§ (" .—(1) From the date of the coming into force of section 1 of this Act the Prime Minister shall within two months of his commencement of each session of Parliament ensure (if necessary by recommending the creation of additional life peers) that the number of independent peers entitled to speak and to vote in the Second Chamber is at least as great as the number who take the whips of the largest single party.
§ (2) For the purpose of this section "independent peers" shall mean any member who is entitled to speak and to vote in the Second Chamber and who does not owe allegiance to, is not a member of, and does not take the whip of any political party.")
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 40, I should like for a moment to take the debate away from party politics and cross-Border politics. The amendment relates to the proportion of independent Peers in the second Chamber. Unlike the Opposition earlier today, I do not seek to place the amendment on the face of the Bill; I want the Government to make a clear commitment.
§ My concern—and the Government are not going to like it—extends not only to the interim House but to the stage two House. I believe that the proportion of independent Peers in the House is a crucial question. It 893 is important because the Government are prepared to tell us so little about their proposals for the future of this House. We have to wonder why they are so reticent.
§ For those of us who believe that the second Chamber should be an effective revising Chamber and a check on the executive, an effective independent presence is crucial. Without enough independents, the second Chamber will tend to be either a pale shadow of the first Chamber or in constant conflict with it.
§ The Government have already given a commitment to broad parity between the two main political parties. They have already given an indication that they consider a significant independent presence in the future House is important. Indeed, today the noble Baroness the Leader of the House referred to a very significant presence, which notched it up one. It would be but a small step for the Government to go a little further and to put to rest the fear held by many of us that the power and aggressiveness of the political parties will be allowed to whittle away this significant independent presence over time.
§ In Committee, I suggested that the Government should give a commitment to at least 30 per cent of the House being independent. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House said that she could not commit herself to a specific number—though, in truth, 30 per cent is not a number but a proportion. This amendment, therefore, suggests using the same form of words for independents as the Government have already used in their commitment to the major Opposition parties. The noble Baroness made the point earlier this evening that there is a need to define more clearly the meaning of the word "independence". She referred to the ambivalence of the position of the Law Lords, but it could easily be defined.
§ I believe that the Government should make the same commitment about the proportion of independents as they have made about the proportionate relationship between the Government and the main Opposition party. To my mind, it is no good the Government saying that it all depends on the Royal Commission, because it does not. The Government have not given a commitment to accept all or any of its recommendations. The reality is that it is the Government who will decide and therefore it is only they who can make the commitment.
§ That raises another important point. Earlier in these debates the Government Front Bench argued that the future of this House is no business of those of us who, if this Bill is passed, will no longer be Members of it. I absolutely reject that view. I believe that as long as those of us who are hereditary Peers have a seat and a voice in this House, we have an absolute responsibility and a duty to consider the effects of this Bill on the future of parliamentary democracy and on the future of this country.
§ The Government have intentionally left us very little room in which to exercise that responsibility. It is for that reason that the choice which all of us will have to make at the end of Third Reading—whether to pass this Bill or reject it—becomes so important. At that time, each of us will have to ask ourselves which way of exercising our responsibility on this critically important 894 issue is most likely to lead to the best outcome for this Chamber and for the future governance of the country. That is the issue. It is not about what happens to the hereditary Peers who are going. This Bill is about 'he future constitution of this country. For some of us, this may be the last opportunity we have to exercise our responsibility in this matter.
§ In my experience, there are only two ways in which an organisation can get rid of people, especially those who have worked for it and given long and loyal service. They can persuade them to retire or they can sack them. I hoped—I still hope—that this Government want to follow the former route. Indeed, it seems to me that out-of-hand sackings sit strangely with a Labour Government. If the Government want my voluntary agreement to early retirement, they can have it. If they want me to endorse this Bill at Third Reading, I shall do so, but they will have to go a little further in convincing me that what they plan for the future of the second Chamber will be better for this country than the one that we already have. I beg to move.
