Skip to main content

Lords Chamber

Volume 692: debated on Friday 18 May 2007

House of Lords

Friday, 18 May 2007.

The House met at eleven o'clock: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Leicester.

Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill [HL]

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

It is interesting that today, in both Houses of Parliament, there are debates on the internal matters of Parliament but which will have wide repercussive effects outside. The Bill after mine, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raises the question of one aspect of the composition of this House. My Bill would reduce the size of the House of Commons by 10 per cent. The Bill being debated in the other House today would exclude Members of Parliament and Peers from the operation of the Freedom of Information Act, which I regard as a scandalous proposal. I am amazed that the Government are neutral on that. When the wider public get to know what the House of Commons is up to today, they may think that my proposed reduction of 10 per cent is a little modest.

The other thing happening this week is that representatives of the major political parties—the Conservative Party, the Labour Party and the Liberal party—are meeting each other and Sir Hayden Phillips to discuss the question of funding of political parties.

As the House will probably recall, Sir Hayden Phillips produced a report earlier this year entitled Strengthening Democracy: Fair and Sustainable Funding of Political Parties. In his preface, he makes the point very strongly:

“There is, in my view, an overriding public interest in acting now to reform party funding”,

especially in the light of the cash-for-honours inquiry. In that paper, he asks the state to provide between £20 million and £25 million a year in state funding for political parties. He proposes two schemes: a scheme whereby each of the main parties would get £5 for each vote cast in the previous general election and, similarly, £5 for each vote for the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the European Parliament. His second proposal is a scheme to encourage new membership of political parties whereby, if a new subscriber donates £5, the state will match it with £5. Sorry, the first sum was 50p per elector, not £5—50p for an elector; £5 for a donation. I see that the Liberals were hoping that it might be £5, but it is only 50p. There is a cap on that of £5 million.

That is a significant move. That would be the first substantial funding of political parties by the taxpayer. When that is proposed, it is not inappropriate that the political parties should be asked to find ways to meet that expenditure, as opposed to imposing another burden on the taxpayer. My Bill would reduce the size of the House of Commons. That is not a particularly new issue. It has come up several times in the history of the House of Commons at various stages when it has developed its membership. There was a debate in the previous Parliament in the House of Commons moved by a Liberal Member, advocating limiting the size of the House of Commons to 500. I do not know whether that is still the policy of the Liberal party.

My Lords, that is a step forward, a little edge my way. Andrew Tyrie, a mainstream Conservative Member of Parliament—that means that he is not a right-wing zealot—

My Lords, I am told that we have a few. He produced a document entitled Pruning the Politicians, in which he advocated a 20 per cent reduction in the size of the House of Commons. In essence, that means that its size would fall from 646 to 581. I will deal with the detail of that in a moment, but perhaps I may say first that I have had help in drafting the Bill from the Public Bill Office. Electoral legislation is a rather arcane matter and my Bill is based on existing legislation. I have had help from Thomas Elias and Nick Besly. I thank them very much for that. We are very lucky in this House to have such a good Public Bill Office. In my experience, it is as good as, or indeed better than, that in the House of Commons.

The history of membership of the House of Commons is that before the Act of Union of 1707, there were 513 Members of Parliament for England and Wales. Forty-five were added at the Act of Union. It was recognised at that stage that, in relation to the population of Scotland, that was an over-representation. That increased the number to 558. It remained at that until Pitt’s disastrous Act of Union, which abolished Grattan’s Parliament in 1800, when 100 Members were added for Ireland, a significant over-representation for Ireland. That increased the number to 658. It remained at about that level for quite some time. In 1885, 12 more were added. When southern Ireland became independent, Northern Ireland received 12 Members, but they did not take away 88; they took away only 55.

One reason why it was still a largely over-represented House was that, in 1917, there was a Speaker's Conference. There were no minutes, so no one actually knew what had happened until the final outcome, but it discussed the question of limiting the membership to 500 and created the situation we are now experiencing, because it said that there should be an average electorate of 70,000. That meant that as the population rose in each of the countries there would be an automatic ratch-up of the number. In 1968, when I first entered the House of Commons, it was smaller than it is now.

My proposal would also equalise the size of electorate constituencies throughout the United Kingdom, which is only fair, but very radical. The average electorate size of a constituency is 68,736, but there is a great variation between the constituent parts of the UK. The English average is 70,231; Scotland is next, largely as a result of the reduction of seats in the previous Parliament, at 65,444; the Northern Ireland average is 64,078; and the figure for Wales is 55,920, so Wales is significantly over-represented in the House of Commons.

It is, my Lords. There are 14,300 more electors in an English seat than in a Welsh seat. That is over-representation by any definition of the word. I am sorry—I was born in Newport, Monmouthshire, but I have to recognise that Wales is over-represented. An average size of constituent electorate for all the United Kingdom would be 76,000 per constituency, which would have the following effect: under a general reduction to 581 MPs, England would have 486, 43 fewer than now; Wales would have 29, 11 fewer; Scotland would have 51, 8 fewer; and Northern Ireland would have 15, three fewer. All countries would lose some seats, but they would be a standard electorate size, which is only just and fair. Votes are worth the same wherever they are throughout the United Kingdom. It has always been said that we should overcompensate for Wales and Scotland. I do not think that that is fair, and there is always the issue of very large constituencies. One MP in Western Australia represents a constituency which is the size of the whole of western Europe, although I am not suggesting anything quite so radical for Scotland.

I believe that this is a sensible suggestion. It was put forward in 1988 by Roy Jenkins in his report, which is still revered somewhere in the Liberal party, on electoral reform; namely, that there should be a single electoral quota, 76,000. The comparison with the size of other constituencies around the world is interesting. The United Kingdom, with a population of 60 million people, has 646 MPs; Germany, with a population of 82 million, has 600; Japan, with a population of 127 million—twice the size of ours—has only 470; Russia, with a population of 144 million, has 450; and America, with a population of 293 million, has 430 Congressmen. By any standard internationally we are massively over-represented.

I hope that this Bill will be a constructive contribution to the debate and the major national review that the Boundary Commission has asked for. A review is well overdue because the last one was in 1944 and it was based very much on the 1917 arrangements.

The average cost of a Member of Parliament is £489,000, which covers virtually everything. Multiplying the cost of 65 MPs would give £32 million in savings, but that is not a fair figure because, although some of the fixed overheads could be reduced, some could not. The savings would probably be about £20 million, which happens to match the state funding that the parties are talking about. The cost of our democratic process is interesting. The whole cost of our democratic process—everything—including the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the Northern Ireland Assembly, us and others, and all the business of elections, has doubled in the lifetime of this Government. I do not think that this figure will feature very highly in the legacy, but it is £1.3 billion, a huge sum of money.

I was very interested to see that the basic salary of an MP is now £60,675. In a recent survey in the House Magazine, 61 per cent indicated that they want more. MPs’ claims for expenses average at £134,000 a year. When I first joined the House of Commons in 1968, we were given 1,000 free sheets of paper a year. I see the noble Lord, Lord Richard, nodding—he might have joined when we were given only 500 sheets. One had to buy any sheets more than the 1,000. There was no free postage. Yet one MP last year spent £25,146 on postage: his constituents are very fed up getting letters from him. There was only one free telephone call, which was to your town clerk. You went to a little office with telephones where two old, retired soldiers in brown coats collected money from you for your telephone calls. Of course, we had no offices; we sat on benches. There is a huge difference. On top of that, the House of Commons this year has voted each Member of Parliament £10,000 extra in order to communicate with constituents. That is a payment to incumbents to protect their incumbency.

While the reform of the House of Lords is, as it were, at the top of the agenda and everyone has views of one sort or another on that, although we are expecting the Government’s proposals, it is quite appropriate for us to say that it is time that one should think of reforming the House of Commons as well. Its procedures should be reformed. The former Speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, made a speech on that only the other day. She said that the House of Commons we knew is about to disappear. We are getting Bills up here with 40 pages undebated; the guillotine has become routine. But that is the procedure of the House of Commons and it must sort it out. However, the size of the House of Commons is a matter on which we can legitimately have a view and I hope that this will be a helpful and constructive contribution to the debate.

My Lords, does my noble friend not feel that this is a rather modest proposal considering that so many powers of the House of Commons have been removed to the European Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and so forth? I should think that 300 Members of the House of Commons would be a better idea.

My Lords, I do not think that that is a view that the noble Lord shared when he was a Member of the House of Commons. I say only that I am open to offers and we can always improve on the Bill. I commend it to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Baker of Dorking.)

My Lords, I rise to support my noble friend’s Bill. He is to be congratulated on his initiative in bringing it forward. I wish to address the two principal changes it seeks to achieve. The first is a reduction in the number of parliamentary constituencies. As my noble friend has explained, we are unusual in this country in the number of seats that we have in the House of Commons. By international standards, the House is extremely large. Countries such as India and the United States, with far larger populations, have smaller first Chambers. As my noble friend has touched on, there was actually a much bigger House in the early part of the 20th century when Ireland was still part of the Union; the number of seats then stood at over 700. But even with 646 seats, the House of Commons remains an extremely large elected assembly, too large in the eyes of some, including my noble friend.

As my noble friend has mentioned, several bodies have looked at the issue of the size of the House of Commons. These have included the Conservative Party’s Commission to Strengthen Parliament, which reported in 2000. I chaired the commission. Other members included my noble friends Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean and Lord Waldegrave. In taking evidence, we were struck by the number of witnesses who recommended a reduction in the size of the House of Commons. We concluded that the argument for reducing the size of the House was compelling. We accepted that the other place would be able to fulfil its functions more effectively if the emphasis moved from a large House to a smaller one with better resourced Members. We noted that the number of MPs put a strain on existing resources. The House of Commons is under great strain because of the demands increasingly placed on it. I have variously argued that the Members are both part of the solution and part of the problem. They are great absorbers of resources and utilise the opportunities available, such as to table Questions, to their full extent, making it difficult for the House to cope. The commission made various recommendations to strengthen MPs in the delivery of constituency services. With such changes we believed it would be possible for MPs to cope with a larger number of constituents.

We also contended that there may be a beneficial impact on relations between Members and their constituents. Though it may seem counterintuitive, large constituencies may facilitate a closer long-term relationship between Members and constituents, in that less radical changes would be required to constituency boundaries to take account of demographic changes. That, of course, relates to the other part of my noble friend’s Bill. We also argued that a reduction would make for a far more efficient House as well as having political and, as my noble friend has touched on, financial benefits. I quote from page 58 of the report:

“The creation of more layers of government leads inexorably to more elected politicians. There is understandable popular cynicism at the creation of more paid posts for politicians. Our recommendations will lead to a reduction in their number. A reduction in the number of MPs will also, in cost terms, more than offset the cost of the other recommendations that we have made”.

We advanced a large number of proposals and this recommendation has to be seen, as my noble friend has alluded to, in the wider context of strengthening Parliament in calling government to account. It really should be seen as constituting part of a wider package. We therefore favoured a reduction in the size of the House.

However, we did not recommend an immediate reduction. We saw considerable merit in the proposal put forward by Viscount Cranborne, now the Marquess of Salisbury, in his Parliamentary Government Bill. Under his Bill, there would be a House of 525 Members for the first general election held after 1 January 2010 and one of 400 for the first election after 1 January 2020. I do not want to get bogged down in specific numbers. I am less concerned with whether it should be the 525 figure embodied in the Parliamentary Government Bill or the figure of 581 proposed in the Bill presently before us than I am with the principle. There is a powerful case for reducing the size of the House, and for reducing it on a staggered basis. My noble friend’s Bill does not provide for a staggered reduction—he goes for the “big bang” approach, but retaining a fairly large House. I would favour reducing the size over time to well under the figure embodied in the Bill. It has already been argued that my noble friend is being too modest in the figure that he sets.

Reducing the number over time may also facilitate the acceptance by the House of Commons of a reduction in the size of the House. Members may not rush to cut their constituencies from under them, but if it was over a longer term, a reduction may prove acceptable. I therefore put that thought before my noble friend.

