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I know perfectly well that the noble Lord, Lord Reay, declared an interest in having fought a by-election. I readily concede that that is precisely what he said. He went on to say one or two other things which I do not think I have the time to deal with.
What is especially depressing about this is that, if this House cannot even agree to the Bill, please do not give us any nonsense about it being committed to any form of reform of this Chamber. This is the most understated, simple, obvious, straightforward, incremental reform—all the ticks that any constitutional conservative might wish to adhere to. They are all there, but this reform is being rejected by—I have to say—the hereditaries and one or two riders alongside them. I find that very depressing indeed. I also find it—and I do not say this lightly—without total honesty. I do not think the arguments of noble Lords opposing this Bill carry any weight. They say that this has to be a government Bill. I see no evidence in any of their histories that they have campaigned for a full government Bill on comprehensive reform of the second Chamber at any stage in their political careers—many of them very long indeed—except for occasionally referring to it as a kind of fig leaf for opposing my incremental reform. None of them addressed the blatant unacceptability of the “white men only” category. Perhaps they can explain to me why they were right not to mention it. I did not think they would; it is very wise to keep your head down when in doubt. That has been the character of the opposition to the Bill.
The contributions from across the board were very heartening. There were contributions from the noble Lords, Lord Tyler and Lord Rennard, and others on the Liberal Democrats Benches; from the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, to whom I am very grateful; and from many colleagues on this side whom I could easily mention. I thought the contribution from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, was very good. I shall mention just two or three significant contributions. One was made by the noble Lord, Lord Burns. I am most grateful to him. His committee was set up by the House when we decided that we must reduce our numbers and that his committee was the right one to look into it on behalf of the Lord Speaker. It is a well-respected committee. I understand why it cannot recommend proposals that would require legislation, as mine would—all very simple—but for him to say that he could personally see the case for it was heartening.
I must also thank the noble Lord, Lord Young, who made a brave speech. He never conceded his personal opinion to me while he was the Minister responding, but you did not need to be Sherlock Holmes to work out what it was. His contribution was very telling. I was going to say that I look forward to the day when the noble Earl, Lord Howe, has the freedom of the Back Benches, but I do not really look forward to that. I am sure that when he does, he will modify the position he has adopted. He would not be the first person who had to express views from the Dispatch Box that differed from those they held in private; even Chief Whips are occasionally involved in things that mean they would rather not look in the mirror. I would be interested to hear the noble Earl, as and when that day comes. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, for his contribution; although he did not come out in support of the Bill directly, he gave his usual measured performance, with the skill that is customary for former Chief Whips.
I have found that sometimes, the only way to deal with this is with satire. This system is so ridiculous that I find it amazing that so many people can defend it with a straight face. Sadly, there are a number here who do so.
That brings me, finally, to the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Howe. He said that we cannot proceed—I hope I am not traducing him—because there is no agreement across the Chamber on this issue. If that were a principle of Parliament, we would never do anything. We would certainly have never had the 1911 or 1949 Parliament Acts, or the 1999 House of Lords Act. There is never a consensus for these kinds of things. All we have in this House is a view that is some 15 to one in favour of the Bill. That is not consensus, I agree—I am working on the remaining two or three—but it is an overwhelming majority. This House has spoken on three occasions now; it really is time that the phoney, self-serving arguments against the Bill are seen for what they are, and that we give this Bill a Second Reading, Committee stage, Report and get it on the statute book.
Bill read a second time.