My Lords, I do not want to look beyond the interim House. That is as far as my vision, responsibilities and rights go. As I am sure the Government Front Bench knows I care deeply about what that interim House shall be. We have heard fine words and sentiments from the Government on how that interim House will be composed and what the proportion of those parties and Peers will be in the interim House. I reiterate that there needs to be something in legislation, a basis from which those fine words can be anchored so that they may continuo to sail 10 years hence if we still have an interim House. I do not believe that this is the amendment with which to do that. I was very flattered to be directly addressed by the Leader of the House the last time she spoke on an amendment. She knows my feelings on this matter. At the end of the day, the principle which is being addressed in this amendment is one on which we should consider sinking the Bill if we get nothing further from the Government.
§ Lord Cochrane of Cults
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, has expressed exactly my sentiments so I shall not weary your Lordships with repeating them at greater length unless forced to do so. The noble Lord has expressed concisely, accurately and properly the criteria against which noble Lords should consider this Bill. I support every word that he said.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, I respect every word that the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said. I have great respect for the noble Lord. However, a significant number of the so-called independent Peers are not independent in their thoughts. A large number are former Tories and a number among the independent Peers are well to the right of the Tory party. In fact, if you want to increase the influence of any party, you simply have to declare yourself independent and vote as you wish.
895 It is not logical. It is difficult to define true independence. There is no doubt about the independence of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, as there is no doubt about a number of others, but there are great doubts about some of the so-called independent Peers.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, I am not sure that the noble Lord is correct. Perhaps I may quote the example of my own father who started on the Labour Benches, moved to the Cross Benches and ended up on the Liberal Benches. If that is not independence, I do not know what is.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said that he wanted to get away from party politics. As Chief Whip for the Opposition party, that was positively music to my ears. I imagine that it was also music to the ears of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, the Government Chief Whip. I hope that the noble Lord will reply to the amendment. However, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will do so.
I was grateful for the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. When we were in government we always welcomed the interventions of Cross Benchers. We also welcomed their votes, even when we went down to defeats, as we did on a number of occasions. It is worth reminding the House that despite the so-called Tory majority in the House, we went down to a large number of defeats over the years. We cannot win every vote that we wish to win, even as the House is currently constituted.
I ought to stress to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, who spoke about the supposed lack of independence of Cross Benchers or members of my own party—I cannot speak for Cross Benchers, but I can speak for those sitting behind me—that they are wholly independent. I know that as Chief Whip of my party. Frequently, they vote against whatever whip I put out. One of the strengths of the House is that all Peers feel that they can vote according to their consciences and there is little that Chief Whips, whether Government or Opposition, can do about encouraging or discouraging their colleagues from voting one way or another. I believe I see a nod from the Government Chief Whip.
Speaking briefly to the amendment, we have considerable sympathy with the aim behind it. The aim is to ensure that the Cross-Bench vote continues to be strong in the interim House. We hope, following the Royal Commission, that there will be a strong Cross-Bench influence in whatever comes in stage two, if we ever get a stage two. We believe that that Cross-Bench independent vote should remain strong, and we hope that the Government will ensure that it will remain so. Therefore, we hope that the Government will give strong support to an amendment of this kind, or at least to the ideas behind the amendment.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn)
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said that it was suggested that the future of the House was no business of the hereditary Peers. I have never heard that suggested and I have never made 896 that suggestion. On many occasions I have referred to the importance of contributions made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who is in his place, or the noble Lord, Lord Elton, both of whom have developed themes about the continuing value of an invigorated and effective second Chamber. It is not part of my remarks to suggest that any Member of this House has no proper business in considering the future. In fact, quite the opposite is true.
If I have understood the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, correctly, he said that this is a sighting amendment, to discover the Government's attitude. We shall, rightly, have to pay attention to what the Royal Commission says. We want to pay attention to what the committee of both Houses said, and then take a view. But I can repeat what has often been said from these Benches: we want a second Chamber which is not just a replica or clone of another place.
We believe in an independent component—that is to say, a truly independent component—one which actually, to paraphrase the noble Lord, Lord Richard, thinks independently, votes independently and, not by the merest of coincidences, sometimes votes conservatively. We do look to a continuing independent component in this House. At the moment, I think, Cross Benchers constitute about 26 per cent of the life Peers and I am happy to say that we envisage a continuing presence close to that percentage.