There is one other necessary corollary to my noble friend’s proposal. If the size of the House of Commons is to be reduced, there also needs to be a reduction in the number of Ministers. If the number of MPs declines while the number of Ministers remains constant, then the grip of the Government on the House becomes proportionally greater. The payroll vote becomes more significant. The payroll vote, as we know, has already grown, largely by extension to people who are not paid and are not formally part of government, and we should not be doing anything that encourages that process. I appreciate that Ministers are extremely busy people, but, in evidence to the commission, Frank Field argued that the amount of work increased to occupy the time made available to Ministers. We recommended putting a cap of 20 on the size of the Cabinet and a cap of 50 on the number of junior Ministers, excluding Whips. The total number of Whips in the two Houses, we recommended, should be no more than 20. There is thus a case for going beyond the provisions of this Bill to limit the number of Ministers and to ensure that the Government do not benefit from a reduction in the number of parliamentary constituencies.

I turn briefly to the other part of my noble friend’s Bill. The existing rules for the distribution of seats, as provided for in Schedule 2 to the 1986 Act, embody two somewhat contrasting principles: to try to achieve equality in the number of constituents in each constituency and to ensure that, as far as possible, constituency boundaries respect existing local authority boundaries. The latter has created problems in achieving the former, with the result that there have been significant variations from the electoral quota, sometimes up to and beyond 20 per cent. Existing Rule 5 gives the Boundary Commissioners tremendous latitude, in that they are required to ensure that the size of each constituency is as near to the electoral quota “as is practical”, but leaving them to decide what is practical. The existing rules also allow for—indeed, if anything, encourage—creeping increases in the number of constituencies, a point alluded to by my noble friend.

My noble friend’s proposal restricts their scope and imposes a clear limit on how much deviation there may be from the electoral quota. I appreciate the arguments that may be deployed by the Minister in relation to this provision, but I think that my noble friend is making an extremely important point. As things stand, there is a marked imbalance in constituency sizes, and that imbalance works against county constituencies to the benefit of borough constituencies. That imbalance contributes, but I appreciate is not the sole contribution, to a political bias in the electoral system. Ensuring that constituencies are more equal in size than is the case under our existing arrangements will go some way, but only some way, to addressing that bias. An essential element of equity is involved and that has to be addressed.

The Bill also addresses other problems associated with the existing rules. However, I raise one problem with the current procedure which, as far as I can see, is not addressed by the Bill. At the moment, the enumeration date is the commencement of the Boundary Commission’s review. The differences between the size of constituency electorates at the beginning of a review may be very different from those at the end of the review period. As I read it, the Bill retains the existing enumeration date. There may be a case for stipulating that the commission utilise the most recent electoral register available, or at least enabling it to utilise more up-to-date data.

There is a relationship between the two parts of the Bill. Each is justifiable on its own merits, but each also complements the other. By bringing it forward, my noble friend has raised extremely important issues. As I have indicated, I am not necessarily wedded to the particular detail; that is something we can pursue in Committee. I am very happy to commend the principle of the Bill and I congratulate my noble friend on having brought it before us.

My Lords, perhaps I may intervene briefly in the gap to give a traditional and perhaps rather more constitutional view than that of the radicals opposite. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Norton, has never actually been in the other place, although he is a great expert on it. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, was in the other place, but that was some time ago. I think that that is part of the problem. Both noble Lords are somewhat out of touch with how the other place lives, moves and has its being. Having come more recently from the other place, I am certain of one thing—that the immediate response there would be, “What impertinence! Who are they, who are not elected, to seek to interfere with our own House of Commons and tell us what to do?”. It is a great weakness and both noble Lords are vulnerable on this point. I am confident that the other place would have a strong view, not particularly on the merits of the issue but on the fact that it has been raised here.

I concede that the noble Lord, Lord Baker, has a remarkable track record: some months ago he raised the issue of English questions being decided by English Members. I note that the Leader of the Opposition has apparently accepted that and it is about to become the Conservative Party’s official policy. Perhaps these proposals will follow in the same way. The noble Lord has clearly been reading that famous American book, “How to influence people without making friends”. I am quite sure that he will be unmaking very many friends along the Corridor.

There is an arithmetic logic in what the noble Lord is saying about a reduction and about constituencies of equal size—one person, one vote and one value. However, when making the point about our system being over-representative and not valid, he referred to Germany and the size of the Bundestag. He failed to note that Germany has a federal system and that, combining the number of people elected to the various Lander and to the Bundestag, there are more elected representatives in that system than in our own.

Our democracy has the real merit of easy access to Members. There is an impeccable logic to the fact that the fewer Members there are, the more difficult it is to have that sort of personal relationship. The noble Lord mentioned that the Welsh quota is now 56,000; in my old constituency, it was 59,000. It was a tightly-knit urban constituency. I could almost, with some effort, walk from one end of the constituency to the other, and I cycled it from time to time. I liked to think that whenever I walked, I could meet and greet many individuals. That would be wholly impossible in a much larger constituency. I concede that it is much more difficult to carry on the role of a Member in constituencies such as Caithness and Sutherland, for example, where there are more sheep than people.

My first point is that the Bill is an inappropriate one for this House. Secondly, I believe that we would lose something of substance by adopting it. Finally, I note that much has been said about the current costs. However, these are the costs of democracy. The costs of this House and of the other place are a minuscule part of total public costs, and the two Houses do something of importance. The Bill offers a piecemeal approach. If we are to have reform, then it can be discussed in a kite-flying exercise such as this one. However, it should be considered in the round and not piece by piece as it is here.

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, he has missed the point that small constituencies and shifting boundaries mean that MPs often do not have the same constituents over a period of time—and that impertinence can work both ways. This is a public general measure and, therefore, each House is entitled to discuss the matter.

My Lords, in principle, each House is entitled to discuss it. The key point is that it is for the other place to have the primary role in dealing with its own matters.

My Lords, as my noble friend is speaking in the gap, he is restricted to four minutes. He has already had them. If he is to reply to interventions now, we will be breaking every convention of the House.

My Lords, the Bill has a very worthy aim: reducing the number of Members of the House of Commons. That would certainly have popular appeal, a point which was easily and effectively made by the noble Lord, Lord Baker. I wonder whether it would be as easy to argue in this place for a reduction in the number of Peers of the Realm as it has been to say that there should be fewer Members of Parliament. The Bill’s greater significance lies in its proposal to equalise the size of electorates between constituencies. On the face of it, that seems a worthy and proper aim. There is clear unfairness in the present distribution of seats. However, it ignores other unfairness in our electoral system. Other issues and problems must be addressed if we are to change the way in which the Boundary Commission works.

It is clearly unfair that there are different numbers of voters in different constituencies. The Isle of Wight has 109,000 electors and one Member of Parliament, while the Western Isles has 22,000 voters and one Member of Parliament. That shows the problem. The Conservative Party has recently been concerned about unequal constituency sizes only because it wins far fewer seats as a result. The smaller seats tend to be Labour and the larger ones Conservative.

The Bill fundamentally fails to address a far bigger problem: although we are supposed to have a democratic system for electing the House of Commons, a party with just 35 per cent of the vote wins 55 per cent of the seats. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, referred to the way in which Wales is over-represented in the House of Commons. Surely the democratic point is that a minority of little more than one-third of voters should not have such a majority in that House. That is the real unfairness.

On polling day in May 2005, during the last general election, 26,895 votes were required to elect a Labour Member of Parliament; 44,531 votes to elect a Conservative Member of Parliament; and 96,487 votes to elect a Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament. Surely that is the greater unfairness and should be addressed. If one accepts the basic premises that a voting system should deliver the representatives that people vote for and that votes should be of equal value, then the system outlined in the Bill clearly fails the fundamental tests of fairness and democracy.

I accept that there is a case for saying that Members of Parliament should represent equal numbers of constituents. However, surely it is much more important for Members of Parliament to be elected in approximate proportion to the votes cast than it is simply to tinker with a fundamentally flawed electoral system. In 1951, and again in February 1974, the governing party won the most votes in the country but won fewer seats than its major rival. It therefore lost an election that it had actually won by achieving more votes, and it therefore went into opposition. That cannot be fair or democratic. It is estimatedthat if an identical number of votes had been cast for the Labour and Conservative Parties in 2005, the outcome, because of our electoral system, would have been 336 seats for Labour and 222 for the Conservatives.

The recent Boundary Commission review may very marginally reduce this bias in the system. However, estimates suggest that the new boundaries may add about seven Conservative MPs, remove about six Labour MPs and increase the number of Liberal Democrat MPs by three. It is certainly possible mathematically that the Conservative Party could win more votes than Labour at the next general election but win fewer seats. The Bill does not address that democratic deficit. The answer to the problem is not to tinker with an unfair system, but to reform it entirely.

There are a number of technical problems in trying to reduce the size of the seats or to make them more equal in size of electorate. The population in some areas can change quite rapidly. The reviews required to equalise the numbers of electors as outlined in the Bill would have to be done more rapidly than those for general elections. Many constituencies would not exist for more than one election and there would be reviews between elections, leading to continuous uncertainty about what boundaries the forthcoming election would be fought on. There would be knock-on consequences of these population shifts; uncertainty over what boundaries existed may affect not just one area, where there may be a rapid increase or decrease of population, but all the neighbouring areas for a considerable distance.

While I am not a fan of the existing electoral system, part of the principle is that there is clear linkage with recognisable communities. If the seats are equalised in the way proposed, that linkage would be broken.

It helps elected representatives if ward and constituency boundaries are properly aligned. That would cease to be the case if we went in for equalisation in this way as wards and perhaps even polling districts would need to be split between different constituencies to get the same number of electors into each of them.

The current process with the Boundary Commission reviews is most unsatisfactory. Many of the claims made at public inquiries on the process are, to say the least, dubious. However, I believe that more frequent reviews of the boundaries will mean that the integrity of the system will degenerate even further. They tried in the United States to equalise the size of the constituencies. That leads to very frequent gerrymandering, as the requirement of making the size of the electorates equal is paramount.

It is more fundamental reform of the system that is required, not this Bill.

My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to respond to this debate on behalf of the Opposition, the more so as it has been introduced by my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking, for which I thank him. He was a very distinguished member of successive Conservative Governments who has, since coming here, kept your Lordships constantly stimulated by his tough-minded and softly and seductively advanced proposals on a range of topics. He has established himself here as one of the most dignified parts of one of the most dignified parts of our constitution just at a time, sadly, when the other place has sunk further into supine dependency on an all-powerful Executive and veers daily between a talking shop and a shouting match. Surely if any part of Parliament is in urgent need of reform, it is the other place. Until recently, that was a truth that dared not be uttered, but it is now increasingly voiced, not least by distinguished Members of the other place on both sides.

It is right that my noble friend should bring his experience to this debate. Indeed, he recently led a fascinating discussion on his Bill to address the glaring constitutional imbalances resulting from the Scotland Act. To the West Lothian question, there came a Baker reply. Now, to part of the Westminster question, there comes a Baker reply, although I cannot agree with relating state assistance to political parties with the number of Members of Parliament. There is a serious point of principle in forcing the taxpayer to pay for political parties, which is a separate issue.

The fact that it is left to my noble friend to initiate this debate is indicative of the complacency—some might say political cynicism and opportunism—with which the Government have ignored these issues. The present arrangements suit them very nicely, thank you. We now have a new Prime Minister-designate, chosen unopposed by the governing party, with no reference to the British people.

We have come a long way since the days up to 1926, when many a new Minister used to have to resign and seek re-election on joining the Government. There is nothing constitutionally improper in these changes, but I know that all noble Lords will look with particular interest at the Minister’s reply, knowing that it will have been cleared by the Prime Minister-designate, a man who has spoken of working to increase the respect for Parliament. I hope that the Minister will give an assurance that, in the context of that work, the ideas of my noble friend will be carefully considered.

I know my noble friend will agree with me when I say it is for Government, drawing on as wide a consensus as possible, to consider these sorts of reforms. It is not appropriate for a significant constitutional change to be effected by a Private Member’s Bill. For that reason, we will not be supporting the Bill if anyone seeks to divide the House. But I hope that no one will do so, for my noble friend touches on an area that is crying out for consideration and one which my right honourable friend Mr Kenneth Clarke is to examine in his Democracy Task Force.

