§ (".—(1) From the day on which this Act comes into force, the members of the House of Lords who shall be entitled to sit and vote in that House shall be—
- (a) the Lords Spiritual;
- (b) any holder of a peerage under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876;
- (c) not more than 700 peers who are elected in accordance with subsections (4) and (5);
- (d) any person who became a member of the House of Lords by virtue of the Life Peerages Act 1958 in any of the four Sessions preceding the Session in which this Act is passed: and
- (e) subject to subsection (2) below, any person who receives a writ of summons to attend the House of Lords by virtue of the Life Peerages Act 1958 after the date on which this Act is passed.
§ (2) Any person who receives a writ of summons under subsection (1)(e) shall be entitled to sit and to vote in the House of Lords for a period of 5 years, after which he may stand for election under subsections (4) and (5).
§ (3) From the day on which this Act comes into force—
- (i) all peers who would have been entitled to receive a writ of summons by virtue of the Life Peerages Act 1958 to attend the House of Lords but for the passing of this Act, and
- (ii) all peers who have been members of that House under subsection (1)(e) for a period of 5 years,
§ (4) The members of the House under subsection (1)(c) shall be comprised of not more than—
- (a) 240 Cross Bench peers elected by Cross Bench peers;
- (b) 200 Labour peers elected by Labour peers;
- (c) 200 Conservative peers elected by Conservative peers: and
- (d) 60 Liberal Democrat peers elected by Liberal Democrat peers.
§ (5) The electors for the purposes of subsection (1)(c) and (4) shall he members of the House of Lords at the date on which the election is held who—
- (a) have attended at least 10 per cent of sitting days in each of the 2 Sessions preceding the election, or
- (b) if they have become a member of the House in either of the 2 Sessions preceding the election, have attended at least ten percent of sitting days since the day on which they were introduced.
§ (6) The Clerk of the Parliaments shall certify—
- (a) the number of days of attendance of each member, and
- (b) the total number of days on which the House sat,
§ referred to in subsection (5).
§ (7) Standing Orders of the House of Lords shall make provision relating to the holding and conduct of elections under this section, and that such elections shall he held at intervals of 7 years.
§ (8) Subject to subsection (10), the Lord Chancellor may by order made by statutory instrument amend any number specified in subsection (4), but only to give effect to a resolution of the House of Lords.
§ (9) An order under subsection (8) shall be laid in draft before, and shall be subject to the affirmative resolution of, each House of Parliament.
§ (10) The two political parties with the largest number of seats in the House of Commons shall be entitled to equal representation in the House of Lords.
§ (11) Any question whether a person is elected under this section shall he decided by the Clerk of the Parliaments.")
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 11 is an improvement on the amendment which I tabled at Committee stage on 17th May at cols. 43–59 of Hansard, and which we discussed further on 25th May at cols. 908–914, when I moved that the new Clause 2 should not stand part of the Bill.
§ However, I am advised in no fewer than three memoranda from the Public Bill Office, signed by the Clerk Assistant, that the amendment is now prima facie hybrid, although I was not so advised when we debated its progenitor on 17th May in Committee. One of the three memoranda covers only Amendment No. 11; the other two cover also Amendment No. 20 of my noble friend Lord Coleraine.
§ I have to confess to grave ignorance, in that I do not understand hybridity, and I fancy that I am not entirely alone in your Lordships' House in that incomprehension. However, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn—if it is he who is to reply for the Government—understands hybridity. Therefore this is a good opportunity to ask the noble Lord to explain it to us in simple terms.
Part of my confusion arises from the wording in the Public Bill Office's three memoranda, which is identical, and which I therefore assume has been carefully considered. That wording states that both this Amendment No. 11 and Amendment No. 20 of my noble friend Lord Coleraine are prima facie hybrid because,
Each of these amendments, by including in the Bill a specific allocation to different parties within the House, affects the private interests of some hereditary Peers differently from the private interests of other hereditary Peers".
§ So it would seem that this problem of hybridity arises when a Bill affects the private interests of some Peers, hereditary or otherwise, differently from the private interests of other hereditary Peers in this case. If that is so, can the noble Lord, Lord Mostyn, explain why the new Clause 2 does not make the Bill hybrid? Surely the private interests of the 542 hereditary Peers who are to be excluded from your Lordships' House are affected differently from those private interests of the 92 hereditary Peers who are to be allowed to remain. Surely it is anyway inescapable that the interests of those two hereditary Peers holding the offices of Earl Marshal and Lord Great Chamberlain, who are thus specifically identified and allocated for retention on the face of the Bill, must be affected differently from the rest of the 632 hereditary Peers who have to face election. In short, can the noble Lord explain why the new Clause 2 does not make the Bill hybrid?