I do not think I can be more positive than that without presuming on decisions yet to be made and advice yet to be given. Bearing in mind the attitude which was so clearly demonstrated, one intended to be helpful and one indicating positive enquiry by the noble Lord, I do not think it is helpful if I simply point out the technical deficiencies as regards what is a political party, and so forth. If I need to, I can deploy those arguments on a subsequent occasion.
§ Lord Northbourne
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his helpful reply. I will not waste the time of the House. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 40A not moved.]
§ The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham)
My Lords, I must point out to the House that, if Amendment No. 41 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 42.
§ Lord Trefgarne moved Amendment No. 41:
Page 1, leave out lines 21 and 22 and insert—
("A person shall not be disqualified for—")
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move Amendment No. 41 and at the same time speak to Amendment No. 43. These amendments are designed and intended to be entirely helpful and constructive. All my amendments have been so designed, but these especially so. As your Lordships know, we have agreed that a number of hereditary Peers will be elected from among themselves to continue to serve in your Lordships' House.897
§ However, it would appear that the provisions of Clause 3 of the Bill would apply to them equally as to all the other Peers in your Lordships' House, who would of course no longer be able to attend. Of course it is right that hereditary Peers no longer able to sit or vote in this House should be allowed to vote for, and maybe even stand for, the other place; but it would appear that the Bill as presently drafted would allow the so-called Weatherill Peers to do that as well. That, it seems to me, would not be right, not in accordance with the wishes of the House and, I suspect, not in accordance with the wishes of another place or indeed of the Government. That, of course, is a matter for them to decide. My amendment proposes therefore that this matter should be corrected. My amendments serve that purpose and I hope that your Lordships will agree to what I have in mind. I beg to move.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, can I say briefly that my noble friend has raised an important point. As I understand it, he is saying that, if the Weatherill amendment goes through, I, if I am not one of those Peers, could stand, dare I say it, for Carlisle—a constituency I live very close to and one which I understand went Conservative at the recent European elections. I would be very tempted to stand for Carlisle. I am not saying I could do that if I was just part of the electorate rather than one of the elected. If I was a Weatherill Peer and in this House, would I also be allowed to stand for Carlisle and would I therefore be allowed to be a Member of both Houses? That would be a rather unusual idea: that a Peer could be a Member of both the House of Lords and of the House of Commons. These are obviously highly technical matters. No doubt the Government will be able to address them, deal with my noble friend's point and tell me whether I can stand for Carlisle or not and be a Member of both Houses.
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, certainly in due time, if the noble Lord were successful with a relevant electorate, he could be a Member of any relevant Chamber. Part of the answer to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, is to be found in Amendment No. 44A in the name of my noble friend Lady Jay of Paddington. That will be dealt with later this evening.
The general point which I would put forward in respect of Amendments Nos. 41 and 43 is that Clause 1 clearly encompasses all routes to, and all aspects of, membership of this House by virtue of a hereditary peerage. We have discussed similar matters on a number of occasions. Amendment No. 43 is back to our old friends, "attend, sit or vote". It has been the consistent formulation that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, and the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, have used regularly on previous occasions. My former arguments do not benefit by repetition. It is not a synonym for "Member of".
The amendments demonstrate a misunderstanding that this Bill is about a disqualification from membership of the House of Lords. It is not. It is about 898 blocking off a route to such membership. A hereditary Peer is not disqualified from membership of the House following the passage of this Bill; he is simply no longer eligible to be a Member by virtue of the hereditary peerage. He could continue to be a Member by virtue of any other legitimate route, provided he is not genuinely disqualified on the basis indicated by my noble arid learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton on the last occasion. For instance, if a hereditary Peer became by some chance an appropriately qualified Bishop of the Church of England, a life Peer or a Law Lord, he would not, by virtue of being the happy recipient of a hereditary peerage, be disqualified from membership of this House.