My noble friend is of course right in the core contention of his Bill. There are too many politicians in this country; their numbers, rewards and overall cost have been greatly increased since 1997. Within that emerging continental-style political class—a detestable concept, if I may say so—is a larger House of Commons. In 1922, after the creation of the Irish Free State, there were just 615 Members of Parliament. In 2001, we had 659. Now, even following Scottish devolution, we have 646.

In 1901, when the Prime Minister spoke as a marquis from the Dispatch Box on the other side of this House, with the authority of 20 years in ministerial office and 14 as Prime Minister, and to the widest international and parliamentary respect, 591 Peers were eligible to take part in your Lordships’ House. In 1999, there were 1,211 of us. Our numbers were reduced to 666—a portentous number—by the purge of 1999, but the Prime Minister’s gay abandon in the exercise of patronage has increased our numbers to 738 today. Is the country better governed because Parliament is larger? I doubt it. Quantity and quality are never wisely confused.

There is certainly a case to reduce the size of the other place, and my party has indicated that it wishes to explore that course. In discussion, Mr Clarke’s Democracy Task Force has given an indicative figure of 10 per cent, which would reduce the numbers in the other place to the level suggested by the Bill. But there is no firm commitment to that figure—indeed, at the previous election, the Conservatives called for a House of Commons of 525 Members of Parliament.

There is a great deal of sympathy from these Benches for the arguments advanced by my noble friend in his Bill. However the findings of Mr Clarke’s task force and the many contributions to these discussions, not least those made in the course of this debate, should be awaited before settling on a definite figure or the right timescale for change.

My noble friend should be encouraged to keep pushing at the door—he will not discover the Conservative Party piling up chairs on the other side. Let me also make it clear that those on these Benches agree with the broad premise of the second major element of the Bill that the size of the constituency which elects an individual MP should be more nearly equalised. People of all parties, except for the one that most flagrantly profits from it—the Labour Party—comment regularly about this inherent unfairness in the electoral system. How frequently do we hear polling pundits, without batting an eyelid, pontificate on the number of percentage points of lead that the Conservative Party would need to secure a bare majority over Labour because of the tendency of urban constituencies to be smaller? One answer would be for the Conservative Party to step up the pace of its march back into our cities which, with Birmingham under Conservative control and Plymouth coming under it, we are now doing.

But changing party control does not redress imbalances in the system. Famously, in the 1997 election, it took nearly 60,000 voters to elect a Conservative MP and just over 32,000 to elect a Labour one. Only in the great Conservative victory of 1992, when our party won the largest popular vote ever recorded and were 2.5 million votes ahead of Labour, were the figures about equal on 42,000 votes per Member.

The Liberal Democrats, when banging on about proportional representation, should recall that, with proportional representation, they would have lost seats in 1997 rather than gaining 26 as they did.

My Lords, the noble Lord has the figures for 1997 completely the wrong way round. On the basis of our share of the vote in the 1997 general election, there would have been 100 Liberal Democrat MPs fairly representing the people who had voted throughout the country rather than the 46 who were actually elected.

My Lords, I beg to disagree with the noble Lord, but I will move on.

Proportional representation is an irrelevant canard in this debate, as in any other. Proportional representation stands for permanent representation in government for the least popular party and that is why the Liberal Democrats like it. If they wish to form a government, they need to make themselves a serious party of opposition, not just an ineffective party of opportunism, divided down the middle between warring philosophies. No Bill will solve the basic problem for the Liberal Democrats.

The size of constituencies is not the whole answer but it is part of it. Currently, the average Labour seat has 6,000 voters fewer than a Conservative one. Greater equality in the size of constituencies would certainly deliver greater fairness between the two main parties of government, between cities and the shires and between the public in every region of this land. It would enhance respect for the first-past-the-post system that serves this country so well in delivering stable governance.

My noble friend is quite right to bring this question before the House. If anything, his latitude of 10 per cent in the potential variation between constituencies may be too large. But the historic boundaries of counties, boroughs and local authorities must be respected and I am sure that my right honourable friend Mr Clarke will take these views into account in his task force.

With thanks to my noble friend for bringing this issue before us and highlighting these major questions, I will yield place to the Minister. The House will be a agog to hear evidence from her about the new attitude to Commons reform from a new listening, reforming, pro-Parliament Prime Minister designate and I am confident that she will not disappoint us.

My Lords, my right honourable friend has all of the attributes that the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising, has given him. He is an extraordinary character who will be a truly great Prime Minister. However, I will disappoint the noble Lord by saying that my right honourable friend has not the faintest idea what I am about to say because I write my speech as I listen to noble Lords in order to respond properly. I believe that my right honourable friend will be pleased with what I have to say. We shall see.

I agree that the noble Lord, Lord Baker, is indeed seductive in many ways, and I am delighted to be able to respond to this debate. I also say to the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising, that a greater man than I would take on the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, on any figures relating to the share of Liberal Democrat votes in any constituency or general election. I was impressed that he did so, but I do not intend to because I know far too well the reputation of the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, in those matters. I agree about polling pundits. What can I say about their behaviour at all times?

I am the Minister responsible for freedom of information, so I am watching with great interest the range of votes taking place in another place. As a Government, we have taken a neutral stance on this matter. Noble Lords referred a couple of times in our debate to the Executive being overbearing in terms of the Commons. On matters that affect the Houses of Parliament, it is for the Houses of Parliament to decide. That is why the government stance is as it is. Noble Lords may disagree with that but that is as it is. However, I am proud to be the Minister responsible for freedom of information and proud that the Government have introduced the Act.

Noble Lords made a number of key points relating to the issues raised, to such great effect, by the noble Lord, Lord Baker. I will begin with those to do with cost. We can play around with figures, but I agree with the noble Lord’s. My figures for the costs of moving to a different size are between £163 million and £146.5 million. I believe the noble Lord said about £20 million difference, bearing in mind overheads and costs. I came to the same conclusion having done the arithmetic—or rather having got other people to the sums for me, which I then looked at. We often disagree about figures in your Lordships' House, but his figures were about right.

The noble Lord also mentioned Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The electoral quota figures for England and Scotland are essentially now the same—at 69,935 and 69,934, they are almost identical. Indeed, that is larger than the equivalent figure for Wales at 55,640 and Northern Ireland at 60,969. But there are deep-seated reasons for that, to which the noble Lord referred. The current disparity reflects the particular nature of the devolution settlement in each part of the UK. There is parity with Scotland because it has primary legislation-making powers in many policy areas. The electoral quotas are smaller in Wales and Northern Ireland as they do not have the constitutional powers to make primary legislation for themselves. They have been deliberately provided for and protected by successive governments, so that the distinctive interests of Wales and Northern Ireland can be properly represented. We would have to take those issues into account before we even considered disturbing what has been a long-standing tradition that successive Governments have respected. We would need to think very carefully about that.

The noble Lord, Lord Baker, asked questions that other noble Lords picked up about the disparity between electoral sizes and constituencies. My figure for the Isle of Wight is 103,000. The noble Lord, Lord Rennard, said 109,000. I am not going there; I am just saying that the figures are different. The smallest constituency is the Western Isles at 22,000. That is a huge disparity, but noble Lords know perfectly well why that disparity exists—because the Isle of Wight is an island and because of the particular nature of the Western Isles.

If we look more generally at constituencies in England, there is a much smaller differential. As a result of the fifth general review, every recommended constituency is within 20 per cent of the electoral quota figure, which is essentially the average electorate. I am looking to see whether the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, is shaking his head in case I have got that wrong. Eighty-nine per cent of constituencies are within 10 per cent of that figure.

However, I have my own view which is to do with the issues of community. I speak from my experience working in the health service, when I tried to work out where communities naturally lay in order to provide appropriate secondary and acute services in hospitals. It is important to recognise the way in which our communities grow up and to take that into account when thinking about representation from local MPs. There is a real issue about making sure that local MPs stay in touch with their constituencies. I was interested when the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, said that in the longer term, it may not be a problem. That is part of this debate and should to be fed into where this debate goes next. It is counterintuitive, as the noble Lord said. If we continue on the same basis with our parliamentary democracy and the role of the MP, we must not lose that, because it would be a great pity.

Certainly, talking to MPs as I frequently do, their case work is increasing because people find them more accessible. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, talked about a time when we did not have a Welsh Assembly, a Northern Ireland Assembly or Scottish Parliament, when MPs did not communicate as often. But the level of communication, particularly with email, has increased and it is important to accept and recognise that communication between MPs and their constituents is a fundamental part of the job that they undertake.

I draw noble Lords’ attention to the report from the Committee on Standards in Public Life. Noble Lords will know that in January the committee reported its review of the Electoral Commission; as part of its review, it looked at the operation of parliamentary and local government electoral boundary reviews. In the final report was a recommendation that there should be a fundamental independent review of the legislation on parliamentary boundaries, looking at the rules in Schedule 2—to which the noble Lord, Lord Baker, has particularly drawn attention in his Bill—the criteria that must be taken into account by the Boundary Commissions, and the statutory processes that must be followed in the course of a review. We are considering those recommendations and will formally respond to them, including those that relate to the boundary reviews, in due course.

In conclusion, a large number of issues have been raised. I was particularly interested in whether the proposals made by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, would become Conservative Party policy. Maybe it will be a bit like with grammar schools—it will be party policy one day and not the next.

My Lords, I am sorry, I could not resist that—I was an Education Minister.

The Bill raises some interesting questions about elected representation and constituencies in the House of Commons. Because we have a formal recommendation before us from the Committee on Standards in Public Life that the whole area should be the subject of an independent review, I do not want to leave any hostages to fortune in predicting a response, except to say that we are very interested in what the committee has said. If any changes are to be made to the legislation in this fundamental area of the constitution, they are better made in the light of a formal review process than through a Private Member’s Bill without the benefit of a wider analysis and contribution. That is not to suggest that this is not an important part of that debate.

My Lords, I come back to an earlier point, because the Minister is about to conclude. One point that she made in respect of one part of the Bill has a significant bearing on the other. On constituency disparity, she cited the case of the Isle of Wight, which has a sense of community and a Member who represents more than 100,000 constituents. That has a bearing on the question whether it is manageable for one Member to deal with that number of constituents.

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right, but if you tried to even up the size of that constituency you would chop bits of it off and presumably relate it to Southampton, or wherever. The noble Lord is right—that is exactly the kind of conversation that needs to happen. Perhaps there is something about the nature of an island that makes it easier for people to talk to their MP, because it is such a clear community. I do not know—we would have to talk with the MP himself. Those are issues that need to be looked at carefully.

When I knew that the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, was going to reply for the Liberal Democrats, I knew what his speech was going to be. I have thoroughly enjoyed debating this whole question with him and others. He makes a fair and valid point—that if we change the system of representation we change the way in which we look at constituencies and, possibly, the number of constituencies. That would be one way in which to approach this matter, but it is not our way. We are happy with the system as it stands. We have talked many times about what one wishes to achieve by electing a Government and the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising, said that you get certainty. That may not be where the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, wishes to be—but there it is. I completely accept that that is another fundamental debate to be had, if one is looking at the whole question of constituencies, their size and representation.

I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Baker. This has been an important and valuable contribution to the debate. We are considering carefully the recommendations for a full review in this area. There are issues that go beyond this debate about concern at the length of time in which the reviews will take place—the eight to 12 years—and so on, which the Boundary Commissions have said that they would like to consider. I hope that it will be in that light that we take this forward.

My Lords, I thank all the Peers who took part in this debate. I am encouraged by it. I am aware that you cannot bring in a major constitutional change by a Private Member’s Bill, but at least one has got the debate going. I am grateful for the rather sympathetic reply that the Minister has just given. When I introduced my Bill on English votes for English laws, the noble and Learned Lord the Lord Chancellor got up and raved for about half an hour about how all human liberty would be at risk if my Bill went through. The Minister is not a raver—in fact, she was rather encouraging in what she said.