§ Can the noble Lord also explain another difficulty which I have with these memoranda? If hybridity occurs when one's private interests are affected differently from the private interests of others, surely Clause 1 of the Bill as originally drafted makes the Bill hybrid because hereditary Peers are excluded and appointed Peers are not. In that respect will the noble Lord explain the significance of the word "hereditary" in the memoranda? Does hybridity in this Bill occur only when the private interests of some hereditary Peers are affected differently from the private interests of other hereditary Peers—as the memoranda suggest—and, if so, why?
§ Finally, and more generally, before I leave the question of hybridity, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Mostyn, to tell us why it matters if the Bill—
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
My Lords, I apologise if I got that wrong. Of course I know perfectly well that it is the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, and I hope that I only got it wrong once, if I got it wrong.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
My Lords, in which case I apologise doubly to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn.
Can the noble Lord tell us why it matters if the Bill is indeed hybrid? The last paragraph of the memoranda which I have mentioned says that were either this amendment or Amendment No. 20 carried the Bill would have to be referred to the Examiners, whoever they may be. Why does that matter? What happens to the Bill if the examiners agree that it is indeed hybrid? Can we pass it anyway or does it all have to go back to square one?
235 I am sure that the Minister will appreciate that the answers to these questions will help me to decide whether to press the amendment to a Division today or whether to bring it back at Third Reading denuded of the elements which might cause it to be hybrid. I must confess that, with or without hybridity, depending on what the noble Lord may say, that might in any case be the better course for the amendment. As I understand it, it would simply require subsection (4) of the amendment to omit the specific allocations to different parties within the House and to follow instead the procedure set out in the new Clause 2 of the Bill, specifically subsections (4) and (5) of that clause.
In other words, the allocations between the political parties and the Cross-Benches would be covered by Standing Orders and not placed on the face of the Bill. With that in mind, I will endeavour to put draft Standing Orders in your Lordships' Library for consideration, much in the same way as there are draft Standing Orders in your Lordships' Library for what used to be called the Weatherill amendment and which is now Clause 2 of the Bill.
In addition, I am indebted to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, for pointing out to me in a letter that subsection (10) of the amendment as drafted could lead to difficulty in the event of a coalition Government in the House of Commons. It may therefore be sensible also to leave to Standing Orders the aim of that subsection, which is to ensure that the two main power blocks in the other place should have equal representation in your Lordships' House. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, so succinctly put it in his letter to me—I hope he does not mind me quoting him:The less the House of Lords has to do with political parties, the better".The noble and learned Lord will find exactly those sentiments expressed in our Committee stage debate on 17th May (Official Report, cols. 44–45), when I first introduced the amendment. They are sentiments with which the vast majority of the electorate of this country would agree, even if they do not play at all well here in the goldfish bowl of Westminster. Anyway, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for his advice.
Perhaps I may now turn, finally and briefly, to the rest of the amendment. It is only a slightly altered and improved version of the amendment I moved in Committee on 17th May and to which I referred rather late at night on recommitment on 25th May. To give a very brief précis, it would leave all Peers with speaking rights for the duration of the interim House. On the other hand, while leaving the Bishops and the Law Lords as they are, it would remove the voting rights of all other Peers, both hereditary and appointed. The amendment would then set up four electoral colleges, one for each political party and one for the Cross-Benches, to elect 700 voting Peers. It thus avoids the contentious issue of how many hereditary Peers might be able to vote in the interim House because that number would simply emerge from the electoral process. There might be more than 92, but there might be fewer.
236 Other features of the amendment are that only those who had attended at least 10 per cent of the available sitting days in each of the two preceding Sessions would be eligible to vote, although all Peers could stand for election to become a voting Peer. Newly appointed Peers would be able to speak and vote for five years before they were required to face an election, which would decide whether they could continue to vote. The amendment suggests that elections should be held every seven years. However, new hereditary Peers would only be able to speak but not to vote unless and until they were elected in due course to do so.
That, very briefly, is what the amendment would do. I submit that it has some clear advantages over the present Clause 2 of the Bill. I put those advantages to the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal on 17th May, and more specifically to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on 25th May. It is a matter of record that neither the noble Baroness nor the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor made any attempt to answer at least five important propositions about this amendment which I put as questions to the Government as reported at col. 911 of Hansard on 25th May.