We need Clause 3 of the Bill at the moment because Peers are not barred from elections to the House of Commons because they are Peers of Parliament; they are barred because they are Peers. That was the point of the judgment in the Benn case: that the bar is in the blood. That is why we need specifically to provide for overturning it in this Bill rather than simply relying on the fact that hereditary Peers will no longer be Members of the Lords.
To summarise briefly, and I have said this before, hereditary Peers are under a disability at present because they cannot stand for election to the House of Commons. That is not fair if they are not automatically Members of this House. Therefore I dealt briefly with Amendments Nos. 41 and 43 and indicated that Amendment No. 44A is designed to deal with the position of the Weatherill Peers, which is the specific question that the noble Lord asked. It is a new question and that is why I invited his attention to Amendment No. 44A.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. I believe he is saying that I have identified a problem with the Weatherill amendment which the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, now seeks to correct by virtue of Amendment No. 44A. He could simply have said that he accepts my amendment and that would have saved the noble Baroness the trouble. However, I am happy to accept that the spirit at least of my amendment has been accepted, and that is very gratifying.
In relation to Amendment No. 43, I should like to study what the Minister said in reply to that separate amendment. It is related to Amendment No. 41. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 42 and 43 not moved.]
§ Lord Strathclyde moved Amendment No. 44:
Page 1, line 24, at end insert—
("unless he is excepted from section 1.
(2) The holder of a hereditary peerage who is a member of the House of Commons is disqualified for being excepted from section 1 or for voting at any election held in pursuance of Standing Orders of the House for the exception of an) person from section 1 ")
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment is designed to be helpful. However, in saying that I am conscious that I may be raising problems which cannot 899 necessarily be resolved this evening. We are in danger of getting into a muddle on voting rights and rights to stand for the House of Commons. The effect of the Weatherill amendment changed substantially old Clause 2, now Clause 3. That clause would have removed the disqualification of hereditary Peers to vote for and stand for the House of Commons, as the Minister said.
§ It must be right that we cannot have a situation where people can vote for both Houses of Parliament. Therefore, it is logical to continue to deny the Weatherill Peers the right to vote for and stand for the House of Commons; but, on the other hand, non-elected Peers could both vote for and stand for the House of Commons. That is the effect of the first part of the amendment.
§ The second part of the amendment addresses a slightly different question; namely, the position of an hereditary Peer who has not been elected under the Weatherill system to be a Member of this House and who has subsequently become a Member of another place by exercising his new freedom to stand for the other place. Clearly such a person ought not to be permitted to stand for election to this House in any subsequent by-election held under the Weatherill system; nor to take part in any elections for membership of this House while remaining in another place. That point was referred to by my noble friend Lord Henley. The Government have, at least partially, reflected that view in their Amendment No. 74A. However, I feel that a hereditary Peer in another place ought to be allowed to vote in general elections while remaining a Member of another place. That is the effect of the second part of my amendment.
§ I believe that the amendment does address most of the questions, although it does not touch on some of the technical repeals which figure in the next batch of government amendments. But the situation may have become slightly more complicated since this afternoon as a result of the acceptance of the Government to replace deceased Weatherill Peers by election, should we reach that stage. If, as many in the House contend they should be, those by-elections are held on the basis of all hereditary Peers in the party groups, including those excluded from the House, choosing the Peer to fill the place, then hereditary Peers outside the House would have the potential right to elect to both Houses of Parliament. That was not permitted to Irish representative Peers and it is questionable whether it should be permitted as a constitutional doctrine, although I would remind the House that Irish Peers were allowed to vote for the House of Commons while they were actually Members of that place—Lord Palmerston being a famous case in point.
§ The amendment that I have laid would, I concede, give such people a vote to both Houses in such circumstances, which would be a difficulty and one that has intensified since our discussion on Amendment No. 21. However, if the proposal of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor were favoured by the House, then hereditary Peers excluded from the House would not have the right to vote for membership of this House 900 and there would be no problem of a double mandate. But, in these circumstances, it might be possible for an excluded Peer to be a candidate in an election for either House. This was allowed to the Irish Peers. I do not think that anyone in this House would want to prevent excluded Peers from standing for the House of Commons simply because they might one day happen to be invited to join this House.