I thank my noble friend Lord Norton for his contribution. He is one of the great constitutional experts in the House, and when on these Benches we raise constitutional matters we know perfectly well that if we make mistakes—and none of us is perfect—they will be carefully and gently corrected by my noble friend. I am glad for the general support that he gave my Bill. I know that he wants to be more ambitious and have a much smaller House of Commons.

The noble Lord, Lord Rennard, also supported the general concept of a smaller House of Commons and raised the question, which I found quite interesting, of how flexible the size of a constituency should be on the grounds that the population changes all the time. That reminded me of a speech in the Commons by Michael Foot, faced with a Boundary Commission that was going to mess up Ebbw Vale, which had virtually become a corrupt rotten borough because it was so small. Michael Foot came out with the very traditional, almost Conservative, view that these were old traditions, communities and customs and that people were living there all together who must not be disrupted. It was a defence of Old Sarum, basically. I still fundamentally believe that one vote should have the same value everywhere in the country and that there should be a standard electoral quota across the whole of the United Kingdom.

I was encouraged, too, by what my honourable friend said from the Front Bench—

My Lords, yes, but he is also my friend. The door of policy is not closed, as I understand it, and the Conservative Party under Kenneth Clarke’s committee is prepared to do this.

It is clear from this debate that the issue has now been raised. It is a very important issue. Not only the Boundary Commission review but, I suspect, a much wider review will be needed. When the size of the House of Commons has been discussed in the past, there has always been a Speaker’s Conference—that was the way of doing it in 1917 and 1944. There must be some consensus between all the parties for the major steps of this sort. I should like to see a commitment from all the parties to a major review. Simply a review of the Boundary Commission in its present nature will not be sufficient, because we are raising very profound issues of great significance.

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

House of Lords (Amendment) Bill [HL]

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

It may well be true that one cannot introduce major constitutional changes by means of a Private Member’s Bill, but I hope that it is not the case with the very small change that I propose in this Bill. In its 1997 manifesto, the Labour Party undertook to end the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords, and in the Queen’s Speech of 1998 the Bill to give effect to that proposal, introducing new arrangements for the appointment of life Peers—which need not concern us today—was announced. Although Parliament had agreed 88 years earlier that the House of Lords should be constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, and although the Labour and Liberal Democrat Parties were agreed that the time had arrived to implement those words from the preamble to the 1911 Act, the Government lost their nerve and accepted a compromise put together by a small group of Cross-Benchers.

The late Lord Weatherill told me in a conversation that I had with him on 15 February 1999 that the compromise was the work of the usual channels, but we were not consulted. The then leader of the Liberal Democrats, the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, was told about it after the matter had been settled, as my noble friend Lord Rodgers records in his autobiography, and we abstained when it came to the vote on what my noble friend called,

“a thoroughly unsatisfactory dog’s breakfast of a deal”.

Lord Weatherill added, when I asked him whether the proposal was open to discussion, that any attempt to “unpick” an agreement of this kind would “make it fall apart”. He said it had been agreed, though it was not in the note on the amendment, that there could be some Labour and Liberal Democrat creations to redress the unfairness inherent in the arithmetic—which was not carried through as far as the Liberal Democrats were was concerned. He added that, since the scheme had been worked out, there had been a large increase in the number of Cross-Benchers because many Peers who had previously taken no Whip at all had signed up, no doubt hoping to be included inter oves, but it had been decided not to increase the allocation of Cross-Benchers from the original number.

At about that time, I wrote to the then Leader of the House, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, setting out an alternative to the Weatherill amendment. In her reply, without attempting to defend it in substance, she said that it would be,

“only of a temporary, transitional nature”,

and that was the basis on which it was agreed. If it had been made clear at the time that the 92 hereditaries would remain for at least the next nine years and that during that period there would be two nearest-runner-up successions, followed by eight by-elections to maintain the number at its original level, there might have been far greater difficulty in reaching agreement across the House. The purpose of this very modest Bill is to enable your Lordships to revisit the decision to freeze the number in accordance with that private deal that was made between the former Lord Chancellor and the former Leader of the Opposition.

Apart from the Tories’ lingering attachment to the hereditary principle, which can still be detected occasionally, an argument for the retention of the 92 was that it provided an incentive to get on with stage 2. In that, it was manifestly ineffective, and the 92 themselves have not sought to block the road to reform, as this debate shows. Judging from the experience of the past eight years, to say nothing of the previous 88 years, it may not be too easy to reach agreement across the parties and between the two Houses about the final composition of a revised second Chamber. The last time I spoke on House of Lords reform was just over 38 years ago, in another place, and I well remember the frustration on all sides of a Committee stage that lasted 21 days on the Floor of the other place before Mr Wilson’s legislation was finally abandoned. It would be rash to bank on the early implementation of a Commons vote in favour of an all-elected House, considering that a substantial minority down the Corridor were still opposed to that solution. Inevitably, a great deal of parliamentary time would still be consumed in both Houses by any attempt at more comprehensive legislation.

It may be objected that the Long Title of the Bill would also open up wider debate, and I acknowledge that the only way in which it will get through is if your Lordships will refrain from using it as a lever to prise open other issues on which there might be extended argument. If amendments are tabled, I am sorry to say that it would have to be dropped. I am hoping that if your Lordships agree to this Second Reading, you might also send a message to our colleagues that we hope that there will be no need for a Committee stage, and if any noble Lord does table amendments he will do so in the full knowledge that an amendment would scupper the Bill.

Presumably over the next two years Mr Gordon Brown will prefer to concentrate on electorally popular measures and will have regard to the fact that, however interesting we may find Lords reform, it is not something that ever crops up on the doorsteps. The Bill is simply intended to tide us over until after the general election, and perhaps even a bit longer than that if Lords reform is not a priority for the next Government.

If the Weatherill amendment had not provided for the 92 hereditaries to be topped up, first by the runners up in the original election and then after November 2002 by election from the ranks of the excluded Peers or their successors, the number would by now be reduced to 82, and in the process of time the hereditaries would have disappeared through mortality without the need for further legislation. That simplification would not have made it either easier or harder to reach stage 2, but it would have avoided absurd situations in which a small number of voters, who themselves derive their franchise from being hereditary Peers, elected a new Peer from the ranks of the hereditaries who had been unsuccessful in the original election. The eight who joined this House by that extraordinary process are no doubt making a valuable contribution, but as a method of replenishing the House of Lords it does not seem to be altogether appropriate in the 21st century.

Before 1832, there were the rotten boroughs, of which perhaps the most notorious was Old Sarum in Wiltshire, where there were 11 voters, though Gatton in Surrey was the smallest, with an electorate of seven. Perhaps an even better analogy would be the pocket boroughs, where the representation was controlled by one or more patrons. Buckingham, which was controlled by the eponymous duke, had 11 voters, as did Winchilsea, which was controlled by the Marquis of Cleveland. In the by-election at Silverbridge, still under the control of the Duke of Omnium in 1875, if he had wished to exercise it 43 years after the Reform Act, 623 votes were cast. Though pocket boroughs were a recurring theme in Trollope, he could never have imagined the bizarre process that we invented in 1999.

In the two Conservative by-elections, there were 43 and 42 voters. In the single Cross-Bench election, there were 19. The Liberal Democrats had four voters, and Labour had three. This is a process by which a very small number of people could decide on a member of the legislature, a process that has seen no parallel for the past 175 years. In the many discussions that I have had with colleagues, none has defended the status quo on its merits. They argue that under the 1999 compromise, it was agreed that the 92 would remain inviolate until stage 2, however long that might be. But that bargain was only approved by the House to the extent that the number should appear in the 1999 Act. Parliament could not and did not say that a private deal made to ensure that the progress of the Bill was not unreasonably impeded should remain in force until a hypothetical stage 2 was enacted.

The minority outside Westminster who do take an interest in constitutional reform probably consider that the legitimacy of this House was enhanced by the 1999 Act and by the moves towards a more politically balanced Chamber over the past 10 years. We have been more effective in judiciously challenging unwise government policies, as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor observed the other day. This Bill does not in any way inhibit this or the next Government’s freedom to propose wider reforms, but it does remove a serious and dysfunctional error in the Weatherill arrangements, which continues to undermine our credibility. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, that the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Avebury.)

My Lords, everyone will understand that there is total commitment in the Labour Party to addressing the issue of the 92, perhaps much along the lines that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has set out. But this is not the Bill to get that on to the statute book, and I want to explain why.

Let me set out a number of assumptions and a number of political realities. If people ignore them, they are either simply being naive or are introducing a spoiling measure. The test of whether a Bill has any chance of getting through the House of Commons in broadly the form that it leaves here is not the least of these considerations. There is a case for a Bill that could in the very near future get through the House of Commons with strong consensual support and could be a significant reforming measure, one which would, incidentally, change some of the caricature images of this House that persist in all parties and all sections of the public. That entails not only doing something like this but a fundamental reform of the appointments system. The Liberal Democrats have done some of that in their own ranks, but a statutory appointments commission would make a radical difference to the context in which people view the role of the House of Lords. I will develop that point a little later.

Why do I reach such an unequivocal conclusion about the Bill’s prospects? Everyone understands, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has said, that it would not be possible to rule out fundamental amendments in the Commons to a Bill simply on the 92. I am not just talking about amending the detailed arrangements so far as the 92 are concerned; I am talking about amendments for election in one form or another. That election is what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, ultimately wants—at least it is what he voted for on a Liberal Democrat three-line Whip, although I do not know whether he did that of his own volition. It is not what the House voted for by a three-to-one or four-to-one majority in the various votes on 14 March. I have the highest respect for the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, in many areas of policy, but I hope that he will excuse me if I am somewhat acerbic on this occasion.

Such a spoiling vote in the House of Commons on a Bill with these narrow credentials would produce a dog’s breakfast. It is a racing certainty that there would be amendments to this Bill, but another Bill to be debated on 20 July, that of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, who is the noble friend of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is a different kettle of fish. That requires us to look even more deeply into the dynamics and realities of what Parliament as a whole will wear.

Perhaps we should try to make a dispassionate assessment of where the Lords reform process has reached after what was—and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, on this—a rather contrived majority in the Commons, based on a good deal of tactical voting. That preference for electing the lot has being kicked into the long grass in terms of legislation before the next election. After the general election, there may well be a royal commission on the constitution, but it should not be a rabbit hole down which everyone disappears in a state of utter confusion and waits to see what comes back out, but an assessment of concrete questions on the checks and balances in the legislative process between the two Houses.

We need that careful, dispassionate and cool examination, because many of the people who say “elect the lot” by first praying in aid the concept of greater legitimacy, then run away from its consequences of more challenges to the House of Commons and its primacy, which would also be a racing certainty. Those people then say, “Okay, scrap the conventions approach, meet that earlier point somehow and make these justiciable”. However, as the unanimous Cunningham report pointed out, they cannot be made justiciable and set out in statute, because disputes between the Lords and the Commons would have to be interpreted by the Supreme Court in its new building over the road in Parliament Square. I can think of a number of statesmen from the past 500 years who must be turning in their graves at that prospect.

There is no way of achieving what many in the Commons think they want—and what at one stage Jack Straw told them they could have—that when the House of Commons does not like an amendment from the House of Lords it can simply cancel it out with a snap of the fingers. In summary, and I refer to my speech on 13 March, the policy of “legitimise it, then castrate it” is not a runner. That point has now, somewhat belatedly, been recognised by even Jack Straw and, in being forced to reflect on the clear and unanimous analysis of the Cunningham committee, we should now look forward because there will be three, four or five years before a royal commission can report following a general election fought on various manifestos.

The next logical question is: can nothing happen for the next one or two years? That is my view of this Bill. My answer and that of the cross-party group that includes the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and, prominently, the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, is that, not only is there a Bill to fill that gap, but it is available in the Printed Paper Office. That Bill had its First Reading on the same day as did the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury—14 March—the day when we all voted. It has its Second Reading in this House in a full day’s debate on 20 July, when, I predict, there will be a considerable number of speakers.