I have today warned those who are advising the noble Baroness, the noble Lord and the Government that I would be returning to these questions and have to say that I hope for answers to all of them. I trust that the House will not find this hope in any way exaggerated or unreasonable. Indeed I should have thought that your Lordships would agree that it is the duty of the Government to answer pertinent questions during our debates. To refuse point blank to do so, as did the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on 25th May, seems to me to be a serious abrogation of that duty. It may well be that the Government find the answers to the questions uncomfortable, because they expose how mistaken the Government have been to support what was the Weatherill amendment and has now become the new Clause 2 of the Bill, which this amendment would replace.
By the same token, I wonder whether I may ask my noble friend Lord Strathclyde also to answer these questions when he comes to comment on the amendment. So far in our debates he has indicated that he believes that this amendment is indeed better than Weatherill or Clause 2, but for reasons which are not clear to me, he refuses to support it. Worse still, he has said that he would vote against the amendment if I were to press it to a Division, which does not exactly encourage one to do so.
Here are the questions again. First, do the Government and my noble friend Lord Strathclyde agree that under Clause 2 as drafted a number of excellent hereditary Peers will be excluded from the interim House, while a large number of less than excellent appointed Peers will remain? What does that do for the quality of the interim House?
Secondly, do they agree that one of the most unsatisfactory aspects of the present composition of your Lordships' House—perhaps the most unsatisfactory aspect—is the preponderance of Conservative Peers, and that Clause 2 prolongs that 237 preponderance? They will recall that the attendant draft standing orders to Clause 2 give at least 42 of the hereditary Peers who are to remain to the Conservatives, only 18 to the Cross Benches, only three to the Liberal Democrats and only two to the Labour Party.
Thirdly, do they agree that by supporting Clause 2 the Government have abrogated that part of their manifesto which said that they would remove the right of all hereditary Peers to sit and vote in your Lordships' interim House?
Fourthly, do they agree that the power to legislate in your Lordships' House rests almost entirely upon the power to vote? That is a question that I put to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, during the debate raised by his noble friend Lord Randall of St. Budeaux. I did not receive an answer to it then.
Fifthly, do they agree that there is a possibility, however remote, that the interim House may last for longer than five years?
Sixthly and finally, and much the most important of all, do they agree that we all share a clear duty to the nation to set up the best possible interim House, however long that House may last? Those are the six questions.
Once again, I have to point out to the Government and to my noble friend Lord Strathclyde that, if they answer those questions honestly, they will have no alternative but to agree that this amendment is far better than the new Clause 2, and that they should therefore support it.
I would also remind them that at least 18 amendments to the Weatherill amendment, as it then was, were taken off the un-marshalled list in order to allow those amendments to be taken after the Weatherill amendment became part of the Bill. That is why the Bill returned on re-commitment on 25th May. So to me it is simply not acceptable for them to turn round now and say that, as the Weatherill amendment was so strongly supported, it cannot now be improved upon or replaced.
The Weatherill amendment was indeed carried by 351 votes to 32. But, for reasons which I set out at col. 909 on 25th May and shall not repeat now, it is also clear that a number of noble Lords supported the Weatherill amendment precisely because they wished to encourage the Government to abrogate their manifesto commitment, as indeed they did.
So I look forward to the answers from the noble Lord who is to reply for the Government and indeed from my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, if he is to continue to oppose this amendment, to the six questions that I have put. I beg to move.
§ 10 p.m.
§ Lord Brightman
My Lords, I shall speak on only one point. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, began by raising questions of hybridity. According to Erskine May, it is open to any Lord who considers that a public Bill may be hybrid or has become hybrid as a result of any amendment made to it, to move that the Bill be referred to examiners. There is no such Motion 238 before the House now. I suggest that in those circumstances it would not be in order for us to go into questions of hybridity now.
§ Viscount Trenchard
My Lords, I am pleased that my noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch has brought forward his amendment again in an improved form. I congratulate him both on his courage and on his good sense. I spoke in support of my noble friend's amendment in Committee and with the leave of the House I should like to do so again, although I promise to be briefer.
I voted for the Weatherill amendment because I thought that it would make a bad Bill better. However, with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, should we not try to build on his achievement and make the Bill better still—or rather, even less bad, depending on how you look at it.
We are told that it is impossible to consider whether there are better ways to bring about stage one reform of this House because Weatherill represents the only compromise to which the Government are prepared to agree. However, it is fundamentally wrong, especially on a matter of such great constitutional importance, not to try to improve further on the Weatherill proposals. I believe that my noble friend's amendment is better from the point of view of all parties. It would certainly be better for the country. It has, as it were, something for everyone.