§ A possible solution is that Peers should be required in Standing Orders actively to declare themselves available to stand for the House of Lords. However, in that case, the Clerk of the Parliaments might have to keep a running list of those willing to be elected to this House, so that those Peers were not prevented from standing for another place. It is obviously important that these matters be got right. I have to admit to the Government that I am not sure that I have yet got my mind round all the implications of some of the amendments, especially the repeals suggested by them in the following group. The whole question would also be affected by whatever decisions the House may reach in its discussions in the Procedure Committee on the question of by-elections.
§ I am sure that it has already become obvious that I have no intention of pressing this amendment. That is partly because I do not think that I have solved what may well be the emerging conundrum. I am looking for an acceptance by the Government that there is an issue which needs to be resolved. Perhaps the best way would be for the Government and their advisers to get together with us, so that at least I can understand what the answers are to some of these issues. Indeed, it might to helpful to do so between now and Third Reading because these are important issues.
§ We should not accidentally exclude hereditary Peers who are excluded from this House House from standing for the House of Commons. Likewise, we should not exclude hereditary Peers who are already in the House of Commons—the example of the son of my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham, Douglas Hogg, who is a Member of Parliament, springs to mind. Should his father, my noble and learned friend, sadly die, we want to make sure that his son would not immediately be required to relinquish his position in the House of Commons and be excluded from this House as well. I am sure that that problem will not arise but I want to make absolutely certain that no provision we are discussing today would lead to that consequence. I hope that the Minister will accept my suggestion of a meeting to resolve these matters. I beg to move.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, I very much share my noble friend's concern on this matter. He has pointed to a possible difficulty relating to existing Members of the other place who might one day succeed to a hereditary title. However, it is important to mention another aspect of this matter. I think that it would be quite wrong for Weatherill Peers, as they are now called, to be allowed to stand for election to the House of Commons as well. It is a legitimate question as to whether they should be allowed even to vote for Members of the House of Commons. They certainly should not be allowed to stand for election to the House of Commons. I am not 901 clear that we have achieved that by the present provisions of the Bill. When we debated this matter at some length in Committee, I became more mystified with every amendment that was proposed and with every answer that the Government provided. I very much agree with my noble friend's suggestion; namely, that there must be a getting together of heads in all of this in order for the matter to be resolved properly.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, I agree with that suggestion. If there is a difficulty here—which I do not necessarily accept—it is best resolved in the appropriate way by discussions between advisers on both sides and anyone who wants to be present at any meeting. After Second Reading, my noble friend the Leader of the House said that we were perfectly happy to proceed in that way. These are technical matters. I do not think that the aim we seek to attain is entirely different, at least judging from what has been indicated this evening. I am more than happy to accept the suggestion made by both noble Lords to discuss this matter. Doubtless we can arrive at a form of words which is acceptable to all. If that is not the case, at least we shall have defined and refined our differences.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord's comments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 11 p.m.
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington moved Amendment No. 44A:
Page 1, line 24, at end insert—
("() Subsection (1) shall not apply in relation to anyone excepted from section 1 by virtue of section 2.")
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 44A, I hope that it will be for the convenience of the House if I speak also to Amendments Nos. 58E, 64A, 67A, 74A, 76A and 77 as they form a package. I hope that I can elucidate some of the points that were made on the amendment that we discussed earlier, but points may arise which may need to be dealt with in the way that my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, mentioned a few moments ago.
§ In the Government's view these amendments have a common theme; namely, to make sure that the Bill has consistently accommodated the impact of the inclusion of Clause 2, the Weatherill amendment. The fact that some hereditary Peers will remain Members of your Lordships' House as the new category of excepted Peers, rather than simply being eligible like everyone else to become life Peers, means that some provisions of the Bill will need to be amended and some provisions of Acts which we would otherwise have been able to dispense with will now have to be retained, or amended, or both retained and amended.