So what precisely does the Steel Bill say which the Avebury Bill does not, and why are they fundamentally different? The central point is that the Steel Bill provides for the creation of a statutory appointments commission in place of the present patronage system. Implementing this part of the White Paper is a sine qua non of any early progress to consensus—and I speak for the consensus of a clear, two-thirds majority of the Labour group, although there is a minority with another view.

It translates into practical action many of the words that have almost been flogged to death—democracy, legitimacy, transparency and ownership—in the process of elections and appointments. It is a far more fundamental reform than many people have appreciated. A caveat is that the Civil Service authorship of this part of the White Paper shows through because it is very unsure of its footing by neglecting the necessary internal processes of the political parties—presumably because they are outside its purview in some way. Perhaps Jack Straw took his eye off the ball or my noble friends on the Front Bench did not get their heads around this issue.

My criticism of the White Paper in this regard, which is germane to what I will say later, is that it often implies that it would be for the statutory appointments commission to select from party lists—not only on grounds of probity, but more generally. It has been recognised that that would be a disaster and be rejected because it would mean that the great and the good would be perceived by members of parties—this is certainly true of the Labour Party—as doing the job of selecting right-wing or left-wing candidates and so on. That section of the White Paper is, after all, the one that relates to members of political parties who have taken the Whip here. We are not talking about the role of the statutory appointments commission relative to the Cross-Benchers, we are talking about that role vis-à-vis the political parties—people who have to be whipped in this Chamber in the normal way that makes democratic government work.

We have to work out how political parties take responsibility in that new world—and I take my hat off to the Liberal Democrats for having more experience than others in this matter—and what the parties’ obligations should be as regards the new process, because they will have to register their criteria and processes with the statutory appointments commission. I predict that it would not be for that commission to have anything to do with, say, choosing left-wing or right-wing candidates or whatever. Desirable as it may be to say that a certain percentage of the Members will be of a certain ethnicity or that so many per cent will be women, surely, if people are to be whipped in this House, that must be down to the political parties. If the parties are to take ownership of the system, which is the key to this, they have to be happy with that. In a sense, it would make them—

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord. Can he help in one respect? So far, he has not said whether he agrees with the merits of this Bill, which has identical provisions to those in the Steel Bill. He has said why he thinks that it may be politically inappropriate or inexpedient, but does he agree or disagree with the principle of the Bill?

My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Lester, reads Hansard tomorrow, he will see that I said that I have no difficulty with the words in the Bill concerning the 92 hereditaries. However, I cannot support the Bill, for the reasons that I am going through at the moment. Perhaps I may continue.

This would be the first time that stakeholders in this House, as well as in the House of Commons, had some ownership of the appointments system. I have written a memorandum on this whole question and shall send a copy to any Member who would like to see it. Certainly in the case of the Labour Party, this would be the first time in 100 years that we moved away from what might be called the default position, subconscious as it may be, of saying that, even if all the hereditaries were not still there, having been removed, we would still be very suspicious about how the life Peers got there. That is not too surprising when the conclusion is, “Let’s abolish the whole thing”. But the statutory appointments commission and the reforms that I am suggesting would, for the first time, change that. It would be a fundamental change, the absence of which has bedevilled this whole debate for many years.

I underline that, if people are to have confidence in the ownership of the House of Lords, it is not sufficient to remove the hereditary principle, much as we all agree with that, and of course that is in the Steel Bill as well. Making such a rule change in the Labour Party and providing a panel system at one remove from the National Executive Committee would not only change much of the psychology in the parties in the country but would remove much of the hostility to this place among our colleagues in the Parliamentary Labour Party.

I turn to my last point. I know a little about the Labour Party and what makes it tick, but others will have to describe how this all plays in the Conservative Party, which I find as inscrutable as the Tang dynasty or perhaps another dynasty with which I have mixed it up.

These are major preconditions for any legislation that is to be brought forward in the near future and, of course, we will have to take another look at the issue after the election. There is nothing wrong with some of the language in the Avebury Bill but I cannot support it. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, to acknowledge that, for the reasons I have given and if he is serious about early action on the question of the 92 hereditaries, he should support the Steel Bill, which has its Second Reading on 20 July. It could have the support of the Commons—perhaps not as it stands but after it has been picked up by the Government. It is an excellent measure in its own right. Even if it were faced with spoiling amendments, those could be voted down with the support of the Government, based on a White Paper supporting our approach at this stage and dealing with other matters later, after the election. Vis-à-vis this approach, last July I said to a senior colleague in the other place, “Why look a gift horse in the mouth?”. I think that that message is now getting through.

My Lords, I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, said: this is not the Bill to get this proposal on to the statute book. I am grateful for his instruction as to what goes on in another place and for his views on the merits of another Bill to which I do not propose to speak.

This Bill has to be seen in its true perspective. That means, to use the expression of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that it has to be revisited. We have to revisit the Cranborne deal, a self-denying ordinance whose fundamental concept was to enable the House of Lords Bill to be passed by this House in the interests of this House.

It is now established as a wholly well founded concept that this House has never been in better shape and is working at its best with the formidable expertise and dedication of the hereditaries, who serve on the Woolsack, on the Front and Back Benches, and as chairmen and members of committees. The quality of those services is recognised on all sides of this House, including the Spiritual Benches and Cross Benches.

The Cranborne deal is reflected in the Weatherill amendment and in the 14th draft of Standing Orders to seek to avoid hybridity. It was made in honour of Privy Council terms and was binding on the Government. It was made with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, the then Lord Chancellor, who is a man of his word and would have honoured the deal. According to the fundamental concept, the deal was to continue only temporarily until enactment of substantial reform of the powers and composition of your Lordships’ House—stage 2 of reform. There is not a word about powers in the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel. I shall not speak to that Bill but shall probably support some of his concepts for composition.

That substantive reform, as discussed in your Lordships’ House, was inevitably related to reform of another place, and then the Cranborne deal was to end. It was also agreed under that deal that, only until that time, the remaining hereditaries should carry out elections to fill vacancies, as provided for in Standing Orders. It is easy to mock, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has done—rather enticingly, if I may say so—but it is much more difficult to construct.

There is now no agreement on stage 2, substantive reform; as I said, no Private Member’s Bill makes such provision. This Bill and Clause 10 of the Steel Bill put an end to filling vacancies so as to enable hereditaries to wither on the vine; they pre-empt a Bill on substantive reform. The concept of this Bill and Clause 10 of the Steel Bill commended itself to certain hereditary Peers. I am delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, in his place. I believe that both he and I thought that it rather a good idea, but there was no amendment to that effect in the Bill. It could not have been in the Bill because it was the basis on which the hereditaries were asked to assent to the deal. There it is: it could not be accepted as it conflicted with the basis of the deal.

The Table advises that the Cranborne deal can be rescinded only by statute. The fact that it ends on stage 2 is under the deal, but its constitutional end can be achieved only by statute. It is interesting to revisit the essence of the concept. If this Bill were passed in your Lordships’ House, it would inevitably, subject to what the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, may say—one never knows, but it is sometimes very helpful—be defeated by objection in another place as a Private Member’s Bill.

Reverting to the true perspective—the interests of this House—what is the need or justification for haste to end a process that will end in any event at stage 2, confirmed by statute? If the purpose today were to afford discussion, it has been afforded—some of it a little wide of the essence of the Bill—and will again take place on Clause 10 of the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, which appears to reflect an informal selective cross-party consensus. To what conceivable constructive end shall your Lordships give this Bill a Second Reading, which by convention, albeit not acceptable to Government, they may not wish to oppose? I have nothing further of use to say.

My Lords, the wisdom and propriety of a Private Member’s Bill being used to effect the final and full reform of this House, which we were promised in 1999 would eventually happen, are very questionable. This is a grave constitutional matter, and as such I think it is quite wrong that it should be resolved by a Private Member's Bill, particularly one having its Second Reading on a Friday afternoon, when most noble Lords have gone home for the weekend. It should be resolved only by a government Bill, introduced in prime time, the contents of which should have been arrived at by all-party consensus. If it is not done in such a manner, what guarantee will anyone have that it will be accepted by the Government, the opposition parties and the country as stage 2 of the reform which was started in 1999? For that reason alone I am totally opposed to the Bill.

Even Part 1, which could have created an Appointments Commission truly independent of Prime Ministerial patronage, signally fails to do so. Far too much power is vested in the House of Commons, which has no idea at all of the qualities necessary for a Member of this House, and apparently this House is to have no say at all. That is only one small fault; I can assure your Lordships that there are plenty of others. As far as I am concerned, and I am wearing my hat as a hereditary Peer, Part 2 is not acceptable. The 92 hereditary Peers are supposed to remain here, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, explained, until the completion of stage 2 of House of Lords reform, which started in 1999. That was stated on 11 May 1999 at the Dispatch Box by the then Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, who said:

“I make it absolutely plain that stage two reform will take place, and when it does the hereditary Peers who remain, if the Weatherill amendment passes, will cease to be Members of this House”.

Later in the same column, he said:

“The 10 per cent will go when stage two has taken place, and their presence is a guarantee that stage two will take place”.—[Official Report, 11/5/1999; col. 1092.]

That was confirmed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, on 13 March this year:

“The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, reminds us that we agreed to the keeping of the hereditaries until stage 2 was in place … We agreed that in the White Paper and stand by it”.—[Official Report, 13/03/07; col. 722.]

What guarantee have we that, if this Bill were to receive Royal Assent, the Government, or anyone else, would be satisfied that the reforms embodied in it constituted stage 2? Absolutely none. In that case we, the hereditary Peers, would no longer be here as such, to be a thorn in the Government's flesh, a sort of politically incorrect gadfly to torment them by our very existence, an existence they had a manifesto commitment to terminate. Much is continually said about the ludicrousness of the Peers' elections, and I cannot deny that; but the principal thing that is ludicrous about them is that the electorate is made up only of hereditary Peers, so that in the case of Labour and Liberal Democrat elections you have two or three Peers voting for many more candidates. That would be simply remedied by making the electorate all the Peers in the relevant party, which, with hindsight, is what I now believe it should always have been. Other matters could also be tweaked and improved. But when stage 2 really has been enacted and comes into force, the 92 should go because that was the agreement. If all or any of them are offered life baronies by the Government, it will be up to them as individuals whether to accept them. I have said before, and I say again, that for any of us hereditary Peers to be party to abolishing the elections sticks in my gullet. It is tantamount to saying to our erstwhile colleagues, who were so meanly and cavalierly sacked in 1999 and whose only hope of either getting back themselves or of their heirs’ doing so is to be elected, “I'm alright Jack, and you can go to the devil”.

Turning to another part of the Bill, it is a pity to be so sanctimonious about Peers who have served jail sentences sitting in this House. They have paid their forfeit and should be allowed back into the game. I can think of one, the late Lord Kagan, who was born Lithuanian, whose knowledge of what we used to call the “Russian steamroller” and its ways was invaluable in debates about defence, although he was very diffident and it took a lot of persuasion to make him speak.

My Lords, I think the noble Lady refers to my noble friend Lord Steel’s Bill. This Bill does not mention people who have served jail sentences.

My Lords, I beg your Lordships’ pardon. I was looking at the wrong Bill.

Altogether, I like this Bill so little that, if it were not a Friday afternoon when most Peers have gone home for the weekend, I should have put down a Motion to kill it. As it is, I hope that it withers on the vine.

My Lords, I am sure that we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for introducing the Bill, which I support, for reasons that I shall mention later.

I was interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, said about the Cranborne amendment and in what the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, said. However, stage 2 is a very long way away, and this Bill—which has not always been referred to—attempts to change a rather undesirable situation. I accept that the Cranborne amendment has allowed a good number of distinguished and useful Members of this House to come back to membership. Previously, I had the honour of being elected by the whole House as a Deputy Speaker. However, this system should not carry on until the end of time or stage 2, whichever is earlier. This is a House of Parliament, not a private club that elects its own members.