Under my noble friend's amendment, the government party achieve parity with the Conservative Party immediately; the Liberal Democrats would have 60 voting Peers rather than 48 or so, which I believe is what the Weatherill amendment would give them; Conservative Peers would be able to elect the 200 Peers whom they want to represent them as voting Peers. The Government would have discharged their manifesto commitment in that no one would be a Member of this House only because he holds a hereditary peerage. Several noble Lords opposite have questioned whether other amendments debated today would satisfy the manifesto commitment, but the degree to which that commitment would be satisfied by my noble friend's amendment is rather greater than the degree to which many other manifesto commitments of all governments have been satisfied. The Cross-Bench Peers would be the largest group. They would be able to choose the 240 Peers they wished to represent them. Their presence would ensure that this House did not become too party-political. Under the Weatherill proposals, the Cross-Bench Peers will not be a large enough group to prevent the politicisation of the House. All elected Peers would have their authority enhanced, as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has told us in connection with the Weatherill amendment. But under my noble friend's amendment their authority would he doubly enhanced, because they would have been elected by all their peers, not just by the hereditaries.
My noble friend's amendment also permits all present Members of the House to continue to sit and speak. That has several advantages. First, if there were a second election before stage two was implemented the electorate would have a chance to get to know the 239 candidates. Secondly, the interim House would not be deprived of any of its present collective experience, skill, ability and knowledge. Thirdly, the link with the present House would be closer, which would be good for the continuity and functioning of the House. Fourthly, the link between the peerage and the House would be maintained in a way that better reflected our tradition of gradually evolving constitutional arrangements and paid greater regard to history whose importance we should not forget.
I am no lawyer and certainly do not understand hybridity. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, will enlighten us in his reply to my noble friend. I cannot understand the argument that my noble friend's amendment would make the Bill hybrid any more than it is already with or without the Weatherill amendment; rather, Peers would still be able to participate even though not all of them could vote. I therefore believe that the degree of hybridity in the Bill would he reduced by my noble friend's amendment. The effect of his amendment would be rather similar, at least in the short term, to that moved earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux. Both amendments correct the substantial imbalance in voting strength between the two largest parties without depriving your Lordships' House of the benefit, if it be such, of the contribution that any one of your Lordships may bring to this place.
I have some sympathy with the objectives of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Randall, although I believe that his weighted voting system introduces complications which the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Pearson does not. The Bill incorporating the Weatherill amendment is not as effective in achieving parity of voting strength between the two major parties as either my noble friend's amendment or that of the noble Lord, Lord Randall. In reply to his noble friend Lord Randall, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, said that the Government were unable to support the amendment because the actuarial calculation showed that the last hereditary Peer would die in 2068. But it is likely that under Weatherill the same actuarial calculation would predict that the last of the 92 exempted hereditary Peers would die not much earlier than 2068. But, surely, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, misunderstands that the amendments moved by his noble friend Lord Randall, my noble friend Lord Pearson and the Weatherill amendment, which is now Clause 2 of the Bill, are all proposals for the transitional House.
The Weatherill amendment has made a bad Bill better and it is incumbent on your Lordships' House to try to make the Bill better still. The very sensible amendment introduced at Committee stage by my noble friend Lord Marlesford, which would have provided those of your Lordships who are Privy Councillors with a through train to the transitional House, would have been one way to do so. I am very sorry to see that so far he has not tabled that amendment again at Report stage. I hope that he will still do so or, if not now, at Third Reading.
240 My noble friend Lord Strathclyde earlier this afternoon mentioned various other ways in which your Lordships could improve the Bill beyond the Weatherill amendment. I agree with him, and will give him my wholehearted support. However, I believe that the scheme introduced by the amendment of my noble friend Lord Pearson would provide for a better transitional House than that which would result from any other amendment that your Lordships have debated during our deliberations on the Bill. I hope that your Lordships will support it.
§ Lord Clifford of Chudleigh
My Lords, I have added my name in support of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. Like so many of us in this House, I am not legally qualified but do heed advice from those who are. I believe that the majority of noble Lords in the House have received a copy of counsel's opinion on this particular Bill.
One of the pieces of advice that I have been given relates to a statement made in 1876 by Lord Cairns, who is well known to the legal profession, relating to the constitution. Perhaps your Lordships will forgive me if I refer again to the opinion which I may have sent to many noble Lords. It may help them to understand why I put my name to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson. The point relates specifically to hybridity rather than numbers although the two issues are interrelated. Lord Cairns described public law. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, may wish to correct me if I am wrong. Public law is the law of the constitution, peerage law and the law of Parliament. The law of real property, that is to say land, is private law. Those are two distinctions.