§ Of all the amendments in this package, Amendment No. 44A is probably the most significant. It is, however, simple in its intent and in its effects. It makes sure that hereditary Peers who remain Members of this House as 902 excepted Peers or who in the future become excepted Peers do not have the right to sit, stand or vote in elections for the other place. It therefore preserves the position that exists at present that Members of this House are disqualified from voting in elections to the House of Commons and being Members of the House of Commons. Hereditary Peers who are not Members of this House will have those disqualifications lifted and in that respect this amendment has made no change. The amendment merely ensures that the excepted Peers and life Peers are treated in the same way. It is a simple and, I hope, logical change, which is not adding to the confusion to which the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, referred a few moments ago in relation to these technical matters. The amendment is simple and logical; I hope that it is clear. I commend it to the house.
§ Amendment No. 58E concerns the schedule. As noble Lords will understand, the amendment simply introduces the new schedule of amendments which are contained in Amendment No. 74A. The present schedule to the Bill contains only repeals. However, as a result of the introduction of new Clause 2, some provisions now need to be amended rather than repealed. These are set out in the new schedule, which is Amendment No. 74A.
§ Amendments Nos. 64A and 67A are simply drafting amendments intended to tie in the commencement provision with the reference in Clause 2 to the commencement of that section. They create no change of substance to the operative provisions. The main provisions still come into force at the end of the Session, while the transitional electoral provisions come into force on Royal Assent.
§ The purpose of Amendment No. 68A is to provide for the continuing validity of Writs of Summons issued to hereditary Peers who become excepted Peers—that is. the elected Peers—before the end of the Session. The amendment ensures that an excepted Peer, identified as such by the end of the Session, will not need a new Writ of Summons; his current one will remain valid. However, any Peer who is excepted after the end of this Session of Parliament will need to receive a new Writ of Summons. I hope that that is equally clear and covers some of the points which I know we discussed in other contexts earlier.
§ Amendment No. 74A makes two amendments to existing legislation to ensure that it can cope in the future with the concept of excepted Peers. The first amendment, to the Peerage Act 1963, is intended to prevent an excepted Peer disclaiming his title. The second amendment, to the Recess Elections Act 1975, provides that the provisions of the Recess Elections Act should be amended so that what is required to be certified is that someone has become an excepted Peer or a life Peer, rather than simply a Peer, for the purposes of declaring that a parliamentary vacancy has been created.
§ As your Lordships are well aware, Section 1 of the Peerage Act 1963 states that any Peer who applies for a Writ of Summons loses the right to disclaim. Under the Bill as originally drafted, Writs of Summons were no longer relevant to hereditary Peers. We therefore 903 propose to remove the reference to them in Section 1(2) of the 1963 Act, while retaining the 12-month time limit on disclaimers.
§ However, the effect of new Clause 2 is again, in this instance, to complicate the issue somewhat. I can see that noble Lords will probably agree that in common sense it is a rather far-fetched scenario that a Peer could, all within the space of 12 months, succeed to a title; take the Oath and his seat; stand for and be elected as an excepted Peer; think better of it and disclaim the title, thus losing the right to be a Member of the House. None the less, it is not an impossible scenario. The complications of ensuring that such a Peer ceased to be counted as an excepted Peer led us to the view that the better course is to cut off the possibility at the root. That is the effect of the amendment. A Peer who chooses membership of the House of Lords will thus have to remain committed to that choice; by becoming an excepted Peer, he will put himself in exactly the same position as if, at present, he had decided to apply for his Writ of Summons. In other words, he will be unable to disclaim his title.
§ So far as concerns the Recess Elections Act 1975, leaving the provision unamended would have left an unsatisfactory ambiguity in the Act since, following the Weatherill amendment, a person will be able to become disqualified from membership of the House of Commons by virtue of being excepted under the Bill and the draft Standing Order, and not by becoming a Peer. Such a person will already be a Peer. It is a question of his being accepted that gives rise to the vacancy. It is therefore necessary to provide that that change of status can be clearly identified for the purposes of the Recess Elections Act. That is all that the amendment does. It is entirely consistent with Clause 3, both now and as we propose to amend it.