There are only four Labour Peers, including me. If there were a death, there would be three. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, mentioned a number of rotten boroughs and the numbers of electors they contained. I do not say that we are a rotten borough, but we are smaller than any of those that he mentioned. We are probably the smallest electorate in the world. However, there is worse to come. My noble friend Lord Simon and I were elected as Deputy Speakers by the whole House—life Peers and hereditaries. After our deaths, further elections by the whole House will take place. It is possible, indeed probable, knowing the numbers on the other side and on the Cross Benches, that our seats will pass to the Conservatives or the Cross Benches. If that should happen, the number of Labour hereditaries would be down to two. If one of them should die, the electorate would be down to one. That is positively Gilbertian and absurd. It is a further reason why these internal House elections should be cancelled.

A further matter, not mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, or any of the other speakers, is contained in the Bill: the question of the two great officers of state, the Lord Great Chamberlain and the Earl Marshal. There seems to be general agreement that those historic roles should continue, and I agree with that, but because the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, and the noble Marquess, Lord Cholmondeley, are hereditary Peers, it is sometimes suggested in this House and outside it that they should move to the Royal Household at Buckingham Palace or St James’s Palace. However, they are already members of the Royal Household. They have important duties, particularly at the opening of Parliament, and it is important that they should remain because they provide a link between the Crown and Parliament.

I support the Bill, which puts right something undesirable. I hope that the Government will give it a Second Reading and that the usual channels will arrange an early date for the remaining stages in this House so that it can be sent to another place without delay.

My Lords, it may be worth reminding the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that the Parliament (No. 2) Bill in 1969 failed because of opposition in the other place, not because of any problems in this House.

Much of what I would like to say has already been covered in previous speeches, not least those of the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, and my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway. Given that, I shall endear myself to the Minister, and possibly to the whole House, by saying that I intend to keep my comments extremely short.

The noble Lord’s Bill also has the merit of being short. However, it suffers from a number of limitations, some of which are apparent in what the noble Lord said as well as in what was said in preceding speeches. As we have been reminded, during the passage of the House of Lords Bill in 1999, the Weatherill amendment was accepted. It provided for the retention of 92 hereditary Peers as Members of this House and was accepted by the Government on the understanding that it was an interim provision pending stage 2 of reform of this House.

That understanding leads logically to two conclusions: first, that the composition of the House remains unchanged until stage 2 is agreed; and, secondly, that stage 2 must comprise more than the removal of the remaining 92 hereditaries. What follows is that if the provisions of the Bill are to be accepted, they have to be accepted as part of a wider set of provisions that are recognised as constituting stage 2. The Government accepted that this wider set of provisions should be reached by consensus. That was embodied in the Queen’s Speech in November, and that was the extent of the commitment. In short, if we are to proceed, we should do so on the basis of general agreement on a set of proposals. The noble Lord’s Bill fails to meet these criteria. We should therefore await a measure that does.

The other points I would wish to make have been said. Given that, I do not propose to go into the argument concerning hereditary Peers and the by-election provision. The hereditary Peers who serve in this House continue to contribute significantly to its work. Their value is recognised by the fact that the number of hereditary Peers sitting in your Lordships’ House exceeds the statutory 92, some of them having been reintroduced as life Peers. Indeed, in the fullness of time, if the by-election provision were to be removed, there would be nothing to stop hereditary Peers being nominated for membership. I note that not only are there hereditary Peers sitting in this House as life Peers, but also three hereditary Peers sitting as Members of the other place. Whatever happens, hereditary Peers are likely to continue to make a significant contribution to public life. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, is incorrect therefore to say that the by-election mechanism is the only means by which hereditary Peers may become Members of this House. That is to underplay the merits of hereditary Peers.

I am familiar with the criticisms levelled at the mechanism for selecting a hereditary Peer in the event of a vacancy occurring—repeated by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi—but that is the mechanism that has been agreed and embodied in Standing Orders. It is a mechanism that should remain until such time as agreement is reached on stage 2. We are not there yet. We should await a measure that seeks to deliver on generally agreed proposals.

Following the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Lea, I believe that a measure to that effect will soon be before us. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, is right to say that there will be discussion about whether that constitutes stage 2. But that is a discussion for another day.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for bringing forward this Bill and want to take on a little of the blame for it having arrived here. We had something of a planning meeting in Prince’s Chamber a few weeks ago. My noble friend said to me, “I think that we should do something to get rid of these absurd by-elections”. My comment was, roughly, “Yeah, go for it”. As your Lordships can see, the great amount of preparation for my contribution was probably left at “go for it”. My noble friend clearly did.

I appreciate that, as a hereditary Peer, I am guilty of the claim to be pulling up the ladder once I have climbed up it. In thinking that we should do something about the situation, I agree with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi. The idea of the rotten borough of all rotten boroughs, gilded and preserved for ever, is probably better on those Benches, but we get close here. Having been part of that electorate—four of us sitting down, having a chat and deciding on a Member of Parliament in one of the richest countries in the western world—I know that an almost irresistible weight of absurdity comes down on you.

Does stage 2 arrive with this Bill? Will it be stage 2 as envisaged by stage 1? The money must definitely be against that. One thing about yesterday’s radical reform is that it ain’t tomorrow’s. Should we do something now? Yes, my Lords. If we are doing something now, we are addressing the current set of problems. Addressing the current set of problems in politics is one up on the norm because we are usually fairly reactive, so we should try to deal with the problems now. As the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, on the opposition Front Bench, suggested, so far we have been pretty lucky in the people we have in here. Those of us who survived by other methods rose or fell—occasionally we lost. I cannot but help remember the fate of Viscount Long, who was not included on the opposition Benches in 1999. If ever there was a quiet but effective servant of Parliament and his party who was excluded, it was that man. So we can get it wrong among ourselves.

Ensuring that the process of selection is more open will be dealt with later on, but let us just deal with the absurdity. We have several people sitting round asking, “Who shall we have in? Who did quite a good job last time?”, but rapidly they will disappear and we will have to take a punt on someone who is untried. Let us get rid of this process. We are quite capable of looking ridiculous in other ways and we do not have to hang this around our necks.

My Lords, I have not so far participated in debates on the reform of the House. That has been, in part, because I feel that as a hereditary Peer I should leave discussions and decisions about the future of the House to those who are here in their own right and will remain after the next stage of reform when we, the surviving hereditary Peers, are finally phased out.

This short Bill, however, deals directly with the remaining hereditary Peers, so my participation is relevant. The Bill proposes gently and painlessly to get on with the phasing-out process. As we well know, the Weatherill/Cranborne agreement by which 92 hereditary Peers were exempted from the 1999 Act, pending the next stage of reform, was a deal which ensured the relatively smooth passage of that Act. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, pointed out, that exemption was clearly understood to be temporary. The replacement of deceased hereditary Peers, added, as I recollect, to the package at a rather late stage, was agreed to by the Government very reluctantly because it perpetuated a significant hereditary presence.

Seven and a half years have passed since the 1999 Act. During that time, 10 of the original 92 have died and been replaced. Clearly, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, pointed out, if they had not been replaced, only 82 would remain. As we age, the mortality rate will accelerate, so that in 10 or 20 years natural wastage will have gone a long way towards eliminating those 82. Eventually, of course, they will all die, but that might take 50 years or more—I look across the Chamber to one of our younger Members. Natural wastage was proposed during the 1999 debates as a humane method of bringing to an end the right of all hereditary Peers to sit and vote in the House. But this is not why the noble Lord has brought in this Bill.

The replacement of deceased retained hereditary Peers, particularly through bizarre by-elections, is an anomaly when the ending of their right to sit in the House is accepted as part of all serious proposals for the next stage of House of Lords reform. There is no mainstream view which advocates the retention of hereditary Peers in the legislature in the 21st century. My use of the word “bizarre” is fully justified when considering an election such as the one in which I was involved in 2003, which has already been mentioned. There were three electors—that is, hereditary Labour Peers—and 11 candidates, most of whom had no previous Labour Party connections. There were almost as many electors as candidates in five other by-elections—a strange form of democracy, to say the least, and one which makes a mockery of the proceedings of your Lordships’ House. It was an opportunity for ridicule not lost by several commentators in the media.

When the 1999 Act was passed, it was expected that the next stage of reform would probably take place in the next Parliament. But now we are half way through the one after that, and despite the decisive vote in the other place in favour of a totally or mainly elected House, it is extremely unlikely that our new Prime Minister will wish to use the remaining two or three years of this Parliament to engage in a full-scale battle with your Lordships’ House which has, as we all know, voted clearly in favour of a fully appointed House. Incidentally, the form which that House might take is well outlined in another Private Member’s Bill, mentioned by my noble friend Lord Lea of Crondall and others—that of the noble Lord, Lord Steel—which is sitting in the wings waiting for its Second Reading on 20 July. It is in the context of the unlikely event of stage 2 coming soon that we should consider this Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury.

The replacement of retained hereditary Peers on death is against the modernising spirit of House of Lords reform. It was only agreed to as a temporary expedient. As the date for the next stage of reform seems to stretch further and further into the future, is it not time for this anomalous temporary measure to be ended? To pass this Bill would be a simple way of doing it and I commend it to my noble friend Lady Ashton on the Front Bench.

My Lords, I find it slightly surprising that the Bill is being introduced by a Peer elected under the House of Lords Act 1999, although I note that it is supported by the noble Lords, Lord Strabolgi and Lord Addington. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is usually vigilant and courageous in supporting minorities. In effect, however, he is pulling up the drawbridge on a minority of which he is one of the original members.

On on 13 March, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is quoted as saying that the by-election,

“process ensures that replacements are drawn from those who were not seen as useful by their colleagues”.

When the original 92 were selected—this certainly applies to those on the Conservative Benches—the election of the Front-Bench spokesman, my noble friend Lord De Mauley, completely invalidated that point. My noble friend was not even on the radar screen in 1999, and could not stand for election as his father was still alive. I also challenge the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, on the by-elections of the noble Viscounts, Lord Eccles, Lord Trenchard and Lord Ullswater, and the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, all of whom we saw and continue to see as making important contributions to the House, as have those on other Benches who have been elected.

As many speakers have already said, one of the main points of keeping the 92 hereditary Peers was to act as a catalyst for further reform of the House. I reinforce, as other speakers such as my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway have done, what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said on the Floor of the House on 30 March 1999—that “the 10 per cent”, or the 92,

“will go only when stage two has taken place. So it is a guarantee that it will take place”.

He added that the amendment proposed by Lord Weatherill,

“would provide for the interim retention of one in 10 of the hereditary Peers, 75 out of the existing 750, plus 15 hereditary office-holders, until the second stage of House of Lords reform has taken place. The amendment reflects a compromise negotiated between Privy Councillors on Privy Council terms and binding in honour on all those who have come to give it their assent”.—[Official Report, 30/3/99; col. 207.]

Since 1999, the most significant reform vote came when the other place voted this year for a fully elected, or predominantly elected, House of Lords. I am not in favour of this personally but, in the end, if it becomes a manifesto commitment, the House must consider it accordingly. The current system will cease to operate, I believe, only when this reform goes through. Just because stage 2 may be a long way away does not change the situation.

In the mean time, piecemeal Bills such as this do nothing to help the process of reform. I firmly believe that issues of major constitutional importance should not be legislated for in Private Members’ Bills.

My Lords, I very much welcome my noble friend’s proposed amendment to the House of Lords Act 1999. We have heard a great deal about the way in which the arrangement was arrived at as a result of the so-called Weatherill amendment, and I will not go through all that again. Experience has shown that at least part of the reasoning behind introducing the category of elected Peers was that the Government’s real enthusiasm for reform was, as we feared, not terribly great. On the other hand, it is also difficult to feel that the continuing membership of hereditary Peers in this House now contributes much to furthering reform. Moreover, like others—the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, expressed this most vividly—I feel that the election system exposes this House to ridicule, and unavoidably so. As my noble friend reminded us, we are like a rotten borough, albeit a very small one. I, of course, do not have a vote in the election of these new Members to sit in my Chamber. There we go; that is only one of the oddities of the whole thing. The same is true of other life Peers.

Like all of us, I have my opinions about reform of your Lordships’ House. My first preference is for an all-elected second Chamber, which in theory at least could be constructed relatively easily. In practice, of course, it would be almost impossible to achieve because of the English dislike of working from theory to practice, rather than the other way around, when constructing new ways of doing things. I shall not continue to fantasise about that possibility.