Noble Lords will understand that many hereditary peerages create private law as well as public law rights. All peerages originally created by Writ, and most peerages created by Letters Patent confer private property rights. The modern peerages created by Letters Patent, in particular those with no link to the land, probably do not create private property rights and are governed by public law only.
It is clear that that differential impact probably makes it questionable as to whether or not the House of Lords Bill is a hybrid Bill. My convenor sits alongside me. However, I fear that by creating two divisions within the peerage—that is, Lords of Parliament as a particular class, and those without parliamentary rights as another—the amendment of my noble friend Lord Weatherill almost certainly makes Clause 2 hybrid. The same would be the case as regards the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. We shall all be interested to hear the response of the noble Lord, Lord Williams, to the amendment.
§ Lord Newby
My Lords, at this time of the evening, we look forward with eager anticipation to the response—indeed, the dissertation—of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, on hybridity. If the question of hybridity arose, we on these Benches would be opposed to it.
The amendment drives a coach and horses through the purpose of the Bill. Before it was changed as a result of the Weatherill amendment, its purpose was to end 241 membership of the House of Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage. The effect of the amendment is limited in terms of the way this House is composed. It has no effect on the Labour Benches. There would not need to be an election of the 200 Labour Peers because there are not 200 Labour Peers. There would not need to be an election on these Benches because although there are more than 60 Peers—there are 68 Liberal Democrat Peers—more than eight of those fall within paragraph (d) and would therefore be exempted from needing to stand for election.
The only Members of your Lordships' House affected by the amendment would be the Conservatives—they would lose 250 Members—and the Cross-Benchers who would lose 75 Members. They would still be able to sit and speak in this House but would be unable to vote. It is a limited amendment which is completely at odds with the fundamental purpose of the Bill.
It also has within it a number of anomalies for which in theory I should be grateful. As I fall under subsection (1)(d) of the new clause—I received my peerage under the Life Peerages Act in one of the four Sessions preceding the Session in which this Bill will be passed—I am one of the unique category of people who will never have to stand for election. The Bill provides that any person who became a Member of your Lordships' House during that period is in a separate category and in the same position as the Lords Spiritual and any holder of a peerage under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act in not being required to stand for election under any circumstances.
We believe that the amendment is wrong in principle and is full of anomalies in any event. Therefore, we oppose it.
§ Lord Willoughby de Broke
My Lords, I rise briefly to support my noble friend Lord Pearson. The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Randall, seems to have been kicked into the long grass and the amendment tabled by my old friend Lord Pearson is our only alternative to Clause 2, the Weatherill amendment. On that score alone, it is worth your Lordships' consideration. However, I wish particularly to reinforce my noble friend's question to the Government Front Bench with regard to his six questions. It deserves the courtesy of a reply on those fundamental questions.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, the House should be indebted to my noble friend for bringing forward a comprehensive scheme for reforming the House. I know that he has always thought constructively and deeply on these matters and I recognise, as do many Members of this House, that his is a scheme with many merits. First, it meets the demand for broad parity between the parties, which the Government seek and which some feel is the motivation behind the Bill. But as I pointed out at an earlier stage—my noble friend agreed with me—I fear that 240 Cross-Bench Peers in a House of 753 is more than the Government would wish to see. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House expressed a certain restlessness about the 200 Labour Peers and the mechanism for reaching that. But who knows whether 242 in the next few weeks we shall reach the number of 200 Peers—or may be not. Indeed, it may well be that the desire to bring in new Labour Peers in tranches is one reason why this Bill does not include a statutory appointments commission, an omission that we shall seek to remedy next week.
I am very much attracted to the idea that the House should be selected from the best and most able Peers, as my noble friend envisages. He is right to hark hack to those days, sadly not to be seen again, when no distinction was drawn between different categories of Peer. That particular poison has now been introduced into this House and I am attracted to the theoretical idea of a House chosen differently.
My noble friend challenges me to answer the questions that he raises. Perhaps I may do him the courtesy of briefly running through them. First, he asked whether a number of excellent hereditary Peers will be excluded from your Lordships' interim House. I agree with him. The second question was whether one of the most unsatisfactory aspects about the present composition of your Lordships' House is the preponderance of Conservative Members. The answer to that is no. His third question was whether the Government have abrogated their manifesto. The answer to that is yes. The fourth question was whether I agreed that the power to legislate in your Lordships' House rests almost entirely on the power to vote. Yes, I agree with that; and I also agree with the fifth and sixth questions. I hope that that satisfies my noble friend, if not the rest of the House.
