Peer—I have been privileged to be both—we are not all tarred with the same brush. A farmer's financial position can vary widely, from wealthy landowner to tenant farmer with farming sons whose land is financed by the collateral of the father's land, to farmers who have only family as staff to work the land and eke out a living. So we hereditaries are diverse. The Oath of Allegiance has given many of us the chance to put something back through this Chamber. My past efforts have, given me the opportunity to afford the time to be involved in this place and to put time in, for want of a better expression, to good works in which I believe. Does the noble Lord the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms believe that the action the Government propose to take can be lawfully entered into when our Letters Patent conferred on our ancestors, giving them, their heirs and successors rights which include a seat in Parliament, and given by a deceased sovereign, could be said to be a binding contract in perpetuity? I do not mean our Writ of Summons.

I cannot believe that the Government appreciate the diversity and value for money offered by the present make up of this Chamber. The only imbalance in this House has been the over-weighted vote of Conservatives in a rare and heavy Whip which has not been democratic in my view. Democracy should have sorted that imbalance many years ago. However, we are a revising Chamber and should be able to press the Government hard without having to hear so much spin on so-called defeats.

Both my grandfathers sat in this place. I must be a rare breed. The noble Lord the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms—I am sorry he is not in his seat--will know, as a fellow agriculturalist, that there is an interest in the revival of rare breeds. My father's father was in Attlee's Government and became Leader of this House. (How often are we reminded of the Salisbury-Addison convention). My mother's father was a Lord Spiritual in the true sense of the word, a Bishop of London. If I learnt anything from them it was this: if you sit anywhere in the House of Lords, except on occasions on the Government Front Benches, you may speak from the heart. In the other place, you toe the party line or the wrath of the party Whips will be upon you.

It is the honesty and true feeling that exude from this place that must be preserved. So-called modernising will lose that identity, just as modern buildings thrown up with little thought will destroy the identity of an historic town or city.

Around the world we are seen as the Chamber of common sense. Are we shortly to be seen as an impotent second Chamber? In this debate I have listened to many adjectives describing which way this House should be reformed: strengthening, not modernising; it is hard to build but easy to destroy; underpin not undermine; reforming, not replacing; evolution, not revolution.

During reform it must be right to retain those who understand the workings of this House. A full-time, paid up Chamber is far less likely to take up the needs and fears of outside organisations. This country should have no illusions. At present, there will be a Member of this House who will have knowledge on virtually any subject you care to mention. There must be technical expertise in agricultural, environmental and financial matters in government legislation, and experience from the real world outside politics and from beyond the M.25.

This House already has the letters QBE after its name. This House is already Qualified by Experience. I support much of what many speakers have already said: the noble Lords, Lord Trefgarne, Lord Norrie and Lord Norton, spoke of the consequences of government actions; that there should be reform of the House of Commons before the House of Lords; that our costs are one-tenth those of the House of Commons; and that we should remain as we are until the country, through the Royal Commission, knows the outcome of stage two. We have heard so often the phrase: do not embark on the journey unless you know the destination of the train. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said that we should look more in depth at attendance figures. We should be seen for what we have done, not for what we are.

We have the chance to continue to evolve. If hereditary Peers are to die out and their sons and daughters not to take their place, then so be it. A cull is no better than the horrific BSE cull. A cull of QBE, a cull of many qualified by experience, makes no sense. I support the call to wait for the Royal Commission to report and I shall support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde.

7.53 p.m.

My Lords, I am sad that there are so few representatives on the Government Benches. I sincerely hope that that does not reflect a lack of enthusiasm or commitment to what I believe is an extraordinarily important White Paper.

I wish to talk for a moment about the manifesto and consensus. I am concerned at the sequence of events that the present Government have contrived to bring about. Their manifesto states that:
"the right of the hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords will be ended by statute".
The present Government presume correctly that through the Salisbury doctrine they have the right to enact primary legislation for the matters that are their concern on health, education and welfare et cetera, but they presume, incorrectly in my opinion, that under the same doctrine they can also introduce fundamental modifications to the constitutional arrangements for governing the country. Their presumption is on the basis of support achieved at a general election for constitutional change set out in their manifesto, but among a wide range of other non-constitutional proposals.

Yet even now the Government have little idea of the role to be played by your Lordships' House, the composition of membership or the means of selection that is appropriate. So should we not ask how much less can the public have been aware of the consequences of their policies for constitutional change that were outlined in their manifesto? The Government will, I believe inappropriately, argue that they have the right to carry out all or any of their election manifesto pledges; and because we have no written constitution in this country there is no rule setting out whether or not their present actions in introducing fundamental constitutional change are legitimate.

I believe that their actions are neither appropriate nor legitimate when they concern the variation of constitutional arrangements of this country without a specific referendum. Let us take their own example. In the case of devolution they have been scrupulous in demanding referenda, but they have failed, I submit, in their haste, to allow adequate time for the development of consensus and popular support for measures that are often quite reasonable. The result is indifference, and at times alienation, in the public's mind. That worries me.

I want most earnestly to draw the attention of noble Lords to the dangerous precedent set by any tacit acceptance that a manifesto pledge can or should be allowed, alone, to alter constitutional arrangements. We know well that in our legal system the setting of precedent prevents or at least undermines the prevention of similar and subsequent action or policy. So I beg noble Lords to consider what future constitutional change might be introduced on the basis of a manifesto and whether it is desirable to permit such methods of introducing constitutional change on the basis of the Salisbury doctrine alone.

In the debates leading to the Parliament Bill of 1910–11 Lord Lansdowne stated, in referring to the possible slender majority of the Commons and the patchwork of causes upon which the majority might have been returned, that the most fundamental issues are to be at the mercy of the House of Commons:
"It may insist upon the passage of measures inflicting irreparable injury upon our most cherished institutions. The Crown is not safe, the Constitution is not safe, the Union is not safe, the Church is not safe, our political liberties are not safe, literally no institution, however much revered and respected in this country, is beyond the reach of a majority of the kind which I described just now".
I believe that there is much sympathy for many of the principles of change and legislation outlined in the Labour Party's manifesto. But I do not believe that every policy outlined in the manifesto is either correct or desirable. Indeed, the Government have not attempted, as yet, to introduce all items of the manifesto and do not feel obliged to do so, I believe, in spite of the supposed obligation to the voter and legitimacy of their election mandate.

I take most seriously the fact that there is deception, in my opinion, in the manner in which the Government have succeeded in bringing us to the point of altering the constitutional arrangements. They have done so without making any clear assessment of the long-term nature of the constitutional arrangements that the country might enjoy, without holding a referendum on the basis of the changes to the constitution, as they have seen fit to do on other constitutional measures that they have developed, and without a reasoned, specific and unique mandate from the people. Quite obviously, the Government do not care adequately about voters—the primary stakeholders—since they have made little attempt outside the general election to obtain their support or build a consensus as to how they might benefit from any new arrangements.

Such is the Government's confidence in their power and majority that they do not adequately promote their often very good policies and manage their implementation. I have watched with great interest the development of the policies of the present Administration, in particular the proposed arrangements for the devolution of power through the regional development agencies, the Greater London Authority and the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly. The introduction of these devolutionary policies has been accomplished with great urgency and not too much concern for the legitimacy given to those policies by a sufficient turnout at referendas. The turnout in the GLA referendum was particularly poor; only some 34 per cent. of the electorate voted. I felt strongly that the timing of the referendum was related to the timetable of the Government and not to generating the support of the people.

I believe that the Government did little to develop consensus and enhance the participation, sense of ownership and involvement of people in the policies supposedly being developed for their benefit. Yet I know from my experience in the planning of institutional and development policies in countries around the world on behalf of the World Bank and other international agencies that the support of the primary stakeholder—the voter—is critical for the implementation of reform policies. It is not the Government who carry through reform but the people, and their support can be achieved only if there is adequate time given to developing the policy and planning its implementation and integration into the particular social, economic, institutional and political environment. Policy must be given legitimacy through the adequate building of consensus and approval and, thereafter, continuous adjustment in the light of people's changing needs.

I wonder whether we see these correct principles being followed in the White Paper. We see a pattern of laudable government objectives as expressed in the manifesto. The enormous good will shown by the people of the United Kingdom at the last General Election towards the new Labour Party was very positive, but I fear that that can be eroded if the political leadership insists on irreverent haste, gives insufficient time for the building of consensus and has inadequate patience to promote its policies.

I believe that the lessons of what I have mentioned apply very much to the present debate. The people of the United Kingdom face the added danger that there is no guarantee that the Government will succeed in achieving a positive and beneficial outcome through the deliberations of the Royal Commission. That possibility was not put to the people at the last general election. Are we not witnessing in the White Paper, sadly, a deception of the British people, not because of poor intentions—for reform is undoubtedly necessary for the whole of Parliament—but because of the Government's illogical means of implementation, lack of analysis before synthesis and inability to analyse appropriate functions before giving form to the policies for change?

These failings, especially on matters of great national importance, do not respect the increasing power of discernment and reason of the people of the United Kingdom. Cannot the Government find a more consensual way of instigating a constitutional change, perhaps through the holding of a referendum, that would follow the sound precedent of their other devolution policies, before carrying out the irreversible action that is proposed in the Bill for the abolition of the hereditary Peers that is now before the House of Commons?

8.4 p.m.

My Lords, this is not the occasion for a Second Reading speech nor given the time and the fact that there are 27 speakers to come, do I believe that there should be repetition of the extremely good points that have been raised in noble Lords' speeches to date. I shall concentrate, therefore, on seven specific extracts from the White Paper. I start with Chapter 7, paragraphs 15 and 17. This is the one occasion on which 1 believe I can agree with the White Paper. It lauds the work of the Select Committees of the House and in paragraph 17 it states specifically that in regard to EU policies,

"the present House of Lords has made a well-regarded contribution in this area, and this scrutiny function is one which the Government thinks could usefully be retained and expanded in the reformed House".
I therefore find it very interesting to go back to Chapter 2 where in paragraph 5 the White Paper speaks of the reform of the House of Commons and states that,
"a significant programme to modernise the procedures has already been agreed. This has included changes to strengthen the scrutiny of European legislation".
Hooray, my Lords! The other place is learning something from this House.

I turn next to Chapter 2. paragraph 15:
"The continuing right of the whole"—
I emphasise that word
"hereditary peerage to sit and vote has been accepted as an anomaly for most of this century, even by the House of Lords itself'.
I fully concur with that and have done so fir many years. I do not believe that I have ever been so embarrassed as I was by the turn-out of the back-woodsmen of my party at the time of the vote on Maastricht. Frankly, that was a disgrace. But I ask the Government why there should be reverse discrimination. Why should the 200 hereditary Peers—I do not stick specifically to that number—who have really put their backs into the work of this House be subject to reverse discrimination? Why should they be washed down the plughole with the rest of the bathwater?

Referring to Chapter 3, paragraph 9, the White Paper contains a most interesting statement on which I should be grateful if the Government Chief Whip could comment in due course. It states:
"The House of Lords functions in a different way from the Commons. Government business has no priority".
For the past three for four weeks I have been battling to get a slot for a debate on an EU report by a sub-committee which I had the honour to chair. I had a tremendous battle, rightly so, with the Clerk concerned who told me that on one day there was one Government Bill and on another day there were two Government Bills. I should very much appreciate the noble Lord's comment on that matter.

As to paragraphs 18 and 19 of Chapter 3 one must seriously query the statement that the Conservatives have
"a clear majority over the other parties overall",
and an overwhelming majority over other Peers. If one looks at paragraph 18 the arithmetic simply does not add up. I do not take the matter any further. All one has to do is look at those two paragraphs. Even I, a not wildly intelligent mathematician, can work out that that statement by the Government is not true.

I turn to Chapter 4, paragraph 4, which makes reference to the interests of Members of this House. It states:
"In the case of the hereditary peers, the selection of interests which are covered is purely random".
I cannot argue with that; that is absolutely true. However, to use an expression which has become very out of date, outmoded and almost rejected at large, "it works". The selection of interests is in this House as it stands. In the 24 years that I have had the privilege to attend this House I have been constantly staggered by the different interests shown by Members of your Lordships' House. Whether they are hereditary or life Peers is quite irrelevant. They are here. Why throw them away?

Finally I turn to Chapter 8, paragraph 3. I believe that this is a point which the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, raised. It states,
"The United Kingdom has been able, at least on the mainland of Great Britain, to avoid violent constitutional convulsions for three centuries".
How lucky we are that we have done just that! I submit that that might just have had to do with the hereditary system keeping control of this House and therefore, it is hoped, of at least influencing another place.

We have to go through five chapters out of the eight in the White Paper to get even to a transitional House. It seems that the Government are trying desperately to justify themselves in Chapters 1 to 5. Increasingly, the other place does not know—and frankly does not want to know—how this House works or what its value is. I make no apologies for marginal repetition. Surely, parliamentary democracy is the key. With its massive majority in another place the present Government are—and therefore this country has at present—an executive dictatorship. As Lord Acton wrote 110 years ago almost to the day,
"Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely".
In the current situation I submit that the onus on this House is very considerable in that context. Change in and to this House must take place only if it is for the better. I take no comfort at all from Footnote 5 of the House of Commons Research Paper 99/6 on the House of Lords Bill Options for "Stage Two". It reads:
"Reform denotes change generally, not necessarily for the better".
Assuming as I must that the Government concur with that definition I urge all noble Lords to support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde.

8.12 p.m.

My Lords, it is an honour and a challenge to follow the authoritative and thoughtful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, and to have heard the good points that he made.

The White Paper sets out New Labour's plan to modify genetically the structure of this House by replacing the hereditaries with mutants, likely to be neither fish nor fowl. Whoever the authors—possibly Mandelson, probably not Monsanto—they lack manners and style by dumping us hereditaries so brusquely and unceremoniously before the end of the lifetime of the present Parliament for which we have unexpired warrants; or before some of us of long standing had time to die in harness; and before the geneticists had time to consider the biological make-up of our mutants.