My second choice would be for an all-appointed second Chamber; I am firmly opposed to any mixture. That option received the greatest amount of support when we recently voted on the matter in this House. I also firmly believe that the number of Members of this House should be fixed, as in other second Chambers. We would have a limited number of Members, say 350, each appointed for 12 or 15 years. The delightful prospect offered by my noble friend’s Bill is that of being able to move slowly and decorously, as is our wont, towards just such a second Chamber, or Senate as I would prefer to call it, which most of us seemed to support.

First, we stop electing substitutes for the 90 hereditary Peers who are not either the Earl Marshal or the Lord Great Chamberlain. We would then become a wholly appointed House. The Government would then bite the bullet and begin pensioning off willing victims among the life Peers, while creating a special commission for the appointment of new members of the Senate, only for 12 or 15 years and only for those—there are many in the House at present who would easily pass this test——who are willing to attend and to contribute regularly. In perhaps 15 or 20 years, we would arrive at our goal; not a perfect goal, but a quite acceptable one—a wholly appointed Senate, the membership of which changed as the years went by without requiring death or disability to play the decisive part. This approach ticks so many of the Government’s own boxes that I look forward to the Minister telling us that the Government are considering my noble friend’s Bill.

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Avebury epitomises the very best of conscience and reform in his dedicated service to Parliament and in the public interest. He is a great hereditary Peer and a fine former Member of the other House, and I salute him. We on these Benches strongly support the Bill, and we hope—hope dies last—that the new Conservative Official Opposition and the even newer new Labour Government-in-waiting will also do so.

This is a very modest Bill. It does not provide for the full-scale reform of this House, as envisaged in the Parliament Act 1911 and by new Labour’s 1997 election manifesto. It does not provide for this House to be wholly, mainly or partly elected by the people, even though each of the main parties now claims to favour such a reform. It does not seek summarily to remove the remaining hereditary Members from this House, even though that would at last give effect to the agreement reached between the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats, known as the Cook-Maclennan agreement, and to the basis on which new Labour was first elected a decade ago. Nor does the Bill go as far as the House of Lords Bill of my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood, which deals with wider proposals for reform.

The Bill seeks merely to end the farcical and anomalous procedure that is put into effect when one of the remaining hereditary Members of the House dies, whereby his or her place is filled by another hereditary Peer chosen in a by-election by his or her peers, although unlike Brooks’s, Boodle’s, White’s or the Garrick, without a system of black-balling. It seeks, gradually and by natural causes, to end a pocket borough worthy of the close attention of Plantagenet Palliser. When a life Peer such as me dies, there is no afterlife in this House. His or her place is not automatically filled by a new life Peer. Indeed, there is no prescribed quota of life Peers of any particular party. The Cook-Maclennan agreement on constitutional reform, which I helped to negotiate, promised that the hereditary element would be completely removed. The agreement clearly stated:

“There is an urgent need for radical reform of the Lords. Its current composition is indefensible, in particular the fact that the majority of its members are entitled to take part in the legislative process on a hereditary basis … The two parties”—

that is, Labour and the Liberal Democrats—

“are therefore agreed that there must be legislation to remove the rights of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords”.

I am sorry to say that the Government broke faith with their Liberal Democrat allies by making a covert deal with the then Leader of the Official Opposition in this House, the then noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, to retain some hereditary Peers so as to ease the passage of the House of Lords Bill. We were not consulted on what I have to describe as a sneaky side-deal to which we strongly objected. We explained that at the time and abstained. We on these Benches are not bound by that deal, whether as a matter of honour or otherwise.

I hope that I may be forgiven for quoting the Cook-Maclennan agreement again. It stated:

“The removal of the hereditary peers will still leave an imbalance in party representation in the Lords during the interim stage. Following their removal, we should move over the course of the next parliament to a House of Lords where those peers who take a party whip more accurately reflect the proportion of votes received by each party in the previous general election”.

As I say, I was directly party to negotiating that with the late Robin Cook and other members of the Labour Party.

That was another pledge that was broken by the Government once they had secured our support for the removal of the hereditary element. We were told at the highest level that this was because we could not be relied on to support the Government in the Division Lobbies. As a result my party has remained under-represented after the removal of most of the hereditary Peers who took the Liberal Democrat Whip because, unlike the Labour Party, we had a very significant proportion of hereditary Peers. That does not augur well for the next stage in the reform of this House and for wider constitutional reform on which the Government will need cross-party support, but I hope that we shall be able to proceed on the basis of mutual trust and confidence across the parties and with the crucial support of the Cross Benches.

My noble friend Lord Goodhart said in the debate on the House of Lords Bill:

“It is now 88 years since the Parliament Act restricted the powers of this House and promised that the House should be reconstituted on a popular, not a hereditary basis. That is nearly a decade longer than the period that separated the Parliament Act from the Great Reform Bill of 1832”.

He went on:

“While the whole process of democratic reform of our political system which started with the Great Reform Bill was in all other respects completed with the full enfranchisement of women in 1928, only this last piece of reform, the composition and role of your Lordships' House, was left outstanding and has remained so for decades”.—[Official Report, 29/3/99; cols. 180-81.]

Therefore, it is not a matter of “haste”, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, for the reasons so clearly expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Rea.

No one who has spoken in this debate so far has given any good reason, as a matter of logic, principle or common sense, for enabling the remaining hereditary element to replace itself when one of its number dies. The process of election is a process of selection by a self-perpetuating group of unelected legislators, and it is no more democratic in our modern democracy than the process used to elect a new member of a Pall Mall social club.

What I say in no way underestimates the great contribution made in this House and beyond by hereditary Peers. One has only to recall my good friend and colleague, the late lamented Lord Russell, to recognise that contribution. I echo the remarks of another late lamented good friend, Lord Harris of Greenwich, when debating the House of Lords Bill. He said:

“There will be no sneers from these Benches about the contribution made by hereditary Peers. Indeed, it would be remarkable were there to be any given the fact that 24 of our colleagues are hereditary Peers. But the blunt reality is that their day has passed. It is impossible to justify a system which gives male children born in the right bed the right eventually to become members of the legislature”.—[Official Report, 30/3/99; col. 210.]

Life Peers have no greater claim to democratic legitimacy than do hereditary Peers, but at least we are not automatically replaced when we are summoned by the Grim Reaper.

As I have said, this process of perpetual renewal does not happen in the case of a life Peer, and it is anomalous and absurd for it to happen when a hereditary Peer dies.

My Lords, the noble Lord used my expression “haste” in a context in which I did not use it. I totally accept what the noble Lord says about the deal not being binding in honour on his party. All I am saying is that it is binding on the Government because they made it. As they made the deal, and as the hereditaries on all sides of the House have done such a fine job, and the deal will end in any event—it is a temporary deal—there is no haste to get rid of the benefit of the services of the hereditaries.

My Lords, I understand that now and I stand corrected. I perfectly agree with the implication that the Government are bound by the deal unless and until they support legislation which removes it. Since the Government control the other place, they have the unique power to do that. Until this House is at last fully reformed—a process which is likely to take several more years at best—surely the right course is to accept that a hereditary Peer’s place should not be filled after his or her death. That would have the additional advantage of reducing the size of this excessively large House of Parliament as a result of natural causes.

We hope that there will be a positive response from the Conservative Front Bench and from the Minister and that the Bill will be enacted in the lifetime of this Parliament. The anomaly should not be allowed to continue until wider reforms are made.

Everyone who has spoken in this debate is in some sense self-interested. There is a temptation to speak of the public interest without acknowledging the private and personal interests involved. There is a tendency to speak to each other and to ourselves without recognising that we are here as members of a Parliament with the power and the duty not to administer a club but, as the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, so pithily, wittily and authoritatively explained, to enact the laws of the land. The present position is untenable, and the longer the Government and the Official Opposition allow it to continue, the more they will undermine the legitimacy and authority of the House in the eyes of the public, or those who know about it beyond the Palace of Westminster.

I say to the noble Lords, Lord Lea of Crondall and Lord Norton of Louth, that the argument based on the doctrine of unripe time regarding the need for wider reform is not a cogent or convincing reason for retaining this absurd and unjustifiable anomaly, bearing in mind that we are not saying that we will abolish hereditary Peers today but that we will simply allow natural causes to take effect.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way again. The point I was making—I think the same is true of the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth—had nothing to do with unripe time. I do not think that expression was used. However, it was not the argument. The argument was that this Bill on its own cannot get through the House of Commons. So I can return the compliment, will the noble Lord support the Steel Bill?

My Lords, it is the doctrine of the unripe time. As I understand the doctrine, in the wonderful book that propounded it, it is that we should not do today what we believe to be right because we believe that the time is not right to do it but we should wait for some other occasion when it can be done. As I understand the noble Lord, he agrees with me that it is right to phase out the hereditary element by, at the very least, natural causes as part of wider constitutional reform. That is common ground. What the other House may or may not do is hypothetical. We are surely concerned with what happens in this House, especially on an issue that intimately concerns the procedures for the composition of this House. It is impossible to speculate—

My Lords, I do not follow the noble Lord’s argument about unripe time, as the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, was introduced on the same day as the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury.

My Lords, this Bill and that of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, both of which I hope will be given a Second Reading, will give this House the opportunity to look at this issue either in the most modest way, which is the way of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, or in a more ambitious way. It is entirely right that that should happen. I am saying that there is no reason why the most modest reform should be opposed on the argument that wider reform is desirable and might or might not win approval in the other place. Let us first deal with this Bill, then deal with the Steel Bill, then see what this House believes on both, and finally see what the Government and the other place decide to do. That seems right.

I found the intervention by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, rather depressing. She attacked the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, suggesting that it was wrong in principle to introduce constitutional reform by means of a Private Member’s Bill. If that were correct, I would be very guilty indeed, because I introduced two Private Members’ Bills on human rights, which I think led to the Human Rights Act, and, even more presumptuously, I introduced the Executive Powers and Civil Service Bill not once but several times.

It would be a serious abridgement of the rights and duties of Members of this House if the view expressed by the noble Lady were given wider currency or support. I believe that the Great Reform Bill was originally a Private Member’s Bill, although eventually it was taken over by the Government. One of the great virtues of this House is that we are often a catalyst for wider reform. I would like to think that that was true of civil partnerships and I hope that it will be true of forced marriage. We in this House also have a unique possibility of initiating constitutional reforms, which it is then for the democratic Chamber to decide on.

I wholly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, that the present situation is Gilbertian; in fact, I would say that it is worthy of Lewis Carroll.

My Lords, I wish that I could say that it gave me pleasure to welcome a Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, whose work in this House, both before and after he himself became one of the 92 excepted hereditary Peers, I greatly respect. But I cannot do so. The Bill touches on very important issues: nothing less than the future composition of one of our Houses of Parliament. I share the view of other noble Lords—although not, of course, the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill—who do not think that these issues are properly addressed in a Private Member’s Bill. That has never been our constitutional tradition and it is not a modernisation that I would want to see. In the debate preceding this one, my noble friend Lord Howard of Rising made exactly the same point about a Private Member’s Bill, introduced by a member of my own party, which is also on a constitutional matter, albeit, some would argue, a more important one.

This Bill, drafted in isolation from any other reform, is not one that my party could ever support. It could create an all-appointed House—by a slow route, it is true, but by a sure route none the less. Over a period, and not a long one in the context of the history of reform of the Lords, this Bill, if passed, would reduce Cross-Bench strength by 16 per cent, Conservative strength by over 20 per cent, Liberal strength by over 6 per cent and Labour strength by less than 2 per cent. Even Mr Straw, in his recent White Paper, acknowledged that to be unfair, as it would benefit Labour disproportionately against the other parties and the Cross Benches. However, a new Prime Minister and a Labour majority in another place may well find that quite attractive, so I suggest that it is unwise of the noble Lord to expose the Government, by trying to send his Bill down the corridor, to temptations that could include amending it to exclude at a stroke the extant 92.