I know that what I say next will disappoint my noble friend. We have to live in this world, which is defined by the huge majority in another place and a Government often with a narrow mind and closed ears on new and inventive ideas to reform this place. We have to live in a world where, as the noble Baroness the Leader of the House told us only an hour or two ago, the Government are determined to proceed on this without delay. The reality is that this Government have declared that they will not accept this as an alternative to the Weatherill proposal. However heavily we may vote, however right we may be, the Government, as they showed on the matter of the closed list, will use their majority in another place to have their way.
Your Lordships do not need me to say that if the Government are driven to this, we will see every hereditary Peer driven from this House. We will see pass a Bill that almost all your Lordships know in their hearts was, in its original form, one of the very worst ever to come to this House. We shall lose that continuity of tradition and good sense which allows your Lordships to exercise a mild, restraining hand on even such a doctrinaire government as the current one.
I do not relish saying this, and my noble friend may consider it a weakness that I do, but I hope that he and others will do me at least the honour of understanding that the advice I give is the advice that I believe is in the best interests of this House and the independence of this House.
This House has voted for the Weatherill amendment by an overwhelming majority. It is still open for us to seek, as this House must always seek, to improve the 243 Bill before us. That, I promise your Lordships, we will do. However, to seek to move what is in some respects an alternative Bill is, for all the merits mentioned by my noble friend and others, sadly, not practical politics. If we do that we risk losing what we have won so far—a massive repudiation of the manifesto commitment—and the prospect which we still have of using this Bill to impose a check on the power of the executive to misuse the power of patronage in the future.
For those reasons, and also because the House has so recently determined the Weatherill amendment, I do not feel able to support my noble friend if he presses his amendment tonight, but I hope that he has some satisfaction in the knowledge that I much admire and respect the way in which he has brought this matter before the House.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, if I have understood the thrust of the observations and submissions made by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, the questions divide themselves conveniently into three categories. The first relates to the text of the amendments, the second to the hybridity and the third to the five questions which are now six.
I understand fully the advice given to us by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman. However, the House, and certainly the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, is entitled to as competent an answer as I can attempt on the question of hybridity.
As regard the amendments, it is desired that there should be a House consisting of 26 Lords Spiritual, any holder of a peerage under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act—which means Law Lords and retired Law Lords—not more than 700 Peers who are elected; anyone who became a Member of this House by virtue of the Life Peerages Act 1958 in any of the four preceding Sessions and any person subject to subsection (2) who receives a Writ of Summons to attend this House by virtue of the Life Peerages Act 1958 after the date on which the Act is passed.
Furthermore—I am not sure that I understood any clear explanation of this—all Peers who have been Members of the House under subsection 1(e) for a period of five years would be entitled to sit, but not to vote, in our proceedings. I am not sure whether the noble Lord explained the rationale for that. If he did and I missed it, I am sorry, but I do not think he did.
The noble Lord then goes into some detail, which has been touched on: 240 Cross-Bench Peers, elected by Cross-Bench Peers 200 Labour Peers similarly, 200 Conservative Peers similarly and 60 Liberal Democrats elected similarly by the Liberal Democrat Peers. Then there are various details about elections.
None of the amendments is acceptable to the Government. They are not acceptable to the Official Opposition. Both the Government and the Opposition have said that to your Lordships, and therefore to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, on two previous occasions.
244 My advice to my colleagues would be that we should vote against it. I understand quite clearly that that is the stance adopted by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. We simply cannot accept this. As has been rightly said from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench, it drives a coach and horses through the point of the Bill. Certainly, it is wholly incompatible with the Weatherill compromise, for the reasons identified by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. Those are our objections to the amendments.
On the question of hybridity, Clause 2 gives all hereditary Peers the same chance. It does not specify any division. The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, gives Tory Peers a different chance of continuing membership from Labour Peers. The Earl Marshal and the Great Chamberlain are in a class of their own. It is, I readily concede, quite a small class, but it is in fact a class which is treated equally within itself.
The same is true of Clause 1 in relation to all hereditary Peers. I see the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, smiling very charmingly, but he asked me this and I am telling him. I am assisting your Lordships in your deliberations. That is the short answer to the question of hybridity.