The White Paper airs Labour's prejudice against the hereditary principle; ventilates the Government's grievance about the inbuilt Tory majority; panders to prejudice; and seeks to remedy the grievance and redress the balance by getting rid of the hereditaries. The Government have given little thought to the consequences of their reforming zeal. That is left to the Appointments Commission, the Royal Commission and the Joint Committee.

I do not propose to waste your Lordships' time especially at this time of night in defence of the hereditary peerage. I could say more, but much would be repetitious; and all would fall on deaf ears. On this point Labour have been consistent for many years. However, I do not share the optimism which seems to prevail on all sides of the House, including from some unexpected quarters, that all will proceed merrily as before without the hereditaries. Our defenestration is a profound constitutional change, which may well have unexpected and unforeseen consequences. For instance, until now, no one needed to concern themselves unduly as to whence much of the membership of this House would come, and who, or how many they would be. Now this has become highly controversial, with calls for deliberations by a Royal Commission, and a large expenditure of taxpayers' money. It will now be a matter for the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his colleagues to consider the outcome of the constitutional change and its impact on this House.

I am happy to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, although its signal, and the Government's reaction to it, are largely of academic interest as far as I am concerned, since I am unlikely to be affected by its repercussions. I support it because, like the noble Viscount, Lord Oxford, I was brought up to believe in the efficacy of constitutional checks and balances; and because I see this House as the only counterweight to the power of the other place, which is still powerful enough to kick me out of this House despite the technological advances to which the noble Lord, Lord Howell, referred and which he considers circumscribes the power of that House.

Whatever the constitutional future of this House, the White Paper makes two important declarations about its powers which seem to me to reflect their qualified acceptance by the Government. The first, on page 40 is as follows:
"In other respects, the powers are theoretically the same as those of the Commons and spring from the House's character of a chamber of Parliament".
In this day and age when parliamentary powers in a democracy are a mandate of the people, this admission about the derived powers of a parliamentary chamber so remote from the electorate is remarkable. No doubt the same thought occurred to the authors of Chapter 7 paragraph 26, which is the subject of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. It should also be a source of satisfaction to those noble Lords who prefer their future to be in a cosy and minimally reformed Chamber, where the life Peers, responsible to no one but themselves, and secure from the disturbance of the hustings, can continue to enjoy the perks, pomp and circumstance bequeathed to them by the hereditaries.

The second declaration, on the same page, is that,
"The powers of the House of Lords, as normally exercised in practice observing the conventions, have most often produced a workable relationship between the two Houses of Parliament".
How does that statement equate to that on page 28? It states:
"The dominance of hereditary peers in the House of Lords … produces undemocratic results. It gives a huge in-built advantage to one … party",
which, on the evidence of the White Paper, has not generally taken advantage of that huge in-built majority. And if the relationship between the Houses has been workable, why does over 50 per cent. of the Membership of one House of Parliament need to be evicted like squatters at the behest of the other House?

I ask myself how the House will fare without the hereditaries—a thought doubtless shared by other noble Lords, A great deal has been said about the amendment to be moved by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, when the Lords reform Bill comes to the Committee stage of this House. It is supposedly in conformity with the Cranborne agreement, now apparently restyled the Weatherill amendment, perhaps to spare the susceptibilities of Mr. William Hague. No doubt when the time comes the noble Lord will reveal his reasons for moving the amendment. Meanwhile the White Paper has this to say on the subject. I believe that it has been quoted before but I need to repeat it.

"If the cross-bench peers promote an amendment for the interim retention of 1 in 10 of the hereditary peers, plus some hereditary office holders, until the second stage of House of Lords reform has taken place, the Government is minded to accept this amendment as a prudent and sensible route towards the early termination of the right of all hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House".
This so called concession, allowing dead men to walk for one year, has been cobbled as a short-term stay of execution for the hereditary elite. I for one shall, when the time comes, be unwilling to accept a Trojan horse and shall expect powerful persuasion from those supporting the amendment, and greater flexibility from the Government Front Bench, not to vote against it.

So how will the House fare? In Chapter 6, paragraph 5, the White Paper makes a commitment to the life Peers as follows:
"New Members of the House of Lords will continue to be appointed in accordance with the Life Peerages Act 1958. There will be for the time being"—
I hope noble Lords take note of that qualification—
"no changes to the conditions attached to life peerages".
That is to state the obvious. The Government, having put retribution before reform, are left without a choice. When we hereditaries go we leave behind us only the 500 or so life Peers, plus the bishops—or should l say the right reverend Prelates? Without the life Peers there would be no House of Lords, especially as the bishops alone would not constitute a quorum of 30 for Divisions on legislation. But, as several speakers, led by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, have pointed out, the life Peers have no greater legitimacy than the hereditaries. They are neither representative nor democratic. I hold them in high regard as meritocrats for their proven wide experience and ability. But the Life Peerages Act had consequences unforeseen and unintended by the Macmillan government, of which the noble and learned Lord, (then Viscount), Lord Hailsham, was a Member.

The aim was to recruit for the Lords those eminent persons, especially the Labour elite, whose consciences did not permit them to accept hereditary peerages. Lord Brand, in a prophetic speech, foresaw the day when as a result no Prime Minister of whatever political complexion would want to create further hereditary peerages. But no one imagined the flood of life Peers which would erupt into this House from the other place, from the Civil Service, from the Armed Services, from local authorities, from industry, from the City, from the teaching profession, the media and the arts. They are now, we are told, to be followed by chefs, bus conductors, taxi drivers—an excellent source of good debating material—and, it is to be hoped for noble Lords, a few air hostesses.

How long will this continue? How long will it be before a majority of the British people as taxpayers, as voters, even as lovers of the Lords, say, "This is enough! Why a House of Lords? Let's have done with all this pomp and ceremony". I myself, unlike many noble Lords, favour an elected second Chamber, perhaps of senators from different counties or whatever it takes to fill the need of a revising Chamber. But I have not time for that today, except to say that I reject the title of Tory Jacobin, as bestowed by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, on those of us who feel that a second elected Chamber is desirable.

Of course, the Government could still save time, money and endless confusion by swallowing their prejudices and leaving this House of Parliament well alone.

8.23 p.m.

My Lords, I enjoyed very much the words of the noble Earl, especially those which related to the role of the life Peers in the transitional House. I shall take that up in a moment, but in the meantime I wish to take up two points made in this debate and in the previous debate. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, mentioned that he could not think of a way whereby a younger element could come into the Lords through the hereditary system. As I said in the previous debate, I am the younger son of an hereditary Peer. It is possible to enter this House at the age of 37, as I did, and I do not see why other sons or grandsons of the hereditary Peers who will be leaving us cannot return if they so wish. It is quite possible and thoroughly desirable.

I would like also to expand briefly on the point about the hereditary principle which the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, made on 15th October when winding up our previous debate on the future of this House. If we go further back in time than the noble Lord did—beyond the feudal system, the last vestiges of which will disappear in the modernised House—we will discover, as did the noble Lord, Lord Williams, our real heritage and thereby perhaps gain a more accurate perspective of our true ancestry. Let us hear what Sir Fred Hoyle, the great cosmologist, wrote in his autobiography while tracing his ancestry back through the mists of time. He wrote:
"Mankind has not changed much since the days of Cro-Magnon man, days separated from our own times by a thousand generations … Every one of us has an immense line that would sweep even the greatest dynasties of recorded history into affairs of minor consequence.
And before Cro-Magnon man there were upwards of ten thousand generations, so many that the imagination is too staggered to conceive of what happened to them all … What we actually see are nothing but bits of foam at the surface of the vast ocean of prehistory".
The latest information from the palaeontologists is that the ancestry of humanity might go back more than 5 million years. However, it is only in the past 50 years that mankind has developed the resources which, unless properly monitored and controlled, may harbour the seeds of our own destruction by the end of the third millennium. Is it not a fact that the responsibility for monitoring and controlling forces capable of endangering global society must ultimately rest with legislative chambers around the world—including our own, which is the subject of our debate? The question I am endeavouring to ask is: should not a modern second Chamber have adequate facilities, human or otherwise, to monitor all technical legislation effectively in order to help prevent a major global catastrophe, such as global warming, or unprincipled commercial interests profiteering from shoddy legislation? That was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, as was the power and the force of the commercial world in which we live today.

How can parliamentarians in the transitional House be alert to these threats to future society if they are not technically or scientifically competent to do so? Can a democratically elected Chamber provide all the necessary expertise to achieve this end? I doubt it. How well qualified are the existing life Peers? For example, what percentage of life Peers in the modernised transitional Chamber will be computer literate? And I also wonder whether even more can be done to assist noble Lords who might want to prepare for their work in the new House by either updating their existing computer skills or learning them from the beginning. If a modernised and reformed second Chamber is to do its job of scrutinising technical legislation properly, surely it should have modern facilities and procedures to allow it to do so. For instance, there is nowhere to put a laptop, to plug it in, or to receive e-mail within miles of the Chamber.

The question now is: what are the terms and conditions of the 500 life Peers in the transitional House? Will those terms be adequate to persuade the new life Peers selected by the independent appointments commission to give up time from their otherwise profitable and more remunerative activities in order to scrutinise and vote on in Committee the type of technical Bills mentioned? And on the question of time available, will not the reduction in the number of days spent on Bills by the honourable and right honourable gentlemen in another place put even more pressure on the reformed second Chamber and on its old and new life Peers?

Therefore, what incentives, if any, in the form of improved facilities and communications will be made available to life Peers in the modernised version of your Lordships' House? And will the transitional House agree to set times for votes in the evening? That point was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Desai. When there is a key evening vote, why should the unpaid and so-called "amateur" legislators of the modernised second Chamber not be able to enjoy quality time with their families or attend evening engagements? Their counterparts in the other place can do this on Opposition days when votes are taken only at 7 and 10 p.m. Surely it should not be beyond the capabilities of the usual channels in a modernised transitional House to devise an agreed evening voting procedure which takes place, not just on Opposition days but at all times, at 7 or 10 p.m.?

Does not the passage of the House of Lords reform Bill offer the only opportunity for life Peers in the ranks, so to speak, to obtain better terms and facilities for themselves in this modernised, transitional Chamber? Therefore, I suggest to all the 500 life Peers who will be in the transitional House, regardless of where they may sit in the Chamber, that they abstain on any vote which may take place between the hours of 7 and 10.30 p.m. I mentioned that in the Tea Room and the effect on the Government Benches seems to have been electric. I am greatly encouraged by that response.

Seriously, that is the only way that we shall achieve proper terms and conditions under which to work in a so-called modern House. There will be a heavier workload. Pressure will be put upon us to sit on committees because the hereditary Peers will no longer be available to do so. What are we to do? That has not been considered. I suggest that life Peers should continue to be as obstructive and difficult as possible with this Bill until we obtain a proper, sensible and detailed statement from the Government as to what those terms and conditions will be. What changes will be made to those conditions when the new House is formed?

In order to challenge the Executive and to question and scrutinise technical Bills which threaten not only society in this country but beyond, we need people in this House with a scientific background who are articulate and competent to explain the dangers of such Bills. If there is sloppy legislation, there will be unscrupulous organisations which will be only too delighted to take advantage of it.

However, if the terms and conditions for new life Peers in this House are difficult, noble Lords will simply not attend. They all have other and—I do not wish to disrespectful—better jobs to do rather than sit in this House and wait for five or six hours for a vote at some unknown time in the middle of the night. I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that I am afraid that I shall take my own advice. It seems that the vote will take place after 10.30, and I shall not vote in this House between the hours of seven o'clock and 10.30 or at any time after 10.30. I strongly recommend that all life Peers should tell their Whips that they intend to have that time as their own during the course of the Bill until we are told exactly what our conditions are to be; otherwise, we shall riot be present. I shall be a permanent abstainer until that information is made clear.

8.31 p.m.

My Lords, I begin by apologising to the House for not being in my place yesterday but I have returned early from a business visit abroad because I believe that this is one of the most important debates that this House has had and is ever likely to have.

I am afraid that what is being foisted upon this House, upon Parliament and upon the British people is nothing less than an alarming confidence trick. It is dressed up in a number of ways: that this House is undemocratic as it is presently structured; that hereditary Peers are unrepresentative; that this House has too much power; and that, because superficially it seems out of date, bringing it more up to date will make it more efficient and, as a result, the public will have more confidence in it and, therefore, it will serve the totality of Parliament better and so serve the country better.

Beguiling though some of those arguments may be to some people, when looked at objectively I believe that the Government's proposals and those arguments are at best cynical but at worst, a highly dangerous tampering with the constitution which has evolved over hundreds of years, more especially as they do not address the concept of Parliament as a whole.

I have always tried to characterise the constitution—probably over-simplifying it—as a five-legged stool: the monarchy, the Lords, the Commons, the judiciary and the Church. Each is more or less in balance with the other. Cut off any part of any leg of that stool or change the composition of that leg and the whole stool will begin to rock.

Change to any one part of the constitution is certain in time to affect the rest. In the 22 years or so that I have been in your Lordships' House, I have seen it change enormously. I have also seen its relationship with another place change fairly markedly. The increase in the numbers of life Peers and the roles of Select and European Communities Committees are two obvious elements of change. I have seen the need to scrutinise major Bills, not only from a political point of view but most particularly, as my noble friend Lord Cranborne said, from a practical and legislative view as the other place becomes unwilling or unable to attend to the necessary detail emerging from overworked parliamentary counsel and draftsmen.

On no occasion whatever have I heard it claimed seriously that this House as presently composed is not effective; that it does not do its job; has not proved itself a thoroughly responsible revising and, I should add, advising Chamber. The only charge seems to be that by virtue of its constitution it is unable to exercise sufficient power in Parliament.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, asked whether there is any real public clamour to change the composition of this House. Can the party opposite seriously claim that its manifesto commitment to throw out hereditary Peers was the fundamental reason for its success at the 1997 general election? If it does, why is this debate on reformation so poorly attended by the Labour Party? When the noble Lord, Lord Carter, winds up the debate, perhaps he will explain why his noble friends are unable to support the proposals which those on his side of the House are making.

My Lords, had the noble Lord been here yesterday, perhaps he could make that point.