§ Amendment No. 76A is a consequential amendment. It removes the repeal of certain words in Section 1(2) of the 1963 Peerage Act. Those words have instead been replaced by Amendment No. 74A to which I have just spoken.
§ Amendment No. 77 initially stood only in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Gray. The Government felt that the noble Lord's intentions in tabling that amendment might have been rather different from ours, but we agreed with the wording that he used. It is another consequential amendment to the Bill as a result of the Weatherill amendment.
§ Our motives may be different from the noble Lord's, but we wish to continue in force Sections 4 and 6 of the Peerage Act 1963 so as to allow Peers and Peeresses in the peerage of Scotland, and Peeresses in the peerage of the United Kingdom, Great Britain and England, who are elected under the Standing Orders, to become excepted Peers and to remain Members of this House.
§ The removal of these sections of the Peerage Act from the schedule of repeals does not mean that such Peers and Peeresses will have a right to continued membership of this House if they are not excepted under Clause 2 of the Bill. Sections 4 and 6 of the 1963 Act will in future be read subject to Clause 1 of the Bill. 904 The Government believe that that clause is wide enough by itself to ensure that such Peers and Peeresses will have no right to be Members of this House. I particularly ask the House to note that the continuing in force of these sections does not override the terms of Clause 1 of the Bill. In particular, it would be wrong to construe the Bill as enabling Scottish Peers to have the same rights as life Peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords notwithstanding Clause 1.
§ However, by the same token, Sections 4 and 6 will also need to be read in the light of Clause 2. Those sections will continue to speak for the purposes of any Scottish Peers and Peeresses, and Peeresses in the peerage of the United Kingdom, Great Britain or England, who become excepted Peers. The amendment will ensure that Peeresses and Scottish Peers have the same right as UK hereditary Peers to membership of this House if they are excepted under Clause 2 of the Bill. In order to continue to be Members of this House after the coming into force of the Act, excepted Peeresses and Scottish Peers will need to have a right to membership, and at present that right arises by virtue of their hereditary peerages and Section 4 or 6 of the Peerage Act. If Sections 4 or 6 of the Peerage Act are repealed, then there would be a risk that the underlying right to membership of the House for excepted Peers would be removed and Clause 2 could not operate to confer the right to membership. Such Peers might, therefore, be doubly excluded—first by Clause 1 and then by the repeal of these sections. This amendment is therefore essential if Peeresses and Scottish Peers are to be able to continue to be Members of this House, whether as originally excepted Peers or as replacement Peers.
§ I urge the House to accept this group of amendments. I realise that I have spoken ahead of the noble Lord, Lord Gray, who first tabled the amendment. I realise, too, that the noble Lord's motives for doing so may have been slightly different from those of the Government. I hope that I have not followed the rather gloomy picture presented to us by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, of merely confusing the issue by introducing these more technical matters in this rather extended group form. However, if noble Lords on the Opposition Front Bench feel that it would be helpful to consider these amendments in discussions away from the Floor of the House, I should of course be happy to follow my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn in doing that. I beg to move.
My Lords, having been favoured with several mentions by the noble Baroness, perhaps I may assure her that some of our motives are identical. I was not sure whether I had fallen into good company or bad, but I was somewhat surprised.
Apart from needing to avoid the repeal of Section 4 by some of my Scottish amendment machinations, I had realised that there was a risk that Scots Peers and female hereditary Peers would be excluded from the Weatherill system for the interim House had the repeals stood.
However, I had another reason. Should the interim House last for a considerable time, it is not unreasonable to suspect that the rules for admission to the electoral college and eligibility might have to be changed. If there 905 were a clash at this moment, it would be unfortunate. At some future date when the rules were altered it might mean that it would involve all Peers who, but for the passing of the Act, would have received a Writ of Summons, and then Scots Peers and hereditary Peeresses would be excluded. 'With that small contribution, I am happy to have support for my Amendment No. 77 from the noble Baroness. I thought I had better speak in case she loses her amendments.