I did not think that an all-appointed House was the policy of the Liberal Democrats and I have heard nothing today to suggest that their policy has changed so as to move towards an all-appointed House, as this Bill would create. It would do so without any safeguards against the kind of abuse of the appointments system that we have seen on such a flagrant scale in the past 10 years—a scale not seen since the days of that noted Liberal, Lloyd George.

This approach is piecemeal and, as several noble Lords have said, does not even attempt to tackle the main issue of long-term reform. It will be interesting for all your Lordships, I am sure, to hear from the Minister the Government’s new thinking on this matter, following confirmation of the identity of the next Prime Minister.

There are many ironies in this debate beyond the fact that the noble Lord, who put himself forward for election in 1999, is now trying to persuade me, who put myself forward for election in 2005, to join him barking in the manger to keep any other hereditary Peers with the wish to serve Parliament and their country from submitting their names to do so.

One of those ironies is that we are debating this so soon after we mourned the death of Lord Weatherill, whose proposal to keep 92 elected hereditary Peers on a transitional basis pending enactment of stage 2 reform was carried with massive majorities in both Houses eight years ago. I have seen no concrete and detailed proposal for stage 2 yet coming forward with the support of the House of Commons. While we await it, I feel, if I may say so with all courtesy, that it is perhaps surprising for someone such as the noble Lord, who has himself benefited from a system that Parliament agreed, to seek to force the early termination of that very system. If he felt that the principle was so wrong, perhaps he should not have stood for election in 1999.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord but, in view of his remarks, I wonder whether he is aware of the fact that when I joined this House in, I think, 1993 it was completely controlled by his party, with the support of several hundred hereditary Peers, most of whom did not take part in debates but came at around 5.30 to stand at the Bar of the House waiting impatiently to vote. They would constantly vote in favour of the Conservative Government in a completely unprincipled way. One may criticise this Government, but they have at least got rid of that vice and have had the good sense not to seek to control this House, where they have no majority. Is the noble Lord aware of that?

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his intervention, but it does not change my position one bit.

Were there not provision for replacement, the number of non-appointed Peers would already have fallen by 10 since 1999, as other noble Lords have said. The appointed element among Lords temporal, which was raised from 45 per cent to 82 per cent in 1999, would now have risen to over 88 per cent. From there, this Bill would carry us inexorably towards 100 per cent, something that the other place has clearly said that it does not want. Such a change can happen very fast and should not, I again respectfully submit, be sought in a Private Member’s Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is quoted on his party’s website—my noble friend Lord Northbrook referred to this—as having said of the process of elections for hereditaries, in commenting on his Bill on 13 March:

“This process ensures that the average age of the 92 hereditaries continually rises, and that the replacements are drawn from those who were not seen as useful by their colleagues when the original 92 were selected”.

I respectfully point out to him that that misrepresents how the system works. I, for one, was not here before the reforms and, I suggest, I am manfully contributing to a reduction in the average age—as will others, as long as the system is allowed to continue.

This is the wrong Bill at the wrong time, dropped into a House that is functioning well and targeted at a rare category of new entrants untainted by the accusation of impropriety over their means of entry to your Lordships' House, a category that few outside the House, against the background of cash or loans for peerages, see as the most urgent target for reform.

Surely, we should await stage 2. While we await it, I hope that we will be invited to participate in discussion and debate by the Government. After all, they have a duty to seek consensus in these matters. As they do, they should surely also consider ideas for reform not only of this House but the other place.

The House of Commons is not working properly—for example in its lack of scrutiny of great chunks of legislation, which are often sent here unconsidered. That problem seems to be recognised even by Gordon Brown. That defect in our constitution cannot, sadly, be corrected by a Private Member’s Bill in this place or the other. In the interim, we should surely not further expose this House to control by the operation of patronage, against which the Bill offers not a single safeguard. Instead, it moves us steadily in that direction.

If the Bill proceeds to Committee, we shall seek significant amendment. The noble Lord will not be the least surprised that we firmly oppose it as it stands.

My Lords, I join the sentiments expressed about the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, with whom I have had the privilege of working, and of having tea with yesterday. I congratulate him on introducing his Bill and giving us an opportunity to debate what is clearly, from the contributions made, an important subject. I reassure him that my noble friend Lady Farrington said that she has indeed had that issue raised on the doorstep once when canvassing in Lancashire. None the less, in my view, that is a good sign.

I am also delighted that we have had the useful contributions of the noble Lords, Lord Addington and Lord De Mauley. My noble friend Lord Strabolgi talked about the fact that this is not a private members’ club, it is a House of Parliament. That is the backdrop to all our discussion and all the contributions made. We in this House are very mindful of the need to ensure that it is well understood that we are a House of Parliament—we are legislators—and that decisions are made by those who turn up, make their contributions and vote. I have learned a little bit more about how Pall Mall social clubs get their membership, for which I am extremely grateful.

The noble Lord, Lord Lester, said that we do not have an afterlife, but he then talked of exactly the person who came to my mind, Earl Russell. I can hear his contribution; he does not need to be here. I then thought about what my late friend Lord Williams of Mostyn would be saying in my ear were he sitting beside me. I very much regret that neither of them is here to contribute today, because I cannot possibly attempt to do as well as they would have done.

I was fascinated by the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, who took us from the Bill all the way through to ending up with a wholly appointed Senate of about 350 members with a 12-year membership. It was wonderful to see that journey. The difficulty, as she will know, is that while she is on that journey, other people are travelling in equal and opposite directions. That is always the interesting and difficult part of our debates on the subject.

I shall pick up four or five key points. The first is whether the Bill goes far enough. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, made it clear that if it is amended, that would create great difficulty—indeed, that would be the end of that, as it were. I think that it was my noble friend Lord Lea who said that it is irresistible that that will happen. That is my concern. Members of this House and certainly those in another place will feel that, important though the measure is, they want additional measures in a piecemeal fashion and without the consensus that the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, felt was essential for the future. Above everything else, we have to bear that in mind. Whatever the merits of the initiatives that have been taken, it is a serious issue that we cannot ignore. Noble Lords have talked about another Private Member’s Bill, which your Lordships will have the opportunity to debate on 20 July. I will say nothing about that now.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, said that stage 2 must be achieved by statute, which is right, and the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, said that there should be something bigger. I, too, have looked at what happened. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, quoted from Hansard, which I will not repeat. However, on 7 March, my right honourable friend Jack Straw spoke about the stage 2 pledge. He said that paragraphs 3.27 and 3.28 of the White Paper correctly indicate the position,

“until the second stage of House of Lords reform has taken place”.

He continued:

“For the avoidance of doubt, I spoke to my noble Friend, the former Lord Chancellor, this morning, and he authorised me to say that the passage in the White Paper, at paragraphs 3.27 and 3.28, is a correct summary of the position”.

In the context of what the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, was moving us on to, my right honourable friend Jack Straw also said that,

“what was agreed in 1999 implied no guarantee of any particular stage 2”.

He said that that was because,

“the commitment was made even before the royal commission had reported, and still less before there had been White Papers, Public Administration Committee reports and so on”,

which is important when we think about what we believe stage 2 should be. My right honourable friend went on to say that,

“we accept that the removal of the hereditaries should take place in the context of a Bill that reflects the views of this House”—

that is, another place—

“as expressed in the votes today, the views subsequently expressed by those in the other place”—

that is, of course, your Lordships’ House—

“and any agreement that we can reach”.—[Official Report, Commons, 7/3/07; col. 1597.]

I hope that that is helpful to explain precisely where we stand.

The noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, and the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, talked about using a Private Member’s Bill in this way and the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, also raised concerns. While the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, said that we do not have a constitutional tradition of this, the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, said that we do. There probably is a discussion to be had at another time about the use of the Private Member’s Bill. I can say that only very recently have I found myself involved in Private Members’ Bills; namely, two today and the forced marriages Bill. It has already become clear that they are incredibly useful vehicles to raise important issues. From time to time, as with the forced marriages Bill, it can lead to a great consensus across your Lordships’ House to try to deal with a particular problem. I pay tribute to all noble Lords who introduce them.

I think that the point the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, was getting to, which certainly was the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, and the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, is that this issue is bigger and is an area where, because we know that we can only move forward in the kind of consensual way that noble Lords have expressed, it is very difficult to see how this Private Member’s Bill, because it is so narrow—which is its advantage and its disadvantage—could take us forward. I interpreted that in that spirit.

I thoroughly enjoyed the discussions about the Gilbertian or the Lewis Carroll methods of electing, particularly those contributions from noble Lords who have been participating in those elections—my noble friends Lord Strabolgi and Lord Rea, and the noble Lord, Lord Addington. It is clear that across your Lordships’ House there is a genuine desire to deal with this. I think that it is fair to say that noble Lords do not feel that this demonstrated the best of your Lordships’ activities, which we need to do.

In saying that, I am not suggesting that I wish to say anything other than very positive words about the contribution of hereditary Peers in your Lordships’ House. Noble Lords described the contributions before I arrived. I am from the class of 1999. I arrived as the vast majority of hereditary Peers left, so I did not benefit from witnessing their good or their bad contributions. Of course, I know that there have been very significant contributions from hereditary noble Lords subsequently, and I pay tribute to them. None the less, it is important that we continue with reform and move on.

On where we have to go next, my right honourable friend the Leader of the House of Commons has indicated that he is discussing the free votes in both Houses within the Government and will return to Parliament with a statement on the way forward. He intends to reconvene the cross-party group to assess the outcome of the debates and the free votes in both Houses, and to continue to work through the outstanding elements to the reform package. I do not doubt that in so doing he will talk to his right honourable friend the Chancellor and Prime Minister-designate—the word of the moment—not least because he is his campaign manager. I imagine that they have a close relationship on this, but I am not yet party to where that will take us. However, it is already clear that some discussions are to take place.

I have expressed my reservations about the scope of the Bill in that it is too limited in what it seeks to do, but in accordance with the traditions of the House, I will not oppose giving it a Second Reading.

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to all those who have taken part in the debate, particularly to the Minister for listening so carefully and for giving us assurances that the Government are thinking about these matters in the hope of moving on, perhaps through the medium of the Bill of my noble friend Lord Steel or in some other manner, to what may not be a full stage 2 but will be an ameliorating measure to get rid of some of the anomalies left over from the 1999 settlement.

Much of the discussion has concerned whether that settlement amounted to holy writ. One would certainly think it was, according to some of the contributions this afternoon, such as those made by the noble Lords, Lord Campbell of Alloway and Lord Norton of Louth. The contribution of the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, was particularly interesting. Not only does he support ardently the retention of 92 hereditary Peers, but he thinks it perfectly right and proper that Peers who were not Members of the House in 1999 and who may have no experience whatever should nevertheless be brought in through the process of by-election. I accept that some of them may be extremely valuable Members—the noble Lord is himself an outstanding example. However, the question is not about individuals—I carefully avoided mentioning any particular hereditary Peers, although the majority make a central contribution—it is about the principle of whether this is the right way to bring new Members into your Lordships’ House. As the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, said, this is not a private club.

Among others, the noble Lord, Lord Rea, outlined his own experiences in the Labour Peers’ by-election, while my noble friend Lord Addington revealed some of the secrets of the internal discussions which took place following the death of Lord Russell. All this amounts to what my noble friend Lord Lester described as an untenable situation. The question is therefore whether we should proceed with this Bill or, as the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, would like, place our bets on another measure coming down the track but which is not due to be discussed for several weeks. We could place an each-way bet on it. If we allow my Bill to go forward today and we have another go when my noble friend’s Bill comes before your Lordships, we will be able to see clearly which one has the best chance of going through.

I reject entirely what has been said about what will happen in another place; it is in the realm of hypothesis and conjecture. If this Bill were to go through your Lordships’ House unamended and the other place saw what had been done, it would think twice about attempting to graft on to it any other measures, however desirable they may be. I cite, for example, a statutory appointments commission, which I accept we would like to see in a comprehensive reform measure.

I shall not say any more at this stage, but I hope your Lordships will allow the Bill to have a Second Reading and go into Committee. We will then see whether the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, carries out his threat to ruin it by putting down masses of amendments or whether, on the basis of the opinions that have been expressed today, noble Lords will at least give it a chance of going through to another place.

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

House adjourned at 1.56 pm.