My Lords, I explained why I was not and the noble Lord has not answered the question I posed. However, he has time enough to answer it in his wind-up speech.

I too believe that the whole concept—and I am sorry to say it but I believe it to be true—arises from prejudice stoked up by good, or rather, bad old-fashioned socialism. None of us can easily justify history. The history and evolution of this House are of the past arid of the present. It has given us a House which does its job fairly well. No one has fundamentally argued otherwise. The combination of hereditary and life Peers seems to have been an extraordinary success.

Other than for reasons of dogma, there can be no enthusiasm to embark upon such a perilously complex change, more especially when it is back to front and supported by an exceedingly thin White Paper suggesting models for its replacement which the Royal Commission must take as the basis for its work.

I have become rather sick of saying half-heartedly that I cannot defend why I am here; that change is inevitable; and that my own party has somehow shrunk from tackling this issue in the past, as though I am embarrassed to be here. I know I am lucky to be here and I am certainly proud to have played a part over the years. Governments of all hues may feel uncomfortable with a second Chamber which exerts its views from time to time. That cannot be construed as an unelected Chamber riding roughshod over another place. This House may well discuss abstract matters. It certainly debates all manner of issues. But fundamentally, it examines legislation in detail—legislation often stemming from the loose words of party manifestos but legislation which must stand the full scrutiny and application of law and the test of time. Even then its purpose is to examine detail, not to throw out principle.

This House is broadly representative and is made so not just by life Peers, Law Lords and Bishops but by what amounts to the random selection, which was referred to earlier, from every walk of life represented by hereditary Peers. Hereditary Peers have no political ambition and no serious axe to grind. They bring their various experiences to bear freely and willingly. And their determination to uphold what is right and best for the country as a whole is enormously more important to them than blind loyalty to party politics.

I believe that the Bill to eject hereditary Peers is bad enough but to do so in the light of this woolly White Paper and without stating clearly what is to replace them is nothing short of preposterous. It emasculates part of Parliament; it ignores the balance which exists between both Houses; and it offers absolutely no solution as to how it can be recreated. It invites the country to take a very dangerous step into the unknown. Most important, to suggest that this House should have less power when it is already able to exercise very little is positively horrifying. Therefore, I most strongly support my noble friend's amendment.

But I go one step further in my criticism. As the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, seemed to suggest in his speech, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Government respect no view other than their own. They want to have their way at any cost whatever the damage to the constitution—and all in the name of so-called "modernisation".

This House currently has one absolute power; that is, enforcing the quinquennial Act. The White Paper pays but lip service to that; it gives no explanation as to how the absolute independence of this House might be maintained or recreated so as to ensure that the governing party goes to the country every five years. What a positively alarming prospect and what a daunting task for my noble friend Lord Wakeham and his commission to sort out.

The whole concept of restructuring this House as the White Paper foreshadows is based on dogma. It has no foundation on practical grounds or properly considered constitutional theory. It rides roughshod over historical evolution and precedent. By throwing out hereditary Peers the Government are at a stroke cutting away one pillar of the constitution with no idea of what is to replace it, thereby jeopardising the rest. I believe strongly that it is a recipe for parliamentary and possibly wider strife. The sooner that Parliament as a whole and the country at large wakes up to what is at stake, the better.

8.40 p.m.

My Lords, I am delighted to follow my noble friend Lord Glenarthur, who speaks with such great authority. Let me say straight away that I am amazed that this White Paper suggests that the powers of this House might be significantly reduced. To do that would be a disaster. This House has got to hold the Executive to account and it cannot do that without independence and authority. That point has been made already by many other Peers, so I shall now pass to more positive matters.

Having been a Member of your Lordships' House for a considerable number of years, I venture to suggest that this House works well. It is respected by the people of this country, among other things for keeping the balance of power but also for the way in which it scrutinises much hasty legislation as well as, from time to time, asking another place to think again. I believe that the great majority of your Lordships would agree with me that this House is effective and does an excellent job in the interests of our country.

However, it must be acknowledged that the Government have made it abundantly clear that they object to the present large and disproportionate number of Conservative hereditary Peers who can pass through the Division Lobbies. The Government have a case. In view of that I want to suggest what I hope will be taken as a constructive solution to this problem. It has already been touched on by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, towards the end of her excellent speech.

Like the noble Earl, Lord Perth, who is not present today, I am one of the few who did not come to your Lordships' House as of right, or by birth, or by appointment; I was elected. I was elected as a Scottish representative Peer by my fellow Scottish Peers to become a Member of your Lordships' House in 1955. After that, I came up for election and was re-elected each time there was a new Parliament. That went on until 1963, when all Scottish Peers were given the same rights as United Kingdom Peers.

I suggest that if there is a desire to cut down the number of Conservative hereditary Peers who can vote, then a certain number should be elected by their fellow Conservative Peers—something similar to the way in which Scottish representative Peers were elected. It should not be outwith the wit of the various Leaders in this House to agree on what that number should be. The Conservative hereditary Peers elected would sit and vote in your Lordships' House until such time as there was a new Parliament, and then another election would be held. Those Conservative hereditary Peers who were not elected and were thus denied the vote, could still sit and speak. That is crucial; that would be important as, with the election of Conservative hereditary Peers each new Parliament, it would give the electors a chance to judge the merit of those standing for election.

To begin with only Conservative hereditary Peers would have to stand for election. But if other parties increased their numbers of hereditary Peers, they too would have to hold elections to decide who should have voting rights. By that method a certain number of hereditary Peers would be elected and given voting rights, making the House more democratic while at the same time involving the minimum constitutional upheaval. That aspect is of considerable importance.

The working of this House has evolved over a great many years. It is respected for doing an excellent job. It would be an act of extreme folly to reform this House under the guise of modernisation and run the risk of ending up with a House that does not work so well. I trust that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, when he comes to speak for Her Majesty's Government, will look on my suggestion as being constructive and thereby accord it due consideration.

8.47 p.m.

My Lords, I have said it once, I have said it twice, and,

"What I tell you three times is true".
The White Paper appears to be very short of argument. It says everything three times, just as the Bellman did, who was as likely to find the snark as the Government are to reach a successful and agreed reform.

We are told that the new Chamber will be more democratic and effective when reformed. Yet that surely implies that it will be more powerful. That is something that will certainly be unacceptable to another place. As my noble and learned friend Lord Howe said, at the moment our lack of power is our strength. Having almost no power we can speak and vote as we deem right regardless of our party. The Government will be well aware of the number of times that the Tory dominated House voted against the last government.

If the House were to be more powerful, paradoxically it would make it a weaker Chamber for then there would be a duty on every Peer to toe the line of the Whip rather than speak his mind and vote accordingly. It is precisely because we cannot claim democratic and selective legitimacy that we are free to vote as our consciences dictate. There are many occasions when Members of the other place vote against their personal inclinations in order to obey the Whip. But in this House that does not happen if people feel strongly about a matter.

Once the hereditaries have gone, the country will be scoured for people to fill the Benches. Many will be appointed as an honour for the success of their career or public work. But for many others it will simply be a matter of filling the Benches and the highest honour of the country—elevation to the peerage—may be earned by no more than standing unopposed in an election. That surely debases the honour of the peerage for those who achieved it through a lifetime of service. Without the hereditary Peers it would be wrong to call the new Chamber the "House of Lords"; it would create confusion. Lords without seats would continue to be briefed by petitioners, for how would the public know who had and who had not got a seat?

Therefore, the new House should be called the Senate and new Members called senators. Life Peers would be automatic Members and maintain their titles as well as being senators. But senators would only be elevated to become Peers, as opposed to senators. if they deserved the honour. The new Chamber should also lose all the trappings of the Lords. It is sad to lose 1,000 years' history of tradition, but, as we saw at the opening of Parliament, tradition seems a dirty word.

There is no proposal by the Government on what is to replace the Lords. It has to be a Chamber based either on selection or election. The Royal Commission is meant to report by December. It is unlikely to do so, if it ever does produce an agreed report. The problem with any form of election is that politics would immediately rear its head and very soon the House would become a sort of political bear garden, which characterises the other place and many local authority chambers. The traditional calm, objective debate of the Lords will have been lost. Mature statesmen would be increasingly disenchanted to attend the shouting match.

Once the new House has a legitimacy by election or appointment, the Commons know jolly well that their own supremacy will be challenged. That was ably set out by the noble Lord, Lord Harris. That will make stage two impossible. That is why stage one has to come before stage two; namely, stage two will never happen. Just as past efforts have failed, so will this one. On the one hand the Government want a more effective Chamber; on the other hand, they want one with no more power. Those are two conflicting requirements.

If there was an adequate solution, the Government would have had no fear in having the two stages together. As much as the other place wants to get rid of the hereditaries, there is almost no alternative that they would accept. If there was, they would have suggested it already.

There is only one way round this. That is to have the "sunset clause". If stage two is not agreed by a certain date, the hereditaries should resume their seats. That is the only threat that would galvanise the other place to agree a stage two. Such a clause would help the Government achieve their aim.

There is then the question of whether Members should be full-time or part-time. One of the accepted great strengths of the present House is the number of experts on almost any subject who come when they can give invaluable and first-hand advice to the House. To have a fund of experts on whom to call yet who cannot interfere on political balance is an almost ideal system and should be preserved, as recommended in countless letters to The Times, including one from the noble Earl., Lord Longford. It would be much better if they were allowed to speak, if not to vote. The country will be a loser without them. Full-time Members would be far more inclined gradually to demand power from the other place. It would be a great disservice to the country to make it a full-time job.

I turn to the proposal for an age limit. One of the greatest strengths of the House is that so many Members have lost the political fire of their youth and have settled down to more mature and pragmatic political views; hence the lack of shouting at each other, and the more mature debate. Are the Government really saying that once over the age of 75, Peers are past it? It is well known that some of the wisest and greatest contributors to the House are not only those Peers over the age of 75 but those over the age of 85. We can all think of names to prove that fact. Those Peers who are beyond making sense just stay away.

It would also be wrong to have Members for set terms of years as they would always be looking over their shoulders to ensure reappointment or re-election. At present we can say what we believe to be right, regardless of how popular that may be. We may be ignored or have to answer an interjection from another Peer or to our national or local press. We would look pretty silly if we got it wrong. We try to take care not to, but we can fight for our views to the death without fear of being ousted from the House. People who work hard until retirement can only then spare the time to attend. But then they have a huge resource of knowledge to give to the country well beyond their 75th birthday.

Regional representation is another matter raised in the White Paper. The appointment of a regional representative would bring in a lot of Bugginses from the councils. These political animals are not the people to fill the second Chamber. Far better are those who can speak with little political axe to grind and with a lifetime of experience of the subject on which they are speaking. Selection, however, must take account of the need for Members from across the country.

Few people outside the House criticise or give a fig either way for the hereditaries. The postbags of Members of Parliament show little public interest in reform. However, 68 per cent. of people polled want to leave things as they are until details of a new House are known. Many commentators say that it is the Commons that should be reformed, at least as well as the Lords.

It is essential that any reform should be for the better. It seems that change is being made for change's sake. What comes out, in poll after poll, is that the electorate want to know what they are getting before they see the present system dissolved. It is quite extraordinary and thoroughly irresponsible that a constitution should be destroyed before a replacement is planned.

8.55 p.m.

My Lords, at the age of 87, I may have been caught napping if I have only heard four or five of my noble friends make points which I want to stress. I refer to the speeches of my noble friends Lord Waddington, Lord Lamont, Lord Moran, Lord Naseby and Lord Glenarthur.

I make no apology for referring to the point to which they alluded. It is that your Lordships enjoy one particular power—and only one—in this House. That is to decide whether or not to veto—I stress the word "veto"—any proposal from the other place to delay the forthcoming general election; in other words, to suspend the quinquennial Act which can only be amended for a year at a time.

Although we meet tonight under the chairmanship of an unelected Peer on the Woolsack, we are discussing a White Paper which, at heart, is about the processes and procedures of democracy. The Salisbury convention is strictly irrelevant, if only because the Labour manifesto promised that the legislative power of the House of Lords would remain unaltered. That is, directly and by implication, just what the White Paper proposes. We are told in it that it might be reasonable to reduce the theoretically available powers of this House rather than leave them as they stand. Although under the quinquennial Act delays could only be for a year at a time, the fact is that your Lordships can block any endeavour to amend that Act and have an absolute veto. In other words, this House is the sole and absolute guarantee of general elections being held every five years. So far, the question has only arisen twice—in wartime—and on both those occasions your Lordships concurred with the other place.

This White Paper is a loose and disparate collection of rather undergraduate essays strung together without much of a coherent theme. It even goes so far as to contradict itself. In the middle of page 36 we read that,
"the Government must ultimately have the right to secure any of its legislation... with the consent of the Commons alone"—
but, wait for it—
"except for a Bill to extend the life of a Parliament".
However, having made that genuflection, if I can put it in that way, to constitutional decency, the reservation is firmly negatived in paragraph 7(26) to which tonight's amendment wisely refers. That paragraph states that the available powers of this House might, if the Wakeham Commission says so, be significantly reduced.

The point to which the amendment specifically refers is the power of this House. We are told that "independence" is the character most eagerly sought among the Peers of tomorrow who are to be chosen by an appointments commission, itself "independent". But by whom would they be named? Who else but by the Prime Minister? The same applies to the commission's nominees.

Total disregard for the constitution, as we know it, is clear. I cite two points. First, the Commons, according to paragraph 5 on page 24, is to have the "final say" on any Bill. The phrasing omits any qualifying exclusion about amendments of the quinquennial Act. Secondly, we are told that hereditary Peers are invariably Conservative. That is sheer nonsense. For example, three out of every four Cross-Bench Peers are hereditary Peers but they sit as independents, free from any party ties. The noble Lord, Lord Richard. said at col. 1804 on 19th May 1993 that the Lords is,
"effectively the only place in which the legislature can curb the power of the executive".
Most damning are the Wakeham commission's terms of reference: to consider both the role and the function of the second Chamber. In other words, the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, may well review one guarantee. I refer to the fact that there will be an election every five years. So, we are offered a second Chamber, gathered by an appointments commission, itself chosen by the Prime Minister, yet still labelled as "politically independent".