§ Lord Kingsland
My Lords, first I wish to ask the noble Baroness whether she will apply the same concession to me in relation to these amendments as she was prepared to apply to my noble friend Lord Strathclyde in relation to Amendment No. 44A. They are amendments of some complexity. It may well be at this late hour that I, for one, and perhaps one or two other noble Lords, may have missed a crucial loophole. The noble Baroness indicated that that approach would apply to these amendments.
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
My Lords, as I said in my concluding remarks, I am happy to do that on Amendment No. 44A. Does the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, suggest that the process should apply to the whole group? I understood from what the noble Lord, Lord Gray. said that he was happy to move his amendment.
§ Lord Kingsland
My Lords, as regards the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Gray, I know that he is a great authority in this matter and I am not. I am content to accept whatever approach he wishes to take to Amendment No. 77.
Perhaps I may touch on the amendments to which the noble Baroness spoke. At the end of my remarks I may revert to the matter I have just raised. On Amendment No. 44A, I accept the objective that the amendment seeks to achieve. In my submission, it is acceptably achieved by the amendment, but there may be some disagreement among noble Lords as to whether that is so. As regards the wording, there may still be some room for improvement.
I also accept that Amendment No. 58E is consequential on Amendment No. 74A and that Amendment No. 64A is a paving amendment. Amendment No. 67A is a necessary textual change.
I have an important reservation to make about Amendment No. 68A, however, which concerns the overriding of the Writ of Summons not applying to Weatherill Peers. As the Lord Privy Seal knows, the Opposition consider it at least doubtful that Clause 5(2) is effective. She will recall the opinions expressed in earlier debates about the effect of the Bill on Writs of Summons for the life of the current Parliament. Therefore this amendment, though consequential, is nevertheless of great significance and potentially invalid. We do not accept that, by implication, the Writ is overridden for all Peers who do not fall within the Weatherill category. That is a matter to which we will return more generally when we deal with amendments to Clause 5(2) of the Bill.
906 As for Amendment No. 74A, which refers to the 1963 Act, it seems to me logical that the noble Baroness should wish to tidy up this part of the Bill. However, I find difficulty in imagining circumstances in which someone in receipt of a Writ of Summons, and therefore about to become a Weatherill Peer, should wish to disclaim his or her hereditary peerage.
I have reached the final amendment in this group to which I intend to speak, because we have already dealt with Amendment No. 77 in the name of my noble friend Lord Gray. As to noble Lords who receive the Writ of Summons at the beginning of the intermediate House, the change in the 1975 Act is wholly irrelevant. I suppose the only categories of Peer to which the 1975 Act can apply are either those sitting in another place who might subsequently become Weatherill Peers as a result of being on the list, or those sitting in another place who might subsequently become Weatherill Peers as a result of by-elections.
In fact, I am rather intrigued by the fact that this amendment should coincide with the remarks this afternoon of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor about by-elections. In other words, I wonder whether the amendment would have any relevance at all were it not for the fact that we are now to introduce, I am happy to say, by-elections in the process of replacing existing Weatherill Peers, should that be necessary.
I have made a reservation about Amendment No. 68A which I think is crystal clear. We shall deal with that next week when we deal with the final amendments. As far as concerns Amendments Nos. 74A and 76A. I think I understand the intention of the Government. At least, I have stated what I think is my understanding. I should be happy if the noble Baroness could confirm that. As I said, there may be a little tidying up to do in those two amendments. I hope that, if we find that there is, the noble Baroness will be conciliatory at Third Reading.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, I share the views expressed this evening by my noble friend Lord Kingsland and other noble friends, and by my noble friends on previous occasions, about the validity of Clause 1. I therefore seek only to ask the noble Baroness whether it is the intention of Amendment No. 68A to address those concerns or whether the Government's position on that matter remains quite unchanged.
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
My Lords, my immediate reply to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, is that our position on Clause 1 remains unchanged. On the more general points that were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, as I understand it, it would only be appropriate for us to discuss away from the Floor of the House some of what I might call the central group which, as the Marshalled List stands, I would not move now in any event. As I said originally, I should be very happy to do that. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.907
The Earl of Lauderdale moved Amendment No. 45:
After Clause 3, insert the following new clause—