If the question of hybridity arises prima facie—it does on Amendment No. 11—my advice, which I transmit for your Lordships' assistance, is that it would be necessary for the Chairman of Committees to table a Motion after the conclusion of Report stage to refer the Bill to the Examiners in respect of what is presently Amendment No. 11. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, asked what the consequences of that would be. Plainly, there would be a very substantial delay. He might be able to bear that with some fortitude; we would not. I hope I am putting our cards as clearly face upwards on the table as I possibly can. I further understand, if I have the advice correct, that there would be an opportunity then for Petitions to be made and there would be a very substantial delay. That is the problem of hybridity and the consequences are as I have described.
Then there were the six questions, which I paraphrase. They are not in exactly the same form as they were earlier when the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, asked them, but they are generally in similar form. His first question this evening was: would some excellent hereditary Peers be excluded and would some less excellent life Peers remain? I do not think it is for me to say who I regard or who the Government regard as excellent or not. I hope not to appear to be using words inappropriately. I have said, as has the Leader of the House and the Lord Chancellor on many occasions—the Chief Whip said this earlier this evening—that of course there are many hereditary Peers who have given excellent devoted service to this House over a period of many years. There are also many hereditary Peers who have not graced us with their presence, until recently. I shall not put the goats on one side and the sheep on the other. Perhaps they divide themselves of their own volition. There are equally very many excellent life Peers.
245 The noble Lord spoke of the benefit of continuity and good sense. May I take a name or two at random? I do not even know, because I have not looked recently, whether the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, is in his place. No, he is not. But does he not give us the benefit of continuity and good sense, abundantly so? Does not the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon? Has he not selflessly done that over many years?
I can continue, but the point I think is made, if it is to be made at all. The point is not whether people have served well or ill; the point is the point of principle upon which we shall never agree. It is the same as the debate between the Flat Earth Society and those who prefer Columbus. We are not going to agree. I have said before, and I make no apology for repetition, that honourable people can honourably disagree on this matter, but our objection is to the capricious donation of birth which gives a hereditary Peer the right to take pail in the workings of this second legislative Chamber.
The second question, as I had it noted, was whether the most unsatisfactory aspect of continuing the hereditary attendance in this House was the fact that there was a preponderance of Conservative Peers. My answer to that, curiously, would be the same as that of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. No, that is not the most offensive, unsatisfactory aspect. The reason for that is as I said a moment ago. We find it unacceptable as a matter of principle that the hereditary element should continue on the basis as I described. It would not matter tuppence to me whether all hereditary Peers, or 99 per cent of them were Liberal Democrats, Labour or indeed were Communists or Welsh Nationalists; the principle is wrong. That is the answer to the second question.
The third question was put a little more harshly this evening than when the question was put by the noble Lord earlier. It was whether the Government had abrogated the party manifesto—clearly not. We have come to an accommodation which is a compromise judged to be necessary for a brief time only. It was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, that the scheme of my noble friend Lord Randall of St. Budeaux was for a transitional period. That is not so. If one looks at the terms of the amendment contained in the fourth grouping we considered this evening, even a moment's reflection shows that to be wrong. The noble Lord's amendment said,Any person who, on the day on which this Act is passed, is a member of the House of Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage, shall remain a member of that House for their life".There is not much of a transition there unless one contemplates a transition going as long as 2068. That is that.
Is the power to legislate almost entirely dependent on the power to vote? I, too, do not necessarily agree with that as a proposition. Many noble Lords are extremely influential and persuasive and are able to influence the House in a much more telling way than simply the possession that one vote implies.
Is the interim House capable of lasting longer than five years? We have made it abundantly plain so often that that is not our intention. We set up the Royal 246 Commission with a tight deadline. We want the Joint Committee of both Houses and then we want Parliament to come to its own conclusion.
Finally, I agree without any reservation with the answer given by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, to the sixth question: is it our clear duty to ensure the best possible interim House? Yes. We made a compromise as an indication that that is our intention also.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken, especially those who were good enough to support this amendment. I will not therefore comment on those who supported me more than to thank them.
The noble Lord, Lord Newby, pointed out what he regarded as the technical defects of this amendment; for instance, that there would not need in the first election to be an election at all for the Labour Party or for the Liberal Benches. That is so, but the noble Lord will see that I explained that that was the position and why that came about when I moved the amendment in Committee.
The noble Lord also said that there was an anomaly in the wording which he did not understand because, as an appointed Peer who has not yet been here for five years, as far as he could see he would not need to stand for election. I am advised by those who helped me to draft it that that is not what the amendment says. As a new appointed Peer he could sit and vote for the first five years, but after that period of time, when the next election came along, he would be able to continue to sit but would not be able to vote unless he was elected 10 do so by his peers.