The noble Baroness, Lady Jay, told the Dimbleby programme on 24th January that a referendum had not been ruled out, nor, in view of the Welsh referendum turnout, were we told what majority would be needed if there were a referendum. The noble Baroness also left two points unanswered the other day. The noble Viscount., Lord Cranborne, had asked about the "pivotal" question of relations between the two Houses. The noble Baroness ducked that issue when, on 24th January, she told the Dimbleby programme that the,
"Government were not to open up the rather difficult area of `powers' because that might lead to a free-flowing discussion"—
that is the last thing they want—
"about the powers of Parliament which are not established anywhere in our unwritten constitution".
The ambiguity of that answer is frightening and, of itself, is an argument in support of my noble friend's amendment.

Your Lordships have a duty to scrutinise the Government on every detail of this matter and must expose any evasion of the charge that they, as a government, seek and mean to keep the power that they already enjoy.

I do not know whether it is proper to repeat the quotation given earlier by my noble friend Lord Glenarthur:
"Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely".
I hope that my noble friends on this side of the House and those on the Cross-Benches will rally to support my noble friend's amendment.

9.3 p.m.

My Lords, I welcome the opportunity, as a new life Peer, to contribute to the debate on the future of this House. In the short time that I have been a Member of this House, it has become clear to me that, as presently constituted, an extraordinary breadth of talent, skills and experience resonates in this House; a powerful resource which I defy any Chamber in any legislature anywhere to match. Indeed, I have noticed that your Lordships make little distinction between those who have been here JO minutes and those who have been here 200 years—

My Lords, I pay tribute to all those here who happen to have hereditary titles for their enormous and largely unsung contribution to our great debates and to the stability of our parliamentary process.

However, I think that we all recognise that the time has come for reform, but not reform at any price. There has been a very obvious growth in the class of career politician in our public life. I for one would not want to see that happen here.

I welcome the establishment of the Royal Commission, to be chaired by my very distinguished noble friend Lord Wakeham, and I regret that the Government did not set it up as soon as they came to power.

That said, I wish that I could say that I welcome the contents of the White Paper. Unfortunately, its title alone signals the Government's preference for masking their true purpose. I repeat the question put by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde in his address at the commencement of the debate: "Modernising Parliament"—what does "modernising" mean? Even my laptop, provided courtesy of this House, does not want to recognise the word "modernising". A red light flashes every time I attempt to type it!

Whatever it means, are the Government planning to modernise the House of Commons as well? After all, one does not have a properly balanced legislature without the other. I am aware that a committee in the House of Commons is currently reviewing the practices and procedures of that House. That must be good. However, it simply does not compare with hacking at our constitution in your Lordships' House. Can "modernising" mean anything we like as long as it sounds good and a touch newsworthy?

How can we decide who should be here (or not) before working out what a so-called "modernised" Parliament is supposed to do? To put it another way, is it not rather amateurish—indeed, entirely odd—to be considering the applicant for the job before the job description has been drafted? Is this an example of the "better government" to which the noble Baroness the Leader of the House referred in her Statement about the White Paper on 20th January? I sincerely hope not.

Clearly, the Government seem to be interested in reforming this place only in order to throw out a certain group of people. That is their prerogative, but we must guard against the effects on our relationship with the House of Commons in the so-called brave, new, modern world which this Government are creating for us.

Faced with this overtly half-baked approach to "modernising", which I presume is supposed to mean "reforming", I now return to just some of the proposals in the White Paper—proposals which I believe are fundamentally flawed. In particular, I note:
"Central to the future House of' Lords is its composition".
The noble Baroness the Leader of the House made it clear in her Statement to which I have already referred that the Government wish to make the House of Lords more representative of today's Britain and nominations from many sources will extend the range of interests and types of people represented in the House.

The White Paper takes this further by reference to the likelihood that it will include more younger people, more women and more ethnic minorities. This all sounds very good in principle—and very newsworthy. However, while clearly favouring a largely nominated element, the White Paper also makes it very clear that elected Peers would be paid salaries and nominees would not. My response to that is: why not? As a mother with three young children to be properly cared for, I can confirm that being a Member of this House is a very expensive privilege and one which I would guess fewer than 0.1 per cent. of the population of Britain today could afford.

One of the complaints of those who wish to oust the hereditary Peers is that a proportion of them do not regularly attend or only turn up to vote. The truth, if I may suggest it, is that many of them are out there earning a living in the hope that they may attend and do their duty if and when their finances and their responsibilities allow. The same would be the case for the overwhelming majority of Peers who might come to this House post reform. It is entirely unrealistic—indeed extraordinarily naïve—to expect to call upon people from all walks of life to drop everything to be here without an income. In short, my response to this so called "modernisation" to "get better government" is: "get real".

In truth, the Government cannot honestly pretend that they really want to extend the range of representation with warm words on young people, women and ethnic minorities when only a small and elite minority could afford to be here. I believe that it is reasonable to ask whether this clear inconsistency is, in fact, all part of the building blocks for the Prime Minister's loyal yes-men and women who are prepared to pay up and shut up.

That question brings me to another related aspect of the White Paper. We do not know what role this House will play in the governing of Britain for the medium to long term. What we do know, by their actions, is that this Government are increasingly ignoring, indeed bypassing, Parliament in favour of the Executive and the media. Even our Prime Minister treats Parliament as an irritant. It is rather telling that the "Brit Awards" ceremony last week was of more importance to our Ministers than the future of this House. This blatant trend tells me that, whatever the future holds, it is the Government's intention to diminish the powers and standing of this House. What then?

The White Paper talks, almost excitedly, about developing the role of the working Peer. Men and women of calibre who are succeeding in their chosen path in the world outside are not going to compromise their lives to come to a House which is left with no teeth and no standing. What would be the point? It is also notable that, in the Statement which I mentioned earlier, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House said that while hereditary Peers will be given the right to stand as candidates for election to the House of Commons, there will be no change in the position of life Peers. Life Peers will be unable to disclaim their titles. Why? Do this Government fear a mass exodus of life Peers to the House of Commons, once all the teeth of this House have been removed? I think we should be told.

It is abundantly clear, upon even a cursory reading of the White Paper, that this Government's intentions are, at best, ill thought through and, at worst, poorly disguised—and that the White Paper's content bears little relation to the practicalities of reforming so important an institution as this House. More than that, it highlights the very real dangers which the Royal Commission faces in its remit to change for ever an institution which plays a fundamental part in our United Kingdom, an institution which is a much loved part of our heritage.

Reform cannot be properly considered in isolation. It begs the question: does modernisation mean fundamental change to the workings of this House? The whole process thus far, with its often casual references to reform with words like "radical" and "modern", has created a profound and uncomfortable climate of uncertainty for all who work in the House, in whatever capacity. I believe that it is now time for this Government to assure them that their future here is secure.

I wish the members of the Royal Commission well in their unenviable task and simply urge them to consider the future of this House in the context of its effects upon Parliament as a whole.

In conclusion, a hitherto inviolate cornerstone of our democracy—the check upon an elective dictatorship—is now at risk. It is our paramount duty to protect that element through this period of reform. That fundamental change to the British constitution should be taking place first by piecemeal devolution and now by piecemeal reform of our legislature is lamentable. We accept change that destabilises and diminishes for ever our United Kingdom at our peril.

My Lords, the noble Baroness used my name during the course of her speech. Would she be kind enough to tell the House whether she believes the House of Lords should be reformed at all?

My Lords, I think I made it clear that now is the time for reform and that we must have reform. However, I do not believe that it has been properly considered in the White Paper. I believe that the composition of this House is absolutely crucial, but you cannot decide upon the composition until you have decided what the people here are supposed to be doing. That was the main point of my speech.

9.15 p.m.

My Lords, lest we forget some of the more spiritual matters of this House, I remind your Lordships that today is the feast of St. Polycarp, one of the oldest saints of all. If I recall, he was burned, but the fire would not consume him because his belief was so strong. He had to be put down by the executioner with a knife. Today is also the feast of St. Lazarus, who I believe tried hard to restore religious artefacts and works of art, for which he was condemned to death by heretics. But he was saved and honoured.

The only reason I know this is because 36 years ago today I received a formal telegram confirming the death of my father at sea. Therefore I have been a Peer for some 36 years. But that was not something I wanted to be; it occurred not by accident of birth, but by accident of death. Had my father survived, he would have been like the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, who was head of house at Winchester a year after my father, and I would never have come here and probably would never have had to suffer as I did in the beginning.

I have believed in reform from the moment I had to come here. I did not know that I had to come here. I did not want to change my name from Malcom Mitchell-Thomson. I was frightened. I did not know how to get here. Then I was told that you turned up. I turned up at what I now know is St. Stephens. I told a nice man that I wanted to go to the House of Lords. He said, "If you wait a moment, there will be a group going round shortly". I went on a tour and thank goodness I did because the staff were helpful. The Palace servants explained what I should do. They said, "Surely you must know someone". I replied, "No, actually I do not know any Peers, and anyway I am too young". I was 25 years old. A nice person I thought I had seen or knew sat me down and said, "Don't worry. You have the experience of youth". Immediately I felt important. He continued, "We are a bunch of old geriatrics and we need someone young. Please come".

I went back to my job with Universal Asbestos at Watford. My boss there said, "I expect you will not come here any more. You will go to the House of Lords and manage your estates". I did not like to tell him that we did not have any estates. I said I thought that I would have to attend the House of Lords sometimes. He replied, "Bear in mind we do not carry passengers here". I felt very put out indeed. I wanted this place to be reformed. I came and sat on the Back Benches. I was terrified at the prospect of taking my seat. I discovered that I did not have a Writ because I am one of those strange people who has an English barony registered in Scotland. When I went to the College of Arms they said, "You are not with us. You are with the Lyon". I had never heard of the Lyon but I had to go to Edinburgh and find right reverend Prelates to prove that my mother and father were bachelor and spinster at the time of their marriage and that I was therefore legitimate. When you are young this causes you angst. It makes me feel anxious now even to think about it.

However, the people here were so nice to me. They told me to speak only on a subject I knew about. They told me to be careful of the people called Whips. They said that the Whips would try to make me do things that I probably should not do. They also said, "You should be independent. You probably are Conservative although your uncle was Stafford Cripps and your father was on the other side". I could go to any side of the House. However, I was told that it was my duty to come to the House to contribute as I had sworn an oath.

I did not know much about anything but I am grateful to this House for what it has taught me through coming to listen to people. I have learnt more here than throughout the rest of my life, and I appreciate that. I am not a hereditary Peer; I am a Baron. There are Marquesses, Dukes and Earls. I do not like the term "hereditary Peer", but I like the idea of reform.

I suppose that I have to declare an interest—and I did not want to do this. Unfortunately I then became a director of a research company. Back in those early days, we did the research for the Prime Minister, Mr. Harold Wilson, on the reform of the House of Lords. As your Lordships know, his government were a little worried. They said, "We need to get rid of them because they are blocking everything on Zimbabwe"— Rhodesia. So the Bill was introduced. There was a White Paper, and, if I recall correctly, there was a majority of 195 in the debate on the Motion in the House of Lords in favour of reform, and a majority of 111 in the House of Commons.

The interesting thing about doing research for political parties is that if they do not pay you the research belongs to you. So I scratched through my files, through all the Hollerith cards, and I have revitalised it all. As it is beyond the 30-year rule, I would like to publish it. I have given it an appropriate title—Towards a Peerless Future. I reactivated many of my research colleagues because I believe that one of the problem. s we are facing is lack of knowledge and information.

Are the 94 people speaking in the debate representative of the House of Lords? Your Lordships may be interested to know that the average age of those who have spoken or will speak is exactly 64. It upsets me; I have been trying to get up to the average age for 36 years, and I cannot make it. About 16 per cent. of Peers have been here for less than five years; 50 per cent. have been here for between five and 20 years; the remainder have been here for more than 20 years. I belong to one of that happy gang of about 16 per cent.—the same percentage as those who have been here for less than five years—who have been here for 36 years. I still wonder why. I did not want to come here in the first place, but now I do not really want to go.

I was taught that it was my duty to attend. I actually swore an oath. I was more frightened of that oath than of the Official Secrets Act when, over 20 years, I held unpaid Government appointments—because socialist governments always appoint chinless wonders, hereditary, merchant banking Peers, to useless bodies, where you are unpaid.

I also suffered because I did not like to do what the Whips told me to do. I do not like the idea of two-line Whips and things like that, and so I would never accept them. I invented the "Selsdon Convention". When my noble friend Lord Denham sent me something with two black lines, I used to "Snowpake" one line out and say that I have only ever taken a one-line Whip. I have voted against governments. When I find that I do not want to be Whipped, I am conveniently absent.

At the moment I am conveniently absent for five days a week because I have a job. As my noble friend Lady Buscombe has just pointed out, one of the problems of having a job is that you have to balance everything. Your bosses say, "It is us or the House of Lords, or the Government". They think that we are all wealthy here, but those of us who work in the sort of job I had have to come to an agreement with our employers. We work a 40-hour week for them and the rest of the time is free. It is quite difficult to create a balance. It is difficult to gain expertise solely within the House, so we have to gain it from outside.

As I see the noble Lord, Lord Desai, I cannot resist saying something about his students. When he came here, they did not see quite so much of him. I thought it was rather charming when they used to say "Yes, we see him at the beginning of the term and the end of term, and quite a lot on television". I have learned a lot from him, and I respected his speech today.

But I do not intend to resign: I think we should all resign and stand for re-election. We should look at the Companies Act and look at who our shareholders are.

As part of my plan, over the past few years I have talked to 53 foreign governments, including some Commonwealth governments, although I have not got round to them all yet. We have not consulted with many Commonwealth countries, but they feel very strongly about the Queen and about this House. Most of their governments feel that this is one of the bodies that can stop the overturn of democracy. I say no more, but watch this space. I am also trying to produce a CD-Rom and I am being trained by PVDN so that I can communicate with all our constituents worldwide. Twenty-five per cent. of the population of the world are members of the British Commonwealth. I am too.

I hope that we will enjoy the next few months. I wanted to sit on the Labour Benches today because I thought they were so under-supported; they have no one speaking.

My Lords, we could all go over and then we would not have a problem of division—but we would not vote for them.

I leave it at that. It has been a pleasure to be here today.

9.24 p.m.

My Lords, that is a hard act to follow! Everyone in the Chamber knows exactly what is going on so I will not elucidate further. The previous four speakers were excellent examples of knowing what is going on.

Not so long ago I wrote a short tome on the three-pronged attack on democracy; the closed list, which has now been effected; hereditary Peers, which we are discussing today; and the single currency, which we shall discuss a great deal more in the future—you can bet on that! It is happening every week. There were the Wool reforms on civil litigation and the 1995 practice direction. There is the business about Wales and All Michael. The Brown shirts came out for that one!

Perhaps I may remind your Lordships—I am sure I do not need to—that the monarch does not rule by divine right. Neither do the Commons rule by divine right. Nor does No. 10 Downing Street rule by divine right. There is only one institution that does rule by divine right. That is common law and the will of the people. If the present Government press on with the single currency, the people of this nation will never forgive them or never forget.

I played backgammon in Turkey for a full month. On one occasion I actually lifted a game off a Turkish gentleman who spoke good English. He reached back for his glass of tea and said, "Ah, do you know that in Turkey we have a saying about the English? If you spit in an Englishman's eye, he will smile; if you spit in his eye a second time, he will say thank-you; if you spit in his eye a third time, he will kill you". With a very large majority and the arrogance of the present Government, we are seeing the demise of the socialist party.

Pray continue.

9.27 p.m.

My Lords, the evening is drawing on and I hope it will encourage your Lordships to know that if anyone is interested in my thoughts on the way to take forward reform of the second Chamber, I shared them with your Lordships in the autumn of last year. I have no intention of re-visiting them this evening.

Any parliamentary Chamber's activities are determined by its composition, its powers and its functions, and their inter-relationship. A great deal of the debate over the past two days has focused on composition. I wish to comment mostly on functions and powers. In particular, I want to juxtapose some of the contents of the White Paper with the Prime Minister's comment in his introduction that what the White Paper proposes is a "radical and historic task". I do not doubt its historic significance. It is the epithet "radical" I question.

At page 3 of the White Paper it is stated that the removal of hereditary Peers is,
"a real change in the way Britain is governed".
That, my Lords, is an ambitious claim which I suggest is not fully supported by the facts.

Not only is Britain not governed by the hereditary peerage; it is not even governed by the House of Lords, which contains, of course, a large number of hereditary Peers. It is governed by Parliament as a whole. As those of us who were involved in the debates and votes on the European Parliamentary Elections Bill know, it is the other place which governs this country. It did so before the tabling of the Bill that is currently before the other place, and it will do so after that Bill is on the statute book.

No change is being made to the way in which the powers and functions of this House work; merely its composition is to be changed, which will of course affect the way in which it operates. But something similar happens in the other place at every general election. On those occasions the Government may change, but the way of government is unchanging.

The composition of this House is being treated like the workforce of a business that has been newly taken over. The new boss has decided to get rid of many of the workers on what might be described as a "first in, first out" basis. Apart from that, there is to be no change to the system. Things will go on in much the same way as before. Whether the composition, and for that matter the functions and purposes, of the second Chamber of Parliament should be changed in such a manner by those who for the time being are in control of the first Chamber is a matter which might be for consideration by the Royal Commission. Should the composition of a House of Parliament, its functions and powers be constitutionally entrenched against change by simple majority of another place?

The Government have decided that they want the so-and-so's out. I almost used another, vernacular word in this context but then realised that it would be technically inaccurate in the case of hereditary Peers. It is hardly very noble, but it is a recognisable and precedented exercise of naked power. We have seen it before and we shall no doubt see it plenty of times again. I am not only talking about this country.

There is a whole range of political consequences. The Government know that and appreciate that they must deal with them ex post facto. That is why phase two has been put in place, to address those problems. But the problem about phase two is that the Government do not know what they want to do. It is clearly true that they wish to see minimal change to the way in which Parliament as a whole works. Hence they have established a Royal Commission to help them achieve just that. After all, why are the terms of reference of the Royal Commission so circumscribed? It is specifically stated that there is a "need to maintain the position of the House of Commons as the pre-eminent Chamber of the realm." Why is there such a need? What is the evidence? If it is such an overridingly sensible conclusion, why cannot the Royal Commission be relied upon to reach that conclusion? If it cannot be relied upon to reach it, why are its deliberations to be relied upon in other respects?

Given that it is generally accepted on all sides that phase two is likely to set the form of the House of Lords or whatever the second Chamber may be called for many years to come, surely, as my noble friend Lord Norton pointed out yesterday, we should look at the workings of second chambers elsewhere, both inside and outside the common law tradition, to see whether there is anything useful to be learnt from them. Surely our arrangements here are not, in the words of the great Lord Brougham, the Lord Chancellor at the time of the great Reform Bill, incapable of improvement. Why is the Royal Commission expressly forbidden to seek after truth?

While I am sure that the publicly expressed wish to get phase two through expeditiously plays a part in this, surely the real reason is that the cabal which directs the party opposite and the Government is predominantly composed of Members of another place. As any Member of this House who has been a Minister knows, it is cabals in the other place that direct government policy. Obviously, those people love the pre-eminence of the other place and cherish it jealously, with all the emotional affection of the longest serving Member of this House. But surely that is a good reason in itself for asking the Royal Commission to examine the near closed shop which the House of Commons locks on government.

One of the great benefits and uses of this House is that it is a door through which any citizen can go if the government of the day wishes him or her to be part of the administration. In that context one has only to think of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and the noble Lords. Lord Simon and Lord Macdonald, each of whom could not be a member of the Government if this opening were not available.

Given our system, where a member of the Government must become a Member of Parliament, if one adopts the line argued by the right honourable Member for Chesterfield and others that all members of the Government must be Members of the House of Commons, one limits the pool from which the Government can be called to something like 400 people out of a nation of more than 50 million. That I consider to be absolutely ludicrous.

It is my view that the Government might well be improved if more Members of this House were members of the Government. I suggest that the Royal Commission should consider whether Members of this place could speak for the Government on the Front Bench in the other place and vice versa.

I return to the main thrust of my remarks which is that under a description of radical modernisation the Government's plans for changes in the Parliament here at Westminster guarantee that there will be no discussion of the merits or disadvantages of radical change. In many ways they will deliberately ensure a minimum of substantive change in the future functions and powers of Parliament.

In both phase one and phase two we see no genuine radicalism, despite the brave words of the White Paper. The real question for the Government is not to criticise their radical plans, it is to question their self-proclaimed radical credentials. The question is: if the Government's plans are so radical, why are they so timid in their thoughts and intentions? In short, why are they so conservative?

9.35 p.m.

My Lords, as the 80th speaker in the debate, I do not intend to weary your Lordships with my own views on the details of the White Paper. Its inconsistencies have already been well exposed by previous speakers. However, I add my voice to the many others before me who found it bizarre that the Government's White Paper stated its intention to increase the legitimacy of a reformed Chamber, but then went on to suggest reducing its powers. A so-called more legitimate House should surely have more powers, not fewer. I would also not be alone in saying that if I hear the word "modernisation" again I think I shall scream.

I have three specific points to raise which flow from the White Paper and its consequences. When the Government get their way and the hereditary Peers are kicked out—the "affronts to democracy", as the Prime Minister calls us—there will remain a House of about 482 life Peers. According to the figures produced by the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, last year during the debate in this House in October, over half those Peers are aged 70 or more. Further, of those 482 Peers only about half turn up.

We do not yet know whether the mooted 91 affronts to democracy, as proposed by the Weatherill amendment, will be part of the interim Chamber. Are the Government satisfied that the business of the House will be able to be carried out effectively during the period between stages one and two? I am thinking of the Deputy Chairmen of Committees, the European Communities Committee and its sub-committees and several other committees of your Lordships' House. For example, the European Select Committee on which I have the honour to serve has eight hereditary Peers among its members. The agriculture and fisheries sub-committee has seven hereditaries out of its 11 members. At my count—and I stand to be corrected—the various committees of this House are well served by 67 of those affronts to democracy.

Are the Government able to give the House the assurance that the work done by the committees which is widely acknowledged to be of some value will be carried out to the same standards by a House much reduced in numbers and which may last for much longer than the Government envisage at the moment?

I mentioned agriculture and fisheries. It brings me to the second point I wish to raise. When the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, introduced the White Paper on 20th January this year—and it is repeated in the White Paper—she said that 60 per cent. of hereditary Peers have some connection with the land. It follows, therefore, that when they go that interest will go with them. Twenty-three per cent. of the population live and work in rural areas, 30 per cent. of the national gross domestic product is produced in those areas and a large number of jobs depend on them. I hope that the Royal Commission will put the necessary pressure on the Government to ensure that the rural constituency in the United Kingdom will be properly represented in this House, whatever its eventual composition. This cannot be left to another place which is predominantly urban in outlook. The countryside and the rural economy are under pressure as never before and their voice must be heard.

Finally, I should like to suggest to my noble friend Lord Wakeham and his Royal Commission that they examine a system of party Whips. Yesterday I was encouraged by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, and today by the speech of my noble friend Lord Selsdon who shares some reservations on this matter. At this point I part company with my noble friend Lord Jopling who dealt with this matter yesterday. He prefaced his remarks by saying:
"I am the third former Chief Whip to speak and I hope that I am not seen to be making a plea from the 'Chief Whips' mafia'."— [Official Report, 22/2/99; col. 872.]
He then went on to make a case for serial flagellation. I speak as a victim of whipping during the debate on the Maastricht Treaty. I was pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Moran, reminded us of those events, in particular the question of a referendum on that unfortunate treaty. Those of us who supported a referendum were opposed most effectively not so much by reasoned debate as by ruthless whipping by both the Labour Party and by my noble friend Lord Hesketh on behalf of the then government. His final duty was to make sure that the whipped ones went into the voting Lobby of his choice rather than one of your Lordships' cloakrooms. The vote on this matter was lost but I believe that the argument was won, as some months later both the Conservative and Labour Parties found that they would after all have a referendum on economic and monetary union.

As a "whipee" (if that is the correct word to use) my experience was no happier. I expected to be telephoned at any moment by the Whips Office. It never happened. I waited for the call and it never came. However, one day I received a fax headed, "Top Priority. Urgent. Your immediate attendance is required in the House of Lords without failure". I ignored this and carried on castrating pigs, filling in my IACS forms, or whatever else I was doing at the time. I later telephoned that day to find out whether the Government had fallen or some other calamity had occurred only to be told by an uninterested voice on the other end of the telephone that there had been no vote on the matter at all.

I believe that whipping diminishes Parliament in the eyes of the public. If this reformed House is to be a real and legitimate check on the Executive, of whatever political hue, then the party Whip should have no place in it. Measures that are proposed in Bills should stand or fall on their merits. Both my noble friend Lord Cranborne and the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said that this House would become more party political after the reforms proposed in the White Paper. If so, the Royal Commission should be aware of the dangers and will, I hope, guarantee that the second Chamber will be both legitimate and independent. The amendment of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde is a first step towards this desired goal and I support it. If it comes to a vote I shall vote for it.

9.43 p.m.

My Lords, the White Paper, although very repetitive, makes a convincing case for ending the hereditary principle in Parliament though a bad case for splitting House of Lords reform into two steps. As one of the most junior of the hereditary Peers—I am No. 729 out of the 759—whose peerage dates from the twilight period of 1960, and as only a later arrival in your Lordships' House, I am particularly aware of my good fortune at being here, but I cannot in truth justify it. However hard the present House of Lords may seek to fulfill its functions, however high the standards of debate, however conscientious its membership and however admirable its amateur unpaid status, it is inherently impeded by its preservation of the historical anachronism of hereditary legislators.

In respect of stage one, I should like to make one point that was touched upon yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Denham. The Government could have confined their measure to all Peers who sit by virtue of inheritance. It is not necessary for this purpose to extrude also hereditary Peers of first creation. Earlier proposals for House of Lords reform did not go so far.

The White Paper does not propose the abolition of that part of the peerage which is hereditary. It is perfectly possible, although unlikely, that hereditary peerages might still be created in the future. I do not see why anyone so honoured should not sit with life Peers in the House of Lords. Why is that being prevented? Perhaps because it was tempting to cut the link now that there are so few living hereditary Peers of first creation, or perhaps it was to prevent future Royal Peers from sitting. If the latter, it is superfluous since, as I see it, the monarchy is already sufficiently distanced from the peerage riot to be affected simply by the exclusion of hereditary Peers. It stands by itself, as do the seven other constitutional monarchies of Europe. Paradoxically, one of its most enduring strengths is that it is not so rigidly bound to the strict rules of heredity, since the Royal succession ultimately depends on acceptance of the Sovereign by Parliament, as has been made clear on several famous occasions in our history, most recently in our own times in 1936.

This debate provides a welcome opportunity for those of us who may not be here after the end of the present Session to speak about what the White Paper suggests beyond stage one. It contains several encouraging features. First, and most basically, the Government firmly endorse the need for a bicameral Parliament, something about which the Labour Party used to waver in the wobbly days of Michael Foot. Secondly, in the face of public concern about their commitment to further reform, a Royal Commission will produce proposals and an ambitious timetable is set for the Government to declare their policy before the next general election. Thirdly, the scandal of Prime Ministerial patronage, which has continued seamlessly from the era of hereditary peerages into the era of life peerages, is to be significantly mitigated in the transitional House by the Appointments Commission and the Scrutiny Committee.

And yet, despite these assurances, doubts must remain about what will actually happen, given the entrenched interests of the House of Commons and of the Crown-in-Parliament in confining the status and powers of the second Chamber. A stage two reform might simply prove too contentious or be set aside in the face of unforeseeable political events. Anyway, the timetable seems impossibly tight. The transitional House might become the permanent House, always susceptible to being packed in the final resort, as the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, has so eloquently reminded us. Alternatively, and at the other extreme, if the Government attempt to rush through stage two, it might not last long during the impending century, in which there might be stages three, four and five as the unwritten British constitution is still further manipulated.