My noble friend Lord Strathclyde resists this amendment. I have to put it to him that later in our proceedings I understand he is going to move an amendment which will allow for hereditary Peers who die under the Weatherill agreement to be replaced. Perhaps his enthusiasm for this amendment or one like it will rise when he considers the question that, if all Peers are not left with speaking rights in your Lordships' House, how will your Lordships know how to vote when replacing those who may have died?
My noble friend Lord Strathclyde then said that 240 Cross-Benchers would be too many, but, as I suggested on recommitment or possibly in Committee, he would, would he not, because he was a former Chief Whip. Be that as it may, if the apportionment between the political parties and indeed subsection (10) of this amendment are to be taken out and put in Standing Orders, as is the position for the Weatherill amendment, then my noble friend would not need to hold that against this amendment in future.
My noble friend Lord Strathclyde was then very generous, in that he agreed with Questions 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6 almost without qualification. I think he misunderstood Question 2 a little, which is whether the amendment actually prolongs the Conservative preponderance in your Lordships' House. It does not really matter whether that to the Benches opposite is the most seriously disagreeable aspect of the present composition of your 247 Lordships House. The fact is that the Weatherill amendment—Clause 2—prolongs that Conservative preponderance which, to many of us, is in fact the most unacceptable aspect of the present composition of your Lordships' House.
My noble friend then invited us to live in the real world and in effect to go along with the Weatherill amendment even though it does not fit with his answer to Question 6 which I posed to him. In other words, it does not set up the best possible interim House. I have to put it to my noble friend that the real world would also include the power of the Conservative Whip, and indeed many Cross-Benchers, who do have the ability to frustrate the Government's business until they agree to the best possible interim House, which is in the interests of the nation. However, for reasons which I and I think other noble Lords find completely incomprehensible, my noble friend does not wish to exercise that power, and I would like to put on the record that I very much regret that.
Finally, I come to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, and he also, I think, is not quite clear on the meaning of the amendment. I would confirm to him that I believe it to say that newly appointed Peers could sit and vote for five years and then after that they would have to face election if they wished to go on voting. Hereditary Peers on the other hand would be allowed to sit but only to vote if they were elected. I see the noble Lord is nodding his head, which is very gracious of him, and I hope that that sets the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Newby, at rest as well.
When we come to the six questions, however, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, is a little more difficult. I do not think he really answered Question 1, which is quite simply whether he agrees that there will be a number of excellent hereditary Peers who are excluded—I think he agrees with that—and my question really was, would there not be quite a number, a larger number indeed, of appointed Peers who are less than excellent who would remain? Obviously I shall have to see what he actually said in Hansard, but I think he ducked that with a lawyer's skill and charm.
As to Question 2, the Weatherill amendment prolonging the Conservative preponderance, I think the noble Lord, Lord Williams, has made the same mistake as my noble friend Lord Strathclyde.
Coming then to whether the Government have abrogated their manifesto or not, I would only pray in aid what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said from those Benches in one of our earlier debates, which was precisely to the effect that they have abrogated that aspect of their manifesto by allowing some hereditary Peers to stay in the interim House. I do not have the reference here but I did hear the noble and learned Lord say that and I can find it if necessary.
The fourth question, the power to legislate being the power to vote. I will simply have to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn. It is of course true that the brilliant barrister can persuade the jury to deliver a verdict but it is the jury that delivers the verdict. If the very best of the hereditary and appointed 248 Peers in your Lordships' House were elected by their Peers to be the voting Peers, I do not think that they would be easily dissuaded from the right decision.
Fifthly, I think the noble Lord admitted that the interim House could last for more than five years, which is simply a matter of fact.
Finally, he was good enough to say that he agreed that it is our duty to achieve the best interim House we possibly can.
As to the question of hybridity, I will defer to the noble Lord. I will have to have a look at it. In those circumstances, it would be better to bring this amendment back with the leave of the House because if it were to be denuded of the aspects of hybridity, I think it would, if your Lordships were to agree it, produce a very much better interim House than what Weatherill achieves. Weatherill is simply the result of a deal to which we all appear to be sticking for no very good reason and I hope that your Lordships will at least grant me the indulgence on Third Reading of looking very briefly at this amendment, denuded of any aspects of it which give rise to hybridity. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Trefgarne moved Amendment No. 12:
§ After Clause I, insert the following new clause—