It is most regrettable that the Government are pushing forward their reform in this way when they could well have done so by consensus, finding, as they have, an easier quarry in the ermine-mantled Peers than they did in the pink-coated fox-hunters. Today's hereditary Peers are no diehards. They are altogether different from the proud aristocrats of past centuries. This was proved in the events of 1968 when the House of Lords voted five to one in favour of the White Paper on reform. At that time the hereditary Peers far outnumbered the life Peers and yet they voted for the end of the hereditary principle in Parliament even though the two-Writ system provided some temporary relief.

It is, of course, true that the 1968 White Paper proposed significant reductions in the powers of the House of Lords. The reformed House would have been confined to only a six-month delay in the passage of an ordinary Bill and the power of final rejection of subordinate legislation was removed. However, many things have changed in the past 30 years and in particular the powers of the Executive have been greatly enhanced—a tendency which is as much Thatcherite as it is Blairite. The weakness of the House of Commons is obvious with the control by the party machines of their candidates as well as the dominance of the fourth estate in all aspects of public life.

Therefore, I applaud the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition for having tabled tabling his amendment which, if he moves it, I shall certainly support. The powers of this House, though they must remain subordinate to the other place, should be strong and meaningful and, whatever they are, they should be used.

9.50 p.m.

Many noble Lords here tonight may believe that after 80 Members have spoken there must be little left of the White Paper to debate. That is true, not least because my noble friend Lord Norton of south and many others quite brilliantly shredded the White Paper with the skill of a Chinese chef shredding a cabbage. There is nothing left of it.

I have listened to every speech I possibly could and I have read all the speeches which were made yesterday and I am provoked into speaking by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. I was reminded of a saying of Somerset Maugham, to the effect that just because a man is inarticulate it does not mean to say that he is stupid. The corollary interests me more: that just because a man is articulate does not mean to say that he is intelligent. I was not too pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and other noble Lords continually refer to this Chamber as the second House. Noble Lords will know that in Tudor times in the ceremony of prorogation, it was referred to as the Higher House. In more modern times it was referred to as the Upper House. If anything, it is the first House of Parliament.

The noble Lord, Lord Richard, also suggested that if the House of Lords were to be properly reformed it might be the second most important institution in the realm. I would have thought. that he, as a lawyer, would know that the first estate of the realm is the Crown, the second is the Church, the third is Parliament — which means both Houses of Parliament — and the fourth estate is the free press.

I shall leave your Lordships with a quotation from the same period of history as the quotation made by the, noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. It is an observation in the third chapter of Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and it has high relevance to this debate. It is a fearful, fearful warning and it is worth remembering that the first democracy which the world experienced, the city state of Athens, lasted only 100 years. The warning is:
"The principles of a free constitution are irrevocably lost, when the legislative power is nominated by the executive".

9.53 p.m.

My Lords, as the 43rd speaker to rise to speak on the second day of the debate on the White Paper and at least the 80th to speak during the two days, I am sure that noble Lords will be relieved to hear that I do not intend to detain the House for more than a few minutes. The White Paper on House of Lords reform poses more questions than it answers. We are told in Chapter 1 that the Government are committed to,

"improving the effectiveness and balance of the House of Lords, with the aim of it playing a full and proper part in Parliament".
Do the Government want to keep the present and tried balance of power and responsibility between your Lordships' House and the other place, or do they intend to reduce the powers of your Lordships' House? Perhaps the noble Lord the Chief Whip will address that issue in his reply.

I believe that the Government owe it not to this House but to the country as a whole to clarify their position regarding what appear to be contradictory statements and suggestions in the White Paper. In Chapter 7, between paragraphs 23 and 27, there are some suggestions concerning the reduction of the powers which are currently available to your Lordships' House on the basis that they might be used more frequently by a reformed House. As other noble Lords have said, any reduction in the powers of your Lordships' House would make a mockery of the Government's claim to want a more effective second Chamber.

The Royal Commission has a great burden of responsibility. While I have every confidence in my noble friend Lord Wakeham and the other members of the Royal Commission, I do not have any confidence that the Government will follow the commission's recommendations and implement an effective reformed second Chamber.

The Executive is all powerful in another place. That is the case now as it was in the past when my party was in power. Members of another place are subject to very strong and effective party whipping. One of the strengths of your Lordships' House is that the Whips do not have any sanction and, in addition, as has been acknowledged, noble Lords on the Cross-Benches play an invaluable part in our proceedings. Thus it is essential that your Lordships' House is no less powerful in its reformed state than it is now so that it is in a position to hold the other place and, more important, the executive to account. The present Government and previous governments, including those of my own party, are not capable of holding the executive to account. The country perhaps does not understand that and it may not understand that, ironically, this House, in its present, undemocratic state, is the last defence which has some form of lever—by asking questions and causing delay—with which to hold the executive to account.

I shall support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, should he press it to a Division, for the reasons that I have given.

Finally, your Lordships' House will inevitably become more political after stage one of the reform and probably even more political after stage two, if it ever happens. That is regrettable as your Lordships' House will then undoubtedly lose many of the qualities which set it head and shoulders above the other place.

9.56 p.m.

My Lords, the White Paper has already been well castigated by noble Lords in those areas about which it should have been castigated. Therefore, I hope that that shortens what I have to say.

I shall deal with one area, and one area only, which I wish to address because everything that I say hangs upon that. The White Paper mentions the Bryce Committee of both Houses in 1917–18. That studied proposals for an elected second Chamber more thoroughly than any other committee or commission has done. The Dictionary of National Biography says that in view of the many and varied views with which the chairman, Lord Bryce, was confronted, which led to difficulties in relation to agreement, he took the unusual step of reporting by letter to the Prime Minister of the day. I am afraid that that does not sound too good a precedent. After all, little was done about that report thereafter and it has gathered dust for about 80 years. Nevertheless, I believe that its proposals are worthy of note and I am glad to see them in the White Paper.

The abilities of Lord Bryce himself were also worthy of note. I should like to saw a few words about the other things that he did, which have a bearing on this. He was a Liberal. He was very well known in the United States for writing a book, The American Commonwealth, which was not read so widely in the UK but was read widely over there. It was a critique of the United States's constitution with many valuable comparisons with our own constitution. He did not express opinions himself; but he had a way of leading one to opinions that one could readily form for oneself. One got a good deal of guidance. It is interesting and important also that the book was written before 1911.

At that time we thought that the American constitution was too unwieldy; it had too many checks and balances and would therefore endanger the Executive's ability to govern. One should look back on that today. The United States' constitution has provided great stability. Their nation has grown to great prominence in the world and those impediments about which we were worried and felt might be disastrous do not seem to have mattered and perhaps were an advantage.

Their opinion of our constitution was rather like the one the noble Lord, Lord Richard, described earlier today; that is, with our Cabinet system of government, the only system. of checks and balances we had appeared to consist of the House of Lords. We otherwise had what amounted to an outright elective dictatorship. The Americans feared that the powers of the House of Lords were already too weak; that the House of Lords was vulnerable to demands for reform; and that such reforms would reduce the remaining checks and balances and render the Executive too powerful. They felt that that could disabilities the nation.

That was 100 years ago. We are still here today. Of course, the House of Lords kept going rather better than anybody, including myself, ever thought it would. At times it is true that we rushed into political actions which did us little good. Our all-important economy would have been stronger without some of those actions. We have already paid a price. My noble friend Lord Cranborne mentioned his anxieties about what was going on over constitutional matters.

The Americans would suggest that we have two options. One is to remove the Executive from the House of Commons; and the other is to move towards an elected second Chamber with more power. The first of those, it has to be said, is alien to our thinking. But the second, though many doubts have been expressed in this debate, may have to be the course we have to consider carefully and to go down. It will be a momentous change if and when we do. We may have to draw back from the brink—I do not know, we may have to draw back from several brinks!

It is a difficult matter that we have been trying to resolve for many years. That is why I suggest that the "no-stage-one-without-stage-two" proposition would be safer than stage one without stage two. Once the hereditary Peers are gone, I doubt the permanence of a nominated transitional House for long because of the need to top-up to preserve political balances. Unless and until we know, and stage two can be decided, we shall be off on a slippery slope without knowing what is at the bottom. For those reasons I support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde.

10.5 p.m.

My Lords, this is not the moment to discuss the relative merits of the hereditary Peerage. The Government will get their Bill. Rather, it is a case of what comes next. As a number of noble Lords have suggested, that makes it all the more surprising that the context of our debate, the White Paper, is so obsessed with justifying stage one. Far from being a dispassionate exposition of the options for stage two, the White Paper is little more than a party political polemic.

The propriety of this is questionable. It may also be indicative of either the vacuity of the Government's case for further reform or an unwillingness to expose their real ambitions to detailed scrutiny. Peter Hennessy commented that,
"without doubt the twentieth [century] has belonged to the executive, not the legislature. Ours is very much the executive's Constitution".
That is true. There can be few who dispute how much of a creature of the executive another place has become. That is one cause among many for public disenchantment with our governmental and political processes. It is implicit in the text of the White Paper that the aim of the Government is to turn this Chamber into an instrument of the executive; to bind the powers and functions of your Lordships' House to the whim of the party of power. It is that which makes so much of the White Paper so offensive.

Despite high-minded protestation that,
"Parliament is the core of political accountability in Britain",
the underlying thrust of the Government's case is the exact reverse; namely, that Parliament should be accountable to the executive. That is unacceptable. It also underscores a most persistent fiction of the current debate. As my noble friend Lord Inglewood pointed out, the White Paper claims that enactment of stage one proposals will represent,
"a real change in the way Britain is governed".
It will, but what I dispute is the presumption that this House is an instrument of government. It is not, at least not yet.

As the White Paper makes abundantly clear, it is above all else part of the legislature not the executive. As such, its primary and inter-related functions are the scrutiny and revision of legislation and the holding of the executive to account; functions which, for the sake of constitutional balance and good governance, are performed from a wholly discrete perspective to that which prevails in another place. The White Paper freely admits that, even—dare I say it?—with a measure of approbation. It acknowledges:
"A second chamber not only provides a longer process of scrutiny of legislation, it also allows it to be examined from a different point of view".
However, it singularly fails to explain the context of our bicameral arrangement, the Burkean principle of wants and needs.

This is not complicated. To use an analogy, an alcoholic wants to drink; he needs to be dried out. The one is a quick fix, the other an enduring solution. So it is with our legislative process. The other place is driven by a short-term political aspiration aimed at electoral advantage. Your Lordships' House is driven by a long-term, non-political obligation aimed at the "greater good". That is as it should be. It is an essential component of our constitutional balance.

At the moment there are few certainties attached to enactment of the Government's stage one proposals, let alone any of their further plans for reform. However, as many noble Lords have pointed out, we can be certain of at least one thing: the further politicisation of this House will be accelerated. It is implicit in the White Paper that the Government view that with approval. Of necessity, the text pays lip service to the need to maintain an independent element, but recent comments in debate from the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, from the Leader of another place, and from the Home Secretary have undermined the Government's sincerity here. The text of the White Paper is riddled with references to the Government's wish to achieve a more politically effective and balanced House—in effect, a suppression of "needs" in favour of "wants".

The Government's plans for this House do not involve any improvements to the legislative process or to the capacity of Parliament to hold the executive to account. No, I repeat that they involve,
"a real change in the way Britain is governed".
That would break the distinction between the two Houses. It would corrupt constitutional balance. It would weaken Parliament. The underlying theme of the White Paper is further to subjugate Parliament to the will of the executive. However disingenuous their presentation, that is the sense of paragraphs 25 and 26 of Chapter 7.

The prevarication of the Government's position is contained in the observation that,
"the range of experience of those who enter elected politics is becoming increasingly narrow".
That is a tacit admission that the other place is no longer in a position to acquit its representative duties properly. It is not the sin of omission of your Lordships' House that motivates the desire to create a more representative Parliament; it is the sin of commission of the other place. The implication is that the tradition of this House for objective and dispassionate scrutiny from the perspective of the "greater good" is to be subjugated to the politics of another place.

We are engaged in a battle—a battle for Parliament. Only last week the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, drew the attention of the House to the fact that we are reverting once again to "executive government by decree". That is not a new phenomenon per se. Noble Lords opposite, when in opposition, have been equally discomfited and equally trenchant in contesting the efforts of the party of these Benches, when in office, to increase the power of the executive. That is as it should be. But it should be said that this Government's assault on Parliament is more dangerous than most. Consciously and deliberately, they seek to unpick the constitutional balance.

In a few months' time—or whenever it is that hereditary Peers finally get their redundancy papers—those who remain behind, in both Houses, should continue to be mindful of their constitutional duty. In this House and in another place, we are all Members of this Parliament. That position will persist post enactment of the Government's stage one proposals and, as Members of this Parliament, our first duty is to the institution of this Parliament. No one disputes that one of this Parliament's primary functions is to hold the Executive to account. We should do that as the White Paper says,
"on a basis other than that of party allegiance."
All of us, both here and in another place, should be parliamentarians before we are party hacks. Concepts of representation become meaningless if we are not.

As my noble friend Lord Denham suggested yesterday, administrations should be able to justify their decisions against a litmus test of whether they would be comfortable if they were on the receiving end of them. There will be a future Conservative administration. It may, as some believe, be a dim and distant prospect or it may be sooner than noble Lords opposite care to imagine. But do the Government and noble Lords opposite sincerely believe that their interests, let alone those of the nation, are best served by investing this degree of power in a Tory executive? I very much doubt it.

There is a more chilling aspect to the Government's ambitions. As we know only too well, far-reaching structural changes have already been made to our constitutional architecture. Despite the rhetoric, these have not—and will not—address the core reasons that contribute to,
"the national crisis of confidence in our political system"—
the dominance of political elites, the over-weening power of the executive and the apparent failure of the representative principle. They achieve the reverse. They strengthen the power of the party political apparat and the executive at the expense of individual voters—closed lists, Rhodri Morgan in Wales, Ken Livingstone in London, and so on. Proposals for reform of this House and Parliament are of a piece with this. The net effect will be to deepen,
"the national crisis of confidence in our political system",
and to elicit further disengagement of the public from its representatives, something that is already particularly well-entrenched so far as another place is concerned.

However, as the White Paper makes abundantly clear, Parliament's capacity to function,
"must rest on the assent of the people of Britain".
Disengagement is but a step away from the withholding of assent. In these terms, delivery of the Government's intent is not only to diminish Parliament but also to undermine its very authority or purpose. That is akin to this Parliament signing its own death warrant.

10.16 p.m.

My Lords, when I cross Parliament Square and thread my way through the crowds of people, predominantly young and many from far distant countries, gazing with awe up at the mother of parliaments, I wonder whether any of your Lordships share my feeling that many of them are thinking of their school days when they were told that this was the cockpit of democracy where legislation is formed by the influence of great debates. It produces the legislation which, as the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, reminded us earlier, has provided us in this country with centuries free of civil strife.

How far is this still the picture today? Four or five decades ago people who were busy in jobs all over the country—teaching, running companies and participating in local democracy—came to Parliament for the second half of the day, with their minds informed by the pressures of the task that they had been doing, to make the legislation in another place. No longer is it possible for people in another place to fulfil that dual role. Too often, their voting power must be met by the power to delay and frustrate. Procedural rules, introduced in the last quarter of the last century to deal with the problems of minority people, have been built upon. The result is the network of pacts and deals about which many noble Lords know much more than I do.

Most unfortunate is the power taken by those in charge of political parties to control the words and deeds of their members. Those young and idealistic Members in another place have to be so careful about expressing their independence. As many have pointed out, that process is still moving and phrases like "elected dictatorship" have been mentioned. We all have our views regarding just how dangerous that is. But the reason that I repeat what has already been referred to is that it emphasises just how important it is that the Royal Commission manages to produce recommendations which the Government can accept, and which will maintain in this House the quality of debate to which so many of your Lordships have referred.

Of course we must be clear—in case other people read Hansard—that things are not always quite so wonderful. As in all institutions, we have to sit through dull moments. Some years ago I attended a quick reading course in which we were told that we should moderate the speed at which we read in accordance with the quality of what we were reading. I hardly dare to tell your Lordships that the example given of the prose with the greatest number of words with the least meaning and substance was the Hansard columns of the House of Lords.

However, against that, we all know that the House of Lords committee on European affairs is greatly respected. The House of Lords Committee on Science and Technology occupies the same premier position. As the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, said yesterday, we must not put an age limit on participation in this House. Age limits are imposed because it is right and proper that people should not retain the leadership of great institutions—which requires great concentration over a long time—at too advanced an age. However, we shall sorely miss the contributions of people in their eighth and ninth decade who come to make a special point as a result of years of long experience.

The proposal in the White Paper which causes me great concern is the notion of balancing the numbers in the new reformed House in accordance with variations in the numbers and proportions of the political parties in another place. Page four of the Constitution Unit's report, Reforming the House of Lords Step by Step tells us that as a result of heavy computer studies it is calculated that art average of 100 new Members will be required in this House every Parliament—at least 25 a year. If we think of the swings that have occurred in the proportions of the political parties in another place in the past two or three decades, I think these averages are probably low.

How can we have an effective debating chamber with a good quality of debate with that proportion of new Members? A colossus computer will be needed. I suggest that if it comes, it should be called the Enigma Variation in memory of all those heroic people assemblies come into being. But the deserving result of that proposal would he not so much the numbers but the tendency for the retention of party driven argument to govern debate in this House. It is necessary to have a sufficient number of expert people who are Cross-Benchers or free of party attachment to produce the arguments which, when legislation is returned to another place, will be accepted because of the clarity of the thinking and the knowledge that is provided. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, earlier this evening, mentioned A. J. Balfour and said that democracy is government by explanation. That will be needed to return complicated legislation on difficult issues to another place.

The Royal Commission's task will be difficult. It must perform the delicate balancing act of producing a report which ensures that another place does not feel threatened. It must be sure to retain the power to return legislation to another place and it must provide for the expertise in this House to 'which I have referred. I wish the Royal Commission the best of luck.

10.24 p.m.

My Lords, I shall start with Macaulay and I shall end with Macaulay. It is interesting to note that when the 1688 rebellion took place it was the House of Lords that summoned King William to protect parliamentary liberties because the Commons was not sitting. As your Lordships will know, Macaulay was a Liberal; he was a Whig. He wrote in about one-and-a-half hours the whole of the Bengal cavil code. He was quite keen on the hereditary principle. He holds up as an example Lord Oxford of the time — who was eventually sacked by James II—and, in his great, traditional, Norman, Anglo-Saxon English, he speaks of a time,

"when the families of Howard and Seymour were still obscure, when the Nevilles and Percies enjoyed only a provincial celebrity, arid when even the great name of Plantaganet had not yet been heard in England. One chief of the house of De were had held high command at Hastings: another had marched, with Godfrey and Tattered, over heaps of slaughtered Moslem, to the sepulchre of Christ".
I quote that, partly because it is magic English and partly to show that a progressive Whig in the 19th century could still hold heredity to be a contribution to English political society.

I completely concede that that view has now changed beyond anything. What has not changed is the necessity for Macaulay's balanced Whig constitution. Your Lordships' House arose because the king could not govern without the advice and consent of the powerful nobles. My grandfather and grandmother were quite snobbish, and my grandfather—who was the brother of the next speaker's grandmother, though that is neither here nor yon—used to say to my grandmother, "Don't get over-excited, dear, you are only middle-class peerage".

I tell this story because when we built our house in 1720 we spent 70,000 quid on that house. Twenty years before, Parliament had voted a standing army of 10 battalions of infantry and two regiments of cavalry. The cost of that standing army was £370,000 a year. So it shows how, even in my grandfather's terms, the middle-class peerage had to be consulted because we were seriously powerful.

I am not powerful. I am a small peasant farmer.

I enjoy my privileges and, above all, enjoy the contributions that I try to make to your Lordships' House.

This House must be reformed; it must be reformed so that it represents the powerful, and it is the powerful of the land who come and advise the chief executive. If they think that the chief executive is making an idiot of himself or herself—as all chief executives do with monotonous regularity—we have got to have something that checks, but checks with an authority which is less than that of the Chamber of the commonality or the community.

How do we arrive at that? I have already suggested that I do not think that I represent power, nor, frankly, do life Peers represent power. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, was an excellent deputy Chief Whip—a man of charm and ability. He arrived here because that great socialist, Ken Livingstone, stabbed him in the back. So what happens? He gets a peerage. This does not represent power; he has contributed. The father of the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, is a Labour Peer, and her ex-father-in-law was a Labour Peer. She has not defended the ridge at Mont St. Jean—she has not even slept with Charles II—but she is still a Labour Peer. She is a lady of ability and charm—we all know that—but she does not represent power. How are we going to ensure that this House represents power and can check the executive?

I could go on about the fact that any constitution that has me in it because my forebear got tight with George I, George IV, or whichever one it was that we all got tight with, deserves reform. But what I hope and pray is that when we are reformed we can act as a check and a balance. When stage one has been passed, it will be interesting: the Salisbury Convention will go out of the window because the Salisbury Convention was, "You don't muck about with our constitution and we don't muck about with your programme". You, noble Lords opposite, have now mucked about with the constitution, so it is now the turn of the House of Lords to muck about with your programme. I think that is excellent because all governments need to have their programmes mucked about with.

When we come to the chairman of the Royal Commission, no Chief Whip has ever had any morals or any sense of right and wrong. They are there as overpromoted Oberfeldwebels in the Prussian Guard to get the government business through. The noble Lord opposite agrees. All I hope of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, who is not present—it cannot be helped—is that he will cast aside the habits of either a Chief Whip or an Oberfeldwebel and take on the mantle of a rebellious, stroppy Peer who speaks to you now.

I shall end with yet another quote from Macaulay because it is a good quote and it is what I hope we shall do. He says:
"The main principles of our government were excellent. They were not, indeed, formally or exactly set forth in a single written instrument; but they were to be found scattered over our ancient and noble statutes; and, what was of far greater moment, they had been engraven on the hearts of Englishmen during four hundred years. That, without the consent of the representatives of the nation, no statute could be enacted, no tax imposed, no regular soldiery kept up, that no man could be imprisoned, even for a day, by the arbitrary will of the sovereign, that no tool of power could plead the royal command as a justification for violating any legal right of the humblest subject, were held, both by Whigs and Tories, to be fundamental laws of the realm".
That is the constitution for which we should aim. If the Bill that is to come before us goes just a little way to that and makes this House better, then I will support it.

10.33 p.m.

My Lords, I thank my noble cousin Lord Onslow for his history lesson, I have learnt greatly in the process. I must first declare that I have no objection to losing my right to participate in the Lords as part of my inheritance. That having been said, I will be willing to go only when it is shown that the reformed House gains legitimacy in its capacity as a check and a balance on whatever government, whatever their colour.

In defence of the inheritance principle, I should like to make the perhaps quite obvious point that every one of us has characteristics that are a direct and indirect result of our family, from genetically inheritable characteristics such as eye colour and height to indirect considerations such as where we live, the values that have been nurtured in us by our family, our reaction to them, and so on.

We all inherit something. It is a universal human experience and will continue to be so long as science laboratories do not produce and nurture entirely cosmetic clones. I genuinely believe that there is a significant danger that this reform will substantially reduce the universality of this House, reducing the spectrum of its membership to the party faithful and its age range. As someone in his twenties, I must plead with the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, to consider opportunities for the young. This reform may additionally reduce its breadth of personal experience and the divergence of individual Members' ability.

On the last point, it is perhaps ironic that the Government who are challenging the principle of grammar schools on the basis of their elitist tendencies are the same Government who propose an even more elitist second Chamber by the introduction of exclusively appointed Members, at least in stage one of the reform, and possibly thereafter.

Turning to some of the points made by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House in opening the debate, I wish to challenge her assertion that:
"We have before us Bills which are central to the cares and concerns of most people in Britain".—[Official Report, 22/2/99; col. 847.]
An ICM opinion poll as recently as 9th February this year found that only 2 per cent. of the electorate recall the manifesto promise to reform the House of Lords. Two previous polls, both in November, conducted by ICM and MORI found that over 60 per cent. of the electorate were in favour of a clear strategy before implementing change to this House. In view of those points, surely the noble Baroness's statement is at best questionable. The noble Baroness also lamented the fact that the House has spent so much parliamentary time on reform of this House. But surely the Government have more than just a little say in deciding the parliamentary timetable?

In the opening months of this Government's term I introduced a Private Member's Bill to restore full British citizenship to Saint Helenians and those in the Islands' dependencies. This House passed the measure, only to have it blocked by the Government in another place. Still, no measure to address this issue has been incorporated in the Government's programme. Delay and prevarication have been the order of the day. While we sit in our places tonight, there are British people who feel proudly patriotic but who are denied any political representation at national level. These people's freedom of movement is unnecessarily burdened by red tape and bureaucracy. Their opportunities for work are severely curtailed by cumbersome work permits and visitors' visas. The noble Lord, Lord Naseby, has already made the point that the Overseas Territories should have some representation in a reformed Parliament. I unreservedly join him in that plea. The Saint Helenians are being denied some basic human freedoms. There are presently two types. of Britishness; there are first and second-class subjects. The Government should get their priorities right and begin by giving the under-privileged a better start in life. That would be a far more laudable form of social engineering than the present measures to bar hereditary Peers from this House in the absence of any substantive outline of how this House will finally be constituted.

I conclude by wishing the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his commission every success in their Herculean task. I urge them to uphold the independence and integrity of this House and not to bow to the inevitable government pressure for reducing the powers of this House. I urge the Government to treat the constitution that they inherited with kid gloves. It is far too precious to do anything other than handle it with care.

10.38 p.m.

My Lords, the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal appeared to resent the holding of this debate. However, my noble friends Lord Strathclyde and Lord Henley are fully vindicated: first, because it has been an excellent debate; and, secondly, because this is the only opportunity to debate the White Paper ahead of receiving the narrowly focused and spiteful little Bill to remove the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in this House. The Bill owes more to prejudice, class warfare and party politics, and rather less to good governance.

I regret very much not hearing from more Members of the Government and Liberal Democrat Benches. I also regret not hearing from the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, Convenor of the Cross-Benches, whose contribution on the White Paper and the future of the second Chamber would have been much valued. This is a debate which ranges much wider than the terms of the Bill in another place. This debate is concerned not only with the consequences of stage one reform but also all further reforms to determine the future of our second Chamber.

It is unfortunate, to say the least, that the record of this House, and in particular the role of the hereditary Peers over the centuries, has been so grudgingly recorded. I wish to pay a wholehearted tribute to the work of this House, for its dedicated public service and sense of duty, for the quality of its debates, the outstanding work of the Select Committees and for the assiduous and painstaking way in which the House scrutinises and revises legislation.

The set piece debates on such matters as social policy, foreign affairs and defence are read and respected widely. Many academic institutions use them to bring contemporary comment on serious issues to the notice of their students. This House harnesses the talents of the professional, the highly skilled, the highly informed, the compassionate, the enthusiastic and the occasional eccentric. It is a uniquely effective and cost-effective second Chamber, admired throughout the world. I would not have set about its destruction without the secure knowledge that something better was to replace it.

I have searched in vain for the intellectual case for the Government's proposals. The White Paper was certainly prepared in haste. It is very badly drafted, repetitious to a fault and lacks any philosophical comment. It is preoccupied with stage one reform. Reluctantly, and at the eleventh hour, the Government have put a Royal Commission in place. But they have given it an almost impossible timetable. If the Government are in such a hurry to receive the report of the Royal Commission, then why, oh why, is parliamentary time taken up with creating an unnecessary interregnum—time which would be better allocated to dealing with more pressing legislation?

As for the opening remarks of the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal, accusing my noble friends of self-indulgence by her comparison of hours spent by this House on reform of the House as opposed to education and the homeless, it was not only offensive to noble Lords on all Benches, who take those subjects extremely seriously, but it also displayed a total lack of understanding of the gravity and far-reaching effects of constitutional change. A strong, independent and effective second Chamber is an essential prerequisite for the role of holding the Executive to account.

It is a disappointment to many people inside, but more especially outside Parliament, that the tone set by the Lord Privy Seal and her right honourable friend the Leader of another place was hardly conducive to achieving a consensus on reform. Rarely have I witnessed such vitriol and hatred heaped upon the noble hereditary Peers of this House. Such an attack on hereditary Peers is an attack. on us all and it is shameful.

There would have been little resistance from my noble friends on these Benches and I suspect on other Benches too, had the Government decided, before embarking on changes, to take a root and branch look at the constitutional arrangements in the United Kingdom. It is timely to consider the workings of Parliament as a whole, to examine the role, the power and the functions of both Houses, the relationship of Parliament to the Church, to the judiciary and, most significantly, to the people of this country. Only after the most detailed analysis, examination and careful study, including the widest possible consultation and an attempt to secure the broadest possible consensus, should major constitutional reforms be undertaken.

Sadly, what we have instead is nothing less than constitutional vandalism on a massive scale, the effects of which will only become apparent some time after the damage has been done.

I do not believe that many people, other than my noble friends led by my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish who deal with constitutional issues on these Benches, have even begun to contemplate the ramifications of Scottish devolution and regional government. Certainly, my right honourable friend John Major warned of the fragmentation and weakening of the United Kingdom that would result from such ill-thought-out legislation. Already we feel the tensions growing and the almost desperate attempt by the Government to create new committees to shore up the United Kingdom.

As for Wales, the arrogance and contempt shown by the Government are staggering. They were arrogant to describe a 1 per cent. majority on such a small turn-out in the referendum "as the settled will of the people" and for the cursory way in which the Welsh Bill was dealt with by another place. Then, having promoted devolution in the spirit of "let the people speak", the Welsh people did speak, only to be crushed by the might of the block vote. Such cavalier contempt for democracy is truly breathtaking as well as hypocritical. The closed list system of proportional representation for elections, so fiercely defended by the Government, will increase the gulf between the people and Parliament, give power to the party apparatchiks and remove from the people the right to select and deselect an individual Member of Parliament.

The fragmentation that will result from many of the changes will mean a loss of clout for the United Kingdom within and beyond Europe. Without any doubt this is a most dangerous government. The democratic deficit that will result from these changes will be realised only when it is too late. It is against this background that the debate we are having on the amendment of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, which I support wholeheartedly, acquires great significance.

The hallmarks of this Government are: central control; government by spin doctors and political advisers; lack of proper respect for civil servants; disregard, even contempt, for Parliament and its processes—note that they have turned government by leak into an art form—and a greater concern for the next day's headline than for the real issue. The latest autocratic phenomenon is for Ministers to refuse to answer Parliamentary Questions. The need for an authoritative second Chamber is absolutely essential.

Much has been made of the so-called massive Tory majority. I and my noble friends Lord Mackay, Lord Henley, and others who were defeated regularly as Ministers, know that in practice this House cannot, nor should it ever be, taken for granted. The strength of this House is the independence shown by Members on all Benches. By and large, in this House one must win the argument in order to receive the support of one's noble friends as well as the hearts and minds of Cross-Benchers and others. No "yah boo, sucks!" policies here. On many occasions the quality of argument used against me in debates on Bills strengthened my arm as a Minister to return to my department and fight for amendments which were then accepted by the House. It is that independence and the readiness of Members to subordinate party interest to what is perceived to be the greater good that is so precious and is at serious risk from the proposals of the Government.

The noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal cannot get away with saying that the powers of this House will not be weakened. Whatever their manifesto says, to restrict the circumstances in which a power can be used as suggested in paragraph 25 of Chapter 7 is a restriction of powers. The list contained in paragraph 26 of that chapter provides even greater proof of an intention to reduce our powers. The real agenda of this Government is to increase legitimacy but to render the House impotent to be effective in its role of holding the Executive to account. Nor can the noble Baroness claim on the one hand that the hereditary principle is fundamentally wrong in a modern society and on the other hand deny that the Royal Family will not be affected by reform. Perhaps not now, but the constitutional position of the Royal Family will become more vulnerable to reform with the passing of the Bill.

Under the present Government inexorably Parliament is becoming an irrelevance. One has only to watch the serried rows of government pager-controlled Back-Benchers in another place and to witness the number of occasions when the media rather than Parliament is informed of an issue. It is obvious that the Government would like to neutralise the effect of this House. Yet meanwhile the Executive is growing more powerful and the centre of gravity for decision-making is moving to Brussels.

The Government use slick and glitzy presentations. They describe policies in warm, glowing PR-speak while at the same time they are engaged in ill-thought out and piecemeal constitutional change without any care for how it will develop. The White Paper signally fails to address comprehensively constitutional change and the effects of the interaction between one set of reforms with others within the United Kingdom.

I, too, wish the Commission well in its task. I hope that it will not be constrained by Chapter 7 of the White Paper nor intimidated by the Government and that it will take fully into account the terms of my noble friend's amendment. However, the ultimate test will be whether a stronger, more effective and independent second Chamber will result from its work. But I have to say how sad it is that this House, as presently composed, will not be here to apply that test.

I take some comfort from this two-day debate. The support for a strengthened, independent and effective House, irrespective of whether noble Lords support or do not support the continued presence of hereditary Peers, has been overwhelming. Over the centuries hereditary Peers have performed their public service duties with great distinction in a second Chamber which is admired throughout the world. Evolutionary change from time to time has been enacted only after painstaking discussion and with a broad consensus of agreement. My plea, even at this stage, is to bury prejudice and engage brain before exercising the legislative pen. I salute the hereditary Peers. I regard it as a privilege to serve with them. I believe that the country will come to regret their wholesale abolition.

10.52 p.m.

My Lords, something like 100 noble Lords have taken part in this debate. It must be rare for so many estimable persons to spend so much time discussing a document so void of intellectual content and presented in such a dishonest fashion. I thought it dishonest, but it is only half dishonest. It is presented in terms of the modernisation of Parliament and reform of the House of Lords. I now understand that the computer went wrong. The original title was "The marginalisation of Parliament" and the rest follows.

One then begins to wonder why a Government which claim to have the interests of ordinary people at heart in terms of the social services, education and the usual mantras, spend most of their first two years in office putting through a number of constitutional proposals, all of them ill-conceived and most of them unnecessary.

But there is usually an answer to any question of motive. As with some other phenomena at the moment, the answer is what might be called, for shorthand purposes, the Blair/Mandelson project. It is not for me to define it. Fortunately, it has been defined by an impeccable source. A week ago on the radio I debated the question of constitutional change with a Dr. Tony Wright. The doctor is not a real doctor—there is just a D. Phil—but in new Labour circles that makes him an intellectual. This Member of Parliament, who took some notable part in the debate on the Bill which has been going through that House, used part of his time to indulge in verbal abuse at my expense. I do not object to that; good manners are not something automatically to be expected from new Labour! But he did proceed to explain the Blair/Mandelson project. I paraphrase as I do not have the transcript. He said that the intention is that the Labour Party should expand in order to include all the constructive elements in British politics and British society. It welcomes Liberal Democrats, gullible Conservatives, if they can be found, and anyone who will join in progressing towards the goals which that movement has set. Some people might say that that was the very definition of totalitarianism. So much for Dr. Tony Wright.

The noble Lords, Lord Chalfont and Lord Desai, referred to the fact that the only person quoted in the White Paper is Thomas Paine. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, was a little indulgent about his biography. He did not admit that this radical, atheistic republican was also a traitor, that he always sided with the enemies of his own country and that he would have been indicted for treason if he had not fled to France. In France he teamed up with the wrong kind of revolutionaries and only narrowly escaped the guillotine.

One may ask: why Thomas Paine? There is again an answer to that. He is the great hero—the icon, if you like—of the ci-devant Viscount Stansgate, known as Tony Benn. Therefore, one must assume that giving this prominent place to Thomas Paine was a way of bringing even Tony Benn aboard this Blair/Mandelson project.

One then begins to wonder what is the purpose of the House of Lords part of the Blair/Mandelson project. It has become abundantly clear in the course of discussion and listening to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House that the Government object to the fact that a second Chamber might, unless its powers were drastically curtailed, get in the way. It would be an irritant upon this great forward movement which we are asked to admire. The difficulty with taking that view, and intending also to change the membership, is that the White Paper takes for granted what it should prove. It takes for granted that the hereditary principle is somehow illegitimate. I find that quite extraordinary since, as I have pointed out in your Lordships' House previously, it is a principle which has had a part in the government of many countries and civilisations and appears to be a natural element in the way people perceive their rulers. But then one comes to the question: if that is not legitimate, is there a good deal to be said for the alternative method, which is elections? One might say that elections are very modern. They go back only a mere few centuries. But then one would have to look at their result. If one reads the debates on the Bill in another place or if one goes to watch its proceedings from our Gallery, it is quite obvious that the electors can get it wrong too. There are a large number of wholly uninformed but very voluble people. There are a lot of young women who flit about like a flock of demented starlings with their little microphones, enabling them to receive Mr. Alastair Campbell's instructions. The electorate is entitled to make a mistake. I have no doubt that the electorate will remedy it.

After all, we are dealing with an unnatural government and, as many examples would show, the most inefficient government, let us say, since Ethelred the Unready. Of course, as usual, I am being unfair. I mean that I am being unfair to Ethelred. Ethelred paid Danegeld but he did it in the face of massive military might. The present Government are willing to hand the country's treasure over to Frankfurt in the face of no military pressure at all, merely so that Ministers can enjoy the company—I was going to say the embraces but I thought that that is improbable—of Herr Schroeder and Mme Cresson. Who have you in mind?

Then again, Ethelred never took part, as far as we know, in any chat show. He was a relatively silent monarch. And finally, we know for certain that he never asked his monks to ghost-write articles for the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and sign them in his name.

11.1 p.m.

My Lords, it is a privilege and a real pleasure but also a nightmare to follow the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, who always imparts such good sense with such style. It is, indeed, a double nightmare to be the last speaker in this lengthy two-day debate when I know that most noble Lords will be awaiting the wind-up speeches with interest. I say "most noble Lords" because I suspect that I could speak all night and it would still not give the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip enough time to come up with sensible answers to the points which noble Lords have raised over the past two days.

I took my seat as an hereditary Peer a little under a year ago and can claim that, if evicted, I shall not miss your Lordships' House too much after such a short time.

Equally, I cannot he accused of sour grapes through having missed the opportunity of sitting in this wonderful place. Unfortunately other commitments prevented me from attending the two-day debate on Lords reform last October. However, I have read the Hansard reports with care but am disappointed that this Government have taken so little notice of what was said during those two days. On the other hand, I gain some small crumb of comfort from the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, seems to believe that his party will not be forming the next administration, as he predicts there will be an avalanche of hereditaries elected to the House of Commons.

Now we have moved on and have a White Paper on Lords reform and a Bill to remove the right of hereditary Peers to be Members of this House. This Government and the Labour Party make much of the fact that the reform of the Lords and the removal of hereditary Peers are all to do with democracy. That is a nonsense. Much is made of the fact that the abolition of the hereditaries was contained in that Holy Grail—the Labour Party manifesto of the last election. Really one must ask just how many people other than party apparatchiks actually read the document and of those who did, how many either noticed that element of policy or felt that it was an overwhelming reason to vote Labour. Strange as it may appear, I do not believe that the Labour Party won the last election. It was the Tories who lost it, which was not too surprising, considering the mire of sleaze into which they had sunk after 18 years in government. However, it is a fact that this present Government are in exactly the same sort of sleazy mess after just 18 months in power. So much for squeaky clean New Labour!

In spite of the carefully crafted words of the White Paper and official pronouncements, the supposedly democratic intentions of Lords reform are shown to be a lie because, unfortunately for this Government, Members of the Labour Party are quite unable to resist gloating about the demise of the hereditaries. What reform is in reality all about is envy, spite and jealousy. First, we have no lesser person than the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, in a radio interview broadcast on the day that the White Paper was published, confirming that our removal means that,
"The patronage of vast numbers of monarchs on our history is going to disappear".
I suppose that is the socialist equivalent of a right and left; a shot at the monarchy with one barrel and at the hereditaries with the other. Sadly, both missed, so there will be no certificate and no tie for the noble Baroness on this occasion.

Then we have the wonderful comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, made in the same radio broadcast, when she stated that she wanted far greater reform of the composition of your Lordships' House than just the removal of the hereditaries. She said,
"only if you are born great and good or wealthy do you get into the House of Lords".
Really! I wonder under what category the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, was eligible? At least those of us who are quite poor can take comfort from the fact that we are presumably here because we are great or good.

It is reassuring that there are elements of Old Labour still around who cannot resist having a knock at the rich. Maybe it is nostalgic to say so, but I remember the 'sixties and 'seventies when Labour was in power with some affection. Yes, the noble Lord, Lord Healey, may well have talked about taxing the rich until the pips squeaked, but there was something rather endearing about having a Prime Minister who spent his holidays in the Scilly Islands rather than, as is the case with the present premier, in the Seychelles.

Thirdly, we have the utterances of the Foreign Secretary on the subject of the removal of the so-called "club rights" from hereditaries when he said that we would no longer be able to,
"live like Lords at the taxpayers' expense".
Poor Mr. Cook; how my heart bleeds for him having to slum it with his new wife at Chevening at the taxpayers' expense. Perhaps he should invite his colleague, Mr. Cunningham, down for a weekend to see how the other half lives and as a contrast to the jaunts on Concorde or in the private jet, the stays in Conrad Hotels and the meals in Michelin starred restaurants.

My Lords, perhaps I may draw the attention of the noble Lord to one of the items in the Companion, which says,

"It is undesirable that any Member of the House of Commons should be mentioned by name, or otherwise identified, for the purpose of criticism of a personal [rather than a political] nature".

My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness will convey that point of view to her colleague, the Foreign Secretary, given his comments about Members of this House.

Baroness Jay of Paddington